The Hudson River Valley Institute

Home » 2018 » October

Monthly Archives: October 2018

Advertisements

Autumn 2018 Issue of The Hudson River Valley Review – OUT NOW!

HRVR_35pt1_Cover_Large

THE HUDSON RIVER VALLEY REVIEW
Vol. 35, No.1, Autumn 2018

The Hudson River in the Revolution: America’s Key to Victory
James Kirby Martin

Thomas Cole’s Knickerbocker and Catskill Identity, 1825–1838: A Reconsideration of Cole’s “Englishness” and “Conservatism” through a Brief Portrait of the Artist who Chose Cedar Grove, Matthew DeLaMater

Personal Reflection
The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
James M. Johnson

Notes and Documents
The Maid of the Highlands: Joan of Arc Reflected in West Point Iconography
John Pendergast

Regional History Forum
Answering the Call: The Rhinebeck Fire Company and the FASNY Museum
Elijah Bender

Plus: Book Reviews and New & Noteworthy Titles Received

We are a “journal of regional studies,” so we should be familiar with the concept of “place”—in our case, the Hudson River Valley. But sometimes even we are surprised about how great an influence this region has had, both on the surrounding world and on its own residents. This issue highlights the interplay between “our place” and people from colonial times to the present.

It also answers some intriguing questions. For example, who developed the British strategy during the American Revolution, and how was that strategy implemented by field officers and affected by the “field” itself? Or how has a legendary commander profoundly impacted the U.S. Military Academy despite never setting foot on its grounds?

While both sides in the Revolution coveted the Hudson River Valley, at times it stood in their way, as when the French and American armies marched from Rhode Island to Yorktown. Their epic journey contributed immensely to America’s independence, so why did it take an equally epic effort to have the federal government establish the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route? Some fifty years after the Revolution, one British citizen relied on the New World to forge his own independence from the Old. Today, a scholarly debate rages as to how British or American Thomas Cole may have been. Our author maintains that the artist’s small-town life in Catskill is the key to understanding his identity. Community and identity also are essential to the history of the Rhinebeck Fire Department, which has maintained a reputation for selfless service and strong fraternal ties since its founding in 1834.

We hope this issue will inspire you to think about how we continue to inform and to be formed by the places we call home.

You can preview the issue and read the Regional History Forum, Book Reviews, and New and Noteworthy Books online at: http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/.

The Hudson River Valley Review is available at select booksellers and museum gift-shops throughout the region for $15.00 each. Subscriptions are available through the website at: http://www.hudsonrivervalley.org/review/subscribe.html, or by calling 845-575-3052. A one-year subscription (two issues) is $20.00, save even more by subscribing for two years at $35.00.

The Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College is the center for the study and promotion of the Hudson River Valley, providing information about the region’s history, culture, economy, and environment, and educational resources to teachers, students, and others through www.hudsonrivervalley.org, public programming, and The Hudson River Valley Review. This biannual journal covers all aspects of regional history. All articles in The Hudson River Valley Review undergo peer analysis.

Advertisements

The Hudson Valley Cowboys and Skinners: Separating Truth from Myth

The Hudson River Valley was home to many notable events throughout the Revolutionary War, such as the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the Battle of White Plains, and the Saratoga campaign. While these important historical milestones are well studied, there are other pieces of history in this area that have fallen victim to error and speculation. A perfect example is found in the study of the Cowboys and the Skinners, vigilante-like bands of militia with questionable loyalty who raided Westchester County. These guerilla forces harassed the local citizens and stole from both loyalists and patriots indiscriminately. While it was well known that the Cowboys were British marauders, it was largely believed for years that the Skinners were American marauders, but as a close analysis of history shows, this was a misconception that would not go away.

 

cortlandt skinner

Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner

Following the fall of 1776, after the British had successfully routed the American forces from New York City, the Hudson Valley was largely divided between north and south for much of the war. In the south were the British, operating out of New York City and maintaining posts at Kingsbridge, Morrisania, and Westchester.[1] In the north were the Americans, operating from Peekskill and maintaining posts from the Croton River across to the Long Island Sound.[2] The land in the middle of these two sides, covering most of Westchester County, was called “The Neutral Ground.” It was given this name because neither the British nor the Americans regularly controlled the area, causing it to become a sort of buffer zone between the two opposing forces. This Neutral Ground would be subjected to raids by both the Cowboys and Skinners, as they took produce from farmers and robbed travelers, all in an attempt to help their side’s cause. Both used guerilla warfare tactics to achieve their lawless ends.

The Cowboys were a British light horse battalion under the command of Colonel James De Lancey. Their name came from American soldiers and farmers, as they often rounded up cattle for the British in their raids.[3] They were stationed near King’s Bridge in Westchester, mostly operating in this area until the end of the war.[4] The Skinners, on the other hand, were thought to be an American unit. The name is thought to have come from the practice of “skinning” farmers of their food and goods.[5] Stephen Jenkins wrote, “whence they came, or where they were recruited history does not state.”[6] The difficulty in analysis of the Skinners is that the validity of the claims about their origins are unreliable. The Cowboys have a clearer presence in Revolutionary War history, but what about the Skinners?

The most famous role that the Skinners played in Revolutionary War history is in the capture of Major John Andre on September 22, 1780. The credit of his capture goes to John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams, on the road to Tarrytown.[7] These militiamen were called Skinners by several writers, including Robert McConnell Hatch in Major John Andre: A Gallant in Spy’s Clothing.[8] Drawing a connection to the Skinners in the capture of Major Andre would make sense, as they were considered American marauders and this was a circumstance that happened by chance. However, Hatch’s assertion in far from definitive, and the Skinners may have not been affiliated with the capture at all.

Colton's map of Westchester County 1867

Green- American controlled Peekskill Blue- American zones of operation (from left to right: Croton river, Pine’s Bridge, and Armonk) Red- British zones of operation (Kingsbridge, Morrisania, and Westchester)

One source that offers a short and simple clarification of the Skinners comes from the Revolutionary War itself. Doctor James Thacher kept a journal of his time in the war and one entry makes specific reference to these raiders.

Those of the inhabitants of the neutral ground who were tories, have joined their friends in New York, and the whigs have retired into the interior of our country. Some of each side have taken up arms, and become the most cruel and deadly foes. There are-within the British lines-banditti consisting of lawless villains, who devote themselves to the most cruel pillage and robbery among the defenceless inhabitants between the lines, many of whom they carry off to New York, after plundering their houses and farms. These shameless marauders have received the names of Cow-boys and Skinners.[9]

Thacher states that both the Cowboys and Skinners were from the British side. He calls them bandits, which may be true for some, if not all, of these men. Yet this entry demonstrates the wild and unregulated nature of these raiding parties. According to Lincoln Diamant, the Skinners were given their name because they were raised by Brigadier General Cortlandt Skinner.[10] Therefore, the Skinners could not have been responsible for the capture of Major Andre, unless they had switched sides for profit or recognition. While the Skinners were in fact American loyalist volunteers from New Jersey, they did not affiliate themselves with the Patriot cause. But where did this myth of origin as patriots come from and why has it been so persistent?

De Lancey’s Cowboy painting by Charles M. Lefferts Uniforms of the American, British, French, and German Armies in the War of the American Revolution 1775–1783.

“De Lancey’s Cowboy” painting by Charles M. Lefferts, appearing in “Uniforms of the American, British, French, and German Armies in the War of the American Revolution 1775–1783.”

The answer is found in The Spy, a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper was born in New Jersey six years after the end of the Revolutionary War and was eager to write a book about it.[11] He attributed the term Skinners to American vigilantes to create authentic villains in his novel.  No great attention or detail is given to them, but the damage had been done. Decades later, Washington Irving, the famous Hudson Valley writer, wanted to give new life to the myth. Following Cooper’s lead, he reinforced the Skinners as American marauders in his work, A Chronicle of Wolfert’s Roose.[12] Irving lent enough credibility to the myth for it to last into the 20th century. For the past 200 years, many historians have fallen victim to this alluring misconception of Skinners as marauding patriots without making a thorough investigation into the source of this information. This is how the myth endured: passed down through the years in worthy historical texts, slipping past all but the keenest observer. There is likely more ambiguity to the Cowboys and Skinners than we know now, but we can separate truth from fiction in regard to the identity of the Skinners. They were another militia of the British and not affiliated with the Continental Army.

By Gerard Foley

[1] Jenkins, Stephen. The Cowboys, the Skinners, and the Neutral Ground 1910.

[2] Ibid

[3] Diamant, Lincoln. Skinners: Patriot “Friends” or Loyalist Foes? 1987.

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid

[6] Jenkins, Neutral Grounds

[7] Cray, Robert. Major John Andre and the Three Captors: Class Dynamics and Revolutionary Memory Wars in the Early Republic, 1780-1831. 1997.

[8] Diamant, Skinners

[9] Thacher, James. A military journal during the American revolutionary war, 1775 to 1783

[10] Diamant, Skinners

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

Meet the Intern: Gerard Foley

GerardFoleyHello. My name is Gerard Foley. I was born in Huntington, Long Island, in the state of New York. In 2015 I graduated from Walt Whitman High School. My discovery of Marist College happened when my older brother was touring campuses while I was in middle school. Though it did not become the choice for him, it immediately became the choice for me. The beautiful campus and particularly the view of the river left me enthralled. Jokingly, I declared to my family that I would go here when I was old enough. All these years later and I am now a senior studying English. My love of reading and writing placed me in this major, but I also have an interest in history. That is why I am interning at the Hudson River Valley Institute during my last year at Marist. I hope to gain some practical research experience and learn more about the area that has been my home these past four years.

Aside from my studies at Marist, I keep myself busy with hobbies and fun activities. I love to play games of all kinds: video games, card games, board games, you name it. Growing up with brothers has instilled in me a sense of joy and competition in gaming. I particularly appreciate most Nintendo games, like the infamous Mario Party and Mario Kart. Whether it’s the roll of the dice or the handling of a controller, I always have a good time. Of course I enjoy reading in my spare time, from epic fantasies like The Lord of The Rings to modern classics like 1984. I write when I can, and always kick myself to do so more often. I also enjoy the outdoors. Taking walks around campus helps me to relieve stress and experience nature. The nature of my major and other hobbies causes me to be inside quite often, but I am outside when I can be.

Upon graduating from Marist College, I hope to go into the publishing or editing field. My childhood dream is to become an author, and I hope to achieve this by keeping at my writing and making connections with the right people. I am still unsure if graduate school is my next step, but I will see where my final year takes me. There are still so many opportunities available to me, and it would truly be a waste not to take a chance and miss out on them. In the future, I hope to be able to contribute to my community in a meaningful way. I can start now by doing my best at the Hudson River Valley Institute.