Land and Freedom: Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York

By Reeve Huston | Go to book overview
Figure 1.1. The Van Rensselaer Manor House in the early nineteenth century. To the left of the Manor House is the manor office. Behind the house is the Hudson River and, beyond that, the hills of the East Manor, in Rensselaer County. Manor House, Albany, New York, Seat of Gen'l Van Rensselaer, by Eugene Sintzenich. © Collection of the New—York Historical Society.

One of the people who moved to those hills was Daniel Shays. A Revolutionary veteran and the owner of a small farm in Pelham, Massachusetts, Shays had led his neighbors in a movement for debt and tax relief during the depression of the early 1780s. Shays and his followers had been convinced that merchant-creditors and their allies in government had deliberately pursued a policy of deflation after the Revolution in order to profit from the labor of indebted small producers. They believed that the only sure basis for individual liberty was independent proprietorship—a proprietorship that the government's policy of hard money, high taxes, and strict enforcement of contracts was threatening. They had fought to retain their hold on property. And they had lost. Spared the hangman's noose by a governor's pardon, Shays left Pelham and joined the flood of migrants moving west out of New England. Along with his fellow emigrants, Shays sought the secure proprietorship that had eluded him in Massachusetts. 3

Since its origins, New York had been a meeting ground of Indian and European, Dutch and English, slave and free. Beginning in the late 1780s, it became a meeting ground between two groups, with two sets of beliefs regarding the distribution of land, the structure of class relations, and the contours of freedom. Rensselaerwyck was one of several tenanted estates inherited from the colonial period, each of them stark social and political

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