A Catskill Catalog: Dec. 10, 2008

What’s on Oprah’s iPod? Future historians will undoubtedly seek to understand the world we live in today through the music that has become so much a part of each of our lives. Music opens the world to us. It can also open the past.
Here is a song that originated here in the mountains in response to the August 1845 shooting of Under-Sheriff Osman Steele on Dingle Hill in Andes.

“The Fall Campaign, Or the Reign of Terror”: A Delaware County, New York, Anti-Rent Song
(circa 1846. From a broadside. Courtesy of the Delaware County Historical Association Archives. Footnotes by Bill Birns)

It was about a year ago,
Jack Allen’s funds were getting low;
To Hathaway and Wright he went,
To try some plan to get his rent.1

Come all ye Anti-Renters true,
The Delhi Clique we will subdue;
Soon our liberty we’ll gain,
And Silas Wrong2 will cease to reign.

They told him if he would succeed,
To Andes town he must proceed —
There lived a Farmer, Earle3, by name,
And him for Rent he must distrain.4

The Sheriff5 was to Andes sent,
The Farmer to distrain for Rent;
And with him three tory6 hounds—
In Delhi they do much abound.

“Rast  Edgerton and Steele7 in Co.,
To Hunting’s tavern they did go,
The more the Brandy passed around,
The more their courage did abound.

The brandy to them courage gave —
The heroes grew most wondrous brave!
Away they went to try their skill,
The Anti-Renters for to kill.

They met Peet Wright, a tory lawyer,
He said the Natives8 dare not fire,
To make them shoot it was his aim,
Two hour or more but all in vain.

They fired upon the Indian band,
To make them run they did intend;
But dearly Steele paid for his fun,
The Indians shot and down he came.

Peet Wright behind the crowd did flee —
And cried for God’s sake don’t shoot me!
The Natives they were far too civil,
They should have sent him to the devil.

A minion of the law was dead,
Throughout the State the news spread;
The lawyers were all overjoyed,
They thought they’d get employed

The Delhi Clique, on mischief bent,
A Law and Order posse sent;9
They sent the scum of every town,
To put the Anti-Renters down.

Drunkards and loafers, mean and low,
To search the county they did go:
A tavern they could not pass by,
Until a score of them got high.

Their leader was from Middletown,10
He was a tarred and feathered clown,
Well qualified to take command
Of such a lawless, brutal band.

A law was passed by this same clown,
Which took effect in Down Rent towns
If any one a horn should blow,
The Traitor should to Sing Sing go.

They many a one to jail did haul,
Who never were disguised at all;
They said that all they took to jail,
Were guilty of the Earle sale.

But soon the fearful time arrived,
When the prisoners must be tried;
To Franklin they for Jurors sent,
For there the folks were all Up-Rent.

Two men11 for murder they did try,
Judge Parker12 sentenced them to die;
To them the Boa Constrictor said—
“You shall be hung until you’re dead.”

The savage Howe13 expressed a hope,
To see them hanging in the rope!
But a reprieve to them was granted—
Lord Howe got sadly disappointed!

It grieved the tories to the heart,
To see the Prisoners depart;
Waters with disappointment stung,
Declared Old Silas should be hung!14

The sins of this infernal crew,
The wrath of Heaven on them drew;
They to disease did fall a prey,
By fallen angels led astray!
The Posse was dismissed at last,
But the disease had spread so fast,
In Delhi half of them did stay,
Unable for to go away.

But now the Tory War has past,
And Equal Rights prevailing fast;
Law and Order15 is out of date,
With the People of this State.

1 John Allen was landlord Charlotte Verplanck’s agent. Charles Hathaway, a Delhi land agent; Peter “Peet” Wright, a Delhi lawyer
2 Silas Wright, Governor of New York, member of Martin Van Buren’s political organization, the Albany Regency
3 Moses Earle of Dingle Hill, Andes
4 distrain: to seize property and sell it to cover rent
5 Delaware County Sheriff Green Moore
6 tory refers to up-rent or pro-rent forces
7 Town Constable Erastus “Rast” Edgarton & County Undersheriff Osman Steele
8 Calico Indians, disguised, armed, and intimidating anti-rent activists, who gathered to prevent the Earle property sale
9 Governor Silas Wright declared Delaware County in a “state of insurrection.” A Posse of 300 armed men sought the killers of Steele.
10 Timothy Corbin: an up-rent land agent from the Town of Middletown
11 Edward O’Connor & John Van Steenburgh were accused of capital murder despite scant evidence
12 Amasa J. Parker, Circuit Court Judge, a politician from Delhi who was vehemently opposed to anti-renters
13 James Howe, brother-in-law of the slain Osman Steele, verbally abused the accused while they were in jail
14 Up-renters were angry when Governor Silas Wright commuted the death sentences to life imprisonment
15 “Law and order” was the rallying cry of the up-renters, who, in the end, lost the Anti-Rent War as the lease system