Anti-Rent Movement

The patroon system instituted by the Dutch West India Company in 1629 offered large land grants to investors to encourage settlement of the New Netherland colony. Patroonships effectively established a feudal system whereby only the patroons and their families owned the land. All others who inhabited patroon lands were merely tenants required to pay annual rents. In most cases they were never given the opportunity to purchase the land they farmed. The Van Rensselaer patroonship, which covered about 750,000 acres in Albany and Rensselaer Counties, was the largest.

Stephen Van Rensselaer III, known as the “good patroon,” was casual about collecting rents, but at his death in 1839 his will specified that all back rents were to be collected immediately. Efforts to collect these back rents made delinquent farmers desperate. They organized a political movement known as the Antirenters Party and formed local associations including the Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association.

When Sheriffs were sent to collect rents, farmers resisted by disguising themselves as Indians. They wore masks, dressed in calico cloth, and sounded tin dinner horns to summon neighbors for help. The resistance occasionally became violent and some fatalities occurred. In 1844, about thirty Anti-Rent “Indians” approached Elijah Smith of Grafton, who was cutting wood for the patroon. A heated exchange occurred and Elijah was shot and killed. The Anti-Rent movement began to subside in the 1850s but occasional protests and violence continued into the 1880s.

The “Down with the Rent” banner, the only Anti-Rent banner known to survive, belonged to Peter T. Hydorn, a Grafton resident and documented member of the Grafton Anti-Rent Mutual Protection Association. It remained in his family until 1955 when his granddaughter discovered it folded in an old chest of drawers.

 

Magnifying Glass
“Down with the Rent” Banner
Possibly by Peter T. Hydorn, Grafton, New York
c. 1840–1845
Stenciled paint on cotton fabric
Magnifying Glass
“Mass Convention” Anti-Rent Broadside
1856
Letterpress on paper
Albany Institute of History & Art, PB 109