Category Archives: Research

Kinderhook Home A Revolutionary War Story of War, Loss, and Exile

On Route 9, just south of the village of Kinderhook in Columbia County, a sign proudly proclaims it as the birthplace and home of Martin Van Buren, the eighth U.S. President. Next to that is a purple-and-gold sign for the local Elks lodge.

Right across the street sits an unassuming two-story red brick house with dormer windows. While locals know it as the Tory House, there isn’t a sign. But this house has its own story to tell about early New York, one of a family among many thousands that picked the losing side in the Revolutionary War and ended up years later losing that home to the victors in a practice that was to be banned in the U.S. Constitution.

That family was named van Alstyne, one of the many families with Dutch roots that settled in the region during the 18th century to farm. The family had three sons _ Abraham, the oldest; Peter, the middle son; and John, the youngest. By the time that the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, Peter had built his family the red brick house in Kinderhook on land that he and his brothers had inherited as teenagers two decades earlier when their father died.

Earlier this summer, that house – still used as a residence more than two centuries later – was named to the State and National Registers of Historic Places because of the story of Peter Sander van Alstyne and his family. The narrative of this post is based on research for that nomination submitted on behalf of State Parks by the late Ruth Piwonka, a former member of the Historic Preservation Division at State Parks, and a later Parks consultant and historian for Kinderhook.

Peter Sander Van Alstyne was 32 years old in 1775, already a successful farmer, married and with a young family. A local judge appointed by the Colonial government, he found himself caught up in the conflict the following year when a group of town members come to his home to forcefully tell him that his office, resting on royal authority, no longer had authority to settle disputes over debts. That same year, the beleaguered judge was chosen to be a member of the Albany Committee on Correspondence, a kind of shadow authority created by patriot supporters. But as a supporter of British authority (known as Tory, or a Loyalist), van Alstyne was not to last long on the committee, and he and more than a dozen other suspected Loyalists in that body were soon ordered arrested and imprisoned in 1776.

Many New Yorkers felt as van Alstyne did about their loyalty to England. Some studies estimate that about half of the state’s 200,000 residents held Loyalist sentiments, giving New York the highest percentage of Loyalists among the 13 colonies. Like van Alstyne, many New Yorkers took up arms to oppose what they saw as an an “unnatural” rebellion against the legitimate government.

Van Alstyne was released from jail in early 1777, but after being forced by threats to leave his home, he headed north to join British forces in Canada, and by summer was marching with British General John Burgoyne’s army from Lake Champlain in a bid to capture Albany as part of a strategic plan to split the rebellious colonies in two. His Kinderhook home was being used as a staging point for Loyalists and military supplies in the event that Albany fell.

But that moment was not to come, and van Alstyne was there when Burgoyne’s forces were defeated at the Battle of Saratoga that September, a battle that marked a turning point in the American Revolution and convinced the French to support the rebels.

Surrender of General Burgoyne, painted by John Turnbull, 1822. Showing Burgoyne presenting his sword to American General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, this painting hangs in the U.S. Capitol. Peter Sander van Alstyne took part in this battle – on the losing side. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

By 1778, van Alstyne had gone to New York City and Long Island, which were under British control, to command sailors who fought in small boats called bateaux. His armed opposition to the Revolution by this point had put his life at risk. Continental troops stationed near his Kinderhook home were trying to catch him, and had captured some of his associates, some of whom were put to death as traitors. By October 1779, van Alstyne had been formally indicted as an “enemy of the state” by New York authorities under what was called the Forfeiture Act. As the war neared an end, New York officials in early 1783 ordered him stripped of his lands, his livestock, and his home, where his brother John’s family was living.

On Sept. 8, 1783, only five days after the Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, van Alstyne and his family, along with many other displaced Loyalists from Columbia, Rockland, Orange, Ulster, Westchester, and Dutchess counties, as well as some of the troops from Major Robert Rogers, of the famed Rogers’ Rangers backcountry unit, set sail for British-controlled Canada, according to a 1901 account published by Columbia University.

Settling on the northern shore of Lake Ontario near Quinte Bay, van Alstyne received a government land grant of 1,200 acres and became a prominent member of the community, being appointed a judge and later winning election to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada. He died in 1800, at age 57.

The former Kinderhook resident was among thousands of New York Loyalists, perhaps as many as 35,000 people, who left the state during and after the Revolutionary War for refuge in British dominions including Canada, according to the 1901 Columbia University account. That came from a total state population of about 200,000, so the forced migration represented about one in every six New Yorkers.

The 1901 account from Columbia University estimated that during the war, there were “at least 15,000 New York Loyalists serving in the Brish army and navy, and at least 8,500 Loyalist militia, making a total in that state of 23,500 Loyalist troops. This was more than any other colony furnished, and perhaps as many as were raised by all others combined.”

The legacy of these Loyalists who left New York can be found in the historic structures along the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario. Said State Parks historic researcher William Krattinger, “I focus quite a bit on the built and architectural environment and have seen examples of Dutch-framed barns and houses erected in Ontario, undoubtedly erected by builders from the Hudson, Mohawk and Schoharie valleys who were banished to the north after the Revolution. These New Yorkers brought their material culture with them.”

This 1786 painting by James Peachy, a British military surveyor, shows American Loyalists camped out on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River at Johnstown (across from present-day Ogdensburg) during the summer of 1784 as part of their relocation into new lands in Canada. (Photo Credit – American Revolution Institute – Society of the Cincinnati)

Two years after van Alstyne’s death, New York State officials passed a law in 1802 to renew its still incomplete efforts to confiscate a list of Loyalist properties – a list that included van Alstyne’s Kinderhook home. Offering a bonus to anyone who pointed out forfeited property that had still not been seized, the law described those who had forfeited that property for opposing the Revolution as “attainted.” This concept originates from English criminal law, in which those condemned for a serious capital crime against the state lost not only their life, but also their property, the ability to bequeath property to their descendants, and any hereditary titles.

New York’s bid to seize and sell off remaining Loyalist property two decades after the end of the war came even though the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1789, specifically prohibits “bills of attainder” passed by legislatures to condemn those deemed state enemies and seize their property.

Here the trail of what happened to van Alstyne’s red brick house grows cold. A clear title to prove who owned the home after van Alstyne lost ownership appears in the public record only starting in the 1850s, although records of forfeiture and sale for other Loyalist properties in Columbia County do exist.

The fate of this home represents just one family’s part of the larger story of how the end of the Revolutionary War meant exile and loss for thousands of New Yorkers who had sided with England, and how the fallout of that time continued for years until the Revolution could truly considered to be ended.


Cover Shot _ Peter Sander Van Alstyne house, Kinderhook. All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks

Resources

Learn more about the Loyalist experience in New York State, using these sources:

A New York Public Library blog post on the 1802 list of Loyalist property to be confiscated in New York State.

A 1901 study into Loyalism in New York State by Alexander Clarence Flick, published by Columbia University Press.

An account by the National Library of Scotland into the lives of two New York Loyalists.

A NYS Parks Blog post about Hudson Valley Loyalist Frederick Philipse III, one of the richest men in Colonial New York whose home is now Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, Westchester County.

Innovative Trail Brings Nature to The Autism Community

In the summer of 2014, a casual conversation with one of my neighbors revealed that two boys we knew with autism – one from Albany, one from New York City –  each experienced an uncanny sense of calm and serenity during separate visits to Letchworth State Park in western New York.

Also, both families also had initially hesitated in bringing their special needs children to a state park for fear of their behavior not being understood or accepted. As we pondered this sense of exclusion, my neighbor Susan Herrnstein and I also wondered together if Letchworth might be the right place for a unique project to provide a safe and welcoming experience in nature for visitors with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities.

This winter, some six and one-half years later, construction began on The Autism Nature Trail (The ANT) at Letchworth State Park, the first nature trail of its kind to be designed specifically for the sensory needs of people with autism, a diverse range of neurodevelopmental conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. In February, Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid attended the groundbreaking ceremony and opening of the trail is set for later this summer.

Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid (center) joins with ANT supporters during the February groundbreaking of the trail at Letchworth State Park. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)
Construction work continues on The ANT in anticipation of an opening this summer. (Photo Credit – NYS Parks)

As a representative for Genesee County on the Genesee Region Parks Commission, I knew from the start that an undertaking of this magnitude could strain the Parks budget, so an early commitment was made that all funds to design, build, equip, staff, program and maintain this unique trail would come from private fundraising efforts.

Herrnstein recruited her friend Gail Serventi, a retired speech/language pathologist, to join our early team, and each of us took primary responsibility for an aspect of the project, which led to some involved in the project to eventually dub us the “ANT Aunts.”

Herrnstein led a Planning Committee and found an architect, a natural playscape creator and an organization in Rochester – Camp Puzzle Peace – which specializes in an Adirondack summer camping experience for entire families living with developmental disabilities.

Serventi convened an impressive Advisory Panel of all-volunteer academics and practitioners in speech, occupational and physical therapy, autism, special education and related services. Individuals with autism and parents and grandparents of children with developmental disabilities were included in the conversation.

I organized a Fundraising Team and began soliciting donations even before a full schematic design had even been approved by New York State Parks. So far, The ANT volunteers have raised $3 million in private funds toward the ultimate goal of $3.7 million to insure programming for the trail into the future.

The fundraising campaign was managed by the Natural Heritage Trust on behalf of State Parks. The trust is a not-for-profit corporation that receives and administers gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes.

Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid with the ANT “aunts” at the February groundbreaking for the trail. From left to right, Susan Herrnstein, Loren Penman, Gail Serventi, Commissioner Kulleseid. (Photo credit – NYS Parks)

Early along the way, our quest to create The ANT also led to a connection with the amazing Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman diagnosed with autism in 1950 at age two and now a cattle industry expert who is quite possibly the world’s most well-known advocate for the autistic community.

Now a professor at Colorado State University, she was intrigued by the idea of a nature trail designed for visitors with autism. After her diagnosis, Grandin received early intervention thanks to a determined mother and went on to earn bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. At age 39, she helped raise national attention to the issue of autism with her debut 1986 book Emergence, which described how it felt to be autistic in a neurotypical world.

Grandin went on to write a 1993 work on her professional specialty of livestock handling, and authored further books on living with autism, including Thinking in Pictures in 1995 and The Way I See It in 2008. Her life was the feature of a 2010 HBO biographical film that starred Claire Danes. That same year, Time Magazine named Grandin as one of their 100 “heroes” around the world. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls in Seneca County, New York, in 2017.

Autism advocate Temple Grandin (center), meets with Loren Penman (left) and Gail Serventi (right).

Grandin offered our ANT team very specific recommendations early on for our trail: (1) Find a place in deep nature. “Don’t build a strip mall nature trail,” she said. (2) Seek out program staff who are both autism experts and experienced in the outdoors, not one or the other. (3) Offer challenges to visitors who may never have been on a trail – but also build in predictability and choice. (4) Design a pre-walk station to orient the visitor. Make the trail a loop so that the end is visible at the beginning. (5) Position opportunities for soothing movement with seating such as cuddle swings, and provide small, private spaces for recovery from “meltdowns.”

Armed with her guidance, our team created a design for a one-mile looped trail with eight clearly marked stations, each meant for a different sensory experience. Activities along the trail support and encourage sensory perception and integration, while also providing enjoyable activities for visitors of all abilities and ages. The stations engage each individual’s auditory, visual, olfactory, tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive processing, using nature and natural materials as the tools for skill-building.

After meeting with team members during an event in Canandaigua to share our design, Grandin endorsed our plan, saying, “I’m glad that my suggestions for the Autism Nature Trail have been integrated into the final design and overall plan. The Trailhead Pavilion as a pre-walk station is important since many autistic children need to know what they’re getting into before they will engage. Cuddle swings and gliders are good choices for movement. I understand the cost involved in providing trained staff for the trail, but its success depends on people who are passionate about nature who will get the children engaged.”

Click on the slideshow above for renderings of the sensory stations ont the ANT, starting with 1) Design Zone, where visitors are able to manipulate materials from along the trail into patterns and structures, 2) Meadow Run and Climb, a place with paths to run, jump and balance along serpentine berms, 3) Playful Path, a place of twisting paths with different surfaces including pea gravel, mowed grass, and pine needles, 4) Reflection Point, a quiet point halfway on the trail under a canopy of trees, and 5) Sensory Station, where a collection of leave, moss, fossils, animal fur, acorns and other objects are to be touched, handled and even smelled.

Statistics show that young people with autism spend disproportionate amounts of time indoors, often finding comfort in digital activities which results in social isolation. This disconnectedness not only affects individuals with ASD but also can affect caregivers and entire families. The ANT is designed as a series of accessible and safe outdoor spaces in nature, yet far from the distractions and often overwhelming stimuli of everyday outside life.

The ANT also is ADA-compliant and situated adjacent to the park’s Humphrey Nature Center with full access to a large parking area, modern restrooms and WiFi. The COVID-19 pandemic is teaching us that being in nature is a saving grace, and New York State Parks have remained open throughout the crisis. We also know that people can feel uncomfortable, unwelcome and even unsafe in environments where certain behaviors are not understood, and special needs cannot be met.

Our trail also has been endorsed by Hollywood actor Joe Mantegna, an honorary member of our ANT board and a father to a daughter with autism.

“We sometimes forget that children with autism become adults with autism — and they are adults a lot longer than they are children,” Mantegna said. “The Autism Nature Trail will provide a welcoming environment for visitors of all ages to experience the excitement, joy and comfort found in the wonders of our natural world. This unique form of direct and accepting engagement with nature in a world-class park adds a new dimension of exposure, with the potential of providing a lifetime of meaningful and fulfilling experiences.”

April is Autism Awareness Month, and a special GoFundMe charity campaign has been established with a goal of seeking individual donations of $25 to support ANT programming, which is also going to be supplemented by support from the Perry Central School District.

A link to the GoFundMe campaign can be found here.

Since the start, our project has received donations ranging from $5 to $500,000 from people coast to coast. Such generous donors include the Autism Team at the Bay Trail Middle School in Penfield, Monore County, which for five years has held an annual T-shirt design benefit contest, raising more than $900. Some other outside fundraisers have included regional photographer John Kucko and Cellino Plumbing of Buffalo.

Our team thanks everyone (and there are so many) who has supported our project to help make The ANT a reality, and we are grateful for any and all future support. You can find more information here about our trail at autismnaturetrail.com

This summer, perhaps we will meet some of you on The ANT!


Cover shot – The Trailhead Pavilion at The Ant, where orientation materials will be available to help visitors better experience what the trail has to offer.


Post by Loren Penman, ANT co-founder and board member, Genesee County representative to the Genesee County Region Parks Commission; with contributions from Brian Nearing, NYS Parks Deputy Public Information Officer

Resources


Here, Elijah Kruger, an environmental educator at Letchworth State Park, describes an autistic child’s encounter with nature, and how offering the opportunity for each person to explore nature at their own pace can promote a soothing experience.



Learn more about the life of autism advocate Temple Grandin here, here and here.

Listen to what she has to say about living with autism…


Extra! Brutish King Hiring Foreign Thugs, War Elephants and Samurai to Attack America!! Or, Fake News In Colonial New York

Such an inflammatory headline would doubtless draw more than a few clicks on social media today. In the 18th century, the Colonial American public got their information from the contemporary version of the internet – newspapers. Colonists might get some news from talking with neighbors or serving on local and state committees, but the major source of information was from the multitude of papers printed across the colonies and imported by ship from Europe.

Imagine then a colonist picking up the February 15, 1777 edition of the respected and reliable Philadelphia-based Durand’s Pennsylvania Packet and seeing the entire front page dominated by harrowing dispatches from London, under the headline “The IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE, or the INFALLIBLE INTELLIGENCER; upon the plan, and after the manner of, the NEW-YORK MERCURY.”  Founded in 1771, the Pennsylvania Packet was widely read and by 1784, it became the first successful daily newspaper published in the United States. The Packet was an ancestor of the current Philadelphia Inquirer.

With the Declaration of Independence only about seven months old and blood already shed on battlefields, readers of The Packet were eager for news from the recently estranged Mother county. Imagine the shock when they read on its pages that King George III was ignoring rules of civilized warfare and preparing to send tens of thousands of brutish foreign mercenaries to invade the colony of New York.

These soldiers of fortune didn’t care about liberty, representation, or the rights of Englishmen (or women), they were lured only by gold, plunder, and foreign influence from malevolent despots. King George III, who had never ONCE visited a foreign court (he never even went to Scotland, and that was on the same bloody island…), according to the newspaper, was now entertaining troop offers from around the world in some kind of global outsourcing of villainy.

And the breathless accounts ranged from the reality of German mercenaries who were already fighting in the colonies on behalf of the British to the terrifying spectacles of an amphibious invasion of Japanese samurai on the Pacific Coast and rampaging war elephants being shipped over from an Asian potentate.

The news was shocking – but it was also absolutely fake. The whole thing was a hoax — a hit piece against His Majesty King George III — slipped into a very real colonial newspaper by William Livingston (1723-1790), the son of one of New York’s most powerful families.

Like any good purveyor of “fake news,” Livingston used some kernels of half-truth. German mercenaries were already fighting in America, but the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE reported that thousands more depraved warriors were on their way from India, Japan, Central Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Scandinavia — faraway places full of people who had been deemed “savage” by the racial classifications of 18th century America.

Livingston was the embodiment of the educated, upper-class, white male who dominated colonial America. Governor of New Jersey at this time, he was rich, and by rich, I mean “really rich.” His father, Philip, was, literally, Lord of the Manor as proprietor of a massive estate in modern-day Columbia County.

William was well connected to the elite. His brother, also Philip, was known throughout the Colonies as the “the signer” for signing the Declaration of the Independence; and his sister, Sarah, was married to Lord Stirling, one of George Washington’s most trusted generals. William’s daughter, also Sarah, was one of the most well-known and influential women of the entire Revolution — her marriage to John Jay created a partnership of intellectualism and effectiveness that rivaled John and Abigail Adams.

A young William Livingston was part of the powerful ruling class in Colonial New York. The portrait dates from approximately 1730, when William would have been about seven years old. (Photo Credit – John Jay Homestead State Historic Site.

William was a cousin to another famous and powerful Colonial New Yorker, Robert R. Livingston, who grew up near William at Clermont State Historic Site, and was a high-ranking member of New York State Government and the Committee of Five who wrote the Declaration of Independence.  In that document, colonists included a list of grievances against King George III, including the charge he was “transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries [the so-called “Hessians” from the state of Hesse in Germany] to complete “the works of death, desolation and tyranny.”

George Washington had achieved a stunning victory over these hated Hessians in his famous crossing of the Delaware River into Trenton, N.J. in late December 1776, but support for the war overall was lagging early on as some Americans questioned whether reconciliation with England might be the best response.  Just two months after Trenton, William Livingston used his well-known writing skills to inflame rebel resentment against the King and toward the cause of revolution and liberty.

It was the colonists’ fear of foreign mercenaries (especially the mislabeled and misunderstood German Hessians) that William was amplifying and preying upon in his 1777 IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE hoax.

Hessians were scaring New Yorkers for decades after the end of the American Revolution. The “headless horseman” featured in the famous Washington Irving ghost story was of a decapitated Hessian soldier, as illustrated in this 1858 painting “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” by John Quidor. (Photo Credit – Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

Livingston was smart. He crafted his hoax in way that was obvious satire and clearly fake, at least to discerning readers, but was also outrageous enough to get people talking about it. His approach allowed him to provoke a laugh at the expense of King George III, all the while stoking primal fears of foreign mercenaries and a frontier war with Native Americans allied with those foreigners.

Livingston began his IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE piece by claiming the Emperor of India had offered King George III “five hundred Elephants out of his own stables” to dispatch against the rebellious Colonials but the King had politely refused because it would cost too much to feed them.

An 18th century depiction of an Indian war elephant carrying spear-wielding soldiers. The elephants were the armored tanks of their day and terrorized opposing troops. (Photo Credit- Philadelphia Museum of Art)

The IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE went on to claim, however, that King George’s advisors, mindful of a potential alliance opportunity with the Indian Emperor, recommended that the king offer his son the Prince of Wales in marriage to the potentate’s eldest daughter.  The scheme failed because it was believed the 15-year-old prince could not “close with the overture” (so to speak) with the Indian Princess unless he submitted to circumcision; even that last bit had a racial subtext. Englishmen of that time considered circumcision a dangerous practice, only done by non-Christians — in short, it was 18th century code for barbaric.   

In addition to the 500 Indian War Elephants, the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE claimed offers of troops were pouring in from across the globe to form a gathering barbarian horde.

The King of Denmark was sending 4,000 elite warriors in reindeer-drawn sleds to fight Americans in the snow. In Persia (modern-day Iran), the king was sending 3,500 horse archers to join His Majesty’s light cavalry units. From the Hapsburgh monarchy in central Europe, 5,500 Hungarian Hussars, Pandurs, and Croats were being sent to “cut [Americans] down with their sabers” before their victims even saw them.

In perhaps the largest whopper of them all, Japan was going to amphibiously land 12,000 troops on the coast of California (yes, really, California) and march all the way to New York. The reason for the overland march was twofold, William explained to readers. First, it would save the Japanese fleet from a “circuitous voyage” around the southern tip of South America. Second, the Japanese would gather Native Warriors all the way from “the South Sea and the river Ohio” as allies by convincing the Indigenous Americans that “their ancestors having emigrated from Japan,” and so they should  fight for the Japanese Emperor.

The humor is somewhat lost on us modern readers of course, but in the 18th century, it was outrageously funny, so much so that it even made George Washington offer up a LOL. Afterward, the general wrote to William (a personal friend of his): “I heartily thank you for the Impartial Chronicle: Fraught with the most poignant Satire, it afforded me real pleasure.” If you’ve ever read anything written by George Washington, you’d know that’s about as high as his praise gets.

Other bits of news from the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE hoax were thankfully less about fear-mongering propaganda, and more about plain old mockery. An ad claimed that a runaway servant named “Common-Sense and Honesty” had left the palace of King George III, and offered a £5,000 reward (a considerable fortune at the time) for anyone who could bring him back:


Perhaps the best bit in the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE was a “correction” which apologized for previously reporting “that the King and Queen were both with child” (the Queen was in fact pregnant at the time). The paper noted the lie apparently had been invented by Americans with “malicious hopes” the King would die in childbirth.

Tightly buttoned waistcoats bursting over a prominent belly were a way that 18th century men displayed their social status and power, but calling King George III pregnant was a low blow of particularly harsh mockery. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

Speaking of the Queen, another salacious story in the IMPARTIAL CHRONICLE indicated she had vetoed a plan to offset the losses from the war and repopulate England. As the story went, a foreign Emperor, noting that the *ahem* “common mode of procreation” usually practiced in England was inadequate, offered to send five female concubines to every Member of Parliament and to provide “his Majesty himself with a score…of amiable blooming breeders.” Parliament, it was reported, had “gratefully accepted” but the offer was scuttled because “our most gracious Queen cannot be fully convinced of the necessity of the measure.”

Another bit of “fake news” fabricated by William Livingston claimed that the British Navy, so dominant by sea, was converting some of its warships into land vessels by using ropes and pulleys, so the behemoths could chase Rebels in the countryside. Shown here is a design of a land fighting vessel by famed 16th century Renaissance inventor Leonardo da VInci .(Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

So why did Livingston venture into the realm of fake news? Well, muck-raking and sensationalized journalism were already established New York traditions by 1777.

Robert Livingston, William’s own grandfather, once claimed in a newspaper account decades earlier that former New York Governor Edward Cornbury walked around daily in “womens cloths.” Newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger famously took it a step too far when he had the audacity to publish mean things about Colonial Governor William Crosby that were actually true (Governor Crosby had him arrested for libel, but Zenger was acquitted in one of America’s foundational cases for press freedom from government repression).

Maybe William Livingston did it to insult the King and those loyal to him. Maybe he did to instill a sense of camaraderie among Americans by creating an “Us versus Them” dynamic. Maybe he even did it to convince those on the fence about independence that today it might be Germans sticking bayonets in your belly, but tomorrow it could be War Elephants trampling your wife and children.  Or maybe he did it to be funny (well, at least 18th century funny).

Before he was a General and Governor, Livingston was famous for his satirical writings and political commentary. Livingston’s well-known pen and wit weren’t only used against his enemies, either. A few months after his fake news operation, when William learned that the British had burned Kingston in October 1777, he feared for the safety of his brother Philip “the signer.” Philip was serving a term in the New York State Senate, which had relocated to Kingston and had been forced to evacuate just ahead of the British army taking the city.

Upon finally hearing his brother was okay, William sent a letter to Henry Laurens (father of John, from the musical Hamilton fame):

“If my Brother be with you, pray make him my Compliments, and tell him, that considering his size, I was under great apprehensions that he would not have been brisk enough to escape the Firing of Kingston. Sure I am that if any one had done him the kind office that Aeneas did Anchises of bearing him on his Shoulders to avoid the Conflagration, both the bearer & the burden, (or as the Merchants would say, both the Carrier & the freight) would have run the risque [risk] of perishing in the Flames. 5 February 1778.”

In other words, William was calling his little brother fat. A real card, huh?

A portrait of the admittedly rotund Philip Livingston, shown here in a circa 1770 portrait by Abraham Delanoy. Again, showing of a prominent belly displayed that a man had enough wealth to eat well and often. (Photo Credit – Clermont State Historic Site)

Cover Shot: Portrait of Samuel Johnson (“Blinking Sam”), Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens. Gift of Frances and Loren Rothschild.


Post by Travis Bowman, Historic Preservation Program Coordinator (Collections), Bureau of Historic Sites

Parks Cave As Sanctuary for Embattled Bats

More than a decade after a devastating, bat-killing fungus was first discovered at a State Parks cave in the Capital Region before sweeping across half of the U.S., that same cave now offers a glimmer of hope for some survivors.

Hailes Cave stretches for nearly a mile beneath the 100 million-year-old limestone escarpment at Thacher State Park in the rural western portion of Albany County. It was in this cave, long an important winter hibernation site for thousands of bats, that state wildlife biologists in 2007 observed the first cases of what was later known as White Nose Syndrome (WNS).

This fungal disorder kills bats by infecting their skin, disturbing their hibernation, exhausting critical fat reserves needed for winter survival, and rousting them early from caves to starve without insects to eat. WNS has swept out since in all directions, killing millions of bats in 32 states and seven Canadian provinces

“White nose” refers to a ring of white fungus seen on the nose of affected bats, and which can spread to the rest of its body. The fungus originates in Europe and Asia, where native bats have developed a resistance to it.

Map shows how White Nose Syndrome has spread since its first discovery 2007 in Hailes Cave in Thacher Thacher State Park. Click here to see an animation of this map. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

With bat populations exposed to WNS in the U.S. plummeting by 90 percent or more, the outlook has been uniformly bleak for more than a decade, since there are no known methods of treating infected bats or eliminating the cave-dwelling fungus, identified as Pseudogyymnoascus destructans.

Some Bats Fending Off White Nose Syndrome

But now, it appears that a certain species of bat – the little brown bat, or Myotis lucifugus – is evolving its own natural resistance to better survive the fungal infections, according to a December 2019 study of hibernating bats in a former cement mine in Ulster County in the Hudson Valley. (The location of this mine is not revealed to reduce the risk of human intrusion, which can reduce the bats’ potential for survival.)

Little brown bats cling to the ceiling at Hailes Cave during their hibernation. This is when bats enter a episodic state called “torpor,” in which their metabolism slows. Torpor allows the tiny mammals to sustain critical levels of body fat reserves needed to survive hibernation until springtime, when they can emerge and find insects to eat. (Photo Credit- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)
A little brown bat infected with the white fungus around its nose and face. The fungus can also spread to other parts of the bat’s body, and disrupts the bat’s period of torpor, causing it to use critical body fat reserved critical to surviving hibernation. (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation).
State Parks biologist Casey Holzworth checks cracks and crevices for hibernating bats during a 2015 visit to Hailes Cave to count the bat population. (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation)

The recent study is co-authored by Carl Herzog, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC); Craig L. Frank, with the Department of Biological Sciences at Fordham University, and April D. Davis, with the Griffin Laboratory at the state Health Department’s Wadsworth Center in Albany.

Historically, Hailes Cave has been a critical statewide cave for hibernating bats. Caves provide a constant temperature above freezing all winter long that allows bats to hibernate until spring, and as such, is called a hibernaculum. During this period, bats are in a state called torpor, in which their bodily functions slow dramatically, allowing them to slowly draw down a reserve of body fat needed to survive until spring, when insects return as a food supply.

Hailes Cave can be tight quarters. State researchers crawl on their hands and knees to reach the bat hibernaculum. Read Parks’ staffer Emily DeBolt’s account of the 2015 visit here. (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation)

Hailes Cave Shows Rebound in Bat Population

Researchers have found that the numbers of bats hibernating at Hailes Cave, which plummeted after the onset of WNS to a low of about 1,200 bats by 2010, have been steadily rebounding, and by 2019 totaled about 7,200 animals. Before the fungus arrived, however, bat populations at Hailes were at least double this level. Bat populations at the Ulster County hibernaculum also increased significantly during that same period.

Most importantly, the recent study found that little brown bats at the Ulster County site are somehow developing a natural resistance to the fungal infection, so that an increasing number of bats get only a moderate infection, or perhaps no infection at all, even though the fungus is present in the cave. And this resistance appears to be behind the increased population at Hailes Cave.


“Clearly, Hailes Cave provides what little brown bats need, but exactly what those factors are is a subject of some speculation… there is some research suggesting that caves draw bats from a geographically larger summer range than mines, because caves have been available for thousands of years, whereas most mines only became available in the 20th century.”

DEC Wildlife Biologist Carl Herzog

Normally, bats wake from torpor during hibernation about once every three weeks. Bats infected with WNS were waking up every week and using up precious calories in the winter months, causing them to leave caves early and die of starvation. Now, little brown bats are waking up an average of once every two weeks, the study found.

This allows these bats remain in hibernation longer and retain sufficient fat reserves needed to survive until spring. Exactly how the little brown bats are developing this resistance to WNS is still unknown.

However, this encouraging evolutionary adaptation applies only to little brown bats, meaning that other bat species found at Hailes Cave, including the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), the Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), and the tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus) are so far demonstrating no such defense, and their numbers are not rebounding.

The resurgence in the little brown bat at Hailes is also tempered by the fact that this species has not rebounded at other bat caves surveyed by state wildlife officials in Albany and Schoharie counties. This implies that surviving WNS-resistant bats from around the region might be congregating in Hailes for reasons as yet unknown. Brown bats can travel many miles from their summer ranges to ar hibernaculum, with the record for a little brown bat being a journey of 300 miles.

But for now, the study is a small bit of hope in a story that so far has been very grim.

State Parks, DEC and Cave Explorers Group Work Together To Protect Hailes Cave

In 2013, to protect the remaining beleaguered bats at Hailes from being disturbed by human intruders, crews from Thacher State Park, DEC and the Schoharie-based, not-for-profit Northeastern Cave Conservancy installed a two-ton steel “bat gate” near the Hailes entrance. The gate has bars that allow bats to come and go, but blocks human entry.

Crews haul steel bars for the construction of the “bat gate” inside the entrance to Hailes Cave. (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation)
The “bat gate” is welded into position. (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation)

Read this 2014 account in the New York State Parks blog about the gate project…

State Parks crews at Thacher keep an eye on the cave to ensure the gate remains in place to deter trespassers. When crews last spring noticed that some emerging bats died after becoming trapped in burdock patches near the mouth of the cave, those plants were cut away.

Every entry by people into a hibernaculum while the bats are present is likely to cause harm to the bats. It is illegal to enter most active bat hibernation sites in New York. To help the bats, people must stay away to prevent spread of WNS and to not disturb the bats.

Hailes Cave is among the largest bat hibernation caves in New York, and plays an important role in supporting our remaining bats. This cave, along with the Ulster County mine site, is now also giving us insight into how this tiny mammal appears capable of a rapid evolutionary response to a fungal attacker, which may help it to survive as a species.


Post by Brian Nearing, State Parks Deputy Public Information Officer

Cover Shot: Little brown bats cling to the ceiling at Hailes Cave (Photo Credit- Department of Environmental Conservation)

What Can You Do To Help Bats?

  • Build a bat house for their use during the summer season.
  • Reduce your use of pesticides and more, based on these tips from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Tips from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For More Information

Read the Bats of New York brochure; some of these bats are rarer than they were when brochure was created.

New York Natural Heritage Program Conservation Guides, which cover seven of the nine species of bats found in NY.

Gaslight Village Carries Flame into 21st Century

After burning almost uninterrupted for more than a century, the natural gas streetlights in this tiny village in western New York were definitely showing their age.

Since 1912, more than 40 of the historic fixtures had illuminated Wyoming, the self-proclaimed “Gaslight Village” and home to about 500 residents of about an hour’s drive south of Rochester.

Along the tiny cluster of streets, there are gaslights in front of businesses, homes and churches, including the post office, the Methodist and Baptist churches, and the local grocery store.

But after decades of use and exposure to the elements, the cast-iron light fixtures were falling apart and corroded, leaving village officials facing a decision: Abandon gaslight, which almost all of the country had done long ago, or save their distinctive streetscape as one of the last reminders in New York State of this bygone era?

A broken cast-iron gas streetlamp before being repaired.
Wyoming Village Mayor Nathan Norton examines a corroded streetlight.

“These gas lights have been burning since I can remember,” said Village Historian Doug Norton, who is the mayor’s brother. “The only time they have been turned off was during World War II, because of the blackout regulations.”

Norton said the lights are a point of pride and heritage for the small village. “The lights are pretty cool and something different. They are unique.”

Originally founded in 1809 as Newell’s Settlement, the small village is in a part of the state were natural gas was developed in the 19th century. A gas company outside the village agreed to provide free gas for the public streetlights for 99 years in exchange for being allowed to install pipes in the village so gas could be sold to homes and businesses. That contract expired in 2011 and now the village is paying for its gas.


A 1912 advertisement for the model of natural gas streetlight found in Wyoming, followed by historical photographs of the village showing the lights in use.


Wyoming is a reminder of life before electricity was widespread, when natural gas was the most popular method of both outdoor and indoor lighting in cities and towns.

But unlike Wyoming, most places discarded gas streetlights once electricity became widely available after the turn of the 20th century. Natural gas streetlights now can be found only in a handful of places, including parts of Boston, Cincinnati, and New Orleans, as well as in foreign cities like Prague and Berlin.

That makes these remnants of the Gaslight Era a very rare resource here in New York and worth protecting as part of State Park’s mission under the Historic Preservation Act of 1980.

In Wyoming, thanks to a $65,000 state grant obtained by Senator Patrick Gallivan, and with support from the Division of Historic Preservation at State Parks, 19 of the original 42 historic lights were painstakingly restored and now can continue burning for decades to come.

Original luminaries were removed from the poles and sent out for restoration. A professional metalsmith disassembled the lights, removed dents, removed corroded metal and replaced it with new metal, and cleaned up and painted the street lights to match their original finish. After lamps were reinstalled on their refurbished poles, the flow of gas was restored and the lights relit.


The restored natural gas streetlights of Wyoming.

Lights in The Night


Another 20 lights are replacements – a mix of historic lights from other communities that were discarding their fixtures in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as modern replicas.

Research into the gas luminaries was done by a team headed by Senior Historic Site Restoration Coordinator Beth Cumming, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator Sloane Bullough, Bureau of Technical Preservation Services Director John Bonafide, and National Register Western New York representative Jennifer Walkowski.

It was learned that the fixtures were made by manufacturer Thomas T. W. Miner Company of New York City. This information was used to augment the existing historic district National Register of Historic Places nomination.

While the Thomas T. W. Miner Company is long since out of business, the quality and endurance of their product is a fitting legacy _ and one that will continue to light the night in Wyoming for generations to come.

Happy Holidays from Wyoming, New York, the “Gaslight Village.”

Post by Sloane Bullough, Historic Sites Restoration Coordinator, and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for State Parks

This project was among ten projects honored this month with State Historic Preservation Awards. Read about the projects here.

All photographs provided by State Parks and Village of Wyoming