The Heroine of Quaker Hill

Part I – The Foundations of Unrest

When did the American Revolution really begin? Was it April 19, 1775, in Lexington, Massachusetts? Or perhaps it began a decade earlier, much closer to home. Few know of the “Anti-Rent Rebellion of 1765” which was fought here in Pawling, lasting over six months and reaching all the way to Manhattan. Here is the story of that rebellion and the woman who became known as “The Heroine of Quaker Hill.”

The Dutch established the colony of “New Netherlands” in 1621 on the east coast of the new continent from the Delmarva Peninsula to Cape Cod in order to capitalize on the fur trade. The colony was settled slowly, mostly in three major outposts along the North River (Hudson River): New Amsterdam (New York City), Wiltwyck (Kingston), and Fort Orange (Albany). By 1664, the population in the colony had grown to 9,000 with 2,500 living in New Amsterdam and 1,000 within Fort George. On August 27, 1664, four English frigates sailed into New Amsterdam’s harbor and demanded surrender. On September 8, New Amsterdam was renamed New York in honor of the Duke of York. By March of 1665, the English and Dutch were at war.

As fur trading became less important, the land between New York City and Albany became much more valuable. Colonists in Connecticut and Massachusetts were migrating westward. New York had miles and miles of undeveloped land there for the taking. French Canadian settlers also hungered for the land in New York. Beginning in 1686, the King of England awarded millions of acres in large land grants to a few powerful colonists in just four decades.

By the 1740s, wealthy manor lords held power in the Hudson Valley. Adolph Phillipse was granted two patents, one in Westchester County and another in southern Dutchess County. Adolph died in 1750 and his nephew Frederick took possession of the patents. Frederick died a year later. His will awarded the land to his children: Frederick III, Phillip, Mary (Roger Morris), Susannah (Beverly Robinson), and Margaret (who died without a will).

Patent boundaries were often a matter of interpretation and conflict. The Philipse Patent claimed that the Beekman Patent lay to the north of the Highlands and covered no portion of the mountains. The Beekmans claimed their southern boundary was a line running east from the mouth of Fish Kill. A compromise was reached on January 18, 1758. The new line crossed the middle of Whaley Pond.

This contested area was called “The Gore” and included much of today’s Pawling. While most landlords granted life-long leases, Beverly Robinson tried to force tenants in to signing one- to three -year leases payable in cash rather than crops, livestock, and labor. Failure to pay the rent resulted in ejection from the property.

William Prendergast was born in Waterford, County Kilkenny, Ireland, on February 2, 1727. He had emigrated to New York in the early 1750s and rented one hundred and twenty acres at the base of Quaker Hill (where the Dutcher Golf Course now stands) from the Wappinger Indians, in a perpetual lease, payable with a portion of his crops, cattle, and time. In 1755, Prendergast married Mehetibal Wing, born March 20, 1738, to Quaker parents on Quaker Hill.

Dutchess County Courthouse

In 1765, the Philipse family went to court and successfully enforced their claim against the Wappingers. Immediately, the Philipse estate attempted to evict fifteen tenant farmers from their holdings. The rents became excessive under Beverly Robinson, and tenants had absolutely no security since Robinson could refuse to renew the lease.

Prendergast’s crops had not come in as hoped, and he was behind in his rent. The terms of the new lease disturbed him as well. Eviction from his land was a real threat. On a trip to Yonkers, Prendergast learned that the four pounds, twelve shillings rent on his small farm was equal to the entire tax of the 200,000-plus acre Philipse estate. This was the last straw for William and other tenant farmers.

Read the next chapter of The Heroine of Quaker Hill in the next issue of The Pawling Record, available on August 17!