Once, the Hudson River was the key conduit to the rest of the North American continent, and by gaining control of the waterway, the British intended to drive a wedge between New England and the South, thereby weakening the American upstarts. The fleet of 23 British ships and 2,000 troops was traveling upriver on its way to meet up with General Burgoyne’s forces, who were traveling south from the Champlain Valley. The conflagration at Kingston – then the capital of New York – was a diversion, propelled by the desire to punish “this nest of villains,” as General Vaughan wrote.
A highlight of the three-day event, which commences at 7:30 p.m. on October 14 with a meeting of the “American Committee of Safety” at the Hoffman House – it’s followed by the “British Council of War” between the land and naval forces at Kingston Point Beach at 8 p.m. – is the encampment of British and Colonial forces at Kingston Point Park. From 12 noon to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 15, and on the morning of Sunday, October 16 starting at 8:30 a.m., the public is invited to visit, learning more about the historical event from the reenactors as well as witnessing naval competitions, races and other fun activities. Food vendors will be on the premises.
Meanwhile, a recreation of the actions that led to the incineration of Kingston unfolds, starting with the landing of the British naval forces at Kingston Point Beach at 10 a.m. on Saturday. After repelling the Colonial militia – according to First Ulster’s historical accounts, colonel Johannes Snyder of the First Ulster Militia had five cannons and 150 men at his disposal – the British forces begin their march towards Uptown, meeting scattered resistance along the one-and-a-quarter-mile route.
At 3:30 p.m., the American Militia launches a surprise attack on the British encampment, but fails to drive the invaders off. From 7:30 to 11 p.m., a grand ball is held in the Council Chambers at Kingston City Hall to welcome General Vaughan, the victorious British commander, and “his Lady.”
On Sunday at 1 p.m., more action gets underway: Panicked residents of Kingston pack their belongings and flee as the British troops approach the Stockade District (Wall and Main Streets). The Americans put up a fight as the troops push ahead, passing the same stone buildings that they torched in 1777. This time around, of course, spectators will be spared the sight of flames – and residents can relax – with the event winding up with the reenactors breaking for lunch at local restaurants.
According to the First Ulster website, among the defensive actions undertaken by the First Ulster Militia under Colonel Snyder were two hastily constructed earthworks: one at Ponckhockie, overlooking the Hudson River and the mouth of the Rondout Creek, and the other near O’Reilly’s Woods, the present-day site of City Hall. But the British easily overwhelmed the Colonials, driving them out and torching the city. As General Vaughan described the scene at Kingston (then called Esopus), “They fired from their Houses, which induced me to reduce the Place to Ashes, which I accordingly did, not leaving a House.” But the Colonials quickly rebuilt their city – and the rest, as they say, is history.