‘The Anti-Rent War': When Delaware County, New York Was The Epicenter Of Land Conflict
The COVID-19 Pandemic caused many problems for so many people. One of the unintended consequences (I think) was the Covid-19 Eviction Protection For Tenants in New York State.
It protected tenants from being evicted if they didn't pay their rent, if they suffered a financial hardship because of COVID-19. The only way that a tenant could be lawfully evicted is if the owner brought a court proceeding and obtained a judgement of possession from the court.
This created a HUGE problem for both the tenants and their landlords. One of my good friends was a landlord and he lost thousands of dollars in back rent that will never be paid. What a country and as crazy as this may sound, it's not the first time that this has happened in our area.
The Anti-Rent War
Did you know that there was an Anti-Rent War in the Catskills in the mid 1800's? Yep, just down the road from Binghamton an hour or two. It pitted farmers (Anti-Renters) against the landowning elite (UpRenters). The "Anti-Rent War" took place from 1839 to 1845.
During this time, the landowners lured the famers to the land by letting them homestead there for free for seven years. After the time was up, they would pay a wheat rent, property taxes along with other terms of service.
They were promised fertile farmland but in most cases it was on rocky, unproductive forest. So after seven backbreaking years, they couldn't produce enough crops to pay the rent and provide for their families too.
The Anti-Renters felt that they had been misled into leases that were unjust, while the UpRenters believed that a contract was a contract. If the tenants couldn't or wouldn't pay, law enforcement was sent to collect their livestock as rent payment.
It all started as farmers protesting, with many of them dressing as "Calico Indians", which was essentially what their interpretation of the Native American costumes that patriots wore during the Boston Tea Party (although they were likely very off). The cover of the book below, A Free Soil - A Free People: The Anti-Rent War in Delaware County by Dorothy Kubik, shows an example of what these protestors wore.
But although the war was mostly a protest, it did turn violent in down in Delaware County.
Violent End To The Anti-Rent War
It didn't turn violent until 1845 when Sherriff Green More and undersheriff Osman Steele went to a farm to get some livestock for back rent. They were surrounded, shots were fired and Steele was hit three times and died later that day
Ironically, earlier that day, Steel bragged that "Lead cannot penetrate Steele." That quote is on a sign near Andes, New York today, although know one knows for sure if he actually said it. It makes for a good story though.
Political action was taken in 1846 because of this event and a pro Anti-Renter, John Young was elected governor of New York. He pardoned the convicted Anti-Renters and shortly after that, the rent system was done away with.
The Anti-Renters had won and you can read the complete story here. As they say, "if you don't learn history then you are doomed to repeat it." Hopefully we'll learn something from this...but I doubt it.