Relive Kingston’s famous conflagration this weekend

A young participant in 2011's Burning. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

A young participant in 2011’s Burning. (Photo: Phyllis McCabe)

The entire City of Kingston will be struck by British lightning starting Friday, Oct. 4 — a fiery forecast predicted to last throughout the weekend and expected to resolve Sunday, Oct. 6. Look out for loud booms, sudden flashes, musket fire from Redcoats and Patriots alike and one Union Jack flag flying high above Kingston again.

Every other year, re-enactors portraying British troops re-land on the shores of Kingston to fake-invade and pretend to burn down the state’s first capital, reliving the real events of Oct. 16, 1777. In the days following the stunning British defeat at Saratoga and the collapse of their three-pronged plan to conquer New York State and very likely snuff the revolution, the Redcoats were in a very bad mood as they retreated down the river. Since the small city of Kingston was left largely unarmed due to most of its militia stationed up in Saratoga, or fighting the lost battle at Fort Montgomery with General Clinton, the settlement couldn’t mount much of a defense. Fortuitously for Kingston’s remaining former residents, word had spread of the British’s plans, allowing them time to vacate and flee to the hills of Hurley to watch in safety as their homes, churches and shops went up in smoke.

Hank Yost of the 3rd Ulster Militia group of Continental Army re-enactors explained the actual burning 1777 was a “boring thing” compared to the high drama of the reenactment.  “In 1777, British troops were essentially unopposed, with only a remnant of the old men and boys of the militia to slow them down,” he said. “The Redcoats landed to a short skirmish, drove off the militia and proceeded to the Rondout area, near the present MaritimeMuseum, where they captured and burned shipping. The main force marched up the hill to the Stockade area where 300 buildings were burned — save one — to the ground. The residents and government had already fled to Hurley. British troops then returned to their ships to harass other nearby communities. The whole thing took only a few hours and the capital of New York was in ruins.”


It all starts this Friday at 7 p.m. with a presentation at the Hoffman House, followed by a lantern tour of the Old Dutch cemetery at 7:30 and a concert. The next morning will feature the arrival of the Brits at the Rondout, followed by a few battles and grand ball Saturday evening at City Hall. Sunday will include one more battle at Forsyth Park, where both armies will be encamped.

The landing battle on Saturday morning at Rotary Park Kingston Point at 11 a.m. will most closely resemble the original military contact, explained Yost. At 2 p.m., the street battle commences Uptown; Old Dutch’s dominie will rescue the church’s bible as British troops pound on church doors and chase retreating rebels throughout the Stockade District.

Saturday’s skirmishes will include a “siege” of the Matthewis Persen House on John Street. “This scenario was taken from the actual siege of the Chew House at the Battle of Germantown,” explained Yost. “In our version, Continental and militia troops will fall back along the streets to the Persen House and defend it against the attacking British forces. They will eventually be driven out and the house occupied by the Crown.  American troops will be pushed out of the Stockade area and it will be occupied by Crown forces. Subsequently, the mayor will be put on trial for treason before a military tribunal. There will be a prosecutor and a defense attorney for the mayor. The verdict will be handed down by a panel of British officers.”

Strike the stars and stripes …

The grand ball will be held Saturday evening at City Hall at 7 p.m., with dancing instructions offered between 7-8 p.m. It is open and free for everyone. Eighteenth-century dress is not required, however it is encouraged.