A new fire: This year’s Burning of Kingston takes a different tack

An image of a Native American interpreter from a past Burning. (Photo by Dan Barton)

When the out-of-town military re-enactors that had been the centerpiece of past Burnings of Kingston said they weren’t coming this year, it dealt a blow to the biennial commemoration of the 1777 war crime committed against our fair city by peeved British troops sailing back to New York after getting beat up in Saratoga.

But disruption often brings along with it a chance to look at things in a different way, and that has proven to be the case for the 2019 event, set to begin this Friday, Oct. 18. Without the battles (which never really actually in fact took place) there will be more of an emphasis on the real history of Colonial-era Kingston.


Earlier this year, the preservation of the history of African people in 18th century Kingston took a huge leap forward with the preservation, led by local groups Harambee and the Kingston Land Trust, of the city’s older African burial ground on Pine Street.

Now, the two groups are for the first time conducting a few programs at the Matthewis Persen House in Uptown for this year’s Burning to teach about the not-often-taught role black people played in Kingston’s life back then.

“As the Kingston Land Trust we are supporting Harambee to tell the full history of the land and include that narrative to strengthen the authenticity of the Burning of Kingston event, especially in light of our recent protection of the Pine Street African Burial Ground,” said the KLT’s Shaniqua Bowden. “Many don’t realize that by 1790, Ulster County was one of the four leading slave-holding counties in New York state, which had an overall population of approximately 21,000 enslaved people. Their contribution to this region should be acknowledged.”

From 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Persen House, a special exhibit put together by the KLT and Harambee will be on display. At 12:30, an informative talk by Rennie Scott-Childress, “Seen But Not Heard: Slavery in Ulster County,” will be offered. Evelyn Clarke will also speak on Crispus Attucks, a black patriot slain in the Boston Massacre by British troops.

Then at 2 p.m., there will be a processional march from the Persen House to the Pine Street Burial Ground, accompanied by a choir singing African hymns and a ceremony at the grounds.

“I think it’s fair to say that we can look at Africans being here as far back as the 1600s,” said Tyrone Wilson, Harambee’s founder and organizer. “To me, it’s quite a shame that [past Burnings failed in] addressing and identifying everyone that was here.” Wilson added that the story of a black slave woman who stuck around and put out the fire at her master’s house has never been included in a past Burning event. “We’re trying to tell the untold stories,” he said.

Other events include:

On Saturday from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Friends of Historic Kingston will feature “The List of Sufferers” — an exhibit detailing the loss of property by Kingstonians in the burning.

At 2 p.m. Saturday at the Volunteer Fireman’s Museum on John Street, a bucket brigade contest will be offered; signup is at 1:30. All ages welcome.

At 3 p.m. Saturday at Old Dutch Church, the lecture “Burning Memories: John Jay, Kingston, and the Legacies of the American Revolution” will be lead by Columbia University’s Robb K. Haberman, Ph.D.

And at 8 p.m. Saturday at Old Dutch Church’s Bethany Hall, the Colonial Grand Ball will step off. Eighteenth-century attire is welcome but not mandatory; a free dance lesson will be offered at 7:30.

For more information, visit www.BurningOfKingston.com.