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Guest Column: Preserve city's history at Liberty Park

Guest Column: Preserve city's history at Liberty Park

Schenectady must capitalize on its past

 

For The Sunday Gazette

In downtown Schenectady during the Revolutionary War era, Liberty Park was the location where people met to discuss, plan and organize for securing liberty for our people.

In the 20th century, people used the site to reflect upon and celebrate the core principle of American life, liberty.

Our local government could capitalize on this rich past by reaffirming liberty in the park’s name, reinstalling the Statue of Liberty replica, and educating students and visitors about Schenectady’s historical support for liberty.

The European-American men of Schenectady felt free enough from the encumbrances of monarchial rule in 1766, or perhaps were supportive of it, that they felt no need to form a Schenectady chapter of the Sons of Liberty when requested to do so by the Albany branch.

However, by 1775, war had broken out between the Americans and the British, and the people of Schenectady formed a Committee of Safety to defend American interests.

The committee elected Christopher Yates chairman, who one year earlier was a founder and the first master of Schenectady’s first Masonic lodge, which was named in honor of St. George.

While the first organizational meeting of the Committee of Safety was held at William White’s house, it is possible that future meetings were held in the same location as meetings of St. George’s Lodge.

They met at one of the most important meeting places of the time, the Tavern of the Crossed Keys.

Robert Clench ran the tavern. Until the city removed it recently, there was a state Department of Education historical marker in Liberty Park designating its location and marking the visit of a certain general.

The Committee of Safety became the governing committee of the town and helped organize multiple aspects of civic life, including the recruitment and provisioning of two companies of militia men to, in the words of the day, “preserve, if possible, the just liberties of America and to keep and defend the important port of Ticandaroga [sic] in conjunction with brethren of New England”.

These were the first soldiers from Schenectady to fight for our country’s freedom, and they marched under company flags emblazoned with the motto “Liberty or Death.”

The American Revolution raged on and slowly the British were battered back.

On June 30, 1782, Gen. George Washington traveled to Schenectady to discuss the struggle for liberty.

Word of his arrival reached the town before he did, so dozens of residents rode their horses out to greet him.

When the procession entered the town, about 100 Oneidas and Tuscaroras in full battle array greeted him along with the town’s residents, ringing bells and firing cannons. It was a joyous day.

Later that evening, an exclusive group hosted Washington at the Tavern of the Crossed Keys for dinner, toasts and discussions.

A record of that meeting does not exist, but Washington wrote a note of thanks to his hosts before he left Schenectady.

This note alludes to the discussions about liberty he had with town residents.

“In a cause so just and righteous as ours,” he wrote, “May you and the good people of this town … be protected from every insidious or open foe and may the complete blessings of peace soon reward your arduous struggle for establishment of the freedom and independence of our common country.”

The city of Schenectady now has a choice.

Exile Lady Liberty from her park, eradicate all reference to George Washington’s visit to the location, and eliminate liberty from the park’s name, or continue to capitalize on Schenectady’s historical support and respect for the beautiful idea of liberty.

Thomas Hodgkins is a former history teacher and one-time Schenectady resident.

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