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November 7, 2010

Kingston once served as state capital

Election Day has passed, so I can skirt the political aspects of my story.

I'm one of those citizens who remains outraged by the New York Senate's refusal to even meet for a period of time last year. My wife, Marty, and I tried to put a different slant on things by visiting the Senate House Historic Site in Kingston.

Kingston's oldest residential area retains the street grid drawn by Peter Stuyvesant in the 1658. Because of fighting with the Esopus Indians, Stuyvesant ordered the community of 60 settlers to relocate homes and barns on a bluff overlooking their farmland. Board by board, brick by brick, these structures were moved.

A stockade of tree stumps, 14 feet high and with borders 1,200-by-1300 feet, was erected in a mere three weeks. Peace treaties were signed in 1664. Though no longer needed, the stockade stood intact into the 1700s. Segments were found during archaeological digs in 1971.

FIRST CAPITAL

Kingston's early economy thrived on trade up and down the Hudson River. When the British took control of New York City during the American Revolution, however, merchants were left without avenues of commerce. And government had to move.

Kingston was designated the capital of New York state. Leaders, most notably John Jay, penned the state constitution in the local courthouse. George Clinton, New York's first governor and the person after whom Clinton County was named, had his offices there. The state's assembly convened in a local tavern.

The Senate wanted a more private place to meet. Abraham Van Gaasbeek, prosperous until Hudson River trade dwindled, offered empty rooms he once used for storage. That legislative body came together for the first time in September 1777 — at which time his home was already more than a century old.

During these early sessions, the 24-member Senate responded to a gubernatorial address, authorized pay for legislators (do priorities ever change—) and contracted for food to feed soldiers at Saratoga and Fort Montgomery.

British forces were sighted sailing up the Hudson River in October. State government quickly evacuated to Hurley then Poughkeepsie, where it remained until the capital was permanently moved to Albany in 1795. The British burned much of Kingston, but a tenacious population began rebuilding almost immediately.

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