A BALLAD OF OLD KINGSTON

By Mary Isabella Forsyth
1840 - 1914

From The Beginnings of New York published in 1909
A wonderful poem about the patriotism of the residents of Kingston, New York, during the American Revolution and describing the fateful burning of the entire villiage by British troups on October 16th, 1777

I sing of arms - of gallant deeds, of one heroic town
Where patriots, for Freedom's sake, defied the British Crown.

Fair Atkarhactor, when of old the Indians alone
Its lovely plains, its circling hills, and mountain slopes had known.

Esopus, Wiltwyck, Swannenburg, then Kingston it became
When England ruled the Colony; - and bears today this name.

There Hollander and Huguenot their "sacred fire" had brought
That burst in flame when tyranny to quench it vainly sought.

"The County Roll of Honor" still in hearts and homes survives,
Its signers to the Congress pledged their honor, fortunes, lives.

When gathered in the quaint old church all hearts were kindled there
The patriot's duty formed a part of sermon, psalm, and prayer.

"To arms! To arms! "The cry rang out along the peaceful street.
From every farm and hamlet came the sound of hurrying feet.

Before the high-peaked houses stood, on each capacious stoop -
Where erst the burghers calmly smoked - an eager, anxious group.

Too deeply moved for vehemence, too confident for fear,
Whene'er a new recruit appeared they gave a stirring cheer.

Hooghtaling's troop of horse dashed by. The infantry at drill
Their flintlocks handled with a grasp that showed determined will.

Young Bruyn, of Norseman lineage, brave-eyed and steadfast faced,
Recruited and equipped his men with eager, generous haste.

Not even love his heart could turn from duty's path aside -
Though sore his anguish when he left his lovely, promised bride.

Then, like a mountain torrent that to seek the sea leaps forth
Impetuous, the little band sped onward towards the north.

Exultant, thrilled with eager hope, their ardor naught could check
Until the human surges beat the ramparts of Quebec.

E'en there they met like veterans the storm of shot and shell.
Our youthful captain was beside Montgomery when he fell.

Before, triumphant was their march; there, stern disaster came.
Disaster that has twined their brows with deathless wreaths of fame.

The long, long winter through they bore privations in the field.
At home, all prayed and suffered; still, not one, not one would yield!

One day, within the village street afar was heard a drum.
The sound came nearer,- then the shout, "The regiment has come!"

All war-worn, many wounded sore, so many missing! Then,
Before they broke the ranks they cried, "We're going back again!"

"Enlist!" Exhaustion claimed them not until this work was done -
Old Kingston gave to liberty each able-bodied son!

And so the youthful lovers met; but only met to part,
"Go, dearest!" sobbed our heroine, "you take with you my heart,"

"God bids us make this sacrifice, tis on his altar laid.
"I glory in your leaving me! I dare not be afraid!"

When soon the dauntless volunteers with valiant hearts went back.
They seemed along the country road to leave a shining track.

(A century later, it was there ten thousand heroes trod,
The "Boys in Blue" 'neath Stars and Stripes for country and for God.)

The last faint echoing steps gave place to calm that seemed like death.
Within the village, people spoke as if with bated breath.

But soon the trusty Indian scouts brought tidings from afar;
And closer drew the embattled lines that marked the seat of war.

The ancient courthouse scarce could hold the prisoners of state
Marched in, from time to time, who cursed the rebels, God, or fate.

Those Ulster troops fresh laurels won; on one autumnal day
At Fort Montgomery helped to hold o'erwhelming hosts at bay.

Not Balaklava's heroes faced more fearful odds than when
The assault of thousands thus was braved by scarce two hundred men.

When overborne, they spiked their gun and made a brave retreat.
Contesting every step, they moved with slow, unwilling feet.

The first who marched to meet the foe were last the fort to hold,
While many a gallant soldier fled, a remnant, few but bold

Stood 'midst the dead,--as Colonel Bruyn, with sword uplifted high,
Cried, "Strike For old Esopus, boys! Her sons know how to die!"

When captured thus stern foemen said, "We gladly yield to you
The highest honors war can give to valor tried and true."

Scant comfort, when to living death upon the Jersey sent,
Not knowing they had swelled the ranks that shook a continent!

The horrors of that prison ship still make the blood run cold,
Disease and famine, foulest filth, brutality untold,

Meanwhile, in Kingston oft there met, by danger undismayed,
The leaders of "seditious" thought, who gravest problems weighed.

Van Courtland, Morris, Livingston, Duane, DeWitt and Jay -
Who dared a traitor's doom to face, with others brave as they,

Took strong, decisive action there,- a Constitution framed.
A state new born 'midst fearful throes was daringly proclaimed.

When Clinton, Ulster's favorite son, admired, beloved, revered,
Who sought no honors he had won, whom all opponents feared,-

When he by urgent voice was called the state's first steps to guide,
Not his to linger nor delay! Men tell to-day with pride.

How Clinton hastened from the camp to take the oath, then fled
From all that might have held him back,- again to conflict sped.

The first assembly, senate, court, brought statesmen of renown,
Convened to work the common weal, within the patriot town

The early records of the state were sent for safety there.
The Tappens bore them off in haste, amidst the trumpet's blare,

When Vaughan the "nest of rebels "fired, and left a mark of shame
Forever, long as history lasts, to rest upon his name.

Defenceless was the village when one mid-October day,
Long shadows flecked by sunshine bright upon the greensward lay,

A sorrowing group were gathered round a scout. This tale he told,-
The fall of Fort Montgomery, the fate of heroes bold.

The women wept. The aged men cried, "Would l had been there!"
Their incoherent words and sobs rose piteous on the air.

When suddenly a maiden fair with hurried step drew near,
They touched each other. " Hush," they said, "for his betrothed is here."

She turned in silence when the tale at last - at last - was heard,
And sought her widowed mother's home. The warbling of a bird,

The brilliant foliage, the blue that calmly arched above,-
All seemed to mock the stricken heart that throbbed with pain and love.

Her bright-eyed lover! strong to do,-could he be strong to bear?
Will not the prisoned eagle pine deprived of upper air?

No human help could reach the first extremity of pain.
She prayed, "Sustain him. Saviour-God! O set him free again!"

While still she knelt, a sudden shout caught e'en her listless ear,
"Lope younge, Lope! bei Hurley out! * "The British troops are here!"
*" Run, children, run, flee to Hurley."

She had not heard the galloping, the breathless cry without,
"Three thousand troops have landed! They have taken the redoubt!"

Each beardless boy his musket grasped the invader to oppose.
The handful of militia fought like tigers 'gainst the foes.

But on, and on, the British came, hearts hot with frenzied hate,
To punish the devoted town, the birthplace of the state!

They filled the wagons hurriedly with aged and with young;
A few some treasures buried, while - still in the Holland tongue -

"Lope younge! Lope! Bei Hurley out!" The summons passed along.
Till, facing westward, swiftly fled a terror-stricken throng.

The last who turned a backward glance saw through the sunny air
The gleam of British bayonets,- a sudden, awful glare.

The assailants marched with torch in hand. Black smoke in volumes rose
From homes, for generations dear, the prey of ruthless foes.

In one rude cellar - still the house, rebuilt, stands firm to-day -
In sorest pangs of motherhood a youthful matron lay.

Above her, burning beams crashed down, while sounds of trampling feet
Were mingled with tumultuous shouts, the uproar of the street.

That day was kindled such a flame as nothing could assuage!
Upon the town a martyr's crown doth rest from age to age.

This, this the climax-winter snows already chilled the air -
Yet, 'neath accumulated woes none yielded to despair.

The homes in Hurley opened wide, and all the country round
Received the homeless fugitives with sympathy profound.

E'en welcome, succor, human aid were secondary things.
The patriot hearts were calmly stayed beneath Almighty wings!

Tis said, that when October brings its glowing, gladdening days,
When town and hillside seem aflame, bright hued, 'midst tender haze,

Those watching ere the sad sixteenth, expectant, through the night
Wthin the churchyard may behold a weird, mysterious sight.

Dim forms of earlier times are there, a shadowy, ghostly throng.
(Too rarely do their names appear in history or song.)

A common impulse brings them all, -the mistress and the slave,
The dead from ancient battlefields, fair maidens, statesmen grave,

Who bore so gallantly their part,- the simple as the great,
In brave old Kingston. This their plea, " We helped to make the State!"

(We hear it not with outward ear, it thrills the silence through)
"Remember this has cost us dear! Its future rests with you!"

THIS IS THE FINE PRINT
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