Glorious is a luscious word. It fits the big things, like a perfect skyscape or a reunion with someone you love. According to Oxford Languages, though, that’s its second meaning, “having a striking beauty or splendor that evokes feelings of delighted admiration.” The first meaning, “having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration,” is trickier.
Some of the things that society rewards with admiration are just downright silly. There’s a huge shouting match going on, and mainstream culture seems ready to glorify anyone who scores a point. People get famous for being famous, are admired in the moment just for amassing material wealth even when the way they did it was useless or downright harmful.
Some of the things that history comes to consider glorious are, at the time of their achievement, considered silly and harmful. Imagine sitting in your sitting room (as one does) in a London neighborhood and picking up your copy of the London Advertiser to read that those crazy people who’d chosen to leave it all behind and take a weeks-long sea voyage, risking piracy and shipwreck and disease just to end up somewhere dangerous, were now claiming they didn’t need the British Empire anymore.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness,” wrote the Founders..
The news hit England midway through August, arriving on the packet ship the Mercury. “Copies of the Declarations of War by the Provincials are now in Town and are said to be couched in the strongest terms,” remarked the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser on Wednesday, August 14.
There wasn’t a lot of time to rejoice in 1776; the “Provincials” were busy getting their tails kicked up and down the Hudson during what was called the New York Campaign. It wasn’t until a couple of undeniable wins at Trenton and Princeton that the Congress ordered a Baltimore printer, Mary Katherine Goddard, to run off a bunch of broadsides that included the signers’ names.
But the Declaration had already gone the 18th century equivalent of viral by then, and been printed in several languages, shocking the Old World more effectively (one imagines) than any Twitter post ever could. “How dare they!” some no doubt thought. “Good on ‘em,” thought others, albeit quietly. “What’s for tea?” wondered even more.
In October of 1777, Kingston was the capital of brand-new New York State. Here in the Stockade, people with fire in their eyes gathered by the tavern hearth to hear the latest war news. Things looked pretty bleak. The previous year, just before the New Jersey victories, George Washington had actually considered setting New York City on fire so the Brits couldn’t take it over, an idea vetoed by the Congress. Now, in Kingston, those whose age, health or station in life had kept them away from the frontlines knew they were in trouble. The Hudson Valley was a key strategic spot; within it, the Brits well knew, Kingston was a stronghold of rebel sympathies. The strong vein of Dutch culture bothered them; Holland had decreed that taxation must be by consent a couple of hundred years earlier, and that had been claimed as a right in the Esopus area.
So all over Ulster County, they’d signed their names to yet another declaration: pledging their allegiance to the new country “under all the ties of religion, honor and love.” The Brits didn’t appreciate that one bit.
Mad as a wet hen, British General Vaughan sailed up the Hudson with thirty ships, aimed at the town where Governor Clinton had been inaugurated to shouts of “God save the people,” not “God save the King.” New York was all in, and the Brits were hugely pissed. Albany had sent word to stand up the militia, but wouldn’t be sending any troops.
When it became obvious that the small group of defenders were no match for over 1,000 redcoats, the Hasbroucks and Bruyns and DeWitts and their neighbors made a choice that may not have seemed at all glorious at the time. Running to Hurley, they were miserable and scared. Coming back to devastation, there were no doubt at least a couple of people who thought this whole war thing had been a stupid idea. One hundred and sixteen houses, 103 barns, two school houses, the academy, 46 barracks, 17 store houses or shops, and the courthouse and church had been destroyed in two hours.
But every nearby home was thrown open to the newly homeless, money poured in from all over the newly minted country to help Kingston out, and forty-one of the houses burned still stand today, promptly rebuilt.
It would be over five years before the Treaty of Paris was signed and the Redcoats left for good. By then, Kingston was a legend—and instead of mourning the buildings, the community and the nation rejoiced that so many lives had been saved.
“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…
“Who bore so gallantly their part, the simple as the great,
In brave old Kingston –This they plead, “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.’
What might have looked at the time like a most inglorious choice had been the better part of wisdom. Sometimes you have to work with the facts on the ground, hold onto your truth, and persist; strategy often wins over brute force in the end. Have a glorious July, fellow Kingstonians.