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Free Columbia presents play about the Anti-Rent War

Once upon a time the rents were even higher. Nathaniel Williams, director of the M.C. Richards Program of Free Columbia, models the masks to be worn for the production of the play “Claverack Calico: An Episode from the Anti-Rent Wars” that will be performed on Thursday, February 24 at 6 and 7 p.m. on the Philmont Village Green, Maple Avenue. The character masks represent Ambrose Root, Lord Livingston and revolt leader Smith Boughton. The portions of the costumes that are not masks will be sewn of patterned calico by Arla’s Designer Workroom in Philmont. Photo by David Lee

PHILMONT – The masks are colorful and entertaining but the story they will tell is important. They will be the representations of characters to give an account of the Anti-Rent War waged from 1839-1845 in upstate New York. Nathaniel Williams has created the play, “Claverack Calico: An Episode from the Anti-Rent Wars.” He is the program director of the M.C. Richards Program of Free Columbia based in Philmont.

Using the texts of several histories, Mr. Williams has composed a short theatrical production featuring the elaborate costumes and anti-rent songs of the time. The cast of 8 are all students of the Free Columbia program. The production will be the culmination of a class exploring political theory and local history.

“This is a good way to work with political theory,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s a story about the connection between inequality and freedom that resonates with current events, but today instead of serfdom we have wage slavery. It is a universal social question.”

The play will be presented Thursday, February 24. Its duration is about 35 minutes and it will be presented at 6 and 7 p.m. on the Philmont Village Green on Maple Avenue. Admission is free and donations are accepted. If the weather prohibits the performance, a future date will be found, but Mr. Williams suggests that it will take some pretty bad weather to cause cancellation.

“Dress warm,” he advised.

In the first half of the 19th century tenant farmers found themselves egregiously misused by their patroon landlords to whom they owed rent, a share of the harvest, improvements and a three-generation lease. They organized a revolt.

Inspired by the story of the Boston Tea Party, they wore masks and calico robes and called themselves “Calico Indians.”

Their leader was Smith Boughton of Hollowville in Columbia County. When the rebellion was finally put down, Mr. Boughton was tried in Hudson and sentenced to life imprisonment, but was pardoned by newly-elected Governor John Young. Lease laws were eventually reformed and the patroon lands were sold off.

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