This past Tuesday, April 19, marked the 236th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution. That was the day the first shots were fired in the Battles of Lexington and Concord which led to eight years of the war for independence and the founding of United States of America.
In the wee hours on Monday morning — April 18th, 2011 — in the historic, picturesque, but very 21st century town of the Lexington, MA, the anniversary was marked with a spirited re-enactment of British soldiers in their red-coated finery marching onto the Lexington Green and facing off against a passionate, rag tag group of Minutemen. These patriots — farmers, soldiers and shopkeepers — had been warned the night before by a breathless Paul Revere shouting “the British are coming” from his horse and they gathered in nearby Buckman Tavern prepared to stop the British advance. When they met on the green, shots were fired and a skirmish ensued.
Every year to mark this anniversary, scores of local families, fully conversant in the historic details of April 19, 1775, dress in 18th century garb to fully re-enact — in exacting detail and with full appreciation for the specific people they are portraying — the historic events of that morning. While thousands and thousands of visitors now pour into Lexington and, later on, into Concord at the other end of the Battle Road to watch, these Patriot’s Day re-enactments are largely a local, grassroots way of keeping history alive while proudly honoring those who fought for liberty.
The Hudson Valley, and particularly Dutchess County, might take a page from this particular history book. The Hudson Valley is incredibly rich in American Revolutionary War history. There are major battles sites; Washington’s Headquarters; and, yes, re-enactments, too.
But one of the most remarkable sites — The Fishkill Supply Depot, which was an important encampment for Continental soldiers and a major food and supply depot from 1776-1783 — remains largely unknown to most New Yorkers. In fact, the site is already partially covered by a shopping mall and is threatened by another round of commercial development in the Town of Fishkill.
It is astonishing in this era of Tea Party politics and grandstanding recitations of the Constitution that a small group of local citizens, Friends of the Fishkill Supply Depot, have been the lone advocates for an extraordinary piece of America’s early military history — with enormous tourist potential. But then Dutchess County has the dubious distinction of being without a County Historian for more than three years. And other historic sites throughout the county suffer from benign neglect. This is our past, the story of our region, our state and our country.
Economically, this negligence is short sighted. The Hudson Valley follows only New York City and Long Island in the tourism dollars it generates each year — something like $5.7 billion — and the tourist industry represents 6% of all employment in the region.
In 2007, archeological investigations identified hundreds of soldier’s graves at the supply depot site with estimates there could be up to 1,000, dating from the 18th century. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer announced plans to reintroduce legislation to make the Fishkill Supply Depot eligible for federal preservation funds. Surprisingly, the American Battlefield Protection Program, the existing program providing funding for communities to purchase and preserve significant historic venues — currently applies strictly to Civil War sites. Schumer’s legislation would expand this program to include historic sites associated with the Revolutionary War.
“The Fishkill Supply Depot has always been a local treasure, but with the discovery of hundreds of graves from the Revolutionary War, it is more important than ever to protect this site to honor the memory of those who fought to create our great nation,” said Schumer. “It is critical that we protect this remarkable site in order to preserve its value for generations to come. ” It’s hard to imagine how anyone could vote against this legislation.