Tenants in colonial New York were very discontent. They rioted against their landlords a number of times, protesting their rents and the terms of their tenancy. The most well-known of these uprisings occurred in 1766 against the Philipse family, in Philipsburgh Manor in what is now Westchester County and Putnam County.
A number of tenants refused to pay their rent to the family and instead began leasing the land from the original owners of the land, the Wappinger Native Americans. The Wappingers were attempting to reclaim the land after the Philipse family apparently took possession without paying the tribe for the land. Riots broke out, and the Philipse family took the tenants to court. The Wappingers took the Philipse family to court. The courts favored the Philipse family.
In one court case, the wife of the defendant, one of the leaders of the uprisings, was so eloquent in her support of her husband that she outshone the opposing attorneys representing the landlords. The man was found guilty. Afraid of bad press and popular sentiment if he was executed, the New York court handed the sentencing over to authorities in England. Eventually the man’s life was spared.
Some of the court cases can be found at Columbia University in New York City under the Philipse-Gouverneur Land Titles collection.
It’s a fascinating time in New York colonial history.