The Anti-Rent War Prosecution of Dr. Smith Boughton, 1845

Anti-Rent War Calico Indians

On December 12, 1844, Columbia County Sheriff Henry C. Miller went to the village of Copake to serve process on one of the Livingston Manor tenant farmers who was in arrears on his rent. As recounted by S. B. Miller in Columbia County at the End of the Century, the sheriff was met by about three hundred Calico Indians and fifteen hundred people not in disguise. “The sheriff was taken into a room of a public house in the vicinity, by Big Thunder and six other Chiefs, who stated that he would not be permitted to proceed in the discharge of his duties. Swords were drawn, pistols placed at his breast, his papers demanded and given to them, which were subsequently burned in the presence of the crowd.”

On December 18, 1844, Big Thunder (Smith Boughton) and another leader known as Little Thunder were arrested and jailed. A large crowd of their supporters gathered outside the jail and fearing a rescue attempt, Governor Silas Wright sent several companies of infantry and cavalry to the County to protect the jail and maintain the peace.

Little Thunder released after a year in confinement but Smith Boughton was tried on charges of robbery in March, 1845 in a Court of Oyer and Terminer. Judge Amasa J. Parker presided, John Van Buren, the State Attorney General, and Theodore Miller, the County District Attorney, conducted the prosecution, and Ambrose L. Jordan (later elected Attorney General) acted for the defense. The trial lasted two weeks but the jury did not reach a verdict.

In September 1845, Boughton was tried again before Judge John W. Edmonds in a Court of Oyer and Terminer in Hudson, New York. During this trial, a dispute took place in the courtroom between the Attorney General (son of President Martin Van Buren) and Ambrose Jordan that ended in a fist fight. When the attorneys were subdued by court officers, Judge Edmonds ordered both men jailed in solitary confinement for 24 hours.

The trial continued for five weeks, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Boughton was sentenced to life in prison. In November 1846, John Young was elected Governor of New York with the support of the Anti-Rent faction and upon taking office in 1847, he issued a proclamation pardoning 54 convicted Anti-Rent activists, including Smith Boughton.



S. B. Miller. Columbia County at the End of the Century (1900)

John Worth Edmonds. Reports of Select Cases. Decided in the Courts of New York (1883)

The Case of Smith Boughton. Some Notable Trials, XIV. New York Times, 2/23/1896

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