The Ballad Of The Hudson Valley Rent Strikes

Ryan Harvey
Language: English

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A story from A People's History of the U.S. by Howard Zinn
It was the fall of 1839, the place was New York State
In the Hudson River Valley, on the Rennselaer Estate
A sheriff seeking rent pay was warned what he might find
And there were tin horns blowing from the hillside..

What the shrieking of the horns meant the sheriff wasn't sure
But he was met with opposition stronger than he'd seen before
As farmers dressed in calico came pouring out the woods
The tenants then assembled there and stopped him where he stood..

He presented them with writs demanding back-rent pay
They seized the writs and burned them and sent him on his way
For so long they had they suffered and now they'd organized
And there were tin horns blowing from the hillside.

Now this was not the first time that tensions rose like this
Back in 1750 and again in 66
They'd fought against patroonship against the landlord's rule
And this time they we're ready for a battle..

Mass meetings of the tenants led to organized dissent
That same December they came again collecting rent
But what the sheriff and his posse of 500 didn't know
Was there we're 2,400 in calico..

They were armed with clubs and pitchforks, assembled and arranged
They sent the sheriff and his soldiers back the way they came
They said the revolution was once again alive
And there were tin horns blowing from the hillside.

The landlords owned the stores, the timber, all the houses too
Put yourself in the picture and think what you would do
He taxed you for your labor and he taxed you for your land
Every farmer in the valley paid was his servant.

He was free to ride his horse and drink his wine and gather wealth
So far from a misery he'd never know himself
Over 80,000 people we're impoverished by his greed
While he was filling his life up with luxury..

Calico was chosen as the costume for the plan
Paying tribute to the natives who'd driven from this land
They agreed to take their power back, assembled by the cry
Of tin horns blowing from the hillside..

In county after county, the movement spread and grew
Til over 10,000 we're prepared to see it through
They tarred and feathered deputies and burned the landlords writs
Direct action against the culprits..

By 1845 it was clear it wouldn't last
They introduced petitions but of course they didn't pass
After a farmer killed a deputy, the troops we're ordered in
Nearly 100 tenants we're imprisoned..

They tried a few with murder, sentenced 2 more to be hanged
Forced 2 to write letters urging others to disband
It wasn't long before the politicians slithered in
Reduced the sentences to life in prison..

The next Governor elected pardoned those still locked away
Passed some laws and made some speeches, but kept thing's much the same
They maintained domination of the many by the few
Though some aspects we're abolished and the owner-class grew..

They crushed them with their weapons then they crushed them with the law
But if you listen closely you can here the tin horn's call
They can build the strongest shackles, but one day they will crack
And as history repeats people learn from the past.

Yes, there's a warning in this story for the tyrants of today
From Philly to Chiapas to Immokalee
When the water starts to boil then the pot will overflow
It won't be long before you hear the tin horns blow.

Contributed by giorgio - 2010/3/13 - 09:24

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