Jonathan was born in Albany to Phoebe Brooks (Broecks) and John Kidney in 1760 into an old Dutch and English settler family.
In July 1777, at age 17 he was drafted as a militia man in Col. Gerrit Lansing’s Regiment, under the command of General Philip Schuyler. Albany was a hot bed of revolutionary spirit and men of all ages were members of the various militias (think of the militia as today’s National Guard vs. a standing army – in the Revolutionary War that was the Continental Army). The members of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, Safety and Protection, the group that took charge of Albany County during the Revolution were imbued with an especially zealous revolutionary spirit and were especially harsh when dealing with suspected Loyalists and shirkers.
The information we have about Jonathan’s War service comes from his pension application. His regiment was first ordered to Fort Edward, but then fell back to fight in the Battle of Bennington. They were then ordered to Saratoga, but missed the Battle. In the aftermath of the Battle his company was assigned the duty of escorting the “Convention Army” (the British and Hessian prisoners of war who fought under Burgoyne) across Massachusetts to Boston.
In 1778 he served a brief militia tour of duty in the vicinity of Cobleskill and Schoharie. In 1779 he again served with another local militia group, this time in the Mohawk Valley.
In fall 1782, when he was about 23, he was among a group of men who sailed on the privateer “Scammel” from the New England coast. (In addition to Jonathan’s apparent adventuresome spirit, there was a lot of money to made as a member of a privateer crew.) In 1782, while most of the Revolutionary War hostilities had ceased, the Treaty of Paris between the United States and Great Britain had not yet been signed – technically America and Great Britain were still at war.
Prisoner of War
In his 1833 pension application Jonathan deposed:
“We sailed out on the cruise about a fortnight and were then taken in about a days sail off Sandy Hook, by the British Frigate Jason – the 50 gun ship” being in Company with her. Part of the Crew of the Privateer was put on board the“Jason and a part of them on board the Renown I was put on board the Renown and taken into New York. I was then transferred to the old Jersey Prison Ship – I remained a prisoner until May following when Peace was proclaimed. Parts of the time I was confined onboard the Jersey Prison ship and part of the time onboard the Hospital ships.”
The Jersey was a the most notorious of the British prison ships. It lay at anchor off in Wallabout Bay, near what is today the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a hell hole of disease, starvation, abuse and death. Men were crammed below decks where there was no natural light or fresh air and few provisions for the sick and hungry. Thousands of men were kept confined in quarters designed for 400 sailors. Diseases of all kinds were rampant. There are estimates that as many as a dozen prisoners died each day. More American men died aboard the British prison ships than in the total of all Revolutionary War battles.
The pension application says,
“I recollect that the news of Peace was publicly read onboard the Jersey Prison ship to the prisoners and we were immediately discharged. We went out up with a flag to Dobb’s Ferry. I stopped at _ Point, where I received two days provisions by the direction of the Commanding officer. Then I went to Newburg where the army there lay. I there got six days of provisions and a half pint of rum and then came home to Albany in a sloupe.”
(Note: the Treaty of Paris that ended the War was not signed until September, 1783, but there were exchanges of prisoners starting late winter of that year.)
Men who were released from the “Jersey” were said to have been “walking skeletons”. Jonathan indicated that he and his fellow prisoners were unable to travel on foot more than 5 miles a day as a result of their weakened condition.
After The War
Like most young men Johnathan returned to his home in Albany and became a blacksmith living most of his life near or on Hudson Ave. just east of South Pearl St, with his smithy on South Pearl near State St. In the early 1790s he married Hannah Van Zandt from another old Dutch Albany family and they started their own family. He lived a most ordinary life, like most of the men who fought, with one notable exception.
After the War Jonathan became an artillery devotee. We have this from Munsell’s Annals of Albany (Vol. 10):
“It was said that when the Old Artillery Company was formed, soon after peace was restored (note after the War ended), the state having no field pieces to supply them with, a suggestion was made by someone who had been in Mr. Van Rensselaer’s (Note: Van Rensselaer was the Patroon) service that there was probably one or more iron cannon among the rubbish in his old storehouse, and search having been made, two iron four pounders were found in the cellar and taken out. They were fetted up and used until the state replaced them with brass field pieces. It was one of those guns which became famous in the hands of Jonathan Kidney and was long used for firing salutes from Robinson’s Hill on all suitable occasions. He called it the “Clinton” in honor of George Clinton.”
Jonathan’s love of the booming cannon continued for decades. Munsell also reports that in 1829, upon the swearing-in of Martin Van Buren (who lived on State St.) as Governor of the State, a salute of 33 guns one for each thousand majority vote,’was fired by Jonathan Kidney’s old field piece on Robinson’s Hill. (Robinson’s Hill was the area west of Grand St. and north of Madison Ave., up to about Eagle St.) That salute made news across the country.PoliticsLike many who fought in the War for Independence Jonathan became politically active. He had fought for the new nation and wanted a say in what it would become.
He would, over time, become what we think of today as a Jacksonian Democrat. Many of them started out in the 1780s as followers of Thomas Jefferson – anti-federalists who were opponents of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution because it gave too much power to the Federal government.
The Green Street Incident
The story of what happened with Jonathan, the Constitution and his cannon in 1788 is told several ways. All stories begin in the same way. There was a parade on August 8th and Jonathan and his cannon were positioned on Green St. near State St., just up from Broadway.
In one story, the parade is made up of anti-federalists were marching against ratification, and prepared to burn a copy of the Constitution. Jonathan was at the ready to lend appropriate sound effects. In another version the parade consisted of people in support of the Constitution, and Jonathan had hauled his cannon to disrupt the procession, but he never got his chance because the parade route was changed at the last minute.
In yet another version the parade is made up of Federalists marching in favor of the Constitution. When they reached Green St., as planned, a skirmish ensued. And so the story goes, “A cannon had been procured, and heavily charged; and the excitement was so great, that it would undoubtedly have been discharged upon the line of procession, had not Mr. Kidney prevented it by driving the end of a file into the fuse, and breaking it off.”
Hannah died in 1833 and Jonathan in 1849, having lived to the venerable age of 88. Upon his death the Albany Journal noted, “Jonathan kidney was born in this city, where he has resided for eighty-eight years. He was consequently one of the oldest connecting links between the past and the present. He has sustained through life a blameless reputation, and died, as he lived, greatly beloved by his descendants and universally respected by all who knew him.
”One obituary claimed Jonathan still owned that cannon until the day of his death.
Jonathan is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery in Section 75, lot 23.
Copyright Julie O’Connor 2021