The Anti-Renter MovementDaniel Shaker

Anti-Renters Poster.jpg
A poster advertising an anti-renter meeting

The Anti-Renter Movement (1839-1852) was a set of strikes at the system of rent and the nature of the tenant system in the early 19th century. What some called the "Patroonship[1] " method formed a barrier between those who inherited plots of land and those who rented said land. Although this relationship seems harmless at first, the owners of the land were quickly able to control many different aspects of the tenant's lives such as purchase , work, and other key activities. In doing so, the land owners were inhibiting the tenant's ability to move from the lower/middle classes to a higher wage and quality of life. As there was an abundant number of men, women, and families living under these conditions, there was an ample amount of kindling to light a fire in the hearts of the rent payers. From this point onward, there were rumors of rebellion on the lips of each and every angry boarder. Posters were hung proclaiming a new and glorious day, where equal land-owning opportunity would be given to men of all classes (see right).

The Anti-Renter "War"
Stephen Van Renssalaer III

While many called this portion of the movement a 'war', it was mostly a series of skirmishes aimed at sending a message. Scholars agree that the action of this movement started towards the early 1800's, with the death of Stephen Van Renssalaer III in 1829. The action of the event appears in the beginning of Howard Zinn's book, A People's History of the United States. He states that the family had over eighty thousand tenants, and an accumulated fortune of over $41 million. This was in stark contrast to the economic failure that much of the outside world was seeing, and many of his own tenants were experiencing. After the death of this major figurehead, the renters decided that they had endured enough. They were to "take up the ball of Revolution where [their] fathers stopped it" (Zinn). Indeed, these revolutionaries acted as their founding fathers had done.

Agreeing on the costume of the Calico Indian, these farmers rose up to declare war on the wealthy land owning class. These costumes were meant to be symbolic of the Boston Tea Party and early radical revolutionaries in the colonies. From 1840 to 1845 tensions rose. Peace was breaking down between the Indian-impersonators and the sheriffs, and small guerrilla fights were being fought between the warring factions. One of the largest events happened in 1845, the murder of a deputy at the farm of Moses Earle. As government moved to squash this uprising, a myriad of men were tried and found guilty. This chain of events soon led to an entirely new concept, the Anti-Renter Party.

The Anti-Renter Party

The Anti-Renters were somewhat enlightened for their time, believing in equal rights for all men regardless of race. They also implied that there should "be no qualifications for right, trust, or profession except merit, integrity, and ability" (oneonta).This party quickly died out, although some of the former vigorous Anti-Renters went on to become prominent statesmen. Indeed, two former Anti-Renters met up in Wisconsin to help with the Republican party.


The tenants who rebelled had many reasons to rise to revolution, mostly because the current system put them at a disadvantage as compared to those who rented the land to them. One portion of the renter agreement that angered tenants was the law that all timber farmed must go to the property owner. Once the fire of revolution was lit, there was little stopping the spread of sectionalism that took hold of the tenants. Country men became leaders, and ordinary tenants and family men became protesters and advocates for the 'revolution'. Another alleged reason was the corruption of leases[2] . In short, the landowners let the tenants live for free for a few years, but then required the built up rent or else legal action would be pursued. Many of the men who were bound to this agreement claimed that they had indeed not signed up for any such plan, and refused to pay the costs.
Fun Fact -

In addition to their persistent fight for justice, tin horns, calico dresses and sheepskin masks, the Delaware County Anti-Renters were known for their songs and poetry...
  1. ^ A landholder in who, stemming from Dutch colonial rule, was granted proprietary and manorial rights
    to a large tract of land. The landholder could then tax others for living on said land.
  2. ^ A contract granting use or occupation of property during a specified period in exchange for a specified rent.