A Ghost of American Patriot Colonel Jacob Griffin


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Griffins TavernHe is one of the great patriots of the American Revolution, and he is barely known outside of his native Dutchess County, New York.

Born in the Fishkill area ca. 1729-1730 (sources vary), Jacob Griffin was a staunch Yankee Presbyterian, who wanted a clear and a complete parting of the ways with King George III of England.

From the mid to the late 18th century the Thirteen Colonies of British North America experienced one huge wave of social upheaval after the other… the reasons of these societal changes being many and very subtly related to the other.

The political and philosophical fervor of this time period called The Enlightenment (or, also The Age of Reason) was to set the entire century of the 1700’s ablaze with new thinking that debunked superstition, religion and monarchical government and focused itself instead on rationalism, science and free and independent thinking. John Locke and Isaac Newton’s mathematical and logical ideas of looking at the world were quickly replacing “archaic” philosophies of the late Renaissance. Locke and Newton spearheaded England’s intellectual departure from older intellectual doctrines and were joined by other influential European thinkers such as the French Descartes, Voltaire and Rousseau.

In America, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson pined for personal liberty and socio-economic equality with an unmatched and definitive eloquence and wit. But with this new freethinking came radical notions that sought to overturn and (finally dump) the feudal system of mediaeval Western Europe and to replace it with an authentic remodeling of classical Greek and Roman democratic ideals. These defined themselves by a total doing away with kings and queens and entailed re-modifying parliaments with congresses. America had been caught up in this philosophical firestorm.

Events in the 1700’s such as New York’s sensational Zenger trial, The French and Indian War and The Great Awakening (a religious and social movement that sought to counter The Age of Reason) made all of America fertile ground for argument and debate. The later occurrences of the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre only furthered American divergent political and social attitudes, opposing traditional British ones, bolstered even more by very distant geography.

Once the New England Battles of Lexington and Concorde took place between bluecoats and redcoats in the spring of 1775, the War of American Independence was on. Shortly thereafter, in July of 1775, tavern keeper Jacob Griffin had helped organize a civic group called the Committee of Observation, which sought to (and successfully did so) draft a petition publically sanctioning American separation from Britain and openly supporting the Continental Congress. This was a comprehensive legal document that garnered over five hundred pro-patriot signatures (502 exactly) from the Fishkills vicinity of Dutchess County, New York. Similar petitions were in exchange all over New York Colony at this time. Culper Spy Ring members Caleb Brewster and Abraham Woodhull penned their names on one for the Town of Brookhaven (Suffolk County, Long Island) but in May of 1775, not July.

At roughly this same time Jacob Griffin joined the Dutchess County (Rombout Precinct) Militia as an officer with the rank of Captain. He would use his tavern as a congregation point for ten consecutive weeks starting on July 13th , of 1775, to gather additional support for American autonomy through this Committee of Observation. This committee was used for confiscating firearms from non-signers (Tories, or Loyalists as they were known, and not sympathetic to American freedom) but patriot neighbors, nonetheless. It was also used for collecting more pro-American signatures for the Committee of Independence, to be sent to the Continental Congress. These events took place in the following month (August) to strengthen the Colonial war efforts against the British.

Though many American colonists saw reconciliation with their King (George III) as a real possibility and a better alternative to war, the Siege of Boston and Battles of Long Island, Manhattan and White Plains (early 1775-late 1776) prevented any peaceful solutions to what had become a very bitter and virulent political and military conflict. Britain and America’s reckoning would be decided unfortunately by violent means (war). Jacob Griffin served under his fellow patriot’s (and also from Dutchess County) command of Colonel Abraham Brinckerhoff. Mr. Griffin had thrown in his lot against his former British kindred, like many of his other townsfolk. He never second-guessed himself.

Tories whose weapons were bought by the Continentals in New York, were duly compensated for them… those Loyalists whose firearms were confiscated by patriots had their names noted in legal records. It is hard to imagine at the Revolutionary War’s end if the Tories’ muskets were ever returned or repaid to them. The patriots looked on them scornfully and harshly throughout the War’s entirety, and were not, generally speaking, inclined to fairly barter with Tories, whom they regarded as enemies.

Jacob Griffin was promoted from his rank of Captain to Colonel in the Dutchess County Militia before the War for Independence terminated in late November of 1783. He served as a New York State assemblyman from 1786-1789, after the War. No extensive historical records exist of his potential military engagements or of his personality or physical appearance. Yet he ran and owned a well-respected and a prosperous tavern at Hopewell Junction during and for many years following the American Revolution.

General George Washington, Marquis La Fayette, and other high- ranking Continental officers such as Putnam and Steuben dined and slept under Jacob Griffin’s roof during the American Revolutionary War. Jacob Griffin’s Tavern was not only a conduit of U. S. democracy, but also a cradle of it. The Colonel’s tavern supplied vital American morale and legal authority to the Continental Congress, when… at this time… the Revolution’s success was in a state and condition of severe doubt and infancy. Though the Siege of Boston was a tactical victory for the bluecoats, almost all of America’s ensuing battles against Britain were failures. It was not until Washington’s resounding and brilliant wins over the redcoats at the Battles of Trenton and Princeton (in New Jersey) in December of 1776-January of 1777, that the patriots made their mark positively to check British aggression. Washington at this very juncture of the War’s history saved the Revolution, from what was then perceived by the Yankees, as certain doom at the hands of the British forces (under General Lord William Howe).

Colonel Jacob Griffin was a direct catalyst in America’s successful war activities against British domination and oppression. The Griffin Tavern, on Route 82, in Hopewell Junction, New York, played a very vital role in establishing our American independence from England by directly nourishing American feelings of self-sufficiency and self-sacrifice. Winning the War would not be easy…but winning the Revolution meant (for all Americans) gaining total freedom…to determine their fates, their fortunes and their futures, minus interference from (King) George 3rd any longer. Colonel Griffin and all his Yankee kinfolk made American liberty and British expulsion possible and real. By doing so, Jacob Griffin and his tavern dramatically and permanently helped to change the political, economic and cultural landscapes of not only North America, but also the whole of the world.

Griffin’s tavern was called the Rendezvous during his lifetime. He died on March 20th , 1800, in Dutchess County. Colonel Griffin is buried at the Presbyterian Church of Brinckerhoff Village, with the Du Bois and Diddell families of the Fishkills areas amongst his direct descendants. Learning his story is great way to bring you back to America’s earliest roots. And its through Jacob Griffin’s great story that he lives on.

Photo of Griffin’s Tavern, courtesy Julie Diddell.

20 thoughts on “A Ghost of American Patriot Colonel Jacob Griffin

  1. Sue G.

    Great article and kudos on raising awareness of Griffin and his contributions to our Rev. War Heritage. This important historical site needs recognition & preservation! Huzzah! From Friends of Hathorn House

    Reply
    1. Michael Mauro DeBonis

      Sue G.,

      Col. Griffin and all his fellow patriots deserve our respect and our recognition. I am very appalled to see the way history is being taught in New York State public schools. American history and world history need much better funding and focus in getting their message out. State and local historian must make these points known. American history is sacred and it is our history. Those ignorant of history are literally doomed to repeat it.
      I am glad to have written Col. Griffin’s historical and biographical account. His story and contributions to the American cause for freedom were both extremely fascinating and tremendous. But my account of his affairs is not the definitive one. New York State historians must dig deeper and wider into Mr. Griffin’s background. We all must do more to put more mojo in Jacob Griffin’s historical research. I do appreciate your accolades. I wrote this story at Mr. Miccio’s prodding. Good luck to him and to The Friends of Griffin’s Tavern.

      Best,
      Michael M. DeBonis.

      Reply
  2. Julia M. Diddell

    Thank you Michael DeBonis for writing this article. The Friends of Griffin’s Tavern has the mission to preserve the ruin site of Griffin’s Tavern. Follow us on Facebook: Friends of Griffin’s Tavern. Join our effort by emailing us : FOGT1776@gmail.com

    Reply
    1. Julie Diddell

      Dan Miccio VP for the Friends of Griffin’s Tavern has done a tremendous service to the memory of Colonel Jacob Griffin our effort to preserve his tavern by encouraging you to write this article!

      Reply
  3. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    And my best to you both…and to American history. Let’s get more data on Jacob Griffin. I can assure you that what we know of him and his immortal sacrifice…is maybe one percent of his actual story. Taverns such as Griffin’s Tavern were (during the American Revolution) much more than just beds and breakfasts, they were huge conduits for soldiers sharing secret facts such as military intelligence (for both Continental and British Armies) with each other.
    I think that Jacob Griffin could very well have been a spymaster for the patriot cause…but those historical records are hard to find. We have to dig to get them. Until we do, we won’t ever know with certainty. We have to keep looking. History never stands still…it’s an ever changing narrative. It would be very silly of my as a Long Island historian to think that the Culper Spy Ring was the only American spy ring operating during our Revolution. As an American and as a New Yorker, I want to know more.

    Reply
  4. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    And I would like thank three outstanding historians: Diane Janowski (of Elmira, NY), Beverly Tyler (of Stony Brook, NY) and Anthony Musso (of Poughkeepsie, NY) for making New York State history relevant and vital to all New Yorkers. They are real and superb historical detectives!
    Would out their precious and painstaking work and thorough attention to detail, my own research would have gone nowhere.

    —Michael M. DeBonis

    Reply
  5. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    Also special thanks to John Warren and his staff for giving me the means to get Jacob Griffin’s story out.

    Reply
  6. Julie Diddell

    Thank you Mr. John Warren and staff. As we learn more about Colonel Jacob Griffin, Griffin’s Tavern, the Dutchess County Militia, the Fishkill Supply Depot, the Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary War Route and thé several other key figues in Fishkill during the Revolution, I hope Mr. DeBonis will entertain the possibility of writing follow ups to this story! There is a movement happening now in The Fishkills thanks to these stories!

    Reply
  7. Sue G.

    As we move toward the 250th of the nation, so many important anniversaries are passing by nearly unmentioned– these next few months, the 240th of the creation of the Great Chain here in Warwick at Sterling Forge and its being moved to the Hudson– and the 250th of Adams’ circular letter and non-importation boycotts which is so relevant to discussion of the impact of global economies, the “buy local” movement, etc. Without funding or coordination to create lesson plans that link New York local history to the school curriculum so it can get into the classroom, local historians are voices in the wilderness. Articles like this are a step forward, many thanks.

    Reply
  8. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    Sue G.,

    You are welcome. During my research, I found very little historical documentation about Jacob Griffin. The paper trail is extremely limited with respect to him. The antiquity of his story is mainly to blame for this. But I also think if historians and archivists properly pool their resources…we would achieve better results. Historical records show up everywhere…public records, legal records, newspaper articles and family diaries, Bibles and memoirs. There are so many American heroes from the Revolution till the present day, that should be mentioned in our history. We are all as Americans, struggling to define the very nature of what history is, how it should be taught and why it is important.
    State budget cuts and curriculum changes have “re-prioritized” our belief system American public schools. I think we have wandered to far off the beaten path. It’s time we get back to the basics. Learning about history makes us more productive citizens and more culturally aware. You cannot value your civil rights if you do not know the historical circumstances that created them. Freedom and equality always come at a heavy price…knowing the history of our country teaches this irrefutable lesson. This is true about the study of the American Revolution, the Salem Witch Trials of Massachusetts…and the Civil Rights Movements the flourished here from 1607-now. When we as Americans give up our history in exchange for nonsense, I think we loose an important part of our morality and ethics.
    There has historically never been an era or a time period where we we not fighting for freedom. When we give more attention to things like “reality” television, we all take a an unnecessary step backwards. When was the last time CBS, NBC or ABC did anything to promote historical research or informative programming? It’s been the 1990’s, I would say. Look at TLC and the History Channel…both are mere shells of what they once were. “Ice Road Truckers” is the same show every episode…either the truck falls through the ice, or it doesn’t. Big deal. Only PBS still has integrity to promote exceptional historical programming. The spectrum of history is so wide and powerful, but we’ve (I think) forgotten how to channel it. We’ve demoted history to sound bytes and incidental snippets. We have do better. It’s critical.
    I am an English teacher. Perhaps I prize poetry and literature more than I do history…but all the humanities are indispensable for learning. Math and science do not teach right from wrong. They are important disciplines, but they are not the only disciplines. We have to be more active in civics and in academia. We should not be tolerant of political appointees, candidates or school boards, who spend our tax dollars unwisely on enterprises our students cannot benefit from.
    I do not think, e. g., that public school English teachers who cannot diagram a sentence or who have never read a poem, should have jobs. I think political leaders who defund our history learning programs in public schools, colleges universities and museums (etc.) should be voted out of office. If historical research is going to happen…it has to come from both private and public sectors. If we are not willing to invest in ourselves as Americans and as students to our always evolving history…then we have already lost the game. Once we cross this Rubicon…can we ever cross back over it? I am optimistic, but it is a very difficult task to accomplish. Our society depends immensely on our working knowledge of history. History instructs us of how we are all connected to each other through time and space…how we are all different, similar and unique…and how we can galvanize ourselves not only in times of crisis…but also in times of peace.
    We should not need any war to “galvanize” ourselves. We only need to have vision to see through the clouds. Historical study teaches us that their are always problems in this world. It also instructs us as to how we can properly resolve them. But if we shortchange ourselves in all arenas of historical study…we lose everything and we gain nothing.
    America and New York are worth investing in…and they always were. But if we are going to encourage history to be studied, we have to let Albany and every other Tom, Dick and Harry know, that, if they choose to cut the funds for promoting historical teaching in our public schools (as is notorious on Long Island) we will remove them from office, via the voting booth. It’s our country’s future at risk. If we do not care about it, no one else will.

    M. DeBonis.

    PS-I commend you totally on your views. Grass roots efforts are usually the best. I thank you and the New York History Blog, for both promoting the study of historical thinking and research. Let’s all have more lectures and colloquiums.

    Best to you.

    Reply
  9. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    “…in American public schools,” and “too far off the beaten trail,” I meant to say.

    Sorry.

    Future posts will be shorter than my above-mentioned rant.

    Reply
  10. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    O, and “to the present say,” sounds much better than, “till the present day.”

    I may return to Jacob Griffin’s story in the future. Right now, I have other research that I am doing. But don’t count me out, as yet. The best historians have a hard time predicting the future, so do I. The goal here is too find someone who will “comb the catacombs” to look for the necessary information. But the necessary information can turn up anywhere. Historical detectives are not only journalists, doctors, linguists, attorneys archivists and librarians…but also, regular everyday people. Historians need to realize it’s all people we serve…not just some. History buffs will move heaven and earth to dig up new info. on history and, more often than not, they do. Paleographers, archaeologists earn their sweat…but proper historical investigation comes from all corners and all levels of this earth. If historical info. is factual and accurate, then we, as historians, have something valuable to work with. History also, must be properly contextualized. But history is always fascinating and entertaining. It’s always unfolding and it’s always rewarding.

    —M. DeBonis.

    Reply
  11. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    In response to a friend of mine from LI, NY, (and a fellow historian), I comment:

    Yes, there is more to New York’s history than the American Revolution…that’s an over-statement of the obvious. One can say that of history or any other subject. But historians write about and research all areas and aspects of history because history is itself (intrinsically) valuable. My recent article discussed a guy from Hopewell Junction named Jacob Griffin…his story was (although unique) not an isolated case. Superfluous patriots from all over NYS sacrificed everything to serve the Patriot cause against the British. The article here on NY History Blog about “The Misnamed Battle of Egremont” is a very important article because it remind its readers that the American Revolution was an unusually personal war that tore colonial families asunder, without any warnings or mercy. Blood was spilled. Liberty was achieved because sacrifices made in such a way…but this is not the only way democracy advances.
    Historical preservation moves the public interest and trust forward. It is a sacred enterprise, requiring much love and labor. History dies when people stop talking about it. History dies when we stop examining it…And if we do examine history, history will force one to look inward, and by finding that every single American has an important role to play in history, history is itself relevant. People move history along, in as much as history moves us along. And if one will grab their place in history, one will not only learn what history is, they will master history for themselves…that is to say that one will see that history teaches its students how to preserve human life and human dignity…and by preserving our history we preserve ourselves. Historical study brings us forward by bringing us backwards. And its forward we all must go.

    God bless all those who aim to keep our history alive.

    Reply
  12. Pingback: Dark Eagle: Was Colonel Jacob Griffin A Spy? | The New York History Blog

  13. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    I am still researching Jacob Griffin. As soon as my next article is completed, all will be able to read it.

    M. DeBonis.

    Reply
  14. Michael Mauro DeBonis

    Stranger! and stranger! is the story of Col. Jacob Griffin! Was he or wasn’t he a spy for the Continental Army, during the American Revolution? Just wait until this fall, with the debut of article 3. Griffin’s enigma will begin to be revealed…finally! Until then, no elaboration on my end…but all will be surprised!

    M. DeBonis.

    Reply

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