Anti-Rent Rebellion documentary comes home

Filmmaker Bruce Kennedy invites residents of the Capital Region to share stories of our unique contribution to American history, the 19th-Century farmers' rebellion known as the Anti-Rent War.

The 64-year-old history buff, teacher, and artist has spent the last three weeks filming and documenting family histories, surviving artifacts, and related sites, both in the Hilltowns and in the flatlands of Delaware County. His goal is to faithfully retell the dramatic conflict that was ignited in 1839 in Berne at a mass meeting to protest the semi-feudal system.

Though Kennedy now lives in Asheville, N.C., he has local roots.

He was born in Troy, into a family that included Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers and Albany and Troy newspapermen.

He is a descendant of the man generally accepted as the leader of the farmers' anti-rent revolt, Dr. Smith Azer Boughton, also known as "Big Thunder."

"Since we are descended from both Samuel Adams and Dr. Boughton, participants in well-known Indian disguise rebellions — the Boston Tea Party and the Anti-Rent War — it would be odd for me not to become interested in history,” says the lanky documentarian.

He recalls childhood trips to his grandmother’s home in Alps, Rensselaer County.

"My sisters and I would be marched around the corner to Big Thunder's house to read the state historical sign and hear, once again, the story of tin horns and calico Indians. Other than the riding around at night on horses in disguise, my childhood self was bored with the whole thing," confides the filmmaker.

Thankfully, that childhood annoyance passed. After a year's research, Kennedy is ready to find the story of the dramatic and still controversial war, although he prefers the term "rebellion."

“Turns out the story has been finding me," he says.

He goes on to share his gratitude for the warmth, generosity, and enthusiasm exhibited by the people he has encountered so far. Now he hopes more residents will come forward in the Hilltowns and the other towns and cities he plans to visit in the coming weeks.

"Research is fine, but it’s the people telling their families' stories, showing old documents and other artifacts, and sharing their opinions that make this story come alive. I do this work as much for my family as for the rest of us,” said Kennedy, who has two children.

“These events are a pivotal part of the development of the American ideal of self-determination,” he concludes. “My hope is that folks will continue coming forward, contacting me, and sharing all sides of this amazing American drama.”

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Bruce Kennedy can be contacted on his cellular phone at 828-253-2954, by e-mail at brucekennedy49@gmail.com, or by postal mail at Inner Works Productions, 24 Curve St., Asheville, NC 28801.

Jane McLean and her husband, John K. Elberfeld, of Knox, wrote Helderberg Hilltowns, one of the “Images of America” books published by Arcadia.

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