The ‘revolutionary’ downfall of our first sheriff concluded

General Philip Schuyler happily wrote Washington, “The inhabitants have thrown off the Sheriff and made the Knight promise he would no longer interfere.” (Photo courtesy of Peter Betz)

To explain how Alexander White, Tryon County’s first sheriff, lost his position when the Revolution began, it’s necessary to refer to contemporary documents.

The previous article closed with White under Sir John Johnson’s protection, languishing within fortified Johnson Hall following his altercation with Johnstown’s Whig mob.

For practical purposes, White’s authority as sheriff was over. From correspondence between Sir John and the Committee, it appears Johnson, a practical Scorpio, considered White just another annoying problem: when the committee addressed Johnson about White, informing him they wanted “to look him up,” Sir John replied that as long as White remained at the Hall, he would protect him, but “after he was out of his house, he did not care about him, they might take him.” Sir John had bigger problems.

On Aug, 29, Tryon’s Committee sent the Albany Committee a long letter enumerating White’s misdeeds, including the John Fonda incident that ultimately caused White’s flight to the Hall. Although damaged, the letter’s meaning isn’t hard to reconstruct. The committee reported, for example, “The Sheriff has declared that slaves who would come to him would be made free; on a Sunday, he spread a long Rope across the Road leading to Church and hung Sticks to it, told People as they came to Church that the Sticks represented Committee People and named some,” inferring he’d soon hang them.

On Sept. 7, the Committee issued an even lengthier review of White’s pro-loyalist doings, calling him “our late sheriff,” and “an enemy in general and in particular to our American cause.”

They moved to hold a “free voting for a new Sheriff by the Freeholders and Inhabitants of our County,” and immediately did so, electing Palatine Committeeman John Frey.

Although it hardly mattered by then, on Dec. 9, Provincial Legislature member Nathaniel Woodhull sent Gen. Herkimer and the Tryon Committee a letter advising them that to be really legal, it was “advisable to petition the Governor for removal of the Sheriff,” but in practical terms, John Frey had been ‘high sheriff’ for several months already.

At some undetermined date, White, guided by several Fort Hunter Mohawks, tried escaping to Canada, but was caught and jailed at Albany. When saddling up, White was reported to remark, “Is it not a pity that I, being a man of good estate, must go and leave the same for the sake of these damned Fondas?”

After White’s capture, at a heated Sept. 13 meeting, Fort Hunter Sachem Abraham had serious difficulty mollifying the Committee regarding his tribesmen aiding White’s escape attempt.

Even Gen. Schuyler, no fan of Sir John, got involved, writing Washington, “The inhabitants have drove off the Sheriff and made the knight promise he would interfere no farther.”

How long White remained jailed before being paroled and allowed to return home isn’t known, but on May 28, 1776, our Committee again ordered, “that Alexander White, late sheriff of Tryon County, be forthwith arrested and carried down to Albany to be disposed of.”

On June 6, 1776 “The Sheriff, Alexander White, being taken prisoner by the Mohawk’s Committee as a suspected, non-associated, and dangerous person, and at present, for sake of his broken leg, unable to appear here, sends a copy of a resolve of the Albany Committee dated November 11th, 1775, declaring no violence shall be offered him the said White or his effects, until it should appear he is guilty of an infraction of his parole.”

Tryon committeemen, unsatisfied, ordered White “brought to Colonel Dayton at Johnstown for close confinement and his further directions.”

Dayton apparently sent White back to Albany jail, where he languished more than a year, until on Dec. 7, 1777, he addressed Peter Dygert, Tryon Committee Chairman, asking for release and permission to leave with his wife for Canada.

In part, White declared, “I would be much obliged to spake to they Committee to get me out of confinement on some terms or other. When I was in my Office, I was allways tender in Putting men to Goal.”

No doubt John Fonda disagreed.

Nothing resulted, but White now fell under jurisdiction of the newly-formed Albany Commissioners for Detecting & Defeating Conspiracies.

On Aug. 4, 1778, he appealed to them, but when examined, refused the Oath of Allegiance. Tiring of him, the Commissioners “Ordered he hold himself in readiness to be removed to the enemy lines.”

Although they allowed White out of jail on his own recognizance of 100 pounds, Gov. Clinton on the 14th quickly ordered him rearrested. The next day, the Commissioners asked Clinton to allow Mrs. White to visit New York to arrange an exchange. Clinton agreed, and this apparently succeeded: on the 19th, it was announced White would be exchanged for one Cornelius Van Tassel, and on the 28th, the Commissioners decreed that “instructions be made out to Captain Edward Willett to take into his care Henry Cuyler, James Dole, and Alexander White, to transport them to the enemy lines below Poughkeepsie.”

Thus, Tryon County’s first sheriff Alexander White finally exited the scene. Emigrating to Canada, he served in several military companies before war’s end. The Whites are listed as receiving a captain’s allowance from Oct. 24, 1783 through Dec. 24, 1789.

According to Dornfest’s “Military Loyalists of the American Revolution,” White died in Canada on June 7, 1791.

Our subsequent Fulton County sheriffs have been much more popular.


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