Skinners assaulting a family, from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy, published in 1821 by Wiley & Halsted.

The American Revolution unleashed a tumultuous period in which families were caught in the crossfire between British forces and American Patriots. Families like the Yerks, residing in the Neutral Zone, experienced a unique set of challenges, influenced not only by the geographical context but also by the activities of two notorious groups: the Cowboys and Skinners.

The Neutral Zone: A Precarious Enclave:

Map of the Neutral Ground (From Out of the Wilderness: The Emergence of Eastchester, Tuckahoe & Bronxville, NY 1664-2014, ed., Eloise L. Morgan, 2014)

The Neutral Zone encompassed an area situated between British-occupied New York City and American-controlled territories, particularly Westchester County and sections of Connecticut. Families seeking refuge within its borders encountered a multitude of hardships due to the presence and influence of both sides of the conflict.

Divided Loyalties:

Inhabiting the Neutral Zone meant families, including the Yerks, grappled with divided loyalties. On one side stood the British Crown, while on the other stood the American cause. This internal struggle placed immense strain on family and community relationships, often resulting in suspicion and isolation from both factions.

Occupation and Control:

Due to its proximity to British-occupied New York City, the Neutral Zone witnessed a substantial British military presence. Families experienced the burdens of occupation as British troops established control, imposed taxes, and requisitioned resources. Homes were subject to quartering, and families had to contend with additional regulations, exacerbating the challenges faced.

The Cowboys: Loyalist Marauders:

The Cowboys, operating within the Neutral Zone, represented a notorious group predominantly comprised of Loyalist supporters. Their primary objective revolved around disrupting the American cause. Cowboys engaged in raids, attacks, and acts of sabotage against American Patriots. Plundering, pillaging, and arson became their hallmark, instilling fear and instability throughout the region.

The Skinners: Opportunistic Outlaws:

The Skinners, operating on both sides of the conflict within the Neutral Zone, constituted a group of opportunistic outlaws. Exploiting the chaotic conditions of the war, they sought personal gain. Engaging in looting, plundering, and extortion, the Skinners targeted local farmers, merchants, and even fellow colonists. Their actions propagated an atmosphere of terror and heightened the region’s instability.

The Impact on Families:

Families like the Yerks’, residing in the Neutral Zone during the American Revolution, encountered immense hardships, with the activities of the Cowboys and Skinners exacerbating their challenges.

  1. Perpetual Threat of Violence:
  2. The Yerks family and others lived under constant threat of raids and attacks from the Cowboys and Skinners. Their homes, possessions, and lives hung in the balance. Violence unleashed by these groups resulted in loss of life and property, leaving families traumatized and displaced.
  3. Economic Struggles:
  4. The Cowboys and Skinners disrupted trade and commerce within the Neutral Zone, plunging families into economic hardships. Essential resources became scarce, intensifying poverty within the community. The Yerks family and others encountered significant challenges in sustaining themselves amidst the scarcity caused by the war and the activities of these lawless factions.
  5. Social and Emotional Turmoil:
  6. Residing in the Neutral Zone subjected families to intricate social dynamics. Maintaining neutrality to evade suspicion from either side of the conflict strained relationships within the community. Trust became fragile as families weathered tests arising from their divided loyalties and the actions of the Cowboys and Skinners.


Families like the Yerks, residing in the Neutral Zone during the American Revolution, endured a precarious existence marked by divided loyalties, occupation, violence, economic struggles, and

Families such as the Yerks, who resided in the Neutral Zone during the American Revolution, faced a precarious existence defined by divided loyalties, occupation, violence, economic struggles, and the menacing presence of the Cowboys and Skinners.