Friday, July 4, 2014

The twisted history of the 4th of July

 Da Fawth a July (A New York Story)

The Battle of Brooklyn

Happy July 2nd Holiday everyone!


The Continental Congress voted and passed the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd, 1776. It was technically adopted two days later and so the 4th has gotten all the glory ever since.

New Yorkers and Delawareans should technically abstain from any celebration, since those two states abstained from the vote. (New York also voted against the Bill of Rights, proving we’ve always been a cranky, contrary lot)

So then, some history:

Some people are under the impression that the Revolutionary War was conducted in a little more leisured fashion than present wars. That, in effect, we sent off the Declaration of Independence and waited for a reply for a year or so and then the hostilities began. In truth, the first blood began flowing in 1770 around the time of The Boston Massacre. The battle of Lexington & Concord and the Battle of Bunker Hill occurred in 1775. It was in May of ’75 (a year before July 4, 1776) that the Congress declared war on Britain and appointed GW as commander of the army.

Many folks primarily associate the Revolutionary War with Philadelphia and Boston. In fact, New York is oozing with Revolutionary history.

 There’s a terrific book on the subject calledThe Battle for New York by Barnet Schecter. I’ve attached a self-guided walking tour of Revolutionary sites in the book. Why not try it this weekend?

You’ll discover that months before the Boston Massacre the first “American” Blood was spilled here in New York at the Battle of Golden Hill. New York had its own version of theMinutemen. They were called “The Sons of Liberty.” Their founder was Alexander MacDougal (MacDougal street is named for him.) They ran around town erecting “Liberty Poles”(there is a replica of one today in City Hall park). The Liberty poles were made from “Ship Mast” trees. They were long and straight and were perfect for shipbuilding. They were thus considered the property of the Crown. Colonials weren’t supposed to touch them. Colonials would erect them as an act of civil disobedience. The Brits would knock them down. When they came to knock one down on Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, a riot broke out and a New York Patriot was bayoneted to death by redcoats.

Ever hear of the New York Tea Party?
New York, like Boston, held a Tea Party. Word had arrived about the Boston Tea party and when the first shipment of tea came to NY aboard the ship LONDON, New Yorkers didn’t even wait for the Sons of Liberty to get their Indian garb on, citizens boarded the ship and polluted the east River with crates of tea. Unfortunately for “BASSTAN” they were first so King George reserved his wrath for them and ordered a blockade of Boston Harbor. New York promised Boston a 10-year supply of food and immediately sent out a flock of 125 sheep to famished Beantowners. (Boston repaid New York by sending it Babe Ruth and one player to be named later.)

Yankee Doodling
Here’s a weird aside….ever wonder why the Yankees are from New York? When you think Yankees and Yankee Doodle Dandy you think of New England. There’s quite a debate about the derivation of this word. One accepted explanation is it was invented in New York. When the Brits took over New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, they allowed the Dutch to stay and become citizens. However they were never considered fully “English” The Brits had a nickname for them. Jan (pronounced “Yon”) was a very common Dutch name. The Dutch were fond of cheese, which they pronounced “Kees”. So the English called the Dutch New Yorkers: Jan-kees. Yon kees ---Yankees.

Back to our story….

In April of 1775 the King's troops opened fire on the “Americans” at Lexington and Concord. The Colonists gained a new cry of "The British are coming, the British are coming." New York would later gain a new avenue….called Lexington (why we never got a Concord avenue is anyone’s guess.)

In the spring of 1776, just before war broke out, Washington and the Continental Army rushed to NY to prepare its defenses. Barricades were set up along the waterfront streets. The British strategy was to capture New York, control the Hudson River and thus divide the 13 colonies in half. (If you’re trying to do the math in your head of 13 divided by two, remember that Vermont was not a colony it was part of New York “State” until after the revolution.)

Meanwhile in Philly, the Continental Congress was drafting its Declaration of Independence. One New Yorker who signed the Declaration of Independence and pledged his life and his fortune to his new country, paid the price. Mr. Francis Lewis (Yep, that’s where Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens comes from) was a wealthy New Yorker and a signatory.

When the Brits occupied New York they took him up on the
“pledge my fortune” part and confiscated all his property. He is buried in St. Paul’s churchyard on Broadway in the Financial district. St. Paul’s was the church Washington attended when he lived here. The day of his Presidential inauguration he went there, knelt upon a pillow and prayed to God for guidance in leading the new country. His pew and pillow are on display at the church.

An interesting tale about boring admin work:

Thomas Jefferson was very unhappy with his assignment to write the Dear John letter to King George III. He wanted to sit at the big boy table with the rest of the Congress, instead he was sent off to do “secretarial work” writing some dumb old declaration of independence. He got over it. Took his assignment seriously and drafted one kick-ass piece of copy. Luckily for Tom, they didn’t have to put it through Copy testing. I can hear it now:

The scene: Thomas Jefferson scratching out copy with his quill pen.
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature……

Client: Tommy! Tommy! Tommy! Consumers just don’t read body copy, why not cut straight to the product core?

On July 9th 1776 a courier brought a copy of the Declaration of Independence to Washington (the person) in New York (the city.) George stood at attention with his troops in City Hall Park and heard the Declaration of Independence read for the first time. Excited New Yorkers then marched down to the foot of Broadway to Bowling Green Park.The Park was owned by the King of England. British Royalty rented the park to the colony for the nominal fee of one peppercorn per year. (When the Queen of England visited NY during Ed Koch’s reign as mayor, Koch presented the Queen with 210 peppercorns in back rent, no kidding.)

There was a wrought iron fence enclosing the park, its fence posts were capped with little gold crowns. The crowd surged into the park toppled the statue of King George and melted it down for musket balls. 

And for good measure they filed off the little royal crowns. If you’re down in the Financial District check out the fence. It is still there. You can still find the rough marks on the fence where they filed off the crowns.

In early July 1776, New York woke up to see the masts of 500 British ships in the harbor. The city let out a collective “Whoa shit.” They were looking at the greatest expeditionary force ever mounted by Great Britain with over 32,000 soldiers. To put that into perspective, realize that NY’s entire population was 20,000. Nine thousand of the British force were German mercenaries, some were hired from a minor German Prince, the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel. The Yanks started calling all Germans -- Hessians. After the war many of these German mercenaries stayed and settled the neighborhood of Ridgewood, Queens.

The Brits set up camp on Staten Island where the ferry terminal is today.

In July their ships bombarded the city hoping a little shock and awe would frighten us to the bargaining table. Didn’t work.

On Aug 27th 1776, just seven weeks after the Declaration of Independence was drafted, the Brits invaded Brooklyn. In what would be remembered as “the Battle of Long Island” 20,000 British and Germans under Generals Howe and Cornwallis faced 7,000 of Washington's militia. The battle was over before it started. The Colonists left the back door open and when it became obvious they were about to be surrounded, they fled. 

A bloody battle took place in Prospect Park. The bloodiest fighting took place near the Gowanus Canal at the Old Stone House. (The house still stands. Today it is a museum in James J Byrne Park.) There, a Maryland battalion held off the Brits, giving Washington’s army a chance to escape. 684 Marylanders died in Brooklyn that day. (Which is why the Maryland State flag flies outside of the Old Stone House Museum.) They were the first soldiers to die for their new country. Their losses would amount to 10% of all American battlefield casualties for the entire war. Washington watched their heroism and cried out “Good God! What brave fellows I must this day lose!” 

Washington only escaped capture by using his seafaring Marblehead troops from New England to row his entire army across the East River (from what would later become the base of the Brooklyn Bridge in Brooklyn to the South Street Seaport in Manhattan) There is a plaque affixed to a rock near the Fulton Landing in Brooklyn that marks the spot.

The Brits went to bed that night confident that the war would be a short one. As if by Divine intervention a thick fog enveloped the harbor and the Yanks were able to pull off a total retreat.
Bushnell's Turtle
About 10 days after the Battle of Long Island, America’s baby navy attacked the British fleet in New York harbor. A Yale man named David Bushnell had designed a submarine made of oak in the shape of a turtle shell. And was thus given the nickname: Bushnell’s Turtle. It was big enough for one man to stand upright in, was powered by a hand crank, and had a mine packed with 130 pounds of gunpowder. The submariner, Sgt. Ezra Lee steered his ship by looking at a compass that was illuminated by a decaying piece of phosphorescent moss. This was the 1700’s remember. The only available form of artificial illumination, a candle, would have used up his precious oxygen. The turtle started out from Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan with Washington watching anxiously. The plan was to attack Gen. Howe’s Flagship, the 64 gun HMS EAGLE, anchored off Staten Island. The turtle trudged across the harbor, and attempted to attach the mine to the hull of the Eagle. The warship’s copper sheathing prevented it. After successive tries and with dawn breaking, the Turtle broke off its attempts. However it was spotted and pursued by a British boat. The Turtle released its egg, which exploded, and scared the bejazzus out of the Brits. The Turtle reached shore safely. The world’s first submarine attack had occurred right here in NY harbor.

On Sept. 15th the Battle of New York began. The British made an amphibious landing near 23rd street and captured several hundred colonial soldiers in front of what is now the Flatiron building. They also bombarded Manhattan’s 34th street neighborhood, landed more troops and fought a battle on the site of the present day 42nd Street Library in which Washington himself narrowly averted capture. GW fled north fighting rearguard actions and leaving place names in Upper Manhattan like Fort Washington.

Eventually the British chased off the Continental army and they fled through Jersey to Valley Forge, Pa.  The Brits occupied the City of New York for the rest of the war. Soon after their occupation, a major fire wiped out 1/3 of the city. The English claimed it was Colonial sabotage. The Colonials claimed it was British vengeance. British soldiers went about the city painting the letters RG on the surviving buildings. The letters were abbreviations of the Latin: REX GEORGE, meaning the buildings were now the property of King George. All non-Anglican churches were used as stables for the army’s horses. At this time Nathan Hale was captured on Long Island and this American Patriot was hanged up on the Upper East Side on 65th street.
Ossuary in Fort Greene Park

 The English also set up prisons ships moored where the Brooklyn Navy Yard is today (underneath the Williamsburg bridge.) There, 11,000 colonial soldiers and suspected “traitors” died. Their ashes are in an ossuary in Fort Greene Park.

Washington Riding down Broadway reclaiming New York.

The English didn't leave NY until 1783, a full two years after Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown. George Washington waited near Union Square Park where his statue is today. When word was received that the limeys had evacuated, he rode down Broadway and reclaimed the city. 

The anniversary of “Evacuation Day” was a very big New York holiday and was celebrated right up until the First World War. At that point the English were our allies and this decidedly anti-English celebration was considered politically incorrect.

Frances Tavern
Once the English had finally left the United States, Washington was able to disband his army. He bid farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street (a recreation museum/ restaurant still operates there)

At the farewell Washington wore glasses for the first time in public and was quoted as saying, "Yes gentlemen I have grown gray in your service and now I am growing blind."There wasn't a dry eye in the house. The original draft of this speech is in the 42nd Street Library.

After the Revolution New York decided to cleanse itself of many English street names. Crown, King and Queen streets were 86ed in favor of patriotic names like “Liberty Street.” King's College changed its name to one more apropos in the land of Columbus...Columbia University. Oddly enough King's and Queen's counties kept their royal names. Brooklyn is still Kings County and the Queen's is, well…Queens. A partial list of other colonial New York names includes: Washington Street, Lafayette St., Pulaski street and bridge, Franklin St., Fort Washington and Fort Hamilton. Sullivan, Mercer and Greene streets are all named after Revolutionary war Generals.

Many folks don’t realize that New York was our nation’s first Capital. Washington was sworn in as the father of our country at the Federal Hall building on Wall and Broad Streets. (Is that why there’s a statue of him there?) 

100 years later, the Washington Square Arch was erected to celebrate the centennial of Georgie’s inauguration. It was at Federal Hall that the US Congress first met and the Bill of Rights was passed. James Madison was the major proponent of the Bill of Rights. Madison Avenue is named in his honor. You’ll find a tree from Madison’s Virginia estate planted in Madison Square Park. (If you’re wondering if there is a connection between Advertising/Madison Ave and free speech, there isn’t. In the 1920’s all the major magazines had their headquarters on Madison Avenue. The Ad Agencies moved there to be near what was then the most powerful advertising vehicle – the weekly magazine.)

Washington lived at 39 Broadway. On the sidewalk in front of 39 Broadway is where Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton worked out an agreement to move the capital down south.

Hamilton, the man on the ten-dollar bill, was the Alan Greenspan of the 1700’s. This New Yorker worked out our financial system. He was killed in a duel with the acting Vice President of the United States, Aaron Burr in Weehawken, New Jersey. (And you thought VP Cheney shooting his friend in the face was bad!)   Hamilton is buried in Trinity Church graveyard at Wall and Broadway. Replicas of the dueling pistols are on display inside a wonderful free museum in Trinity Church.

Trading under the Old buttonwood tree.
Wall street became WALL $TREET when the US Government whose address was Wall and Broad, created a Bond market in New York when it sold bonds to pay off the national war debt. The traders met under a buttonwood tree near Wall Street.

Well enough history, this post is longer than the war itself.

In conclusion…

Even though New York may have abstained from the Dear John letter it paid a heavy price for American independence. Which means we all have a right to celebrate on either July 2nd or 4th. Your choice.

So in New Yawk Tawk…..Have a nice frickin Fourth.
Gen. Dano




The City at the Heart of the American Revolution

by Barnet Schecter

This self-guided tour on foot and on public transportation reconstructs the battle for New York during the American Revolution. It covers the entire military campaign of 1776 and includes sites in all five boroughs as well as Westchester County. These visits can easily fill a whole week, so you will want to read through the entire tour first to plan your itinerary. You will also want to call the telephone numbers provided to make sure the interiors of houses and churches and the grounds of other sites will be open when you visit. The sites are introduced in the same sequence as the events in the preceding chapters of this book. The tour is a relatively concise itinerary, and it is assumed that you will take the whole book along to review the passage or chapter that corresponds to each site in order to get a full appreciation of what took place there. 

Before you begin the tour, get a subway map and a bus map for each of the five boroughs from the MTA or the New York Public Library. They are free and can be picked up at token booths and most branch libraries. The Map Division of the Humanities library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue also has a supply. For certain parts of the tour, such as Pelham Bay Park and Westchester County, a detailed atlas showing local streets will also be helpful. 


In the 18th century the triangular block that contains City Hall, the Tweed Courthouse and City Hall Park was called the Common. (At that time, City Hall stood at the corner of Broad and Wall Streets now occupied by Federal Hall). The Stamp Act protesters gathered on the Common in 1765, and the first blood of the Revolution was shed here in August 1766, when residents clashed with British soldiers who had cut down the first Liberty Pole. The various structures that occupied the Common are marked today by plaques and architectural footprints. These include the soldiers’ barracks, the Liberty Pole, and the provost prison, called the Bridewell, all of which are located to the west of City Hall. King’s College, now Columbia University, stood a few blocks due west of the parking lot, on Murray Street. This area on the other side of Broadway north of St. Paul’s was the brothel district known as the Holy Ground. As you walk east through the City Hall parking lot, notice the statue of Nathan Hale on your right. (Hale was executed near 66th Street and Third Avenue, which is later in the tour). To the east of City Hall stood the New Gaol, a jail for debtors, which the British used, along with the Bridewell, to confine American prisoners of war. There is also a plaque in honor of Isaac Barre, who proclaimed in Parliament that the colonists were the “Sons of Liberty.” The first reading of the Declaration of Independence in New York on July 9, 1776, also took place on the Common. 

After the reading, the crowd left the Common and headed down Broadway to Bowling Green, along the same route as the Stamp Act protesters about a decade earlier. Walk down Broadway and visit St. Paul’s Chapel, at Vesey Street—the oldest church in Manhattan. This is the original building, which escaped the fire of 1776 because bucket brigades were able to stand on its flat roof and douse it with water. Continue down Broadway and, two blocks below Vesey, turn left for a brief detour on John Street. Just east of Broadway, at a spot which is no longer marked, stood the John Street Theater, which incurred the wrath of the Revolutionaries before the war and was reopened as the Theatre Royal by the British during the occupation. Continue past Nassau Street for half a block to the John Street Methodist Church on your right. Panels of text on the façade of the church and on a sign planted in the sidewalk tell the history of the church and explain that John Street east of William Street (the next corner) was once called Golden Hill. The clash here between British soldiers and colonists in 1770 came to be known as the Battle of Golden Hill, and like the riot on the Common in 1766, it has been called the first bloodshed of the Revolution.

Return to Broadway and turn left. Five blocks south, at Wall Street, stands Trinity Church,reconstructed after the fire. Visit the cemetery, where Alexander Hamilton and Richard Montgomery are buried. Proceed down Broadway to Bowling Green, the elliptical lawn rented to the wealthy residents of the adjacent houses in colonial times for the token annual fee of one peppercorn. The Stamp Act rioters burned Lieutenant Governor Colden’s carriage on the lawn, using the fence for kindling. Here Colden dedicated the equestrian statue of King George III in 1770, and the iron fence that now surrounds the green was installed in 1771. The fence has been designated a City Landmark. After the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9, 1776, the crowd toppled the equestrian statue. Now the biggest sculpture is a bull. Monarchy has been replaced by a free-market democracy. New York has always been a town of commerce, however. The Customs House, facing Bowling Green, occupies the site of Fort George, where the Stamp Act rioters pounded on the wooden gates. WHERE WAS Burns’s Coffee House, where merchants signed non-importation agreement. James De Lancey’s and later William Smith’s mansion at 5 Broadway. 


As you face the Customs House, Broadway’s right fork becomes State Street, the original shoreline where the guns of the Grand Battery faced the harbor. (The 22 acres of Battery Park beyond State Street are mostly landfill). Here John Lamb’s artillery company began removing the cannon in August 1775 and provoked a broadside from the British man-of-war Asia. In February 1776 Charles Lee continued the job of transferring the British guns to the Common for safekeeping after he arrived to fortify the city. The various forts that Lee planned and Lord Stirling executed, along with their corresponding locations on today’s streets are discussed in detail in “Chapter Four: From Bouweries to Barricades” and “Chapter Five: The American Earl and Fearless ‘Old Put’ Take Charge.” 

You are now near the ferry for Staten Island. However, if you would like to explore lower Manhattan further before you embark, from State Street follow Pearl Street past Fraunces Tavern and cross Coenties Slip, a cobblestone street that still has the feel of the old seaport. Proceed to Hanover Square. (The tour will return to Fraunces Tavern later for Washington’s farewell to his officers in 1783). Hanover Square was the city’s original printing-house square where Hugh Gaine’s Mercury and other newspapers were produced during the Revolutionary period. From here, walk north on Pearl, turn right on Wall Street and go to the river at South Street. This is the waterfront, the commercial heart of colonial New York where Isaac (“King”) Sears reigned. The political power base of the Sons of Liberty included many day laborers who unloaded the ships’ cargoes here. The South Street Seaport Museum consists of several galleries and a pier where you can board 19th century sailing vessels. 


Take the ferry to Staten Island, the staging area for the British invasion of Long Island. As the ferry leaves Manhattan, go to the front of the boat and look across the channel at Governor’s Island. This is one of the narrow passages that Lee hoped to shut. This is also where Lord Howe’s emissary came by boat in mid-July 1776, with the letters to “Mr. Washington.” In September 1776, the torpedo from the American submarine-- the “Turtle”—blew up here while General Putnam looked on. 

From the St. George ferry terminal on Staten Island, a forty-minute ride on the S74 bus brings you to Historic Richmond Town, which is New York City’s answer to colonial Williamsburg, Virginia. The 25-acre historic village and museum complex consists of about forty buildings--most of them from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries--that were either part of the original settlement or have been moved there from other parts of the island to save them from destruction. For information about special events, craft demonstrations and seasonal celebrations, including programs for children, call (718) 351-9414. 

Follow signs to the museum, for admission tickets and a guided tour. The museum exhibits, including wonderful relics of the oyster industry and a short film about the history of the island are worth a visit. Displays on the second floor include objects collected from the British fort on Richmond Hill. (Nearby Richmond Hill was the site of a British fort which you can visit on foot, however the last traces of the fort itself are gone). At the top of the stairs hangs a 20th century map of British forts on Staten Island during the Revolution. The gift shop at the Visitors’ Center sells a blurred reproduction of it. More useful is the “Research Packet: Staten Island During the Revolutionary War,” which contains articles and a copy of an 18th century map.

For the colonial and Revolutionary periods, the main points of interest in the village itself are the oldest buildings: the Britton Cottage (circa 1670); the Voorlezer’s House (circa 1695); the Treasure House (circa 1700) where British officers are said to have stashed gold coins in the walls which were discovered just before the Civil War; the Christopher House (circa 1720), which is said have been a clandestine meeting place for local patriots, including members of the Mersereau family, who spied for Washington during the Revolution; the Guyon-Lake-Tysen House (circa 1740); and the Boehm House (circa 1750). You may want to call ahead to check which interiors are open and which are closed for restoration at the time of your visit. 

From Richmond Town take the S54 bus to Hylan Boulevard and catch the S78 to the southern tip of the island for a visit to the Conference House, where Admiral Howe met with Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge and John Adams on September 11, 1776. (This is out of sequence in the military campaign, but it makes sense to do it while you are on Staten Island). Call (718) 984-6046 for the schedule of hours and information about the annual reenactment of the conference. You can stroll on the beach where the American delegation landed and walk up the lawn past imaginary Hessian guards to visit the fieldstone manor house (circa 1680) where the conference took place. (The house has been partially reconstructed). The property is adjacent to parkland (with a trail where you can go for a hike) and very little development is visible from the house, which looks south towards the Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook. On the way back to the bus, look for a small cannon on a pedestal on Hylan Boulevard. According to the plaque, the gun was mounted on the western shore of the island and used by the British to fend off an American raid from New Jersey led by General John Sullivan. 


To travel the path of the British invasion on August 22, 1776 and get a sense of how the fighting covered the entire borough of Brooklyn, before it moved on to Manhattan and Westchester, proceed to the Narrows, the strait south of which the British transports landed troops on the Brooklyn shore. From the Conference House, take the S78 back up Hylan Boulevard and transfer to the S79 or S53. Ride across the Verazzanno Bridge to Fort Hamilton, a U.S. Army facility overlooking the Narrows. 

At the base of the bridge, enter the grounds of the fort. At the checkpoint ask the soldier for directions to the spot where American cannons fired on British ships in 1776. Proceed to the grassy hill next to the tennis courts where a cannon points at the water and an historic marker—a sign with two legs planted in the ground--overlooks the Belt Parkway. You are now looking out at the Narrows and up at the bridge. (If the morning is misty the bridge may be completely obscured even though it is very close, giving a dramatic impression of the fog that helped Washington during the retreat from Long Island after the Battle of Brooklyn). Denyse’s Ferry once stood where the bridge meets the shore. This was the stone building that Admiral Collier targeted with the guns of the Rainbow, during the landing, while he also took aim at the shore road in case the rebels arrived to contest the invasion. Around noon the mist lifts and the bridge becomes visible, as does Staten Island. Tugs and tankers ply the Narrows and provide a sense of scale. It becomes easier to imagine the British ships crossing over to a shore that wasn’t obstructed by roadways and ramps or wrapped in the steady hum of traffic. 

At Fort Hamilton you can also visit the Harbor Defense Museum, which includes a display case on the Revolution among its other dioramas about coastal fortifications. For the schedule of hours, call (718) 630-4101.

From Fort Hamilton, walk along the promenade by the shore towards Gravesend Bay and Dyker Beach Park, the landing site of the British. From here, the British encampments extended eastward--through the townships of New Utrecht, Gravesend, Flatbush and Flatlands--to the marshes at the edge of Jamaica Bay. From the VA Hospital at Fort Hamilton, or from Dyker Beach Park, take the B8 bus to 18th Avenue and 84th Street. You are now in the center of the Dutch village of New Utrecht, established in 1657 on land purchased from the Canarsie and Nyack natives. Today the neighborhood is better known as Bensonhurst. Visit the New Utrecht Reformed Church at this intersection. The American flag on the lawn marks the spot of a Liberty Pole installed on Evacuation Day—November 25, 1783. Many such flagpoles were installed throughout the city on that day. This one, however, is the sixth in an uninterrupted succession on this site—making it the only Liberty Pole in continuous use since the Revolution. The existing New Utrecht Reformed Church is constructed from the stones of the original building. The original church, built in 1700, was located two blocks away, at 16th Avenue, where the original cemetery still stands. The earliest grave dates back to 1654. General Nathaniel Woodhull, who was driving cattle on the night of August 26, 1776 and nearly discovered the British march to the Jamaica Pass, is buried here. The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have also installed a monument, facing the sidewalk on 84th Street, which indicates that Woodhull died in a house near here from the wounds inflicted when he was captured by the British. For access to the church and cemetery, call the church at (718) 232-9500 or Friends of Historic New Utrecht, Inc. at (718) 234-9268. 

From the cemetery, walk back towards the New Utrecht Reformed Church along 84th Street and turn left onto 18th Avenue. Milestone Park, the site of the oldest mile marker in New York City, extends from 82nd to 81st Street. The original stone marker has been removed for safekeeping, but the mileage information it displayed has been recorded on a bronze plaque and set into the angled top of a granite pedestal at the center of the park. The milestone, installed around 1741, marked the junction of the Old New Utrecht Road (today’s 18th Avenue) and the Kings Highway—which bears the same name today, and which constitutes the next leg of the tour. 

Walk to 18th Avenue and 86th Street and take the M or W train two stops to Bay Parkway. Take the B82 bus in the direction of Starrett City. After a few minutes the bus turns right off Bay Parkway onto Kings Highway. You are now following the path of the British encampments in the township of Gravesend, the name retained by the neighborhood today. Ride the bus for almost an hour and get off at the intersection of Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue. You have reached a third Dutch township, a neighborhood still called Flatlands. You are about to travel the route of the British flanking maneuver, the secret night march on August 26, 1776. On foot, continue past the intersection (past Flatbush Avenue). After one block, cross Kings Highway to the north side: You are now standing in front of the Flatlands Reformed Church (formerly the Dutch Reformed Church of Flatlands) at 3931 King’s Highway. The stunningly beautiful white clapboard church and its cemetery occupy a quiet, tree-shaded block surrounded by a low metal railing. This is not the original church that stood here when the British marched by the site on their way to the Jamaica Pass, but a bronze tablet on the lawn just inside the railing confirms that you are in the right place: Your are following in the footsteps of General Cornwallis, who led part of General Clinton’s column. On the church itself--a New York Landmark built in 1848--a plaque on the right side of the façade explains that the congregation was formed in 1654 and built the first church here in 1663. Call (718) 252-5540 for the hours when you can see the interior. 

Get on the B7 bus, which stops in front of the church, on the other side of Kings Highway. Continue north and east on the B7, along the route of the British night march. To see a typical Dutch farmhouse of the period—and one in particular that the British used as a guard-house during the Revolution--get off at Clarendon Road, walk a few blocks east to Ralph Avenue, and visit the Pieter Claesen Wycoff House Museum. Call (718) 629-5400 for the schedule of hours. Ask about the demonstrations of spinning, weaving and other crafts a well as the best time to see the kitchen garden, which is planted with various crops of the period. Built around 1652, Wycoff’s is almost certainly the oldest house in New York City, and definitely the city’s first landmark—designated as such by the newly created Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1965. 

To avoid American scouts, General Clinton detoured through New Lots at this point in the march. To approximate his path from the Wycoff House to the Jamaica Pass, you would have to take the B78, B35, B15 and B20 buses. For a simpler route, get back on the B7 and take it to Fulton Street. Then take the B25 east on Fulton to Van Sinderen Avenue. (When you get off, notice the Broadway-East New York subway station--A and C trains--half a block to your left on Van Sinderen Avenue. You will return here after the visit to the Cemetery of the Evergreens). Continue on foot for a few blocks on Fulton to the intersection of Broadway and Jamaica Avenue. (Broadway jack-knifes sharply on your left, and Alabama Avenue comes in at a right angle on your right). There is no marker, but this junction was the site of William Howard’s Rising Sun Tavern. It stood at the opening of the Jamaica Pass, and it was here that the British seized Howard and forced him to act as their guide to the Rockaway Path around the pass itself. 

Turn sharply to your left and walk on Broadway with the railroad tracks directly overhead. When you reach Van Sinderen Avenue again (on your left), you are standing under a great mass of converging, elevated railroad tracks (Broadway Junction). You are heading for what was once the Jamaica Pass, but instead, like the British column, you will now go around it on the Rockaway Path. Just after Van Sinderen, make a right off of Broadway onto Conway Street. Walk up to the Bushwick Avenue entrance of the Cemetery of the Evergreens. (Call 718-455-5300 for the schedule of hours. It is listed as Evergreen Cemetery).

Notice on the subway or bus map how the green areas of the Evergreens, Prospect Park, and Green-Wood Cemetery all line up indicating that they were once part of a single ridge--the terminal moraine—parts of which have been leveled by urban growth. You are about to cross that ridge, the heights that were the Americans’ first line of defense. 

Ask at the cemetery office for a map of the grounds showing the Rockaway Foot Path, the old Indian trail that skirted the Jamaica Pass. The path is indicated by dotted lines on the map and on the ground by signs in the grass between the graves. Be sure to see the grave of William Howard, the tavern owner’s son, who was sixteen at the time and accompanied his father when he guided the British along the footpath. From the hills of the cemetery, looking south, you can see the outwash plain stretching to the horizon—the flat, fertile landscape that was once fed by the nutrient-rich runoff from the terminal moraine. The farmers’ fields have been replaced by houses and streets, but the basic contrast between the hills and plains is still evident. The Rockaway Path will lead you to the northern end of the cemetery. Instead of exiting, double back and tour the western end of the grounds as you head towards the same gate where you entered.


Take the A or C train from the Broadway-East New York subway station six stops to Franklin Avenue. You are traveling in the same direction as General Howe’s forces after they came through the Jamaica Pass, in a line just south of their actual route. When you get off at Franklin Avenue, notice on the subway map that the intersection of Bedford and Nostrand Avenues lies just to the north of you on the G train line. This was the village of Bedford, where Howe fired the signal guns that launched the battle in earnest. So far we have traced the British advance. Now let’s visit the American positions at the center of the ridge where General Sullivan had decided to make a stand. From Franklin Avenue, take the S train, the shuttle, three stops to Prospect Park. Walk north to the Willink Entrance on Flatbush Avenue, just north of Empire Boulevard. 

You are on the east side of the park (see the Brooklyn bus map), just south of the Carousel, the Zoo, and the Lefferts Homestead, a Dutch farmhouse that was burned before the battle by units of Pennsylvania riflemen sent out to harass the British. The reconstructed house is now a children’s museum. Call (718) 965-6505 for the schedule of hours and programs. From here, proceed a little further into the park until you reach the East Drive. Turn right and go north, past the Zoo, to a point where the paved road rises between two wooded hills. This is the Flatbush Pass, now called Battle Pass, where General Sullivan commanded the center of the American line. Three plaques mark the site. As you approach from the south, the first is on the Dongan Oak Monument, a granite pedestal topped with a bronze eagle just to the right of the road. In the pass itself, on your left, a boulder bears another bronze tablet, entitled Historic Marker of Battle Pass. You will see a third tablet on a boulder to your right as you come out the other end of the pass. 

From here go west across the Long Meadow and proceed past the Picnic House (see bus map) to Prospect Park West at 5th Street where the Litchfield Villa houses the park offices and the Prospect Park Alliance, which sells a detailed map of the park. Be sure to look at the smaller maps--and the text--on the reverse. These show the terminal moraine and the original farms of Brooklyn in relation to today’s streets and parks. On the largest map, locate Prospect Lake at the southern end of the park. Just north of it, find Lookout Hill and the Maryland Monument (designed by Stanford White). The monument honors the Marylanders who fought under Lord Stirling and joined him in the rearguard action against Cornwallis in the Vechte House, which is later in the tour. From the monument, climb the hill and look across Brooklyn, to the southwestern horizon, where you can see the Verrazanno Bridge projecting above the landscape. Now you can grasp the proportions of the battle--from the point where the British landed to the hills where they clashed with the Americans. Peering through the trees, perhaps with a woodpecker tapping overhead, you get a sense of what it must have been like waiting for the British to come up from the south (while they were circling to the east). 

Now let’s proceed to the American right, where General Grant’s forces engaged Lord Stirling’s men and the first shots of the battle were fired, in today’s Green-Wood Cemetery. Exit Prospect Park at Prospect Park Southwest and 16th Street. Turn right and walk northwest to 10th Avenue and then turn left and walk south to 20th Street. Make a right onto 20th Street and proceed to the 9th Avenue entrance of the cemetery. In the cemetery, turn right onto Border Avenue, left onto Hemlock Avenue and right onto Battle Avenue. Bear right onto Border Avenue and immediately pick up Battle Path on your right. You are now on Battle Hill, the high ground on the American right wing where Stirling dispatched Parsons and Atlee and the patriots made their best stand of the day. See the bronze statue of Minerva and the Altar to Liberty. Minerva is the Roman goddess of battle who was born full grown in armor from Zeus’s head. Here with one hand she lays a wreath on an altar while she looks across the harbor and salutes the Statue of Liberty with a wave of her other hand. Through the trees, across the Brooklyn docks and waterfront, you can see the Statue of Liberty perfectly aligned--using a surveyor’s transit--with Minerva’s gaze.

Go west on Battle Avenue towards the main entrance at 5th Avenue. At the office, located in the Gothic brownstone gatehouse, you can get more detailed information about the Battle Hill monument and a map of the grounds, which cover 478 acres. Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery was a major tourist destination in the 19th century, because it contains many Civil War memorials as well as graves of historical figures and celebrities. These include Boss Tweed, the original Brooks Brothers, Horace Greeley and more recently, Leonard Bernstein. The lakes and wildlife are an added attraction. Call (718) 768-7300 for the schedule of hours.

While the Americans at Battle Pass fled down the Porte Road (today’s First Street) towards Gowanus Creek, Lord Stirling retreated northward from the area around Battle Hill in Green-Wood to the Vechte House at today’s 3rd Street between 4th and 5th Avenues in J.J. Byrne Park.. Leave through the cemetery’s main gate, walk straight on 25th Street one block to 4th Avenue, and take the M, N or R train two stops to 9th Street. Walk along 4th Avenue until you see the fences around the basketball courts in the park. At the center of this playground stands the Vechte farmhouse, now known as the Old Stone House Historic Interpretive Center. (The present structure is a reconstruction of the house using the original stones). During the Battle of Brooklyn Cornwallis occupied the house and turned into an artillery position on which Stirling and the Marylanders made their heroic attack, which saved hundreds of Americans who escaped across Gowanus Creek. Call the Old Stone House at (718) 768-3195 for the schedule of hours and special programs.

From the Old Stone House walk down 3rd Street to the Gowanus Canal, which used to be Gowanus Creek, the marshy tidal inlet that the soldiers crossed at the end of the battle, seeking safety behind the line of American forts guarding the Brooklyn peninsula. Now the steel bridge over the canal at Union Street hums and shakes with traffic. The water is a dark, dirty green soup with trash floating in it. The walls of the canal are cement and lumber or corrugated steel covered with thick moss. The zone around the canal is now full of warehouses, lumber and marble yards, bus depots, razor wire and guard dogs. Next to the bridge, earthmovers dump their loads into a sifter and conveyor belt that separates dirt from rubble. Industrial sounds drown out any echoes of the 18th century battle. However, efforts are under way to clean up the canal and reintroduce oysters, which commonly grew to a foot in length in the 17th and 18th centuries. For more information about clean-up efforts, development plans and for boat tours of the canal, call the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment at (718) 788-8500.

Cross the bridge, turn right on Bond Street and walk north, parallel to the canal. No traces of the forts remain, but we will now walk the route along which they were constructed until we reach some bronze tablets and a major monument near the end of the line with sweeping views of Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. The other reward for all of this walking is a very clear understanding of the dimensions of the battlefront and how it corresponds with the cityscape of today. The canal ends at Douglass Street. You are now in the residential neighborhood of Carrol Gardens. Keep going on Bond, past several blocks of public housing, all the way to Pacific Street. You are now in Boerum Hill, where the streets are lined with brick and brownstone row houses. At Pacific and Bond stood Fort Box, the first in the line that stretched all the way to Wallabout Bay, today the Brooklyn Navy Yard. About a thousand feet to the left of Fort Box, on Bond between State and Schermerhorn Streets stood Fort Greene, the largest of the forts on Long Island. (It should not be confused with today’s Fort Greene Park, called Fort Putnam in 1776 and renamed in 1812. This is later in the tour). 

Continue on Bond past Fulton Street to De Kalb Avenue. Make a right and go to the intersection of Flatbush and De Kalb Avenues. On the northeast corner, across Flatbush from Junior’s delicatessen, stands the main building of Long Island University. Go into the lobby and turn left towards the elevators. On the wall hangs a curved plaque with a bas-relief, which confirms that you are indeed walking the line of the American fortifications during the Revolution--the phantom line of forts interlaced in space and time with the bustling downtown neighborhood, passing through the lobby of the LIU building. Continue on De Kalb for one block to Hudson Avenue. At this intersection stood a circular fort called the Oblong Redoubt. Together with Fort Greene it defended the center of the line and was intended to stop the British if they approached along the Jamaica Highway. 

Keep going on De Kalb, on the left-hand side, to Fort Greene Place. This is a path that will take you to Myrtle Avenue and the front of Fort Greene Park. The path leads to several flights of steps and the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at the top. This was the site of Fort Putnam, the fourth in the chain of works. Because of this commanding position Fort Putnam was the most important in the line and the one the British tried to seize first during the battle. The Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument that occupies the site is a soaring Doric column topped by a bronze lantern and an observation deck (which is now closed to the public). It is a stunningly beautiful memorial that commemorates one of the worst atrocities in American history. An estimated 11,000 American prisoners perished on the overcrowded ships. Their bodies were buried in shallow graves along the shore and the remains were eventually gathered and placed in the crypt below the monument.
Extending the line even further east towards Wallabout Bay was another fort called simply the “redoubt on the left.” This was on today’s Cumberland Street between Willoughby and Myrtle Avenues. The five forts--Box, Greene, Oblong, Putnam and the last one on the left--were all connected by trenches, and additional ditches led to the marshes on either end of the line. 

Behind this defensive line were three more forts designed to stop the British if they landed at Red Hook or crossed Gowanus Creek and got around the main line of forts. Fort Defiance was on Red Hook and is not on the tour. Fort Stirling, on Brooklyn Heights, comes later in the tour. Near the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Court Street stood the third structure, Fort Cobble Hill. To reach the site, take the B38 bus on De Kalb Avenue. It takes you through the Fulton Mall shopping district and then to the heart of Downtown Brooklyn’s civic center at Court and Joralemon Streets. Get off at Court Street behind Borough Hall. 

Turn left onto Court Street and walk several blocks to Atlantic Avenue. The modernist, cast concrete, multi-level parking garage on your left looks like a fortress, but the real 18th century fort at this intersection has been replaced by a bank--which looks like a Renaissance palace. A plaque on the front wall of the Independence Savings Bank shows Washington on horseback pointing into the distance. From here Washington looked south towards the Old Stone House and lamented the brave men he was about to lose. He could see that far in part because the fort was built on a conical hill, which has since been leveled. It was known by its Dutch name, Ponkiesberg.


Walk back on Court Street towards Joralemon Street. Keep going past Borough Hall and the Supreme Court on your right to Montague Street. Turn left and enter Brooklyn Heights, the city’s first historic district. You are now heading towards the Brooklyn Heights Promenade overlooking the East River and the harbor. A tour of Brooklyn Heights that focuses on its many splendid 19th century houses would take Pierrepont Street to the water instead, but on the Promenade at the end of Montague a bronze plaque marks the approximate site of a house where Washington and his generals agreed to a full retreat. The tablet is on a boulder inside a low gate that surrounds a long flower garden. At the far end is a flagpole flying the American flag. [The location is not at the Cornell-Pierrepont Mansion, as stated erroneously in a plaque at the Montague Street entrance to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. See Stiles, HR and Furman for the debate].

Walk out onto the Promenade to enjoy the panoramic view, which encompasses most of New York City’s major landmarks. The Promenade is one of the happier products from the era of Robert Moses, the master builder who shaped so much of New York City. In a rare compromise with local residents, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway was placed underneath the Promenade, thus shielding and preserving the neighborhood.

Two blocks north at the Clarke Street entrance to the Promenade another plaque marks the site of Fort Stirling. This one too is behind a gate with crocuses and ivy growing around it. 

With their backs to the East River, the Americans were trapped on the Brooklyn peninsula. The site of Washington’s miraculous escape with the army on the night of August 29 is the next stop on the tour. Walk all the way to the end of the Promenade and go out along Columbia Heights north towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Go down the hill and pass under the Watchtower building. At the bottom of the hill turn left onto Old Fulton Street and walk across a parking area to the Fulton Ferry Landing just south of the River Café. Washington’s brilliant retreat after the Battle of Long Island is commemorated by a bronze plaque on a boulder at the edge of the sidewalk. Six plaques set in the pavement, three on each side of the boulder, form an arc about fifty feet long. Next to the markers the Fulton Ferry Fire Boat house looks out onto the spacious pier where tables are set out for dining and listening to music in the summer. Verses of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” in cut-out letters decorate the metal railings at the water’s edge. On the far side, where you see the FDR Drive and the access ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge, Washington would have seen only the northern limit of the city just above the shipyards.


Unfortunately, as this book goes to press, all ferry service from Fulton Landing has been discontinued. To see if it has resumed, call New York Waterway at 1-800-53 FERRY or SeaStreak at 1-800-BOATRIDE. For the next leg of the tour, the British invasion of Manhattan, the ideal mode of transport would be the Hunterspoint Ferry from Queens to the Manhattan shore at East 34th Street. This ferry has also been discontinued. Check with the two companies above, and with the MTA and Long Island Railroad to see if service has resumed. To reach Hunterspoint from the Fulton Ferry Landing, you would walk up the hill to the High Street Station of the A train and take it two stops to Hoyt Schermerhorn and catch the G train eleven stops to 21st Street (Van Alst), the first stop in Queens. The G train passes over Newtown Creek, where the British embarked their invasion force. 

Assuming there is no ferry service, take the A train to Broadway-Nassau in Manhattan. This station is linked to the Fulton Street stop of the 4 and 5 trains, which you will take to 14th Street. Now switch from the express to the local—the 6 train—and take it to 33rd Street and Park Avenue. Walk down 34th Street to the East River where a heliport and ferry landing occupy the site of the Kips Bay invasion. As this book goes to press, the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York have cast a bronze plaque that includes a map of the British landing and are planning to install it on the site. 

The walk back up to Park Avenue will remind you that Inclenberg was high ground at the time of the Revolution, and the Murray’s mansion at 37th Street and Park Avenue made a good observation post for General Howe while he waited for his troops to land. On the median strip in the middle of Park Avenue, on the south side of 37th Street, look inside the railing at the plaque commemorating Mrs. Murray’s party for the British generals. On the median strip at Park Avenue and 37th Street with your back to Grand Central Station, which looms five blocks to the north, you are hemmed in by traffic and tall buildings on all sides. It is hard to imagine that this was once Robert Murray’s farm. Under foot, the pavement vibrates from the impact of trucks rumbling above and the Lexington Avenue subway rattling below. But with your eyes closed, it almost sounds like the echo across three centuries of British cannons bombarding the shore a few blocks away.

Nathan Hale was executed a week after the Kips Bay landing, but a plaque marking the spot is along the route of the American retreat, so it makes sense to stop there now, even if it is out of sequence. Take the 6 train from 33rd or 42nd Street up to 68th and Lexinton Avenue. On the northwest corner of 65th Street and Third Avenue, see the plaque marking the spot where Nathan Hale was executed. At the time it was a British artillery park, near the Dove Tavern. More recently, the Sign of the Dove restaurant occupied the site, until it was replaced by The Chatham, an apartment building with a Banana Republic store on the ground level. Since Third Avenue most closely approximates the route of the old Kingsbridge or Post Road and the path of the American retreat, take the M101, 102 or 103 bus up Third Avenue to 106th Street. Take the crosstown bus to Fifth Avenue and walk into Central Park. 


Go across the park and exit on West 106th Street. You can walk to 106th and Broadway or catch the 116 bus at Columbus Avenue to get there. The Nicholas Jones house, where the Battle of Harlem Heights began and ended, stood at this intersection, on the site of the apartments buildings on West End Avenue directly across from Straus Park between 106th and 107th Streets. A Parks Department sign at the 107th Street end of the triangular park gives its history and explains that it used to be called Bloomingdale Square, because Broadway was the Bloomingdale Road at the time. As you proceed up Broadway you are walking the length of the battlefield. On the east side of Broadway, just north of 117th Street, see the large plaque commemorating the Battle of Harlem Heights on the side of Columbia’s engineering school. The bas-relief sculpture set into the wall of the building shows two figures--presumably Andrew Leitch and Thomas Knowlton—leading the charge against the British. One has already fallen and, as we know, the other is soon to follow. On the Barnard campus directly across Broadway, between 118th and 120th Streets, the most intense fighting of the day took place on what was then a buckwheat field. At 120th Street, cross Broadway and proceed past Claremont Avenue to Riverside Drive. At this point 120th Street becomes Reinhold Niebuhr Place. Turn right and walk up to Riverside Church. On the grassy triangle across the street from the church entrance, three commemorative plaques (a fourth is missing) lay inconspicuously in the grass. One of them records this as the ground where the Battle of Harlem Heights took place. Walk around to the rest of the oblong park on the other side of Grant’s Tomb. On this high ground above the Hollow Way, the British sounded their insulting bugle call. The Claremont Playground up ahead of you has a comfort station, which bears a Parks Department sign recounting the colorful history of the area, starting with the Battle of Harlem Heights. Exit the park to your right, cross Riverside Drive East and take La Salle Street or Tiemann Place over to Claremont Avenue—the route along which Knowlton’s Rangers retreated after their initial skirmish with the British at the Nicholas Jones House. From Tiemann Place, turn left onto Broadway. Here, where the 125th Street station of the 1 and 9 trains is perched high above the intersection on a narrow iron trestle, Knowlton and his scouting party crossed the Hollow Way and returned to the American lines. 

Continue up Broadway by subway to see the sites of the three American fortified lines. On Broadway between 147th and 148th Street the median strip forms a little park area with benches. A boulder there bears a plaque marking the first of the three lines of defenses. The middle line is marked by a plaque on the wall of Trinity Cemetery on the northwest corner of Broadway and 153rd Street. The third fortified line was at 159th Street, where the plaque on the southeast corner is gone. This line, where Fort Washington Avenue meets Broadway was the northernmost wall of defensive works on Harlem Heights, now called Hamilton Heights. 

From here go east on 161st Street to visit Washington’s headquarters in the Morris house, now called the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Located between 160th and 162nd Streets, it is the oldest house in Manhattan, dating from 1765. At 161st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue, next to the C-town supermarket, is a stone wall topped by an iron gate with a flight of stairs leading up to Sylvan Terrace, a mews of nineteenth century wooden row houses. Pass through the mews and the mansion is at the other end. Its grounds take up the whole block, which is now Roger Morris Park. From this high ground Washington commanded the Harlem Heights defenses and probably watched from the porch as the city burned on September 21, 1776.


You can proceed to Fort Washington from the Morris house on the A train, but to preserve the sequence of the campaign, I suggest we leave that for later and follow the British attempt to come around behind Washington’s position on Harlem Heights. Ideally, one would take a boat from Kips Bay up the East River, through Hell Gate and land at Throg’s Neck and Pelham Bay Park. Since there is no longer any regular ferry service to approximate this route—except when the Mets are playing at Shea Stadium—you will have to call New York Waterway to find out when there’s a game. If that doesn’t fit your schedule you can take the A train to 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue and catch the M60 bus headed for La Guardia Airport. This will take you across Ward’s Island, and from the bus window you can see Hell Gate, down below, the strait the British ships passed through on their way to Throg’s Neck. (Note that Randall’s and Ward’s have been consolidated into a single island) It’s a 45-minute ride to the airport. At 82nd Street and 23rd Avenue, catch the Q48 to Flushing. On Main Street take the Q-Bx 1 over the Whitestone Bridge. The bridge offers beautiful views of Long Island Sound. Look out the window to your right and you can see the shore up ahead where the British landed at Throg’s Neck. 

Get off the Q-Bx 1 at Pelham Bay Park Station, the transit hub where the 6 train terminates. From here take the 29 bus in the direction of City Island. Ask the driver to let you off just after the first bridge, where the bus turns right. You are now on the shore where the British made their fourth landing of the campaign, after the failed attempt at Throg’s Neck. Walk back to the intersection, turn right, and proceed to the stables on your left. The bridle path that goes north from the stables was part of Split Rock Road during the Revolution. The stone walls on either side are gone, but this is the road where Colonel John Glover ambushed the British during the Battle of Pelham Bay. 

You may want to avoid the bridle path (and the horses) for the first leg of the trip and take the bike path that runs parallel to it. The bike path runs past the stables alongside the main road. Keep going straight past the rotary and continue on the bike path to the parking lot of the Pelham-Split Rock Golf Course. At the far end, before the hill rises to the field house, exit the parking lot on the left side and pass under a railroad trestle. Stay to your left and pick up the bridle path. (If you don’t stay to the left, you will enter the golf course, which is separated from the bridle path by a continuous fence with no exits).

The bridle path is surrounded by woods and you may feel that you are no longer in the city. Through the trees you catch glimpses of the salt marsh bordering the Hutchinson River. 
After about fifteen minutes, the path gradually rises and the trees thin out on your left as you get closer to the access road of the New England Thruway. A sign in the woods on your left says “Road Crossing,” and you can leave the path here to see Split Rock itself. Cross the access road to the island of trees and grass at the junction of the Thruway and the Hutchinson River Parkway. Follow the path to your right and then to your left as it doubles back. The massive cleft boulder in front of you is the split rock that gave the road its name. (On a map you will notice that the paved portion of Split Rock Road continues in Westchester County on the other side of the Thruway). The historic marker is missing and a blue graffiti signature has been sprayed in its place on the rock. (Note that Glover’s Rock, on the Orchard Beach Relief Road, does have a plaque in honor of Glover and the Battle of Pelham Bay, but it is not in the location of the actual fighting).

After the battle the Hessians took their wounded to a church about a mile away in Mount Vernon, which they seized and used as a hospital. To reach the St. Paul’s Church National Historic Site, you can take the 16 bus across the Hutchinson River. From the boulder, continue on the path next to the thruway downhill towards the river. The traffic is loud, but the view of the salt marsh is gorgeous. Follow the path under the Thruway, and as it doubles back again on the other side, get off onto the paved road on your left, which is Eastchester Place. Go three blocks and make a left on Ropes Avenue. After three more blocks, you will find a bus shelter on the right side of Ropes Avenue at the Boston Post Road. Take the 16 bus to the Dyre Avenue Station of the 5 train. Inside the station you can confirm your location on the detailed neighborhood map on the wall. 

The church is a 10-15 minute walk from here, or you can take the 55 bus. The route through this industrial zone on the cusp of the Bronx and Westchester County is the same: In front of the station, turn left. Make a left onto Light Street and a left onto Provost Avenue. Where it becomes West 3rd Street, take a right onto South Columbus Avenue and you will see the beautifully restored fieldstone church on your right. The adjacent carriage house serves as the visitors’ center. Call (914) 667-4116 to receive brochures about the rich history of the site and for the schedule of hours, tours, lectures, organ concerts and other special programs. The historic burial ground contains numerous graves of soldiers from both sides in the Revolution. In 1733 the Village Green at Saint Paul’s was the site of an election that had important repercussions for the development of freedom of religion and the press in colonial America.


If you’ve made an early start and plan to fit White Plains in on the same day, continue on the W55 bus and the W7 bus to the Mount Vernon West Metro North Station. Another option is to return to the Dyre Avenue subway station and take the 16 bus to the Woodlawn Metro North Station. Take Metro North to White Plains. Sites include: the Miller Farmhouse (Washington’s headquarters) and the remains of trenches on Miller Hill; monuments at Horton’s Pond (now Silver Lake) which was the Americans’ left flank; Chatterton Hill (now Battle Hill); Purdy’s Hill and the Purdy House (also Washington’s headquarters).

If you start the day at White Plains and have time afterwards to continue the tour, take Metro North back to the city and get off at Fordham. Take the 12 bus on West Fordham Road to West 207th Street and Broadway in Manhattan and visit the Dyckman House. 

We will approach the capture of Fort Washington from the British perspective, much as we did the Battle of Brooklyn (by starting with the route of the British night march). Again, this will give you a fuller sense of the dimensions of the battlefield. In this case we will descend from the Kingsbridge area--where the British had captured Fort Independence before crossing the Harlem River--by taking the 7 or 20 bus down Broadway. We will also visit Laurel Hill, which was the eastern edge of the battlefield. 

On the way, stop for a visit to the Dyckman House on Broadway at 204th Street. This authentic farmhouse was built in 1784, but it still holds great interest for the study of the Revolution. The Relic Room contains artifacts gathered from the battlefield of Fort Washington: bullets, cannon balls, explosive shells, guns, bayonets, a uniform, and even a tattered American flag. The reconstructed Hessian log hut in the small park next to the house would have been part of a larger encampment, one of many the soldiers lived in during the seven-year occupation of the island.

From here walk up to 207th Street, turn right and walk east to the 1 and 9 subway station on Tenth Avenue. Ride two stops to 191st Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. You are now on Laurel Hill, the long, north-south elevation along the Harlem River that runs parallel to Mount Washington, which rises above the Hudson. Broadway--previously the Kingsbridge Road--runs through the valley between them. (If you want to experience the steep sides of Laurel Hill, take the A train from 207th Street to 190th Street and walk east up Fairview Avenue to St. Nicholas Avenue). During the capture of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776, Cornwallis and the Scottish Highlanders came across the Harlem River and attacked Laurel Hill at two separate points. From the 1 and 9 stop walk to 192st Street and go east one block to Audubon Avenue. On the lawn of George Washington High School, at the foot of the flagpole, a boulder bears a large bronze tablet honoring Colonel William Baxter who was killed near this spot while he and his troops tried to fend off the British attack from the east. 

Walk down Audubon Avenue to 188th Street. Turn left and follow it as it becomes Laurel Hill Terrace. The views of High Bridge Park on the slopes below you and the vistas of the Harlem River will give you a sense of the steep terrain the British ascended during the attack. Walk south towards the Washington Bridge until you reach McNally Plaza and the small granite monument enclosed in a gate at the point of access to the bridge. A Parks Department sign on the gate gives a history of Laurel Hill, including the battle for Fort Washington. Having traced the northern and eastern sides of the attack, and having visited the fortified lines below the Morris-Jumel Mansion that constituted the southern front of the battle, we can now proceed to Fort Washington itself.

Walk west on 181st Street, staying on the right-hand side. After Bennett Avenue the next block is Colonel Robert Magaw Place, named after the commander of Fort Washington. There is also a plaque in his memory on the Fort Washington Collegiate Church on the corner. The next block is Fort Washington Avenue. Make a right and walk up past 183rd Street to Bennett Park on your left. Here a marble monument with a granite tablet and bronze letters is built into the wall of rock at the edge of the park. The classical shrine marks the site of Fort Washington. At the center of the park a large outcropping of Manhattan schist protrudes from the dirt. This is Manhattan’s summit, the highest point on the island at 265.05 feet above sea level. Inside the park granite blocks in the pavement trace the outlines of Fort Washington’s walls. The actual fort would have extended from 181st to 186th Street. 

Now walk or take the M4 bus north on Fort Washington Avenue to Fort Tryon Park. What is now called Fort Tryon was the redoubt with three guns where Colonel Moses Rawlings fended off the two columns of Hessians under Knyphausen at the northern end of Mount Washington and where the fiercest fighting of the day took place. Get off at Margaret Corbin Plaza, the rotary named after the heroine who took her husband’s place at the cannon when he was killed. Enter the park and take a right, following the signs for the café. Pass it and stand below the fort on Margaret Corbin Drive. Look up to see a stone monument built into the rocks on which the fort stands. Bronze wreaths, a cannon and lettering adorn the stone in honor of the American defenders including “…Margaret Corbin, the first American woman to take a soldier’s part in the war for liberty.” Walk around the base of the hill to the north, take the stairs up to the stone ramparts and enjoy the panoramic view. The original redoubt wasn’t nearly so substantial, but you can sense how steep a climb the Hessians faced. 

Return to the A train at 190th Street just off the plaza. On the way down to the old city, stop at 42nd Street to visit the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum and see a replica of Bushnell’s “Turtle,” the first submarine. 


The men captured at Fort Washington were marched down to the city and into British prisons. The seven years of British occupation are eloquently memorialized by the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn, which we saw earlier. After the Americans’ triumphant return to the city on Evacuation Day in 1783, Washington’s said farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern and then to the crowd at Whitehall Slip. Call the Fraunces Tavern Museum at (212) 425-1778 for the schedule of hours. The tour ends where it began, in the streets of New York’s bustling 18th century waterfront where the Whig Triumvirate vied with Sears, McDougall, Willett and Lamb—among the city’s other forgotten Revolutionaries—who played a leading role in the long struggle for American freedom.

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