Classes, Lectures & Tours
Revolutionary New York
New York’s role in defeating the British and creating a new nation
The American Revolution is a story of such daring and courage that it is still invoked everywhere. Every day New Yorkers pass by remnants of its desperation and its glory: damage caused by inspired patriots, a final remaining symbol of British authority, traces that led to the hanging of a schoolteacher who regretted only that he had but one life to give.
Charrings from a great fire as the British took over show the direction of the blaze and suggest how St. Paul’s Church survived to become home base for the rescue workers of 9/11. It was one of two great fires that left the city in ruins. “New York is destroyed,” said George Washington at the end of the war, “but its future greatness is certain.”
We’ll see the site of his emotional farewell and of his glorious return six years later.
The great statue in the harbor also has much to say about the conduct of the Revolution, and how the horribly overmatched Americans (see below) eventually won. So do the world’s first combat submarine and a metal chain protecting the colonies’ most vital waterway. The Hudson River played a key role in a victory so stunning that upon surrender the British band played “The World Turned Upside Down.”
GENERAL WASHINGTON DISPATCH #1209 – August 1776
To the Congress:
I can now report with some certainty that the eve of battle is near at hand. Toward this end I have ordered the evacuation of Manhattan and directed our defenses to take up stronger positions on the Brooklyn Heights.
At the present time my forces consist entirely of (Colonel) Haslet’s Delaware militia and (General) Smallwood’s Marylanders – a total of 5000 troops to stand against 25,000 of the enemy, and I begin to notice that many of us are lads under 15 and old men, none of whom could truly be called soldiers.
One personal note to Mr. Lewis Morris of New York: I must regretfully report that his estates have been totally destroyed, but that I have taken the liberty of transporting Mrs. Morris and eight of the children to Connecticut in safety. The four older boys are now enlisted in the Continental Army.
As I write these words the enemy is plainly in sight beyond the river. How it will end only Providence can direct, but dear God what brave men I shall lose before this business ends.