I’m guessing that your idea of a good time doesn’t usually involve men with powdered wigs and muskets. Or maybe it does. You’ll get no judgement from me. Either way, this post exists to show you the most interesting Revolutionary War sites in NYC. Note that this isn’t a list of ALL the Revolutionary War sites in NYC; that would be enough places to fill a book, as the city was essentially one big battlefield during the war. Instead we’re going to be focusing on the places where you can learn about or honor Revolutionary War history and have a good time while doing it.
City Hall Park
Back in George Washington’s day, this area was called the Commons because it was a common area for people to gather to graze livestock, watch executions, hold protests, and seemingly other *intense* communal activities. On July 9, 1776, this was where George Washington’s troops and nearby civilians listened to the Declaration of Independence be read to them for the first time. (This Sons of Liberty re-enactment of the reading will give you chills.) Reflect on the magnitude of that moment as you sit on a bench at what is now City Hall Park. You might be heartened to learn that this place is still the setting for many protests in modern-day NYC.
A 15-minute walk south from City Hall Park is Bowling Green, where the drama from July 9, 1776 continued. After hearing the Declaration of Independence, people were so fired up that they marched down Broadway and then toppled and decapitated the equestrian statue of King George III that lorded over Bowling Green. Merely six years earlier the British government had sent over that statue to New York after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Now, the colonists intended to melt down the lead statue into bullets to shoot at the British troops. In their anti-monarch fervor, the mob even hacked off the tiny crowns that served as finials on Bowling Green’s fence. The original fence still encloses the park today, so feel free to run your fingers over the exact spots of the colonists’ vandalism. And when you’re done, rub your hand on the balls of The Charging Bull Statue at the north end of Bowling Green. Yes, it’s weird, but everyone does it.
Fort Wadsworth was only a minor military site during the American Revolution, but it’s a good place to acknowledge Staten Island’s role in the war, while taking in an amazing view of New York Harbor. I wonder if the British Navy was as impressed with the view of Manhattan and Brooklyn as they waited on Staten Island and aboard their ships in the harbor during the nail-biting weeks between their arrival on July 2, 1776 and their first attack on August 26, 1776. As you explore the honeycomb-like fort, imagine how intimidating a fleet of 32,000 British troops must have been to the New Yorkers on the other side of the harbor.
Can you believe that the land that is now this bucolic, park-like cemetery was once part of a Revolutionary War battleground? Indeed, parts of the Battle of Brooklyn, aka the Battle of Long Island, were fought here and several other places across the borough. Every year, Green-Wood Cemetery comemorrates that crucial August 1776 battle with a re-enactment of the fighting, plus parades, cannon demonstrations, and other things that will make you feel like you’ve died and woke up in the 18th century. Don’t forget to climb to the top of the aptly named Battle Hill, which not only has information of the Battle of Brooklyn, but also has a spectacular view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.
Most of the history of the Morris-Jumel Mansion revolves around the fascinating life of Eliza Jumel, who lived in this Washington Heights mansion from 1810 to 1865, well after the Revolutionary War. But, being built in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion did see some action. The house’s claim to Revolutionary War fame is that George Washington stayed here for a few weeks during the Battle of Harlem Heights in 1776. But once the British and the Hessians took the island, their troops used the house as a headquarters, resulting in one of the mansion’s most famous ghost stories. Legend has it that a Hessian soldier tripped going down a staircase in the house and landed on his bayonet. He didn’t survive the wound, so his spirit haunts the staircase.
Fort Tryon Park/Margaret Corbin Circle
Similar to Green-Wood Cemetery, it’s hard to imagine that fighting and bloodshed ever occurred at such a tranquil place as Fort Tryon Park; however, this site played a role in the November 1776 Battle of Fort Washington. The play-by-play of the battle isn’t that notable, but this was the first-known battle in the Revolutionary War where a woman joined the fighting. This badass woman’s name was Margaret Corbin and she served as a “camp follower” for her husband’s regiment until he was struck down during the Battle of Fort Washington. Like a scene from a movie, Corbin took over his cannon, firing at the British until she became injured. After the war, Corbin became the first woman to receive a military pension from Congress. The southern entrance to Fort Tryon Park is named in her honor.
Speaking of names, what’s with Fort Tryon Park’s name? The park is named after Sir William Tryon, the last colonial governor of New York before the Revolutionary War. If we didn’t like the guy, why does this park still bear his name?
Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park
Like most places in NYC that start with the word ‘fort,’ Fort Greene Park was the site of yet another Revolutionary War fort. But that’s not what makes it special, at least not for this list. Fort Greene Park is special because of its Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, a granite column extending 149 feet into the sky in honor of the prisoners who perished on British prison ships in Wallabout Bay during the Revolutionary War. 11,500 American, French, and Spanish prisoners died from being kept in cramped, disgusting conditions and then faced further indignation when they were dumped overboard or buried in shallow graves on the bay’s shore. As these prisoners’ remains continued to wash up well into the nineteenth century, New Yorkers decided to gather the remains together and give them a proper resting place. Today, you can admire that memorial, designed by Stanford White, and take in the view of Brooklyn from the park’s highest point.
Evacuation Day Flag Pole
November 25th used to be a big deal for New Yorkers. That was the day that —after all the peace treaty was finalized— we told the Brits and their supporters to hit the road and had George Washington and the Patriot Army return to the city in glory. But the day didn’t go as smoothly as the Patriots planned. As a rude parting gift, the British left the Union Jack flag flying above Fort George in Lower Manhattan. New Yorkers had planned to switch the flag with the new American one as the British exited but some mischievous British soldiers had greased the flagpole and cut its halyards. As George Washington and his army entered the city for the victory celebrations, New Yorkers scrambled to get the British flag down. After a few unsuccessful attempts to climb the pole, a young American soldier named John Van Arsdale used wooden cleats to climb high enough on the pole to rip the Union Jack down and put up the Stars and Stripes. The crowd below him went wild and the celebrations finally commenced.
New Yorkers celebrated Evacuation Day for decades afterwards with fireworks, parades, banquets, patriotic plays, and contests where people would climb up greased poles like John Van Arsdale. But by the mid-1800s, as the people who witnessed the original Evacuation Day died off, Evacuation Day lost its favor to the national day of Thanksgiving. Now all we have left is a commemorative flagpole with a laminated sign that’s hard to read. The flagpole is at the northern tip of Bowling Green, so if you haven’t done it already, here’s your second chance to rub the lucky balls of the Charging Bull.
Ever wanted to dine like a Founding Father? Eating at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan may be the closest you’ll get to doing so. This eighteenth century tavern was a hub of community life in early NYC and, after the Revolutionary War, it was where George Washington frequently got take-out. (Presidents: they’re just like us.) Fraunces Tavern is most famous for being the site of Washington’s farewell address to his officers on December 4, 1783. The tavern commemorates that moment and the colonial/revolutionary era through its museum on the upper floors. Check it out and then head back downstairs for Fraunces Tavern’s all-American dishes such as lobster mac-and-cheese and chipotle bison burgers.
I hope learning about these sites brought the history of the Revolutionary War in NYC back to life for you. Which site do you want to visit first? Are there any others that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comment section.
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