3D model of Fort Clinton at the Trailside Museum
A short drive up the Hudson River from New York City lie the remnants of two Revolutionary War forts that guarded a chain across the Hudson River that could control passage via this strategic artery. Their names are Fort Clinton and Fort Montgomery. On October 6th, 1777, British troops led by Sir Henry Clinton attacked the forts, which were defended by two American brothers, George and James Clinton (unrelated to Henry, or Bill Clinton for that matter; George Clinton would later become the 4th Vice-President of the United States.) The British easily captured the two forts, and ultimately razed them and destroyed the chain. However, the British victory did not assist them in gaining control of the Hudson River, which ultimately they failed to do culminating in defeat to the Americans the next day at the 2nd Battle of Saratoga on October 7th.
Today the site of Fort Clinton can be visited in the Trailside Museum at Bear Mountain State Park, just off of the Bear Mountain Bridge, which has a small museum. Fort Montgomery is a State Historic Site just north of Fort Clinton and has a visitor center.
Clockwise starting from the upper-left: A plaque marking the site of Fort Clinton in Bear Mountain State Park; A view of the Bear Mountain Bridge from the Trailside Museum at Fort Clinton; Remnants of Fort Clinton; An exhibit inside the Trailside Museum.
New York’s Revolutionary War past is in some ways very low key and unappreciated. For most of the war the city was occupied by the British and liberated by George Washington at the very end of the war. In later years New York gained a deserved reputation as a center of American finance, immigration, media, and entertainment; and many of popular tourist sites rightly commemorate this history. Today’s New York City has little resemblance to the colonial-era town that stood here in the late 1700s. Only a handful of landmarks remain.
Nevertheless if you look around you while exploring New York City, you’ll find the city is full of history of the Revolutionary War. Some of it is commemorated by monuments and plaques. Some exists within buildings that survive from the period. Here is my list of 8 essential sites in New York City for experiencing the Revolutionary War:
1. Bowling Green
New York City’s oldest public park, it was the site of the most profound act against the British by local patriots in the early stages of the Revolution. A statue to King George III stood on the park, which was already a target of protests. On July 9th, when the Declaration of Independence was read in New York City near today’s City Hall, local Sons of Liberty rushed to tear down the statue, which of course no longer stands at the sites. Bits of the statue are preserved at the New-York Historical Society. The statue was protected by an iron fence which still stands today. The posts were topped with metal royal crowns, which where sawed off by the patriots.
Bowling Green Park. The cast-iron fence around it was erected to protect a statue of King George II, a frequent target of vandels.
Bust of Lafayette in Frances Tavern
2. Fraunces Tavern
The tavern opened in 1762 and was a frequent meeting place of patriots in the years leading up to the Revolution, and visited several times by George Washington. Today’s building is a 1903 reconstruction that attempted model the colonial-era design, though some of the original bricks remain. In addition to the tavern on the ground floor, the upper two floors are a museum dedicated to New York during the American Revolution. George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette are heavily featured. The highlight is the Long Room, a banquet room where Washington retired from the Continental Army on December 4th 1783.
Frances Tavern, opened in 1762, though the building is mostly a 1903 reconstruction.
3. City Hall Park
City Hall Park, then called the Commons, was where on July 9th 1776, George Washington read aloud the Declaration of Independence. An (unfortunately badly faded) plaque marks the approximate spot. Across the street is the 1766 St. Paul’s Chapel, the only building from the revolutionary war period still intact in Lower Manhattan, and George Washington worshipped there for two years while New York was the capital of the United States. Also inside St. Paul’s is a monument to Revolutionary War general Richard Montgomery.
An unfortunately badly faded maker of the approximate location of where George Washington read the Declaration of Independence on July 9th 1776, in City Hall Park.
The Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The current building is a 1933 construction of a 1699 farmhouse and was fought ever during the Battle of Long Island.
4. Old Stone House
The Old Stone House in Park Slope in Brooklyn is a 1933 reconstruction of the Vechte-Cortelyou House built in 1699, and the reconstruction used some of it’s original stones. The house was an important location in the Battle of Long Island in 1776, the largest engagement in the American Revolution. The house was fought over due to it’s strategic location and captured by Washington’s troops twice. However, ultimately, Washington would flee the area and abandon New York entirely to the British in order to preserve the Continental Army. The House today contains a museum of the battle including a 3D map with miniatures.
The Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn.
5. Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument in Fort Greene
This is without a doubt the most solemn monument in the city to the Revolutionary War. During the war, the British kept thousands of prisoners inside prison ships anchored in New York Harbor. around 11,500 prisoners died. The remains that were recovered were interred in what is now Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn at the Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument. The crypt is beneath the ground and it is marked by an obelisk dedicated in 1908 by President Howard Taft and designed by Stanford White.
6. Morris-Jumel Mansion
The 1765 Greek-Revival home of Robert Morris in Washington Heights in Manhattan was used as a headquarters by George Washington in late 1776 after he abandoned Brooklyn in the Battle of Long Island. Washington would later flee New York entirely. The house was also used by British General Henry Clinton. Later, during his presidency, Washington used the house to host formal dinners. The mansion is open as a museum and is filled with period furniture and has frequent events that commemorate its Revolutionary War history.
The Morris Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, Manhattan, built in 1765 and used as a headquarters by both sides during the American Revolution. In the 183s it was briefly a home of Aaron Burr who had a year long marriage with the then-matron Eliza Jumel. The 1748 Van Cortlandt House. Washington stayed here three times during the Revolutionary War.
7. Van Cortlandt House
This preserved colonial house in the northern edge of the Bronx, thankfully near the last stop on the 1 train, was used three times by George Washington, including once when he lit bonfires here to confuse British forces. Also, the owner, Augustus Van Cortlandt, the city clerk, hid New York City records here from the British while the city was occupied. From here, in 1783, George Washington departed south to New York City (then the city was 15 miles south) to officially liberate Gotham from the British.
St Paul’s Church, built in 1764 located in today’s Mount Vernon, NY.. It was called the Church of Eastchester until 1795.
8. St Paul’s Church National Historic Site
This very pleasant spot is technically in Mount Vernon in Westchester County bu it is a short walk from the Eastchester/Dyre Ave station on the 5 Train in the Bronx. St Paul’s Church was built in 1764 (the congregation was founded in 1665 and it was called the Church of Eastchester originally). In 1776 the Battle of Pell Point was fought nearby and the British used it as a hospital. The bell inside the church was caste in 1748 at the same foundry in London as the Liberty Bell. The church is now a National Historic Site and has regular education events and a visitor-center telling of the sites importance during the revolutionary war and the region.
On April 30th, 1789, George Washington was inaugurated president of the United States on the balcony of the Federal Hall Building on Wall Street, New York City. At that time, New York was the capital of the United States (until 1791). The building, which served as the capital building of the US government, was torn down in 1812. The current building at the site (26 Wall Street) was built in 1842 as the US Customs House and is now the Federal Hall National Memorial. A model of the original building is pictured, along with the stone where Washington stood for his inauguration. Federal Hall is now open to the public and contains many exhibits of this period of US history, including the Washington Bible. It is open to the public and admission is free of charge.