Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Battle Of Brooklyn -- Part One

Did you know that the first official battle for independence of the United States of America, after the Declaration of Independence was read on July 4, 1776, was fought on August 27, 1776, in what is now called "The Battle Of Brooklyn"? General George Washington's Continental Army fought against tens of thousands of British and mercenary Hessian soldiers in what is now the borough of Brooklyn, in the city of New York. This is not New York history, it is the history of our young nation, and the story of fearless leadership, extreme bravery, and ultimate sacrifice. It was the largest battle of the war in terms of both troops and causalities, and it almost ended America's Independence before it truly began.

As a lifelong resident of Brooklyn, NY, I had become totally mesmerized by reading the book "The Battle of Brooklyn 1776" by John J. Gallagher, this summer. I knew many of the locations he wrote about, some were literally in my own backyard, yet I never heard about this pivotal battle of the American Revolution. After finishing the book, I went out many weekends to seek out the locations of the battle to take photographs of what they look like presently, and I couldn't help but imagine how they looked then. I'd like to take you along in the next few blog posts, in honor of the 233 anniversary of the battle, so you can see where this battle took place and learn about a special group of soldiers who are the unsung heroes of the American Revolution.

Please note: all photos can be enlarged to see more detail by clicking on them

A replica Continental soldier's uniform located at The Old Stone House exhibit

In 1776, the United Kingdom's King George III was angry about British forces being made to evacuate Boston after skirmishes there and declared to English Parliament that the American rebellion would be crushed with the full force of the British Army, along with the help of German mercenaries called Hessian's. New York City was an important center of the then 13 original colonies, with its well-developed harbor necessary for commerce, and it was also well populated. Therefore, the focus of the first attack on the United States would be to take control of New York, where Washington had brought the major portion of the Continental Army in order to protect it. Control of the shores of northern Brooklyn was important to the British to prevent their ships from being bombarded with cannon fire from that location as they sailed into the Hudson and East rivers, so they began the battle there.

In June, a British fleet of 130 ships and an army of 9000 arrives in New York Harbor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, with their commander General Howe. In July, his brother Admiral Howe arrives with more British forces, more than 13,000 soldiers and sailors and 150 ships, and soon the largest fleet in history, larger than the Spanish Armada, is anchored off Staten Island in an area of the bay known as "The Narrows."

The Narrows is located between the island of Staten Island and the westernmost portion of Long Island, which is Brooklyn. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge now stands over the narrows, connecting Brooklyn to Staten Island. In 1776, this area became so dense with British ships that it was described as "a forest of masts," and a Continental soldier from the Maryland brigade wrote: "... I thought all of London was afloat."

The British ships used the spire from the old New Utrecht (Dutch) Reformed Church as a landmark as they sailed into the narrows. In the 1700s this was a Dutch town called New Utrecht, and the church stood next to the Old New Utrecht Cemetery, on the corner of 84th Street and 16th Avenue. The new church is now located at 1831 84th St, two avenues away, and was rebuilt in 1828 using the same stones as the old church.

An interesting fact about this church is that it has a 106-foot pole in front. The Friends of Historic New Utrecht web site states:

"This Liberty Pole marks the spot over which the American flag first waved in the town of New Utrecht. The original pole was erected by our forefathers at the Evacuation of the British, November 1783, amid the firing of cannons and demonstration of joy." 

Heritage Trail placard at the New Utrecht Reformed Church's grounds-click on to enlarge

On Aug. 22, the British were ready to move across the narrows. Six ships fired their guns as flatboats and longboats carried over 20,000 British soldiers to the Brooklyn shore near what is now the site of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The 200 Pennsylvania riflemen who had been sent to protect the area were no match for the British army and quickly retreated. The British and Hessian troops marched past the old site of the New Utrecht church on their way towards the interior of Brooklyn where they occupied farmhouses (to see these farmhouses which survive to this day click on these links: The Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, The Lott House, and The Wyckoff Bennett Mont House and set up camps in await for the attack. The New Utrecht church was also used by the British as a hospital during the war.

If you click on to enlarge the diagram above from the NY Heritage Trail you can see the location of the key sites of the Battle Of Brooklyn, including the farmhouses the British and Hessian officers occupied.

General Howe divides his army, moving a small force of 5000 men under General Grant along the shore of New York Harbor, and the larger force under General Cornwallis inland to some of the small communities in central Brooklyn. Skirmishes break out as small companies of Americans attack the British flanks. The British army continued to move further east into Brooklyn, into the towns of Gravesend, and Flatbush and Flatlands.

Heritage Trail placard at Gravesend cemetery-click on to enlarge

At that time these towns were mainly rural farmlands, and many of the farmers lost their crops, livestock, and even their houses to both the fleeing rebels who did not want the enemy to use them and then to the British and Hessian Armies who confiscated any supplies that they could find. Most of the townspeople had sent their women and children as far east onto Long Island as they could for protection.

The Flatlands Reformed Church shares the distinction of being the oldest church in Brooklyn with Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope and the Flatbush Reformed Church on Flatbush and Church Avenues. The congregation has worshipped in three separate church buildings all on the same site, and this was built in 1848. 

An interesting fact about this church is its bell:

"The church bell represents an important historical artifact for the congregation. It weighs in excess of 450 lbs. and in 1794 replaced an earlier smaller bell that had been brought from the Netherlands. This bell has run marked the death of every American President since George Washington. It rang to mark the singing of various peace treaties and the close of every war the nation fought following the Revolutionary War."

The Flatlands Reformed Church is located on Kings Highway between Flatbush Ave. and E. 40th Street. The photo above shows the street opposite the church grounds. Kings Highway is a major street that runs both east and west through a large portion of southern Brooklyn and was a road used in the Revolutionary War.  Kings Highway at this point was the road along which Lord Cornwallis marched his troops on the night of August 26, 1776, to outflank the Americans at the Battle of Long Island.
Enlarge the marker below, that is located on the church grounds, which describes the importance of the street.

Please click on to enlarge

The stage is set, and now the British are ready to advance upon the Continental Army who has troops stationed in Northern Brooklyn. If you look at the map below you can see the positions of the Continental Army in blue, and the British and Hessian Army in red upon the streets of the present-day map of Brooklyn. The British and Hessian troops were effectively in the process of surrounding The American troops.

A map of battle locations that is located in The Old Stone House--click on to enlarge

In my next "Part Two" blog post I will show the major battle areas of The Battle Of Brooklyn and describe the very brave efforts of "The Maryland 400" who are among the bravest men our country has ever known.

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Ciao Chow Linda said...

Pat - what a fascinating story. I can't wait to hear the rest. Isn't it amazing to think of all those ships in the harbor way back when? Great history you're giving us.

Gracie said...

Thanks for share with us this piece of history. It's a lot more interesting when you live in the same spot of a historical event, isn't it?

steviewren said...

Pat, I'm sure living right in the midst of all these historic spots really brings the battle alive for you. I'm amazed to think of all those troop ships in the harbor. It must have been a sight.

Anonymous said...

A wonderful story. You have done a great job retelling it. I probably mentioned several times, but on visiting my son in Kingston he took us around to a lot of historical sites on the Hudson. When I took History in college, before the Civil War, whatever those dates, I loved it. I enjoyed John Adams on the mini-series.

Unknown said...

fascinating post. I really want to read that book now.

Sara at Come Away With Me said...

This is truly fascinating and I'm learning things I never learned in school. Thank you for taking the time to share all these facts and photos with us. I'm especially interested because I know I had ancestors on the American side of this war but nothing about their lives or what it was like for them.

Willow said...

What interesting history! How fortunate you are to live near all these places. Thank you for sharing these posts.

Just A Girl said...

Hi Pat,
And all this time I thought the battles were fought in the Carolina's and down South. Never having been to N.Y. I've always thought it wasn't developed until the early 1800's. Maybe I should go out and buy some history books ;-O.

oxox Cori

Susie Q said...

Pat! These posts have been such a joy! I love history so and these spots are p;aces that I have yet to visit! Lucky you living in such a special place.
Thank you for always sharing something wonderful with us!
Have a sweet weekend!

Cynthia Pittmann said...

So much historical detail, Pat. I would love to walk down by the river there. Beautiful photos.

cherie said...

how beautiful to read about history! i am glad you are blogging about all these because they sure refresh the mind! thank you, ma'am!

Claudia said...

I remember studying the Battle of Brooklyn in school - a long time ago. You truly brought it alive to me. You would ahve thought they (being in Queens) might have taken us to some of these places!

Anonymous said...

Hia Pat this is wonderful stuff. I love how you are showing present pics as well as the historical ones as it makes it very real. There is a Cornwallis Road in Oxford so I knew there had to be a person by that name who did somnething and now I know.

Love the colonial houses, but oh my that mug is so wonderful! Love it!

Sorry this is such a catch up -we were away again, this time down in Wales.

Unknown said...

Very interesting story Pat..

From our Canadian history..

Why Canada Did Not Join the American Revolution

1) The British Parliament in London adopted the Quebec Act, 1774 which implies the right to the French language, and confirms the right to the Roman Catholic religion and to the French civil law, and the right of the Catholic Church and the seigneurs to impose taxes. The test oath was abolished. The purpose of the Act was to encourage the "canadiens" not to join the American rebellion.

2) Canada did not in fact join the American Revolution, 1775-1776, when George Washington of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia sent an army, under Major General Richard Montgomery, which conquered Montreal. Delegates Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll and John Carroll were sent to Montreal by General Washington, but failed to convince Quebec to join the American Revolution.

3) Montgomery then attacked Quebec City on December 31, 1775 in Lower Town from the west. General Benedict Arnold attacked Quebec at the same time in Lower Town from the east. Both American armies were later repulsed in heavy fighting in cold weather and retreated. Montgomery was killed and his body was found under the snow next spring. He was buried at Quebec.

4) Delegates Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, Charles Carroll and John Carroll were sent to Montreal in 1776 by General Washington, but failed to convince Quebec to join the American Revolution.

5) In the summer of 1776, the American armies withdrew from Montreal and Canada, when the British Fleet came up the St. Lawrence River.

6) A monument was erected to Montgomery in 1777 on the porch of St. Paul's Church, Broadway (near the former World Trade Center) by Act of Congress of January 25, 1776.

bARE-eYED sUN said...

you've outdone yourself.

a very satisfying read,
good tips on locations to visit,
a book recommendation,
and more to look forward to. :-)

good job,
thank you,


Vee said...

That you do this incredible bit of showing us today juxtaposed with yesterday is amazing. I was looking at the river and thinking that it would've been so pristine and clear viewed and then read that it actually looked as if all of London were floating on the river. It brings it to life for us.

I'm off to read some more, Pat, but I had such difficulty commenting that I'll save it for another day. Must find out what you are kvetching over though!

Hope that the summer is treating you well. I have missed being here.

Tracy said...

Fantastic post, Pat! I know, I say that all the time...LOL! But this was great...I learned so much--this was fascinating! I didn't learn this in high school history... Love the photos too. Loving the history portraits this summer...Happy Day, my friend ((HUGS))

Sea Witch said...

I adore hearing about our nation's birth and your postings are a favorite of mine. You are a wonderful historian. Sea Witch

Linda K. said...

This is a beautiful historical post. I can really appreciate your work along with photos. Have enjoyed reading through and enlarging your phots. I love these beautiful historical sites, homes and buildings. It really connects us with the people who lived and died for our country!

Betsy Brock said...

What a neat history lesson. I'm sure I learned about the Battle of Brooklyn in school, but don't remember it! Your pictures bring it alive, too! :)

Unknown said...

Wonderful story, thnak you so much for sharing Pat, lots of love and big hugs always......M

Junie Moon said...

Your post is most excellent, Pat! I'm truly delighted by all you share. You've inspired my walking/hiking adventures to looking beyond the surface and delving into the history, whys, and wherefore-art-thou kind of detail. I'm going to start sharing more of Tucson as there's a bit of history here, too, although we are much smaller than NY.

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

I would lovvvvve to read that book! I think I should buy it for my mom for I can borrow it. ;-) Thank you so much for sharing such interesting history of our area...I learn so much from you! (You should have been a history teacher. My history teacher, in fact!)

The Quintessential Magpie said...

I had no idea about this being the first battle, Pat! Fascinating!


Sheila :-)

aliceinparis said...

We have a stature of Gen. Cornwallis here. He founded Halifax but there is a hue and cry now to get rid of it. He was not a nice man and one of his legacies was to create a bounty on Mi'kmaq Indian deaths. People were paid money for their scalps.