Saturday, November 28, 2015

Evacuation Day - November 25, 1783

New York City was occupied by the British for over seven years during the War for Independence.  It was an insult to the residents of New York State, who viewed the city as their capital and their link to commerce.  Retaking the city was General Washington's objective for most of the war.  During the last three years of the war, the main army wintered in a horseshoe pattern surrounding the city, waiting for an opportunity to attack. It never happened.

Sitting at the "handle" of the horseshoe was Newburgh.  Washington made this area his headquarters towards the end of the war.  Joel, the subject of this blog, lived close to Newburgh, and was aware of the desire to reoccupy New York.  Many occupants of the city had fled in 1776 and had been Joel's neighbors during the last seven years.

After the battle of Yorktown effectively ended the war in 1781, the armies waited as peace negotiations slowly proceeded in Europe.  By April of 1783 all hostilities had ceased and the negotiations for the evacuation of New York City began.  It was late in the year before the date of November 25th was agreed upon.

By the autumn of 1783, many refugees had returned to the city.  They were trying to reclaim homes and farms, and for the enterprising, they were already starting a brisk trade, both with the departing British and up and down the coast. One enterprising young man was Joel's neighbor, John Van Arsdale.  John, a teenage veteran of the war, converted a gunboat, the Black Prince, into a cargo ship. He carried out trade between Newburgh and New York City on the newly reopened river.

It is not a tremendous stretch to imagine that every patriot had some desire to be in New York City on November 25th for what was to be the culmination of everything they had fought and sacrificed for. The ceremonies had been planned and dignitaries had been invited.  It is known that John Van Arsdale was there.  Who else had he brought from Newburgh in his ship?  Perhaps Joel or one of Joel's sons who were closer to John's age had accompanied him.

Today, November 25, 2015, two hundred and thirty two years later, I walked the processional route.  I tried to imagine what it was like so many years earlier.

My starting point was Astor Place at the "6" Line subway stop.  This spot was on Bowery Lane, the main thoroughfare through the farms of Manhattan up into Harlem and eventually across the Harlem River to the road to Boston. Walking down Cooper Square, one encounters the intersection with 5th Street, 3rd Ave, and the section of the old road that still retains the name of "Bowery."  Here sat a military post where Major General Henry Knox waited with the American troops who were to secure the city prior to the official entry of Washington.  They halted here early in the morning of the 25th after marching from McGowan's Pass (in current Central Park).  The forces waited at this post with their British counterparts.  At one o'clock the British forces headed down Bowery, turned on Queen St (now Pearl) and boarded a ship to sail away.

Several blocks further down Bowery Lane stood the Bull's Head Tavern.  Its location was at about 50-52 Bowery, just south of Canal St. Here Washington waited with the main entourage.  They had descended from Day's Tavern in Harlem (about 126th St and 8th Ave) and had followed Knox part way to the old city boundary.  It was about 2 pm when Knox returned to Bull's Head to give the signal that the city was secure, and the grand entrance began.

Evacuation day procession route on modern map.  Bull's Head Tavern is red marker in upper left.  Procession followed the blue line.

Drawing of Bull's Head Tavern on Bowery Lane

Construction at site of Bull's Head Tavern (50-52 Bowery Lane) just south of Canal Street.

It takes some imagination to see what the procession of 1783 saw. Today the road is packed with storefronts instead of farms, most of them with signage in Mandarin. Occasionally a view will open up to the left, and the East River can be seen. Gazing back, the Met Life clock tower is visible as Bowery Lane fades into the distance.

Storefronts on Bowery Lane
1776 map of New York City.  Current City Hall Park is located in upper middle of the map inside the triangular open space.  The wide road in the upper right is Bowery Lane.  Bull's Head Tavern is further up this road.  North of this map is largely farm land. Queen Street (now Pearl) proceeds south from outlet of Fresh Water Pond.

The entourage stopped briefly "near the tea-water pump." This was a source of drinking water that was at the south end of the Fresh Water Pond (now totally filled in; see in 1776 map above). This location at the corner of Pearl Street and Park Row, still feels the effects of the old spring if the "DANGER Sinking Ground " sign is any indication.

"Danger, Sinking Ground" Sign near site of old Tea Water Pump.  Pearl Street and Park Row.
Artist depiction of a "Tea Water Pump."  After one enterprising water salesman christened his water source with this name, it appears to have been used generically for any water that made good tea.

Here the public joined in the procession. George Washington and New York Governor Clinton on horse back led the procession onto Queen Street (now Pearl).

Pyle Painting of soldiers in procession.

The path of the procession was designed to parade in front of the finest homes in the city.  One of those was the Depeyster House. It was located on Queen Street (now Pearl) approximately opposite to where Cedar Street intersects. This Dutch family of merchants had a long history in the city. British officers had made this home their headquarters and Governor Clinton would make it his also. The Depeysters were loyalists and left with the British, forfeiting their vast wealth. [Catherine Depeyster would marry Peter Dubois and make her home in the same tract of land where Joel's father settled in Ulster County... the Wileman patent]

Depeyster House on Queen Street (now Pearl Street)

Looking at site of Depeyster House from Cedar Street.  It says "80 Pine" on the front, but that side of the building faces Pearl Street.

The parade turned from Queen Street onto Wall Street, which also contained many fashionable residences. Citizens cheered from the windows of those homes. They passed the City Hall where Federal Hall now stands.  The columned structure would be home to an American Mayor for the first time in over seven years.

Washington and Clinton proceeding down Wall Street.  City Hall on left (now Federal Hall)

Looking down Wall Street 232 years later.  Site of City Hall on left.

The procession turned right up Broadway and stopped in front of Cape's Tavern. Cape's Tavern stood on the west side of Broadway about opposite the intersection with Pine St. Here the procession stopped for short speeches from the "welcoming" committee and Washington and Clinton. A feu-de-joie was fired off by the troops. In a few years this Tavern would change its name to City Arms Tavern.

Cape's Tavern was located just past the Northeast corner of the Trinity Church Cemetery.  There is a marker on the side of the Building that is just beyond the large one that takes up most of the frame.
Another depiction of Washington in the procession.

The crowd then turned around and headed to the center of power of the city, Fort George. Fort George stood where the US Customs Building (Museum of the American Indian) now stands. The procession ended here with the raising of the American flag over the fort. The British had left their colors flying and greased the pole. This is the setting for the legendary tale of John Van Arsdale, spoken of earlier. John was the enterprising sailor who scaled the pole and raised the stars and stripes. The hour long ceremony included a thirteen gun salute from the cannons of the fort.

1776 Ratzer map of New York City.  Fort George is the structure on the left labeled "1". The triangular park above it is Bowling Green.  The wide road leading NE from Bowling Green is Broadway. The next structure on the left is Trinity Church.  Cape's Tavern was located on Broadway at the top edge of this map.

Looking from the top of Bowling Green at the site of Fort George, now the US Customs Building.

The procession disbanded to the various establishments of the city for drinking and dancing. The dignitaries gathered at Fraunces Tavern for a dinner hosted by Governor Clinton. Fraunces Tavern stood at the same location as it does today.

Fraunces Tavern at same site as 232 years ago, Dock Street (now Pearl Street) and Broad Street.

The evening ended with fireworks over the harbor.

I stopped at a few other sights that some of the soldiers of the Revolution would have remembered. The first was the site of the Friends Meeting House that was used at a prison hospital (NE corner of Liberty and Broadway). The second was the site of Livingston's Sugarhouse, used as a prison for American soldiers (Liberty Street between Nassau and William). In back of the Sugarhouse was the Dutch Church where the Depeysters and Dubois worshiped.

Livingston Sugarhouse (Revolutionary War Prison) with Dutch Church in background.

Site of Livingston Sugarhouse on Crown Street (now Liberty Street).

The Brick Church was another prison Hospital (NW corner of Nassau and Beekman).  The site of the notorious Provost prison is marked by a stone table in the fenced off grass area east of City Hall.  My last stop was at the window from the Rhinelander Sugarhouse that is memorialized in an alley behind the Municipal Building.  Sadly, all of these sites require a bit of imagination.  The only physical evidence of any of these structures is the Rhinelander window.

Window from Rhinelanders Sugarhouse.  Displayed in alley behind Municipal Building.

Rhinelanders Sugarhouse.

For many years Evacuation Day was celebrated in grand style in New York City on November 25th. Who could forget the culmination of the War for Independence? It was the moment that the greatest city on earth was reoccupied by Americans. Sadly, it has been largely forgotten. There were no patriotic crowds as I walked the route. Bowery Lane looked more like China than the US. Strangely, a British drum and fife group performed at Federal Hall. There is one advantage to the disappearance of "Evacuation Day":  I had no problem getting a table at Fraunces Tavern.

Meal at Fraunces Tavern.

P.S.  A map of the my route and related sites along the way is available here.

Procession followed the blue line.  "D" is Depeyster House, "S" is Fraunces Tavern, "F" is Fort George, "E" is Cape's Tavern, "Q" is the Friends Meeting House (Prison Hospital), "O" is Livingston's Sugarhouse (Prison), "T" is the John Street Methodist Church.