Written by Liz Stern
Families can pick up their Battle of Brooklyn Family Guide at the exhibition entrance. This 8-page booklet is filled with activities, images, and discussion questions to guide families through the exhibition.
Every American student studies the Revolutionary War in school, several times. It’s the birth of the country, after all! We learn about the patriots, about King George III, about tea, and about the Declaration of Independence. The Battles of Bunker Hill, Lexington and Concord, Trenton, and Yorktown are all on the list of turning points during the Revolution—but the Battle of Brooklyn, or the Battle of Long Island as it’s sometimes called, does not always make this list.
The New-York Historical Society’s new exhibition, The Battle of Brooklyn, shows visitors that its omission has been unwarranted. Did you know this was the largest battle in the entire war? And because it took place on August 27, 1776, it was the first battle fought after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Furthermore, New York was a city the British wanted desperately to control. It was the second largest city in the Colonies at that time, located in the middle of the Eastern seaboard and at the mouth of the Hudson River, so it was seen as both a gateway to the interior of the country and a way to divide the north from the south. For all these tactical reasons, the Battle of Brooklyn was crucial.
But perhaps the most interesting part of the battle was that the patriots were outnumbered and outmaneuvered, so George Washington made the brave and urgent decision to retreat. This decision not only saved 9,000 lives but also gave the Continental Army a future, and the rebels could apply the lessons learned about effective battle strategies against the formidable British Army. The outcome of the American Revolution would likely have been quite different if General Washington had not decided to retreat.
One of the coolest parts of the exhibition is called “A Flight in the Fog,” a projected interpretation of the overnight evacuation. You can really feel the quiet urgency that General John Glover and his regiments of sailors and soldiers must have felt as they ferried the troops through a foggy night to the relative safety of Manhattan.
Families who visit the exhibition can pick up a special Battle of Brooklyn Family Guide at the entrance. It’s an 8-page booklet filled with activities, images, and discussion questions that will guide them through the three parts of the show. Who were the officers? What did the encampments look like? What weapons were used? How were prisoners treated?
Perhaps more importantly, kids can reflect on what might have been going on inside General Washington’s head using the guide’s Washington Confidence Meter. What was he feeling before, during, and after the Battle of Brooklyn?
We sometimes forget that the study of historical events like the American Revolution is not all about outcomes. The Americans won the war, of course, in the end. But during battles like the Battle of Brooklyn, tough decisions were made while the war hung in the balance. Leaders like George Washington were thoughtful and emotional about the intelligence they had at the moment. Through this exhibition and family guide, we’re encouraging kids to imagine just what that might have been like for him in New York and Brooklyn in August 1776.