By Rachel Walman
This weekend is your final chance to catch our groundbreaking exhibition on the Battle of Brooklyn. Throughout the run of this exhibition, we’ve had Family Activity Guides on hand at the Museum for families to use while they navigate the show. These guidebooks offer fun activities to do in every gallNewery within the exhibition. On the back, kids and parents can write postcards to George Washington inspired by what they learned. Today, we’re bringing you a few of these postcards we’ve received, plus our—I mean George Washington’s—responses.
The two Georges—Washington and the King of England—had very different views on why the war was being fought, but each certainly knew what the other’s view was.
George Washington wanted the North American colonies to separate from Great Britain as early as the 1760s, when British Parliament started levying a series of taxes on colonists. Historian Robert Middlekauf writes in his book Washington’s Revolution that Washington believed in “…the right of Americans to govern and tax themselves. He thought of that right as a central part of the British constitution, and he came to believe that governing authorities in Britain had abandoned that constitution.” Washington, and the rest of the Founding Fathers, certainly understood that King George believed it was his right to tax his colonies; they simply disagreed they should be taxed.
Washington further knew how valuable the North American colonies were to the British Crown, and that England would fight hard to keep them: just a few years before the American Revolution, Great Britain had spent a fortune protecting the colonies from the encroachments of the French during the French and Indian War, or Seven Years War.
Good questions! Of the tens of thousands of troops who fought in the Battle of Brooklyn on both sides, only about 400 British troops died in combat. About 200 Americans died and 900 more were taken prisoner. Following the battle, Washington retreated with his remaining 8,000 troops to avoid further loss.
Those who fared the worst were the American soldiers taken to the British prison ships, such as the Jersey in Wallabout Bay. (You can see an amazing miniature reproduction of this ship in the exhibition!) Thousands died in these ships throughout the war. They had poor air circulation and were breeding grounds for disease, plus the British did not adequately feed or cloth their prisoners.
Now, as to the exact quantity of bloodshed, it’s very hard to say. Musket balls during the American Revolution did not inflict as much damage to the body as bullets did in later wars. But then again, bayonets were a common weapon on Revolutionary War battlefields. To put it in 1770s terms, a “goodly” amount of blood was likely shed at—or because of—the Battle of Brooklyn.
This remains a historical mystery! On September 21, 1776, a fire started at the Fighting Cocks Tavern in lower Manhattan. The fire rapidly spread and destroyed about a third of the city, which wasn’t rebuilt during the war and instead became a fetid, disease-ridden wasteland. To this day, no one knows whether the fire was an accident or whether it was set by a Patriot or Loyalist.
But we do know it benefited the Patriots: the British conquered New York early in the war but couldn’t use much of the city after the fire. Perhaps one of you readers will eventually find the answer to this question, which George Washington himself likely didn’t know.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this sample of all the amazing postcards we—I mean George Washington—have received! Make sure to check out the exhibition and the Family Activity Guide this weekend before it closes!