New York City is full of Revolution-related history and sites, but you need to know where to look. We’ve compiled 5 key places to visit and discover the American Revolution history that’s all around us. First, drop by New-York Historical before Sept. 15 to experience Revolutionary Summer, our Museum-wide event that features something new each weekend in our outdoor Continental Army encampment—including a replica of George Washington’s Headquarters Tent!—and amazing 18th-century art and artifacts in the Museum all week. Then, check out these sites below. As you make your way around town, be sure to post pictures and tag us on Twitter or Instagram at @nyhistory. Find something new at the site you visit? Have another site to suggest? Leave a comment below!
City Hall Park
Head to lower Manhattan to visit City Hall Park, where New York City’s Revolutionary history begins. In 1765, New Yorkers protested the Stamp Act in the area, which required colonists to pay taxes on all printed materials, from newspapers to playing cards. Eleven years later on, July 9, 1776, the new Declaration of Independence was read aloud on the site of City Hall Park. Can you find the bronze memorial plaque dedicated to the momentous reading? Hint: Enter the Park from Murray St. to find it.
Continue into the Park to find the statue of Nathan Hale, a patriot spy who was executed by the British in 1776. While there is some dispute about where Hale met his end, it was long believed that he was killed nearby. Can you read the inscription at the statue’s base? What does it tell you about Hale’s character?
Imagine it’s 1776, after the Declaration was read aloud. Inspired, a crowd worked together to pull down a heavy lead statue of King George III on a horse that stood in lower Manhattan’s Bowling Green, the oldest park in the city. Not wanting to waste a shred of metal, the patriots sent the destroyed statue to Litchfield, CT, where much of it was melted down and made into musket balls. Today, visitors can still see the park’s original iron fence and a plaque commemorating the history that happened there.
New-York Historical has some famous artifacts related to the statue’s destruction that are part of Revolutionary Summer. First, there’s the lead horse’s tail, one of the remnants of the statue that still survive. Then there’s the exciting painting Pulling Down the Statue of King George, by Johannes Oertel that depicts a fictionalized version of the event. While first-hand accounts indicate that the crowd included soldiers, sailors, blacks, and people of various classes, Oertel took creative liberty by including women, Native people, and children as well.
What are the people doing in Oertel’s painting? Imagine you and your family are part of the action, then act out the scene together!
Today, Governors Island, off Manhattan in the East River, is a popular spot for biking and picnicking that visitors can get to via ferry from downtown or Brooklyn. But its past life was much more strategic! During the Revolutionary War, many defensive forts occupied the island in order to keep the British navy from infiltrating the East River. Look at the image below from the New-York Historical collection. Why do you think the Continental Army thought Governors Island was such as a good location for protecting the New York Harbor and East River? Find a spot where you and your family can see far and wide. What do you see when you look out from the shore’s edge? What do you imagine it looked like in the 18th century? Sketch what you might have seen!
The Continental Army lost control of the island after the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776 and did not regain it until the British evacuated New York in 1783. After the War, the new nation expanded its fortifications on Governors Island. Ebenezer Stevens, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Continental Army and a Boston Tea Party participant, oversaw the construction and expansion of defense fortresses on the island. In 1784, Stevens was a founding member of the Society of Cincinnati, a group dedicated to preserving the ideologies of the American Revolution. Visit New-York Historical’s upcoming exhibition Beyond Midnight: Paul Revere to learn more about the life of Stevens and see his officer’s tailcoat and medal.
Fort Tryon Park and Margaret Corbin Circle
Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan is a gorgeous park with sweeping views of the Hudson River. During the Revolutionary War, the area was known as Mount Washington and was part of the site of the Battle of Fort Washington. But did you know Fort Tryon Park is named for the British general William Tryon, the last British Governor to rule in New York City? Are you surprised by that? You’re not alone! In the late 20th century, many New Yorkers were outraged when they learned more about it. As America’s bicentennial approached, a group of New Yorkers banded together to honor a patriot instead. In 1977, the City Council voted to name the entrance plaza and drive after Margaret “Molly” Corbin, a colonial woman who followed her husband, a soldier in the Continental Army, into battle. She was with him when he was killed during the Battle of Fort Washington, and immediately took his place behind the cannons. She suffered serious injuries herself, leaving her permanently disabled. The U.S. Congress later honored her heroism by providing provisions to her for life and making Corbin the first woman to receive a military pension. History buffs can now see a plaque honoring Corbin at 190th St. and Fort Washington Ave. And visitors to New-York Historical’s Revolutionary Summer can read the letter arranging for her lifetime of rations, as agreed upon in her pension.
While in upper Manhattan, visit the Morris-Jumel Mansion, the oldest house on the island. Loyalist Colonel Roger Morris built the house as his family summer home in 1765. The family abandoned the house and fled New York at the start of the Revolutionary War, leaving the home available for wartime use. George Washington occupied the Mansion as his military headquarters for a month or so, but once the patriots lost control of New York, Washington had to abandon the site. After the war, Washington held his first Cabinet dinner with his many advisers at the Mansion in 1790. The guest list included Vice President John Adams and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. While you are visiting the Mansion, ask a staff member about the 1790 meeting and meal. What did they eat? Who else was at the dinner?
Did you make it to all 5 sites? Well done! You’re an excellent History Detective! If you haven’t already, visit New-York Historical to see the related art and artifacts and discover more early American history during Revolutionary Summer.
Written by Jenn Tham and Maggie B. Solarz
Asbury, Edith Evans “Revolutionary War Heroine. Finally Is Given Recognition.” The New York Times, July 8, 1977.
Barnet, Schecter. The Battle for New York: The City at the Heart of the Revolution. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
Morris Jumel Mansion. “A Brief History of the Morris-Jumel Mansion.”
National Park Services. “History and Culture.” Governors Island.
New-York Historical Society. “Life Story: Margaret Corbin.” In The Battle of Brooklyn: Classroom Materials for the Exhibition, 45. New York: New-York Historical Society, 2016.
NYC Parks. Multiple site specific descriptions. Accessed July 29, 2019.