Sunday, February 18, 2007

George Washington and NYC Part I

George Washington: The Revolutionary War Years

George Washington and the City of New York will forever be historically linked. From the Revolutionary War to Washington’s Presidency, the evolution of George Washington and NYC went hand in hand. Dating as early as March of 1776, George Washington led his army towards New York City. Setting up fortifications on Long Island (Within the borough of Brooklyn) and New York City, Washington awaited the expected British attack. By the time of July 1776, The British had set up their camp on Staten Island and by late August commenced their attack led by overall commander Lieutenant General Sir William Howe.

With half of his army (at the current location of Flatbush) led by Major General Israel Putnam on Long Island, they locked in battle with the British troops. Led by both Admiral Richard Howe and Major General Sir Henry Clinton, the British troops were able to cause the American troops to withdrawal and retreat to Brooklyn Heights. It was at this location that the American troops were able to retreat on barges over the East River. Due to a lucky stroke of nature, a thick fog bank rolled in and aided to conceal the escape of the American troops from the British. By mid September 1776, New York City was in the hands of the British and the American troops were still in retreat up the island.

It was during what was known as The Battle of Harlem Heights (Current neighborhoods of Morningside Heights and West Harlem) that the American troops scored some minor victories against the advancing British troops. Though the British troops were slowed, their advance was not halted and the American troops continued their northern retreat. There were continual skirmishes between the troops at Pell’s Point (Pelham Bay Park, Bronx) and White Plains. The ultimate showdown on New York City soil took place at Fort Washington.

Located on the highest natural point of Manhattan, Fort Washington was built to provide defense of the Manhattan Island side of the Hudson River in conjunction with Fort Lee on the opposite side of the Hudson (New Jersey side). Under heavy bombardment by both British and Hessian cannons, Fort Washington fell leaving Fort Lee defenseless. Grudgingly, George Washington and his troops retreated from Fort Lee leaving the British to hold New York City for a period of 8 years. With the fall of the British and their eventual evacuation from New York City on November 25, 1783, General Washington led his troops from the North retaking his namesake fort.

George Washington and NYC Part II

George Washington: Fraunces Tavern, St Paul’s Chapel and Federal Hall

Though General Washington spent many a night at Samuel Fraunces’ Tavern, the night that is most widely known is December 4, 1783. It was within the “Long Room” of Fraunces Tavern that General Washington gave notice of his retirement to his closest Generals. With a fond and emotional farewell, General Washington commenced his journey to his plantation at Mount Vernon.

With General Washington’s election to the Presidency of the Newly Formed United States in 1789, his inauguration would be held at Federal Hall (located at the intersection of Wall and Broad Streets). It was at St. Paul’s Chapel (located at Church Street between Fulton and Vesey Streets) that the inauguration mass was held on August 30, 1789 and the eventual inauguration ceremony was held on the balcony of Federal Hall. New York City remained the interim capital until 1790.

Theodore Roosevelt and NYC

In Honor of Presidents Day, I'm going to be covering two Presidents who have been influential in NYC History. I'm going to be covering it in a three part post. Please feel free to add to the discussion.

Though there have been a number Presidents born in New York State (Van Buren, Fillmore, Franklin D. Roosevelt) only one President has the distinction of being born in New York City. Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City on October 27, 1858 and lived at The Roosevelt House located at 28 East 20th Street for a period of 13 years. With his graduation from Harvard University in 1880 Teddy Roosevelt decided to enter the realm of politics. As a member of the Republican Party, he was elected to The New York State Assembly serving three consecutive one-year terms (One of them as Minority Leader).

Though he lost the New York City mayoral election of 1886 (At the tender age of 28) he gradually became involved in national politics. Having served as The Commissioner of the U.S. Civil Service, Teddy returned to the City of his birth. On May 6, 1895, New York City Mayor William Strong appointed Teddy Roosevelt as the President of New York City’s 4 man Board of Police Commissioners.

Many of his goals as the President of the Board included:

- The Elimination of Bribery for Promotion
- The Enforcement of all laws by Policemen
- The Enforcement of the “Blue Laws” Prohibiting Sunday Drinking

Through his policies (Especially the Blue Laws) turned the once popular Teddy Roosevelt into a reviled figure almost overnight. Through the scheming of the power holding Tammany Hall and other political figures, Teddy Roosevelt looked for an escape. He would eventually find his escape in the form of an appointment to the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley in 1897.

Though he never succeeded in completing all of his goals, he was able to introduce to the police force the bicycle force and mandatory pistol shooting practice. Though he lost his fight against the vices of New York City, his greatest success may have been his introduction to the plight of the poor segments of society that helped to shape many of his Progressive views and later policies.

Teddy Roosevelt would eventually resign his post as The Assistant Secretary of the Navy to lead the Rough-Riders in the newly declared war on Spain. Upon his return to New York City after the war, he was asked to run for Governor of New York, which he narrowly won. Though his time in office was brief, he alienated most of his party mate within the Republican Party. With his nomination to the ticket of the Vice Presidency with William McKinley, it was deemed by his state’s party machine that he would no longer be a problem of theirs. Though it seemed like the best thing at the time, Teddy Roosevelt would eventually ascend to the highest political office of all with the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.