Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War New York City’

Mulberry Street’s grim 18th century nickname

October 14, 2013

Today’s Mulberry Street is a slender little strip of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques—part trendy Nolita, part Little Italy tourist district.

MulberrystreetsignBut it was a very different scene on Mulberry in the late 18th century.

The southern end of the street abutted Collect Pond, once a source of fresh water but by now the site of tanneries, pottery works, and other noxious industries that needed access to water.

One of those industries was the slaughterhouse business. After one opened in the 1770s, others followed, to the point where Mulberry Street was known as “Slaughterhouse Street.”

Bullsheadtavernbowery

The rollicking Bull’s Head Tavern, on the Bowery (parts of which have been recently uncovered underground), catered to the butchers and cattle men who worked in the abattoirs on and near Mulberry Street.

This circa-1800 sketch of the tavern and an adjoining pen belonging to a slaughterhouse provides an idea of what Slaughterhouse Street looked like. (What it smelled like, one can only imagine!)

Is this really New York’s oldest row house?

January 16, 2013

EdwardmooneyhouseNext time you’re in Chinatown, stop at the corner of Bowery and Pell Street.

The three-story house painted fire-engine red, the one with the name of a bank in Chinese and English letters on the front? It’s considered the oldest row house in the city.

It was built by Edward Mooney between 1785 and 1789. Mooney was a wealthy meat wholesaler who bought the land after it was seized from British loyalist James Delancey.

How old are we talking here? Well, in 1789, George Washington was sworn in as president.

BarneyflynnsbowerybarMooney lived there until his death in 1800. Since then, it’s housed a variety of businesses, including Barney Flynn’s, a late 19th century saloon frequented by Bowery character Chuck Connors (in NYPL sketch).

And like so many of the city’s super old homes, it also served as a brothel, according to ourchinatown.org.

The early Federal-style house still has lots of interesting details, such as the gabled roof, quarter-round windows, and original hand-hewn wood timbers.

“It is a unique example of the domestic architecture which flourished in Manhattan two centuries ago,” reports this 1966 document.

[Top photo: Wikipedia. Bottom illustration: NYPL digital collection]

Where was Lower Manhattan’s Golden Hill?

December 17, 2012

JohnwilliamstreetsignThere’s an incline along William Street, in the Financial District, that peaks where it intersects with John Street. Could it be a remnant of the colonial-era enclave of Golden Hill?

This was once the highest point at the tip of Manhattan—a place of an “abundant crop of grain, which it said waved gracefully in response to the gentle breeze and looked, in truth, like a hill of gold,” states an 1898 New York Times article.

BattleofgoldenhillpaintingGolden Hill isn’t only remembered for its pretty view; it was also the site of a bloody rebellion that led to the Revolutionary War.

On January 19, 1770, tensions were high between many New York residents and British soldiers. Colonists had constructed several liberty poles, signs of defiance against the Redcoats.

After the British destroyed a liberty pole in City Hall park, a confrontation ensued between soldiers and citizens several days later at Golden Hill. There, the British charged citizens with bayonets, wounding several.

“This is the first blood spilled during the American Revolution, two month before the Boston Massacre,” reports Old World NYC. “The clash would roll back and forth finally leading to a standoff . . . but the war had begun.”

Check out these other pieces from New York’s Revolutionary War past.

[Right: Battle of Golden Hill by Charles MacKubin Lefferts]

The presidential mansions of New York City

October 15, 2012

Before the District of Columbia became home base for the president, New York had that honor.

So after he was sworn into office at Federal Hall on Wall Street in April 1789, George Washington moved into One Cherry Street.

Known as the Samuel Osgood House (at right), it was considered one of the finest in the city, “brick, square, and spacious.”

It had “the best of furniture in every room, and the greatest quantity of plate and china I ever saw,” an acquaintance wrote. “The whole of the first and second story is papered, and the floor covered with the richest of carpets.”

The mansion was open to the public on Thursday afternoons, when President Washington received visitors “of respectable appearance.”

The Osgood house wasn’t the only presidential mansion in New York.

In February 1790, the Washingtons moved into the Macomb Mansion at 39 Broadway on Bowling Green (at left, in an 1830s sketch).

It was a grander home that better accommodated his staff and visitors (depicted in the painting above) with a view of the Hudson.

They didn’t last long there. In August 1790, they decamped to Philadelphia, the new presidential host city, while a permanent home was being built on a swamp between Maryland and Virginia.

The Washingtons never lived in the D.C. White House, of course; the first occupant was the second U.S. president, John Adams.

[First and Third images: NYPL Digital Collection. Painting by Daniel Huntington, 1861]

Is this really Bowling Green in 1776?

November 29, 2010

This French print depicts an event that occurred on the eve of the Revolutionary War at Bowling Green, way downtown at the end of Broadway.

After George Washington had the Declaration of Independence read, citizens and soldiers defiantly tore apart a statue of King George that had been erected there by colonists seven years earlier.

That actually happened, true. But so much of this print seem totally off because—in absence of any visual description or knowledge of what New York looked like back then—the print maker invented so many of the details.

“The statue of King George was in fact an equestrian piece, not a standing figure; the oddly turbaned, half-naked ‘Indian’ rioters resembled no known American patriots,” explains the caption to the print in New York: An Illustrated History, by Ric Burns and James Sanders.

“And the surrounding buildings were those of a grand European capital rather than the modest brick dwellings of colonial New York.”


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