Posts Tagged ‘Colonial New York City’

A rich merchant’s wife becomes a Revolutionary War heroine

February 15, 2021

When important people visited New York City in the middle of the 18th century, they often stopped at the spectacular home of Robert and Mary Lindley Murray.

In the colonial-era city, the Murrays were a powerful couple. Robert Murray had immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family from Ireland as a boy; he worked his way up from a mill operator to a wealthy wheat and flour merchant. Mary Lindley Murray was the daughter of Quaker immigrants from Philadelphia.

Married in 1744, they moved to New York City in 1753, according to womeninhistoryblog.com. Nine years later they rented 29 acres far from the city center and built a mansion on an estate they called Inclenberg, Dutch for “beautiful hill,” seen below surrounded by trees on the Ratzer map from 1766.

“The two-story great house was located at what is today Park Avenue and 36th Street,” states womeninhistoryblog.com. “Grand Central Station stands on what was one of the estate’s cornfields.”

Eventually this neck of the woods would be renamed Murray Hill, after the couple and their 11 children; a 1926 plaque on an apartment building at that corner on Park Avenue memorializes Inclenberg (above).

But back to the 18th century city, which in 1776 became a battleground when the War for Independence broke out. Some residents were Loyalists to the British; others considered themselves Patriots and supported the Continental Army.

While Robert Murray reportedly was a Loyalist, Mary’s sympathies went with the Patriots, according to The Murrays of Murray Hill, by Charles Monaghan. And legend has it that she proved her allegiance in September 1776, when British General William Howe came ashore at Kip’s Bay to take on George Washington’s Patriot army.

While Howe and his officers was making his way through Manhattan and Patriot militiamen were retreating to Harlem Heights, Mary invited Howe and his men to her home. With her husband conveniently away, Mary and her daughters entertained their British guests for two hours with lunch and wine to stall them so the Patriots had time to get away. (Above and below images)

“After the catastrophe on Long Island, August 28, 1776, and the affair at Kip’s Bay, the Americans withdrew up the island, time for which retreat being gained, so it is claimed, through the instrumentality of Mary Lindley Murray, who entertained General Howe and his officers at luncheon on September 15, 1776, at her house at present Park Avenue and 36th Street,” wrote Hopper Striker Mott in The New York of Yesterday.

There’s another account of this story that has a slightly different take.

According to the military journal of James Thatcher, an army surgeon, the British army marching up Manhattan to catch up to the Patriots realized “there was no prospect of engaging our troops” and decided to “repair to the home of Mr. Robert Murray, a Quaker and friend of our cause; Mrs. Murray treated them with cake and wine, and they were induced to tarry two hours or more….It has since become almost a common saying among our officers, that Mrs. Murray saved this part of the American army.”

Whatever really happened, General Howe and his men apparently did stop off at the Murray mansion—and the Patriots made their way to Harlem Heights and beyond. The legend was solidified in 1903 when the Daughters of the American Revolution dedicated a plaque affixed to a boulder in honor of Mary at Park Avenue and 37th Street (above).

[Top image: by the Duskhopper via Cool Chicks From History; second image: Wikipedia; third image: Ratzer Map, 1766; fourth image: Wikipedia; fifth image: Alamy; sixth image: NYPL; seventh image: NYPL]

Peek into a travel diary of colonial New York

December 27, 2016

sarahkembleknightNew York in 1704 was barely a city at all.

Under British rule for only 40 years, about 5,000 people called it home. Not much existed past Maiden Lane. Industry focused on the harbor. The original Trinity Church had just been built. Yellow fever was epidemic.

And in autumn of that year a boardinghouse keeper named Sarah Kemble Knight (at left) set out on horseback from her hometown of Boston to journey to Manhattan and back, helping a friend handle legal issues.

Traveling via horse through colonial New England’s primitive roads and bunking in public houses would be rough for anyone, let alone a 38-year-old woman (she did have the help of a guide).

sarahkembleknightnyc1695

But what makes the trip extraordinary is that Knight kept a journal, which was published as a book in 1825.

“The Cittie of New York is a pleasant well compacted place, situated on a Commodius River [which] is a fine harbor for shipping,” Knight wrote on her arrival in December 1704.

sarahkembleknighthouses1700She only stayed in the city for a “fortnight”—two weeks. Yet some of her impressions of New York as a place of fashion, stately houses, flowing alcohol, and high-speed fun might sound familiar.

“[New Yorkers] are not strict in keeping the Sabbath as in Boston and other places where I had bin,” she writes. “They are sociable to one another and courteous and civill to strangers and fare well in their houses.”

“The English go very fasheonable in their dress. [But] the Dutch, especially the middling sort, differ from our women, in their habitt go loose. . . .” Knight says, explaining that the Dutch women wear a caplike headband that leaves their ears sticking out “which are sett out with jewels [with] jewells of a large size and many in number.”

sarahnyin1700Dutch women also have fingers “hoop’t with rings.”

New Yorkers are great entertainers, she says, and taverns “treat with good liquor liberally, and the customers drink as liberally and generally pay for’t as well….”

The 18th century city knew how to have a good time. “Their diversions in the winter is riding sleys about three or four miles out of town,” Knight writes, “where they have houses of entertainment at a place called the Bowery, and some go to friends houses who handsomely treat them.”

sarahfrauncestavernnyplWhile out with friends, “I believe we mett 50 or 60 sleys that day—they fly with great swiftness and some are so furious that they’d turn out of the path for none except a loaden cart.”

Sounds like modern city traffic and bad taxi drivers!

[Top image: National Women’s History Museum; second image: New York in 1695; NYC Tourist; third image: NYC in 1700, Wikipedia; fourth image: Fraunces Tavern, built by Samuel DeLancey in 1719 on Pearl and Broad Streets; NYPL]

A colonial tavern is unearthed on Broad Street

January 31, 2013

StadthuysIn 1979, financial giant Goldman Sachs had plans for new headquarters at 85 Broad Street.

Nothing unusual about that—except that 300 years earlier, this address was the location of New Amsterdam’s first city hall, or Stadt Huys (“city house”), built in 1641.

Considering the possibility of uncovering historical remnants, archeologists excavated the site before construction began.

They didn’t find anything related to the Stadt Huys. Instead, they uncovered something that harkens back to the city’s beer-drinking past: the remains of a tavern built next door in 1670.

This was the Lovelace Tavern, once on the water’s edge and named for English governor Francis Lovelace, who presided over the now British-controlled city from 1668 to 1673.

The Lovelace Tavern (probably the little annex on the left in this illustration) even assumed the role of New York’s City Hall from 1697 to 1706, after which it burned down and all traces of it disappeared.

LovelacetavernremainsArcheologists came across some fascinating remains. Besides the tavern’s foundation walls and floor, they discovered thousands of pieces of clay pipes, wine glasses, and wine bottles (empty, unfortunately).

I’m not sure where the pipes and bottles are, but the tavern’s foundation walls were preserved and are actually on view beneath a Plexiglass cover on the plaza of the building.

This Flickr photo gives the clearest view of what remains of the Lovelace. If only those tavern walls could talk. . . .

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]

Where was colonial Manhattan’s Richmond Hill?

November 3, 2011

If you live in the area bound by Varick, Charlton, MacDougal, and King Streets on the western edge of SoHo, then you’re a resident of a neighborhood once called Richmond Hill.

The name comes from the circa-1760 colonial mansion and bucolic estate that once stood nearby.

The Richmond Hill mansion (below right) was really something. “The big house, a massive wooden structure of colonial design, had a lofty portico supported by Ionic columns,” reports a Villager article from 1945.

“A long curving driveway led up to the house which was built on a wooden mound. Fretted iron gates guarded the entrance.”

It hosted a succession of famous names: George Washington, John Adams, and Aaron Burr.

Abigail Adams described the estate’s beauty: “On one side we see a view of the city and of Long Island. The river [is] in front, [New] Jersey and the adjacent country on the other side. You turn a little from the road and enter a gate. A winding road with trees in clumps leads to the house, and all around the house it looks wild and rural as uncultivated nature. . . .”

Burr sold it to John Astor around 1807. He subdivided lots for development, and the Richmond Hill neighborhood sprang up in early 19th century—small Federal-style homes, many of which are still on Charlton, King (above), and other blocks off lower Sixth Avenue.

The old mansion operated as a resort, roadhouse, and theater until it was razed in 1849. With the house gone, the neighborhood name died too.

Captain Kidd: Pirate and downtown New Yorker

March 21, 2011

Some regard him as a savage plunderer. Others maintain he was merely a privateer unjustly hanged by the British.

Whatever he did out there on the high seas doesn’t change the fact that William Kidd was a city resident—reportedly moving here from Scotland as a child, around 1650.

He was a prominent guy, marrying the colony’s wealthiest widow and living in a mansion on today’s Hanover Square, at 119 Pearl Street.

Kidd, fancifully illustrated here in New York Harbor, even donated materials to help build Trinity Church.

Of course, his days as a New Yorker were numbered. After learning he was wanted by the British for pillaging the Quedagh Merchant in the Indian Ocean, he tried to escape to Boston.

There he was imprisoned and later sent to England to stand trial for piracy and for the murder of one of his crew.

Found guilty in 1701, he was executed in London, his body left to hang as a warning to other pirates.

Above photo: lovely Hanover Square in the Financial District today. Kidd’s mansion stood at the far left.

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.”

Where was the Rose Hill area of Manhattan?

September 19, 2010

There’s a long-established Rose Hill neighborhood in the Bronx; it’s the name of Fordham University’s campus.

But there was once a Rose Hill neighborhood in Manhattan too. The name came from Rose Hill, country estate purchased in 1747 by loyalist John Watts. It ran roughly from Park Avenue South to the East River between 23rd to 32nd Street.

[Railroad depot at 27th Street and Fourth Avenue, placing it squarely in Rose Hill in the 19th century]

Rose Hill lasted well into the 19th century: The New York Times archive contains articles referencing the Rose Hill Ladies Relief Union as well as the Rose Hill Methodist Episcopal Church on Third Avenue and 27th Street.

By the 20th century, the name seems to have been forgotten, the neighborhood absorbed by the Murray Hill-Gramercy-Flatiron region.

I couldn’t find a single drawing or painting depicting it, but there’s a building on 14th Street near Third Avenue that’s adopted the name.

Rose Hill might just be embarking on its second act. In the past decade, a crop of residents—and real estate agents—have begun reviving the name. There’s even a Rose Hill Neighborhood Association.

The Hooks of Upper Manhattan

August 8, 2010

Downtown has Corlears Hook. Brooklyn has Red Hook (and once had Yellow Hook). 

Upper Manhattan also had some Hooks—like Tubby Hook, sometimes called Tubby’s Hook. It was the 18th and 19th century name for a section of Inwood between Fort Tryon Park and Inwood Hill Park.

An 1894 New York Times article describes it like this:

[“View, Tubby Hook and Spuyten Duyvel Creek,” from the NYPL in the 1860s or 1870s]

“A little below Riverdale, at a point near Inwood, there is a projection known as Tubby’s Hook, where the water is deep enough to allow large steamers to pass quite close to it. Tubby’s Hook is also a resort for fishermen.”

It’s a funny name that’s probably a bastardization of the last name of Peter Ubrecht, a wealthy 18th century resident.

Jeffrey’s Hook is another precipice jutting into the Hudson. It’s under the George Washington Bridge and now known as the location of the Little Red Lighthouse, Manhattan’s only lighthouse.

But Jeffrey’s Hook played a big role in colonial history: It’s where Washington and his troops traveled back and forth to Fort Lee during the Revolutionary War.

Remnants of old Manhattan live on in city parks

July 29, 2010

Bloomingdale Playground, a spit of land on Amsterdam Avenue and 104th Street, is a reminder that much of the west side was once known by Dutch settlers as Bloemendaal, or “valley of flowers.”

Bloemendaal turned into Bloomingdale once the British moved in. 

In 1703, an early highway called Bloomingdale Road was built. It eventually ran through today’s Upper West Side.

By 1900, Bloomingdale Road had become Broadway, and the Bloomingdale name forgotten.

Collect Pond was never a neighborhood name. But after the pond was filled in by the city in 1811, it eventually became the site of the notorious 19th century slum called Five Points.

[Illustration depicting Collect Pond in the late 18th century. What was once the city’s water source soon became a filthy, polluted body of water.]

Collect Pond Park, on Leonard Street off Lafayette Street, is all that’s left.