Posts Tagged ‘George Washington in New York City’

George Washington never slept in this Bowling Green mansion built for him

February 22, 2021

It was called Government House—and despite its stodgy name, it was elegant and beautiful.

The Georgian-style, two-story stunner sat at the foot of Broadway with New York Harbor behind it and Bowling Green in front. Begun in either 1789 or 1790 on the former site of Fort Amsterdam, the elevated mansion looked upon New York’s most elegant neighborhood, surrounded by the fine houses and churches of the rich.

But this premier residence with a portico and carvings of the arms of the state wasn’t designed for any old member of Gotham’s elite. New York in 1789 was the capital of the new United States. And city fathers intended Government House to be the official home of all US presidents.

The immediate hope was that George Washington, sworn in as the first commander in chief on April 30 of that year, would move into Government House. After his inauguration, Washington lived in a borrowed mansion at One Cherry Street. Then in February 1790, President Washington made the Macomb mansion at 39 Broadway opposite Bowling Green his residence.

Unfortunately for New York, the city’s stint as the capital of the US was about to be cut short. Later in 1790, temporary capital status went to Philadelphia while a new capital between Maryland and Virginia could be built. Washington spent the rest of his presidency in Philly, never relocating the Government House or the White House.

Government House didn’t stay empty though. New York City was still the capital of New York State, and the mansion became the official residence of state governors like DeWitt Clinton and John Jay. But in 1797, Albany became the state capital, and Government House became the Custom House from 1799 to 1815.

In 1815, Government House met its end—some sources say the city simply dismantled it, another attributes its demise to a fire. Private residences were built on the site, but as the city’s elite decamped to more fashionable neighborhoods, the Bowling Green area became a commercial zone.

In 1907, the site became the home of the Alexander Hamilton Custom House—and today, that building houses the National Museum of the American Indian. A plaque marking Government House was put up in 1890 by the Holland Society of New York, which I didn’t find, but Wikipedia has it.

[Images: Wikipedia; NYPL]

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]

A New York mayor’s bizarre kidnapping plot

August 29, 2011

In Colonial New York, mayors were appointed, not elected, which helps explain why corrupt loyalist David Matthews was running the city in 1776.

How corrupt? He was in on a notorious plot to kidnap and assassinate George Washington.

This crazy idea naturally came about in a tavern, a place called Corbie’s, near Washington’s residence. All those involved were sworn to secrecy.

But someone squealed, and at 1 a.m. on June 22, 1776, Patriot troops surrounded Matthews’ Flatbush home and brought him to jail.

Though the plot was real (one of Washington’s guards was hanged for it, and New York governor William Tryon was involved), there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Matthews—who resumed his mayoral duties until 1783.

After the war, Matthews apparently confessed. “I formed a plan for the taking of Mr. Washington and his Guard prisoners but which was not effected,” he told a royal commission in London.

Interestingly, this didn’t stop him from getting his name on a Bronx park: Matthews Muliner Playground. Even the Parks Department identifies him as a thief, kidnap plotter, and embezzler.

[Right: New York in 1776, from the NYPL]