The End of the World As We Know It! 💣
April 23, 1775 – New York City
Sunday, August 23, 1775, started out as any other Sunday in New York. The residents of the island were up early and off to their respective houses of worship for services. Families met their friends and neighbors at the Dutch Reformed Church and the Methodist, Lutheran, Quaker, Moravian and Huguenot meeting houses. And at the top of Wall Street, where it met Broadway, stood the great Presbyterian meeting house and Trinity Church, the Anglican Church of England.
Tensions had been growing in the city, especially between the Anglicans and Presbyterians, over the treatment of Boston by the King and Parliament. The Anglicans were mostly Loyalists, supporters of the government. The Presbyterian congregation contained many Dutch and Scots, long time rivals of the English, who were loudly critical of the treatment of Boston. It wasn’t unusual to overhear witty insults at the intersection of Broadway and Wall as the two groups’ leading families Delancey (Anglican) and Livingston (Presbyterian) strolled by each other. But no one expected what would happen that special Sunday.
Lexington & Concord
Four days before, April 19, 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord had happened near Boston. A young member of the Boston Sons of Liberty, Israel Bissell, got on a horse and rode frantically down the East coast to deliver the news. He reached New York City on Sunday morning, April 23.
Bissell raced South over the Kingsbridge Crossing (connecting Manhattan to The Bronx) though the woodlands and picked up the Bloomingdale Road around where Times Square is today. It brought him down into the city at the tip of the Island. His first stop was The Common, at the northern end of the town, City Hall Park today. He stopped briefly and continued to Wall Street, where the crowds were just exiting morning services, and announced to churchgoers that war had begun! Redcoats had fired upon Patriots at Lexington but the Americans resisted and men on both sides had been killed. He displayed a printed broadside showing the news, signed by a member of the Sons of Liberty in each town where he’d stopped along the way. It was pandemonium.
Later that night, a group lead by the Sons of Liberty broke into the arsenal in the City Hall. Thomas Jones, a Loyalist, tells us the rebels “…delivered them out to the rabble, to be used as the demagogues of rebellion should direct. The whole city became one continued scene of riot, tumult and confusion. Troops were enlisted for the service of rebellion, the Loyalists threatened with the gallows, and the property of the Crown plundered and seized upon wherever it could be found.”
Over the next month Patriots closed the Custom House and banished the Royal Governor, William Tryon, and the Mayor, David Matthews, from the city. They spent the next year and a half living on one of the Crown’s ships in NY Harbor, “The Duchess of Gordon”. The men of the city gathered at the Merchants’ Coffee House and and organized a provisional government, a Committee of One Hundred to conduct the public business.
Frederick Trevor Hill describes what was happening. “By the orders of this committee the city was virtually placed under martial law, the shps and factores were closed, the streets were patrolled by improvised bands of milita, all available arms and ammunition were seized, crude preparations were made for resisting an attack, and many timorous loyalists abandoned their houses and sought safety at their country seats.”
New Yorkers didn’t know it yet but the following year the war would come to New York. It was truly the end of the world as they had known it.
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