New York: The Scoff and Wonder of America!  😳

Or, everyone hates New York.

new york city hall

The love/hate relationship between New York and the rest of America is nothing new. By the time of the American Revolution it was in full swing, with the city frequently taking actions that outraged our upstate and colonial neighbors. Here are a few of my favorite incidents!

The Stamp Act Congress

In October 1765 New York City hosted the Stamp Act Congress. It was the very first congress of the colonies and met to discuss a united opposition to the Stamp Act. Passed by Parliament earlier that year The Stamp Act was a tax on the use of paper and paper products in the colonies. The Crown was so angered and threatened by a united colonies that some of the colonial governments were dissolved by their governors  to prevent them from electing representatives to send to New York.

September 23, New Yorkers crowded around the dock to watch the first ship carrying representatives to the Stamp Act Congress arrive. It was the brigantine “Carolina” from South Carolina and aboard were Christopher Gadsden, Thomas Lynch and John Rutledge. Excitement filled the streets; New York had never experienced anything like it before. Nine colonies sent delegates to the congress which met from October 7 through October 25, 1765.

After much debate and consideration “The Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress” was written by John Dickinson of PA. And New York, the host city, REFUSED TO SIGN! This sparked a debate on the part of other attendees about whether or not they had the authority to sign. A heated exchange between Timothy Ruggles of MA and Thomas McKean of DE resulted in Ruggles challenging McKean to a duel! Ruggles left the city early the next morning before a duel could take place. And New York never signed.

The Beulah Incident, 1775

In the decade prior to the American Revolution the colonies at times entered into agreements where they refused to buy anything from or sell anything to England. They used the tactic successfully to defeat the Stamp Act and continued to use it until the war. England was dependent upon the colonies for raw materials for use in factories and in turn sold those factory made goods back to the colonies. Under the Navigation Acts, the colonies were forbidden from manufacturing. The arrangement made them a captive market for English products.

In 1775 the colonies were in the midst of another nonimportation/nonexportation agreement when New York merchants Robert and John Murray violated the terms. The Murrays owned a shipping company and a wharf on the East River. (Today’s Murray Hill neighborhood was their family estate “Inclinberg”.)

One of the Murrays’ ships, “Beulah”, was on its way back to New York from England, filled with goods purchased before the agreement. Not wanting to lose their investment, the Murrays brought the Beulah to the port at Elizabeth, NJ and unloaded the goods. The next day, the Beulah arrived at Murray’s Wharf where it was met by angry New Yorkers who’d learned about the Murray’s plan from the NJ Sons of Liberty. News of the violation moved through the colonies. Philadelphia sent the city a rudely insulting note: “Please send us your Liberty Pole as by your behavior it seems you no longer have a use for it.”

The NY Sons of Liberty wanted the Murrays banished from the colony for damaging the city’s reputation and breaking the unity of the colonies. Mrs. Murray appealed to their leader, Alexander McDougall. If banished, the “innocent wives and helpless children” of their family would become homeless paupers, she wrote. McDougall, a gentleman, agreed to allow the Murrays to make a public apology instead. It was printed throughout the colonies and the Murray family was forgiven. But NY’s reputation as an untrustworthy neighbor lived on!

new york beulah incident

The Duchess of Gordon

When news of the shots fired at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 reached New York four days later the city erupted into lawlessness. Rebels (patriots) broke into the unattended barracks and armories and armed themselves. The royal Governor William Tryon and royal Mayor David Matthews were forced out of the city at gunpoint. They spent the next year and a half on a ship named “Duchess of Gordon” in New York harbor!

As the months passed by and the American and British armies arrived in New York in 1776, British commanders met with Tryon and Matthews aboard the Duchess of Gordon. There they obtained valuable intelligence to aid in their invasion of the city. This went on openly even as the American army arrived in the city in preparation for its defense. Eventually, a broadside appeared around the town expressing the author’s disgust.

January 27, 1776. “My Fellow-Citizens. This city becomes more and more the scoff and wonder of America!” It calls New Yorkers “dastards and poltroons” and asks how long they are willing to be bear the “taunts and scoffs of your bretheren in the neighboring colonies?” “Your city, my friends has been brought into a state truly degrading to the name of Americans.” It’s a great read, and you can see it all in pdf format by clicking here.

The Duchess of Gordon situation was resolved in 1776 when the British took the City of New York and Tryon and Matthews were restored to their previous positions.

new york duchess of gordon

The Declaration of Independence

The most famous outrage committed by New York was the refusal of the colonial delegation to the Continental Congress to debate, vote on or SIGN the Declaration of Independence! Eventually, we did sign and all was well for a while. That is, until the war was over… We’ll get to that in a future post

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Karen Q.