2nd Annual NYC Commemoration of the Battles of Saratoga and Yorktown
By Nicole Scholet
October 20, 2014
Photo Credits: Arthur Piccolo
The Lower Manhattan Historical Society (LMHS) held its second annual commemoration of the Revolutionary War Battles of Saratoga and Yorktown on Sunday, October 12th.
Revolutionary War History
The Battles of Saratoga and Yorktown were two of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. In the Battle of Saratoga in upstate New York, American troops, fighting under the command of General Horatio Gates, defeated the British. British General Burgoyne was forced to surrender 5,700 troops on October 17, 1777. This critical American victory changed the dynamic of the war in the northern part of the country and encouraged France to join the war in support of the Americans.
Four years later, the Battle of Yorktown took place in Virginia. This was also a victory for the Americans and the French, to whom British General Cornwallis surrendered his 8,000 troops on October 19, 1781. Five days earlier, on October 14th, Col. Alexander Hamilton had led the charge on British Redoubt No. 10, a key point in the battle. Yorktown was the last major battle of the Revolutionary War and led to the beginning of peace talks that would culminate in the Treaty of Paris signed in 1783.
Though neither of these engagements took place in New York City, both Horatio Gates and Alexander Hamilton lived in Upper Manhattan and are buried in Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan. In honor of these two October battles, the newly-formed Lower Manhattan Historical Society (LMHS) recently held an event to recognize a few of the officers who served in them.
Walking Tour of Revolutionary-Era Lower Manhattan
To kick off the October 12th festivities, President Jim Kaplan of the LMHS led a two hour walking tour through Revolutionary War sites in Lower Manhattan. Representing the AHA Society was National Hamilton Advocate Nolan Asch, who played a major role at the event. During the walking tour stop at the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House (on the location of a Revolutionary War fort at which Alexander Hamilton was stationed), Nolan Asch gave a brief speech:
"To paraphrase Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 'It is altogether fitting and proper' that this be named the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House. Alexander Hamilton was our first Treasury Secretary. In 1789, when George Washington was sworn in at the corner of Broad and Wall, the country faced an economic crisis arguably worse than 2008-2009 or 1929.
Our only source of revenue (taxes), excluding stamps, was Impord Duties, taxes on ship’s cargo coming into ports. Hamilton set up 10 custom houses at 10 ports from Portsmouth, New Hampshire through Savannah, Georgia. Washington personally approved Hamilton's requests for appointments for Customs Collectors, cutter boat captains, contracts to build lighthouses, and contracts to buy oil for these lighthouses."
The walking tour had more than 60 participants, and was sponsored by Culture Now as part of Open House New York's Archtober day of walking tours. The walking tour ended at Trinity Church for a special wreath-laying ceremony to honor the soldiers who fought in these battles.
Wreath-Laying at Trinity Church
The wreath-laying ceremony at Trinity Churchyard began at 2:30 pm with opening remarks by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. Reverend Dan Simon of Trinity Church also welcomed the many attendees, which included Chairwoman of Manhattan Community Board 1 Catherine Hughes, and members of the Sons of the American Revolution, Sons of the Revolution, Daughters of the American Revolution, and Open House NY, among others.
Memorial wreaths of fresh flowers were then placed at the graves of Alexander Hamilton, Horatio Gates, and General Marinus Willett, who fought in the Revolutionary War and later became mayor of New York City.
AHA Society member Nolan Asch also spoke at Hamilton's grave as part of the ceremony, mentioning a lesser-known link between Gates and Hamilton during the war:
"After the Battle of Saratoga, Washington decided to send someone up to Gates to get more troops to go down south to join Washington. In a shocking display of confidence, he chose the 20-year-old Hamilton for this crucial role. To quote Ron Chernow, 'If there was a single moment during the Revolution when its outcome hinged on spontaneous decisions made by Hamilton, this was it'...After a series of tough negotiations with Gates, he succeeded in getting troops for Washington.
Hamilton’s role at Yorktown four years later is better known. He led a night bayonet charge that took redoubt 10 defending Yorktown. With the capture of redoubts 9 and 10, Cornwallis was finished at Yorktown. Only a few days later, the British surrendered."
As LMHS President Jim Kaplan expressed, by "honoring Alexander Hamilton and two relatively unknown but important Revolutionary War generals--Horatio Gates and Marinus Willett--all of whom are buried in Trinity Churchyard, the program was designed to further the education and knowledge of both New Yorkers and others about important aspects of the City's history that most New Yorkers know very little about."
The event was sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, Sons of the Revolution of the State of New York, the New York First Continental Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, the Alexander Hamilton Awareness Society, and the National Democratic Club.
About the Lower Manhattan Historical Society
The Lower Manhattan Historical Society was created to bring together many existing history and community groups in the area in order to highlight lesser-known or forgotten local history.
In the words of President Kaplan, "our role is to highlight historical events in Lower Manhattan which others are not covering. For example, since 1786, there has been a celebration of the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston, but not until last year was there a celebration of the much more important battles of Saratoga and Yorktown in New York City even though the most important generals at both battles are buried here."
To learn more about the Lower Manhattan Historical Society, attend their next monthly meeting on November 10th at 1 pm on 55 Wall Street.