New York Paid Heaviest Price In Death
And Human Suffering For Liberty

While the war for American  independence was started in New England, declared in Philadelphia and ultimately won in Virginia, the greatest price in terms of death and human suffering was paid in New York. <

Three-times as many patriots died in jails in New York and on prison ships in the harbor as the number killed in all the battles of the eight-year war.

In addition, New York’s revolutionary heritage includes the first bloodshed of the struggle for liberty, the earliest Congress of the colonies, the largest battle of the revolution and its most famous martyr, Nathan Hale. New York witnessed the establishment of the Constitution, the inauguration of Washington and the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

cityhallnathan.jpg (26806 bytes)

While the image and identity of Boston and Philadelphia are thoroughly steeped in revolutionary history, New York’s contribution to the cause is, as Lincoln said in the context of another battle, little noted.

There are some reasons for this. As the most prosperous city of the new republic, many of the buildings of old New York were cleared for new construction in the early 19th century, before anyone realized the historic value of the old structures. This was the fate of the original Federal Hall.

Also, the history of the struggle in New York was less picturesque. Hanging lanterns in a church steeple or galloping through the night is a warmer image than thousands dying on festering prison ships. Humiliating the British as they retreated from Concord to Boston is a more positive memory than the Maryland 400 fighting nearly to the last at the Old Stone House in Brooklyn. In the mid to late 1800s, when the horror of the revolution was long enough past that the struggle could be romanticized, the poets and painters looked to Boston and Philadelphia.

Many of the most important revolutionary sites in New York did not become part of the city until the five boroughs were united nearly 120 years after the war.

The course of the war in New York didn’t lend itself to fond memory, even by the participants. The patriots were driven from the city in 1776, and much of the town burned shortly after. The 40,000 Tories who occupied the city until 1783, fled to Canada or the Caribbean before the patriots returned to find their property in ruins.

While New York may never have a Longfellow to enshrine its role in the Revolution, it is well worth looking back at what happened in this city to make self-government possible. With dozens of miles of coast line along one of the world’s greatest harbors, it was impossible for the Americans to defend the city against a great naval power without hundreds of thousands of troops. When the British showed up in the harbor with the greatest assault force ever assembled, the Americans did not abandon the cause of Independence, but fought on.

Having won the city, the British found they needed to keep thousands of troops in New York to defend it against the encircling Americans. This limited their operations elsewhere on the continent to relatively small forces that could be kept in the field for only limited periods of time.

As shocked as the British were by the loss of one army at Saratoga and another at Yorktown, the cost of holding New York did as much to wear down their resolve and end the war.

The New York Freedom Trail is a tour of 19 of the most important revolutionary sites in New York. The comparison to Boston's Freedom Trail is deliberately invited, both to show how rich New York is in revolutionary history and to show how much more the city could do to honor its past.

The cyber tour will take only a few minutes. A physical journey is quite a trip, and all but the most active or time-constrained should consider dividing it into two or three outings. New York is among the safest of major cities in the United States. Nonetheless, some of the sites are outside the usual circuit of tourists and you will feel more comfortable if you are back in familiar surroundings by dark.

In addition to the pages on the New York locations, the web site offers essays about women in the revolution, blacks in the revolution and the great fire that swept New York shortly after the British seized control. Finally, there is a bibliography and a listing of some of the organizations in New York that are involved in revolutionary history.

In New York, which draws the leading authorities on many forms of human endeavor, a work like this will obviously face scrutiny on its selections and the quality of its scholarship. It is intended as a popular work rather than an effort at original research. Nonetheless, all criticism, comments, suggestions and debate are very much appreciated.

  Please send comments or suggestions to     

Copyright 2013 Eric Kramer & Carol Sletten

Published by Wolf Water Press

Designed and produced by Oak Hill Studio