|The Revolutionary Spirit
By RICHARD SCHACK
Prosperous through British trade yet sympathetic to the revolutionary
spirit, the people of the land that would become Queens fought their personal battles and
their revolutionary ones . . . some imprisoned for their loyalties and others fighting in
the face of danger and death.
British headquarters was in Hell Gate,
which is now Astoria, and for a while it seemed that the land of Queens along with
the rest of New York City would remain under the strict control of the British
By the mid-eighteenth
century New York was prospering, wealthier and more inhabited than any other city in the
young country excluding Philadelphia, which was the largest city in the country at the
time. But prosperity and optimism lead to a bloody war with the British.
Reinactments and school demonstrations sounded in the year
1976 in Queens.
At the time of the struggle for
independence, New York had about 25,000 inhabitants. The majority of residents lived in
what is now Manhattan, surrounding the area that is now home to City Hall.
Queens was a place for farmland and trade,
where some became rich on wartime supply contracts and the gambles of transatlantic
commerce. While morale and the economy in America particularly in the New York
was unquestionably high, the British were experiencing an economic depression,
after the Seven Years War. As poverty grew, spending on relief and the poor tripled.
Due in part to these financial
difficulties, the Sugar Act of 1774 imposed British control on the sugar market.
The Sugar Act was followed by the Stamp
Act, which mandated the use of stamps on all documents.
And the Stamp Act lead to a colonial
uprising against such acts, spearheaded by a group called the Sons of Liberty.
Tensions between the colonies and the
motherland of Britan continued to increase as the British took tighter control over
commerce as well as military supplies.
Queens celebrated the nations bicentennial in 1976 with
parades, parties, and neighbors lining the Queens shores to catch a glimpse of OpSail
boats headed up to the East River.
New York City eventually joined
Boston and Philadelphia in a boycott of British commerce and a protest of taxes. But by
1976, the sparsely populated Queens had distanced itself from political turmoil and the
growing talk of revolution.
The settlements that we now call
Queens were showing no desire to be mixed up with the Revolution, but their local
leaders stance was rendered irrelevant once the area was seized by
General Charles Lee, one of George Washingtons most zealous officers
Local firearms were seized and the local
leaders who were loyal to the British were imprisioned. Washington was tightening his
ranks in preparation for an attack by the British.
And Queens was to play a major part in the
fight that followed, which was called the "Battle of Long Island."
British commander Sir William Howe and his
brother, the admiral Lord Richard Howe met with no resistance while their fleet slowly
approached Staten Island, preparing for a British takeover of New York.
On August 22, 1776, the Howes crossed the
Narrows and moved their army of British and Hessian soldiers into Flatbush and the
Flatlands. Washington had defended the road to Jamaica only minimally. The British used
the defensive lapse to their advantage as American forces were routed and 1,300 Americans
The day following the American loss of the
Battle of Long Island, the Queens County Militias General Woodhull was driving
Queens cattle away from advancing British troops and seeking shelter from a thunderstorm.
The British cornered Woodhull at Carpenters Tavern in Jamaica, the area now known as
Hollis. Woodhull was attacked by enemy forces and died from wounds three weeks later.
Remaining Queens militia and inhabitants continued to flee Queens to avoid British
The rest of the American Army further
retreated from Brooklyn. Meanwhile Commander Howe had been advancing his plan to take over
New York City. He started to move his troops into Queens County and would later attempt a
British landing at Harlem as well as a show of force in the vicinity of Hell Gate, in what
is now Astoria.
A faction of the British
army led by second-in-command General Clinton was the first to advance to Queens. The
first target was Newton (Elmhurst), where Clinton and his men arrived complete with two
battalions of light infantry and a battalion of Grenadiers.
The British assumed positions at Hell Gate,
Flushing, and Bushwick. The British Army was encamped at the house of Nathaniel Moore. The
Moore family cemetery is located on 54th Street in Woodside, where a number of their
headstones still stand to this day.
Howe soon arrived with the rest of the
British Army, establishing a post at 57th Avenue and Hoffman Drive in Elmhurst.
Howe and Clinton rode to Hell Gate to
examine the shoreline, but were spotted and drew the fire of American troops. The British
started building artillery batteries at Hell Gate at what is now the Astoria Houses. The
area was then known as Haalets Cove.
The British then fired on the American fort
Horns Hook, located across the East River at what is now Carl Schurz Park, and the
Americans returned fire in an exchange that lasted a full week.
In the days following the war at
Horns Hook and Haalets Cove, Washington received permission to evacuate New
York City. A peace conference followed and failed. American soldiers were moved to
Kingsbridge, hoping the steep creeks would limit visibility and give the troops an
But with peace talks falling off and any
chance of resolution rendered nil, British warships moved into position at Kips Bay
(34th Street). Several thousand British troops returned from Montresors Island to
the Astoria shore. The troops were soon ordered to march to Bushwick and the head of
Newtown Creek. British warships eventually opened fire on Kips Bay the Americans
panicked and fled.
The firing and commotion at Hell Gate had
turned out to be only a diversion. The flanking movement in Queens was a ruse. The British
used Queens to divert attention away from Kips Bay, the real target.
This peaceful parkland under Hell Gate Bridge was the sight of
heavy fighting during the American Revolution. Tribune Photo By Liz Goff
Despite the Britishs victory in
Kips Bay, the fighting ended in 1783 with New York free from British control and
Queens, along with the rest of New York, rebuilt once again, paving the way for a new
period of prosperity and a new city government.