Thursday, August 20, 2009

The British are coming!

Brooklyn rallies to arms in Revolutionary War re-enactment

By Helen Klein

For 2009, Brooklyn’s Battle Week has become Battle Weekend.

Many of the events that make up the annual commemoration of the August 27, 1776, Battle of Brooklyn have been telescoped into a single weekend, August 28th through 30th, though some events will still take place at other times, said Kim Maier, the director of the Old Stone House, the Park Slope structure at the heart of much of the activities.

“We are pulling together many of the local Brooklyn events into one weekend, to make it a destination weekend,” she explained. “We want to see if we can attract more re-enactors by having many of the events in three days.”

As in the past, the Battle Week ceremonies and reenactments will be held in locations as diverse as the rolling hills of Green-Wood Cemetery and the park surrounding the modest house outside whose stone walls occurred the first skirmish of the Battle of Brooklyn.

The purpose of the entire commemoration is to recall a watershed moment in the colonists’ struggle for independence, 233 years ago, when the opposing forces faced each other at the western end of Long Island, a little more than a month after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

For, it was in the marshes and woods of Brooklyn that the colonists made a stand that, the enthusiasts say, enabled the forces of the Continental Army to survive to fight another day.The battle was bloody. By the time it had ended, as many as 1,000 colonial soldiers and 400 British troops had paid the ultimate price for their efforts, which resulted – that day at least – in a British victory.

Nonetheless, the rolling hills of Green-Wood Cemetery and Prospect Park were arrayed on the side of the revolutionary forces; the terrain was ideal for the sort of guerrilla fighting that the patchwork Continental Army engaged in as they faced the well-trained, splendidly uniformed members of King George III’s military, reinforced by the German mercenary soldiers known as Hessians.

Indeed, nowhere was the contrast more pronounced than during the Battle of Brooklyn.

But, the battle’s claim to fame goes beyond that. It was the first major engagement in which the Continental Army participated and it gave evidence of their valor, perhaps most memorably in an engagement that is commemorated at the Old Stone House.

In the vicinity of that abode, then known as the Vechte House, troops from Maryland and Delaware – renowned today as the Maryland 400 -- fought to the death to defend their fellow soldiers from the assault of the British forces.

Over 400 American troops died in that single encounter, but their bravery and sacrifice enabled the forces led by George Washington, waiting in the northern end of Brooklyn, to escape over the East River to Manhattan.

Battle Week opens on Friday, August 21st, at 12:30 p.m., with the reading of the Declaration of Independence on the front steps of Manhattan’s Federal Hall, 26 Wall Street.

The following day, Saturday, August 22nd, at 10 a.m., there will be the annual Prison Ships Martyrs Memorial ceremony, at the memorial in Fort Greene Park.

The event is organized by the Society of Old Brooklynites, which has held a ceremony remembering America’s first prisoners of war every year since the organization was founded in 1880. This year’s commemoration will mark the 101st anniversary of the Stanford White-designed monument, which was dedicated on November 14, 1908 by William Howard Taft, then president-elect of the United States.

The monument is a tribute to the 11,500 individuals who are interred in a crypt underneath, who died on board British warships anchored in Wallabout Bay. Residents living nearby in the years after the Revolution would occasionally find the bodies of those who had been immured on the ships. Eventually, the idea of having a monument erected to memorialize their sacrifice became a cause celebre, with such notables as poet Walt Whitman calling loudly for its construction.

For this year’s commemoration, historian David Weiss will give the keynote address, and a USMC color guard will present the colors and engage in “Piping the Side,” a traditional ceremony which is held to mark the arrival or departure of officers or VIPs on naval vessels. The ceremony will close with the playing of Taps, after which eight bells will be struck. For further information, call 718-499-7600.

Also on Saturday, August 22nd, there will be a Battle of Brooklyn Trolley Tour hosted by the New York City Urban Park Rangers. Because of limited seating, reservations are required. Participants should meet at the Old Stone House, J.J. Byrne Park, Third Street at Fifth Avenue. To make a reservation, call 718-768-3195. Further information is available at

The following day, Sunday, August 23rd, there will be a walking tour of the Evergreens Cemetery, beginning at 11 a.m. and lasting until 1 p.m. The tour will take in various Revolutionary War connected sites within the burial ground. Tour-goers will follow the path that was taken by British soldiers as they tried to cut in front of the Continental army to head them off. The American forces, however, were not where their opponents expected them to be, with the result that the battle erupted across Brooklyn.

Stops are made at the grave of William Howard, one of the Americans who was forced, on pain of death, to conduct the British troops to the Rockaway Footpath, as well as at the grave of John Berrien, a Son of Liberty and a member of Washington’s staff. Participants should meet at the cemetery’s main gate, Bushwick Avenue and Conway Street. For further information, call 718-455-5300 or log onto

On Wednesday, August 26th, beginning at 6 p.m., canoes will set off along the Gowanus Canal, as the Gowanus Dredgers Estuary Tour gets underway. Participants will enjoy a trip on the water as they learn the history of the waterway, and, specifically, its use as an escape route for American soldiers during the Battle of Brooklyn. Participants should meet at Second Street, between Bond Street and the Gowanus. For further information, call 718-768-3195 or log onto

The annual Battle of Brooklyn neighborhood walk will take place on Friday, August 28th, between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. The walk, which is led by Old Stone House board member William Parry, an archaeology professor at Hunter College, provides participants with the opportunity to view various locations associated with the battle. The walk kicks off at Grand Army Plaza, at the entrance to Prospect Park. The cost is $12 per person ($10 per person for Old Stone House members), and includes light refreshments. For information on the walk, or to make reservations, call 718-768-3195 or log onto

On Saturday, August 29th, the annual Maryland 400 Remembrance Ceremony will be held. In a change from past years, the ceremony will take place, beginning at 11 a.m., at the recently refurbished Maryland Monument inside Prospect Park. Those who will to attend the ceremony -- which will include a roll call of the names of the Maryland 400 , and which is sponsored by the Maryland State Monuments Commission -- should enter the park at Prospect Park Southwest and 16th Street, heading toward Wellhouse Drive, then up the hill to the monument.

Also on Saturday, August 29th, there will be an open house and reception in the gallery at the Old Stone House. The open house will kick off at 10 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. For further information, call 718-768-3195 or log onto

Also on the 29th, beginning at 3:30 p.m., there will be a two-hour cruise on the Manhattan, a 1920’s style motor yacht. The highlight of the cruise, which sails past many sites connected to the Battle of Brooklyn, will be a lecture by Barnet Schecter, the author of The Battle for New York.

The cruise sails from Manhattan’s Chelsea Pier, and costs $65 per person, including the cruise, the lecture, one free beverage and hors d’oeuvres. Seating is limited. For tickets, log onto http://www.zerve/. com/SailNYC/BattleBK.

Other highlights of Battle Week will take place at Green-Wood Cemetery, Fifth Avenue and 25th Street, on Sunday, August 30th.From 10 a.m. to noon, there will be a trolley tour of the cemetery, conducted by Schecter and Green-Wood historian Jeff Richman. Reservations are required for the tour, which costs $20 per person ($10 for Historic Fund members). To make a reservation, call 718-768-7300.

Then, at 11:30 a.m., the annual memorial march sponsored by the Irish American Parade Committee will commence at the cemetery’s main gate.
As they do every year, participants will wend their way behind the lone bagpiper to visit several notable locations: Among them, the graves of Matilda Tone, the wife of Irish patriot Theobald Wolfe Tone, and historian John Gallagher; the Irish Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Minerva Monument on Battle Hill.

The purpose of the commemoration, according to the committee, is to draw attention to, “The vast contributions and significant and historic role of the Irish in the first battle of the American Revolution fought in Brooklyn. Erin’s sons and daughters served with great distinction, honor and heroism in all of the wars and many are buried in Green-Wood.”

Then, beginning at noon and lasting till 1:15 p.m., there will be a Revolutionary War re-enactment inside Green-Wood’s main gate, followed by a parade to the top of Battle Hill at 1:30 p.m., and a memorial ceremony sponsored by the Battle of Brooklyn Memorial Society, at 2 p.m. The guest speaker will be Michael Callahan, a ranger with the National Park Service.

Ongoing throughout all of Battle Week is the opportunity to view related exhibits.

Focused specifically on the Battle of Brooklyn is the exhibit at the Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton Army Base, Fort Hamilton Parkway and 101st Street. The fort overlooks the Narrows, where some of the British soldiers came ashore to fight. There are also daily tours of the fort.Admission to the base and museum is free. However, a valid photo ID is required. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For further information, call 718-630-4349 or log onto www.

Also focused on the Battle of Brooklyn is the permanent exhibit at the Old Stone House. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday or by appointment.

Also open to view is an ongoing exhibit at the Brooklyn Historical Society, entitled “It Happened in Brooklyn.” BHS, which is located at 128 Pierrepont Street, is open Wednesday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m., Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for people aged 62 and over, $4.00 for students 12. Children under the age of 12 are admitted free of charge. For further information, call 718-222-4111 or long onto

In addition, Federal Hall will have an exhibition of Revolutionary War flags on view from Thursday, August 20 through Thursday, August 27th. Federal Hall is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For further information, call 212-825-6888 or log onto


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