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Roger Morris Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, October 5, 2006

1776 : Waiting At The Morris House


Credit: Alajos L. Schuszler / New York City Parks Photo Archive

Two weeks ago this column bore the tale of Nathan Hale, who the British hanged for treason at about 66th Street and Third Avenue.  Naturally, this “gives away” the fact that the British had already taken Manhattan that far north, and actually quite a bit further – their lines stretched from river to river at roughly the latitude of 110th Street.  Once again we see how the topography that would eventually lend itself to Central Park played a part in the war.  If you’ve ever jogged or biked up the northern end of Central Park, you know exactly what hill the British had staked out.  With the British safely at the southern outskirts of Harlem, all of what was then called the city was already safely returned to the power of the King.

Many of the previous stories this summer discussed how Washington’s headquarters stood at the house immediately adjacent to Bowling Green.  He had vacated that location prior to the invasion of Manhattan and, on the evening of September 14, he moved again to the summer home of Colonel Roger Morris.  This house still stands today and is known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion, in Roger Morris Park.  It is another case of the park-military connection.

In war each commander wants to control the highland; this affords the greatest possible view of the battlefield.  Today our military commanders watch from aircraft or even satellites.  During the Revolution, the best you could do was find the highest hill and look down.  The view from the Morris house remains basically the same today as it did in Washington’s day.  Of course there’s a little more “city” occluding the view, but historian Barnet Schecter reports that Washington could see the Bronx (in the background of the above photo), Hell Gate, all of Manhattan, the spires of Brooklyn, and (on a clear day) as far as Staten Island.

This “commanding” view is likely why Colonel Morris chose this location in the first place to build his house eleven years earlier.  Sound also traveled well up to this vantage point and, on September 15, General Washington heard the opening fusillade from the British landing force, four miles south on Murray Hill.  Washington and his staff galloped down to help command the battle.  The much-dismayed general found his forces running away from their well-trained enemy with such cowardice that Washington lost his senses.  His staff had to intercede and grab the stunned general’s horses reigns and drag Washington back to the Morris house.
 
Going back in time to this day in 1776, one would find the better part of the British army in Manhattan… waiting.  Their complaint today, as in the past, would have been that the brothers General and Admiral Howe were too sluggish in attacking the Rebels.  Weeks had passed since they conquered Harlem, and since then they just waited.  Likewise General Washington waited (less than three miles from the British lines) for the next attack to unfold.  He must have realized that, whether the British continued their northward thrust or moved east to flank him from the Bronx, he would be able to see it all from his hilltop headquarters that is now Roger Morris Park.

(psst!:  the next attack will be at a park too; tune in October 19 and find out where!)


Written by John Mattera

 

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

“It takes a long time to grow young.”

Pablo Picasso
(1881 – 1973)

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