Much in Little: The Revolutionary Memories of a New York Park

Bowling Green at the bottom end of Broadway in New York is an oasis within the frenetic energy of the city’s financial district. It is also a spot that resonates with New York’s past. The small park claims its beginnings as the meeting-place for Native American councils. In the seventeenth-century years of New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlers used it for military drills and for the sale of cattle. Under British rule, it became a public park in 1733, famously leased out for a single peppercorn a year in return for which the spot was beautified with trees, a fence and turf. Perhaps Bowling Green’s most celebrated memories, however, are those associated with the years of the American Revolution and the early Republic. This space is positively redolent with them, and public awareness has been amplified thanks to the dogged efforts of the Lower Manhattan Historical Society (LMHS) and other civic organizations that–as recently as November 2016 – persuaded the City to rename the northern end of Bowling Green “Evacuation Day Plaza.” This is very apt, for it honors the spot where the Stars and Stripes was hoisted aloft on November 25. 1783, at the end of the American War of Independence, on the day that the British occupying forces left New York for good and the Continental troops under General George Washington marched in.

Evacuation Day is certainly the most iconic of revolutionary moments associated with Bowling Green, because of what famously happened there on that day. As the redcoats boarded ships that would sail them away from New York, the blue-and-buff Continental soldiers reached Bowling Green, where they found the British flag still fluttering from a tall pole. Since Washington had ordered that the Stars and Stripes be flown above the city before he would ride in, the banner of the old colonial rulers had to be struck down. Yet the British soldiers had severed the lanyards and greased the pole, making it impossible for the Americans to haul down…

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