A Information to Exploring Colonial New York Metropolis

Trinity Church on a sunny day in New York City, USA
Posted: 9/24/20 | September 24th, 2020

As a historical past nerd, I like taking a deep dive right into a vacation spot’s previous. I’m a agency believer that when you don’t perceive the place folks have come from, you’ll by no means perceive the place they’re now. It’s an enormous purpose why I like museums a lot.

As one of many oldest cities within the nation, New York Metropolis has loads of historical past.

First settled by the Dutch as “New Amsterdam,” the Dutch the town surrendered to the English in 1664. The town was a significant buying and selling middle positioned on the mouth of the Hudson River. After the Revolution, New York was the hub of America’s energy and authorities, formally turning into the nation’s capital in 1789 when George Washington was sworn in. Whereas it’s not the nation’s capital (it moved to Philadelphia the next yr after which to Washington, DC in 1800), NYC was nonetheless the beating coronary heart of the nation.

Since I like including “themes” to my travels, an important theme in your go to to New York is colonial historical past – and far of the town’s colonial historical past continues to be current as we speak.

Many of the sights are positioned within the monetary district (one of the vital underappreciated elements of NYC), so it’s simple to go to every part in a day. Right here’s what to see:

1. The Battery (aka Battery Park)

The Battery aka Battery Park in New York, USA in the summer
Positioned on the southern tip of Manhattan, this park is the place the Dutch constructed Fort Amsterdam in 1625 to defend their settlement. The British took the realm over in 1664 and finally renamed it Fort George. The fort’s cannon battery wasn’t used till 1776 when American forces took it over after declaring independence. Whereas the fort was largely destroyed through the Revolution, the battery was expanded after the conflict’s finish.

Right this moment, there are over 20 monuments and plaques within the park, overlaying every part from the Revolutionary Struggle and the Struggle of 1812 to immigration and way more. You may wander across the fort after which stroll by means of the encompassing park and take within the stunning waterfront views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

2. Fraunces Tavern

The historic Fraunces Tavern building in New York, USA
That is the oldest bar in New York Metropolis, having been transformed from a house (in-built 1719) to a tavern in 1762. Previous to the Revolution, the Sons of Liberty (a secret anti-British group based by Samuel Adams) would meet right here to debate their plans and philosophies.

In the course of the conflict, the constructing was broken when Alexander Hamilton stole British artillery, scary a response from the British navy than despatched a cannonball by means of the roof. After the conflict, George Washington stated farewell to his officers and troops of the Continental Military right here.

Because the conflict was ending, conferences between the British and People have been held right here to debate slavery. The US insisted that no slaves freed by the British may depart US soil (many had already been despatched to freedom in what’s now Canada). (It was not certainly one of our best moments as a rustic.)

Right this moment, on the primary flooring, there’s a fairly first rate restaurant (barely overpriced although) and a bar with an important collection of draft beers. The tavern additionally hosts historic talks, in addition to occasions like trivia nights. Additionally it is dwelling to a small museum on the second flooring, which incorporates all types of historic paperwork and objects. For the 300th anniversary of the constructing’s development in 2019, a brand new exhibition chronicling its historical past was created to focus on the pivotal occasions that occurred right here.

54 Pearl St, +1 (212)-425-1778, frauncestavernmuseum.org. Open Monday-Friday 12pm–5pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am–5pm.

3. Bowling Inexperienced

Bowling Green Park in New York, USA
This public park is the oldest in NYC. Throughout colonial occasions, the British put in a 4,000-pound gilded lead statue of King George III on horseback. It was repeatedly vandalized main as much as the conflict, forcing the British to construct a fence across the park (the one that also stands as we speak) and create anti-vandalism legal guidelines.

After the Declaration of Independence was learn in 1776, the statue was toppled and dismembered. The top, allegedly, was mailed to England. The physique, so the story goes, was melted down into bullets for the Continental Military.

Right this moment, the realm stays a park and there’s a plaque on the fence with a quick historic overview.

4. Trinity Church

The historic Trinity Church surrounded by skyscrapers in New York, USA
In-built 1698, the unique Trinity Church was a small parish church constructed by the Church of England. When the British seized New York after George Washington’s retreat, it was used as a British base of operations.

The unique church was destroyed within the Nice Fireplace of 1776, an enormous blaze that worn out upwards of 25% of the town (the People blamed the British for beginning the fireplace, whereas the British blamed the revolutionaries). The brand new constructing, dealing with Wall Road, was consecrated in 1790. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton recurrently worshipped right here. The church was expanded in 1839 into its present type.

The graveyard dates again to the 1700s and has many a well-known American there, together with Hamilton and his spouse Elizabeth, Francis Lewis (signatory on the Declaration of Independence), John Alsop (Continental Congress delegate), Albert Gallatin (founding father of NYU), Horatio Gates (Continental Military basic), John Morin Scott (basic and first secretary of state of New York), and Lord Stirling (Continental Military basic).

75 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org. Excursions of the cemetery can be found on request. There may be additionally a self-guided tour app you possibly can obtain from the web site.

5. Federal Corridor Nationwide Memorial

The Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City, USA
This nationwide memorial has served as New York’s metropolis corridor and america Customized Home, in addition to the location of the primary Congress of america and George Washington’s presidential inauguration. It was additionally the place the Continental Congress of 1765 met to debate the Stamp Act, a tax imposed by the British crown.

The present construction, in-built 1812, has a small museum that sheds mild on the origins of America. A part of the balcony and railing the place Washington was inaugurated are nonetheless on show as nicely. It’s certainly one of my favourite spots in New York — and a technique too typically ignored by guests!

26 Wall St, +1 (212) 825-6990, nps.gov/feha/index.htm. Open each day 9am–5pm. Admission is free. Free guided excursions can be found a number of occasions per day (test the web site for hours).

6. St. Paul’s Chapel

The exterior of St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, USA
Simply up the road from Trinity Church (and formally a part of its parish) is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. In-built 1766, the Hearts of Oak (a scholar militia from Kings Faculty) used the church’s grounds for drill apply through the Revolutionary Struggle. Alexander Hamilton was an officer within the unit. After George Washington grew to become the primary president of the US in 1789, he attended companies right here, making the chapel his dwelling church.

Right this moment, it’s a Nationwide Historic Web site, having survived the Nice Fireplace of 1776, the Revolutionary Struggle, and 9/11. The chapel is an easy corridor embellished in pale colours. Glass chandeliers hold from the flat ceiling. It’s not notably ornate, having a extra fashionable and minimalist design (they use moveable chairs as a substitute of pews to permit for extra flexibility in what occasions might be held right here).

209 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, trinitywallstreet.org/about/stpaulschapel. Excursions are provided each Sunday at 11:15am after service. Admission is free. Gown respectfully, as this can be a place of worship.

7. Metropolis Corridor Park

Green grass at City Hall Park in New York City, USA
This park is the place New Yorkers held rallies each earlier than and through the Revolutionary Struggle, together with a rally in opposition to the Stamp Act in 1765. When the Act was repealed the next yr, a brand new flagpole was constructed right here — referred to as the Liberty Pole — which waved a flag that stated “Liberty.” Individuals additionally gathered right here to listen to Washington learn the Declaration of Independence in 1776; the spot is marked by a plaque from 1892 (one other marks the placement of the Liberty Pole).

In the course of the conflict, the British transformed it into a jail to carry American prisoners of conflict, the place over 250 People have been executed. In 1783, when the conflict was gained, Washington raised an American flag over the park.

These days, it’s a fairly park with a fountain and benches to loosen up on. You’ll see lots of people right here throughout lunch. (Nicely, not less than you probably did pre-COVID.)

8. African Burial Floor Nationwide Monument

The African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City, USA
In the course of the Struggle of Independence, roughly 25% of the inhabitants of New York Metropolis was enslaved Africans or folks of African descent. Over 40% of the inhabitants owned slaves, and the success and improvement of the town relied closely on the work of enslaved women and men.

As soon as referred to as the “Negroes Burial Floor,” that is the most important colonial-era cemetery for each free and enslaved Black People. Research estimate that upwards of 15,00Zero folks have been buried right here within the 17th and 18th centuries.

The positioning is a US Nationwide Monument in addition to a Nationwide Historic Landmark. A monument and a customer’s middle have been in-built 2007 to make sure that this vital piece of historical past is just not forgotten. Contained in the customer’s middle are a number of exhibitions, movies, and dioramas highlighting the lifetime of slaves within the metropolis. Guests can learn the way slaves have been introduced over by the Dutch, what their funerals have been like, how they survived the tough circumstances within the metropolis, and what archeologists discovered once they exhumed the our bodies from the realm earlier than constructing the monument.

290 Broadway, +1 (212) 238-4367, nps.gov/afbg/index.htm. Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am–4pm. Free excursions can be found from the customer’s middle. Examine the web site for dates and occasions.

9. Van Cortlandt Home Museum

The exterior of the Van Cortlandt Museum in New York City, USA
That is the oldest constructing within the Bronx and one of many oldest surviving buildings in all the nation. In-built 1748 by African slaves, the property was used through the Revolutionary Struggle by the Comte de Rochambeau, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington (who had his headquarters right here through the remaining years of the conflict).

It’s one of many oldest historic museum homes within the nation (the fourth oldest to be exact), and far of the furnishings and objects on show are from the colonial period. Right this moment, you possibly can tour the home to see what life was like through the conflict.

6036 Broadway, Van Cortlandt Park, +1 (718) 543-3344, vchm.org. Open Tuesday-Friday 10am–4pm and weekends 11am–4pm. Admission is $5 USD.

Bonus Websites!

On Staten Island, you’ll discover The Convention Home, the place Ben Franklin led a peace delegation in 1776 (it failed). The home has been refurbished and does occasions all year long. It’s open now by personal reserving.

On the nook of Pearl and Broad, you’ll discover the brick define of Stadt Huys, the primary metropolis corridor as nicely some glass portals that look all the way down to remnants of the colonial metropolis that have been discovered within the 1970s.

You’ll additionally discover bricks that present you the place the previous shoreline was throughout colonial days. (All the things from Broad down is landfill designed to increase the town because it grew to become a much bigger and greater transport hub.)

Guided Excursions

Whereas it’s very easy to stroll round and see these websites for your self, a strolling tour can present much more historic context ( I like a superb strolling tour!). Listed below are some paid and self-guided choices:

  • George Washington’s New York – Obtain the app “GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities” for this free self-guided tour. It’s a pleasant companion to the above itinerary.
  • New York Historic Excursions – NY Historic Excursions runs a personal two-hour “Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers” tour on the start of America and the lads who made it attainable. At $249 USD, that is finest cut up amongst a gaggle.
  • Revolutionary Excursions – This three-hour “Washington and Hamilton” tour is a deep dive into colonial historical past. It’s informative and entertaining and will provide you with a a lot deeper appreciation for these two giants of historical past. It’s $35 USD per particular person. (At the moment not operating any excursions as a consequence of COVID.)
  • Patriot Excursions – Patriot Excursions gives each a Hamilton tour in addition to one on the Revolutionary Struggle as an entire. They’re led by writer and historian Karen Q and value $40 USD per particular person. Karen additionally runs digital excursions in case you need to journey from the consolation and security of dwelling through the pandemic.


New York Metropolis has loads of historical past you shouldn’t miss. Whether or not you’re in search of a whole historic tour or simply need to add some historic sights into your present New York Metropolis itinerary, these ideas will present a glimpse past the usual vacationer path. Since most all these websites are shut collectively (Van Cortlandt Home is within the Bronx), you possibly can go to them in a day.

P.S. – There’s additionally quite a lot of parks round NYC that was the areas for forts (and the forts which can be there date from the 1800s) however there’s nothing actually there now to see so I’ve left them off this record.

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Photograph credit score: 1 – henrys54, 3 – Arun De Joe, 4 – Wally Gobetz, 5 – Dmytro Kochetov, 6 – Federal Corridor, 7 – Djnichols62 , 9 – Dmadeo, 10 – Dmadeo, 11 – Dmadeo

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