D.T. Valentine's History of Broadway Pre: 1865 Part III

 
 
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Broadway, From Vesey Street to Duane Street Pages: 544-572

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Originally a portion of the common lands granted to the city by its charter, its character for many years was merely that of an open pasture or cattle-walk. It seems, however, that at an early period a fortification of a primitive sort was erected near the south boundaries of the Park, which we infer from an entry in the city records in 1699, stating appointment of a committee to view the block-house near the Governor's Garden, to see if it can be fitted into a prison.

In the course of the last century it became customary to hold public celebrations there, especially the bonfires which were made on the King's birthday, Coronation day, Gunpowder-plot day, and other public occasions. These had in earlier years been celebrated on the plain before the fort, but the enclosure of the Bowling green compelled a change of quarters. Its name of the Commons grew into disuse some years before the Revolution, and that of "the Fields" was substituted. The first public building erected within the limits of the Park was a Poor-house, finished in 1736, on the site of the present City Hall. An advertisement of that date calls for proposals from suitable persons stating the terms on which they will perform the duties of Keeper of the House of Correction and Overseer of the Work-house, and Poor-house. The same paper advertises "to let the cellar kitchen at present, the Poor-house, kept by Mrs. Burger." From its public character, as the place of open-air meetings, ball-ground, etc., it attracted to its vicinity various public houses, ball-alleys, and similar places.

The public meetings which took place in the Fields during a few years preceding the commencement of the Revolution, were of a significant political character, and are deserving of a brief chronological reference.

1764. Seizure of a press gang's boat, by a mob who carried it to the Common, and burned it.

1765. (Nov. 1) First popular meeting on the Commons in opposition to the stamp act: a gallows was erected, and the Lieutenant-Governor burned in effigy.

1765. (Nov. 2) Another popular meeting on the Commons, held with a view to seize the stamps. Action deferred.'

1765 & 1766. Other meetings of similar character until repeal of stamp act, in March, 1766.

1766. (June 4.) Meeting on the Commons to celebrate the repeal of the stamp act. A Flag-staff erected on the occasion inscribed "King, Pitt, and Liberty," An ox roasted, and twenty-five barrels of ale, with a hogshead of rum punch, consumed on the occasion.

1766. (aug. 10) A party of soldiers from the barracks along Chambers street, cut down the pole erected in June.

1766. (Aug. 11.) Meeting held on the Commons to raise another pole. The people were attacked by the soldiers, and several were wounded. A few days after, however, another pole was raised.

1766. (Sept. 23.) The second pole was cut down by persons unknown. Within two days a third pole was erected.

1767. (March 18.) The third pole was destroyed.

1767. (March 19.) A fourth pole, erected and secured by braces and iron bands, and a watch set to guard it.

1767. (March 21.) An attempt renewed by the soldiers to destroy the pole, but they were repulsed by the citizens.

1767. (Dec. 17.) Meeting held in opposition to the mutiny act.

1770. (Jan. 16.) Another attempt made on the pole, which was successful. It was sawed up and piled in front of Montagnie's door (the headquarters of the Sons of Liberty), on Broadway.

1770. (Jan. 17.) Meeting of upward of three thousand citizens on the Commons. Another liberty pole soon after erected, strongly ironed, and surrounded with a topmast and vane, on the latter of which the word LIBERTY in large letters was conspicuous.

1770. (March 26.) A party of soldiers attempted to unship the top-mast; a contest ensued between them and the citizens without fatal results.

1770. (May 10.) Meeting in opposition to importations of British goods.

1770. (June) A quantity of British goods seized by the Sons of Liberty are burned on the Commons.

1774. (July 6.) Great meeting in opposition to the act of Parliament called the Boston Port Act. At this meeting Alexander Hamilton, then seventeen years of age, first appeared as a public speaker.

1775. Various meetings on the all-absorbing public affairs. The affair at Concord and the battle of Lexington occurred, and the people began vigorously to prepare for momentous events.

1776. (July 9) The Declaration of Independence published to the troops paraded on the Commons at 6 o'clock in the evening. A hollow square formed at lower end of the Common, in which was General Washington on horseback. The Declaration was read by one of his aids. At its conclusion three hearty cheers were given.

1776 to 1783. The city in possession of the British.

1776. Cunningham, the British provost Marshal had the Liberty pole cut down.

A jail, now the Hall of Records, and a Bridewell, between the poor-house and Broadway were erected in colonial times. This latter building was completed shortly before the Revolution, and was taken down in 1839. The three buildings alluded to, to wit; the poor-house, on the site of the present City Hall, the jail (converted into the present Hall of Records), and the Bridewell, were the three prominent buildings standing in the Park at the time of the Revolution. They were all built of gray stone, and with little of ornamentation in their architecture. Grave-yards for their inmates were enclosed near the buildings, so that, though very eligibly situated on an open green, these public edifices presented a lugubrious appearance, quite in keeping with the disagreeable objects to which they were devoted.

These were not, however, the only buildings which had been erected in the Park in colonial times, for at different eras, soldiers' barracks had been constructed in the vicinity of Chambers and Chatham streets. These were rude structures, one story in height, and built of logs. Those which were built in the time of the "old French war" remained in a ruinous condition for many years after the close of that war, being, it is said, not infrequently tenanted by families of roving Indians, some of whom still hovered around the abodes of civilization, gaining a livelihood by the sale of baskets and their favorite bead work.

After the Revolution, the improvement of the Park was commenced by its enclosure in 1785, with a post and rail fence, which was the first event in its transformation from its ancient character of a "commons," to the more exclusive condition of a Park. This was but a natural sequence to the progressive condition of the neighborhood, for, as we have seen, it was at this time that Broadway in this section began to assume the character of a fashionable place of residence, and the ancient custom of allowing cattle, and other animals to rove at large upon the green, became out of the new order of things. Nor was it long before the post and rail fence gave place to one of wooden palings, which remained for a score of years, and finally gave place, in 1816, to an iron railing, which was set with due ceremony and public commemoration of the event. In 1805 pavements were first laid along Broadway in front of the Park.

It should be mentioned, in connection with this account of the fencing in of the Park, that a portion of the present enclosure was a part of the negro burial-ground, situated near Chambers street and Broadway. The Corporation (about the year 1796) exchanged other property for the ground taken, so that the northern boundaries, of the Park might confirm with a continuous line of Chambers street.

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Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: D.T. Valentine's History of Broadway Pre: 1865 Part III
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

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BIBLIOGRAPHY: From My Collection of Books: Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York by D.T. Valentine 1865
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