[Lower Manhattan from Park Slope, Brooklyn: Photograph by The New Centrist]
Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Williamsburg, Virginia are all known as centers of American revolutionary history. While not as glamorous or visited as Manhattan, the borough of Brooklyn holds great historical significance. The Continental Army and His Majesty’s Royal Army had their first major confrontation–The Battle of Brooklyn–in the neighborhoods known today as Brooklyn Heights, Flatbush, and Park Slope.
The British surprised the Americans August 22, 1776, avoiding defensive fortifications by striking from the northern slope of Brooklyn Heights. You can read a short narrative of the battle here.
In Boston the English made the mistake of underestimating the rebels and marched their columns directly in front of fortified American positions on Breed Hill. In Brooklyn, Howe was not going to make the same mistake.
The terrain of Brooklyn is such that a large hill runs down the center of its spine from the terminal moraine which runs up Sunset Park, through Prospect Park and Lookout Hill, Mount Prospect behind the Brooklyn Museum, and out along Eastern Parkway. Washington fortified the hill tops and the southern slopes in Red Hook and Flatbush. 10,000 British troops simply marched around the American fortifications in what is called a flanking maneuver.
After camping for 5 days in Flatbush, they marched east on what was called Jamaica Pass, which ran approximately along present day Empire Blvd., and was unguarded by the Americans. Unopposed they marched into New Lots and Brownsville. They stopped for drinks (yup – drinks) at a tavern called the Rising Sun Tavern and forced the tavern owner to show them a northern passage called Rockaway Path in today’s Evergreen Cemetery, north to what today is the Eastern Parkway area, to the township of Bedford.
In Prospect Park there is a marker for what is known as Battle Pass. Battle Pass had a large oak tree known as Dongal Oak. The tree was felled and the Americans took position behind it and along a corridor blocking Battle Pass. The British attacked from Bedford (around Fulton and Bedford Avenue) behind the defensive line. Americans fled in all directions. They were bayoneted near the Atlantic Ave. LIRR train station at Baker’s Tavern. They were chased into the woods which are now remolded to Prospect Park, up Flatbush Ave., and down Park Slope on Port Road which was located near 1st street.
King George III…declared to Parliament that the American rebellion would be crushed with the full force of the British Army. And barring its ability to raise enough troops to put down the rebellion with British citizen’s, King George declared he would hire German mercenaries. It was this declaration which spawned the commission of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The first theater of the war after its issue was right here in Brooklyn.
Happy Independence Day!
[Map of the Battle of Brooklyn. October 1776, “Howe’s Map”]