The Fields of New York

 

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The Fields of New York

New York Colony - Fear of Negro Insurrections - New York Riots of 1765 - The Fields of New York - The Eve of Revolution in New York - Capture of New York - Great New York Fire of 1776 - Evacuation of New York in 1783  New York in the Civil War - The New York Draft Riots (1862)

The Fields.-The space now occupied by the Post-office, City Hall, and City Hall Park, was in the outskirts of the town at the middle of the eighteenth century, and was called " the Fields." There, after the organization of the Sons of Liberty (1765), public meetings of citizens were held under their direction. The first of these of note was in the middle of December, 1769, when 1,400 people gathered, summoned by a handbill distributed over the city, addressed " to the betrayed inhabitants of the city and colony of New York," and signed " A Son of Liberty." It was inspired by an act of the Provincial Assembly, which provided an indirect method of cheating the people into a compliance with the mutiny act and the quartering act. It was the issuing of bills of credit, on the security of the province, to the amount of $700,000, to be loaned to the people, and the interest to be applied to defraying the expenses of, ostensibly, the colonial government, but really for maintaining troops in the province - a monster bank without checks. This money scheme was denounced in the handbill as a covering to wickedness, as a virtual approval of the revenue acts, and that it was intended to distract and divide, and so to weaken, the colonies. It hinted at a corrupt coalition between acting Governor Colden and the powerful James De Lancey, and called upon the Assembly to repudiate the act concocted by this combination. It closed with a summons of the inhabitants to the Fields the next day, Monday, Dec. 17. The people were harangued by young John Lamb, an active Son of Liberty, a prosperous merchant, and vigorous writer. Swayed by his eloquence and logic, the meeting, by unanimous vote, condemned the obnoxious action of the Assembly. They embodied their sentiments in a communication to the Assembly borne by several leading Sons of Liberty. In that House, where the leaven of Toryism was then working, the handbill was pronounced an " infamous and scandalous libel," and a reward was offered for the author. The frightened printer of the handbill gave the name of Alexander McDougall (afterwards General McDougall). He was indicted for libel, and imprisoned fourteen weeks, when he gave bail. He was arraigned, and for the nature of his answer to the indictment (months afterwards ) was again imprisoned, and treated by the patriots as a martyr. In February, 1771, he was released, and this was the end of the drama in the Fields begun in December, 1769.

The conservative republicans of New York, alarmed by the bold movements of the more radical Sons of Liberty, appointed a grand committee of fifty-one, as true " representatives of public sentiment." They repudiated a message sent to Boston (May 14, 1774) by the Sons of Liberty, recommending the revival of nonimportation measures, but they heartily approved of a general congress. The radical "Liberty Boys " were offended, and their "vigilance committee" called a meeting of citizens (July 6) in the fields. It was the largest gathering ever before seen in New York. The meeting was addressed by Alexander Hamilton, then a student in King's College (now Columbia University). It was his first speech, and a most remarkable one; and it stirred the people with so much indignation that the alarmed committee referred the nomination of deputies to the Continental Congress to their radical brothers called the " Tribunes." At the same time they offended some of their own more zealous members by denouncing the resolutions adopted by the meeting in the Fields as seditious, and eleven members withdrew from the committee. Not long afterwards this timid committee disappeared.

 

 

 

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