Eve of Revolutionary War in New York


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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 Eve of the Revolution.- Two days after the affairs at LEXINGTON and CONCORD, the people of New York City held a convention, under the guidance of the Sons of Liberty, at which they formed a patriotic association, and adopted a pledge, copies of which were sent to every county in the province for signatures. The object was to winnow out the Tories - to ascertain who, in every community, was an adherent to the American cause, and who was not. Committees were appointed in each county, town, and precinct, to visit the inhabitants, and obtain the signatures of persons willing to sign and the names of persons who should refuse to sign. A thorough canvass of the province was thus made. The following is a copy of the pledge:

" Persuaded that the salvation of the rights and liberties of America depend, under God, on the firm union of its inhabitants in a vigorous prosecution of the measures necessary for its safety, and convinced of the necessity of preventing the anarchy and confusion which attend a dissolution of the powers of government, we, the freemen, freeholders, and inhabitants of, being greatly alarmed at the avowed design of the ministry to raise a revenue in America, and shocked by the bloody scenes now acting in Massachusetts Bay, do, in the most solemn manner, resolve never to become slaves, and do associate, under all the ties of religion, honor, and love to our country, to adopt, and endeavor to carry into execution, whatsoever measures may be recommended by the Continental Congress or resolved upon by our provincial convention for the purpose of preserving our constitution and of opposing the several arbitrary acts of the British Parliament, until a reconciliation between Great Britain and America, on constitutional principles (which we most solemnly desire), can be obtained; and that we will in all things follow the advice of our general committee respecting the purposes afore-said, the preservation of peace and good order, and the safety of individuals and property."

On May 15, 1775, the city and county of New York asked the Continental Congress how to conduct themselves with regard to royal regiments which were known to have been ordered to that place. The Congress instructed them not to oppose the landing of troops, but not to suffer them to erect fortifications; to act on the defensive, but to repel force by force, if it should be necessary, for the protection of the inhabitants. Indeed, they had no means for preventing their landing. But this advice of the Continental Congress produced embarrassments, for it virtually recognized the royal authority of every kind in the province of New York ; and when its Provincial Congress met it could only conform to the advice. All parties seemed to tacitly agree to a truce in the use of force. There was respect shown towards the crown officers of every kind, and everything that could possibly be done, with honor, was done to avoid collision and make reconciliation possible. The British ship-of-war Asia was allowed supplies of provisions. The Provincial Congress disapproved the act of the people in seizing the King's arms; offered protection to Guy Johnson, the Indian agent, if he would promise neutrality on the part of the Indians; and, while they sent to the patriots of Massachusetts the expression of their warmest wishes for the cause of liberty in America, they labored hard for the restoration of harmony between the colonies and Great Britain. This timid or temporizing policy was the fruit of a large infusion of the Tory element that marked the aristocratic portion of the inhabitants of New York. In playing the role of peace - maker they committed an almost fatal mistake. EDMUND BURKE, who had been the agent for New York in England, expressed his surprise at " the scrupulous timidity which could suffer the King's forces to possess themselves of the most important port in America."

During the winter of 177576 disaffection, especially among the older and wealthier, families, became conspicuous and alarming to the patriots, and there were fears of the loss of the city of New York to the republican cause. In Queens county, Long Island, the people began to arm in favor of the crown. Hearing of this, General Howe, in Boston, sent General Sir Henry Clinton on a secret expedition. Washington suspected New York was his destination, where Governor Tryon was sowing the seeds of disaffection from his " seat of government " on board the Duchess of Gordon in the harbor. The committee of safety and the provincial convention of New York were strongly tinctured with Toryism. General Lee, then in Connecticut, had heard of disaffection there and asked permission of Washington to raise volunteers to go there and suppress it. The privilege was granted, and, with the aid of Governor Trumbull, he embodied about 1,200 volunteers and pressed on towards New York, with the bold "King Sears " as his adjutant-general. His approach (February, 1776) produced great alarm. Many Tories fled with their families to Long Island and New Jersey; and the timid committee of safety protested against his entering the city, for the captain of the Asia had declared that if " rebel troops " were permitted to enter the town, he would cannonade and burn it. Lee pressed forward and encamped in the Fields, and in a proclamation said he had come to prevent the occupation of Long Island and New York by the enemies of liberty. " If the ships-of-war are quiet," he said, " I shall be quiet; if they make my presence a pretext for firing on the town, the first house set in flames by their guns shall be a funeral pile of some of their best friends." Before this manifesto the Tories shrank into inactivity. A glow of patriotism warmed the Provincial Congress, and that body speedily adopted measures for fortifying the city and its approaches and garrisoning it with 2,000 men. On the day when Lee entered New York Sir Henry Clinton arrived at Sandy Hook, but did not deem it prudent to enter the harbor.



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