The Samuel Gray Society

dedicated to preserving the history of colonial America and its people

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It can be argued that, along with Massachusetts, New York was the most pivotal and most significant locale  regarding the Revolution and the birth of our nation.  New York’s Hudson River, which is actually a tidal estuary, has long been a prized natural resource of North America, and was at the heart of the original colonies.  The Lenape Nation referred to the Hudson as “Muhheakantuck”, and early Europeans knew it as the Mauritius.  Whatever its name, it was then and remains now one of the key waterways between SE Canada and the Long Island Sound, and was a decisively strategic arena in the war for independence. 

Although the first shot of the Revolutionary War, the “shot heard round the world”, was fired in Lexington Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, the first great success of the Colonial Militia occurred in New York at Fort Ticonderoga on May 10.  There Ethan Allen, along with Benedict Arnold, took a British stronghold and its artillery, although it was ultimately won back by the British in a later battle. 

The strategic importance of the New York Bay, the Hudson, and its fortresses was well known to both armies.  On May 31, 1776, the soon-to-be commander of the Continental Army George Washington wrote his brother “...we expect a very bloody summer at New York and Canada, as it is there, I presume, the grand efforts of the enemy will be aimed.” 1

Washington was correct.  By June, a fleet of British warships, 400 in total carrying 24,000 soldiers, occupied Sandy Hook, soon overtaking Staten Island, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Harlem and Pelham Bay. 2  With victory, the British controlled the Hudson Narrows and choked off the Hudson to the north, where the Hudson Valley, Pennsylvania and New Jersey notwithstanding, later became the de-facto encampment for Washington and the majority of the Continental Army.   It was north of there, ultimately at the Battle of Saratoga, where the British were decisively defeated which is today considered the great turning point of the war. 3

After the war, in 1789 New York City became our nation’s first capital, and Washington was inaugurated as our first president at City Hall in Manhattan. 

1776 map of New York Bay made for Cmdr. Rochambeau of the French Allies

  1. 1. The American Revolution, 1763-1783”, by Richard Morris, University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

  2. 2.  Ibid.

  3. 3.  “Saratoga: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War”, by Richard M Ketcham, New York: Henry Holt, 1997