Saturday, September 1, 2012

On Hallowed Ground

In an earlier post I discussed the genesis for setting The Patriot Spy at the Battle of Long Island.  Several times during the writing of the book I returned to the neighborhoods that the battle encompassed.  Some of them were neighborhoods I had lived in long ago, Park Slope and Flatbush - both in the heart of Brooklyn.

On one of my return trips,  I went to where I had reckoned was the site of the pivotal point of the battle  – the forlorn hope attack by the gallant Marylanders and their brothers in arms from Delaware (who are actually depicted on the cover of The Patriot Spy). It was a gray autumn day. We drove to the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 8th street in Park Slope – the spot where I had believed the fallen 300 from the engagement had been laid to rest.  

There, in front of a  an auto repair shop, I stood looking at an old building across the street. Surrounded by scaffolding, it was clearly in the process of demolition.  A large burly guy with a thick gold necklace saw me standing there and came out of the repair shop.

“Can I help you?” He asked, more as a challenge then a question, thick Brooklyn accent and all.
“I’m looking for a marker,” I replied.  One of the source books I had used indicated the existence of a small marker on the side of a building.
“A marker?  Marker for whad?”  He asked with a really puzzled look.
“Almost three hundred  Americans died here and are buried in a mass grave.” I answered.
“Died? When?  How? Who done it?” He looked stunned and puzzled, and this being Brooklyn, likely thought this had something to do with the mob. 
“There was a great battle here in 1776.  Almost three hundred patriots were killed fighting the British and are supposed to be buried near here.”
He nodded his head knowingly. “Oh yeah, well I ain’t never seen no marker but it wuz probably on dat building.”
I looked across the street at the building, now encased in scaffolding and plywood and surrounded by a chain link fence. I decided my search was over.  

Above the Hallowed Ground
I relate this anecdote to call readers attention to a recent article in the New York Times that highlights the efforts of a local Brooklyn historian named Bob Furman who is leading an effort to identify, preserve and appropriately commemorate some of the key points on the battlefield.  The article is worth reading as it highlights the challenges of trying to preserve a sense of history in the midst of urbanization.

The Gowanus Creek is now a canal ravaged by urban blight

More than one hundred years ago,a growing city’s appetite for residential and industrial land overran the area. Hard to believe that this highly built-up slice of New York was once the site of beautiful farms, fields, orchards and woods. Hard to believe that gallant and brave men once fought  desperately for their lives, and their new nation, on these very busy streets.   Let's hope Furman and his associates at the Brooklyn Preservation Council have some success in reclaiming some of this hallowed ground. But sadly, most vestiges of the Revolutionary War battle, and  the very terrain on which it was fought, are gone.


  1. That is so interesting, someday I need to go to NY, so rich in history.

  2. Coach,

    The city and the state are chock full of great places to visit from a history lover's perspective. Plus, the added advantage of great places to eat! You can start with historic Fraunces Tavern, an operating restaurant and museum (near Wall Street) where George Washington had his farewell for his officers just before leaving the Continental Army.

  3. New York City, and the Federal Government, should denote all of these pivotal and significant locations so its citizens realize, and perhaps appreciate, the great deeds of so many brave people. Too many people remain ignorant of our great heritage.

  4. Yes, and that heritage sometimes turns up in the least likely places - smack in the middle of Brooklyn.