Friday, November 9, 2012

Places: The Cortelyou House

I have decided to add a recurring  feature to this blog that I call "People, Places, Things." This will be a series of profiles of, well, people, places and things connected with the American War for Independence and/or the Yankee Doodle Spies series. 

The first of these highlights the Vechte-Cortelyou House in Brooklyn, New York, site of the high-water mark of the Battle of Long Island.

"Here on the 27th of August, 1776, Two hundred and fifty out of four hundred brave Maryland soldiers, under the command of Lord STIRLING, were killed in combat with British troops under CORNWALLIS."
...Inscription on a plaque commemorating the action near the Vechte-Cortelyou House, now called the Old Stone House.

Frontal View of the House today

The Vechte-Cortelyou House in Brooklyn, New York, was built in 1699 by a Dutch settler named Claes Arenston Vechte. Vechte and his family worked the land, farming the neat fields and grazing animals in the verdant pastures of this rich farmland.  They also gathered oysters and other bounty from the nearby Gowanus Creek, which they used to ship their produce to Manhattan.  Around the time of the revolution the land was leased to the Cortelyou family, and one of them later purchased the property.  The simple architecture is classic Dutch colonial with a mixture of stone and mortar, steep tiled roof and a wood shingled appendage (what we might today call a "bump-out") that appears to function as the kitchen.
Vechte-Cortelyou House Circa 1700
William Alexander, aka Lord Stirling
The house was situated near the intersection of today's 3rd Avenue and 5th Street in Park Slope. During the events leading up to the cataclysmic fight that took place there, the house served as the headquarters of William Alexander, who called himself "Lord Stirling," because of a claim to that Scottish peerage.While holding the passes south of the house, Lord Stirling found his army surrounded when Major General (himself a Lord) Cornwallis' force of several thousand seized the area around the house after a night march down the Jamaica Road into the unguarded east flank of the American Army. 
Charles Cornwallis
While he ordered most of his forces to attempt escape across the Gowanus Creek, Lord Stirling led some 400 hundred Continental Line from Maryland and Delaware against the British defending near the Old Stone House, which they had turned into a strong defensive position. Stirling led six assaults against the British at that location and around 250 Americans were killed there and are buried nearby (see my earlier blog on trying to find them entitled "On Hallowed Ground").  The importance of this battle is fully described in The Patriot Spy, and the fictional events that I added form the genesis of the Yankee Doodle Spies.
Thumbnail for version as of 09:46, 25 August 2011

The Original House

Interestingly, in the 19th century the original house once served as the headquarters of the Brooklyn baseball club that later became the famed Brooklyn Dodgers. You can see from this photograph the once prosperous farmstead had by the latter 19th century fallen into disrepair. 

Back View of The Old Stone House Today

The original Cortelyou House was later torn down but a reconstruction was built from dug up debris and replica materials and can be found in J.J. Byrne Park in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. It serves as a museum that celebrates the events of August 1776 that took place on the hallowed ground around it. 
Sadly, little of the feel or look of the times can be found there.  However, nearby Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery do present views that might have been "enjoyed" by Lords Stirling and Cornwallis back in August of 1776.
As you can see, the reconstructed house is smack in the heart of a major urban area.  Note the Gowanus Canal, the remains of the Gowanus Creek, not too far distant. 

Where in the world is the Cortelyou House?


  1. Very interesting. Looks like a good "must see" the next time I head to NY.

  2. I agree. I hope the house is open for tours.