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Defending New York in 1776 - Entrenching Tools
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ABRAHAM BRINCKERHOFF. Autograph Document Signed. March 16, 1776. 2 pp. A detailed account of various tools delivered and returned for the purposes of constructing defenses around New York City in the spring of 1776. Colonel Abraham Brinckerhoff, “quartermaster of the 2nd battallion” is the officer in charge of supplying the tools. This account records the names of captains on the day’s fatigue duty together with the tools they took for the day’s work including “Pick Axes”, “Shod Shovels,” “Spades,” “Iron Shovels,” and “Axes.” Captains include Jacob Chase, Patrick Birmingham, and others.

Inventory #21007.64       Price: $1,950

From the papers of Nicholas Quackenbush (1734-1813) was a member of a powerful Dutch family in the Hudson River Valley. He sided with the Revolutionary cause, serving as Assistant Deputy Quartermaster to the Continental forces in Albany with rank as Major.

Historical Background

As the British were evacuating Boston in March 1776, General Washington believed that they would next try to capture New York.  From March until August 1776, New York was a beehive of activity, as Washington moved his main army in an attempt to defend the city.  Soldiers, civilians, and slaves constructed entrenchments throughout Manhattan and northern Brooklyn to defend against the anticipated attack.

On August 22, 1775, the Provincial Congress of New York had ordered every county, city, manor, town, precinct, and district to be divided into beats, each of which would form a military company of “about eighty-three able bodied and effective men” for its defense. A week later, the New York City committee divided the city into twenty-four beats and elected officers.[1] By March 1776, captains included Benjamin James (Beat No. 8), George Janeway (Beat No. 9), David Wolf (Beat No. 13), Pardon Burlingham (Beat No. 14), William Deming (Beat No. 15), John Weeks (Beat No. 16), Jacob Clock (Beat No. 19), Wymant Keteltas (Beat No. 20), and John Warner (Beat No. 24), all included in this document.[2]

Soon, thousands of other minutemen from throughout New York and surrounding colonies would join them in defense of the city.  In the end, the defenses proved insufficient against the sheer power of a combined British land and sea force of over 35,000 men.  By November 1776, Washington was in full retreat across New Jersey, and the British controlled the most valuable harbor in the colonies.


[1] Berthold Fernow, ed., Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New York, Volume 15: NewYork in the Revolution (Albany, NY: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1887), 30, 86-87.

[2] Calendar of Historical Manuscripts Relating to the War of the Revolution in the Office of the Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y., 2 vols. (Albany: Weed, Parsons and Company, 1868), 1:129, 163, 267.


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