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Pulling Down New York’s Statue of King George III
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After the Declaration of Independence was read to the Continental Army in New York on July 9, 1776, a boisterous crowd of soldiers, sailors and citizens headed to the huge gilt lead equestrian statue of King George III which had been installed on Bowling Green only six years earlier. The crowd toppled his Majesty, who then made his first Broadway appearance before being carted to Connecticut. The head was rescued by Tory sympathizers, and later spotted in the home of Lord Townshend. The rest of the King and the horse he rode in on was melted down. In a truly epic burn, Ebenezer Hazard remarked that the redcoats “will probably have melted majesty fired at them.” Indeed they did; the sculpture was used to make 42,088 bullets.

[American Revolution]. La Destruction de la Statue Royale a Nouvelle Yorck.... Paris: François Xavier Habermann, [ca. 1776], engraving was done in Paris, but the title was printed in German, a testament to wider European interest in events in America. Hand-colored. Light fold lines. Approx.18 x 11-7/8 in. There was no sketch artist on hand, so Vue d’optique images like this show entirely imagined views.

Inventory #21297.99       Price: $1,800

Historical Background from July 11 edition of The New-York Journal
On July 9, the Declaration “was read at the head of each Brigade of the Continental Army posted at and near New York and everywhere received with loud huzzas, and the utmost demonstration of joy. The same evening the equestrian statue of George III, which Tory pride and folly raised in the year 1770, was, by the Sons of Freedom, laid prostrate in the dirt, the just desert of an ungrateful Tyrant!  The lead wherewith this monument was made, is to be run into bullets, to assimilate with the brain of our infatuated adversaries, who, to gain a peppercorn, have lost an Empire.* [*Lord Clare had declared that with acknowledgement of Britain’s right to tax America, a peppercorn was “of more importance than millions without it.”]  --- ‘Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat.[Those whom God wills to destroy he first deprives of their senses.]

Where was George?
George Washington did not sign the Declaration of Independence, of course. He left the Continental Congress in 1775 when he was appointed to lead America’s army. After Henry Knox’s cannons persuaded the British army to leave Boston, Washington moved most of his army to New York, anticipating a British invasion. You know, “30,000 [British] troops in New York harbor.”  The General had already narrowly escaped a Tory plot to kidnap him and murder his top officers, and rumor had it that a plate of peas prepared for him at Fraunces Tavern had been poisoned.

On July 9, 1776, Washington received a letter from John Hancock, along with his first copies of the Declaration. Washington immediately had additional copies made and distributed to his brigadier generals and colonels, to be read to the assembled troops at 6:00 that evening, at City Hall Park.

An orderly book, from a company of Connecticut soldiers who had recently arrived to aid in the defense of New York, describes the situation:

 “the Honble Continental Congress … haveing been plead to Desolve Connection Between this country & great Britain & to declare the united Colonys of North America free & Independent States the Several Brigades are to be Drawn us [up] this Evening on their Respective Parades at 6 oclock when the Deleration of Congress Shewing the grounds & Reasons of the Measures to be Read with Laudable [audible] Voice  the genl Hopes that this important Point will serve as a fresh incentive to Every officer and soldier to act with fidelity & courage as knowing that now the Peace and Safety of this country Depends under god solely on the success of our arms....”  (July 9, 1776)  — Manuscript Orderly Book, available separately, #21461)

The next day,General Washington voiced disapprovalof that particular mode of celebration, noting that though the destruction was “actuated by Zeal in the public cause … it has … the appearance of riot, and want of order … in future these things shall be avoided by the Soldiery, and left to be executed by proper authority” (George Washington, July 10, 1776, General Orders).

Celebrations continued for several days. The inmates of New York City’s debtor’s prison (then housed in the City Hall, on the corner of Wall and Nassau streets) were released in a general amnesty on July 11th. Ten days later, the Declaration was read at City Hall. The people assembled “then took the British arms from over the seat of justice in the court-room, also the arms wrought in stone in front of the building, and the picture of the king in the council chamber, and destroyed them, by fire, in the street…” (Lossing: 595).

Though the Declaration boosted the spirit of his army and patriotic New Yorkers, it did not delay the inevitable loss of the city. After meeting with and refusing clemency from Howe’s representatives at the end of July, Washington was badly defeated in the Battle of Long Island. By mid-September, the British had occupied New York City.


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