On this edition of American Nomad we’re going on an expedition to uncover New York City’s pre-1800 historical sites…
We’ll discover important sites that witnessed Colonial America to NYC’s important role in the American Revolution and founding of a nation.
While much of NYC’s early history has been build over with increasing population and needs for current society, you can still discover early American sites right in the heart of New York City. Walk in the footsteps of George Washington and Alexander Hamilton (the real-life American who inspired the Broadway hit show)…to traitorous Aaron Burr and more.
the historical Lay of the Land
- The area around New York was first settled by the native Lenape Indians of the area, the Dutch established the first European settlement on Manhattan Island in 1624. They called their city New Amsterdam. The Dutch influence can still be felt in city street names like ‘Wall Street’
- The British took hold of the settlement in 1664 and renamed it New York
- New York’s location on the Hudson and East Rivers made it an important port and strategic headquarters for government
- The British established New York as their military headquarters during The French and Indian War, which predates the American Revolution by thirteen years
- In 1765, the British Parliament imposed a Stamp Act to levy a heavy tax on American Colonists (learn more here). This did not go over well with the colonists who felt violated – were they not British citizens?
- Delegates from nine colonies met for the Stamp Act Congress at what would later be known as Federal Hall in Manhattan to protest – the sparks of Revolution were igniting in NYC. The Stamp Act was repealed in 1766.
- The Sons of Liberty, a secret and occasionally violent patriot group were active in New York and would antagonize the loyalist officials by raising liberty poles in prominent city locations until the ‘rebels’ assumed control of the city in 1775.
- While the city was full of patriots, New York had a storng Tory population given ties to trade and other factors. It was truly a city divided.
- General George Washington of the Continental Army moved to defend Manhattan and New York Harbor in 1776, but it was lost to The British until the end of the war
- New York State and NYC continued to be major points of contention throughout the war, as New York State is home to over 1/3 of all Revolutionary War battles.
- Check out this article from Mt. Vernon to learn more about Washington and New York in the early part of the war.
- Learn more about New York City in the Revolutionary War here
Starting our Journey
Though many of the 18th-century structures have been torn down, you can still visit important Colonial and early-American historical sites in New York.
I’ve included a list of top highlights.
St. Paul’s Chapel
- Located at 209 Broadway in the heart of the Wall Street district, this gorgeous stone church is the chapel building of Trinity Church (Episcopal)
- Known as ‘The Little Chapel that Stood,’ St. Paul’s has survived fire, war and the horror of September 11th. It is a symbol of active hope in New York and beyond.
- The church was constructed in 1766 and is the OLDEST surviving church building in Manhattan.
- It is built in the Late Georgian style
- On April 30th, 1789, George Washington took the oath of office to become the first President of the United States and after being sworn in he attended services at St. Paul’s Chapel
- It was the home church of George Washington and many other prominent New Yorkers
- NYC served the nation’scapital city from 1785 to 1790, when it then began to transition to newly established Washington, D.C.
- Standing inside St. Paul’s you are able to experience the history and perspective of New York City from it’s Colonial roots to major financial center
- Miraculously, St. Paul’s was unharmed during the September 11th attacks in spite of being directly across from the World Trade Centers. The chapel served the community by providing a place of pray, active help and hope in dark times. Read more about The Church that Stood here.
- The Trinity Church graveyard is the final resting place of prominent New Yorkers including: Alexander Hamilton. Click here to learn more
- Plan your visit to St. Paul’s Chapel at Trinity Church here
Fraunces Tavern – Dine with History
Situated on the corner of Broad and Pearl Streets, the Fraunces Tavern is a hidden jewel on the southern tip of Manhattan Island.
It is the oldest tavern in New York and the site of a Revolutionary War museum.
Established in 1762, The Fraunces Tavern is still open for spirits and good eats in 2023. For over 261 years, this tavern has a watering hole and witness to living history.
Imagine the conversations over a cup of ale during The Revolution – spies, conspiracies? Imagine yourself in the late 1770s – what do you see, how did this impact the birth of our nation…What about the mid-1800s when immigrants came in flocks to New York…it puts time in perspective…
The building is most famous for being the site of George Washington’s Farewell Address to his troops on December 4th, 1783.
Planning your trip to Fraunces Tavern:
- Restaurant website – make reservations and review the menu in advance
- Museum website
Pro-tip: You can easily pair this adventure with St. Paul’s Chapel and visit to the World Trade Center Memorial + One World Trade Center. Grab lunch at the tavern and enjoy a full day on the south side of NYC
- “The Birthplace of American Government…” This is the location of New York’s first City Hall and eventually the meeting site for early US Government under the Articles of Confederation. It also served as the site where George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States.
- The original building was torn down in 1812
- The current Federal Hall Memorial National Historic Site was opened on Washington’s Birthday, February 22nd, 1940
- Learn more at the NPS Federal Hall site here
Conference House – Staten Island
Tour this historic home on Staten Island where in 1776, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge met with Commander-in-Chief of the British forces, Sir William Howe to attempt to broker peace.
One of the few remaining 17th-century manor houses in New York City – you can learn about the homes important history with interactive guided tours. Plan your visit here
Morris-Jumel House – The oldest House in Mahattan
Located at 65 Jumel Terrace in Harlem…
- Built in 1765 by British Colonel Roger Morris, the house later served as General George Washington’s temporary headquarers during the 1776 Battle of Harlem Heights.
- The house also served as the headquarters for British Lieutenant General Sir Henry Clinton and the Hessian commander Baron Wilhelm von Knyphauseun
- The home must have impressed Washington, who after he became President, held a dinner with his cabinet at the Morris-Jumel House in 1790. The guests included: John Adams, thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton
- When touring the home today you can see Washington’s bed chamber and other artifacts
- Mysteries in the walls?
- In 1810, rich French merchant, Stephen Jumel purchased the mansion when he immigrated to the United States.
- Jumel was married to Eliza Bowen Jumel…Eliza came from humble beginnings to rise in stature.
- Eager to be accepted into New York society the wealthy Jumels spared no expense on renonvating the home
- When her hausband died in a carriage accident, Mrs. Jumel became the wealthiest woman in New York.
- She married scandalous ex-vice-president Aaron Burr (the man who shot Hamilton, among other scruples), but divorced him in 1836 shortly before his death.
Needless to say with its Colonial, Revolutionary and Federal era drama – The Morris-Jumel House is not to be missed.
Plan your visit to this historic mansion via their website
Hamilton Grange Memorial – home of Alexander hamilton
- Learn more about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. Run by the NPS you can tour Hamilton’s home The Grange, a country estate he built in uptown Manhattan. This rare jewel of New York early-American architecture allows you to step out of the hubbub of modern NYC and travel back in time to Hamilton lived here.
- Pro-Tip: Alexander Hamilton found a resurgence of fandom with the popularity of Broadway Smash Hamilton…Consider creating a ‘Hamilton themed’ adventure in New York…check out the musicial as well as his home, tour Columbia College and grab a drink at The Fraunces Tavern…
- Learn more about The Grange here
Fort Tryon Park:
Now one of the most popular dog parks in NYC, not to mention the setting of the nearby MET Cloisters…Fort Tryon was the site of the Battle of Fort Washington in 1776. Click here to learn more
New-York Historical Society
The oldeset museum in NYC – founded in 1804 it tells the story of over 400 years of New York history.
- Predates The MET by nearly 70 years
- Collection includes over 1.6 million works including art by Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Edwin Church
- The collection includes a number of Revolutionary War artifacts as well including the inaugural chair used by George Washington
Van Cortlandt House Museum
Located in The Bronx, this is ne of the most historic houses in the New York area this home was the setting of Patriot and Loyalist activities throughout The Revolutionary War. George Washington stayed in the house in 1776 and 1783. Discover more about the home and its history here.
The Old Stonehouse Inn – Brooklyn
Visit a reconstruction of the 1699 Vechte-Cortelyou House. It is located in Park Slope’s Washington Park, where part of the 1776 Battle of Brooklyn was waged. You can immerse yourself in Revolutionary War history and travel back in time at this interactive tourist site. Learn more here
Still looking for more Revolutionary War adventures in New York check out this resource from NY State Tourism