This past Sunday Neil and I took a short ride over to Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, to see some of the festivities commemorating the 140th anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn. It was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War, and although we lost the battle, it was instrumental in helping us win the war, as they say. I loved seeing the Revolutionary war re-enactors in Greenwood with the skyline of 2016 Manhattan in the distance. Talk about time traveling!
Earlier in the day there had been some assembly of re-enactors firing muskets; we arrived in time to see the parade up Battle Avenue to the hilltop where the memorial lay. A pretty good sized crowd had turned out to celebrate the occasion – including our Mental Canvas friend Sydney Shea and her boyfriend Jack, who we sat with on the grassy hill to watch the parade go by.
The parade was led by a marching band from the Merchant Marine Academy, followed by a somewhat mixed assembly of re-enactors dressed as colonial soldiers and colonial era women, along with a few British redcoats. These were followed by people from the crowd, young to old, clad in traditional sneakers and Yankees caps, who were encouraged to pick up the flags of the various colonial regiments that lined the sides of the parade route, and carry them up the hill. It was somewhat of a rag-tag assembly, which seemed fitting to me, as the revolutionary war ‘troops’ were often unruly in nature, in stark contrast to the regimentation of King George’s troops. (There were actually a lot of Irish mercenaries, paid for by the French, who helped the colonists win their bid for independence; a fact that was represented by the Irish flag flying alongside the American on at the top of the parade hill.)
Standing at attention at the top of the hill was a group of colonial soldiers and one British redcoat. They stood in front of the Higgins family memorial, behind a flowered ring and a statue of Minerva that had been erected by Charles Higgins, of Higgins ink. Charles bought the land in front of his family tomb to put up a statue commemorating the Battle of Brooklyn, which he felt had not been properly honored. [Read more HERE]
Filmmaker Joe McCarthy gave the keynote speech, in which he reminded the crowd that “As has been often said, the Declaration of Independence was signed in ink in Philadelphia, and signed in blood in Brooklyn.”
He talked about how the Statue of Liberty faces the hill on which the Battle of Brooklyn was fought, a fitting tribute to the men who died. He then asked all the veterans in the crowd to raise their hands, and thanked them for their service to America. A Merchant Marine played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, then taps were played for soldiers lost. It was a touching ceremony that ended with a moment of silence, then the firing of the cannons.
After the ceremony was completed, we stayed around to watch the re-enactors put away the cannons, pack up their muskets, and head home.
This couple tells me that they used to do the pirate thing, now they’ve moved to Revolutionary war era re-enactments. I love people who pursue their love of history in such a committed way! The whole event was wonderful to see, and with the popularity of the play “Hamilton” there is a renewed interest in our early history. During his welcome speech, Battle of Brooklyn memorial society member Eric Kramer noted that the crowd gathered was “the best crowd gathered here since Grover Cleveland was alive.” ha.
After all the re-enactors had gone, I sat on top of the highest point in Brooklyn to make one last illustration. Drawing at the top of that hill, with a view of Brooklyn, Staten Island, New York harbor, downtown Manhattan and New Jersey, I could see why this was such a perfect vantage point for an army. Or a reportage artist, 140 years later.