Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Early American History: My 2 a.m. Walking Tour

A fascinating story in today's Wall Street Journal: a walking tour of lower Manhattan in the earliest hours of the morning of July 4th.

The tour stops at Bowling Green, where the U.S. custom house was renamed in honor of Alexander Hamilton

While many of you are snug in your beds in the wee hours of July 4, dreaming, perhaps, of your day to come at the beach, the golf club, or your home barbecue, I will be leading a 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. tour of Revolutionary War sites in Lower Manhattan.

Must be wondrously quiet at that time.

three of the most important Revolutionary War generals – Richard Montgomery (the Battle of Quebec), Alexander Hamilton (the Battle of Yorktown) and Horatio Gates (the Battle of Saratoga) – are buried in Lower Manhattan.

The map of the walking tour: I know the area fairly well, and recognize each of the spots on the map. Once I did a walking tour of my own in the general area, during the early morning of the work day (after 9, before noon), and took notes (one of my ideas for creating my own work, this one relating to constructing an annotated map).

Leaving the Gates gravesite, we then proceed to Bowling Green, where we discuss Evacuation Day – Nov. 25, 1783 – when the British departed New York. Then we head to Fraunces Tavern, site of Washington's farewell address to his men, where I discuss his letter to the Newport Jewish community, which set forth the policy of religious and ethnic tolerance that is the hallmark of our nation today. This marks the end of the tour.

Why do we take our walk so early in the morning? The short answer is that the tour was begun by the 92nd Street YMHA more than a quarter-century ago, and when I took over the leader's duties in 1999, I inherited the 2 a.m. start time. When the Y discontinued its walking tour after 9/11, I asked the Fraunces Tavern Museum (whose mission is to foster interest in the American Revolution in New York City) to permit me to continue it under their auspices and with the same hours.

Tour winds up at the Fraunces Tavern Museum.

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