History In Strange Places

by Don Friedman on July 18, 2016


[Click to enlarge.]

The plaque is in the 157th Street station on the 1 train. This station was constructed and opened before 1907, although that plaque probably came somewhat later. The text it too short to include all of the mansion’s history: it is linked to the Morris and Philipse families, two of the eighteenth-century New York political powerhouses; when Mrs. Jumel owned it, it was also briefly the residence of her second husband, Aaron Burr. Add in the Battle of Harlem Hieghts (AKA the Battle of New York) and it’s a lot of history for one house. (Harlem Heights is the old name for the ridge on the west side of Manhattan north of the valley at 125th Street. The lower, level area to the east was once known as Harlem Flats.)

This is as good a place as any to mention that the Battle of Harlem Heights was a lost cause. After the Continental Army lost the Battle of Long Island (AKA the battle of Brooklyn), there was no way to stop the British army from controlling all of the New York area; Washington knew from the time his army escaped across the East River that he was going to have to keep retreating past New York, across the Hudson River, to New Jersey. In short, the British had a real navy and could land at any point they wanted to; and the New York area is surrounded by and cut through with waterways. Once the British had a safe harbor – which was the point of the Battle of Long Island – they weren’t going anywhere.  They didn’t leave New York until the Revolutionary War was over; Evacuation Day (11/25/1783) was celebrated as a holiday well into the nineteenth century.


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