Diocesan News

Battle of Brooklyn Remembered at Green-Wood Cemetery

Photos from the Battle of Brooklyn.

PARK SLOPE — The Battle of Brooklyn — perhaps the most historic event ever in the borough — may not be widely known, but it is always remembered by some.

History buffs and other New Yorkers commemorate the battle each year at Green-Wood Cemetery with a reenactment of the 1776 Revolutionary War fight. This year the reenactment took place on Aug. 25.

Bob Furman, president of the Brooklyn Preservation Council, which is based in Bay Ridge, says that the Battle of Brooklyn was “perhaps the most important event to take place in Brooklyn, and it’s often underappreciated.” 

“The war could have been lost there. There is not a lot of research in terms of where Revolutionary War soldiers were buried in Brooklyn borough, and there are a lot of gaps in the historical record,” Furman said. “If you correct the record, it gives people a chance to commemorate what has been lost and what will always be remembered.”

With a chance to learn about, remember and honor the Patriots’ sacrifice, hundreds of New York families and history buffs came out on a sunny Sunday afternoon for the reenactment and parade at Green-Wood Cemetery. 

Along with the British vs. Patriots battle reenactment, the day included talks, an explosive rifle and cannon demonstration, a parade through the cemetery led by the Regimental Band of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and a solemn ceremony on Battle Hill, the highest natural point in Brooklyn and the site of a hallowed battleground.  

Kylie Backowski, 9, came from Manhattan’s Upper West Side with her parents. She had told them that she wanted to see the Battle of Brooklyn reenactment after learning about the Revolutionary War in school. 

“I wanted to see the reenactment for my birthday. I learned that the British won the battle, but the Patriots won the Revolution,” Kylie said, summing up the history. “I also liked seeing the big cannons shooting.”

At the ceremony, Michael Crowder, a historian at Iona College’s Institute for Thomas Paine Studies, asked the audience to ask themselves what it means to commemorate.

“The meaning goes even further than just recognizing and remembering the past and our history,” Crowder said.

“While commemoration is the act of remembering and celebrating, it is more than that. The practice reveals how we collectively understands the present. History as collaboration is the lens with which we make sense of a contested modern American … It reminds us that how we shape our past is how we simultaneously shape our future.” 

Catholics played a role in the Battle of Brooklyn on both sides. The British Army had recruited Roman Catholic soldiers into its ranks because it was having a hard time getting soldiers, according to the South Brooklyn Post

On the American side, Catholics fought as “Marylanders,” also known as the Maryland 400, They were a small part of the 1st Maryland Regiment of the Catholic colony, which at the time was led by Gov. Charles Carroll, a prominent Catholic and the namesake of Carroll Garden who was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. 

While holding off the British, the Marylanders sacrificed their lives near the site of the Old Stone House, a 17th-century Dutch farmhouse in Park Slope, according to the New York Times. They provided a distraction, while General George Washington and the rest of the colonial army retreated to Brooklyn Heights, and eventually to Manhattan and the Hudson Valley.   

While the exact location of the remains of the 400 is unknown, the regiment is honored at the Old Stone House, and with monuments in Prospect Park and Green-Wood Cemetery on top of Battle Hill.  

The Battle of Brooklyn — sometimes referred to as the Battle of Long Island — was fought on Aug. 27, 1776, and is considered one of the biggest events of the Revolutionary War.  

“It was the largest battle of the Revolutionary War and the most costly in terms of those missing. It was the first time Americans went toe-to-toe with the British, and the first battle after the Declaration of Independence was signed,” Jeff Richman, a historian with the Green-Wood Historic Fund, told The Tablet. 

In late August 1776, thousands of British troops led by General William Howe arrived in Long Island with the goal of capturing New York City and gaining full control of the Hudson River. 

Red Coat soldiers marched against the Patriots in Brooklyn Heights and in areas of the Gowanus Pass, including what is now Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. 

The British outflanked the Continental Army, but Howe’s troops failed to storm the [redoubts] forts, allowing Washington to retreat into Manhattan, preventing a total loss of the colonial army.   

“This regiment held off the British army long enough for Washington and colleagues to escape,” said Maggie Weber, education director of the Old Stone House. “Without that and the subsequent rainy weather, General Howe and the British forces were slow and reluctant to advance and capture Washington’s army.

“Washington was able to escape and retreat during the storm,” she said. “It would have been a one-day war if that didn’t happen. This is a story about a long occupying army that comes in and tries to take from the local people.”

 

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