Friday, November 25, 2016

NOVEMBER 25 = Evacuation Day



"So perfect was the order of march, that entire tranquility prevailed and nothing occurred to mar the general joy..."

This was he recollection of Major Benjamin Tallmadge of the general  joyousness among the crowds which greeted George Washington on his triumphant return to New York City (pictured above) on today's date, November 25, 1783."Every countenance" Tallmadge continued, "seemed to express the triumph of republican principles over the military despotism which had so long pervaded this new happy city."

New York in British Hands Since 1776

Leaving the largest city in the 13 Colonies in the hands of the British had been an especially bitter pill for George Washington to swallow. In fact NYC back then was hardly "the Big Apple" of today. It occupied in it's northern reach just the southern tip of Manhattan as far the modern day Wall Street area. Nevertheless it was the most important single port in the country. And it just stuck in General Washington's heart that he had lost it and never did manage to re-take it.  His army had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Long Island on August 26,
1776, and in subsequent action had had to retreat into New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and eventually taking shelter behind the banks of the Upper Delaware River.  From that point onward despite Washington's
fondest hope of re-capturing it,  New York City became the center of British planning and logistics for their war against the 13 Colonies. It was also the center of the American "Culper" Spy Ring under the leadership of the above quoted Major Benjamin Tallmadge (above) which continued to collect intelligence on British operations in the city.

The Fortunes of War Force the Brits Out

But the fortunes of war turned sharply against the Brits with their defeat at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. Yorktown was the largest single British offensive force in the Colonies, and once it had fallen all that they had left was New York City. The Treaty of Paris (signed Sept. 3, 1783), effectively recognized American Independence so on this date of Nov. 25 they moved out of the city, and at noon of that day General Washington rode in with his officers and troops in a group spreading
eight men across. It was a triumphant precision march down the center of Manhattan over Broadway to the Battery (the southern tip of the island). Of course there were a large number of Loyalist (pro-Brit Americans) who were obliged to scurry out along with their protectors. In fact some 29,000 such people were evacuated in the days leading up to this one. A British flag had been left atop a pole, which as a final prank had been covered with grease and all off it's cleats removed. But ultimately new cleats were attached, and the American flag was in full view as the British ships sailed out of sight.

"It was indeed a joyful day..."

As Major Tallmadge wrote of the experience: "It was indeed a joyful day to the officers and soldiers of our army, and to all the friends of American Independence, while the troops of the enemy still in our waters, and the host of tories and refugees, were sorely mortified.  The joy of meeting friends, who had been separated by the cruel rigors of war, cannot be described."



Sources =

"George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution" by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger, Sentinel Publ., New York, 2013

"Washington's Spies - the Story of  America's First Spy Ring" by Alexander Rose, Bantam Books,
New York, 2006

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evacuation_Day_(New_York)
















Saturday, November 12, 2016

NOVEMBER 12 = Ellis Island Closes



"In America Life is golden/
In America the flowers are more beautiful/
In America life is much better/
And that's what I'm longing to be my dear..."

The above is a song which some immigrants sung
upon entering New York harbor and seeing the statue of liberty for the first time. It  speaks of their hopes for a better life in a land off freedom. Ellis Island closed on today's date November in 1954. After the Statue of Liberty Ellis Island was the first view of America that most of the immigrants had.  It was the main clearing house for the over 12 million people passed through it's gates in the time that it was in operation, starting in 1892.

Originally built on 3.3 Acres

Ellis Island started out quite small taking up a mere 3.3 acres of land.
Eventually it was expanded to 27.5 acres mostly by using landfill produced by the excavation of the New York Subway tunnel system.
Named after Samuel Ellis, the original owner of the land from colonial days. In 1892, the first station opened. Almost 450,000 immigrants were processed during that first year.  On June 15, 1897 a fire destroyed the main building along with most of its immigration records back to 1855. Plans were immediately made for it's rebuilding with one condition: it had to be fireproof. The new building resembled rather castle-like railroad station.  The total cost for the new building was @ 1.5 million dollars.  It included a baggage room, a large kitchen and dining hall, (above) a dormitory with 600 beds. 4 hospitals, and an outdoor recreation area and garden on the roof.  

The Six Second Physical

All immigrants to America had to pass through Ellis Island, but those in first of second class had only a brief shipboard examination.   Those in third class had a more rigorous course to navigate. Upon arrival the immigrants were inspected for any visible ailments; this became known as the "six second physical."  Those who failed were marked with white chalk for a full physical. Those who passed were sent to the "Great Hall" to be processed.  This room (below) was a large cavernous place - 189 ft. long by 102 ft. wide with 60 ft. vaulted ceilings. The average
wait here was 4 hours. People coming through here asked three questions: their name, their occupation and how much money they carried.  About 2% of immigrants were denied entrance due to disease, criminal background, or mental instability.  About 1/3 remained in New York, and the rest spread out around the whole country.  This main island also known as the "Island of Hope" or the "Island of Tears" processed 1,004,756 immigrants in its peak year of 1907.  Among them were such men as Bob Hope (1908), Cary Grant (1920) and Irving Berlin (1893).

Ellis Island Winds Down

New legislation in the 1920's effectively ended the era of mass immigration into the United States. Thus Ellis Islands operations slowed down considerably. It was used as a training and detainment facility during World War II. But over time neglect took it's toll, and the
old Ellis Island complex fell into disrepair. It was for a time a training and deportation station for illegal immigrants and other such detainees.  The last such detainee was a Norwegian merchant seaman, released in November of 1954 afterwhich the facility was closed for good. Happily, Ellis Island has since been restored as a public museum in recent years.  Visitors can research through millions of arrival records to find their own family history.  And this should be a useful endeavor, as it is estimated 40% of Americans can trace some portion of their heritage to Ellis Island!!





Sources =

 http://www.history.com/topics/ellis-island/videos/arrival-at-ellis-island

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellis_Island

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ellis-island-closes

http://www.history.com/topics/ellis-island/videos/hurdles-to-citizenship-on-ellis-island