Tensions Leading to War, 1774– 76 A month after the London was stormed, the city elected 51 men to its fi rst Revolutionary committee, in which moderates outnumbered radicals. At the meeting that chose the committee, the young aristocrat Gouverneur Morris likened members of the city’s “mob” to “poor reptiles” who were casting off “their winter’s slough” and would bite “ere noon.” Eleven radical members resigned from the committee in July 1774 to protest its timid policies. The second Revolutionary committee comprised 60 members elected in November to enforce the Continental Association; this was the trade boycott ratified by the Continental Congress in response to mea sures taken by the British in retaliation for the Boston Tea Party. It was replaced by a Committee of One Hundred, elected in April 1775 after the battles at Lexington and Concord. The province of New York had already chosen the first of its Revolutionary congresses, which elected delegates to the Second Continental Congress. At the outset of the war full power was gradually assumed by the congress, which met in the city, and by local committees such as the Committee of One Hundred. Governor William Tryon called an assembly election at the end of 1775 to undercut these Revolutionary bodies, but the new assembly never met; he escaped to a British ship in the harbor, and the mayor and aldermen found themselves powerless. Loyalists nevertheless remained strong in the city, and the Sons of Liberty met fierce re sis tance from merchants engaged in transatlantic trade: 57 members of the Chamber of Commerce became Loyalists, 21 remained neutral, and only 26 were revolutionaries. The De Lanceys strongly opposed the Revolution, as did the printer James Rivington and the Anglican ministers Samuel Seabury and Myles Cooper. In the rural counties around the city the Revolution found virtually no support: the sparsely populated counties of Queens, Kings, and Richmond (Staten Island) were prosperous and shunned the po liti cal turmoil of the city, even after re sis tance had turned to revolution. In January 1776 Queens was captured, its fi rearms seized, and its leaders arrested by General Charles Lee, one of Washington’s most zealous officers. He inspired no support there, and when British troops invaded during the following August, 1300 people signed a congratulatory address, and 800 joined the fi rst militia under the renewed royal government. After the American siege of Boston forced British commander in chief General William Howe to evacuate in March, Washington prepared for a British invasion of New York by moving his troops to the city and its environs, occupying lower Manhattan, Brooklyn Heights, and Bay Ridge. By this time, 80 percent of the prewar population had fled, leaving 5000 inhabitants, a sign that the British had overestimated the depth of loyalism, which prevailed among a once-powerful minority. Common Sense by Thomas Paine had become pop u lar in the city for its condemnation of monarchy and its call for simple republican institutions. In May the Committee of Mechanics, the largest radical faction that remained, called for the popular acceptance of whichever new constitution the province might adopt to become an in de pen dent state. Although some in the city urged the abolition of the old order, many others, especially the mercantile elite, had to be forced to accept in de pen dence and wanted no po liti cal experiments. On 2 July 1776, the day Congress approved the Declaration of In de pen dence, General Howe landed his expeditionary force —then the largest in British history — on Staten Island. Meeting no re sis tance, he established a staging area for an invasion of Long Island, Manhattan, and Westchester County. A week later, New Yorkers toppled the statue of George III that had stood at Bowling Green. General Howe’s brother, Admiral Richard Howe, arrived from En gland on 12 July. He had convinced the Crown to empower the two brothers not only as commanders in chief, but as peace commissioners authorized to grant pardons to the American rebels if they renounced in de pen dence. The Howe brothers’ feelings of friendship for the Americans — stemming from the Massachusetts government’s funding of a marble monument to their slain brother George —apparently made them ambivalent in battle and had important repercussions during the impending military campaign. On 22 August they invaded western Long Island, crossing below the Narrows and establishing camps of British and Hessian soldiers in an arc from Gravesend Bay to Jamaica Bay. Most of Washington’s troops on Long Island were dug in on Brooklyn Heights to protect that vital ground dominating lower Manhattan. Others were stationed along Gowanus Heights, an east– west ridge that provided an outer line of defense where they planned to ambush the British at four passes, including two still visible today in GreenWood Cemetery and Prospect Park. The Jamaica Pass, the farthest to the east, was defended only lightly, and the British used it to turn the American flank during the Battle of Long Island on 27 August, the largest battle of the war and the fi rst for the United States as an in de pen dent nation. Washington’s forces were routed, with some 200 Americans killed and 800 captured. With the Americans nearly trapped on Brooklyn Heights, General Howe declined to storm their lines, and Washington or ga nized a nighttime withdrawal across the East River (29– 30 August). Instead of pursuing the Americans, the British convened a fruitless peace conference on Staten Island (11 September) and did not invade Manhattan until 15 September. Again they failed to cut off an American retreat, this time to the northern end of the island. Mary Murray served cakes and Madeira to the British generals during the invasion (at today’s 37th Street and Park Avenue), giving rise to the legend that she deliberately detained them for two hours and saved thousands of fleeing American troops. On 16 September the Americans won a small, morale- building victory, the Battle of Harlem Heights. A mysterious fi re on 20– 21 September destroyed a quarter of the city, some 1000 buildings, angering the British, who hanged Nathan Hale as a spy the following day. In October the British again tried to encircle Washington’s forces, by landing troops in lower Westchester County. Again Washington escaped, by marching his troops to White Plains, fighting a battle there, and retreating into the hills to the north. Howe gave up the chase and on 16 November captured Fort Washington, which, in conjunction with Fort Lee, the Americans had hoped would keep British ships out of the Hudson River. Instead, some 2800 American soldiers were captured, the second- worst loss of the war (after Charleston, South Carolina, where 5500 Americans were captured). Until the loss of Fort Washington, American commanders were satisfied that the campaign in New York — and the Americans’ many escapes — had done more damage to General Howe’s reputation than it had to the American cause. With the American victories at Trenton and Prince ton, the importance of Howe’s missed opportunities to end the war at a stroke in New York became clear. The city remained under British control, but enough of Washington’s forces had survived to prolong the war indefi nitely.