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24 Jul 2015 | Posted Under History

We have all been taught a lot about the birth of our nation. And although I learned a a small amount in school, and then later a large amount in graduate school about that period, I found some really interesting facts while curating two exhibits for the 200th anniversary of the inauguration of Geo. Washington - which is how he was often referred to. Below are some of my favorite facts the first few of which do appear in my July Historic Notes, but there are more! 

July 4, 1776 - The Continental Congress, meeting in what came to be called Independence Hall, adopted the Declaration of Independence. 

July 4, 1826 - On the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, former Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. They had both contributed to the writing of the Declaration.  

July 4, 1900 - Jazz legend Louis Armstrong, nicked-name "Satchmo," was born. 

July 6, 1775 - Congress issued the "Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms" against the British. 

July 8, 1776 - The first public reading of the Declaration of Independence was given at the State House in Philadelphia.

The Liberty Bell was rung for the first time. 

July 9, 1776 - The Declaration  of Independence was read  aloud in Manhattan on Bowling Green. Afterwards, some of the colonists tore down the statue of King George III. Parts of it were sent to a foundry in Connecticut to be made into bullets to use against the British. And today we are allies!


From September of that year and for seven years, the British occupied New York City which at that point consisted only of Manhattan. It wasn't until 1898 that the five separate cities joined to become boroughs of the City.

Shortly after the occupation, on September 21st, "The Great Fire of 1776" as it was called decimated lower Manhattn. Above the fire area were farms and undeveloped areas. The British blamed the Patriots and the Patritots blamed the British. No one was ever sure. It could have been an accident. Among the buildings destroyed was the first Trinity Church at the head of Wall Street. It was left in ruins. St. Paul's Chapel,

The first chapel built by the Parish survived. Why: it had a flat room and men could stand on it and battle the flames. Fortunately, many early records were stored there, including baptism, marriage and burial and minutes.

During the occupation, the British soldiers and their friends strolled around the ruined church among the gave stones and even attended concerts held there. Services continued to be held at St. Paul's. The Parish was part of the Anglican church in England and the official church receiving money from the government. 

When the British left, there was a celebration in Fraunces Tavern led by George Washington.

Some left to go to England and others to Canada, including some of the members of Trinity Parish.

All had been Loyalists.

The city had a lot to do to rebuild and deal with a new situation as it wasn't until 1787 that there finally was a constitution and the creation of a new nation.  The earlier Articles of Confederation simply had not worked.

For many weeks the Founding Fathers met in what is now called Independence Hall where they had also written and passed the Declaration of Independence.

With the new nation came the office of President, the first being Geo. Washinton who did not want to be President, but all the Founding Fathers felt he was the only one who could form the new government.

He wrote to a friend that he was going to face "an ocean of difficulties" and clearly wasn't happy about it.

When he arrived in Manhattan, people gathered to see him along the waterfront. Some women screamed and fainted! And there were fireworks which we had learned about from those who traded with China.

Globalization is not as new as we think and goes back to Marco Polo and beyond! One burst of fireworks depicted his face.

On that historic day on the steps of Federal Hall, Washington took the oath of office with his hand on his family bible. The oath was administered by Robert Livingston, a prominent member of his family. His Vice President, John Adams, had taken the oath weeks before and presided over the Senate. Adams was later the second president and his son John Quincy, the 6th.

After the swearing in the dignitaries led by Washinton went to St. Paul's Chapel of Trinity Parish, Wall Street, for a service. There was a pew set aside for him and one for other dignataries. In his diary he writes about going to St. Paul's as well as Trinity and how he once fell asleep during a sermon.

St. Paul's was built on Fulton Street in 1766 and survived "The Great Fire of 1776" as it had a flat roof.

Men with buckets of water doused the flames. Thanks to their efforts not only did the Chapel survive, but a lot of records which made up part of the archives I established in 1978. St. Paul's is modeled on St. Martins-in-the Field in London.

On the 200th anniversary of that historic day, there was a special service in St. Paul's. Oddly I had an intern who was a descendent of Livingston, Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and John Jay the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I decided to see if I could find more descendants and thanks to the Colonial Dames and the Sons of the Revolution I found a few. And it turned out that a member of Trinity was a Livingston too. So on that day distant cousins met for the first time.

Phyllis Barr

President Corporate Culture & Heritage Marketing

New York, NY



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