Tag Archives: New York

American Dunkirk (29-30 August 1776)

 

U.S. Army-Artillery retreat from Long Island-1776
Creator: Werner Company, 1899 (Akron, Ohio)
U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph 3g03362 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g03362

 

New York had a pivotal role in the American colonies and the American Revolution. Its central position made it vital to commerce and communication with the north and south colonies. This made it a key strategic location for both the British and American forces. General George Washington knew the British would target New York City, so he transferred the Continental Army to the city to turn back or slow down the British forces that would come. Fortifications were established in stages. Many of Washington’s troops were green, never been far from home, nor served in the military before. Washington split his forces between Brooklyn and Manhattan. This made reinforcement difficult and left a hole open at the Jamaica Pass the British would exploit.

When the British fleet arrived in June, it brought 20,000 British infantry that disembarked on Staten Island. The warships also could dominate the waterways that cut through New York City. The British sent 10,000 soldiers to Long Island, but Washington did not recombine his forces to counter it. Using a distraction, British General William Howe marched into position and on 27 August launch the attack on the Americans. Fighting raged on Guan Heights in the south and at Brooklyn Heights in the north, with the bloodiest fighting at Battle Pass where hand to hand fighting between Americans and Hessian mercenaries took place. The Americans are forced to withdraw to Brooklyn Heights. A countercharge led by 400 Marylanders would allow their comrades to escape. They would later be remembered as the Maryland 400 for their bravery. When the sun went down, the British had defeated the Americans but held off further attacks until the next day.

General Washington’s options were to surrender or evacuate at this point. While the battle had been lost, the spirit of the revolution was not dimmed. He ordered an evacuation of the troops at night, with British forces not that far away. By all accounts he was calm, authoritative, and in control of the situation. And he was aided in this task by a unique group of individuals called the Marbleheaders. They had worked together as a team fishing in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. So, they understood the weather, tides and time when sailing. Under the leadership of Colonel John Glover, this group using any sailing or rowing vessel they could find, worked to move Washington’s army across the East River to safety. It was no mean feat with British forces all around them. Oars were covered in cloth to prevent making noise in the water, everyone was told to stay quiet and not cough. They used minimal lighting and did not tell the soldiers what was going on until the last minute (this was to prevent the British from finding out).

They moved all the horses, ammunition, and cannon first. Then all the injured and wounded were transported. And then the evacuation began at 10 pm of the troops. Both the tide and winds were in their favor and the water was calm. When the tide changed, it became more difficult to keep the boats from going off-course on the return trips. The Marbleheaders had to really work hard to not loose control of their vessels. Around midnight, the winds shifted making the use of sloops (which used sails rather than oars) possible. Some chaos began to erupt at the embarkation point as soldiers started to rush to the boats. Washington seeing men trying to fight for a place on the boats, threatened to sink the ship unless the men who had pushed others aside got out. This restored the calm and shows how the proper use of leadership in such exacting times can work. The evacuation took all night and was still not done by the morning on 30 August. They had accomplished an impossible task of transporting thousands of men in just nine hours. Dawn though saw Americans still manning the trenches and it spelled doom for them when the British attacked.

Then quite suddenly a thick fog appeared and cloaked the escape. Those escaping in the early morning commented on how smooth the water was. The fog came at exactly the right time and place to remove the remaining American troops to safety across the East River. Washington oversaw the retreat and encouraged his men staying ashore until the last boat was being loaded. At that point he boarded and headed across the river. Thanks to the fog, and the lack of any alarm received by the British, Washington was able to evacuate his entire army leaving the British to find them gone.

While the British defeated Americans at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights (and would hold New York till 1783), the remarkable escape of Washington’s troops would be well regarded both for the incredible evacuation and the leadership of Washington himself.  Far from dispiriting the troops or the cause, it became a source of great inspiration, and many believe the hand of God was involved as well. The fame of the Marbleheaders in being able to make the crossing possible would spread. More importantly confidence in George Washington as a capable military leader would result. He made a mistake in dividing his forces, but his remarkable leadership to save his troops would show he was a military leader both the people and his troops could rely on.

Sources

The Battle of Long Island Brooklyn Heights(TheAmericanRevolution.org)

Brooklyn, New York  |  Aug 27, 1776 (Battlefieds.org)

The Battle of Brooklyn, August 27, 1776 (Old Stone House)

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire(25 March 1911)

[Updated with more information and edited both Why this is Important and Aftermath with more information. Add source list to include Wikipedia and photo of procession]

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on March 25, 1911
Originally published in New York World, March 26, 1911
Public Domain US/Wikimedia Commons

At approximately 4:40  p.m. Eastern Time on 25 March 1911, a fire would break out in the Asch Building in the Greenwich Village of Manhattan in New York City that was one of the deadliest industrial disasters in U.S. history. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, located on the 8th, 9th, 10th floors, was where the fire took place and was caused when fire broke out in a rag bin on the 8th floor. It was a Saturday afternoon with 600 workers, many of whom were recent Italian and Jewish immigrant women and girls aged between 14-23 years of age. The workday was coming to an end when the fire flared up, likely by a unextinguished cigarette or match, in the scrap rag bin that had at least two months of cuttings in it at the time of the fire. A passerby on Washington Street saw the smoke and reported it.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a sweatshop with cramped spaces and work areas for the employees. When the flames were noticed, people started screaming and hollering. Cramped spaces made it hard to escape quickly and the supposed buckets of water, a standard of the time, were empty many would report later. Many jumped on the machine tables hoping they could hop from table to table to get to the elevators, Narrow aisles with chairs and baskets made that hard. And then the fire start consuming them. The manager did try to use the fire hose on the fire but the hose was rotted and the valve rusted shut.

Panicked workers ran to any exit they could find. There were four elevators but only one was operational; it could only hold twelve people at a time and broke down on the fourth trip due to heat from the fire.. Women began jumping down the shaft to escape the flames. Many would die as a result. There were two stairways but one was locked from the outside to prevent theft trapping the women who burned alive at the door. The other was impassable due to flames. Dozens took stairs to the roof and escaped the flames.The exterior fire escape, shoddy and poorly constructed, became unsafe with so many people trying to use it and collapsed sending 20 people to their death below. Those trapped above the fire escape succumbed to either smoke inhalation or were burned to death.

Bodies of workers who jumped from windows to escape the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire
Original image source: Brown Brothers
Public Domain (US)/Wikimedia Commons

A crowd had gathered outside watching events unfold. Sadly many of those trapped decided, in groups of two or threes,  to jump from the windows. The fire ladders only could reach up to the 7th floor and their safety nets were not strong enough to catch them. To the horror of those watching, 62 people leaped to their deaths causing many in the crowd to weep, faint, or cry hysterically.  William Gunn Shepard, a reporter on the scene during the fire, said he heard a sound more horrible than can be described: the thud of a body hitting the stone sidewalk. A similar description would be made many years later when people, trapped in the Twin Towers on 9/11, choose to jump out of the windows. It was captured on film but those who heard the thuds said nearly the same thing as Shepard.

People and horses draped in black walk in procession in memory of the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, New York City.
US Library of Congress, digital id cph.3a30009
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The fire was put out in a half hour and then the shocking number of deaths would be known: 146.  123 women and 23 men perished. The youngest victims were two girls aged 14 and the oldest was a women who was 43. Many bodies were found all stacked up against a locked door. As reports of the fire and deaths spread in New York and across the nation, it caused outrage at the conditions the workers had to work in. The owners of the company, Max Blanck and Isaac Harris, faced a backlash in the community. Demonstrations outside the building the next day showed the how many were outraged. A memorial procession on April 5, 1911 was attended by over 60,000 people who stood in the rain to see it.

Why this is Important

This fire shocked not only New York but the entire nation. New York created a commission to investigate and recommend laws to make workplaces safer for workers. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union would galvanize and agitate for better conditions, pay, and safety for the workers. It would spark other reformers to seek more comprehensive changes to labor laws, safety, and workers compensation. Changes in other states and at the federal level would occur as well.

Aftermath

Max Blanck and Isaac Harris were put on trial for manslaughter but were acquitted of the charges. While the prosecution showed how locked doors and other thing were an issue, the defense argued that there was no proof the owners knew of the locked doors or authorized them. The were found liable in a civil suit for wrongful death but only paid out $75 per victim to the families despite getting a large insurance payment for the loss. The building still stands today though it has been renamed the Brown Building.

Sources

History.com
U.S. Department of Labor
Wikipedia
Womenshistory.org


MONDAY TITANIC NEWS

Monday has arrived and it is back to work. Here is a news article you may find of interest. Have a nice day everyone.

Titanic Memorial Lighthouse,South Street Seaport Museum, New York (2008)
Image: Andy C (Wikipedia)

New Yorkers Petition for Titanic Lighthouse Historic Landmark Status and Upkeep (Irish Central, 2 Oct 2020)

Now, Friends of the Titanic Lighthouse Restoration plan to faithfully restore the delipidated lighthouse in just over 18 months. The group hopes to restore the lighthouse’s time ball and green lantern. The time ball would be the only working time ball in the United States, while the lantern would make the Titanic Lighthouse the only working lighthouse in Manhattan. The restoration project would also record the names of the passengers and crew who perished when the Titanic sank in 1912.

 

St. Francis of Assisi by Philip Fruytiers(1610-1666)
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Francis.  He gave up a life of wealth and ease to live as a beggar helping to restore the Church. He is the patron saint of merchants, the environment, and animals. To find out more about St. Francis, go to Catholic Online.

MARITIME DISASTER HISTORY: SS ARCTIC COLLIDES WITH SS VESTA KILLING 322 IN 1854

United States Mail steamship Arctic (launched 1850).
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress)

On 27 September 1854 the SS Arctic collided with SS Vesta in heavy fog killing 322 people. The Arctic was a wooden hull passenger steamer ship launched in 1850 for the Collins Line. It was one of four ships the company built using U.S. government subsidies to challenge the British-backed Cunard line. The Collins Line had successfully bid to be subsidized as a mail and a passenger ship to Europe in 1847. As part of the deal in receiving the subsidies, the line agreed that in times of war they might be called into service as a troop transport or other need.

The launching of the ship in 1850 was well regarded at the time. She was considered one of the best vessels constructed up to that time and thousands witnessed her launch at Brown shipyards on the New York East River. And her top speed was 13 knots, a significant achievement making her known as the “clipper of the sea.” Not only was she fast but luxurious with her fittings and accommodations. Under captain James Luce, the ship underwent her sea trials and first regular service without incident. In 1853 she ran aground on Burbo Bank in Liverpool Bay while enroute to New York. She had to be refloated and returned to Liverpool. In 1854 she struck the Black Rock of the Saltee Islands from Liverpool to New York. Once again, she was refloated and sent to Liverpool. Arctic’s engines though were expensive to operate, and they had to rely on an invention by a Baltimore firm to reduce costs. The engines also put a strain on the wooden hulls as well.

On 27 September 1854 while enroute to New York from Liverpool, a sudden and heavy fog came up 50 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Captain Luce did not take the usual precautions of slowing down, adding extra watches, and sounding the horn. At 12:15 pm, the Arctic collided with iron-hulled French steamer Vesta. At first Captain Luce thought the smaller vessel had taken more damage. However, the iron hulled ship had significantly damaged the Arctic and it was sinking. Under the maritime rules of the time, the ship had six lifeboats that would carry 180 people. However, there were 400 people aboard, 200 passengers and 150 crew. Discipline broke down quickly as many scrambled for the few lifeboats available. There was no “women and children first” enforced and many of the crew got into lifeboats. Those that remained had to use makeshift rafts. Captain Luce went down with the ship but survived the sinking. Two of the lifeboats made it to land. Another was picked up by another steamer. The other three lifeboats were never seen again.

The losses were staggering as all the women and children perished, including the wife of Edward Collins and two of his children that were aboard at the time. Other prominent people perished as well, and a rare copy of William Shakespeare First Folio was lost as well. News of the sinking did not reach New York until 2 weeks later due to limited telegraphy. The news brought a groundswell of anger in newspapers and public opinion. There were demands for an investigation and to change the law about lifeboats required. They were never acted upon and no one was ever held to account. Captain Luce was not generally considered to be at fault but retired. The scandal of so many crew surviving instead of women and children would result in many surviving crew members did not return to the US.

The Collins Line suffered further after that. The SS Pacific disappeared without a trace in 1856 enroute to New York from Liverpool. Many believe it collided with an iceberg and sank as it raced to arrive earlier than the Cunard liner Persia. All 55 passenger and 141 crew were lost along with its freight. Her remains were found in 1993 off the coast of Wales (some dispute this though) and some alternative theories of her fate have been put forward. The SS Adriatic was launched on April 7, 1856 but did not do her sea trials till 1857. However due to a depression, Congress reduced the subsidy to $385,000. In February 1858, the line suspended operations and in April went into bankruptcy. All of its remaining vessels were auctioned off and the company paid off its creditors. That left Cunard, for a time, without much opposition in the passenger trade between Europe and the United States.

Sources:

Titanic Cliche of the Day: Governor Paterson & Titanic

According to New York Observer, Governor Patterson is on the attack against a fellow Democrat in the state senate. Senate Majority Leader Espada has stated that he would not vote for cuts that are slipped into weekly emergency budget extenders. This caused Paterson to throw some verbal bombs and naturally Titanic was invoked.

“That is absolutely incorrect—that is so obtuse,” Paterson said. “That is a gimmick designed to make everyone think everything is fine. He should have been an orchestra soloist on the Titanic.”

The imagery conveyed is odd. Is he trying to compare Espada to the Titanic musicians who played until the final moments? They are considered heroes and all perished . Or is Paterson trying to say Espada is a foolish one note musician about to be swallowed up by the sea (the sea, in this case a political one)? An odd way to use a cliche and quite muddy in meaning. One could argue that Paterson wants Espada to drown (metaphorically speaking). Paterson gets our Tacky Titanic Award For Clumsy Use of Cliche.

New York Observer, Paterson: Espada Would Have Done Well in Orchestra on the Titanic, 10 June 2010



Titanic Odds and Ends

New York Hotel With Titanic Connection

The Jane Hotel in New York not only costs $79 a night, has bellboys dressed in old fashioned “monkey suits,” but also has a Titanic connection. According to Reb Stevenson of the Toronto Star this 146 room hotel in Manhattan’s West Village is worth a stay if for nothing else the ecentric theme. Originally a lodging for sailors when it opened in 1908, it became famous in 1912 when Titanic survivors stayed there. The Jane was not much over the years and more of a flophouse according to Stevenson. Then it was bought in 2008 by Sean MacPherson, who owns three other Manhattan hotels. At first the plan was to scrap the old place and put up a traditional hotel. Then MacPherson got the idea to rennovate it into a more upscale but less pricey place for people of modest means to stay.

The standard cabins aren’t much larger than a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, but they’ve got style in spades. Throughout The Jane, there’s a vague, nautical feel, as though it shares some of Titanic’s DNA. Within my five-by-seven-foot room, I’ve got a single bed, flat-screen TV, iPod dock, fan, towel, slippers, storage cubbyholes, hooks and even a window. Yes, it’s rather snug, but since I’m not a scarecrow I can cope. There is no Edwardian chamber pot in the cabin. And thank God for that. Instead, guests must brave shared coed washrooms down the hall.

More spacey abodes are available (which cost more) and there is a restaurant with a French/Moroccan theme that has nothing more expensive than $14 on the menu. And the male staff all sport the retro bellboy costumes of long ago. There is a large ballroom with that overstuffed Victorian feel to it (closed at the moment due to permit issues) and a bar that is lush and mysterious. Not bad for $79 a night and comes with a Titanic angle. Something tells me that attractive gal who travels the world for the Travel Channel will not be stopping here soon. But the cost-cutting Rick Steves might find the place worth a try. 🙂

Titanic Exhibition In NYC-Times Square

 

(Photo Courtesy George Behe)
(Photo Courtesy George Behe)

If you are going to New York or live nearby, the touring Titanic Exhibitionis at the Discovery Times Square Exposition. The exhibition has gotten positive reviews in the New York Times and worth the trip. Ticket info:

Child $17.50 (child 4-12), Adult $19.50, Senior $18.50

Group tickets are also available by calling 866-9-NYCTIX (866-692-2849). TSX is open seven days a week from 10am to 10pm.

Tickets can purchased online.