A replica Liberty Pole is now in City Hall Park, but few people know our history.
A Liberty pole is a tall flagstaff planted in the ground, often surmounted by an ensign or a liberty cap (see Phrygian cap).
A liberty pole was often erected in town squares during the American revolution (Newport, RI, Concord MA, Savannah, GA, New York City, NY). When an ensign was raised (usually red), it would be a calling for the Sons of Liberty or townspeople to meet and vent or express their views regarding the British rule. The pole was known to be a symbol of dissent against Great Britain. The symbol is also apparent in many seals and coat of arms as a sign of liberty, freedom, and independence.
The Arbres de la libertÃ© ("Liberty Trees") were a symbol of the French Revolution, the first being planted in 1790 by a pastor of a Vienne village, inspired by the 1765 Liberty Tree of Boston.
Battle of Golden Hill
The Liberty Boys erected several poles with banners to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act. The first liberty pole was put up in City Hall Park in 1767 after the Townshend Duty Act (which taxed paint, paper, glass, lead and tea imports).
On January 17, 1770, British soldiers sawed down this Liberty pole, responding to a Sons of Liberty broadside (issued by Alexander McDougall) titled "To the Betrayed Inhabitants of the City and Colony of New York". On January 19th (6 weeks before the Boston Massacre) British handbills were put up titled "God and a Soldier". Isaac Sears and others tried to stop this posting, and a group started forming. After they started holding a few British troops captive, other British soldiers came to their rescue, the patriots retreated to a nearby wheat field on Golden Hill (Cliff & John Streets). After saying "Where are your Sons of Liberty now?", 30-40 British soldiers charged the crowd with fixed bayonets; no deaths resulted in this first significant encounter.
The battle of Golden Hill or Gouden Bergh (Dutch) was noteworthy because the first blood of the American Revolution that followed was shed.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
liberty-pole, a tall mast or staff with a Phrygian cap or other symbol of liberty on the top.
1775-83 THACHER Mil. Jrnl. (1823) 22 *Liberty poles were erected in almost every town and villge..under which the tory is compelled to sign a recantation. 1789 GOUV. MORRIS in Sparks Life & Writ. (1832) II. 70 The soldiers were then paraded in triumph to the Palais Royal, which is now the liberty pole of this city.
The New Liberty Pole
( Originally Published 1921 )
The suggestion made by the Manual last year, that the old Post Office should go, and that a new Liberty Pole should arise on the site of the old one, has met with much favor. The New York Historical Society and the Sons of the Revolution took the matter up, and plans for the new Liberty Pole are now quite well along. The removal of the Post Office must inevitably follow, but its removal is likely to be more of a problem than the erection of the Liberty Pole.
Meanwhile your moral support is helpful and each can do his share toward the realization of our plan. The action taken by the two societies mentioned above is related in the "New York Historical Society Quarterly Bulletin" as follows :
"In a communication addressed to the Executive Committee of the Society, Mr. Henry Collins Brown suggested that a Liberty Pole be erected in City Hall Park similar to the historic emblems of the Colonial and Revolutionary days, as a tribute to the Sons of Liberty and a lasting memorial to the patriotism of the New York troops who served in the World War. His suggestion was favorably acted upon at the October 21st meeting of the Executive Committee, when the following preambles and resolutions were adopted :
"WHEREAS, `The Fields' or `The Commons,' the present City Hall Park, a spot celebrated as the scene of many a public gathering during the Colonial days, and where was held the great popular meeting November 1st, 1765, which protested against the Stamp Act ;
"AND WHEREAS, on the western border of `The Fields' was erected the famous Liberty Pole (about which many struggles took place between the British soldiery and the people), which was the rallying point of the Sons of Liberty, an organization originated in the Stamp Act period, and revived in November, 1773;
"AND WHEREAS, when General Washington occupied the city, a part of the troops were quartered on `The Commons,' and where the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed and read to the army on July 9th, 1776 ;
"AND WHEREAS, on the entry of the British in 1776 the Liberty Pole was cut down, and the Commons became a scene of imprisonment of American prisoners of war, confined in the jail, later known as The Hall of Records;
"AND WHEREAS, since the completion of the present City Hall in 1812 the site has been hallowed by civil and military affairs of the city, and has been the reception centre for distinguished visitors to our shores on whom the freedom of the city was be-stowed, Therefore be it
"RESOLVED, That the Corporation of the City of New York be requested to acquire the site now occupied by the Post Office building in order to restore the present City Hall Park to its original dimensions and beauty; and
"BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That it is the sense of The New York Historical Society and the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York, that a liberty pole be erected on the site of the first Liberty Pole, as a memorial of the staunch and unflinching patriotism of the New York troops, their valor and unparalleled success on the battlefields of Europe.
"RESOLVED, That the following Committee of Five, Messrs. Reginald Pelham Bolton, Henry Collins Brown, Frederic Delano Weekes, Walter L. Suydam, and Robert H. Kelby, be appointed to consider and report upon the erection of a Liberty Pole on the site of the original Liberty Pole erected in City Hall Park. The Committee to have power to fill vacancies.
"RESOLVED, That the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York be requested to appoint a similar committee to meet in conjunction with the Committee of The New York Historical Society.
"The Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York heartily endorsed the movement, as noted in the following communication:
Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York,
Fraunces Tavern, Corner Broad and Pearl Streets, New York City.
October 9, 1919.
Robert H. Kelby, Esq., Librarian,
New York Historical Society,
170 Central Park West, N. Y.
Dear Sir :
Referring to the conversation you had with Mr. Montgomery, relative to replacing the Liberty Pole in City Hall Park, we beg to say that the Sons of the Revolution heartily favor it and will be very glad to act in connection with the Historical Society in the matter.
Yours very faithfully,
James Mortimer Montgomery, Henry Russell Drowne.
"At a meeting of the `Board of Managers' of the Sons of the Revolution held on October 27th, 1919, the following committee was appointed to meet with the Committee of The New York Historical Society with regard to erecting a Liberty Pole in City Hall Park:
J. M. Montgomery, Chairman,
William W. Ladd,
J. Wray Cleveland,
George A. Zabriskie.
"On November 5th, 1919, a meeting of both committees was held at Fraunces Tavern. Mr. Reginald Pelham Bolton was elected Chairman of the Joint Committees, Mr. Robert H. Kelby, Secretary and Col. J. Wray Cleveland, Treasurer.
"It was moved that the committee seek an appointment with Mayor Hylan to lay the plan before him and to secure the consent of the Park Commissioner for the erection of the pole in City Hall Park. It was further moved that plans and estimates for a pole and base be secured.
"On Saturday, November 21st, the Committee in a body waited upon the Mayor by appointment to ask his cooperation. The Mayor expressed himself as in favor of the proposed memorial and his services in its aid were assured. The proposed Liberty Pole is to be erected without cost to the City of New York. It was also urged upon the Mayor to effect the removal of the old Post Office building and restore the City Hall Park to its original dimensions, which included the land on which the post office building now stands. The land was conveyed to the Federal Government by the City of New York in December, 1866, and the deed recorded on April 16, 1867, for a consideration of $500,000. The Mayor, in reply, stated that he hoped the Federal Government would accept a site in the Civic Centre of the City in exchange for the present site of the old Post Office building.
"Under date of December 5th, 1919, the West Coast Lumbermen's Association kindly offered the Society a Douglas Fir flag pole to range from 150 to 340 feet, delivered free to this city, with the compliments of that association.
New York City Below Forty-Second Street - Part 1
(Originally Published 1936 )
In the little park, toward Broadway, stands the new Liberty Pole, on the exact site of the old one; and, not far from it, MacMonnies' statue of Nathan Hale. In the southeastern section of the park, near Park Row, is the Crane Fountain with MacMonnies' group representing Civic Virtue, which aroused a storm of controversy when it was dedicated.
First Liberty Pole erected in New York city and banquet held in honor of the Stamp Act.
British soldiers attempted to cut down Liberty Pole and attacked Montague's house.
The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927
British soldiers tear down New York City's liberty pole. Golden Hill becomes the site of anti-British riots lasting two days.
THE LIBERTY POLE STRUGGLE 1766 TO 1776
On May 20, 1766, news reached New York of the repeal of the stamp act, and on the following day, the people gathered in the Fields to show their delight in every possible way. Still further to show their loyalty and gratitude to the king, they assembled again on his birthday, June fourth, and celebrated the event with feasting and drinking. A great pole with twelve tar barrels at its top was erected, and twenty-five cords of wood were placed at its base. Then while a salute of twenty-five guns was fired
in another part of the Fields, the great bonfire was kindled and the royal standard raised amid the cheers of the crowd. Still another pole was raised on this memorable day, bearing the inscription, "The King, Pitt, and Liberty" -- the first liberty-pole, which was to serve as the rallying point of the citizens for several years, the visible sign of the principle of no taxation without representation.
This liberty-pole stood not far from the barracks of the soldiers, on
the north side of Chambers Street. On the tenth of August, a party belonging to the 28th Regiment cut the pole down. The next day, while the citizens were assembled on the Commons preparing to erect another, they were attacked by the soldiers, and several of the Sons of Liberty, among whom were Isaac
Sears and John Berrien, were severely hurt. Though complaints were made by the citizens, the British officers declared that the affidavits submitted were falsehoods and refused to reprimand or punish the offenders.
A second liberty-pole was erected and the soldiers allowed it to stand for a few days and then cut it down, on September twenty-third. Within two days, a third pole was raised; and this time the pole was allowed to stand, as the soldiers were restrained by the orders of Governor Moore, who was believed to have been instigator of the previous attacks.
On the eighteenth of March, 1767, the citizens assembled on the
Commons to celebrate the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act. The celebration aroused the anger of the soldiers, and that night the pole was again levelled to the ground. The next day the Sons of Liberty set up another and more substantial one, well secured with iron bands. An unsuccessful attempt was made to destroy it that night. The following night another attempt to blow it up (or down) with gun-powder was made, but this, also, was unsuccessful. Then the Sons of Liberty set a strong guard about
the pole; and for three successive nights attempts were made to destroy it, but the soldiers were beaten off. The peremptory orders of the governor compelled the soldiers to desist from their attacks, and the pole stood undisturbed for three years.
During these years, affairs were moving in the direction of armed
resistance to the impositions of the British Parliament, and frequent were the meetings on the Commons and burnings in effigy of offensive individuals. At last, on January 13, 1770, attacks were renewed upon the liberty-pole by a party of the 16th Regiment, who attempted to blow it down with gun-powder.
In this they were unsuccessful, and they then attacked a party of citizens in front of Montagnie' tavern in Broadway opposite the Fields -- at that time the headquarters of the Sons of Liberty. The citizens were driven indoors and attempted to barricade themselves from the unruly mob; but the soldiers broke in with drawn swords and wrecked the building and furniture. In the
midst of the destruction, their officers came up and ordered them back to their barracks. On the two succeeding nights, the attacks were resumed against the pole without success; but the third night, the pole was levelled to the ground and sawed into pieces which were piled up in front of Montagnie's in derision of the patriotic club.
This insult aroused the Sons of Liberty; and on the evening of the
seventeenth, handbills were circulated calling a meeting that night upon the Commons. Three thousand citizens assembled and passed strong resolutions in regard to the daily outrages committed by the soldiery and threatened to regard those found outside their barracks after roll-call as enemies of the city. The next day there began a two days' conflict with the soldiers in
which several lives were lost. Since the various affrays occurred in the neighborhood of John and William streets--a locality known at that time as Golden Hill -- the conflict has been termed the "Battle of Golden Hill." It occurred two months before the Boston Massacre, and it was here that the first blood of the coming conflict was shed.
The Sons of Liberty requested permission to erect another
liberty-pole, but the Common Council refused permission. While the council was considering the request, Lamb and several others of the club purchased a plot of ground eleven feet wide and one hundred feet deep near the site of the former pole. Here, on February 6, 1770, the last of the liberty-poles was raised. It was a mast of great length, sunk twelve feet into the ground, and encased for two thirds of its height with iron bands and hoops firmly riveted together. Amid the shouts of the people and the sound of music, it was stepped into its place. It bore the inscription, "Liberty and Property," and was surmounted by a gilt vane bearing the same inscription in large letters. This inscription was not of so loyal a tenor as that placed upon the first pole and shows how the feelings of the people were changing. The concluding paragraph of the handbill distributed by the
Liberty Boys reads as follows:
And now, Gentlemen, seeing we are debarred the privilege of Public Ground to erect the Pole on, we have purchased a place for it near where the other stood, which is full as public as any of the Corporation Ground. Your Attendance and countenance are desired at one o'clock on Tuesday morning, the 6th instant, at Mr. Crommelin's Wharf, in order to carry it up to be
By Order of the Committee
New York, February 3, 1770.
The Liberty Boys had had quarters at Burns's and also at Montagnie's, both on Broadway; but the latter was now let to the opposite party for the anniversary celebration of the nineteenth of March. Not to be balked by the action of the recreant Montagnie, the club bought a house in the Spring Garden -- corner of Ann Street and Broadway, where Barnum's Museum stood long
afterward -- and named it Hampden Hall in honor of the great English patriot.
On the forty-fifth day of the year (February fourteenth) they marched to the New Jail, where McDougal, one of their leaders, was in prison, and in order to compliment him gave forty-five cheers, drank forty-five toasts, and ate forty-five beef-steaks. This number had for them a peculiar significance; for it was on the forty-fifth page of the journal of the Assembly that the
proceedings against McDougal were entered. On the nineteenth of March they paid another visit to their leader at his place of temporary imprisonment.
A party of British soldiers, who were on the point of leaving for
Pensacola, vowed that they would take a piece of the pole with them as a trophy; and so, on the twenty-ninth of March, they made another attempt upon it. Their effort to unship the topmast was discovered and the alarm given. Upon the rallying of the Liberty Boys the soldiers retired to their barracks where they received reinforcements and forced the patriots to retire to
Hampden Hall, which the soldiers swore they would burn. The alarm bells were rung and the citizens flew to arms; while the British officers, fearing a repetition of Golden Hill, drove their men back to the barracks. A strong guard was placed about the pole; and after the departure of the soldiers on the third of May, the pole remained unmolested until 1775.
During the anniversary celebration of the Stamp Act repeal in that
year, Sergeant William Cunningham and a companion made an assault upon the patriots gathered about the pole. They were driven off; and Cunningham, who had been a Liberty Boy himself before joining the army, was severely whipped. That whipping was dearly paid for in the lives of eleven thousand American prisoners who died during the British occupation of the city under
the treatment of the vengeful provost-marshal, Captain William Cunningham.
One of the earliest of his acts after the occupation of the city by the British, in September, 1776, was to order the liberty-pole levelled to the ground. It probably seemed to him a visible reminder of the humiliation of the whipping he had received. In 1897, the Mary Washington Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, caused a tablet to be placed in the post-office to commemorate the erection and maintenance of the liberty-pole
from 1766 to 1776.
Source: The Greatest Street in the World
(The story of Broadway, old and New, from the Bowling Green to Albany)
Author: Stephen Jenkins
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons-New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
"Raising the Liberty Pole" 1776. Engraving by John C. McRae, 1875, after F. A. Chapman.
Reproduction number: LC-USZ62-807
From the VA Hospital at Fort Hamilton, or from Dyker Beach Park, take the B8 bus to 18th Avenue and 84th Street. You are now in the center of the Dutch village of New Utrecht, established in 1657 on land purchased from the Canarsie and Nyack natives. Today the neighborhood is better known as Bensonhurst. Visit the New Utrecht Reformed Church at this intersection. The American flag on the lawn marks the spot of a Liberty Pole installed on Evacuation Day—November 25, 1783. Many such flagpoles were installed throughout the city on that day. This one, however, is the sixth in an uninterrupted succession on this site—making it the only Liberty Pole in continuous use since the Revolution.
31 May 1855, New York Observer and Chronicle, "The History of Liberty Poles in New York City," pg. 176:
In the early history of New York, five liberty poles were planted, or set out, before one could be had to flourish and remain. But they must always be raised in a free soil, or they will not stand; and it was on this account that the first four were early cut off. Now, however, they are to be named among hte staple productions of every State in the Union.
Night after night the quarrel was renewed; until the liberty of the Thirteen Colonies was finally acknowledged, and the British soldiers in New York, who for two years, like cats, had habitually dozed away the day and disturbed the night, marched into their ships at the sound of the drum -- not soon to return. The most coveted trophy they wished to carry with them on their voyage, was the Liberty Pole; but it stood bravely on its own basis and witnessed their departure -- waving its flag, and bidding them adieu i nthe memorable words "Liberty and Property."
The fifth Liberty Pole was the last that had to be fought for.
13 December 1856, Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, pg. 381:
The flag in the distance floats from the Liberty pole at the corner of Grand Street.
5 June 1858, New York Times, pg. 4:
The famous liberty pole which, for twenty-six years past, has stood at the junction of Franklin-street and West Broadway, was taken down, yesterday, in pursuance of an order issued from the Street Department. It was found, on examination, to be in too advanced a state of decay to allow it to stand longer without jeopardizing the lives of people passing by a sudden tumble down on their heads. The erection of this pole was attended with a good deal of display, speechifying and expense to the City Democracy, who then has their head-quarters at the Fifth Ward Hotel. The eagle which surmounted the top of the pole was found in an excellent state of preservation.
15 May 1898, New York Times, pg. 23:
The Boston Massacre is often spoken of as the first bloodshed of the Revolution, but it was antedated nearly a month and a half by New York's battle of Golden Hill, wherein at least one patriot of New York City lost his life defending a liberty pole that stood on what is now City Hall Park from the assaults of the soldiers of King George.
17 September 1898, New York Times, pg. RBA617:
THE BATTLE OF GOLDEN HILL.
Fought in John Street in 1770 in Defense of New
York's Liberty Poles -- The First Blood
Shed in the Revolution.
It is the purpose of this article to repeat the story of one of these occurrences -- the Battle of Golden Hill -- in honor of which a tablet has been affixed to the building that occupies the northwestern corner of John and WIlliam Streets. The tablet, dedicated to the city by the Sons of the Revolution, bears the following text:
Here, January 18, 1770,
The fight took place between the
"Sons of Liberty"
British Regular, 16th Foot.
First Blood in the
War of the Revolution.
11 June 1921, New York Times, pg. 14:
RAISE NEW LIBERTY POLE.
Reproduction of the Staff of 1776
on Same Spot Near City Hall.
An exact reproduction of the Liberty Pole which stood in City Hall Park in 1776 and which will be presented to the city with appropriate ceremonies on Tuesday, June 14, was set up in the park yesterday on the identical spot where the original pole stood. The latest pole is the gift of the Sons of the Revolution and the New York Historical Society.
The pole stands between Broadway and City Hall, on a line with Warren Street.
12 June 1921, New York Times, pg. 29:
NEW LIBERTY POLE
ON PATRIOTS' GROUND
After 145 Years City Erects
Staff Where Five Were Cut
Down by the British.
As the original pole was in two sections, the new pole has been erected in the same manner. Its height is sixty-six feet. The lower portion, about forty-feet high, is a Douglas fir from Oregon, presented by the West Coast Lumbermen's Association of Seattle, and the top is a pine tree from Maine, the gift of the Lumbermen's Association of Portland. An exact reproduction of the old weather vane inscribed with the word "Liberty" has been placed on top of the pole and the lower portion is surrounded by iron bands such as originally were bound around the pole by the Revolutionary "Liberty Boys" to prevent its easy destruction by British soldiers.
The Liberty pole will be the sixth that has stood in the City Hall Square area. The preceding five were erected at intervals during the ten years between 1766 and 1776. Their destruction from time to time occasioned some lively riots between the soldiery and the citizens, the most serious of which lead to that sanguinary skirmish popularly known as the Battle of Golden Hill and which many patriotic New Yorkers feel has not received the historical importance to which it is entitled, as being the first conflict in which blood was shed, between the opposing forces, preceding the Boston Massacre, by two months.
The first Liberty pole was erected on June 4, 1776. The event commemorated the twenty-eighth birthday of King George III, and the repeal in the British Parliament on March 18, 1776, of the Stamp act. The forthcoming Liberty pole celebration may lose some of its enthusiasm for the participants when they learn that the first celebration, 155 years ago, was accompanied by a barbecue on the Common at which two oxen were roasted and quantities of beer consumed by the rejoicing populace.
"Our loyalty was exhibited with the utmost decorum," says a contemporary account, although the statement is made that "there were some bucks broke out early next morning occasioned from the effects of Madeira, but, as they will all be kept ahead one could not overtake them."
At a dinner which 300 leading citizens attended in George Burns's tavern, forty-one toasts were drunk. This celebration was displeasing to many of the soldiers. After two months the pole was cut down on Aug. 10, 1766. On the following day there was a conflict between the soldiers and some citizens in which two or three of the latter were wounded.
Second Pole Cut Down.
Four days later, on Aug. 14, the second Liberty pole was erected and in the following month, on Sept. 23, it was cut down. The third Liberty pole, erected on the next day, Sept. 24, enjoyed a longer lease of life as it remained until March 18, 1767, that date being the first anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp act. As a curb to the celebration the soldiers cut the pole down during the night.
The fourth Liberty pole went up immediately, on March 19. It was larger than its predecessors and this time was protected with iron bands at a considerable height from the ground. Efforts were at once made to destroy it, first by cutting through the pole, but without success. Then an attempt was made by boring a hole at the base and filling it with gun powder, but this also failed. Stringent orders by the commanders quelled the disturbances and for three years this fourth Liberty pole remained undisturbed. In January, 1770, the continued arrogance of the soldiers occasioned more trouble and on Jan. 13, forty soldiers tried to blow it up, but the Sons of Liberty, meeting in the celebrated Montanye's tavern, facing Broadway, opposite the Commons, came to the rescue. On the night of Jan. 16 the soldiers met with better success, when they not only cut the pole down but sawed it into several pieces. This action aroused the anger of the citizens and a few days later a small riot brought on the conflict at Golden Hill in the vicinity of John and William Streets.
When the Citizens' Committee again made formal application to restore the pole in its old place, the corporation refused. Within the Commons, it was then found that there was a strip of property eleven feet wide and 100 feet in length owned by private persons and Isaac Sears, the leader of the Liberty Boys, purchased this plot on Feb. 3, 1770. On this narrow plot, and well within the confines of what is now City Hall Park, the fifth pole was successfully erected on Feb. 6, 1770. It remained until October, 1776, when as the British were then occupying the city after the battle of Long Island, Governor Tryon ordered it removed. The best account of its removal is from a letter by the Governor to Lord George Germain in which he says that as the pole remained "as a monument of insult to the Government and of licentiousness to the people," he had it taken down quietly. That act of Governor Tryon's ended the history of Liberty Pole devotion and activity in City Hall Park and now, 145 years later, the memories of those strenuous days are being revived.
30 August 1952, New York Times, pg. 11:]
SAW BRINGS DOWN
CITY LIBERTY POLE
Decayed Staff Latest to Fall
in a Long Historic Line,
but New One Will Rise.
This particular pole was only twelve years old but engineers said it had decayed extensively. It was itself a replacement for a 1921 job, joint gift of the Sons of the Revolution in the Stat of New York and the New York Historical Society.
The 1921 pole was set up on June 14 of that year, in ceremonies drenched with ticket tape and confetti.