The British Royals Reinvade Brooklyn: William and Kate Come Watch Basketball on Historic Battle Site
On Monday night, a major moment in New York history will get a Royal awakening.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, during their first official visit to New York, will become honorary Americans for a night as they attend a basketball game at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, watching a match-off between the Brooklyn Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But as they take their seats (hopefully courtside next to Beyoncé and Jay-Z), they may not realize they will be sitting where, almost 240 years ago, the Battle of Brooklyn—fought between the American and British armies—raged on just one month after the United States declared its independence from King George III (who, of course, would not stand for it).
Thus, the American Revolution raged on.
On August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn resulted in some monumental maneuvers by both the Patriots and the Red Coats. The Barclays Center where the Duke and Duchess will be seated would have stood in thick of where the pivotal action transpired.
Weeks before the raid, General George Washington and his troops had arrived in New York City after successfully defending Boston from the British army earlier that year. The Siege of Boston marked the opening phase of the American Revolution.
Washington knew the port city of New York would provide an excellent harbor for the British army’s men, ships and supplies. So he positioned a little less than 20,000 troops in lower Manhattan.
By July, General William Howe—the commander of the Brits—had arrived on Staten Island, just a few miles south of Manhattan, with over 400 battleships and 30,000 men. He was prepared to swarm the island—not directly, but through Brooklyn.
A week before British troops moved from Staten Island to Brooklyn, Washington learned of Howe’s plan and sent 11,000 colonial soldiers across the East River and into present day Brooklyn Heights, a neighborhood adjacent to the Barclays Center’s Prospect Heights.
On August 22, some 88 ships set sail for the southern point of Brooklyn allowing more than 22,000 troops to begin their attack. With twice as many British soldiers, Washington was in for a fiercely competitive battle of wit and strength.
In the early morning of August 27, Howe launched a three-prong attack. The first, a small assault near their landing. As British troops approached Battle Hill, located in present-day Green-Wood Cemetery in South Park Slope, they began firing upon the 300 Americans who had been sent to seize the highest point in Brooklyn.
The Americans bravely fought on and held the area, though heavily outnumbered by the 2,000 British troops. It was there that the Brits suffered the most causalities (86) of the entire Battle of Brooklyn.
Then, German troops enlisted by the Brits (Hessians) began to attack at Battle Pass, located in Prospect Park. The battle raged for hours, each side holding their own.
But, unbeknownst to Washington, British troops began phase three—a surprise attack to surround the States on all sides, traveling through the land that holds the present day Barclay Center.
The action culminated just a stone throw away at the Vechte-Cortelyou House, named for the family who farmed the surrounding land (it’s now know as the Old Stone House). As the Hessians closed in from Battle Pass and the Royal army completed their flanking maneuver, they surrounded American troops, camping out some 200 yards from the home waiting for Washington to surrender.
It would have meant the end of the Revolutionary War and a total loss for the Americans.
Instead, Washington, who famously proclaimed “What brave men I must this day lose!” upon seeing the American troops attack the British, pulled off a miraculous early-morning evacuation of 9,000 troops back to Manhattan. But a few brave men, who became known as the Maryland 400, stayed behind.
Led by General Stirling and Major Mordecai Gist, the Maryland 400, which was actually only 275 men, fought some 2,000 British troops as long as they could. Over 250 were killed before Stirling ordered the final retreat and surrendered himself to the British.
In total, more than 1,200 Colonial troops were killed, three times as many Brits, but Washington’s astounding retreat allowed the Americans to continue fighting for (and ultimately winning) independence.
Although the Brits would capture New York City a few weeks later, a pattern had been set. Sure, the Red Coats had the upper hand in terms of transportation, supplies and training. They could mount an attack no matter the American’s position, but the Colonial troops had tenacity and wit, inflicting causalities and draining resources. While the Brits restocked, the American’s trained harder and smarter, ultimately winning the eight-year war.
Today, reminders of the infamous battle remain scattered throughout Brooklyn—a Sons of the Revolution plaque at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus marking the battlefield, a detailed account of Battle Hill at Green-Wood Cemetery, and tours of Old Stone House—all within a few hundred feet of the Barclay Center.
And so, on Monday night, in a delicious historical twist, Britain’s future King and Queen will join thousands of New Yorkers in celebrating a quintessential American pastime. But let it be known that dainty clapping will not suffice. Just whooping. Loud whooping, the way we Americans do it best.