Entry is updated version of the sections on “American Revolution,” “Battle of White Plains,” “Merritt and Miller Hills” and “War Remembrances” from the book White Plains, New York: A City of Contrasts:
When the American Continental Congress in Philadelphia declared independence on July 4, 1776, the NY delegation did not have the authority to vote. The Provincial Congress of the Colony of NY (formed in 1975) was not meeting till July 9. But, at this time General Howe, Commander of the British Army was taking control of NY City. John Hancock sent a letter along with a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the NY for approval.
For safety, members met at the White Plains (WP) Court House on July 9, 1776 where they agreed to accept the document allowing the NY delegates in Philadelphia to vote & sign the Declaration. On the same day, the governing body of NY changed its name to the Convention of the Representatives of the State of NY. This is why WP claims to be the locale for the “birth place” of NY.
The Declaration was read before the public on July 11, 1776 on the steps of the courthouse. A copy of the document is part of Westchester County’s Archives. The bill contains a letter from the Secretary Robert Benson signed on July 9 from the newly named state of NY.
A monument in front of the Armory was erected in 1910 by the WP Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution where the reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. The monument was constructed from stones that were part of the original court house’s foundation.
BATTLE OF WP 1776: In the fall of 1776 from October 28 to about November 4, the American Continental Army under the command of George Washington fought the British under the command of General William Howe in WP.
The Jacob Purdy House (1721) was used as Washington’s headquarters in 1776 & 1778. The house was saved from the wrecking ball in the 1970’s when it was moved from its original location on Spring St (demolished during Urban Renewal) to its present site on Park Ave on land that was once a part of the Purdy’s Farm. The restored Jacob Purdy House is used by the WP Historical Society & is open for events. Historic exhibits are found inside.
On Oct 28, 1776, the British battled Americans stationed on Chatterton Hill that was part of Philipse Manor that extended west to the Hudson River. Outnumbered, the Americans gave up the hill and retreated across the Bronx River to Purdy Hill where Washington had stationed most of his troops or his center line.
Today, one can find information and a map at the Battle of WP Park at the Corner of Whitney and Battle Ave. Much of the Battle Hill neighborhood became part of WP in 1916.
At the bottom of the hill along Tarrytown Rd there is a sign showing the manning of a cannon at the Battle of White Plains from the Ward painting now hanging in the library. People though throughout the years have referred to the man in front of the cannon as Alexander Hamilton but this was not the intent of the painter (stated in an interview and published in a local magazine). Just south at the entrance to the Bronx River Parkway, there is a Battle of WP monument with marker dated May 18, 1926. The cannon is a replica of the original cannon found in WP in 1890. The original first stolen in 1963 was recovered but was stolen again in 1971. There is still an award posted for its return. The sign has since been replaced with a newer version.
MERRITT & MILLER HILLS: Action also took place in Harrison on the same day on Merritt Hill where Washington also had stationed troops. Today, in the park on top of Merritt Hill; just above Silver Lake on Lake St one can find the pictured cannon and information. The red sign depicting the Liberty or Death flag was used during the battle and it became a part of WP’s city seal.
The cannon from this local might be where General Heath described in his papers that a Hessian soldier was hit by a cannon ball in the head. This might explain the headless horseman in Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” but not according to the author who read of European legends about this. The painting of Ward’s that depicts scenes from Irving’s stories is at WP Library.
After the retreat from Chatterton Hill, Washington moved his troops to North Castle using Miller House as his headquarters. After failing to defeat the Americans, the conflict ended around November 4, when General Howe went back to the NY City.
The Elijah and Anne Miller house (1738) on Virginia Rd is just below Miller Hill. Elijah was killed in August 1776 while serving in the Westchester Militia followed by the death of two of his sons serving in the militia during the winter of 1776. After decades of being closed to the public, Westchester County agreed to finally renovate the house and transfer the property to North Castle. Funds will be raised to maintain the property and various groups will be part of this.
On top of Miller Hill in Miller Hill Park there is a marker and information about the battle.
While most of the Continental Army went north after November 4, avoiding what could have been the end of the war, many of the buildings in the village of WP were burned down by an American Major John Austin and his detachment. Before his trial, Austin escaped punishment. The court house and the Presbyterian Church were among the destroyed structures. WP would take years to recover from the night of terror.
WAR REMEMBRANCES: Unlike in the past when Battle of WP reenactments were held in the area, the White Plains Historic Society (formed in 1983 from the Battle of White Plains Monument Committee) holds an annual event commemorating the Battle of White Plains as well as other events at the Purdy House There are historic displays inside Purdy House about the war and the City’s history.
“The Battle of WP” painted by Edmund F. Ward (1926) is hung on the 1st floor of the library along with other paintings. The local history room at WP Library has reopened holding a host of information and historic treasures.
A two cent commemorative stamp issued by the US Post that same year shows the same scene of the battle as well as the flag first used in the battle titled, “Liberty or Death.” Stamps are still available on the internet for sale and I donated one to WP Library. It is now on their website in picture file (see Local History page).
Two naval ships (no longer in use) were named after WP in honor of the battle. City exhibited equipment donated to the City in 1959 from the USS WP at City Hall and on Colonial Day in 2016.
A number of city streets, parks and schools in the City were named after the people, places and other events that took place during the country’s Revolutionary period. Some of these are Lexington, Hamilton, Battle, Jefferson and Franklin Aves and the schools Rochambeau and George Washington.
A monument, erected in 1906, can be found on N Broadway marking the center of Washington’s army during the battle. The marker in front of the monument is dated 1926 while the one on the monument is not dated as it was erected at an earlier time (dedicated 1906).
There are plaques at WP City Hall in entrance way in honoring those in WP that served and there are veterans from the Battle of WP and the American Revolution at White Plains Rural Cemetery and Presbyterian Church both on North Broadway. Every once and a while remnants of bones are found on Battle Hill where it is believed many British soldiers were buried after the battle on the hill. Estimates that 200 could have died there.