White Plains and the American Revolution; Revolutionary War Remembrances

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:

AMERICAN REVOLUTION

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. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Batt;e  HillOn Oct 28, 1776,  the British battled Americans stationed on Chatterton Hill. The hill was part of Philipse Manor on the west side of the Bronx 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 (center line).

Today, one can find information and a map at the Battle of WP Park (pictured above) 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 (pictured above left) showing the manning of a cannon at the Battle of White Plains from the Ward painting now hanging in the library. People mistakenly think Alexander Hamilton is depicted in the scene from the battle but this was not the intent of the painter. 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 (pictured above) 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.

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Merritt Hill

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  there is a cannon, and   information. The red sign depicting the Liberty or Death flag was used during the battle. The symbol is also 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. Could this be the horseman that Washington Irving heard about and used in his story about “The Headless Horseman?” A painting with Irving’s stories is also at WP Library.

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Merritt Hill looking down to Silver Lake
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Miller House before restoration

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 has 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.

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Miller Hill
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Miller Hill sign

On top of Miller Hill in Miller Hill Park (pictured above), 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. White Plains 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 holds an annual event commemorating the Battle of White Plains as well as other events. There are historic displays at 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.

wp-stamp

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.”  The center person portrayed in the stamp is often referred to as Alexander Hamilton but in a magazine article, the painter stated that this was not the case. Stamps are still available on the internet to buy and I donated one to WP Library so 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.

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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.

Other updated sections from the book can be found under the following entries for: WP and the American Revolution and War Remembrances from the Battle of WP, Westchester County Seat and Government, Waterways in White Plains, WP’s 1st Village St, WP Older Houses, Historic Traces in WP BD,  Houses of Worship, WP Schools History, Buried in WP,  WP Quarry & Farms, WP Historic Businesses & Organizations, Memorials in WP & WP Hospitals. Sources for book are listed in a separate entry Sources for Further Study of WP.

Other entries about WP (not found in the book) can be found on this website are: Demographics in White Plains, What’s in a Name: The Bar Building, Battle of WP video, Art in WP, The Arts in White Plains: Past and Present, Seeking History One Foot at a time: WP’s Walking Tours, Where is the Mamaroneck River in WP, What’s in a name? Bloomingdale Rd vs Bloomingdale’s, Presidents in WP, Martine Ave, Coloring for Adults: WP Photos, WP Neighborhoods, Origin of Names of Places in WP, Transportation in WP, How Well Do You Know WP?, Parking in WP, and Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail as well as many others.