Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day of the Flags

Celebrating several historic occasions in 1830

© 2006 David Minor / Eagles Byte

James Stuart doesn’t mention any local New York events in September or October of 1830. As October entered into it’s second week the traveler and his wife moved back to the Van Boskerck's rooming house in Hoboken - where they would stay until returning to the United Kingdom the following April. It would be a relatively quiet half year, with few excursions or diversions. With one exception.

Back in July, about the time Stuart was visiting Dr. Hosack in Hyde Park, France’s middle class had revolted against their Bourbon king Charles X and forced him off the throne. This would obviously be looked on with great favor by Andrew Jackson’s America, even though the monarchy continued with another head beneath the crown. Celebrations were called for. New York’s would be an extravaganza.

Former U. S. president James Monroe had just moved here to Manhattan after the death of his wife at the beginning of October. Presidential pensions being non-existent when he left office five years earlier, he’d been driven by relative poverty to reside with his daughter Maria and son-in-law Samuel Gouverneur, currently the city’s postmaster. Preparations for the celebration were begun at Tammany Hall early in November with Monroe heading up the arrangements. The city’s federal collector of customs Samuel Swartwout was appointed grand marshal and postmaster Gouverneur was chosen to make the main oration. Former mayor Hone was put in charge of the arrangements committee. November 25th, being the 47th anniversary of the British evacuation of New York, was intentionally chosen for the affair. With only a few weeks remaining most of the male population of the city became very busy. This being a good many decades before beauty queens and majorettes the women probably stayed home and did the sewing.

Neither Stuart nor Hone mentions the starting point but, since they marched up Broadway to the future site of Washington Square, it’s to be assumed they began at the Battery, for its symbolic connotation. The proceedings had to be postponed for one day due to sloppy November weather. Stuart was probably in place - he doesn’t mention just where - early that Friday morning. Among the well-known personages he would see in the procession was John Van Arsdale, the artilleryman who’d shinnied up the flagpole down at the Battery 47 years ago, hauled down the British flag. He supposedly nailed the Stars and Stripes in it’s place and even greased the pole afterwards to make sure the banner remained in place. (Some accounts say the British had been the pole greasers; some accounts also have Saratoga County military veteran Anthony Glenn actually being the one to raise the new flag). It’s likely both men’s shinnying days were long past, but the two old-timers were among the stars of the day. Others included Alexander Whaley, one of the “Indians” who heaved the tea into Boston harbor, Enoch Cosby, James Fenimore Cooper’s model for the title character of his novel “The Spy”, and David Williams, a member of the party that had captured Major Andre after Arnold’s betrayal of West Point.

Samuel Swartwout’s twenty-one aides, each mounted on a prancing steed and wearing a uniform decorated with French-tricolor cockades and plumes, corralled the various groups and headed them off, up Broadway. Join them, next time.

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