Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Parade Gets Under Way

A November , 1830, parade begins moving up Broadway

© 2006 David Minor / Eagles Byte

When I worked in lower Manhattan in the late 1980s, twice a day I’d walk behind the Municipal Building on my way between the City Hall subway stop and Pearl Street where my office stands. Just west of Police Plaza (off limits to strollers since 9/11), I’d pass a fragment of brick wall with a barred window set into it. The display commemorated a site dating back to before the American Revolution.

In 1763 sugar trader Henry Cuyler had built a warehouse down on nearby Liberty Street. The wealthy Rhinelander family had purchased the building shortly after Cuyler’s death in 1770. When the family had the building replaced in 1892 they’d saved the window as a reminder of the British occupation of New York, when hundreds of American prisoners had died while incarcerated in the building, and installed the window in their new building near the future Police Plaza site.

The display had sort of a special meaning for me. In April of 1777 Simeon Minor, an collateral ancestor, had been captured by the British at Roxbury, Connecticut, and had subsequently died in the Sugar House. My cousin Mike (on my mother’s side) once asked me if I sometimes heard a disembodied voice coming through the bars calling, “Da-vid, D-a-a-vid!”. Can’t say that I did; I’ll have to listen more carefully next time.

Decades later, on 1830, one former prisoner, luckier than Simeon, is preparing to take part in the November 26th parade up Broadway, celebrating the July regime change in France. Former sailor John Van Arsdale probably casts more than a few glances eastward toward his former prison as he waits for proceedings to get under way. A native of Goshen, New York, he had made the epic marched on Quebec with Benedict Arnold in 1775 and fought at forts Montgomery and Fort Clinton, along the Hudson, two years later where he’d been captured and held in the lower Manhattan sugar facility before being transferred to the hold of one of the noxious British ships anchored off Brooklyn. He would finally be released nine months after his capture, in time to participate in the Clinton-Sullivan campaign against upstate New York’s Indians.

Now, as spectators James Stuart and former mayor Philip Hone, along with hundreds of others feel their collective pulses begin to quicken, participants such as Van Arsdale, former president James Monroe, Revolutionary-era spy Enoch Crosby, Boston Tea Party “Indian” Alexander Whaley, prepare to move out. 30,000 people fill the streets of lower Manhattan, half again the island’s daily commuting population.

James Stuart provides the most complete description, so we’ll call on him once more for a final assignment. A squadron of cavalry lead off the procession. The parade’s end will not pass Stuart for three more hours. The dignitaries follow - mayor Walter Bowne, ambassadors, congressmen and state legislators, high sheriffs, consuls, committee members and foreign ministers, and 500 mounted French visitors, Columbia College provosts and medical and law students. Then, as in the 1825 Erie Canal opening celebration, members of all the trade guilds follow. The printers show off the latest in on-demand publishing technology, as a press mounted on one of their floats turns out copies of an ode written for the occasion. While everyone grabs one and peruses the sterling verbiage, we’ll take a break. Until next time.

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