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Welcome to the History Is Fun blog. Our topics will range from historical insights to short articles about topics of interest in 17th and 18th-century history at Jamestown Settlement and the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Tumbled Down: George III in New York City

On the night of July 9, 1776, brigades of the Continental Army assembled on the common in New York City to hear a reading of the Declaration of Independence. General Washington issued the directive in his General Orders, commanding that at 6:00 “the several brigades are to be drawn up this evening on their respective Parades…when the declaration of Congress…is to be read with an audible voice.” Washington was cognizant that his troops were already weary from a recent march from Boston, where his Continental Army secured a key victory over British General William Howe’s forces after a long series of engagements that had ended only in early March.

Pulling down the statue of George III by the “Sons of Freedom,” at the Bowling Green, City of New York, July 1776 / painted by Johannes A. Oertel ; engraved by John C. McRae. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Washington hoped that hearing the words of the declaration would “serve as a fresh incentive to every officer, and soldier, to act with Fidelity and Courage” in the certain engagements troops now faced in New York. Samuel Blachley Webb, one of Washington’s aides-de-camp, witnessed the event, recording that troops reacted to the Declaration with “three Huzzas,” and that “every one (was) seeming highly pleased that we were separated from a King who was endeavoring to enslave his once loyal subjects.”

The reading had the desired effect, though Webb may have understated the troops’ vigor. Shortly after the conclusion of the public reading, some of the zealous troops rushed down Broadway, and within less than a mile found themselves face to face with the statue of George III standing prominently on the Bowling Green. Barely six years old, the New York General Assembly erected the statue on August 21, 1770. The Assembly ordered the statue, along with its companion of William Pitt, in celebration of the repeal of the Stamp Act. Colonists once sought to celebrate the king, erecting his statue “to perpetuate to the latest Posterity, the deep Sense this Colony has of the eminent and singular Blessings received from him during his most auspicious Reign.” In 1776, his visage was antagonistic—and antithetical—to the colonists-turned-soldiers in Washington’s Continental Army.

“Last night the Statue of George the third was tumbled down and beheaded,” wrote Webb on July 10, “the troops having long had an inclination so to do, tho’t this time of publishing a Declaration of Independence, to be a favorable opportunity.” Soldiers, allegedly assisted by members of the Sons of Liberty, pulled down the statue from its pedestal and proceeded to symbolically rid the city of the last vestiges of royal authority. In the next day’s General Orders, Washington commended the men’s enthusiasm but made his feelings known. “Though the General doubts not the persons who pulled down and mutilated the Statue in the Broadway last night were actuated by zeal in the public cause,” the orders read, “it has so much the appearance of a riot and want of order in the army, that he disapproves the manner…”

The public who assisted the soldiers’ removal of the statue had a plan for the now mangled mass of lead that once commanded the Bowling Green. The statue of the king who colonists once praised for bestowing “singular Blessings” on the colony would now symbolically bless the patriot cause, by donating its lead to be melted into much-needed musket balls for Washington’s army. General Oliver Wolcott, who owned the Connecticut foundry where the statue was melted down, recorded that 42,088 balls were made from the melted lead.

Katherine Egner Gruber
Special Exhibition Curator, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation

Further Reading:

The Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb, Collected and Edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford, Volume I, 1772-1777, New York, 1893.

General Orders, 9 July 1776, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-05-02-0176.

Fragment of George Washington’s Personal Copy of the “Dunlop Broadside” of the Declaration of Independence, which he ordered read to his assembled troops in New York, July 9, 1776, Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/declara/declara4.html#obj4

Bob Ruppert, “The Statue of George III,” Journal of the American Revolution: https://allthingsliberty.com/2014/09/the-statue-of-george-iii/


Giving a Fig about History

Fresh exhibits at Jamestown Settlement feature several new colorful graphics drawn by modern artists to help bring the 17th century back to life for the visiting public. Production of these graphics involved much more than meets the eye. Museum curators had to work very closely with the illustrators to ensure that all the details were correct to the period. These included such things as the clothi

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Yet We Are Men: African Americans Fight for Freedom and Equality After the Revolution

In 1777 Prince Hall signed his name on a petition to free enslaved persons in Massachusetts. He was a free man, but that didn’t stop him from dedicating his life to advocating for the end of slavery and for granting African Americans full rights under the law. Formerly enslaved, Hall obtained his freedom in 1770. While living in Boston, Hall adopted the revolutionary rhetoric of liberty and freedo

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Commemorating a ‘Loving Day’

About 15 years ago a group of grassroots activists encouraged the commemoration of June 12 as “Loving Day” to highlight the 1967 unanimous decision by the U. S. Supreme Court that declared Virginia’s law banning interracial marriage unconstitutional, through the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia. In recent weeks strong voices in the United States and around the world have been driving Americans

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The Jamestown Good Samaritan

Salt-glazed stoneware baluster jug, Westerwald Germany, c. 1600-20. Molded around mid-girth with the biblical motif of The Good Samaritan. H 12 ½”. JYF 2017.5. Photography by Robert Hunter. A Good Samaritan has a home in the Jamestown Settlement Museum. Unlike the human kind we admire so much for their selfless contributions in our most unsettled world, the Settlement’s “Good Samaritan” is a 400-y

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A Sampling of Samplers

Social distancing got you in a crafty mood? Needle working might not be as broadly practiced today, but in the 17th-19th centuries, young girls learned needle working soon after they began learning the alphabet, and quite often earlier than they learned to write. While many extant samplers appear to be worked by girls in their early teenage years, and perhaps a tad younger, curators and collectors

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A College for the ‘Children of the Virginians’

A William & Mary commencement celebration. For the first time in any recent history, college students this spring, including those at the local College of William & Mary, took classes online and sadly missed spring activities on campus. College seniors lament celebrating their May graduations while college officials work on steps going forward.  Roughly 400 years ago, Virginia Company offi

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Why Choose Jamestown Island?

Jamestown Island, seen today from the deck of Jamestown Settlement’s re-created ship Godspeed. After a voyage of almost five months, the English colonists arrived at Jamestown Island on May 13, 1607. The following day, they began landing their supplies and building what became the first permanent English colony in America. The English colonists arriving in Virginia in 1607 were operating und

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More Than a Doll: An African Wish for Motherhood

Traditional fertility figure (akua’ba) made in the 19th century by the Ashanti of Ghana, Africa. H 10 9/16″. JYF2003.23 At first glance, she looks like a simple wooden doll with no feet and a large disk-shaped head. However, the small African figure in the collection of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation is much more than a child’s plaything. Known as an akua’ba and produced in the 19th

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The ‘State’ of the State of Virginia

In late March 2020, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued strict directives for the Commonwealth of Virginia to protect the health and well-being of its citizens. These are in place until at least mid-June.  What will be the “state” of Virginia come June 2020?  Considering the present conditions, it’s obviously too early to tell.   We can learn about the “state” of the Virginia colony 400 years e

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Reflecting on the Past, Documenting the Present

Day 1: The Show Must Go On! If you’re anything like me, you sat down for your first day of pandemic-induced teleworking and felt a strong, overwhelming urge to document the experience — to share with Facebook, Twitter or Instagram a photo of your makeshift home office, or make a snarky or startling observation about your new at-home co-workers. My Instagram post that first Monday morning included

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ABCs

Bone hornbook, English, late 18th century, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation YP96.15 Have you recently found yourself thrust into the role of homeschool teacher? Maybe you have a small child learning her ABC’s or a youngster practicing her penmanship. Eighteenth-century children began to learn to read as young as 4 or 5, aided by tools such as this late 18th-century hornbook in the collection of the J

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Hopping for Health

Portuguese tin-glazed earthenware apothecary jar dating to the third quarter of the 17th century. Painted in cobalt blue and manganese with a large rabbit on one side and the Portuguese coat of arms on the other. Height 9.25 inches. Painted on one side of a Portuguese tin-glazed apothecary jar in Jamestown Settlement’s museum collection is a large rabbit depicted in mid-hop. This rabbit moti

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1620–2020: Censuses Count!

A mural in Jamestown Settlement’s refreshed exhibition galleries by Bruce McPherson reflects the population of Jamestown in 1620, which marked the first systematic count of people living in America’s first permanent English colony. The colony’s population totaled 928. It is 2020, and America is counting! The United States Census Bureau hopes to tally every person in the 50 states, the District of

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Crispus Attucks, ‘The First Martyr of Liberty’

In 1855, William Cooper Nell published the first historical tome acknowledging the African Americans who fought in the American Revolution. The “Colored Patriots of the American Revolution,” according to its author, was “an attempt…to rescue from oblivion the name and fame of those who, though ‘tinged with the hated stain,’ yet had warm hearts and active hands in the ‘times that tried men’s souls.

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The Backstory on the ‘Book of Negroes’

“Book of Negroes,” New York, 1783, on loan from The National Archives, United Kingdom. The items on display in our exhibition galleries at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown and Jamestown Settlement have their own biographies, just like you do. How and why was this object or document created? What journey did it take before it came to our galleries? Just as we research the people of the pa

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