Tag Archives: NYC

New Nathanael Greene Biography

Nathanael Greene – the seemingly forgotten (yet most successful) American general of the American Revolution, is the subject of a new biography by Rhode Island journalist Gerald Carbone.

The publisher blurb for Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution promises to expose Greene’s “dark side”:

Despite his huge military successes and tactical genius Greene’s story has a dark side. Gerald Carbone drew on 25 years of reporting and researching experience to create his chronicle of Greene’s unlikely rise to success and his fall into debt and anonymity.

Probably a former Quaker by the time of the war began, the Rhode Islander Greene is mostly remembered for his leadership of the Southern Campaign. Take it from the great Wiki:

Greene’s Southern Campaign showed remarkable strategic features. He excelled in dividing, eluding and tiring his opponent by long marches, and in actual conflict forcing the British to pay heavily for a temporary advantage- a price that they could not afford. He was greatly assisted by able subordinates, including the Polish engineer, Tadeusz Kosciuszko (recently of the Mohawk River Bridge), the brilliant cavalry officers, Henry (“Light-Horse Harry”) Lee and William Washington, and the partisan leaders, Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, Elijah Clarke, and Francis Marion.

Greene gave us Greene County, actually fourteen of them, stretching as far west as Iowa and including our own Greene County, NY. His most popular victories came in the South, and combined with a New York tendency toward Knox, Gates, and Putnam and Greene settling in the South after the war, New Yorkers have pretty much forgotten him – how many remember that “e” at the end of Greene?

Greene commanded the rebel city of Boston after it was evacuated by Howe in March 1776 but then spent a lot of time in New York during the war. He was in command of the Continental Army troops on Long Island, and commanded the construction of Fort Putnam (now Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn’s first).

He was sick during the Battle of Long Island, and made the controversial argument to evacuate New York City and destroy it’s usefulness with the torch. It will be interesting to see what Carbone’s new biography says about that.

In New Jersey, he commanded Fort Lee and Fort Washington, commanded at the battles of Trenton, Brandywine (Greene commanded the reserve), and Germantown. He became Quartermaster General in 1778 at Valley Forge (another particularly interesting point worthy of a book in itself), and led the right wing of the army at Monmouth that Spring. In August, Greene (with Lafayette) commanded the Battle of Rhode Island and led at the Battle of Springfield. He also battled with Congress over how to fund the war, and commanded West Point. In 1780 he presided over the court that sentenced Major John Andre to death.

Then he was asked to command the South.

Strange Maps to Strange Ideas

One of the blogs we follow here at the New York History Blog, is Strange Maps, a blog of some of the weirdest, wackiest, and thought provoking maps in the world. Here is are some samples of some recent posts you may not have seen, they are not all New York History related, but they do point to unique uses of mapping that NY historians can appreciate:

Federal Lands in the US
The United States government has direct ownership of almost 650 million acres of land (2.63 million square kilometers) – nearly30% of its total territory. These federal lands, which are mainly used as military bases or testing grounds, nature parks and reserves and indian reservations, are managed by different administrations, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the US Department of Defense, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Bureau of Reclamation or the Tennessee Valley Authority. [New York is tied with Iowa for 2nd from last at .8%- Connecticut and Rhode Island are tied for last with just .4% - of course they don't count New York's state lands (Adirondack, Catskills, and more), so the map is not really reflective of actual government ownership.]

Where News Breaks

Researchers extracted the dateline from about 72,000 wire-service news stories from 1994 to 1998 and modified a standard map of the Lower 48 US states (above) to show the size of the states in proportion to the frequency of their appearance in those datelines. New York is the largest news provider of the country, of course nearly all originating in New York City (pop. 8.2 million- metro area 18.8 million). Compare this to Illinois, home of the the nation’s third largest city, Chicago (pop. 2.8 million- metro area 9.5 million). Especially when considering metropolitan areas, Chicago/Illinois should be half the ‘news size’ of New York City/New York, while in fact it seems to be less than one fifth. Could this underrepresentation be down to another ‘capital effect’ (i.e. New York being the ‘cultural capital’ of the US)?

Area Codes in Which Ludacris Claims to Have Hoes
“In [the song "Area Codes"] Ludacris brags about the area codes where he knows women, whom he refers to as ‘hoes’,” says Stefanie Gray, who plotted out all the area codes mentioned in this song on a map of the United States. She arrived at some interesting conclusions as to the locations of this rapper’s preferred female companionship:

Ludacris heavily favors the East Coast to the West, save for Seattle, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Las Vegas.

Ludacris travels frequently along the Boswash corridor.

There is a ‘ho belt‘ phenomenon nearly synonymous with the ‘Bible Belt’.

Ludacris’s ideal ‘ho-highway’ would be I-95.

Ludacris has hoes in the entire state of Maryland.

Ludacris has a disproportionate ho-zone in rural Nebraska. He might favor white women as much as he does black women, or perhaps, girls who farm.

A World Map of Manhattan
This map celebrates that diversity by assembling Manhattan out of the contours of many of the world’s countries. Danielle Hartman created the map based on data from the 2000 US Census. In all, 80 different countries of origin were listed in the census. The map-maker placed the country contours near the census area where most of the citizens of each country resided.

The Comancheria, Lost Homeland of a Warrior Tribe
Under the presidency of Sam Houston (1836-’38, 1841-’44) the then independent Republic of Texas almost came to a peace agreement with the tribal collective known as the Comanche. The Texas legislature rejected this deal, because it did not want to establish a definitive border with the Comanche- for by that time, white settlers were pushing into the Comancheria, the homeland of one of the most fearsome Native American peoples the Euro-Americans ever had to deal with.

Thomas Jefferson’s Plan for the division of the Northwest Territory into 10 new states.

Regionalism and Religiosity

A Map of the Internet’s Black Holes

A Diagram of the Eisenhower Interstate System

Birthplaces of Mississippi Blues Artists

Ancient Mississippi River Courses

New Tenement Museum Reflects Irish Immigration

From the New York Times comes a report on the newest Tenement Museum in New York City:

The [Joseph and Bridget Moore family] place will become the sixth apartment of former immigrant residents of 97 Orchard Street to be recreated. The apartments are all nearly identical in size at about 325 square feet. One represents the home of a German Jewish family soon after the father disappeared- another a Lithuanian Jewish family whose father had just died. Another is the remade home of Italian Catholics about to be evicted.

The museum was established in 1988 in 97 Orchard, an 1864 brick building, and attracts 130,000 visitors a year. The building is a time capsule of primitive bathrooms and windowless passageways. In 1935, the building’s owners sealed off most of the 20 units rather than make changes to meet new housing codes.

The fourth-floor apartment for the Moores — it is not known exactly where in the building they lived — will be the museum’s earliest simulation and the first to reflect the huge influx of Irish immigrants in the 19th century.

“We take these dynamic, compelling family stories, and use them to draw people into the greater historical context of immigrants in America,” said Stephen H. Long, the vice president of collections and education at the museum. Members of the staff began researching the Moores five years ago.

The Moores’ experience, Mr. Long added, also made for teachable moments about the history of medicine and public health. “When the Moores lived here,” he said, “the mortality rate for Irish immigrant children was 25 percent.”

Only four of the Moores’ eight children, all girls, reached adulthood. Mrs. Moore died in 1882, when she was 36, shortly after giving birth to her eighth daughter. Curators speculate that the malnutrition that killed Agnes was brought on by drinking swill: milk from diseased cows, which street vendors ladled out of dirty vats and sometimes adulterated with chalk or ammonia.

A Virtual tour of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is available on the web.

NY Oysters: Urban History and The Environment

I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. It’s basically a short history of New York City told through the city’s natural environment and one of its most significant natural resources (possibly second only to its natural harbor) – the oyster.

I’ve also read, and can highly recommend, three of Kurlansky’s previous books.

Cod: A Biography of The Fish The Changed the World

The Basque History of the World

Salt A World History

All have implications for New York History – according to esteemed Iroquoisian Dean Snow, the word Iroquois is derived from a Basque word, a demonstration of their subtle impact in our region during their search for Cod off the Grand Banks, Cod they then salted to preserve. Throughout all three books Kurlansky includes historic recipes and other culinary history.

The Big Oyster is a must read for those interested in natural history, marine history, the Atlantic World, and food history as well as those with a taste for urban history and the New York City underworld of oyster cellars, cartmen, and seedy public spaces of all kinds.

Erik Baard of the blog Nature Calendar:Your Urban Wilderness Community posted an interesting interview with Kurlansky last week, and also points us to the upcoming Spring/Summer 2008 Oyster Gardening Event:

This program, in collaboration with NY/NJ Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School, seeks to increase stewardship among residents of the New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary by working with volunteers from schools and community organizations in New York City to help prepare an oyster reef off the Tribeca waterfront. The project builds on the results of NY/NJ Baykeeper oyster reef restoration in New Jersey and research conducted by The River Project at its Pier 26 field station in New York.

A taste of the interview with Kurlansky:

Erik Baard: The Dutch and British settlers used that shell lime to construct stone homes. And I’m kind of curious about the many ways oysters were used. It’s a very versatile product, the meat, the shell being used for construction of buildings… How else were they used?

Mark Kurlansky: They were used in roads, you know, paving roads and in landfill. They were use to fertilize soil, to increase the lime content of the soil, which used to be called “sweetening the soil.” You could just plow oysters under. In fact, Europeans who visited were surprised to see that. The European way was always to grind it up and create this lime powder that you use as fertilizer, but New York farmers used to just take whole shells and put them in the earth.

Erik Baard: And this would lower the acidity?

Mark Kurlansky: Right. Okay.

Erik Baard: Now also, Pearl Street, you clarified some mythologies on that.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, for some reason there’s a lot of mythologies about Pearl Street. I was just on Pearl Street last Saturday, I was thinking about this. Pearl Street was the waterfront in Dutch times, in the original Manhattan. It continues now several blocks further because of landfill. And there’s lots of stories about why it was called Pearl Street. But the real reason seems to be that on the waters edge there, the Indians had left large piles of shells.

Erik Baard: It wasn’t paved with the oyster shells?

Mark Kurlansky: No you often hear that but, one of the first things I noticed when I was researching this book was that the street got its name before it was paved

Disappearing NYC Inspired Blogs

Disappearing New York City landmarks have inspired two blogs worthy of note.

Check out Jeremiah Moss’s “ongoing obituary for my dying city” Vanishing New York, subtitled “The Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in The Process of Going Extinct.”

A second blog, Brooks of Sheffield’s Lost City, declares itself “A running Jeremiad on the vestiges of Old New York as they are steamrolled under or threatened by the currently ruthless real estate market and the City Fathers’ disregard for Gotham’s historical and cultural fabric.”

Both are worth a read, and can be found at our blogroll at right.

If you have tips for the New York History Blog about relevant blogs, sites, events, or news, drop us a note via our e-mail address at right.

1840s New York Smut Revisited

Last Tuesday’s Village Voice included a great review (by Tom Robbins) of The Flash Press: Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz. Robbins writes:

Like [Al] Goldstein’s Screw, the publishers [of long-forgotten sex rags from the early 1840s] chose titles that got right to the point: The Whip, The Rake, The Libertine, The Flash, and others with even shorter publishing lives. One of these, The New York Sporting Whip, offered a kind of mission statement: “Man is endowed by nature with passions that must be gratified,” the newspaper asserted, “and no blame can be attached to him, who for that purpose occasionally seeks the woman of pleasure.”

The so-called “father of the smutty papers” was William J. Snelling, a hard-drinking Bostoner who dropped out of West Point, hunted with the Dakota Indians, and helped found anti-slavery organizations. Inspired by a sex scandal involving a wealthy theater producer, Snelling launched The Sunday Flash in 1841 together with an eccentric minstrel singer named George Washington Dixon. They didn’t mince words: The theater producer in question, they wrote, was “a hoary leper,” a “Scoundrel whom even Texas vomited from her afflicted bowels.”

The papers were an immediate hit. Newsboys hawked them for six cents apiece at ferry landings and oyster bars. Paid circulation averaged 10,000 to 12,000 per issue. Among the surefire circulation-building devices were in-depth reviews of the city’s hundreds of brothels. “Princess Julia’s Palace of Love,” a story in the June 6, 1841, edition of a weekly called Dixon’s Polyanthos, depicted a popular brothel run by a fashionable madam named Julia Brown: “On ascending the second story, up the splendid steps, you fall in, with apartment No. 1. This room is occupied by Lady Ellen, and a glorious lady she is, with the dark flashing orbs, and full of feeling—so full of intellect that one might stand and gaze, and gaze . . .”

The full review is here.

2008 Americas Most Endangered Historic Places

Two locations in New York State have been listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s annual list of America’s Most Endangered Places. The non-profit membership organization hopes that saving the places where great moments from history – and the important moments of everyday life – took place, will help revitalize neighborhoods and communities, spark economic development, and promote environmental sustainability.

This years list includes eleven threatened one-of-a-kind historic treasures. Listing them as threatened raises awareness and helps rally resources to save them. The two New York locations on the list are:

The Lower East Side, New York City – The Lower East Side embodies the history of immigration, one of the central themes of American history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, yet development threatens to erase the surviving historic structures. This includes houses of worship, historic theaters, schools and the tenement, a unique architectural type which, by the sheer numbers who lived in such a building, had an impact on more Americans than any other form of urban housing. A New York City landmark designation and contextual zone changes within the neighborhood would preserve the physical character of the neighborhood. [At left Lower East Side Tenement by Greg Scaffidi]

Peace Bridge Neighborhood, Buffalo, N.Y. – The neighborhood and the site, with homes and buildings dating to the 1850s on two National Register Olmsted parks, is an iconic section of the City of Buffalo. The Public Bridge Authority (PBA) proposes to expand Peace Bridge and include a 45 acre plaza that will eliminate over 100 homes and businesses (dozens of which are eligible to the National Register) and diminish the Olmsted parks. Suitable alternate sites exist, but PBA refuses to properly consider them. [At right: Peace Bridge Neighborhood by Catherine Schweitzer]

A complete list along with a video produced by the History Channel is located at www.PreservationNation.org

P.T. Barnums American Museum On The Web

The New York City History blog The Bowery Boys has a great post on Barnum’s American Museum that includes a podcast, lots of images and a link to The City University of New York website devoted to Barnum’s, The Lost Museum. Both sites are worth checking out.

Barnum’s American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City from 1841 to it was destroyed by fire in 1865 [pdf of NY Times Article]. P.T. Barnum’s partner was John Scudder the original owner of the museum (then known as Scudder’s American Museum). Scudder recently found new fame as character inspiration for the HBO series Carnivale – a must see for those interested in carnies, the ballies, flying jennys, sugar shacks, the midway, and oh, the Great Depression.

According to wikipedia:

Barnum opened his museum on January 1, 1842 to create a place where families could go for wholesome, affordable entertainment but his success drew from the fact that he knew how to entice an audience. Its attractions made it a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show,that was, at the same time, a central site in the development of American popular culture. At its peak, the museum was open fifteen hours a day and had as much as 15,000 visitors a day.

On July 13th, 1865, the American Museum burned to the ground in one of the most spectacular fires New York has ever seen. Animals at the museum were seen jumping from the burning building, only to be shot by police officers. Barnum tried to open another museum soon after that, but that also burned down in a mysterious fire in 1868. It was after this time that Barnum moved onto politics and the circus industry.

While we’re talking Phineas Taylor Barnum, we should point readers to Robin Freeds’ “In Business for Myself: P.T. Barnum and the Management of Spectacle.”

Also, the Disability History Museum has the full text of Barnum’s 1860 catalog online.