There is a flagpole in City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan that appears to be an ordinary flagpole. A sign at the top of the pole says, “Liberty.” There has been a lot of discussion about what the American Flag means, but in the case of the Liberty Pole in City Hall Park, the pole itself might mean as much as the flag it carries.
With skyscrapers towering throughout Manhattan and the hustle and bustle of New York City streets, it is easy to overlook the extensive history of New York City. For example, one might understand that history is being made in City Hall, but the park it overlooks is more than a beautiful place to enjoy lunch and a coffee. City Hall Park is a keeper of many historical moments.
The Sons of Liberty erected the first Liberty Pole after the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766. Back then, City Hall Park was called “The Fields.” The flag pole became a meeting place for the Sons of Liberty and concerned citizens to protest the British government. One evening, British Redcoats cut down the wooden pole. The next day, the Sons of Liberty put up another one. This happened four more times. If you have seen Hamilton the Musical, The Liberty Pole is where Hamilton argues in the song Farmer Refuted.
The destruction of the fourth pole led to violence and preceded the Boston Massacre by 6 weeks. On January 16, 1770, British soldiers blew up the Liberty Pole and placed the pieces at a nearby tavern. Three days later, a man by the name of Isaac Sears, who was a member of the Sons of Liberty, along with others, stopped British soldiers from passing out pamphlets that decried the Sons of Liberty. Sears and the group captured the soldiers and marched them towards City Hall. When the other British soldiers found out, an alarm sounded, and they met Sears and the Sons of Liberty at what is now Pearl Street and William Street. The soldiers drew their bayonets and charged through the crowds, injuring many. One death was reported, but that is disputed. The skirmish became known as “The Battle of Golden Hill.” The next month, they planted another Liberty Pole.
6 years later, George Washington stood by the Liberty Pole and read the Declaration of Independence in front of troops, which included Alexander Hamilton. It was from here that the Sons of Liberty marched to Bowling Green to tear down King George’s statue.
Within a few months of Washington reading the Declaration of Independence, NYC fell to the British. A jail stood at the Eastern edge of The Fields. It was in this jail that a 20-year-old Nathan Hale spent his last night on earth. Hale was arrested as a spy and sentenced to death. Before they hung him near the Chamber’s Street side of the park, he famously said, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.”
The Liberty Pole that stands in City Hall Park is a replica of the 5 poles that once stood in its place. It was dedicated on June 14th, 1921 with a plaque that states, HERE IN THE ANCIENT COMMONS OF OUR CITY WHERE, BEFORE THE TIME OF OUR NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE, FIVE LIBERTY POLES WERE SUCCESSIVELY SET UP, THIS FLAGPOLE OF 1921 IS PLACED IN GRATEFUL REMEMBRANCE OF ALL LOVERS OF OUR COUNTRY WHO HAVE DIED THAT THE LIBERTY WON ON THESE SHORES MIGHT BE THE HERITAGE OF THE WORLD.
New York City’s Bowling Green Fence Tells a Historical Story
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Visiting Hamilton Grange
Visiting Grant’s Tomb
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Visiting St. Paul’s Chapel