On April 26th, 1770, A statue of King George III was dedicated in Bowling Green in New York City. Using inspiration from Marcus Aurelius’ statue on Capitoline Hill in Rome, sculptor Joseph Wilson placed King George upon a horse, triumphantly leading the colonies. The statue was made of lead and gold, weighing in over 4,000 pounds and standing around 15 feet high. The statue rested upon a marble pedestal. The statue was commissioned, along with a marble statue of William Pitt after the Stamp Act was repealed. Pitt’s statue stood nearby at the intersection of William Street and Wall Street.
William Pitt was a British Parliamentarian and was instrumental in the repealing of the Stamp Act in 1766. After the Stamp Act was repealed (more strict laws passed the same day though), a statue of him was commissioned to be put on display in New York City. England didn’t want to give all the glory of repealing the Stamp Act to Pitt. A second statue of King George was commissioned and put on display a day before the Pitt statue. An iron fence with ornate crowns placed upon poles surrounded King George’s statue. The message it gave to the citizens of New York was simple: if you fight us, we will win.
A little over 6 years later, on July 9, 1776, George Washington stood in what is now City Hall Park and read the Declaration of Independence, hoping to inspire “every officer, and soldier, to act with fidelity and courage.” He accomplished that. Later that evening, a group of about 40 men, armed with axes, saws, and shovels, convened at Bowling Green. (Washington was not happy about the mob).
King George’s statue was toppled and dragged through the streets of New York City. After they separated the gold from the statue, it was shipped off to Litchfield, Connecticut, and melted into musket balls. A piece of the horse’s tail is on display at the New York Historical Society. The crowns that topped the fence posts that proclaimed the King’s majesty were hacked and sawed off, never to be seen again. The fence remains.
As a lover of all things related to history and especially the Revolutionary War, I find Bowling Green Park fascinating. Most passersby probably think little of the old iron fence that surrounds the park nor know much about the park’s historical significance. I walked around the fence with my daughter and we inspected each post and ran our fingers across the slashes in the iron where people sawed off the crowns. We compared the heights from one post to the next, wondering how much of the post a Son of Liberty took home. And we discussed how seeing a statue daily of a tyrant must’ve felt to those that were held down by the government and politics of the day.
If you’re walking in Lower Manhattan or visiting the National Museum of the American Indian, take a moment to inspect the fence posts at Bowling Green.