Lower Manhattan was the hub of activity for the Dutch. It also was the center of life for the British. One small section of this area today is crowded and traversed by Whitehall Street, State Street and Broadway.
For all these years, these crossroads have surrounded a park known to generations of New Yorkers as Bowling Green. During the city’s earliest years, however, the land was known as The Parade. Leased to John Chamber, Peter Bayard and Peter Jay at the rental fee of one peppercorn per year, the greenway was enclosed and made into a bowling green with “Walks therein for the Beauty & Ornament of the Said Street.”
During the Revolutionary War, when the British Army occupied the city, the streets surrounding the park housed British generals such as Henry Howe, Henry Clinton and Sir Guy Carlton. Even Benedict Arnold lived in this neighborhood after he turned against the American cause. A plot to kidnap him from his home failed to return him to the American lines for trial.
After the war and when the new American government was established, the nearby Old Dutch Fort was demolished to build a presidential mansion for George Washington. While the first president never occupied the mansion, it did become the official home of New York’s governors. For a time, Bowling Green was used as the private garden for the governors.
Famous Washington and Unknown Mulligan
Though he didn’t live in the neighborhood, Washington still has a strong connection to the area. A wooden statue of the general and statesman stood for a number of years in Bowling Green. The statue was removed during 1843 by city authorities in response to local art critics. Left in the hands of a private collector for 40 years, it was sold for $300 upon his death. The statue was placed atop the original wooden arch that stood at Washington Square prior to the current marble structure. During 1889, the statue was sold to a cigar store owner.
All the history over so many years for this one area of Manhattan does not compare with the events that occurred in the park on one specific evening--July 9, 1776.
Before the outbreak of hostilities between the mother country and its colonies, a metal statue of King George III astride a horse had been erected in Bowling Green at the request of the citizenry. But, just five days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, horse and rider were dragged from the pedestal and broken to bits. The metal was melted to create, according to one account, 42,000 bullets for the patriots to use against the British.
A few remaining fragments of the statue can be seen today at the New-York Historical Society. But, one of the leaders of the protest, merchant Hercules Mulligan, rarely is mentioned in the history books.
Mulligan’s other forgotten contributions to American independence include twice saving the life of General Washington. At separate times, Mulligan obtained valuable information about plots to trap Washington from the British officers who frequented his business. He conveyed the details to Washington through the general's spy network that operated in and around New York City. The advance warnings allowed Washington to avoid capture during the war.