While many people know about the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and Hamilton’s unfavorable opinion of Burr as a public and private man, it is less known that they were on the same legal team in the scandalous trial of Levi Weeks in 1800. Weeks was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Elma Sands, by throwing her down a well, in what is today SoHo, in December 1799. Weeks retained Burr, Hamilton and Henry Brockholst Livingston, all well-known lawyers to defend him. Weeks was acquitted after only a few minutes of jury deliberation. With strong public sentiment against the verdict, Weeks left New York for Mississippi where he became a builder and architect. His Auburn Mansion in Natchez, Mississippi is National Historic Landmark. Burr and Hamilton would engage in a duel in Weehawken a little over four years later in July 1804. The portrait is of Aaron Burr.
On the Hamilton & Washington in New York City walking tour, we see the famous Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street, a location that is very important to the history of the United States. The tavern, which you can visit today both as a tavern and museum, was originally built on a water lot (that was landfilled) as a brick house for Stephen De Lancey. Samuel Fraunces would acquire it in 1762 and opened the Queen’s Head Tavern and subsequently Fraunces Tavern. Washington bid his officers an emotional farewell at the tavern on December 4, 1783. The image shows the building on the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets around 1905.
Robert Fulton is undoubtedly, one of the most important people in the history of New York City. He is credited with commercializing the steamboat. His first boat, the Clermont, took travelers on a 150 mile trip up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany. The steamboat had a tremendous influence on trade and transportation improving both reliability and speed. In 1814, the wealthy Brooklyn landowner Hezikiah Pierrepont (as in Pierrepont Place), teamed up with Fulton, and took at 25-year lease on the ferry route between New York City and Brooklyn. The first steam-powered Nassau boat, made regularly scheduled trips between New York and Brooklyn and vice-versa, and effectively reduced the time in the winter and in storms from up to about 1.5 hours to only 12 minutes. We visit the Fulton Ferry landing on the Brooklyn walking tour and on the Hamilton & Washington tour we see the monument to Robert Fulton (near where he is buried) in the Trinity Church cemetery. Although the Brooklyn Bridge, completed, in 1883, reduced the steamboats viability, the Fulton Ferry operated until 1924. New York City currently offers a similar route from the Fulton Ferry landing to Wall Street in Manhattan. The photo is of Robert Fulton’s life mask done by Jean Antoine-Houdon, who also did George Washington’s life mask.
The Central Park Lake is a 20-acre man-made lake incorporating an existing water body but enlarged for Olmsted and Vaux’s design. In the winter of 1858, after only six months of work on Central Park, the Lake had its first season of ice-skating. The still photo above is from a 1900 movie. While skating is now prohibited on the Lake, there are two formal skating rinks in the Park. Rowboats can also be rented at the boathouse.
In 1862, Walt Whitman, resident of Brooklyn Heights wrote the following:
“Why then should not Brooklyn, in the experience of persons now living, become a city of a great million inhabitants? We have no doubt it will. We can not go over the list and description of our public institutions in this paper, although we intend to do so one of these days. We have not, in a modern city like Brooklyn, such marked specimens of magnificent architecture as the ancient or mediaeval cities presented, and many of whose ruins yet remain. For our architectural greatness consists in the hundreds and thousands of superb private dwellings, for the comfort and luxury of the great body of middle class people–a kind of architecture unknown until comparatively late times, and no where known to such an extent as in Brooklyn, and the other first class cities of the New World.”
Whitman was correct about the “great million inhabitants” that Brooklyn would achieve and the “greatness” of the architecture. See the houses he is referring to on the Brooklyn Revolution (aka Best of Brooklyn Tour)
On the Brooklyn Revolution walking tour, highlighting some of the best that Brooklyn has to offer, one of the most popular sites is the former home of Truman Capote, where he worked on two of his greatest works: “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood.” The house is on 70 Willow Street. From 1955-1965, Capote rented space on the basement level from Oliver Smith, the famed Tony Award-winning Broadway scenic designer. George Plimpton, who was a visitor, wrote that “when friends came to call, [Capote] often took them on a tour of the entire house (when Smith was not at home) and said it was his house, all his, and that he had restored and decorated every room.” In February 1959, Capote penned “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir” for “Holiday” travel magazine in which he begins:
“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.”
The entire article and photos taken at the time by David Attie of Capote, the house and the neighborhood are available in the book: “Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir, with the Lost Photographs of David Attie.”
In George Washington’s era, a lock of hair was an ultimate keepsake. Washington’s hair seems to be in a lot of places, even three Topps baseball trading card packs! Recently, it was found in a 1793 book that belonged to Phillip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. Even more recently, in a Leland’s auction, 5.31-inch locks of his hair were attached to a March 20, 1871 letter from Secretary of State, James Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton’s third son) to Eleanor G. Collins, in “respect and regard.” The locks were given to James by his mother, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. The starting bid was $2,500, and the locks fetched $35,763.60 when the auction was completed.
In 1754, after the Battle of the Great Meadows in the French & Indian War, a 22-year-old George Washington wrote to his younger brother John Augustine a letter and added this quote at the end:
“I fortunately escaped without a wound, tho’ the right Wing where I stood was exposed to & received all the Enemy’s fire and was the part where the man was killed & the rest wounded. I can with truth assure you, I heard Bulletts whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound.”
On the Brooklyn walking tour, you will see the great Plymouth Church originally lead by the “most famous man in the world” Henry Ward Beecher. In 1860, Beecher, and ardent abolitionist (whose sister was Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) invited the relatively unknown Abraham Lincoln to speak at the church. Lincoln accepted the $200 invitation and attended services there, but because of the large demand, gave his “Right Makes Might” speech in the Cooper Union in (what is now) the East Village instead. The pew in which Lincoln sat in the Plymouth Church is marked with a plaque which is in the photo here.
While exploring the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 forts on the Secret Places of Central Park tour you’ll come upon a fortification which includes a genuine British cannon from the Revolutionary War. Salvaged from the H.M.S. Hussar after shipwrecking off the East River in 1780, it was eventually donated to Central Park. After being put into storage for a number of years, the Central Park Conservancy, in their plans to restore the Revolutionary War/War of 1812 fortifications, planned to put the artillery piece back on display. While restoring it in 2013, they found a cannonball, wadding, and frighteningly enough, over a pound of gunpowder, making this, in theory, a still-loaded cannon since 1780. The Bomb Squad were called to remove the explosive material, and eventually, it was put back on display for you to see!