I adore history and love sharing my new-found knowledge with you, so that you can fully appreciate your “Taste of New York “Interlude and really get a true sense of Harlem. Did you know that Harlem played an important role in the American Revolution? The British had established the base of their operations in lower Manhattan, and George Washington used the area around Harlem to oppose them. From Harlem, he was able to control the land routes to the north, as well as traffic on the Harlem River.
During this time, Mary and Roger Morris had to leave their home – you’ll be touring the Morris-Jumel Mansion – because they were Tories (colonists loyal to Britain). After they left, Washington and his Patriot officers moved in and made the house their headquarters for five weeks in the autumn of 1776. It was a strategic location, because the house offered a great view of Manhattan and both the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. From this strategic position, he planned his army’s first successful victory; The Battle of Harlem Heights. The American troops were greatly outnumbered, 5000 to 2000, and were not well equipped, but outflanked the British and forced them to retreat. It is significant as it was Washington’s first American victory. Later that year, the British would avenge this defeat by chasing Washington and his troops north, then turning back and burning Harlem to the ground.
A little background on the mansion that you will be touring. The Morris-Jumel Mansion was built in 1765 as a summer villa by Colonel Roger Morris and his wife, Mary Philipse. Roger was born in England and Mary was born and raised in the colony of New York. Their country estate was named “Mount Morris” and stretched over 130 acres from the Harlem to the Hudson Rivers. Mount Morris was one of the highest points in Manhattan and offered clear views of New Jersey, Connecticut, and all of New York harbor. With the help of their workers, the Morris family grew fruit trees and raised cows and sheep. At that time the island of Manhattan was mostly woods and farms – hard to imagine! After Washington’s army abandoned Manhattan Island, the mansion served as headquarters to the British and their allies. When the war finally came to an end the new government of the United States of America confiscated the Mansion and its property.
Twenty years after the Revolutionary War, in 1810, Stephen Jumel, a Frenchman, purchased the house. He came to New York from Haiti, where his family owned a sugar plantation. In New York, Stephen married Eliza Bowen. Eliza was a flamboyant woman who had grown up in Rhode Island in a poor family. It is rumored that New York’s women of “high society” did not accept Eliza as an equal. Not to be daunted, Eliza turned her energy to the real estate trade, buying and selling land and buildings. She was a huge success, and made large profits for herself and her husband at a time when it was most unusual for a woman to be in business at all.
After her husband’s death, Eliza married Aaron Burr. Burr, you remember, had been Vice President of the United States when Thomas Jefferson was President. He also had run for President in 1800 and for Governor of New York in 1804 – losing both elections. Burr blamed his political opponent, Alexander Hamilton for both these defeats. He felt so wronged by Hamilton that he challenged him to a duel and killed him. Burr was tried and acquitted. It’s so fun to see how the history we all learned so long ago comes to life when you can add these personal touches and interesting details!
On this eclectic Interlude through New York you will visit Harlem and enjoy the Morris-Jumel Mansion; the oldest remaining house in Manhattan and now a museum highlighting over 200 years of New York history, art, and culture. The neighborhood surrounding the Mansion has been the home to many illustrious individuals. Prominent African-Americans and great artists including Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall to name a few, lived in this historic area. The buildings are protected by the New York Landmarks Commission and must be maintained by their owners to look as they did when they were new. Because of this, the appearance of the neighborhood has changed very little since the late 1800’s- what a treat to see!
Before leaving this historic mecca you will be able to savor part of a live gospel mass; this exhilarating and uplifting experience of song and praise is the perfect ending to a wonderful travel experience.
Please read the complete itinerary and begin to plan for your unique visit to the Big Apple. You WILL NOT be disappointed.
Eadie, Interlude Blog Team
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