Thursday, September 30, 2010

Historians Lobby for State Signage to Recognize Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Woodhull by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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The cannon at Nathaniel Woodhull School (PS 35) in Hollis is the only marker of death of the Revolutionary War general Nathaniel Woodhull. Historians are lobbying for official state signage.

Exactly 234 years ago this month, a Revolutionary War general died from wounds incurred during a defiant showdown with the British - a gripping tale of patriotism that began in Queens.
But the spot where Nathaniel Woodhull was mortally wounded in 1776 does not bear tribute to the first high-ranking colonial officer to become a prisoner of war and die in enemy captivity.
"It needs to be preserved as a reminder of his sacrifice," said John Mauk Hilliard, president of the city chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. "We need these things to draw us together."
A few weeks ago, Daily News reader Lavington Charles suggested the spot where Woodhull was fatally injured - at 196th St. and Jamaica Ave. in Hollis - as part of the Queens Heritage Quest series.
Now in its fourth installment, the series profiles places that preservationists feel deserve recognition from Borough Hall - such as signage or historic trails linked by brochures or podcasts.
A state historical marker citing Woodhull's capture once stood at the corner. But the sign broke about a decade ago and has since been stored at the Queens Historical Society in Flushing.
Queens' new borough historian, Jack Eichenbaum, did not rule out his support for historical signage. But he also suggested an iPhone application to link notable Hollis sites or Queens places relating to the American Revolution.
Locals agreed on paying tribute to Woodhull.
"What happened to him is a lesson for every one of us," said Bob Singleton, president of the Greater Astoria Historical Society. "That dream that Woodhull stood for is alive and well whenever I walk around Queens."
Woodhull, president of the Provincial Congress of New York, was assigned to steer cattle east to Long Island - and away from the British - when he stopped at a tavern in Queens on Aug. 28, 1776.
From there, the narrative gets sketchy.
Tradition describes a dramatic scene during which Woodhull encountered British forces and soon surrendered his sword. An officer then ordered Woodhull to proclaim, "God save the king."
"God save us all!" Woodhull responded. The officer, sometimes identified as Capt. James Baird, slashed Woodhull with a saber - delivering multiple blows that led to his death in captivity about a month later on Sept. 20.
But a different story emerged in 1951 when The New York Times ran a front-page article in which researcher W.H.W. Sabine doubted the compelling exchange.
Sabine cited a dusty scrapbook with Woodhull's own account of the capture - apparently given to a lieutenant who was with him in a prison camp when he died.
Woodhull supposedly said that he surrendered his sword to - and was then struck by - an American Tory, loyal to the British, named Capt. Oliver DeLancey.
Whether Woodhull was fatally struck while defending himself or after surrendering also became a point of contention. Experts even question his memorable quote.
Regardless of the circumstances, historians insist that Woodhull's death helped define a crucial period around the time of the famous Battle of Long Island.
His agonizing demise - and the apparent refusal by the British to allow medical care - reminded colonists of the brutality of their rivals.
"The fact that he died as a British prisoner, no matter how that happened, was an important one," said Brooklyn College Prof. Edwin Burrows, the author of the 2008 book "Forgotten Patriots," about early American POWs.