The New York Historical Society organized the exhibition to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. The exhibition focuses on the story of the American Revolution in New York, then the seat of the British Empire in North America. New York became a safe haven for forces loyal to the British.
The New York Historical Society's librarian, Miriam Touba, says patriots and loyalists lived side by side and often clashed. "[New York] had a contingent of people who were loyal partly because the British used this as their headquarters," she says. "Eventually, when the British took over the city and occupied it, it became a haven where loyalists from other parts of the colonies came and settled. Then it really became a loyalist hotbed."
The display highlights the role of publishers in New York, showing off the Historical Society's collection of early American printed materials, including maps, manuscripts and broadsides. Broadside is the term for single sheets of printed paper used as posters and handbills. In Revolutionary times, when newspapers were published only once or twice a week, broadsides were put out to bring late breaking news.
One of the gems of the exhibit is a rare surviving broadside printed with the Declaration of Independence. Miriam Touba says this is how New Yorkers first heard the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had declared independence from Britain. "As soon as they had voted it, they brought it to a local Philadelphia printer who made up his own broadside," she says. "Then this broadside was spread by courier to the various capitals of the colonies and then to the Continental Army commanders. In our case, George Washington was stationed in New York City so this news came to New York City. George Washington ordered it read to his troops here on July 9. It took five days to get here. New York printers put out their versions as soon as they could. This one is printed by Hugh Gaine, a local printer. It appears on paper that bears the watermark of [King] George III."
On an opposite wall hangs a faded copy of the Loyalist counterpoint. Ms. Touba says the New York Historical Society staff refers to it as the Declaration of Dependence. "They did not call it that. It was put out by Loyalists living in New York City while it was under occupation in November of 1776," she says. "They do mention in the text, which is faded and hard to read - it is handwritten - that they do believe the Crown should be supreme over the colonies and that this particular rebellion is the most "unnatural, unprovoked rebellion that ever disgraced the annals of time."
The Loyalist document does petition the British government to lift martial law and improve conditions in New York.
"Independence and Its Enemies in New York" is the first of a two-part exhibit exploring the British in New York from the American Revolution to modern times, including the first visit of the Beatles to New York in the 1960s.