Before July 9, 1776 an equestrian statue of King George II stood menacingly on Bowling Green in New York City. On that date Patriots toppled the structure and cut it into pieces, many of which were melted down and cast into bullets for firing against British soldiers. As told in this enlightening story, all known original pieces have surfaced in a variety of locations – and the search for others continues.
|This old illustration depicts Patriots tearing down the statue of King George III that was standing on Bowling Green in New York City. This took place on July 9, 1776.|
In 1766, New York City decided to erect statues of William Pitt and King George III. Both statues were commissioned toJoseph Wilton (1722-1803), a prominent sculptor in London. The King George statue was cast in lead and gilded, shipped to America, and erected at Bowling Green, near the tip of Manhattan on Aug. 21, 1770. This was the birth date of the king’s late father, Prince Frederick. The statue was massive estimated at 4,000 pounds. The king was depicted on horseback, in Roman garb, after the style of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome.
The statue quickly became unpopular with the public, and in 1773 an anti-graffiti, anti-desecration law was enacted to discourage vandalism.
After the early battles of the Revolution, the Americans began to covet the 4,000 pounds of lead towering above them. On the night of July 9, 1776 – when the Declaration of Independence was received and read in New York City – the statue met its demise. In a burst of patriotic fervor, a number of soldiers, sailors and citizens decided to act. They threw ropes around it, succeeded in pulling it down, and cut it into pieces of manageable size.
Capt. Oliver Brown of Wellsburg, West Virginia, in a statement made in 1845 said that he was in command of the soldiers and sailors at the destruction of the statue. There were 40 of them. On the first attempt the ropes broke, but on the second they were successful.
Washington Expresses Disapproval
A group called the Sons of Liberty also claimed responsibility for the act. They were led either by Col. Peter Cortenjus or by Isaac Sears, both of whom took credit. George Washington, in his orderly book on July 10th expressed his disapproval of this sort of mob action and his hope that in the future the military would leave this kind of work “to the proper authorities. “
They kept the head of the king aside, intending to impale it upon a stake, but by the next morning it had been stolen by Tories, who smuggled it to England. It showed up there, a year later, in the home of Lord and Lady Townshend (of the hated Townshend Acts) and was seen there by Thomas Hutchinson, who noted it in his diary. It has not been seen since.
Making Bullets Commences
The balance of the statue was shipped to Norwalk, Connecticut from whence it would be carted to Litchfield, the home of Gen. Oliver Wolcott.
The statue reached the dock in Norwalk and was loaded onto oxcarts in the charge of Henry Chichester of Wilton. When they reached Wilton, they stopped overnight at the Clapp Raymond Tavern (now owned by the Wilton Historical Society) and presumably continued northward the next day.
At Litchfield, Gen. Oliver Wolcott erected a shed in his orchard and supervised a group of family members and neighbors in casting 42,088 bullets. This count was meticulously recorded in a document, which has survived. Gen. Wolcott’s young son Frederick was credited with casting 936 bullets. Many years later Judge Frederick Wolcott read details of the event for Rev. George Woodruff’s History of Litchfield, published in 1845: “My father chopped it up with his ax and the girls had a frolic in running it into bullets. ” No one in Litchfield noticed at the time that a statue of 4,000 pounds, at 20 bullets to the pound, should have yielded almost twice as many bullets as the 42,088 produced. Henry Chichester, however, made note of the loss in a latter kept by his family until it was destroyed in a fire in 1830.
|This article is based on a talk that was presented at a November, 1997 meeting of the Connecticut Society’s Roger Sherman Branch by Robert Russell (center), First Selectman of Wilton and potential SAR. The setting was the Wilton Historical Heritage Museum. Working closely with him in the preparation of the article’s manuscript were two members of the branch: Michael R. Harke (left) and Paul Caravatt. Here they are shown in the Museum examining a gilded piece of the George III statue – believed to be from the royal drapery (see drawing reproduced elsewhere).|
Missing Pieces Begin To Show Up
This might have been the end of the story, but fifty years later, in Wilton; the missing pieces began to surface. About 1822, young William Comstock, whose grandfather had lived in the Raymond Tavern from 1799-1814, was digging in a field on the hill across the street, near the pond now known as the Davis Swamp. He came upon a 75-lb. piece of lead in the shape of a saddle. It was identified by an aged veteran as a part of the King George statue. The Comstocks sold it to a New York City resident who sold it to Riley’s Fifth Ward Museum Hotel in New York City. After Riley’s death in 1864, it disappeared.
Also in the 1820s a piece of the lead coat skirt was found by Moses Olmstead under the milk room on the property of his aunt Abigail Sloan, a half mile up the road. Aunt Nabby said that her late husband David (known to be a Tory) had taken some pieces in 1776 and hidden them. (Source: article by Samuel Main, dated Jan 21, 1881.) This piece was shown by Moses Olmstead in 1829, but has not been seen since.
The destruction of the statue with the intent to melt it down for bullets was widely known at the time. It is likely that David Sloan and other local Tories determined to interfere with these plans. A neighbor of Sloan was Job Burlock, who was known to have shielded British agents. Burlock escaped to Long Island in 1778 and his house was confiscated. When he returned in 1783 he was shot dead on his doorstep. The closest Tory neighbor of all was Samuel Belden, who kept a store right across the street, and conveniently had a large pond nearby (Davis Swamp).
More Pieces Discovered
Three more pieces were found either in the Davis Swamp or on the Sloan property before 1830: the left arm, a part of the thigh, and a piece of the saddle mountings, totaling 65 lb. According to D.H. VanHoosear, Mr. Samuel Lambert (a prominent Wilton citizen who lived a mile south in another homestead now owned by the Wilton Historical Society) purchased these in 1837 from the Sloans. Mr. Lambert wrote of this in 1847 but was unclear as to the location of the
|As described in the accompanying article, a number of pieces of the original George III statue have been recovered – as indicated here in black sections. This is courtesy of Robert Russell, First Selectman of Wilton, whose talk at a Roger Sherman Branch meeting stimulated preparation of the manuscript.|
discovery. He gave the arm piece to his brother-in-law, Mr. Crookshank of Canada. It has since been lost. As of 1894, when VanHoosear wrote his summary, the other two pieces were still in the Lambert family(Source: David VanHoosear, 1844 – 1921, Wilton historian).
A 25-lb. section was given in 1908 to Henry Chichester by Mrs. Eva Ogden Lambert, his sister-in-law and the widow of the last Lambert to live in the Wilton homestead. Henry Chichester was Wilton Town Clerk for many years and kept the piece on display in his office. He was also the grandson of the Henry Chichester who drove the oxcarts in 1776. His son Sherwood Chichester inherited the piece and later gave it to Charles Weitzel, a plumber, who almost melted it down before discovering its history. His granddaughter, Mrs. Mary Jane Weitzel Glanz of Ridgefield, owned it in 1975. This piece was described as a part of the saddle by Henry Chichester’s widow in a letter to Clerc Ogden, but is described as a piece of the foreleg by other writers.
And Even More Pieces
Mrs. Eva Ogden Lambert gave her brother George Ogden another piece, weighing about 20 lb. and said to be either part of the royal cape or the horse’s mane. George’s son Clerc Ogden, (1888-1972), who was also a Wilton historian and Wilton Registrar of Voters from 1915 – 1960, gave this piece to the Connecticut State Library in 1960 when he retired and moved to Florida.
|Bowling Green in New York City was the site of the George III statue. The original fence still encompasses the area.|
|(Photos courtesy of Dr. Laurence Simpson, a resident of New York City who is working on a book about Revolutionary War markers. A member of the Board of Managers of the SR of New York, he also serves as Chairman of that group’s Color Guard – along with Compatriot Edward Franklin Romig, II, Color Guard Vice Chairman and President of the Connecticut Society’s Roger Sherman Branch.)|
Another small piece of gilded royal cloak, said to have come from the Davis Swamp, was owned by Dr. Andrew Gorham, (1851-1907). His widow Deborah, (1855-1937), gave it to a friend John Davenport, (1910-9 1), who in turn gave it to the Wilton Historical Society in 1965.
The largest find to date was in 1874, by Peter Coley, who by then owned the Sloan place. He plowed up some 200 lbs. of tail, flank, and saddle, which he sold for $100 to the New York Historical Society. Another Coley had donated a small fragment to the same society in 1875. Mr. VanHoosear placed a wooden marker in front of the former Sloan place in about 1900 to commemorate the 1874 discovery.
Almost 100 years lapsed before the next find in 1972. Wilton resident Lou Miller, with the advantage of a modem metal detector, discovered a 20 lb. piece in Davis Swamp; unfortunately, without permission of the property owners. He sold the piece to the Museum of the City of New York for $5,500. The property owners sued and won after a six-year court fight, and then agreed to go through with the sale to the museum for the same price.
So the scorecard is 2, 100 lbs. made into bullets, about 50 lbs. in the head, which went to London, 420 lb. found in Wilton. and about 1,400 lb. unaccounted for.
Now A Race Against Time
But this is still not the end of the story. The Davis Swamp property is about to be developed into a 26-house subdivision. Connecticut State Archaeologist, Dr. Nicholas F Bellantoni, was contacted by Compatriot Michael Harke, and permission was received from the current owners to search the property for additional pieces of the statue.
|The fence features a number of supporting posts. The crowns were cut off at the same time the statue was taken down in 1776.|
|This tail was part of the original horse depicted in the George III statue. It still shows traces of gilding. (Courtesy of the New York Historical Society.)|
As a result of the article that appeared in the Wilton Bulletin, after Robert Russell’s presentation to the Roger Sherman Branch in November, another Wilton resident has come forward with an as yet unconfirmed piece of the statue.
On November 29, 1997, Dr. Bellantoni and a group of individuals with metal detectors began the process of combing the 27-acre site. Although nothing has been found yet, the search will continue.
This article has been reproduced from the Winter, 1998 issue of The SAR Magazine.