Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New York Fall - Saturday Noon

Saturday Noon

We woke up to a rainy day. Rainy, wind blowing, 45 degrees. But we are from Juneau Alaska so we felt right at home!

We spent the morning reading, writing, walking the dog and enjoying takeout coffee from right next door. Then, fortified for an outing, we made our way to the lower tip of the island of Manhattan, to the old section.

Among the towering skyscrapers, amidst the ubiquitous yellow cabs and the cold and wet of the city streets, we found an entire city block of old preserved buildings, which included our destination, Fraunces Tavern, which is a restaurant and a museum .

This is a bird’s eye view of the whole block, and a street level view; both photos lifted from the web.

This site is most famous for being the location where George Washington bade farewell to his officers at the end of the Revolutionary War. In the museum is a restored room similar to the one where this dinner party took place. You might think that this would be a sumptuous, luxurious space, but it wasn’t: bare pine floors stained with spilled wine and ale, smoke hanging thick in the air from a dozen clay pipes, a simple long wooden table, bare wooden chairs, a fireplace at either end of the room, candles on the table and in sconces on the walls. On this day there had been a large tureen of turtle soup, and bread and cheese and other simple fare.

One thing I learned by being in this room is that this was an extremely emotional time for everyone present. George made a speech and raised his glass to his officers, saying:

"[w]ith a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.".

He then asked them to come up to him and offer their goodbyes individually because he knew that he would break down in tears if he tried to make the rounds of the room. It turned out that everyone, including the great General, despite his famous self control, was in tears by the end of the evening.

Think about what these men had been through. They had revolted in open war against the most powerful country in history, their country, their sovereign King. If they had failed they knew that they would have all been ignominiously hung and their families would have been ruined, their vast fortunes lost, their honor stained for all time, their legacies in ruins. They had endured many privations over the long years of war, watched their men suffer hunger, leave bloody footprints in the snow for want of shoes. They had avoided, attacked, out-maneuvered and defeated the finest of armies and the greatest naval force the world had ever known. They had witnessed spirit-crushing defeats, and soaring triumphs. And it was all coming to an end, here in Fraunces Tavern in New York City. After the emotional farewell, Washington left the room, went to the wharf, boarded a barge and returned to Virginia.

But there was another story here. The man who owned the tavern was named Samuel Fraunces, who was born in Jamaica of uncertain heritage (some hold that he was a black man). Over a nine year span he was a witness to some deeply significant times. In 1774 Sam watched men plot a revolution in his tavern, planning the New York Tea Party. The next year a British warship sailed into the harbor and bombarded the city and an eighteen pound cannonball crashed through his tavern’s roof. The following year, after the city was occupied by the British, Fraunces fled to New Jersey, but was later captured and forced to return to New York City to cook for British generals and the tavern was frequented by British soldiers. After seven long years of British occupation, in 1783, once the British had finally evacuated the city, his tavern was the site for the famous farewell dinner. Imagine the stories he could tell!

On this day, only six generations and 228 years later, we enjoyed a traditional 18th century tavern meal, by candlelight: shepherd’s pie and fish and chips. It was a grey October day, yellow leaves falling on the sidewalks and streets outside the tall 12-pane windows, the rain becoming a wet driven snow, but inside it was cheery and warm.

 Next: Sunday Morning at Trinity Church

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