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The Overthrow of the Statue of King George by Sarah J. Prichard

Tale of the American Revolution

If, on the evening of July 9, 1876, at six of the clock, you go and stand where the shadow of the steeple of St. Paul's church in New York is falling, you will occupy the space General Washington occupied, just one hundred years ago, when with uncovered head and reverent mien, he, in the presence of and surrounded by a brigade of noble soldiers, listened to the reading of the Declaration of Independence.

You will remember that at the church door on Sunday, Blue-Eyed Boy brought to him, by word of mouth, the great news that a nation was born on Thursday.

This news was now, for the first time, announced to the men of New York and New England.

No wonder that their military caps came off on Tuesday, that their arms swung in the air, and their voices burst forth into one loud acclaim that might have been heard by the British foe then landing on Staten Island.

As you stand there, and the shadow of old St. Paul swings around and covers you, shut your eyes and listen. Something of the olden music, of the loud acclaim, may swing around with the shadow and fall on your ears, since no motion is ever spent, no sound ever still.

On that night, when the grand burst of enthusiasm had arisen, Blue-Eyed Boy said to General Washington: “I am afraid, sir, if Congress had known, they never would have done it, never! It seemed easy to do it in Philadelphia, where everything is just as it used to be; but here, with all the British ships riding in, full of soldiers, and guns enough in them to smash the old State House where they did it! If they'd only known about the ships!—”

Ah! Blue-Eyed Boy. You didn't keep your eye very close to Congress Hall in the morning of last Thursday, or you would have heard Mr. Hancock or Mr. Thompson read to Congress a letter from General Washington, announcing the arrival of General Howe at Sandy Hook with one hundred and ten ships of war.

No, no! Blue-Eyed Boy and every other boy; the men who dared to say, and sign their names to the assertion, “A nation is born to-day,” did not do it under the rosy flush of glorious victory, but in the fast-coming shadow of mighty Britain, strong in all the power and radiant with all the pomp of war.

And what had a few little colonies to meet them with? They had, it is true, a new name, that of “States”; but cannon and camp-kettles alike were wanting; the small powder mills in the Connecticut hive could yield them only a fragment of the black honey General Washington cried for, day and night, from Cambridge to New York; the houses of the inhabitants, diligently searched for fragments of lead, gave them not enough; and you know how every homestead in New England was besieged for the last yard of homespun cloth, that the country's soldiers might not go coatless by day and tentless at night.

Brave men and women good!

Let us hurrah for them all, if it is a hundred years too late for them to hear. The men of a hundred years to come will remember our huzzas of this year, and grow, it may be, the braver and the better for them all.

But now General Washington has ridden away to his home at Number One in the Broadway; the brigade has moved on, and even Blue-Eyed Boy is hastening after General Washington, intent on taking a farewell glance, from the rampart of Fort George, at the far-away English ships.

To-morrow he will begin his homeward journey through the Jerseys. His pass is in his pocket, and as he quickens his steps, he sees groups gathering here and there, and knows that some excitement is astir in the public mind, but thinks it is all about the great Declaration.

He reaches Wall street, and the sun is at its going down. Up from the East river come the sounds of orderly drummers drumming, of regimental fifers fifing. He stays his steps, and stands listening: he sees a brigade marching the “grand parade” at sunset.

Up it comes from Wall street to Smith street; (I am sure I do not know what Smith street is lost into now, but the orderly-book of Major Phineas Porter of Waterbury, one hundred years old to-morrow morning, has it “Smith street"); from the upper end of Smith street back to Wall street, and the young Philadelphian follows it, marching to sound of fife and drum.

As it turns towards the East river, he remembers whither he was bound and starts off with speed for the Grand Battery.

As he goes, glancing backward, he sees that all the town is at his heels.

He begins to run. All the town begins to run. He runs faster: the crowd runs faster. It is shouting now. He tries to listen; but his feet are flying, his head is bobbing, his hat is falling, and this is what he thinks he hears in the midst of all: “Down with him! Down with the Tory!” It is “tyrant” that they cry, but he hears it as “tory,” and he knows full well how Governor Franklin of New Jersey and Mayor Matthews of New York have just been sent off to Connecticut for safer keeping, and he does not care to go into New England just now, so he flies faster than ever, fully believing that the crowd pursues him, as a Royalist.

Just before him opens the Bowling Green. Into it he darts, hoping to find covert, but there is none at hand.

Right in the midst of the enclosure stands an equestrian statue of King George the Third.

It is high; it looks safe. Blue-Eyed Boy makes for it, utterly ignorant of what it is.

The crowd surges on. It is now at the gate. The young martyr makes a spring at the leg and tail of the horse; he swings himself aloft, he catches and clutches and climbs, and in the midst of ringing shouts of “Down with him! Down with horse and king!” Blue-Eyed Boy gets over King George and clings to the up-reared neck of the leaden horse; thence he turns his wild-eyed face to the throng below. “Down with him! He don't hear! He won't hear!” cry the populace.

“I do hear!” in wild afright, shrieks Blue-Eyed Boy, “and I'm not a Tory.”

Shut your eyes again, and see the picture as it stands there in the waning light of the ninth of July, 1776.

Four years ago, over the ocean, borne by loyal subjects to a loyal colony, it came, this statue, that you shall see. It is a noble horse, though made of lead, that stands there, poised on its hinder legs, its neck in air. King George sits erect, the crown of Great Britain on his head, a sword in his left hand, his right grasping the bridle-lines, and over all, a sheen of gold, for horse and king were gilded.

King George faces the bay, and looks vainly down. All his brave ships and eight thousand Red Coats, yesterday landed on yonder island, cannot save him now. Had he listened to the petitions of his children it might have been, but he would not hear their just plaints, and now his statue, standing so firm against storm, wind and time, trembles before the sea of wrath surging at its base.

“Come down, come down, you young rascal!” cries a strong voice to Blue-Eyed Boy, but his hands grasped at either ear of the horse, and he clings with all his strength to resist the pull of a dozen hands at his feet.

“Come down, you rogue, or we'll topple you over with his majesty, King George,” greets the lad's ears, and opens them to his situation.

“King George!” cried Blue-Eyed Boy with a sudden sense of his ridiculous fear and panic, and he yields to the stronger influence exerted on his right leg, and so comes to earth with emotions of relief and mortification curiously mingled in his young mind.

To think that he had had the vanity to imagine the crowd pursued him, and so has flown from his own friends to the statue of King George for safety!

“I won't tell,” thinks the lad, “a word about this to anyone at home,” and then he falls to pushing the men who are pushing the statue, and over it topples, horse and rider, down upon the sod of the little United States, just five days old.

How they hew it! How they hack it! How they saw at it with saw and penknife! Blue-Eyed Boy himself cuts off the king's ear, that will not hear the petitions of people or Congress, proudly pockets it, and walks off, thankful because he carries his own on his head.

Would you like to know what General Washington thought about the overthrow of the statue in Bowling Green?

We will turn to Phineas Porter's orderly-book, and copy from the general orders for July 10, 1776, what he said to the soldiers about it:

“The General doubts not the persons who pulled down and mutilated the statue in the Broad-way last night were actuated by zeal in the public cause, yet it has so much the appearance of riot and want of order in the army, that he disapproves the manner and directs that in future such things shall be avoided by the soldiers, and be left to be executed by proper authority.”

The same morning, the heavy ear of the king in his pocket, Blue-Eyed Boy, once more on his pony, sets off to cross the ferry on his way to Philadelphia. We leave him caught in the mazes of the Flying Camp gathering at Amboy; whither by day and by night have been ferried over from Staten Island, all the flocks of sheep and herds of cattle that could be gotten away—lest the hungry men in red coats, coming up the bay, seize upon and destroy them.

Ah! what days, what days and nights too were those for the young United States to pass through!

To-day, we echo what somebody wrote somewhere, even then, amid all the darkness—words we would gladly see on our banner's top-most fold:

“The United States! Bounded by the ocean and backed by the forest. Whom hath she to fear but her God?”