History/Travel

Gravesend Bay

In the Southeastern corner of Brooklyn, New York is an oddly-named village named Gravesend.  The definitive origin of the name is lost to history, but it’s generally agreed that it comes from the Dutch phrase “Count’s Beach”.  This was part of New Amsterdam in the 17th century, and it remains one of the only place names in Metro New York that still holds a Dutch-origin name.  Go up the Hudson River and you’ll find plenty more.

Gravesend is [sort of] famous for two things.  First, it’s the location of Coney Island Amusement Park, home of the gag-reflex hot dog eating contest every 4th of July.  Given the date this event happens there’s some irony in the second reason for Gravesend’s fame.  It was the site of the British landing in the summer of 1776 when the British and Hessian forces swept across Long Island and Manhattan and gained control of the critical New York Harbor and the lower Hudson River.

On the morning of August 23rd, 1776 the British invaded America at Gravesend Bay.  By noon of that morning more than 15,000 British troops made an amphibious landing on the beaches there, and brought with them 40 artillery pieces.  They quickly moved into the interior of Brooklyn and taught General George Washington and the colonial army a lesson in strategic military moves.  Washington looked around days later and realized that there was no hope and evacuated his troops from Long Island.  That evacuation is a story for another day, but needless to say, the defense of the American colonies hadn’t gone as planned.  So on the 4th of July, when strange people consume massive quantities of hot dogs dipped in milk, think about American hopes for a brighter future being dashed in Gravesend in the summer of 1776.  It’s okay to look away when they show it.

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