Monday, July 18, 2016

Fort Jay

Fort Jay is the oldest defensive structure on Governors Island, it is located on top of the original earthworks fortification constructed during the Revolutionary War to help defend New York.

During the Revolutionary War, the site was abandoned as the British overwhelmed the Americans in the process of their occupation of New York.  In the years following the war, the earthen works structure deteriorated and was eventually reconstructed in 1797 as a square structure with four corner bastions.

The entrance to Fort Jay

In the 1830's, the earthworks bastion was replaced with a star shaped sandstone and granite fort that was surrounded by a very high glacis (grassy area) and a deep, dry moat. Some of the dimensions/ features of the fort:

Elevation: Over 20 feet above sea level (the highest point on Governors Island)
Walls: 20 feet high and 8 feet thick
Dry Moat: 30 feet deep and 30 feet wide
Armaments: Over 100 large cannons

A Rodman Cannon at Fort cool!

But, most interesting to me was the history of Fort Jay as a Civil War prison.  Unlike Castle Williams (previous post) which housed enlisted soldiers, Fort Jay was "home" to Confederate officers.  Generally speaking prisoners on both sides who were officers were treated relatively well. At Fort Jay, Confederate officers well allowed to walk around the island, play games like baseball for recreation, correspond through letters with their family members, and even fraternized with Union soldiers.

Dry Moat and Wall looking North...

One of my "off the beaten path" places in NYC!

The Fort Jay Eagle above the Entrance

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Castle Williams

Castle Williams built between 1807-1811, is a circular cannon fortification made of red sandstone on 
the west point of Governors Island just south of  Lower Manhattan.  The "castle" was part of a larger defense system to protect New York City at the mouth of the Hudson River.  This system also included Fort Jay, the South Battery (also on Governors Island), Castle Clinton (at the tip of Manhattan), Fort Gibson (on Oyster Island...which became Ellis Island), and Fort Wood (at Bedloe's Island...the current home of Lady Liberty). These forts and battery systems helped protect New York from British interference with the American shipping industry and became an integral reason why the British chose not to attack NYC during the War of 1812.

Inside Castle Williams: Summer 2016

But, most interesting to me was Castle Williams role during the Civil War...

At times, there were over 1,000 Confederate enlisted soldiers held prisoner at Castle Williams. Conditions were horrendous (this was match the conditions of Union prisoners in Confederate prisons) with packed conditions, no heat, no running water, no beds, rampant disease, and 24/7 confinement.

Castle Williams...well worth the $2 ferry ride!

Me @ Castle Williams on Governors Island

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


Governors Island

For just $2 you can take a 5 minute ferry ride to Governors Island and a walk through history!

Governors Island (called Paggank or "Nut Island" by the "First Nations" before being crushed by European occupation) is a 172 acre island less than half a mile off of the southern tip of Manhattan.

My wife and I intended to go to the island to take panoramic shots of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge from arguably one of the most beautiful vantage points in NYC and unexpectedly we discovered a relatively quiet oasis of exciting "off the beaten path" history.

Lower Manhattan from Governors Island

These are some of the "discoveries" we made:

In 1624 the Dutch used Governors Island as the first landing place of settlers in New Netherlands Territory, making Governors Island the birthplace of New York and New Netherlands their first military base.

Governors Island was originally 69 acres and expanded to 172 acres in 1912 using materials excavated (nearly 5 million cubic yards of rock and soil) from the building of New York City's first subway line.

The oldest structure still standing on the island is "The Governors House" built (according to some sources) circa 1703.

During the Revolutionary War the Continental (American) Army fortified the island with an earthworks fort and 40 cannons, in anticipation of a British attack on NYC.

In 1794, Fort Jay (the subject of an upcoming post) was built on the site of the previous earthworks fort that was laying in ruins.

A moat surrounds Fort Jay

From 1807-1811, Castle Williams (the subject of an upcoming post) was built on the northwest corner of the island as part of a movement to fortify American ports from foreign invasions...both forts (and others in the area) proved very useful during the War of 1812.

Castle Williams

During the Civil War, the forts were used as an administrative site for Union officers and to house Confederate prisoners of war.

After the Civil War, Governors Island was used as a military prison (the east coast version of Alcatraz).

Civil War Rodman Cannon at Fort Jay

Thankfully, 22 acres of the island have been declared a National Historical Monument preserving an important part of history (and the ability to critically think about history) forever.

Friday, July 8, 2016

James Baldwin and July

"To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time."

"Not everything that is faced can be changed.  But nothing can be changed until it is faced."

"Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within." 

"I know you didn't do it, and I didn't do it either, but I am responsible for it because I am a man and a citizen of this country and you are responsible for it, for the very same reason."

"Somebody, your father or mine, should have told us that not many people have ever died of love.  But multitudes have perished, and are perishing every hour - and in the oddest places - for the lack of it!"

"If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see."

"Love is a battle.  Love is a war.  Love is a growing up."

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Seems Like Murder Here


Today in the Twin Cities, Baton Rouge, Chicago, and across America... "everyday seems like murder."

From drones to police brutality to innocent children gunned down in gang wars to educational credit factories, etc... "we sing the blues" in a kill first society.

Ida B. Wells 1893 or 2016?

"The lawlessness (lynching) here described is not confined to one locality. In the past ten years over a thousand colored men, women and children have been butchered, murdered and burnt in all parts of the South. The details of these horrible outrages seldom reach beyond the narrow world where they occur. Those who commit the murders write the reports, and hence these lasting blots upon the honor of a nation cause but a faint ripple on the outside world. They arouse no great indignation and call forth no adequate demand for justice. The victims were black, and the reports are so written as to make it appear that the helpless creatures deserved the fate which overtook them."

...and when will the lynchings and killings end?

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Library of Congress

One of the most unexpectedly exciting parts of our (I must wife has been a librarian for over 25 years) Washington, D.C. visit was a tour of The Thomas Jefferson Building at The Library of Congress.  The library was established in 1800 as "Our Nation's Research Library" and is the second largest library in the world.

The Research Reading Room

The Library of Congress houses over 32 million cataloged books (filling over 800 miles of book shelves) in over 450 languages, over 61 million original manuscripts, an rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, and two Gutenberg Bibles (one handwritten and one from a printing press).  There are also millions of newspapers, pieces of sheet music, maps, sound recordings, and photographs, etc. in its vast collection.

All of the inscriptions at the Library of Congress

But IMO, the most awe-inspiring section of the Library of Congress is the Great Hall...the Great Hall is lined with myriads of impressive murals, sculptures, ornate stairways/ arches and quotes on wisdom, and an incredible painting of the goddess Minerva.

Minerva: The Guardian of Civilization

One could spend hours contemplating the artwork, inscriptions, the meaning of freedom...

One of my favorite quotes of dozens lining the wall of the Great Hall was:


My wife savoring her time at the LOC