Greenpoint during the American Revolution

At the time of the American Revolution there were only five Huguenot families living in Greenpoint, but they all suffered through the revolution. The five Greenpoint families spoke Dutch and resented the limitations on freedom that Britain was imposing on its colonials. At least four of them joined Washington’s army in the Battle of Brooklyn. The battle was a disastrous defeat for the Americans and the Greenpoint boys slipped back into Greenpoint and tried to blend in. One of them avoided capture by the British by hiding himself in the Black Meadow for threee days while British troops searched in vain for him. John A Meserole was not so lucky. He was arrested by the British and taken to the Provost prison, which was once located where City Hall is today.

Hessian troops were billeted in the houses of Greenpoint families. They often stole the families’ livestock and they cut down all the trees in Greenpoint for firewood. One can only imagine what it was like having these soldiers under one’s roof for eight years. The British also used Greenpoint as a staging area for their attack on Manhattan in 1776. The boats that crossed the East River were massed in Newtown Creek. There is an old story of the British occupation of Greenpoint that is funny and comes down to us. One of the families was the Meserole clan who lived in North Greenpoint and whose son John was taken prisoner. The Meseroles only survived by hiding cows in the woods from the rapacious Hessians.

Even worse than the Hessians, were American Loyalists who could break the law with impunity and steal from patriot families. years after the revolution old Mrs. Meserole related that she feared the American Loyalists even more than the British themselves because they felt no compunction about committing outrages against revolutionary sympathizers.

The Meseroles, like all the other families of revolutionary war Greenpoint were slave owners and much of the reason that they supported the American side related to their desire to keep their slaves. Slaves meant wealth and the Meseroles would keep their slaves until New York State Emancipation in 1827. The British promoted emancipating slaves as a way to defeat the Americans, offering enslaved African Americans freedom if they would fightagainst the colonists, hoping that they could end the rebellion by turning tens of thousands of African Americans against their American masters and undermining the colonial economy. Several thousand freed slaves actually fought for the British.

The slave owners of Greenpoint were nervous their slaves would hear of emancipation offers and leave, robbing them of a source of wealth.The Bennett clan, one of the five families,lived in a house in the northerly portion of Green Point, near the present day Street, midway between Franklin Street and Manhattan Avenue.

Perhaps Hessians living in the house passed on information about the wealth of the family to British officers who were stationed just up the creek from Greenpoint in Maspeth. Late one night Jacob Bennett was awakened by one of his slaves with the news that the British were robbing his house. Bennett quickly went to his neighbors, the Meseroles, for help and Abraham Meserole immediately arrived along with his armed slaves. The Meserole slaves found the British boats tied up along Newtown Creek that were their means of escape and cut the moorings, stopping them from leaving by boat. . Without a means of flight the British fled north on foot into the Back Meadow swamps, but weighed down with the six thousand dollars worth of gold they had stolen they began to sink in the boggy ground. Most of the British thieves dropped their loot and ran away, but their commanding officer was caught and had to give up his sword or be killed. Bennett recovered his money and Abraham Meserole, her grandfather, kept the sword for many years as a memento. This story becomes clearer in the light of the Emancipation officer. The Bennett family was surprised by the faithfulness of the slaves during the robbery. Like other slave owning families, the Bennetts doubted their slave’s loyalty and were surprised by this act of loyalty. The story passed into history, but its slave context was forgotten.

John Meserole returned from prison to Greenpoint and sired seven children by two wives dying at t ripe old age in 1831

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