King George the third ruled England from 1760 to 1820, the longest reign of any of the male monarchs, although his latter years were marred by illness and an inability to rule.
At the tip of Manhattan and the southern point on Broadway lies the area we still today call Bowling Green. Perhaps many of you are familiar with the subway station there. A huge statue in the likeness of King George III on horseback was erected there on the Green. He was wearing the clothing of the Romans. The huge statue was set upon a marble base. It was made out of lead, the same material used to make ammunition, and painted with gold. A solid iron fence surrounded it.
On Aug. 23, 1775 Ron Chernow tells us King George III issued a royal proclamation that his American subjects had “proceeded to open and avowed rebellion.” He was determined to break the resistance of the colonists.
In July of 1776, Captain Hamilton and his artillery company were posted nearby at the Battery, and Major Burr had just finished six weeks service on Washington’s staff. Burr now lived there too with General Putnam’s family at the corner of Broadway and the Battery.
The Continental Congress endorsed the Declaration of Independence. George Washington gathered his troops and declared “the United Colonies of America were free and independent states”. With this, Patriots tore down the statue of King George III, and cut off its head. Two tons of lead were then sent to Litchfield, CT where Aaron Burr had just finished his year of Law School, and where his sister Sally lived. She was most likely one of the Litchfield women who melted the statue down and turned it into bullets.
The organizer of this activity had just signed the Declaration of Independence. He was Continental Congress member Oliver Wolcott Sr., who had just returned to Connecticut from Philadelphia, and knew what the army needed. It was Oliver Wolcott Jr., who became Treasury Secretary after Alexander Hamilton some eighteen years later. And Oliver Wolcott Jr. was at the William Bayard house, as Hamilton lay mortally wounded on July 11 and 12, 1804. On Saturday July 14, Wolcott was one of eight pallbearers. (So was Bayard.)
Brother Frederick Wolcott saw his father chop up the statue with a wood axe and remembered as an old man how the “girls had a frolic in running the bullets and making them up into cartridges.” This occurred in a special shed that was erected in an apple orchard adjoining the Wolcott house that now serves as the town library. The Wolcott and Sally Burr Reeve’s house are still directly across the street from each other!
To show how important the lead bullet cartridges for muskets were in those days, an exact account of requisitions was kept. When Oliver Wolcott Sr. passed away, his papers showed how all 42,088 cartridges were dispersed:
Mrs. Marvin - 6058. Ruth Marvin- 11,592. Laura – 8378. Mary Ann and Colonel Perley Howe - 10,790. Frederick - 936. Mrs. Beach – 1802. Sundry persons - 2182. Litchfield Militia – 50. Col. Wigglesworth – 300.
Ron Chernow tells us “One wit predicted that the king’s soldiers ‘will probably have melted majesty fired at them.’ ” As they did indeed!
Thanks also to Becky Martin of the Litchfield Historical Society for contributing to this article.
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