The New York area had become part of the British empire back in the 1600's. During much of this time period the colonists had learned to be self-sufficient in many ways. The colonists enjoyed the freedom of running their day to day lives without much interference from British authorities. The mother country, England, did send governors to some of the colonies to help set the rules and run the government.
Around 1760 things began to change. England wanted to have greater control over the colonies and wanted to tax the colonies in order to pay for the empire's huge bills. Many Long Islanders resented these new rules that said they could only trade with England. Others disliked the new taxes, particularly the one on whale oil. Whaling was such a big industry on Long Island that a tax like this could hurt many people on Long Island.
Other taxes were placed on goods like glass, tea, paint and paper. People in all 13 colonies were upset at the new rules. They often claimed, "No taxation without representation." They were arguing for more democracy. The Stamp Act of 1765 put a tax on all legal documents. Again upset, colonists decided to boycott British made goods. British merchants lost so much money that they asked their government to end those taxes.
A heavy tax on tea also upset the colonists. Tea was a favorite drink of most colonists. "Tea Parties" were held in a few different cities. In the Boston Tea Party, colonists went on to British ships and threw tea overboard. Many colonists believed that a secret group called the Sons of Liberty were responsible for this. These organizations were dedicated to the idea of independence. They were located throughout the colonies. There was a Sons of Liberty located in Oyster Bay.
In 1776 many colonists had had enough and wanted independence. The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to decide what to do. Led by men like John Hancock, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, the Congress voted for independence. They adopted the Declaration of Independence, an important document written by Thomas Jefferson. It explained the reasons why the colonies wanted to be free of British rule and it called for a new type of government where the people have the power ("the consent of the governed"). The three Long Islanders at the Congress in Philadelphia were William Floyd of Suffolk, Francis Lewis of Queens and Philip Livingston of Kings (Brooklyn).
Some Long Islanders called Patriots wanted independence. Other Long Islanders called Loyalists wanted to remain part of the British empire. They supported King George III. So deep were the divisions among Long Islanders that Hempstead was divided in two over the issue. North Hempstead wanted to separate from England. The southern section (now just called Hempstead) was dominated by Loyalists. The American Revolution had begun.
After 1776, the British sent many troops to New York. New York was an important city because of its location and its huge harbor. George Washington also wanted to control New York and set up his troops on the western tip of Long Island in what is known as Brooklyn Heights. The British forces, led by General William Howe, attacked WashingtonÕs troops in the Battle of Long Island. Washington was badly outnumbered and had to retreat back to Manhattan and then to New Jersey. The Battle of Long Island was a British victory. Washington was lucky to escape with his troops. He would fight another day. (See the map).
New York was occupied by British forces throughout the Revolution. The British regarded Huntington and Sag Harbor as two vital areas to be controlled. Thousands of British troops (and hired German soldiers called Hessians) were stationed in these towns. Long Island would be used by the British to provide food and supplies to the British army. Many of the patriots resented the British occupation of Long Island. The British forced many Long Islanders to provide food and lodging to their soldiers under the Quartering Act. Thousands of patriots left their homes and farms to live in Connecticut where they felt safer. Some stayed and acted a spies for General Washington. The Culper Spy Ring was an elaborate system involving the patriot Robert Townsend. He pretended to be a loyalist and would get important information in New York City and pass it on to others on Long Island. Mrs. Nancy Strong of Setauket would signal patriots that fellow patriots from Connecticut had arrived to receive the information. She would signal them based on how she hung her laundry on the clothesline. The information would then be sent on to General Washington.
Many other battles took place elsewhere over the next few years. Even though they were outnumbered and poorly financed, Washington's troops would eventually win the war after the decisive battle at Yorktown, Virginia.
Many loyalists on Long Island and elsewhere feared the British defeat. Many decided to flee to Canada, another British colony, where they felt they would be safe. Washington was a hero to patriotic Americans and America had won its freedom and independence! Later, Washington would come to Long Island and take a tour as a symbol of thanks to the many Long Islanders who had helped in the fight for independence.Go Back to the Main Menu See a Map about the Revolution