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Ye Olde Conference House in Tottenville on Staten Island

Benjamin Franklin & John Adams Met the British Here in Effort to Avoid the Revolutionary War

staten island things to do staten island events si nycJanuary 20, 2020 / Tottenville Neighborhood SI / Staten Island Things To Do NYC / Staten Buzz NYC.

I had the opportunity to visit the Conference House in Tottenville this past September. Unfortunately I arrived about a week after the historic site signature event - the 1776 Peace Conference Commemoration.

The Conference House Peace Commemoration event includes a reenactment of the September 11, 1776 peace conference meeting between Benjamin Franklin and John Adams on the American side and Colonel Christoper Billop representing the British side.

The photo at right shows a painting depicting the Conference House Meeting on September 11, 1776.

Although Billop was born on Staten Island, he was a British colonel and loyalist to the British crown. Billop reportedly initiated the meeting, which as we all now know, was unsuccessful in averting the war. The commemorative event generally happens every second weekend in September.

I found it ironic, that the event took place on 9/11 some 243 years ago. And it's worth mentioning that William Franklin, Benjamin Franklin's illegitimate son, was the last British Governor of New Jersey and a British loyalist throughout the conflict. Benjamin Franklin reportedly acknowledged him as his son, but disowned him for not siding with the colonists.

Colonel Billop's father was Captain Billop [also named Christopher aka senior] who came to America in 1674. Billop Sr. built the Conference House, which was a grand home of the time, overlooking the point where the Raritan River flows into the Raritan Bay at Arthur Kill, which is the body of water that separates Staten Island from New Jersey. It was a well built stone house, which has held up well since it was built circa 1680, about 340 years ago. At the time it was considered a pretty fancy home.

Originally the site was a campground of the Lenape Indian tribe. In the late 1600's both the Dutch and the British were adventurous seafaring nations, which sent many ships, sailors and immigrants across the Atlantic in search of a better life. As such, when the ruling royalists were succeeded by heirs, their religion mixed with politics and also war.

CLICK here to view the rest of our report on the Conference House historic site on Staten Island.


Ye Olde Conference House in Tottenville on Staten Island

Benjamin Franklin & John Adams Met the British Here in Effort to Avoid the Revolutionary War

January 20, 2020 / Tottenville Neighborhood SI / Staten Island Things To Do NYC / Staten Buzz NYC. Continued.

 

Hostilities between the colonists and the British crown had been percolating for years leading up to the Conference House meeting. One of the most notable events prior to the outbreak of hostilities was the Boston Tea Party, where in December of 1773 American colonists dressed up as Indians and raided and destroyed the tea cargo on the East India Company boats moored in the Boston harbor.

The East India Company had connections with the crown and thus had been granted special legal and tax favors, which the American colonists resented. The independent colonial shipping companies were required to pay more in taxes than the favored East India Company. Hence the American rebels declared their rights were being violated as they were being taxed in violation of British law - "taxation without representation".

The southern end of Staten Island was originally settled by a French Protestant group called the Hugenots. Today one of the neighborhoods on the southern end of the island goes by the same name. The Hugenots arrived in the late 1600's and early 1700's and, as we all know, at the time the French were no friends of the English and vice versa.

Prior to the Conference House meeting, in July 1776, there were about 32,000 British troops on Staten Island. The British had a large and growing standing army in America to help quell the growing insurrection. On July 4, 1776 the American colonists published the Declaration of Independence in defiance of the British crown and on August 27 - 29, 1776 fighting took place in the Battle of Long Island, which is also called the Battle of Brooklyn.

In the Battle of Brooklyn, George Washington's rag tag band of colonial troops faced off against the better trained, better equipped professional British Army. For two days the fighting continued, ending in the defeat of George Washington's troops by General William Howe. Washington lost 2,000 men, while the British lost 400, but Washington escaped across the East River to Kips Bay in Manhattan, and thus kept his Continental Army intact.

Ultimately the American Revolutionary War became a war of attrition, which Washington won by losing, but keeping his army intact. Officially the American Revolutionary War ran from April 19, 1775 - September 3, 1783, which after eight years of fighting a war abroad, the British Crown and finances were strained with little enough hope in sight.

The Conference House also hosts a celebration of the U.S. Constitution, Constitution Day, which is held around the anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, which was September 17, 1787.

The Conference House curators also mentioned something about Edward Rutledge who was a South Carolinian racist of the time [opposed allowing colored people in the army], and also opposed the Jay Treaty with England in 1795 resolving the lingering issues following the American Revolutionary War. This tied into the personal histories of the Billops, the family that built the Conference House.

The stories include the capture of Billop twice, something about the poor treatment of prisoners, in Hells Kitchen, by the British troops, and the issue of slavery which was barred in the U.S. Constitution beginning in 1808. This was followed by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 whereby Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

The Tottenville community took a revived interest in the Conference House beginning in 1926 - 1927 when an active group, the Conference House Association, started its revival as an historic site. For the next ten years efforts were made to restore the house, to its original luster, which appears successful. In 1926 the City of New York took ownership of the house.

Today it is a national landmark and a part of the NYC Historic Trust.


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