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From the Archives: Battle of Brooklyn

August 01, 2014

Long before designers Olmsted and Vaux reshaped the topography to create Prospect Park, the lowland hills of Brooklyn served as the stage of the largest battle of the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Brooklyn, which took place August 27, 1776. The chain of hills ran more than 100 miles and stood between 100 and 150 feet overlooking long, open flatlands. The area was covered with thick forest and brush. There were only four passes that cut through this rocky ridge, including Flatbush Pass in what is now Prospect Park.   

Six weeks prior to the battle, the Continental Army captured Boston at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The colonists knew that the British would respond by securing the most strategic military outpost, New York. Washington had already started moving troops to Brooklyn (then just known as Long Island) in early May, and placed General John Sullivan in charge of the Flatbush Pass. The Pass was marked with a large white tree called the Dongan Oak, which was chopped down to impede the British.

Just after midnight on August 27, the Hessians (German auxiliary troops working for the British) pushed up Flatbush Pass to meet the American blockade. General Sullivan expected the British to travel from the Gowanus Pass. He was unaware that the British troops had found their way to an alternate pass, thanks to local loyalists. With the Hessians at the front and the British forces coming from the rear, the American soldiers were completely trapped. Sullivan was unable to organize a retreat before the Hessians overtook the forward guard, and the fighting devolved into hand-to-hand combat. The Americans were finally able to escape, except for a contingent of Maryland troops. Known as the Maryland 400, they held off the Hessians so that the rest of the soldiers could escape.

Marking the first conflict in the American Revolution after the Declaration of Independence, the battle site was hallowed ground for the people of Brooklyn for many generations. Commemorative markers were installed at the site along today's East Drive as early as 1887. A column of marble was installed in 1895 at the base of Lookout HIll as a monument to the Maryland 400.