Stand up and Make Your Voice be Heard

Stand up and Make Your Voice be Heard

23 February 2016

George and I were taking a walk down the greenway last fall, when we passed a Parks Department sign that pointed to the "American Redout Marker." Confused, we launched an enthusiastic discussion of the meaning of the word, finally arriving at the conclusion (verified by smartphone only that evening) that a redoubt was (as its relationship to the word "redoubtable" suggested), a sort of natural fortification. And indeed, according to Newsday:

During the summer of 1776, American soldiers worked long, miserable hours constructing a pentagonal fortress at the highest spot on Manhattan, along presentday Fort Washington Avenue between 183rd and 185th streets. Once completed, however, the fort (named after their commander-in-chief and future president) proved unsuccessful in fulfilling its original purpose: the blockade of British ships from the Hudson River. As Capt. Alexander Graydon explained in his memoirs (1811), Fort Washington's munitions were not powerful enough to reach the river; therefore, "a battery was constructed below" - the still-visible redoubt, nearly half a mile away - "in a very advantageous position."

According to an 1898 study by preservationist Edward Hagaman Hall, the redoubt was constructed by Scottish soldiers and engineered by a volunteer from France named Antoine Felix Imbert. To strengthen the redoubt's chances for trapping the British fleet, a partial obstruction consisting of three weighted ships was sunk into the Hudson at its narrowest point, between Fort Lee, N.J., and the Manhattan promontory known as Jeffrey's Hook (occupied today by the Little Red Lighthouse), in August 1776. Before additional ships could be sunk to complete the obstruction, however, three British frigates managed to sail up the Hudson on Oct. 9, undeterred by gunfire from the redoubt. The incident presaged eventual defeat: Revolutionary troops were forced to surrender Fort Washington on Nov. 16, 1776, and New York City would remain under British control for the next seven years.

Margaret Corbin in Battle
Margaret Corbin in Battle

A more romantic legend around the battle explains the current names of Margaret Corbin Circle and Drive:

In a small redoubt outwork, 25 year old laundress Margaret Cochran Corbin stood by her husband who was manning two cannons. On the 16th of November a massive Hessian column of nine regiments clambored up the rocky slopes to assault their position. During the long fighting Margaret's husband was killed and she stepped in to his place to help man the gun until she herself was gravely wounded in the arm. The fort fell, and after treatment she was returned to the Patriot side by the British. Granted a pension after the war, "Captain Molly" as she was known, lived at West Point until her death in 1800 where she was buried.

Ignoring both the romantic legends and human tragedy of the American defeat (the Americans had 2,838 men captured, of whom only 800 survived their captivity at British hands), Erica, the English professor had only one question, which she promptly forwarded to the Parks department: Why was "redout" misspelled?

Perhaps the real answer is that the DAR misspelled the word on their own monument. But I was gobsmacked to get a call back from the Parks Department within two days, informing me that the word was in fact misspelled and would be corrected. Still, call me a cynic, but should I have been anything but happily surprised to find the following correction when Geo and I took a stroll down the Greenway last Saturday?

So here are the remains of the correctly-spelled Redoubt that we crawled about, as well as its originally misspelled marker.

And now onto more important topics...

© - Erica Obey
Photos © - George Baird