The Celebrating America Cruise - Returning to the Empire State

Written by: Lynn Young, President General
January 5, 2016

After sailing for six days, and 1559 nautical miles, we returned to Brooklyn early on the morning of October 17th, sailing past the beacon of freedom – the Statue of Liberty. Following disembarkation, over 150 of our group of almost 200 collected our luggage and boarded four buses for a full day exploring several important historic sites in the New York City area.  We learned from Martha Crapser, New York State Regent, that New York was the site of almost one third of all of the battles fought during the American Revolution. 

Our first visit was to the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn organized by Wilhemena Kelly, National Chair, Public Relations and Media. During the battle for New York, starting in August, 1776 and after New York City fell to the British, thousands of “rebels” came into British hands.  The British navy used derelict vessels as maritime prison ships with more than 1,000 men crammed into the hold of each ship.  Over 11,500 men and women died of overcrowding, contaminated water, starvation, and disease aboard the ships. The bodies were then dumped into shallow mass graves on the shore of Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn. The bones eventually washed up and in 1808 the remains of the prison ship martyrs were buried in a tomb near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Fort Greene Chapter, NSDAR was organized on December 3, 1896, in Brooklyn, primarily for the purpose of raising the necessary funds to build the Fort Greene Martyrs' Monument.

In 1908, the impressive 149 foot high monument was erected to mark the site of a crypt for the prison ship martyrs.  The Fort Greene Park Conservancy has partnered with New York City to steward, fundraise and advocate for the park.  http://www.fortgreenepark.org/

In my remarks, I stated that “One hundred twenty five years ago our founders established the NSDAR to honor the spirit and memory of the men and women who achieved American independence.  Joined by Ann-Marie Cook, Fort Greene Chapter Regent, we were extremely humbled to place a wreath to honor our first Prisoners of War at the largest single Revolutionary War grave in the country.  http://www.prisonshipmartyrs.com/

Our next visit was to Ellis Island which was authorized in 1890 as the first federal immigration station in which over 12 million immigrants were processed prior to its closing in 1954.  Today, over 40% of America’s population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island.  DAR played an active role at Ellis Island, assisting with teaching occupational skills to the detainees and distributing millions of copies of our DAR Manual for Citizenship. During the war years, immigration was halted but DAR remained at Ellis Island to serve the returning wounded and disabled servicemen temporarily stationed there. DAR was the sole organization volunteering at Ellis Island from 1940-1954. In conjunction with the 1986 centennial restoration of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, DAR members contributed over $770,000 for the restoration of these symbols of freedom.

We had a delicious buffet lunch in the Great Hallway with lovely centerpieces of photographs of Ellis Island immigrants made by Karen Stewart. Joined by many New York Daughters, we had our last wreath laying of the trip in memory of the millions who were welcomed to America.  It was an honor to meet Janis Calella, President of Save Ellis Island, Inc. and to present her with a contribution from the National Society as well as pledges from the cruise passengers who took steps to Save Ellis Island.  She was thrilled to see the total of $8,360 and said she had always wanted to meet the DAR Ladies.  Our brief ceremony closed with us again singing “God Bless America” to the visitors in the great hallway below.

Cathy Hyer and her husband did a video of our visit, which you can view here: http://behyer.zenfolio.com/p279342964/h5eb9156c#h5eb9156c

While many of our group did self-guided tours of the National Museum of Immigration, a few of us were invited on a Hard Hat Tour of the old buildings, thanks to Carol Felsen, New York State Historian and National Vice Chair Commemorative Events, Ellis Island.  Jessica Cameron-Bush, Director of Education for Save Ellis Island, led us into the hallway through which millions were processed and explained that those who did not pass the health inspection were sent to the 750 bed hospital.  Passengers with “loathsome and contagious” diseases must be treated, cured and able to pay for it to be released; two percent were returned to their homeland.  We visited the Contagious and Occupational Disease Hospital, the Ferry Building, and the Administration Building.  She told us that DAR’s involvement was primarily in the green space which was once a lovely garden and the Recreation building.  John McInnes, Program Manager, met us in a room of the Recreation Building which had a lovely view of the skyline.  A real treasure greeted us – a small loom donated by Livingston Manor Chapter, Washington, D.C.  The Museum has other items donated by DAR including four larger looms and four sewing machines. The Save Ellis Island Foundation is working to raise funds to stabilize and renovate the facility as a partner with the National Park Service.  http://www.saveellisisland.org/

You can learn more about DAR's work at Ellis Island and view videos at: www.dar.org/ellisisland

Our final event was an invitation to visit Fraunces Tavern, the headquarters of the Sons of the Revolution and the site of George Washington’s farewell to his officers on December 4th, 1783. In 1894 the New York City Chapter held a tea in the Long Room with lengthy discussions about the need to save the historic building. In 1900 Mrs. Fay Peirce, Regent of the Mary Washington Colonial Chapter, and officers called on former Mayor Hon. Abram S. Hewitt and eloquently implored him to exercise his influence and save the area.

American children for generations have learned in their histories that General Washington, after conducting the War of Independence to a triumphant close, resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the American armies, and on his way home to Mount Vernon stopped in New York and took leave of his generals and officers in Fraunces Tavern…The imperishable fact still remains that within its walls the heroes of the American Revolution gathered for the last time about the extraordinary leader of them all, and that there took place the historic event of their final parting. Within that Long Room were the tears, the sobs, the silence that constituted the closing scene of the mighty struggle which tore the colonies from a kingly despotism and made possible this vast Republic of Liberty through Law.  

The efforts of the Daughters, the Sons of the Revolution and others were successful and the Sons purchased it in 1903. We enjoyed a lovely tour of the historic site, conducted by Ambrose M. Richardson, III, New York State President, Sons of the Revolution, followed by dinner in the Tavern.

Throughout the weeklong cruise, we enjoyed seeing beautiful New England, fellowship with the other passengers, celebrating our 125th anniversary, and visiting many sites significant to the history of the American Revolution.  I am deeply grateful to the many who worked to ensure the Celebrate 125! Cruise was a success.  Most of all, I’m deeply grateful for the privilege of being a Daughter of the American Revolution and honoring the memory and spirit of the men and women who achieved American independence.

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