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Brittannia Rule the Bronx

One of the most enduring tales in the Bronx River’s rich folklore tells of how British navy tried to sail up it during the Revolutionary War. There is more than one version of this story. In some accounts it was an attempt to send gunboats up the river to enfilade Washington’s forces at the Battle of White Plains in October, 1776. Another story has it that British gunboats engaged the Americans in a floating firefight at West Farms.

My favorite yarn has it that, for whatever reason, British Admiral Richard “Black Dick” Howe determined to sail up the river one day, and ordered a hesitant frigate captain to lead the line of battle. The frigate promptly ran aground on the now-vanished Ludlow Island above present-day Soundview Park. Running his ship aground being one of the worst things a Royal Navy captain could do, the enraged Admiral ordered the errant commander hanged from his own yardarm!

Alas, none of these things ever happened. The origin of the tale may have been an order sent by Lord George Germain, who was trying to micromanage the war from his London office. Seeing a squiggle on the map labeled “Bronck’s River,” he dispatched a directive to the British commanders in New York telling them to send gunboats up the Bronx River to engage and blow away the American partisans bedeviling the British in what was then southern Westchester County. Admiral Howe knew perfectly well that the river wasn’t navigable beyond West Farms, and the lower reach of the river was pretty much solid Loyalist country anyway, so as far as I know nothing of the sort was ever attempted. Too bad, really, it’s a great story.

Stephen Paul DeVillo

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The Bronx River Alliance is a coordinated voice for the river that works in partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, resource for the communities through which it flows.

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