Fort Lee Historic Park stands as a cliff-top park featuring magnificent vistas, a Revolutionary War encampment, and a Visitor Center. The Historic Park also hosts historical re-enactments and a unique “living history” education program.
Fort Lee Historic Park’s northern viewpoints provide unrivaled vistas of the Hudson, Upper Manhattan, and the George Washington Bridge, the world’s busiest bridge! The ancient encampment area at the south end of the Fort Lee Historic Park grounds includes an accurately rebuilt commanders’ cottage (with a functioning fireplace!).
The Visitor Center at Fort Lee Historic Park enables visitors to delve further into the site‘s Revolutionary War history, whether alone or in a group. The annual “Retreat Weekend” event at Fort Lee Historic Park helps bring “The Times That Try Men’s Souls” of November 1776 to life — while also providing guests a real sense of living in the 18th century!
Fort Lee gained notoriety during the British invasion of New York City and the Hudson River in 1776. With Boston under British assault, George Washington concentrated on defending New York City and the Hudson River Valley. However, Washington argued that the army also needed to build and bolster barriers along the Hudson River.
The British goal was to rule the Hudson with the Royal Navy’s overwhelming force. If successful, this tactic would split the Colonies, putting a stop to the American insurgency.
The Americans began fortifying “Fort Constitution” in July 1776. In honor of General Charles Lee, whose army had won a decisive victory that summer in Charleston, South Carolina. Fort Washington construction has begun on the northern Manhattan hills opposite Fort Lee. On July 12, Admiral Richard Howe dispatched the Rose and the Phoenix up the Hudson. Fort Washington’s cannon fire had little effect on their passage. Therefore Washington ordered Fort Lee’s construction to be finished quickly.
At General Israel Putnam’s request, obstructions were sunk in the river channel between the forts. The Americans anticipated that with these in position and artillery fire from the twin forts, no British ships would be able to go by without suffering significant damage.
As the summer continued, the largest fleet of British ships to depart England gathered in New York Harbor. Lieutenant General Sir William Howe (brother of Admiral Howe) gathered a force of about 31,000 British and Hessian troops on Staten Island by mid-August. On August 22, the British struck Long Island, forcing the Americans to escape to New York City (at the time, the city incorporated only the southern tip of Manhattan Island). Except for Fort Washington, the British took Manhattan in September.
On November 16, Crown soldiers smashed into Fort Washington, capturing roughly 3,000 Americans. Fort Washington’s demise convinced Washington that Fort Lee had little military use. As a result, Fort Lee’s commander, General Nathanael Greene, was ordered to plan his departure. However, the Americans were not in for an easy escape.
On November 20, only four days after taking Fort Washington, General Howe ordered General Charles Cornwallis to deploy 5,000 men north of Fort Lee. When Washington learned of the incoming army, he ordered a hasty retreat to avoid being cut off and captured by the British. Sadly, most US supplies and weapons had to be left behind. Thomas Paine famously said, “These are the times that try men’s souls…” during the American independence movement.
Contact 201-461-1776 for further information about the park.