The Red Duster: an Island History Lesson

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"Red Duster" flying over Fort Jay on December 2, 2014

As you history buffs may know, the British took possession of Governors Island in 1776 to use as their army and navy headquarters during the Revolutionary War. We all know how the story goes—the British efforts to subdue the colonist rebellion failed, and today we eat hamburgers instead of bangers and mash as a result. Despite the last major battle of the war, the battle at Yorktown, taking place in 1781, the British stuck around for two more years. The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, officially ending the war.

Evacuation Day in New York, the day in 1783 the British supposedly left our fair state, is celebrated on November 25th. While much of the British military force did leave New York by the 25th, the Kings Colors* were still flying over Governors Island for one more week. The British Navy finally handed the Island (and the hospital that existed here) over to the new United States, and more specifically to an appointee of New York’s Governor DeWitt Clinton on December 3, 1783.

Letter from James Ducan, British Navy Captain to Governor Dewitt Clinton informing him that the British would be evacuating Governors Island Letter from James Ducan, British Navy Captain to Governor Dewitt Clinton informing him that the British would be evacuating Governors Island

Today, December 2, 2014 in recognition of the British Navy’s departure 231 years ago tomorrow, the National Park Service here at Governors Island is flying the British Red Ensign, also called the “Red Duster” over Fort Jay. It was the flag of the British Navy at the time of their evacuation from New York Harbor. The Red Duster was also the flag that Lord Cornwallis surrendered under to end the American Revolution (at Yorktown, mentioned above!) in October 1781.

We love providing a little Governors Island history, courtesy of our friends at the National Park Service. Come to the Island for a tour of the Governors Island Historic District with NPS this summer to learn more about our long military history! In the meantime, please let us know via the comments if you’d like to see more blog posts about the Island’s history.

*Edited for historical accuracy