On the night of August 23, 1775, during what is now remembered as the Raid on the Battery, the HMS Asia, a 64-gun British battleship, bombarded the city of New York’s shoreline with cannonballs and grapeshot.
The melee was started by Captain John Lamb’s company of Patriots, who attempted to steal British cannons from The Battery, at the tip of Manhattan Island.
The Hearts of Oak (originally known as “The Corsicans”) were a volunteer Patriot militia believed to have been formed in early 1770s in the city of New York. Its original name came from the recently suppressed Corsican Republic.
Members of the militia included students at King’s College (now Columbia University), including Alexander Hamilton. They drilled in the graveyard of St. Paul’s Chapel in uniforms they designed themselves, including a hat with a cockade and the phrase “Liberty or Death” on the band.
The Hearts of Oak participated in the raid on the Battery, while under fire and thereafter became an artillery unit. In 1776 when Hamilton was given a commission as a Captain by the revolutionary New York Provincial Congress with instructions to raise the New York Provincial Company of Artillery (today the Regular Army’s 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery) to protect Manhattan Island, the Hearts of Oak formed its core.
Poet Philip Freneau referenced the bombardment in the poem “Hugh Gaines Life,” writing “At first we supposed it was only a sham, ‘till he drove a round ball through the roof of Black Sam.”
Illustrations, from above: photo of a cast iron cannonball from the Fraunces Tavern Museum Collection found by A. Maynard Lyon in excavation for a sewer at 180th Street and Broadway, about 1898, possibly used during the Battle of Fort Washington; and “Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804) in the Uniform of the New York Artillery” by Alonzo Chappel (1828–1887).