Nestled in the heart of the Financial District lies Fraunces Tavern Museum, where familiar words and traces of forgotten history are illuminated.
On the ground floor at 54 Pearl Street, a jazzy tune drifts out of the roped-off bar to the left, and clinking plates and chattering tourists and Wall Street workers are reminders that this tavern has operated since 1762. The museum is upstairs, and on this day, an intimate tour group gathers in the old building’s narrow stairwell.
Fraunces Tavern Museum has long housed items that stir patriotic pride and excitement. In the Long Room, where George Washington bid farewell to his officers in1783 after the last of the British troops left New York, we are reminded that Washington refused dictatorial or monarchical control over the newly independent country, instead building a democracy.
Through September 22, hear tales of clever spies in Spy Week events, which romanticize the transfer of critical information and the rise of patriotic movements throughout the colonies.
The recently opened Fear and Force exhibit, however, arouses a different sentiment, recalling the violent lengths the Sons of Liberty went to gain their independence from the British.
This engraving depicts two Boston Patients forcing tarred-and-feathered customs officers to drink tea under the gallows.
Though the phrase “tar and feather” is still used commonly enough to be in the New York Times’ crossword, we forget how gory this medieval act of violence really was. In our post-civil disobedience world, we look back at the scare tactics and violent riots of the Sons of Liberty in awe. These terrorists fought for freedom, as many did before them and as many are still doing today.
“The Sons of Liberty did a lot of things that made people of the time fearful of them, burning effigies of people, destroying public property (note the etching of tearing down the Statue of King George III in Bowling Green Park,) tar and feathering people,” explains Executive Director Jessica Phillips. “They forced a lot of things to happen like the Declaration of Independence through their riots, through their mob efforts, through the rebellion that they put on. They were an organized group. While they started in Boston, they quickly went down the eastern seaboard. Almost every major city had a Sons of Liberty. New York State had multiple. There was one in Albany. There was one here in New York City. They were in communication with each other. They vowed to financially and physically support their fellow Sons of Liberty groups throughout the colonies, which is one of the reasons that made them so successful.”
In a somewhat ironic twist, Fraunces Tavern was one of many sites targeted by the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), fighting for Puerto Rican Independence by bombing various institutions across the US in the 1970s. The museum is a reminder of the cost of our freedom, stirring a sense of gratitude to the Founding Fathers for structuring a government dedicated to protecting the natural rights of its citizens and reminding us to protect them.
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