Now, information and tips on your New York State Parks and Historic Sites are as close as your mobile device.
Help plan your visits this summer using the free, new New York State parks Explorer App, developed by staff at State Parks and the Office of Information Technology Services.
Information is tabbed by favorites by both visitors and staff, golf courses, state historic sites with a military heritage, some lesser-know parks that some treasurer as “hidden gems, and parks that feature historic lighthouses.
The app can help guide visitors to top destinations and new must-see locations with rotating curated content. It offers quick access to park information, including directions, hours, amenities, fees and rates, trail maps, helpful know-before-you-go details, and the ability to receive important updates and alerts.
Visitors can also link directly to online camping reservations and easily access select State Parks’ social media channels to share their experiences.
“This season more than ever, people are looking to spend time in the outdoors whether taking nature breaks, day trips or overnight getaways,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, “and this new Parks Explorer App is a helpful tool for families on the go to plan the perfect adventure with ease. To stay in the know and make the most of your park visit, I encourage New Yorkers to download the app today.”
New York State Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, “With an unparalleled collection of parks, historic sites and recreation trails across the state, exploring New York’s State Parks system is a perfect complement to any Empire State vacation. The new State Parks Explorer App will offer information and suggestions that help keep New York a top travel destination for residents and visitors alike.”
Interim New York State Chief Information Officer Jeremy Goldberg, “The Office of Information Technology Services is proud to partner with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to share technology that makes it easier for residents to visit parks across New York State. The Parks Explorer App allows residents to plan new outdoor adventures prior to visiting parks and demonstrates how NYS is harnessing the power of technology to bring New Yorkers closer to nature.”
Perhaps not so well known is that several months later, more than 500 other New Yorkers embraced another public declaration – this one pledging loyalty to British King George III against a “most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion that ever disgraced the annuls of time.”
New York’s so-called “Declaration of Dependence” reflected a split at the start of the Revolutionary War between Patriots and Loyalists (also called Tories) among the state’s 200,000 residents. That divide ultimately claimed the fortunes and property of dozens of Loyalists, including the prominent and wealthy owner of Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, in Yonkers, Westchester County.
Born in 1720 in New York City, Frederick Philipse III enjoyed influence and power as one of the largest landowners in the Hudson Valley and possibly the richest man in New York. He was the fabulously wealthy great-grandson of a Dutch carpenter named Frederick Flypsen who arrived in New Holland in 1653 at age 27 and created a fortune based on land, shipping, fur and slave trading.
Flypsen, who Anglicized his name to Philipse after the British took over New York, became a major landholder along the east side of the Hudson River, eventually controlling more than 50,000 acres in what is now Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.
Frederick Philipse III took over his share of family holdings at age 30 in 1752, devoting himself to administering the estate, called Philipsborough, and collecting rents from his many tenant farmers. His residence at the opulent manor hall, which had been started by his grandfather, continued by his father, Frederick II, and erected in stages between 1682 and 1758, was a showcase of English gentility but had brutal underpinnings.
Up to 30 enslaved people and two dozen white indentured servants worked the manor under Frederick III, according to a report from Columbia University based on Philipse family records donated to the university. Frederick III was a founding governor of King’s College in 1754, which later become Columbia University.
It was also during this period that Philipse appropriated a large amount land in what is now Dutchess County from the Wappinger Native American tribe under dubious circumstances, sparking tribal leaders to launch an unsuccessful appeals in the 1760s to Colonial leaders, and later to British authorities.
On the eve of the Revolutionary War, Philipsborough extended for about 24 miles along the east bank of the Hudson, from the Croton River in Westchester County to northern Bronx County. Due to his wealth and prominence, Philipse held a post in the Colonial state Assembly, but his role there were largely ceremonial and uniformly supportive of the royal government that was guarantor of his privileges.
As revolutionary sentiment in the Colonies began to take shape in early 1775, Philipse blocked an effort to send New York delegates to a Continental Congress in Philadelphia, siding with the British Crown. He then had a pro-monarchy notice posted in a New York City Loyalist newspaper, drawing the ire and hostility of Patriot factions in New York and elsewhere. That led to Philipse being put to the top of a Patriot list of Westchester County Loyalists.
With combat later breaking out in Massachusetts and New York, some Loyalists began fleeing to England as others were arrested by Patriot leaders, but nothing happened to Philipse initially. But after he assembled his tenants in early 1776 to urge them to support the British against the uprising, a subpoena was issued that summer for his arrest, which was later ordered by George Washington in August 1776 after the Declaration of Independence was issued. Philipse was held in New Rochelle before being transferred to New Haven, Connecticut. Officials there agreed to let him return to his manor in December under a signed parole agreeing not to undermine the Revolution.
The Declaration of Dependence was issued on November 28, 1776 with Frederick Philipse III among the Loyalist signers who vowed to support the “supremacy of Great Britain over the Colonies.” Philipse’s signature is prominent on the first page of the declaration, which now is at the New York Historical Society in New York City.
The declaration stated that some Loyalists had been “driven from their Habitations, and others sent Prisoners into some of the neighboring Colonies.” The appeal concluded by stating that the Philipse and the other signers _ a mix of civil and military officers, clergy, landowners and wealthy merchants _ were opposed to the Revolution “in every stage of its rise and progress, at the risk of our Lives and Fortunes.”
Many New Yorkers felt as Philipse did. About half of the state’s 200,000 residents held Loyalist sentiments, giving New York the highest percentage of Loyalists among the 13 colonies.
While back at the manor on parole in March 1777, Philipse attempted to pass a message to British forces after he witnessed nearby Patriot troop movements. When the message was intercepted, he panicked and fled with his family downriver to the safety of British-occupied New York City. The lord of Philipsburg was never to see his luxurious estate and home again.
As the tide of war began to turn, New York lawmakers decided to permanently break the power of the pro-British elite by stripping Philipse and 58 other Tories of their property and condemning them to banishment and death under the Confiscation Act of Oct. 22, 1779.
So, for the first time in a century, the Philipse family had no standing in Westchester County. Frederick III remained in New York City until the end of the war in 1783, when British troops evacuated. His estate and most of his wealth gone, and facing penalty of death, he sailed with other Loyalists to Great Britain, a place he had never been. Philipse was a broken man when he died there just two years later at age 65.
His lands and property were auctioned off by New York State in 1784-85 into more than 300 separate parcels, bringing in more than $28 million by today’s standards, making it the largest confiscated estate sold in New York. The money raised was used to pay off war debts.
In 1868, after passing through the hands of many owners, the former manor house became Yonkers Village Hall and, in 1872, the first City Hall. By the 20th century, city growth threatened the manor’s future until it was acquired by New York State in 1908 with the generous help of the Cochran family of Yonkers.
Today, Philipse Manor Hall serves as a museum of history, art and architecture, as well as host to community organizations, meetings, educational programs and special events. Highlights of the Hall include its 18th century, high style Georgian architecture, a 1750s papier mache Rococo ceiling, and an impressive collection of presidential portraits, including the six Presidents from New York State.
To The Right Honorable Richard Viscount Howe, of the Kingdom of Ireland, and His Excellency The Honorable William Howe, Esquire, General of His Majesty’s Forces in America, the King’s Commissioners for restoring Peace in His Majesty’s Colonies and Plantations in North America &c. &c. &c.
May it please your Excellencies.
Impressed with the most grateful sense of the Royal Clemency, manifested I your Proclamation of the 14th. Of July last, whereby His Majesty hath been graciously pleased to declare, “That he is desirous to deliver His American subjects from the calamities of War, and other oppressions, which they now undergo:” and equally affected with sentiments of gratitude for the generous and humane attention to the happiness of these Colonies, which distinguishes your Excellencies subsequent Declaration, evincing your disposition “to confer with His Majesty’s well affected subjects, upon the means of restoring the public Tranquility, and establishing a permanent union with every Colony as a part of the British Empire.”
We whose names are hereunto subscribed, Inhabitants of the City and County of New-York, beg leave to inform your Excellencies: that altho most of us have subscribed a general Representation with many other of the Inhabitants; yet we wish that our conduct, in maintaining inviolate our loyalty to our Sovereign, against the strong tide of oppression and tyranny, which has almost overwhelmed this Land, may be marked by some line of distinction, which cannot well be drawn from the mode of Representation that has been adopted for the Inhabitants in general.
Influenced by this Principle, and from a regard to our peculiar Situation, we have humbly presumed to trouble your Excellencies with the second application; in which, we flatter ourselves, none participate but those who have ever, with unshaken fidelity, borne true Allegiance to His Majesty, and the most warm and affectionate attachment to his Person and Government. That, notwithstanding the tumult of the times, and the extreme difficulties and losses to which many of us have been exposed, we have always expressed, and do now give this Testimony of our Zeal to preserve and support the Constitutional Supremacy of Great Britain over the Colonies; and do most ardently wish for a speedy restoration of that union between them, which, while it subsisted, proved the unfailing source of their mutual happiness and prosperity.
We cannot help lamenting that the number of Subscribers to this Address is necessarily lessened, by the unhappy circumstance that many of our Fellow-Citizens, who have firmly adhered their loyalty, have been driven from their Habitations, and others sent Prisoners into some of the neighbouring Colonies: and tho’ it would have afforded us the highest satisfaction, could they have been present upon this occasion: yet we conceive it to be the duty we owe to ourselves and our prosperity, whilst this testimony of our Allegiance can be supported by known and recent facts, to declare to your Excellencies; that so far from having given the last countenance or encouragement, to the most unnatural, unprovoked Rebellion, that ever disgraced the annuls of Time; we have on the contrary, steadily and uniformly opposed it, in every stage of its rise and progress, at the risque of our Lives and Fortunes.
It was 245 years ago this month that, shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War, a bold declaration of American liberty rang out.
No, it was not the Declaration of Independence, which came from Philadelphia in in July 1776 and became a widely celebrated national holiday. This earlier, largely-forgotten declaration came from northern New York along the shores of Lake Champlain.
On June 15, 1775, not far from what is now Crown Point State Historic Site, 31 men from the Northeast signed a so-called “Declaration of Principles,” vowing they would “never become slaves,” calling for a “union” of the states, and giving their allegiance to the newly formed Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Among those who publicly embraced armed resistance to the British Crown in the name of a new government was the document’s author, a man who went from one of the Revolution’s earliest battlefield heroes to its most despised traitor five years later.
That man was Benedict Arnold (1740-1801), and the path to his infamous treason in New York stretches from that now largely forgotten declaration, issued from the state’s northern frontier in what is now Essex County, to an infamous meeting with a spy along the shores the Hudson River— now within Rockland Lake State Park—where he agreed to betray the Revolution and deliver the river’s critical West Point fortress to the British.
In the five years between those two events, Arnold distinguished himself by buying the Revolution a critical year at the naval Battle of Valcour Island on Lake Champlain in 1776. The following year, he contributed to the relief of Fort Stanwix after the Battle of Oriskany in the Mohawk Valley and was instrumental in the decisive American victory at Saratoga.
His earlier role in capturing Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775 to the south of Crown Point had provided Patriot forces with desperately needed heavy cannon that later helped drive British troops out of Boston. That victory set the stage a month later for Arnold, as commander at Ticonderoga, to issue written principles from Crown Point to rally support for the Patriot cause.
At the time, Arnold and the other men who signed the declaration did so at great personal risk, as it targeted them personally as potential traitors to Great Britain when the punishment for treason was death.
Flush from success at Ticonderoga, here is what Arnold wrote and he and other prominent early supporters, who came from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and what later become Vermont, signed.
Benedict Arnold’s Declaration of Principles
Crown Point, 15th June, 1775
Persuaded, that the Salvation of the Rights and Liberties of America, depends, Under GOD, on the firm Union of its Inhabitants, in a Vigorous Prosecution of the Measures necessary for its Safety And Convinced of the Necessity of preventing the Anarchy and Confusion which attend a Dissolution of the Powers of Government, WE, the Freeman, Freeholders, and Inhabitants of the Province of New York, being greatly alarmed at the avowed Design of the Ministry to raise a Revenue in America; and, Shocked by the bloody Scene now Acting in the Massachusetts Bay, DO, in the most Solemn Manner Resolve never to become Slaves; and do Associate under all the Ties of Religion, Honour, and Love to our Country, to Adopt and endeavour to Carry into Execution whatever Measures may be Recommended by the Continental Congress; or Resolved Upon by our Provincial Convintion for the purpose of preserving our Constitution and opposing the Execution of the Several Arbitrary and oppressive Acts of the British Parliament; Untill a Reconciliation Between Great Britain and America, on Constitutional Principles Which we most Ardently Desire Can be obtained And that we will in all Things follow the Advice of our General Committee Respecting the purposes aforesaid, The Preservation of Peace and Good Order, and the Safety of Individuals, and private party.
Click on this slideshow of images from the Crown Point State Historic Site, near where the Declaration of Principles was issued 245 years ago shortly after the start of the Revolutionary War.
Arnold’s words may have been largely forgotten, but his ultimate fate remains relatively well known. As the war went on, he felt slighted and upset from being passed over for promotion, with other officers getting credit for his accomplishments. Arnold could be brusque and headstrong, which alienated some. He borrowed heavily to support a lavish lifestyle.
And while military governor of Philadelphia, Arnold married a woman named Peggy Shippen, who came from a prominent city family loyal to British King George III. His new wife introduced him to one of her former suitors _ the British spy Major John Andre.
Arnold had been given command of West Point by George Washington, on the advice of his trusted advisors, Albany resident and General Philip Schuyler and Robert Livington of the Hudson Valley . (The residences of both men are now state Historic Sites.)
Once his plot with Andre to surrender West Point was found out, Arnold fled to the safety of British lines, where he was made an officer and fought against his former comrades. After the war, he lived in Canada and England, before dying in London in 1801 at age 60.
Use this map to locate Crown Point and the other historic places in New York State described in this story.
Signatories of the Crown Point declaration had a variety of fates. One of its most prominent signers, William Gilliland, was an Irish immigrant and New York City merchant who was the first European to settle the lands west of Lake Champlain. He was founder of the town of Willsboro, and at one point, controlled about 50,000 acres in the region between Crown Point and Plattsburgh, leasing some of it out to tenant farmers and developing gristmills and sawmills.
In spite of Gilliland’s wealth and influence, as well as his signing of the Crown Point declaration and his financing of Patriot militia, he was mistrusted because of “unfounded allegations relative to his loyalties,” likely due to disagreements and entanglements involving Arnold and Ethan Allen, commander of the Green Mountain Boys, a militia from Vermont, as recounted in documentary sources.
With both sides suspecting that he was secretly supporting the other, Gilliland was confined to Albany during part of the war. The aftermath destroyed Gilliland’s vast fortunes, stripped him of his lands and left him destitute by the time he died in Willsboro in 1796 at age 62. He is buried in the town that still bears his name.
But most other signers of the Crown Point declaration fared better. Among them was Dirck Swart, a Dutchess County native and a member of the Albany Committee of Correspondence from Saratoga, according to information collected by the Fort Ticonderoga Museum.
These committees were shadow governments organized by Patriot leaders on the eve of the Revolution. They shared plans for strategy and by the early 1770s they wielded considerable political power.
Swart owned a tavern in Stillwater, Saratoga county, and his home still stands in the village. The residence was built in 1757 and remains among the oldest extant dwellings in Saratoga County. It was from Swart’s home that Arnold began his 1777 march to relieve Patriot forces at Fort Stanwix.
After the war, he was the town’s first postmaster, served as the Saratoga County Clerk, and was elected to the state Assembly. In 1788, he was a delegate to the state convention to accept the new U.S. Constitution.
At age 70 in 1804, Swart died a venerable and respected citizen, having prospered in the new country that he had helped launch by signing that bold statement from Crown Point.
Cover Photo: Crown Point State Historic Site (Photo Credit- NYS Parks) All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for New York State Parks
Signers of the Crown Point Declaration of Principles by State
Charles Graham Jr.
John Watson Jr.
Vermont (this state was created a year after the Crown Point Declaration)
As spring moves toward summer, we are in the time of an historic celebration dating to New York’s colonial era known as Pinkster – the Dutch word for the religious holiday of Pentecost.
Pinkster was a three- to five-day celebration beginning the Monday following Pentecost Sunday held in Dutch Colonial New Netherland and later New York from the 17th century through the late 19th century.
This year, Pinkster began Sunday, May 31, and will run through Thursday. While revival of the Dutch version of Pinkster began in the Hudson Valley in the early 20th century, recently there has been a push to revive a unique expression of the holiday by enslaved Africans of that earlier time.
A ban by Albany city lawmakers enacted in 1811 against African Pinkster put an end to the tradition. But in 2011, this prohibition was symbolically lifted by the city after two centuries, opening the way for the celebration’s return to the Capital Region.
Scenes from the 2019 Pinkster celebration at the Crailo State Historic Site and Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.
Contemporary newspaper articles, a pamphlet of the ‘Pinkster Ode’ a poem detailing the celebration, and other documents about Pinkster celebrations describe African drumming, languages and other cultural expressions or Africanisms used to uplift spirits of the enslaved during a time of rest before the summer planting season. Pinkster also helped maintain cultural links between family and friends, even as they lived under the yoke of slavery.
To attend a Pinkster gathering, the enslaved often had to travel many miles to get to the appointed place. Walking, riding in a wagon or on a horse, by boat or any combination of these meant time and physical effort, when many were already tired from work.
There were enslaved who could not or chose not to attend these large gathering. Even when permission was granted, the travel requirements were often daunting. Despite all that, Pinkster was still celebrated, but in smaller groups or even perhaps alone.
“The Dutch residents retained many of the old customs of their mother land, and no reminiscence of Holland was more earnestly kept in remembrance than Pinkster. This occasion by consent had been made a holiday time for the blacks, and they enjoyed it in a good, old fashioned measure of hilarity and carousing. The meadow in front of Col. Schuyler’s house, between it and the river, was the place usually selected for the celebration, and here they met and danced and frolicked with all the zeal they could… Occasionally they would go to Albany and aid their neighbors in drinking to Prince Charlie, but this was too often a hard day’s work and did not always pay for the trouble it cost in rowing down and back.” — Troy Daily Times, 18 September 1874
In years past, the Pinkster celebrations brought people together to rejoice in spring and the opportunity to see family and friends again. Here at State Parks, our celebrations planned for 2020 have been cancelled as we live in the time of COVID-19 and social distancing.
However, like many of the enslaved we gathered to remember, celebrating African Pinkster does not have to stop because we aren’t able to gather in those ‘big’ places.
We can still celebrate Pinkster and we invite you to join us!
All photos by NYS Parks
Post by Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History, Bureau of Historic Sites, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
Resources To Host your own Happy Pinkster 2020 Celebration
Be a part of this spring gathering to honor those enslaved in New York, the African cultures they came from and the lives they lived here. Here are some of the ways:
ANCESTORS & LIBATIONS
Honoring the ancestors with libations opens African celebrations across the continent and throughout the diaspora. Pouring libations is the act of honoring the ancestors, those who have come before us by sharing water, one of nature’s greatest gifts. Prayers said or thoughts shared during the pouring of libations center around showing gratitude for what we have in our lives, honoring our ancestors or people important to us by calling their names, keeping the memory of them alive. Remembering the names and lives of loved ones in our own family and other’s lives is a great way to begin. In preparation, make a list of people you would like to honor, perhaps create a family tree to help you remember. How far back can you go over the week of Pinkster?
Libations can be poured on the ground, into a plant, or a few drops of water on your fingertips can be sprinkled on the floor. A simple glass or a special pitcher can be use. Create a ceremony of your very own and film it!
MUSIC – DRUMS PLEASE
African drums were played during Pinkster celebrations up and down the Hudson River Valley. Drums are voices calling to us, to the ancestors, and to the Divine. Drums bring joy, encouraging us to move our bodies to their rhythms freeing us of stress and everyday worries and concerns, as they did the enslaved. Other instruments were played too. Hands were clapped, pieces of metal were beat together to keep time or accent the drum’s rhythms. Voices were lifted in song. There are so many ways to produce music for your Pinkster 2020 celebration.
YouTube and Spotify are just two of the many places you can find African drum music. Create your own playlist or check out one of these amazing musicians!
Babatude Olatunji – a master drummer who was a great influence on many famous musicians, Including Carlos Santana and the Grateful Dead.
Fatala – Exhilarating traditional African music from Guinea-Bissau in West Africa.
Bolokada Conde—Experience the complex rhythms of the popular djembe drum.
Where there’s music there is dancing! Moving our bodies to the rhythm or our own tune is a human activity we all can enjoy. Dancing takes many forms and there is often nothing better than taking a dance break to help you feel better. The enslaved in New York danced in both the African and European styles. Today, we can move in a more formal style or however we please. Take some of the music you found yesterday and get up and dance! Be sure to send a picture!
Dance Africa 2020 – A virtual Celebration — The 42nd Anniversary of the oldest African Dance festival in New York.
Games were a big part of the entertainment of Pinkster and life overall. Board games like Mancala and Nine-Men’s Morris, Draughts (checkers), other games like marbles, string games, cards, running games like tag, all the way to wrestling were just a few games children and adults enjoyed during Pinkster. Take a break and play a game today! Pull out your favorite board game, make your own Nine-Men’s Morris board and learn to play or go outside and jump rope, play tag or fly a kite. Inside or out, there are so many ways to play!
Nine Men’s Morris Board & Instructions
Dressing up the Pinkster grounds with branches of flowering trees, and the official Pinkster bloom, a pale pink Azalea, were part of making things festive. Creating a place for your own Pinkster celebration can be simple and fun. Decorating with flowers immediately brightens up the space. Fresh flowers are great, so are those that are handmade. Coloring your own Pinkster blooms and hanging them up can do the trick as well.
Pinkster Bloom Coloring Pages
The seasons of the year dictated what was available to eat during the colonial and New Nation periods in New York. Late May and early June offered very few garden or field crops for people to enjoy. Dried beans and grains, fresh dandelion greens, left over root vegetables from last year’s harvest, fresh eggs, fish, fowl, and small game filled cooking pots of the enslaved celebrating Pinkster.
Travel also restricted the amount of cooking equipment people could carry with them. Cooking in one or two pots, spit roasting, and baking or roasting in the fire’s ashes connected them to their African roots. Traditional Central and West African meals centered around a main dish (soup/stew), a side starch (pounded yam/rice), and fresh fruit for dessert. One pot soup or stew meals, a mixture of beans/meat/fish and vegetables or whatever is on hand, can be found in every culture in the world. For your feast cook up your favorite stew or try this delicious Vegetarian Peanut Soup adapted from several West African recipes.
Vegetarian Peanut Soup Recipe
The soups are often accompanied by a starch of some kind. For enslaved Africans in New York, many of whom came from the Kongo/Angola area, the traditional starch would have been a pounded yam dish called ‘foo-foo’ or rice. In New York many would make maize pudding or Johnny cake in its place. Native to the Americas, ‘maize’ was historically called ‘Indian Corn’ in cookbooks, but today we simply call it corn meal. Maize pudding or corn meal mush was popular with New York’s colonial Dutch, who called it Sapahn. Recipes for variations of this Native American dish can be found in cookbooks all over the world.
Create a Pinkster feast of your own and share your results with us!
We look forward to joining you next year at a large gathering. Till then thank you for joining in our Pinkster 2020 Celebration!
New York is rich with a variety of information on those enslaved in New York and the African celebration of Pinkster. From the arrival of the first in 1625 until the end of slavery in 1827, Africans or people of African descent were a vital part of the development of our State and the region. Pinkster is just one of many ways to honor their memory, celebrate their lives, and rediscover the African cultures they were from.
As the Revolutionary War was drawing to an end, General George Washington wanted an award that recognized merit in the common soldier. So, he created the Badge of Military Merit _ the precursor to the Purple Heart _ while at his Newburgh headquarters in the Hudson Valley.
It was more than 150 years later when a New York resident and immigrant became the first woman to receive the Purple Heart for suffering wounds in wartime. And she was a nurse, a profession that has again finds itself at risk in the front lines during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
One night in August 1917 during World War I, a German aerial bomb exploded at a military field hospital in Belgium. It was about four miles behind trenches where hundreds of thousands of British, French, Belgian and German troops were fighting the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as Passchendaele.
Metal shrapnel ripped through a tent at Casualty Clearing Station #61, where 36-year-old U.S. Army nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald was rising from her cot to start her shift caring for wounded Allied soldiers. Jagged shards struck her face, damaging her right eye so badly that it later had to removed by doctors.
Although serving in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, MacDonald was a native of Canada, where she grew up in a large family on Prince Edward Island. She had come to New York to get her nursing training in 1905 and chose to live there afterward to pursue her career. When war came, she volunteered for the American war effort. She was part of a unit organized by Presbyterian Hospital, now part of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
After a six-week recovery from her injury, Macdonald returned to duty serving in military hospitals in France and Belgium. “I’ve only started doing my bit,” she said, according to material from her wartime scrapbook, which is now in the collection of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.
In her scrapbook, the young nurse described her training to deal with one of the horrors of the battlefield _ poison gas. That included “. . . entering chambers containing a certain amount of Phosgene and other gasses, in order that we should be able to recognize them in case of an attack, and to become adept in adjusting our gas masks in less than ten seconds.”
She kept photographs of the tent where gas casualties were treated, including a shot of one area that was set aside for “hopeless cases.”
After the war ended in 1918, MacDonald served with Allied forces in Germany until returning to the U.S. There, she resumed living in New York City to continue her profession, and later served as director of the Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing for 23 years until her retirement in 1956.
The war had been over for years when MacDonald received her Purple Heart in 1936, four years after the award has been reestablished under an order by President Herbert Hoover. The modern award was meant as a tribute to Washington’s original award, which he represented with a cloth or silk purple heart.
In authorizing the Purple Heart, the award was made retroactive to living World War I veterans like MacDonald, who was among thousands of male soldiers who subsequently applied for and received the award.
MacDonald received numerous awards in recognition of her bravery and is perhaps one of the most highly decorated women of World War I. Her commendation for the Distinguished Service Cross states:
“It is interesting to note that this cross is to be conferred upon a woman and a nurse. This war has, of course, taken the nurses, who are the ministers of mercy, up to the very front lines of battle, and because of the carrying of the war into the third dimension the airplane has, of course, made their task more perilous.”
MacDonald died in 1969, at age 88, in a nursing home in White Plains, Westchester County. MacDonald received a full military funeral at Long Island National Cemetery in Suffolk County.
MacDonald is one of many stories found at the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, Orange County. Opened in 2006, it is the first facility in the nation dedicated to the estimated 1.8 million recipients of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to American military personnel who have been wounded or killed by enemy action.
This season, the facility was is temporarily closed to undergo a $17 million expansion to add nearly 7,000 square feet of new and refurbished exhibit space, with an increased emphasis on stories of individual award recipients.
***UPDATE***The expanded Purple Heart Hall of Honor reopened on Veterans Day, 11 November 2020. ***UPDATE***
Other famous Purple Heart recipients include President John F. Kenney, and U.S. senators John McCain, Bob Dole, Tammy Duckworth and Daniel Inouye.
Although the Hall of Honor is now closed, the online database can be used to explore the stories of Purple Heart recipients like MacDonald and others. Purple Heart recipients or families of recipients can enroll in the database. Enrollment is voluntary and more information on that can be found here.
The expansion project will incorporate integrated audio-visual and media presentations, as well as museum-quality casework for each area with interpretive graphics, locally controlled lighting, touch-screen interactive monitors, and multiple large-format graphic displays. Once completed, the Hall will feature new exhibits that tell stories about joining the service, the day of the incident, field treatment and evacuation, the changing nature of warfare, the consequences of war, road to recovery and the ultimate sacrifice. The expanded exhibits will include more personal stories, interactive displays, and artifacts that highlight the experiences of featured Purple Heart recipients.
Currently, the online Roll of Honor database represents Purple Heart recipients from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Samoa and the Philippines.
Cover Photo- U.S. Army Nurse Beatrice Mary MacDonald in the ruins of a French town. All photographs from NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks
COMMON MISPERCEPTIONS ABOUT THE PURPLE HEART
George Washington created the Purple Heart: FALSE
General Washington created the award called Badge of Military Merit in 1782. It was a heart shaped piece of cloth or silk. It was to be awarded for a “singularly meritorious act”. It all but disappeared after the American Revolution. It was never referred to as the “Purple Heart” in Washington’s time. That language was used in General Order #3, establishing the Purple Heart award in 1932.
All casualties receive the Purple Heart: FALSE
Only those casualties resulting from enemy action are eligible for the Purple Heart. “Non-hostile” injuries or deaths (e.g. disease or accidents) are not eligible. The injury must require medical attention, be treated by a medical professional and documented. Numerous instances have occurred where the award was not made due to clerical errors, confusion after a battle or lack of proper documentation.
If you are wounded you automatically get a Purple Heart: FALSE
If the wounding was caused by the enemy, required professional medical attention and was documented, then the individual is eligible and should receive the award. However, there is a “paperwork process” that must be completed. Also, from 1932-1942 the majority of recipients had to apply for their awards as they were WWI (and earlier wars) wounded veterans, and therefore no longer in the military.
General Douglas MacArthur received the 1st Purple Heart: FALSE
While General MacArthur did sign General Order number 3 creating the modern Purple Heart on 22 February 1932, he did not apply for his Purple Heart until July 1932. By that time many WWI wounded veterans had applied for and received their awards (including the 136 veterans at the Temple Hill Ceremony held on the Grounds of what is now the Hall of Honor, 28 May 1932). General MacArthur’s medal however, was numbered “1”
The Government has a list of all Purple Heart recipients: FALSE
There is no list of Purple Heart recipients maintained by the Federal Government. The information is found on the record of the individual, or in copies of General Orders. This information has never been extracted to generate a list of all recipients.
Those wounded or killed in all wars are eligible for the Purple Heart: FALSE
When the award was created in 1932, it was open to any living veteran who felt that he or she was qualified. This resulted in a small number of recipients from the American Civil War and Spanish-American War. However, current regulations limit the award to those killed or wounded after 5 April 1917.
You have to be in combat to receive a Purple Heart: FALSE
The term “enemy action” has a much wider application than traditional combat. Changes in the regulations now recognize: injury or death while a prisoner of war; certain instances of friendly fire; as well as considering international and specific types of domestic terrorist acts.
Lt. Fox was the first known woman to receive a Purple Heart during World War II. For many years it was believed that she was the first female recipient. However (as you now know), Beatrice Mary MacDonald, an Army Nurse during World War I was wounded on 17 Aug. 17, 1917, when German planes bombed her hospital. The resulting wound caused her to lose her right eye. As with all other WWI veterans, she had to apply for her Purple Heart (Remember there was no Purple Heart prior to 1932). She was officially awarded her Purple Heart Jan. 4, 1936.
The first 136 Purple Hearts were awarded May 28, 1932 at Temple Hill, now the site for the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor: FALSE
Purple Hearts had been awarded prior to May 28, 1932. We know of one Civil War veteran who received his in April 1932. One of the Temple Hill day recipients also received his in late April and was formally awarded the medal at the Temple Hill Day ceremony.