The plaque reads, “to commemorate the battle of Harlem heights, won by Washington’s troops on this site, September 16th, 1776”
Have you ever seen this plaque on the math building at Columbia University? Located on Broadway around 118th Street, the plaque commemorates the battle of Harlem Heights during the Revolutionary War, which served as a serious morale boost and allowed the patriots to keep northern Manhattan.
General George Washington arrived at Harlem Heights in September of 1776 to find that the British had invaded Manhattan around Kip’s Bay (currently the area around E 34th Street), and that they now controlled southern Manhattan. The patriots still had a hold at the north, but the British were approaching soon.
While all of this was farmland at the time, the American patriots met the British soldiers around 106th street and Broadway. The fighting ranged from there to 125th Street, but most of the battle was fought on 120th street and Riverside Drive. For more, the New York Freedom Trail has a great account of where the fighting took place.
Each side had at least 5,000 troops. The Americans successfully fended off the British down to 106th street. After a six hour battle, Washington called off the fight because the Americans weren’t ready to fight the entire British army. Despite its short duration, the Battle of Harlem Heights was important as a morale boost after the British took over southern Manhattan.
For more on the Revolutionary war, read about the Battle of Golden Hill, the first battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Long Island which began in what is now Green-wood Cemetery, and the Fort Greene historic district, where the Battle of Long Island continued.