Washington’s New York City Headquarters – No. 1 Broadway

Kennedy House, Number 1 Broadway

By the mid eighteenth century, New York City had grown to the extent that the wealthy sought country estates to escape the congestion of the “city”.  Another draw to build a ‘second home’ was the frequent outbreaks of diseases such as small pox, made worse in populated areas.   High society families such as Watts, Livingstone, Bayard, DeLancey, Morris, Apthorpe, and many others constructed lavish country homes on Manhattan north of the city.  They still retained their city mansions; dividing their time between the life of city elegance and rural retreats.  Captain Archibald Kennedy (1736 – 1794) of the British navy was one of the more prolific landowners of the colony.  In 1765 New York’s Lieutenant-Governor, Cadwallader Colden, wrote: ‘Archibald Kennedy possessed more houses in New York than any other man.’  He built his city mansion on lower Broadway across from bowling green and the glacis of Fort George (a slope that runs down from a fortification).  It became Number 1 Broadway and the temporary residence of every major general both American and British during the Revolutionary War.

Archibald Kennedy

Around 1710 (some sources state 1720), senior Hon. Archibald Kennedy (1685-1763, father of Captain Kennedy) and cousin of Sir Archibald, a Scottish peer, traveled to New York.  He prospered and became receiver general of customs for New York.  In 1745 he purchased property on lower Broadway from Eve Bayard, the widow of Peter Bayard.   The site was the former “Knocks Tavern” which had been built by Peter Knocks, a Dutch officer who was active during the Indian war of 1643 which by 1754 had fallen into ruin.  The mansion built on the site became No. 1 Broadway, which served as his home, and No. 3 Broadway which was to be converted into a customs warehouse.  Many sources mistakenly state that Captain Kennedy built the residence in 1745.  They confuse father with son as the captain would have been sailing toy ships at the time in which he was nine years old.  Others place the construction in 1760 – again mistaking father for son – however, by then the son would have been twenty four.  The father was still alive and the son was active on the high seas.  It is fair to say the elder Kennedy built the mansion at No. 1 Broadway within a reasonable amount of time from the sale and spent some years living there until his death in 1763.

Captain Archibald Kennedy

Archibald Kennedy

Captain Archibald Kennedy, principal occupant of No. 1 Broadway, was the third son of Archibald senior, born and raised in New York.  He became a prosperous captain in the British navy earning over £250,000 in prize money during the French and Indian War.  His posting was in New York as commander of a northern squadron.  Upon his father’s death and principal heir, his wealth was further augmented.  He married Peter Schulyer’s daughter Catherine (wealthy Dutch family from upstate New York- Peter was a stout patriot) in 1765 which granted him large properties in New York extending his worth.  His standing among the wealthiest New Yorkers only grew larger after his first wife died and he remarried Anne Watts, daughter of leading landowner and stout loyalist John Watts who was directly related to the DeLancys.

Captain Kennedy entered a significant place in American History when he became embroiled in the Stamp Act.  He was captain of the frigate HMS Coventry which in 1765 was anchored in New York.  He was ordered to load the stamps aboard the Coventry when they arrived from England.  The colonist got word that King George signed the stamp act that summer and by the fall there was much adversity towards the act throughout the city.  The stamps arrived on Nov. 2.  Kennedy, no doubt feeling the pressure from both sides of the issue and attempting to remain neutral, refused the order to load the stamps onto his ship.  Though the hated stamp act was later rescinded, Kennedy’s superiors did not forget his refusal to follow orders.  In March of 1766 he was relieved of command and put on half-pay.

When the Revolutionary war was brewing, Kennedy vacated his mansion at No. 1 Broadway and removed himself and his family to New Jersey.  He was arrested in Morristown New Jersey in 1776 by colonial authorities.  He was later paroled and withdrew from public life.

Elite homes in New York City. Left to right; Kennedy, Watts, Livingston, and Stevens

Sources vary on the date he and his family left the states both in archived and recent texts.  McCullough wrongly states in his 1776 novel that Captain Kennedy had already left for England before Washington established residence thereby avoiding his arrest and parole in Morristown, New Jersey.  Some state as early as 1781 where upon he lost all his possessions in America.  Others place him in America until called to Scotland to inherit the title of 11th Earl of Cassilis in 1792.   It is known that he and his family spent some time with the childless 10th Earl of Cassilis who was busy rebuilding castle Culzean.  It is also documented that his son, the future 12th Earl of Cassilis sold several properties in New York City in the early 1800’ so it seems highly unlikely he lost all his possessions.  Therefore, it is generally believed Kennedy remained in New York after the war at least long enough to retain some of his vast holdings in the city before returning to Scotland and befriending his cousin before the 10th Earl died.

Washington’s Arrival in NYC

Prior to Washington’s arrival in New York, several generals assumed command of the city as each entered at the head of troops.   Major General Charles Lee, second in command to Washington, first claimed the mansion his headquarters when he was ordered to New York in January, 1776 to see to planning and building fortifications.  After he went south to help thwart an invasion by British troops under General Clinton, General Lord Stirling took over his command and the mansion.  Later General Heath assumed command and moved in.  Major General Putnam, 3rd in overall command, arrived in  NY on April 3rd and occupied the mansion.

Washington’s expected residence in New York City was not to be the Kennedy Mansion.

Late March of that year, New Yorker, Colonel Alexander McDougall was assigned to find the commanding general a suitable place for headquarters.  It needed to be a residence and office combined and quite large.  It would not only house Washington, but also his ‘family’ as they were called, the six members of his personal staff and aides.  They would need a large stable as each man had a horse and quarters nearby for the General’s guard.  Also a good housekeeper, steward, and cook were to be housed.   McDougal chose the beautiful mansion of Abraham Mortier (major and paymaster in the British army) with adequate livery and additional quarters.   The next estate north of Leonard Lispenard’s, the house stood the crest of a hill called Richmond Hill and had a marvelous view of the Hudson.   The mansion and surrounding buildings needed extensive cleaning and renovations, so in the meantime, whenever Washington arrived, McDougall planned for his commander to reside at the vacant Kennedy House on No. 1 Broadway.

Saturday, April 13th, 1776, at noon, Washington and staff rode into New York City without ceremony (far different than a year ago on route to take command of American forces surrounding Boston).  He immediately set up headquarters at the Kennedy House and met with the NY Provincial Congress that day.  He remained there until April 17th when Martha’s carriage drove into the city.  He and Martha set up their residence on Richmond Hill at the Mortier estate, however Washington kept the Kennedy mansion as his main headquarters while in the city.


Looking up Broadway from the Kennedy House

Martha Lamb describes the old mansion in her 1877 treatise on the history of New York.  It had a broad handsome front with a carved doorway in the center, wide halls, grand staircases and spacious rooms.  The parlor was about fifty feet in length with a graceful bow opening upon a porch large enough for a cotillion-party (large square formation social dance that originated in France during the 18th century).  The banquet hall was a magnificent apartment.  It’s walls and ceilings were elaborately decorated.  The rooms of the second story in the rear of the house were connected to the large estate next door by a staircase and bridge.  This other home was No. 3 Broadway; the residence of the father of Kennedy’s wife Ann – loyalist John Watts.  There was a luscious garden behind the structure that extended to the water and was overlooked by a broad piazza (a veranda).   In 1896, The New York Times noted ‘It [Kennedy mansion] was virtually an imported building, all the materials, including bricks [yellowish in color], tiles, carved mantels, doors, windows, and other things entering into its construction having been brought from Holland.  The two-story mansion was perfectly symmetrical, its floors being delineated by two stone string courses.  The entrance was mirrored above by a Palladian window in the slightly protruding central section (style of Andrea Pilladio – phase of English architecture c1715).

Other occupants

When the British invaded Manhattan island on September 15th, commanding General William Howe rode into New York at the head of his column of troops.  He immediately set up headquarters that same day in the hastily vacated Kennedy Mansion.  Later, General Clinton, as head of British forces, established his headquarters at No. 1.  It is known that General Gage, commanding British forces at the end of the war had his headquarters further up Broadway in the Kings Arms Tavern.   It is not known if the Kennedys reoccupied their former home after the war.  Some sources state by 1783 he and his family had already departed for Scotland.  It was used as a boarding house for a period of time.  It was sold by Captain Kennedy’s son, 12th Earl of Cassilis in the early 1800’s when an additional story was added and it became the Washington Hotel.  By 1881, the land on which the old building stood was far more valuable than the hotel.  On December 16th, The New York Times reported on the sales of the furniture and fixtures at a public auction.  The Washington Hotel was razed in 1884 and in its place raised the ten story Washington Building designed by Edward H. Kendell.   It has currently been refaced and remodeled.  A branch of Citi Bank is its present occupant.

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Bancroft, George.  History of the United States, Vol. VII.  1875:  Little Brown & Company, Boston, MA

Bliven, Bruce Jr.  Under the Guns 1775 – 1776.  1972:  Harper & Row Publ, New York, NY.

Davis, Ashabel.  History of New Amsterdam.  1854:  R. T. Young Publisher,  New York, NY.

Dunlap, William.  History of the New Neatherlands, Providence of New York, Vol. I. 1839: Carter & Thorp Exchange Place, New York, NY.

Grant, James Wilson.  The Memorial History of the City of New York, Vol. II.  1892:  New York History Company, New York, NY.

Lamb, Martha.  History of the City of New York, Its Origin, Rise & Progress Vols. I & II.  1877: A.S. Barnes and Company, New York, NY.

McCullough, David.  1776.  2005:  Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.

Pelt, Daniel Van.  Leslie’s History of the Greater New York, Vol. I.  1898:  Arkell Publ.Company, New York, NY.

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