Johannes Adam Simon Oertel 'Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C.'
January 5, 2021
By Gene Stavrou
New Yorkers had wanted to honor William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham, former Prime Minister, and advisor to King George III.
Pitt had helped to repeal the hated Stamp Act, but simply honoring him with a monument was tricky; New York had not yet dedicated a monument to the King. As a solution, New Yorkers of 1770 got a twofer. A monument to Pitt was placed at the intersection of Wall and William Streets, and a more prominent monument to George III, channeling Marcus Aurelius on horseback, was installed on the Bowling Green.
By July 9, 1776, following a "long train of abuses and usurpations," the Declaration of Independence was read to a crowd at what is now City Hall Park. Riled up, some made their way down Broadway later that night and pulled the gilded lead George III sculpture down with ropes, breaking it into pieces. Legend has it that most of the lead was sent to Connecticut, where it was melted into shot for the revolutionary cause. The statue's head was either displayed on a pike outside an upper Manhattan tavern or stolen by Tories (loyalists) and shipped to England, depending on the storyteller. Crown-shaped finials were hacked off the green's fence, erected in 1771 to protect the statue. Pieces of the George III statue, recovered over time, are in the collection of the New-York Historical Society.
The Pitt statue was also attacked, but not by Patriots. The arms and head of the marble "friend of the colonists" were broken off by Tories after British troops took control of the city in the fall of 1776. The mutilated Pitt sculpture was removed from Wall Street in 1788 and is now in the collection of the New-York Historical Society as well.
The Bowling Green pedestal survived another four decades, through to the end of the next war with Britain. Some protested its removal, seeing the statueless pedestal as a badge of honor, others thought it time for a surviving imperial footprint to be removed. The fence, dismantled during subway construction, was found in storage in the 1950s and reinstalled. Today, the statue's absence and the rough cuts on the fence posts serve not as revised history, but as evidence of the Revolution itself.