By Robb K. Haberman
A specter haunted the city and port of New York during the Quasi-War (1798-1800) and the years preceding it. With the young republics of France and the United States engaged in undeclared naval warfare, New Yorkers feared a seaborne strike would lay waste to their community and cripple its thriving maritime commerce. Although unrealized, these fears were certainly justified; despite attempts to construct an adequate system of defense, the city remained incapable of withstanding assault. Indeed, in March 1798, one official highlighted New York’s vulnerability, noting that its immense wealth and property “invite invasion” and that it would be helpless if set upon by a “single Twenty Gun privateer.” Many residents recalled with bitterness the great fire of 1776, a conflagration that had destroyed a quarter of the city, and feared that New York would soon be revisited by a similar trauma.
No one viewed the threat of a forthcoming French attack with more trepidation than Governor John Jay. Throughout his tenure in office from 1795 to 1801, he called for a comprehensive defense to protect New York City and its adjoining waterscape.
Editors' Note: This is part of a roundtable series,“New Histories of Education in New York City.” For an introduction and overview, click here.
In our fourth post, Lauren Lefty asks us what the story of community control looks like from a Puerto Rican perspective. She excavates histories of transnationalism and empire from above and below; elite ideas and policies from the “culture of poverty” to charter schools circulated between island and mainland, while grassroots organizers mobilized transnational networks along a “continual line of self-determination.” When we take empire and decolonization seriously, and see schools as “a key site to engage questions of sovereignty,” “local control” is not so local at all.
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