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.
By Benjamin Feldman
One afternoon this past winter, I and my new friend Bill drove over from his Jersey home to the northeast corner of Inwood, looking for something very special. We parked on 9th Avenue just north of 207th Street, next to the municipal bus garage. To the north, a fence blocked our way to the river bank, where Captain Moffat’s yard once stood. There’s no public access now to the rotting ghost-piles. But Bill and I peered through the chain link at the grimy water and the remnants of a pier under which he swam as a child as he reminisced about the water quality, even worse fifty years ago than today.
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