Long Island City in 1776: The Revolution Comes to Queens


August 7, 2023
by Michael C. Harris Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

BOOK REVIEW: Long Island City in 1776: The Revolution Comes to Queens by Richard Melnick (The History Press, 2023)

Richard Melnick’s Long Island City in 1776: The Revolution Comes to Queens comes to us from The History Press. The 222-page book that serves to highlight the role a portion of Queens borough in New York City played in 1776. Today the area is known as Long Island City, though that name did not come into existence until 1870. A typically neglected area in accounts of the 1776 campaign, Melnick highlights the importance of places and people of western Queens during the American Revolution.

Following the evacuation of Boston, British Gen. William Howe regrouped and reinforced his army for an attack on New York City in 1776. After landing on Long Island, Howe launched his major attack on George Washington’s army in the Battle of Long Island in August. This fighting took place south of the author’s study area. After driving Washington off Long Island, Howe turned his attention to crossing the East River and assaulting Washington’s line on Manhattan Island. Much of the preparation for this phase of the campaign took place in the future Long Island City. Following the assault on Kip’s Bay that secured New York City, major military operations moved to other areas in the region. Western Queens remained under British military occupation for the remainder of the war.

Melnick’s study is broken down into a preface and nine chapters. Also included are nine pages of endnotes, a ten page bibliography, and four pages of acknowledgements. The text is supported by ninety images. The author clearly states in the preface “The author uses 1776 as pushback against cancel culture and intentional American historical diminishment, as a counter to those who wish to dilute or disregard the honorable sacrifices and the great strides that the Americans made.”

The first chapter focuses on the pre-Revolutionary history of western Queens, providing background on land development for the study area. Next, Melnick provides information on the years 1774-1775. Chapter three focuses in on 1776, covering the first six months of the year. Next he covers July 1776, spending much time on the Declaration of Independence. Chapter five covers the many events of August including the Battle of Long Island and the eventual arrival of British forces in Queens on page 87. Melnick then spends twenty pages providing property and house history for western Queens, disrupting the flow of his narrative. Chapter seven covers September 1776 with operations along the East River and the British attack on Kip’s Bay. Information in the eighth chapter also seems out of place as Melnick provides details on the British occupation of Queens from 1776 through 1783. The final chapter covers the last three months of 1776.

The author purports from the beginning that his focus is on the future Long Island City. However, the book’s title is deceptive as that name did not exist in 1776. Several villages existed in the area which later became Long Island City. On page 61, Melnick states “The primary focus of this book is to discuss and honor the good men and women with ties to the future Long Island City.” Melnick does lay out the boundaries of his study area, but repeatedly throughout the narrative, he chooses to cover events, people, and locations outside those boundaries. Examples include covering Boston events in Chapter 1, coverage of George Washington only to state that he never came to Long Island City in Chapter 3, spending fourteen pages covering the Battle of Long Island and four pages covering Washington’s evacuation of Long Island in Chapter 5, information on prison ships in Chapter 8, and details on Fort Washington, Charles Lee’s capture, and the Battle of Trenton in Chapter 9. While all the facts Melnick presents are interesting, the reader often gets bogged down searching for Long Island City information. At times, Melnick admits he is covering topics outside the study area: “These naval actions did not take place in the East River or in waters near western Queens County, later Long Island City.”

Likewise, Melnick often takes the narrative into tangents. Much time is spent on describing flags in Chapter 2, currency, Brown Bess muskets, and disease in Chapter 3, the role of women and more flag information in Chapter 5, and facts about slavery, army rank structure, and John Alsop in Chapter 7. While all the information presented is interesting, Melnick could have been better served using footnotes or appendices to prevent disrupting his narrative. A good editor could have greatly improved Melnick’s writing. At times Melnick uses overly wordy descriptions or repeats information chapter after chapter. Also, descriptions are often misplaced in the book. Melnick’s description of the East River and Hell Gate, for example, likely belongs in Chapter 1 rather than later in Chapter 5.

Despite the many flaws, Melnick intersperses valuable information throughout the book. Details on Nathaniel Heard’s militia operations in Queens appear on page 37. Melnick details Issac Sears’s efforts in Chapter 3. Locations and descriptions of batteries placed along the East River appear in the next chapter. The seventh chapter outlines British troop locations and officer billets following the British occupation of Queens. On page 127, Melnick notes “Sadly, the importance that this Queens, New York portion of the Revolutionary War had on the entire outcome is unheralded and underrepresented.”

For those interested in Long Island history, Melnick’s book will be of interest. As he says, “In terms of the most important events of the Revolutionary War, the activities in Queens County were massive troop movements, bivouac, master planning, a significant cross-river cannonade, the base camp for a major invasion and a long-term military occupation.”

PLEASE CONSIDER PURCHASING THIS BOOK FROM AMAZON IN PAPER or KINDLE(As an Amazon Associate, JAR earns from qualifying purchases. This helps toward providing our content free of charge.)


  • The title is anachronistic. Long Island City didn’t exit until the late nineteenth century. I have a feeling that the History Press insisted on the title. They often seem afraid of titles that aren’t immediately identifiable to prospective readers.

  • An accurate review. History’s verdict is in: Queens was a Loyalist stronghold during the Revolutionary War. This does not mean that we should overlook this, but that we bear in mind that, at the end of the day, Queens is tangental to the history of the American Revolution. Granted, Mr. Melnick’s book offers tidbits for local NYC history buffs to savor, yet it does nothing to shift the needle of historical judgment concerning his chosen subject.

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