Happy Belated Birthday, President Washington!

Writer Joel Heumann comments on the history of George Washington's birthday as a federal holiday and his roots in the Peekskill/Cortlandt area.

Back before we had a “President's Day” holiday, there used to be a legal holiday called “Washington's Birthday”, which was celebrated from 1879 to 1968 on Feb. 22. This is interesting, since back in the day when George Washington was born, Britain and its colonies used the Julian calendar, a different calendar system, which recorded his birth date as Feb. 11, 1731. In 1752, Britain and its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar, still in use today, which adjusted his birthday to February 22.

In 1968, Congress put the Monday Holiday Law into effect, which moved our celebration of his birthday to “the third Monday in February”. This effectively prevented his birthday from ever actually being celebrated on February 22, since the latest that the third Monday can fall is Feb. 21. By the way, there has never been any official governmental decree creating a “President's Day”; as far as Congress is concerned, it's still “Washington's Birthday”.

Peekskill and Cortlandt Manor were incredibly important to General Washington during the Revolutionary War. He spent a lot of time in this area, and even more time thinking and worrying about its defense. The Hudson River was a natural boundary which separated the New England Colonies from western New York and all the Colonies to the south. If the British controlled the Hudson, they would be able to split the Revolutionary forces, which could have had disastrous effects on any chance of the Colonies winning their independence. Because of its geography, this area offered Washington the best locations for protecting the Hudson from falling into British control.

One of his regular headquarters was Birdsall House, where he drank beer, ate good food and strategized with local generals like Israel Putnam, William Heath, George Clinton and supposedly the Marquis de Lafayette. This particular Birdsall House, however, was the home of Daniel Birdsall, and was located on the opposite side of the street and closer to the river than the current eatery.

King's Ferry, at Verplanck's Point was the only way across the lower Hudson that never fell into British hands. Its defense was also vital to the American cause. Continental Village was one of several camps for patriot troops. Both the upper and lower Van Cortlandt manor houses were the sites of frequent meetings.

There are many stories about General Washington's campaigns in our area. Those who would like to know more about our historic past should read “Peekskill and the American Revolution”, by Emma L. Patterson. There are many copies of this excellent book at local libraries.



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