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Hempstead Town marks first bloodshed on LI during Revolutionary War

From left, Nassau County Historic Society president Natalie

From left, Nassau County Historic Society president Natalie Naylor, Hempstead Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran look at a map in Tanglewood Preserve in Lakeview. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A failed plot to kidnap and kill Gen. George Washington led patriots to Hempstead Swamp in Lakeview to arrest loyalists and initiate the first bloodshed of the Revolutionary War on Long Island.

The Hempstead Landmarks Commission and Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen dedicated the site with a historical marker last week following the June 22, 1776, anniversary of the battle.

“It’s always good to encourage people to look into the past and find out more about our history,” Gillen said.

A historical marker was added Friday near the pond in what is now the Tanglewood Preserve in Rockville Centre.

The marker reads, “First blood spilled on Long Island in the War for Independence. General George Washington dispatched a party of soldiers to capture Tories believed to be involved in a failed assassination attempt on his life. Six Tories were captured when Loyalist George Smith was shot and wounded in the shoulder.”

The plot to kill Washington was discovered when Thomas Hickey, one of his private guards, was accused of trying to poison him with a dish of tainted green peas, according to the Nassau County Historical Journal.

New York Gov. William Tyron was accused of orchestrating the plot, and patriots arrested the mayor of New York and issued warrants for loyalists on Long Island in Queens County. Washington and Congress authorized military action to arrest and disarm loyalists on Long Island and in Rockville Centre.

The Demott Family, for which Demott Avenue in Rockville Centre  is named, hung a white sheet from their mill on Smith Pond to warn loyalists that Washington’s troops were coming, Gillen said. The loyalists went to hide in Hempstead swamp, where Washington’s men fired into the woods. The soldiers took six prisoners to Jamaica jail, according to the historical journal.

“This was the first bloodshed on Long Island,” Nassau County Historical Society president Natalie Naylor said.   “It wasn’t yet a rebellion, but it was a conflict with those loyal to the crown and those who dissented.”

Tensions had been building on Long Island since 1775 when the Town of North Hempstead seceded from loyalists in Hempstead. There were only 12 percent of patriots in Queens County, with about 60 percent of residents at the time remaining neutral, Naylor said. Conflicts led to the patriots occupying the loyalist Rock Hall home in Lawrence before loyalists were arrested and disarmed by Washington’s men.

“The revolution was first a civil war and we kind of forget that,” Naylor said. “There were a number of confrontations and conflicts before the Battle of Hempstead Swamp. These conflicts had been stirring before the Declaration of Independence.”

The town is also advocating to include the site on the state’s Revolutionary War Heritage trail.

“Nobody connected it, and you don’t think of the Town of Hempstead when you think of the Revolutionary War," Gillen said, "but there was an important part of the struggle for freedom fought here, and I think we should be part of this history.”

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