Revolutionary War History: The Chain

Did you know that a huge chain was stretched across the Hudson River to help win the Revolutionary War?

My first semester of library school ended last week. I had grand designs of writing a weekly blog post about something I’d learned each week, but I was a bit too over whelmed for that. Perhaps next semester. The Chain is one of the things I’ve been looking forward to sharing with you.

United States Coast Guard Academy

In a previous post, I mentioned that a field experience was part of my intro to archives course and I was placed at the United States Coast Guard Academy Library Special Collections (I loved every minute of it!).

On my first day at the USCGA, I couldn’t help but notice these huge chain links near the front door of the library. Was is it a construction project? An art installation? During a break, I stepped outside to check it out.

I was surprised to learn the chain was a historic artifact! A plaque on the wall near the links provides some background:

The Chain

The plaque reads:
The Chain
of which this is a part was stretched
from West Point N.Y. to Constitution
Island in 1778 to close the Hudson
River against the British fleet.

Made at the Sterling Iron Works
Peter Townsend
Presented to the Coast Guard Academy
by his great grand-daughter
Mary Alice Townsend Sackett
and her son
Austen Townsend Sackett

The links were painted Coast Guard blue.

Have you ever heard about this chain?

If I did, I don’t remember but after seeing these huge links, I’ll never forgot. I do recall reading about how vital it was to keep the British from going up the Hudson (it would split the colonies and the British would have easily won the war), but I don’t recall learning about what techniques or technologies were used. Or maybe I breezed through a sentence about a chain across the Hudson and didn’t stop to consider what that actually meant.

This is why historical artifacts, homes, and museums are so important to understanding our past. When you see historic artifacts or stand inside of an old home or walk down a historic street, history comes alive with tangible context. The size and weight of these links are stunning.

Even if I wore size 14, the links would still dwarf my feet.
Waesche Hall

The entrance to Waesche Hall. When you walk through the doors, the Coast Guard Museum is to the left and the library is to the right. You can see the chains and the plaque to the far right.

Learn More

If you want to learn more about the The Chain, a good place to start is this article on the Hudson Valley Magazine’s website, click here. It explains the why and how, and also has an artist’s rendering of what the project must have looked like. The chain was floated on logs with sharpened tips so the British ships couldn’t ram it without the risk of sinking.

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