While the Fourth of July marked a defining date in the American Revolutionary War, the conflict continued for much longer in New York City. From September 1776 to November 1783, the City was occupied by British troops. In fact, the New Yorkers used to celebrate Evacuation Day on November 25, marking the day in 1783 when the British troops finally left New York City. But even though many British symbols were quickly replaced once the City was liberated, Columbia (King’s College at the time) managed to hold onto one.
The King’s College building closed in April 1776 when the British informed the College that they would need to use it. The students were dispersed, the Library and “apparatus” were stored in City Hall, and College Hall was turned into a hospital. Some students had already left the College, including Alexander Hamilton who became a captain in command of a company of New York artillery in March. Trinity Church Assistant Bishop Benjamin Moore carried on college instruction for a time at Leonard Lispenard’s townhouse on Wall Street, and 6 degrees were conferred without a commencement in 1776. The College was then closed for 8 years.
After the Evacuation of the British in 1783, any and all remaining British flags and symbols were quickly replaced or destroyed. However, King’s College, which became Columbia College on May 1st, 1784, managed to preserve one item from its regal days. Sitting atop the weathervane of College Hall, there used to be an iron crown. Somehow, this one crown survived the loyalist attacks and moved with the College to the 49th Street campus in 1857. There it was on display for a while in the Library’s reading room. When Columbia moved to Morningside Heights in 1897, the iron crown again moved uptown and it still hangs over the mantle in the Trustees Room in Low Library. The mantlepiece is, in fact, another artifact from the original building: the 1756 cornerstone of the old College Hall. It is hard to believe that the small iron crown survived the War and multiple campus moves.
Columbia’s crown symbol has evolved over the years. In 2004, the logo was “modernized” for the University’s 250th anniversary celebration. On the Columbia homepage, the crown appeared with rounded diamonds instead of the Anglican Church crosses (see top left hand corner on the homepage from March 2004). The change was not embraced by some parts of the University, who eventually returned to the original logo (see homepage from June 2022). However, the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) still uses the adapted, more secular crown (see their homepage from June 2022).
For more information about the University’s colonial days, please visit the
King’s College research guide to learn about the resources available online and in-person from the University Archives collections.