On the 16th of September 1776 men in America stood fast in a line stretching across the northern end of Manhattan. King George's forces, moving north, met them around present day West Broadway and 106th Street, close to where, two hundred years later, I attended school.
The American lines held in early fighting, but gradually began to fall back, while their cousins from Britain advanced, irritating the heck out of them by playing the “Call to Ground”, a signal during foxhunts that the quarry had been trapped in its hole. The call was well known to the Virginians, and must have set Washington's teeth on edge. Reinforcements gave impetus to the hunters who pushed north as far as present-day 125th Street, where farms spread out around the small village of Harlem.
Washington ordered the Connecticut Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Knowlton and the Virginians under Major Andrew Leitch to advance. Fighting courageously they forced the King's Army to retreat. When the battle ended, Knowlton and Leitch and at least 100 others were dead. The reprieve was temporary.
Washington's subsequent flight across the Hudson River and New Jersey with his men, who had been on the road and fighting for almost a year, but who refused to surrender though hungry and shoeless, is a measure of their fierce and tender love of liberty.
They learned this love from the best of the Brits. When Americans drafted their Constitution and Bill of Rights, they based it on the British Constitution which includes Common Law, the Charter of Liberties, the Coronation Oath, Magna Carta, the Petition of Right and the Declaration of Right.
It would take years for Brits in America to win their independence, and eleven years before they had a constitution - a reminder in an impatient modern world that establishing freedom takes time. (We can hear some of our solons now - "Hang it up, George. This war of independence is a quagmire. It's a civil war! People are dying every day. A major city is going up in smoke!" New York City did burn, and probably because rebels set it alight.)
When I climbed the stairs from the subway that had rattled me north from 34th Street, and strolled through the gates of Columbia, and across the brick quad, I was, though I hardly thought about it, the recipient of all their sacrifice.