Set in the greenery in front of University Plaza is a small iron fence enclosing a white marble tablet. The tablet is quite worn and nearly illegible now, but a smaller plaque next to it has a transcription of the original lettering:
“The following is the wording that was placed on the memorial stone immediately adjacent to this plaque: The Declaration of Independence was first read in Albany by order of the Committee of Safety July 19, 1776 in front of the City Hall then on this site. This memorial of the event was placed here by the citizens July 4, 1876.”
At the time of the Revolutionary War, Albany’s city hall – or Stadt Huys – stood here along Broadway across from the foot of modern Hudson Avenue. At the time, this key thoroughfare running parallel to the riverfront was call Court Street and the Stadt Huys had been erected in the early 1740s to replace a 1686 meeting space on the same site.
During the Revolution, it was the meeting place of the Albany Committee of Correspondence, Safety, and Protection which was chaired by Abraham Yates, Jr..
In July 1776, in the days immediately following its approval in Philadelphia, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed to and read before the public in major cities throughout the rebelling Colonies. The New York copy was received by Abraham Yates, Jr; it had been sent on by his nephew, Robert Yates, who was a member of the New York Provincial Congress. The Declaration was then read to the public from the steps of the Stadt Huys on July 19 by Matthew Visscher. Visscher, a twenty-five year old lawyer, served as secretary to the Committee.
In 1876, a committee was formed in Albany to honor the 100th anniversary of American Independence. The Centennial Memorial Tablet Committee met “to procure the erection of a permanent memorial at the spot where the Declaration of Independence was first publicly read in Albany.” $100 was earmarked for the project and, at the cost of $80, the marble tablet with gilt letters was commissioned. By 1876, the old Stadt Huys was long gone, but arrangements were made to mount the marble table on the facade of the Commercial Building which stood near the corner of Broadway and Hudson Avenue.
Before a gathering of “two or three thousand” Albany residents, the tablet, which was covered by an American flag, was unveiled by Visscher Ten Eyck (Matthew Visscher’s grandson.) The tablet’s reveal was greeted by hearty cheers from the crowd, patriotic songs, chimes from the steeples of nearby churches, and a 100-gun salute.
When the Commercial Building was demolished to make way for construction of the D & H Building, the marble tablet was salvaged and set within the iron railing. The gilt lettering has since worn away and the tablet marking the first public reading the Declaration of Independence is easily overshadowed by the ornate D & H Building (now SUNY Plaza).
Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor