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Cobble Hill Trader Joe's Was Site of Despair for Washington in 1776

 The Trader Joe's building in Cobble Hill is the location of a historic point in the Battle of Brooklyn.
Trader Joe's Marks Battle of Brooklyn Historic Point
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COBBLE HILL — On the roof of the Trader Joe's building in Cobble Hill flies an American flag that few shoppers appear to notice as they step in and out of the store. 

The highest point of that flag marks the height of a hill that General George Washington stood atop in August 1776 to survey his troops who were fighting the British army in the Battle of Brooklyn.

"Good God, what brave fellows I must lose," Washington said, according to historians. Years later, he became the first president of the United States. 

Centuries prior to the California-based chain's entry into the neighborhood and just a few months before those iconic words were uttered, Washington marched 19,000 soldiers to Lower Manhattan to prepare for a British invasion, according to research and documents from the Mount Vernon organization. They even constructed forts in locations such as northern Manhattan and in Brooklyn Heights. 

Despite the fortifications, General William Howe led 10,000 British troops through the Jamaica pass on the evening of Aug. 26 and attacked the Americans in Brooklyn Heights.

Washington watched as the carnage unfolded before him.

New York was occupied by the British until 1783. They even leveled the hill at the Trader Joe's site so it could no longer be used as a vantage point, said Kim Maier, executive director of the Old Stone House in Park Slope. 

"This idea that the city was occupied is a really relevant conversation," Maier said.

Several decades later, the South Brooklyn Savings Institution was built at the site and in 1926, the bank erected a plaque that can still be seen on a wall of the building facing Court Street. 

"Near this place during the Revolutionary War stood the Ponkiesberg Fortification from which General George Washington is said to have observed the fighting at Gowanus during the Battle of Long Island August 27 1776," it reads. (The battle name is referred to as both Brooklyn and Long Island by historians.)

"The only thing I know about it is it was a bank before. I don't know the history," said Baba Indie, 65, who has sold jewelry from a table in front of the 170 Court St. building for four years.

A handful of shoppers on a recent Wednesday were unfamiliar with the scene's history as well. 

When Petra Vargas heard about Washington's connection to the site, she wished the building served a more educational or cultural purpose, like a museum.

"It should have been used for something better," said Vargas, who lives in Red Hook. "Anything but a supermarket."

Diandra Watson, who has worked at the Trader Joe's location since it opened in 2008, was glad for the changes to the neighborhood "but you cannot forget about the foundation."

"It's just something to embrace," she said. "It's like a 'wow.'"

To mark the 239th anniversary of the events, the Old Stone House and other sites are hosting Battle of Brooklyn tours, events and activities through Aug. 30.