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Staten Island, New York, USA - 1860 - Richmond County, New York

This county was organized Nov. 1, 1683. It includes Staten Island, Shooters Island, and the islands of the meadow in Staten Island Sound. It is separated from Long Island by New York Bay, the Narrows, and New York Harbor; from Bergen, N. J. by the Kil Van Kull; and from N. J. on the w. by the Arthur Kil, or Staten Island Sound. Staten Island is nearly oval-shaped, its longest diameter extending N. E. and s. w. It is 14 mi. long by 8 broad, has an area of 58½ sq. mi., and is centrally distant 146 mi. from Albany. Princess Bay and Great Kils are small bays upon the s. shore. Fresh Kils is a tidal estuary extending about 3 mi. inland from Staten Island Sound, and during high tide it is navigable nearly its whole extent. The surface of the co. is mostly level or gently undulating. A broad range of hills extends from the Narrows across the island, terminating between the branches of the Fresh Kils. Near Tompkinsville these hills attain an elevation of 310 ft. They are composed of granitie rock upon the N. slope and steatitic rock and serpentine upon the s. Hematitic iron ore and many other interesting minerals are found in the co. Along the Fresh Kils, and along Staten Island Sound, in Northfleld, and also around the head of Great Kils and the mouth of New Creek, are extensive salt meadows. The waters of the sound and the bays adjacent to the island abound in oysters; and the oyster trade is the principal industrial pursuit of those inhabitants not engaged in business in New York, Brooklyn, or Jersey City. The right of taking oysters belongs to the owners of the adjoining banks. At Port Richmond, Factoryville, and other places along the N. shore, are extensive manufactories. Market gardening is followed to a limited extent, chiefly to supply the home demand. The erection of forts, hospitals, and other public establishments of the General and State Governments has given employment to great numbers of persons and caused the expenditure among the people of the co. of large sums of money. Since the establishment of regular steam ferries, many wealthy citizens engaged in business in New York City have erected residences upon the island. These country seats are mostly upon the N. shore and upon the heights that overlook the bay and sound. All the villages along the N. shore are lighted by gas furnished by the Richmond Gas Light Works, located near the Quarantine. A company was incorp. in 1836 to build a R. R. across the island to connect with the Camden & Amboy R. R.

The co. seat is located at Richmond. A courthouse and jail, in the same building, was erected pursuant to the act of March 23, 1837, at a cost of $10,000. The Co. clerk’s office was erected in 1848 and enlarged in 1857. It is a 2 story brick building, and contains the supervisor’s room, office for the surrogate and district attorney, and accommodations for the sheriff. The poorhouse is located upon a farm of 105 acres in Northfleld. Several of the public schools of Castleton and Southfield have been organized as union schools under a special act, and are in charge of a board of education. The schools of the co. generally are in a flourishing condition. Richmond co. is within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police Commissioners: but no men have hitherto been detailed for ordinary service within its limits.

Two newspapers are published in the co.

Staten Island was visited by Henry Hudson in his celebrated voyage of discovery in 1609. It was purchased from the Indians, Aug. 10, 1630, by Michael Pauw, one of the 4 Patroons of New Netherlands, and formed a part of the tract known as “Paxonia” in the early Dutch records.4 It soon reverted, however, to the West India Co.; and in 1636 a part of the island was granted to P. P. De Vries, by whom a colony was planted upon it in Jan. 1639. The remaining part of the island was granted by the Directors of the West India Co. to Cornelius Melyn in July, 1640. The following year, Melyn with his family settled upon this grant, and in June, 1642, he obtained letters patent. In Sept. 1641, the settlement of De Vries was attacked by the Indians, and hostilities between them and the whites ensued. A peace was concluded in 1642; but in Feb. 1643, under a frivolous pretext, the Indians were attacked opposite Manhattan and at Corlaers Hook and great numbers of them slain. This barbarous measure invoked retaliation, and the white settlements within reach were laid waste. The island was again purchased of the natives, Dec. 6, 1651, by Augustine Herman, and finally quitclaimed to Gov. Lovelace, April 13, 1670. Possession was given on the 1st of May following, and at this time the island was finally abandoned by its primitive inhabitants.

A considerable number of French Huguenots, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, found their way into the English colonies, and a part of them settled upon Staten Island. The family names of these immigrants are still common in this co. The earliest grants upon the island under the English were made to the officers of the ship Elias, immediately after the conquest. Two manors were subsequently granted, — one on the N. shore, styled "Cassiltown Manor,” to Gov. Dongan, and the other in the s. part, known as “Billop Manor.” This island was first occupied by British troops in the Revolution, July 4, 1776, and it was held by them until their final removal from the State late in 1783. On the 21st of Aug. 1777, the British posts upon the island were attacked by an American force under Gen. Sullivan. The expedition was well planned, but it failed to accomplish its main object. During the severe winter of 1779—80, while the Americans were encamped near Morristown, (N. J.,) a second expedition was sent out, under Gen. Lord Stirling, to surprise the enemy in the interior of the island. The party, consisting of 2500 men, crossed the sound on the ice from Deharts Point, on the Jersey shore, on the morning of the 15th of Jan.; but the movement was observed in time to prepare for defense. Contrary to expectation, the passage to New York was found to be free from ice, and during the day the British were reinforced from the city. Two or three were killed on each side, and a few prisoners were taken by the Americans. While the party remained, some persons from the mainland passed over and plundered several of the inhabitants; but a strict search was made and the stolen property was recovered and restored to its owners. On the 11th of Sept. 1776, a conference between Lord Wm. Howe and a committee of Congress consisting of Dr. Franklin, J. Adams, and E. Rutledge was held at the house of Capt. Billop, opposite Perth Amboy. No events of special interest occurred upon the island during the late war with Great Britain. A brigade of militia, consisting of 2000 men, was stationed here, and remained in camp from Aug. to Dec. 1814. During the troubles that preceded the War of 1812, the Legislature of New York memorialized Congress for the erection of defensive works around the harbor of New York, claiming protection against the arms of a foreign power as no more than an equitable return for the revenues which the State had surrendered to the General Government upon the adoption of the Constitution. Failing in this, the governor was directed to purchase a tract, not to exceed 25 acres, at the Narrows; and upon this tract fortifications were afterward erected. The amount of the appropriation made by the State for the defenses upon Staten Island previous to 1820 was $154,105.46. These works were purchased by the General Government, pursuant to an act of Congress passed Aug. 3, 1846, and they are now being rebuilt at an immense cost. When these and the other contemplated works along the approaches to New York harbor are completed, the city will be among the best fortified in the world.5 A quarantine was established by the State, under an act passed Feb. 25, 1799, upon the N. extremity of the island, in the town of Castleton, and maintained until it was destroyed, on the evenings of Sept. 1 and 2, 1858, by the people encouraged and led by prominent citizens.

Gazetteer of the State of New York, by J. H. French, LL.D., 1860

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