Bits of History About Brooklyn Prior to Consolidation 1898 Part I

Nearly sixty-four years after its incorporation as a city on April 8, 1834, Brooklyn becomes a borough of the enlarged city, adding 65 3/4 miles to its area and 1,180,000 to its population. No masterpiece of fiction ever possessed a more varied and thrilling interest than the history of this city and county, from its first settlement by the Dutch near the Wallabout in 1623 down to the present time. On June 12, 1646, the little group of colonists organized as a village, receiving a Dutch charter in 1653 and an English charter in 1665. This latter grant continued in force throughout the colonial and revolutionary period. By act of march 7, 1788, the Town of Brooklyn was incorporated simultaneously with the Towns of Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, New Utrecht and Bushwick. New Lots was formed from Flatbush, February 12, 1852. The only other town in the county of state creation was Williamsburgh, which was incorporated as a village April 14, 1827, and formed into a town from Bushwick in 1840. Eleven years later, on April 7, 1851, Williamsburgh was incorporated as a city, or less than four years before its consolidation with Brooklyn, Bushwick being included in the annexation. The rapidity with which the early settlements spread to all parts of the county may be inferred from the fact that Gravesend received a Dutch charter in 1645 and an English charter in 1665, while Flatbush was settled in 1652, and received a Dutch charter a year later. New Utrecht was given a Dutch charter in 1654, and in 1655 this town and Flatlands received their English charters. Bushwick was granted a patent in 1660 and organized as a town in 1661.

Origin of Brooklyn Real Estate Titles

According to Onderdonk, there were 200 inhabitants on Manhattan and Long island in 1623, and Furman states that tobacco was raised along the Wallabout in 1638, which was the year of the purchase from the Indians by the Dutch West India Company of all the lands within the limits of Kings County. This territory was soon sub-divided and assigned by patents to various individuals, from whose deeds all real estate titles in Brooklyn take their origin. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this county was a region of farmers and fishermen and its trade combined to supplying the wants of an agricultural population. The water front possessed no commercial value and land was reckoned and valued only by the acre.

The eighteenth century was almost gone before real estate speculation was known. With the advent of town lots and rise in values, came that steady and rapid growth which transformed the town into a village and the village into a city. Although the magnificent forests were cut down by the British during their occupation of New York, the growth of the county was not much retarded and by the end of the century its population exceeded 4,000.

The First Fire Company

The settlement about Fulton Ferry was made a fire district in 1801. This was sixteen years after the organization of a fire company on April 30, 1783, at Widow Moser's inn, near the ferry, when six freeholders were appointed firemen for one year without pay. The sum of L150 was voted to purchase a fire engine of Jacob Roome of new York, the first fire engine builder in this country. With this engine a stream of water could be thrown 60 feet, the capacity of the box, which was filled by buckets, being 180 gallons. After two years the number of firemen was increased to nine. Membership in the company was esteemed such an honor that, although it brought no privileges of any sort, there was a strong rivalry among the freeholders for places in it at each election. The honor cost four shillings a year for the necessary license, the proceeds of such licenses being used to defray the expenses of the company. No record of these license fees was kept until 1821.

The first fatal accident in the department occurred August 21, 1822, at a large fire among some buildings under the Heights, in which naval supplies and cotton were stored, when Fireman Walter McCann received fatal injuries by the slipping of his hook, which he survived only twenty-six hours. The village fire department was incorporated April 16, 1823, and so large was the growth of the town that by 1825, five engine companies had been organized. The Williamsburgh fire service dates back to 1834, when two companies were formed. When by the act of 1869, the old volunteer service was superseded by a paid department, the Western District Fire Department comprised twenty-two engines (of which nine were steamers), seventeen hose companies and six hook and ladder companies, with one chief and seven assistant engineers, while that of the Eastern District included seventeen companies, divided into four engine companies, ten hose and three truck companies.

Early Brooklyn churches

The Episcopal Church of Brooklyn was incorporated in 1787 and the first Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1794. The African Weslyan Methodist church was formed in 1818 and the First Presbyterian Church was incorporated in 1822. On November 20, 1822, the St. James Roman Catholic Church was incorporated and the corner stone laid June 25 following. This is one of the oldest church edifices in Brooklyn. From that day forward the rapid growth of the city gave an increased impetus to church building and religious edifices began to multiply. A notable event in the earlier days of the city was the installation in 1847 of Henry Ward Beecher as pastor of Plymouth Church which his eloquence raised to a national fame and influence. In 1885 the number of churches in the city and county had swelled to 324, divided as follows: Baptist, 36; Congregational, 25; Jewish Synagogues, 8; Lutheran, 21; Methodist Episcopal, 56; Methodist Primitive, 3; Methodist Protestant, 3; Presbyterian, 26; Protestant Episcopal, 43; Reformed Episcopal, 16; Reformed, 22; Roman Catholic, 59; Second Advent, 2; Unitarian, 3; Universalist, 4, and miscellaneous, 13.

The Churches of Today

At the opening of 1897 there was 354 Protestant churches, or 30 more than the total number in 1885. Their total membership aggregated 119,993, with a Sunday school membership of 134,216. During 1896, $1,201,694 was raised for current expenses; for missions, $374,129; for church debt and extension $394,297, making a total amount raised for the year $1,733,452. The total value of the churches in question was $16,530,370, with an aggregate indebtedness of $1,830,483, and the seating capacity of the above churches and 85 chapels connected therewith was 265,583, or approximately 22 1/2 per cent. of the total population of the city. In the 78 Catholic churches in the city the parishioners aggregate 259,230, with a Sunday school membership of 38,280 and an attendance of 27,489 at the parish schools. The aggregate seating capacity is 64,030 and the total value of church property is $10,075,000 on which there are debts amounting to $1,624,750. There were at the opening of 1897 16 Jewish synagogues, with a membership of 1,915, a Sunday school attendance of 995, a total seating capacity of 27,305 and having an aggregate value of $1,402,000, with a debt of $307,750. Adding together the membership, parishioners and Sunday school attendance of the Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish persuasions, we have a total of 554,629, which gives us an accurate idea of the number of people who have church connections or affiliations. On a basis of 1,180,000 population it will be seen that approximately 47 per cent of our people have church associations, while 53 per cent. have none.

Growth of the Population

By the state census of 1796 the population of Brooklyn was 1,603 of whom 224 were electors, while according to Jeremiah Johnson's scrapbook, the population of the county at that time was 4,495, of whom 621 were electors. The slaves numbered 1,432. As yet the inhabitants were mostly of the Dutch extraction and strong in their old prejudices.

Although slavery was abolished in this state in 1817, up to the opening of the present century no sentiment in favor of emancipation had anywhere shown itself. By 1823 the population amounted to about 9,000 for the town and 7,000 for the village, the directory containing the names of 190 families. The census of 1840 showed a population of 36,233 people, living in nine wards. Bushwick, which had just been sliced off from Williamsburgh, contained 1, 295 inhabitants, and the latter place 5,090. Flatbush had 2,099 population.

At that time Brooklyn had nine public schools and the mail handled by the post office did not overwork Uncle Sam's servants. The post-master and his one assistant had a very easy time of it except when the mails came in. The churches of Brooklyn then were five Methodist Episcopal, six Protestant Episcopal, two Roman Catholic, seven Presbyterian, two Baptist and one Friends.

At that time the Apprentices' Library, at the corner of Henry and Cranberry streets, constituted what was known as the City Buildings. In a one-story brick, fire-proof building, opposite the library building, was the County Clerk's office. By 1850, the population had trebled, reaching a total of 120,000, and making Brooklyn the seventh city in the Union. The tax assessments for 1852 showed an increase over the previous year of $12,000,000. Its fifteen schools contained 18,307 scholars, with an additional 800 attending night school. About fifty miles of gas mains were laid in the city, of which twenty-two miles had been put down during 1851 by the Brooklyn Gas Company. During the same year 2,500 new buildings were erected. In 1866 Brooklyn's population had reached over 296,000, which the census of 1880 swelled to 566,689, and 1890 to 853,945.

Another interesting point bearing on population is the number of qualified voters at different times, which the record since the war shows to be3 as follows: 1866, 51,123; 1876, 56,580; 1874, 69,858; 1876, 98,198; 1880, 114,090; 1882, 104,522; 1884, 127,204; 1892, county, 192,054; 1896, 207,213; 1897, 203,975.

Increase in Value of Property

Since the annexation of Williamsburgh in 1855, the increased value of property within the city limits has been not less remarkable than the advance in population. The figures for various years are as follows: 1855 (Kings County), $88,679,160; 1860, $97,241,707; 1865, $112,174,843; 1870, $194,128,665; 1875, $219,364,816; 1880, $235,101,272; 1885, $324,776,617; 1890, $452,758,601; 1895, $563,987,132, of which $540,359,686 was for real estate; 1896, $582,847,633, of which $555,310,997 was on real estate; 1897, $603,796,463, of which $570,107,742 was for real estate. Since 1870, the tax rate per $100 has been as follows: 1870, $3.77; 1875, $3.43; 1880, $2.69; 1885, $2.90; 1890, $2.58; 1895, $2.74; 1896,$2.90; 1897, $2.83; 1898 average of $2.79 on first 28 wards, $2.83 on whole 32 wards.

Tax Levies Since 1870

As showing how the cost of city and county government has kept pace with the growth of population, the tax levies for various years, are presented, as follows: 1870, $6,257,228; 1875, $6,475,114; 1880, $5,477,583; 1885, $8,691,001; 1890, $10,718,984; 1895, $14,140,054; 1896, $14,480,922; 1898, $15,980,975.18, including assessments in the new wards. The city budget for 1898 contemplates an expenditure of $12,511,367 as against $10,740,367.27, exclusive of principal and interest on city debt.


Website: The History
Article Name: Bits of History About Brooklyn Prior to Consolidation 1898 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle January 2, 1898
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