A Glance Backwards, Brooklyn Sixty Years Ago Part I

 We have before us a volume entitled "A Topographical View of the Township of Brooklyn, in Kings County," bearing evidence of having been written towards the close of the last century. It is partly in manuscript and partly made up of printed extracts from the columns of a newspaper of a date antecedent to the writing. The newspapers from which the extracts are made we presume to be The Courier and New York and Long island Advertiser. It was the only paper then on the Island, and was published by Mr. Thomas Kirk, a quiet old gentleman of the old school, who long survived his generation, and lived until Brooklyn had grown to be one of the first cities in the Union.

The "Topographical View" we suppose was published in the "Advertiser," and was afterwards enlarged and designed to be printed in book form, but this intention does not appear to have been carried out.

Kings County, in which the township of Brooklyn is situated, the writer says, has been called the garden of the State, and after describing its boundaries he says that it abounds with all the conveniences and many of the luxuries of life. " Commodious public house, elevated and enchanting prospects, rich and fertile fields, lowing herds, &c., render, it perhaps, more pleasant than any other situation in the State." This reads very well, but in the next sentence he claims credit for things not quite compatible with convenient public house, rich and fertile, fields or lowing herds either. "Few (places) he says can boast that its inhabitants by crossing to New York, may enjoy the busy hum of laboring art, and in an hour after, retirement to almost impenetrable solitude. The county, he goes on to say "was first legally separated from other counties in the year 1691, and contained the several towns of Boshwick, Bedford, Breucklin, Flatlands, Flatbush, New Utrecht and Gravesend, with the settlements and plantations adjacent. After the Revolution an act of the Legislature was passed which prescribes that "The County of Kings", (the name seems to have been transposed from Kings County as before written, in accordance with changed relation of the country to the old gentlemen who filled the position from which the county was named. "The County of Kings contains all that part of this State bounded easterly by Queens County, northerly by the County of New York, westerly partly by the Hudson River and partly by the ocean, and southerly by the Atlantic ocean, including Coney Island. By an act of the same date, this County is divided into six townships, viz: Flatbush, Brooklyn, Bushwic, Flatlands, or Amesford, Gravesend and New Utrecht." The County, he goes on to say, contains four thousand four hundred and ninety-five inhabitants, and of this number, six hundred and twenty-one are electors. From which it appears the population has increased over sixty fold in sixty years. The small number of electors in proportion to the population is also noticeable; but it will be remembered that a property qualification was required to qualify a voter, and suffrage was not made universal for over a score years afterwards. "Of these," our author continues, "nine hundred and three are free white males of sixteen and upward, seven hundred white males under that age, fourteen hundred free white females, fourteen hundred and thirty-two slaves, and forty-six free persons not enumerated." In Kings Co. sixty years ago the slaves numbered nearly as many as they do now in the State of Delaware, and formed about one-third the entire population of the County. And there was no blight, or curse or mildew upon the land either, for the historian goes on to say that "the inhabitants are chiefly of Dutch extraction, some are attached to their old prejudices, but within a few years past, liberality and taste for the fine arts have made considerable progress." He does not go into any great fuss about the matter either, though he was "breathing the air of the revolution," and doubtless often braved the dangers of the East River to see its master spirit as he went in and our of his residence on the Bowling Green. "The slaves," he says, "are treated well," but he adds calmly enough, "the opinion relative to their freedom is too much influenced by pecuniary motives," of the masters, we suppose. "It would certainly, "he concludes, "redound to the honor of humanity could their freedom be effected here."

The township of Brooklyn was organized by an act passed by the Legislature in 1788, and by the State Census taken two years after, it was found that Brooklyn contained a population of sixteen hundred and three persons, so that the population of the township has increased in sixty years nearly two hundred fold a thing unparalleled, we think, in the history of any city. Of this 1603, three hundred and two were free white males, five hundred and sixty-five free white females, four hundred and sixty-five free white females, four hundred and five slaves, more than one fourth the entire population, and fourteen others (free colored persons, we suppose.) Of the whole number 224 were freeholders and entitled to vote. "In many places," the writer says, "the land of the township is even and very fertile; in other places the "reverse, though generally inkling to the former. The borders of the township are enliven with many delightful country seats, are very commodious for shipping, and vessels of 500 tons may lay almost at any of the wharves." This is a very gratifying statement, though not expressed in a manner that would meet with the approbation of Lindley Murray.

Has any of our readers ever heard of the city of Olympia? Few of them have, doubtless, and yet many of them reside within its precincts. The city of Olympia was formerly the name of one of the villages of Brooklyn Township, and we cannot, but believe the author of the history we quote from was largely interested in the corner lots thereof, for he carefully sets forth all its advantages. "This tract of land," he says, was surveyed and laid out in streets as long ago as the year 1788, and then intended as a city; its progress has been arranged according to the plan, and it begins to have the appearance of regularity. It lies to the east of Brooklyn ferry, and is bounded by the Wallabout and the East River. The holders of this tract appear to be desirous to encourage the undertaking, by their willingness to dispose of lots and at a reasonable price. When we observe the elevated situations, the agreeable prospects, the salubrity of the atmosphere, and the contiguousness to New York, with many other interesting advantages, which the writer would doubtless have named if he thought the thing would not look too much like an advertisement its adaptability cannot be doubted.

The owners of the embryo city seem to have ideas commensurate with the high sounding name they baptized it. "It has been suggested, the writer says, that a bridge would be constructed from this village across the East River to New York. This idea has been treated as chimerical, from the magnitude of the design but whoever takes it into their serious consideration, will find more weight in the practicability of the design than at first view is imagined. This would be the means of raising the value of lands on this side of the River. Which is likely enough, and we wish for the sake of the lot owners and ourselves they had tried, the experiment, and succeeded and then we should have no Union Ferry Company, no big things, and no attempts to bribe incorruptible Legislatures.

"It has also been observed," says the writer, that the Wallabout would form an excellent Navy Yard for vessels to repair. Should such a plan be carried into execution, it would considerably increase the importance of this place." The ground was ceded to the U.S. Government for the purpose in 1807, and the Navy Yard established to the great advantage of several generations of "strikers," and we hope to that of the Olympian lot owners, though of this we are not so well assured.

"As a retreat from New York in Summer," the writer says, "Olympia would furnish many superior excellencies over other places, such is its vicinity to that city, the opportunity of freighting and uploading vessels during the period of fever, the sale of goods to the yeomanry, who are fearful of entering the city." From this is will be inferred that yellow fever was an almost yearly visitor to our sister city, and in another place we are told that Brooklyn is never troubled with that scourge unless it be a case imported from the New York side.

With the writers account of the great things in store for Olympia we take our leave of him for the present, promising to renew his acquaintance tomorrow or next day.

"The inhabitants have contemplated an incorporation, with the offices of Mayor, Aldermen and Council. This civil police, instituting courts, regulating a night watch, lighting of lamps, and erecting a court-house, and other buildings, must make the situation superior to any in the county. Whoever contemplates these advantages, and a multitude of others which might be offered, will be convinced that in time Olympia will become the most important place on the island."


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: A Glance Backwards, Brooklyn Sixty Years Ago Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5/4/1860
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