Notable Men of the Borough of Queens Part I

Francis Lewis

The only signer of the Declaration of Independence who was identified with Queens was Francis Lewis.

Born in 1713 at Landaff in Wales he entered mercantile life at an early age, and came to Philadelphia in 1735 where he engaged in business. Two years later he came to New York and became one of the great ship owners of the time, whose successful ventures were the real cause of Great Britain's jealousy of the American colonies. Led by his business interests to travel, he visited Russia and other countries of Europe, and was twice shipwrecked on the coast of Ireland. As a supply agent for the British Army he was taken prisoner at Fort Oswego when it was surprised by Montcalm, was carried to Montreal and from there to France. After having regained his freedom he returned to New York to find that the conflict between his mother country and that of his adoption was in a fair way to take a serious turn, and had indeed already become grave. As he was heartily in sympathy with the movement for the liberation of the colonies, he joined in the efforts which culminated in the Revolution, and was, in 1775, unanimously elected a delegate to the Continental Congress, where his business knowledge, his experience, his executive ability and his familiarity with commercial and financial matters made him a very valuable member.

At the next session he joined his fellow patriots in signing the paper that has become sacred to every American, and pledging " his life, his fortune and his sacred honor" to the maintenance of the principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. Some time before this event he had purchased a country-seat at Whitestone, and there he removed his family in 1776 because New York City was rapidly becoming a hotbed of Toryism and the time did not seem far distant when it would fall into the hands of the British Army. Lewis devoted himself actively to the performance of the very important duties with which he had been entrusted by Congress. One part of these consisted in the importation of military stores. He was so eager in his desire to assist the movement in which he had embarked that he did not hesitate to use his own fortune for the purchase of arms and ammunition when Congress either delayed the appropriation of the money or was unable to raise it. He expended large sums of money in this way, and was never repaid. His family had hardly been settled at Whitestone when his house was visited, in the fall of 1776, by a body of British light cavalry, who plundered the dwelling, entirely destroyed a large and very valuable library and carried Mrs. Lewis away as a prisoner. She was detained for several months without a change of clothing and not even being provided with a bed to sleep on. Through the influence of George Washington her release was finally secured, but she was so much weakened by the shock and the privations she had undergone that her health was never restored, and she died soon after her return to her husband, one of the many victims of the brutalities with which the war was carried on by the British. Francis Lewis remained a resident of Queens until 1796 when he removed to New York, where he died in 1803 at the ripe old age of ninety years.

Wynant Van Zandt

Another old resident who deserves mention was Wynant Van Zandt, born in New York in 1767, and in later life one of the most prominent merchants of the big city. He served as an alderman of the First Ward from 1802 to 1806, and as a member of the committee under whose supervision the present City Hall was erected, protested most vigorously against the use of brownstone for the rear wall of the structure. It is well known that the employment of the cheaper material was recommended because the City Hall was located so far up-town that, as the Aldermen expressed it, nobody would ever have occasion to look at the rear of the building, and it would therefore make no difference what color it had. Mr. Van Zandt was of a very different opinion ; he prophesied that the city would soon extend far beyond the City Hall, and he ridiculed the parsimony of the men who wanted to save a few dollars and thereby spoil the perfection and the harmonious beauty of the important edifice about to be erected. He did not succeed, the short-sighted policy was adopted, and since generations have laughed at the absurd notions of the city fathers of the early years of the last century. Alderman Van Zandt was considered, in consequence of the stand he had taken, as a man of wild and erratic ideas, but he succeeded later on in persuading his colleagues that Canal Street, which was about to be laid out, should be made one hundred feet wide instead of sixty feet as had been proposed. The city of New York is therefore indebted to him for one of the most important and necessary thoroughfares it possesses. Mr. Van Zandt purchased the Weeks farm at Little Neck in 1813, and lived there until his death.

Francis Bloodgood

One of the oldest families in Queens are the Bloodgoods. Francis Bloctgoct, from whom the family descends, which has changed the name, was one of the first settlers of Flushing. In 1674 he was recognized by the Dutch authorities as "chief of the inhabitants of the Dutch nation residing in the villages of Vlissingen, Heemstede, Rudsdorp and Middleborg," and was made their military commander, being ordered to march with them toward the city should a hostile fleet appear in the Sound. Previous to this he had already been appointed a magistrate, and he served also as a member of the privy council which advised with the governor on the surrender of the territory to the English. In addition he acted as one of the commissioners who visited the Swedish settlement on the Delaware which was later destroyed by the Dutch under Stuyvesant with an exhibition of cruelty quite uncalled for, because it had become a dangerous rival in the fur trade. Of the immediate descendants of Francis Bloctgoct or Bloodgood nothing is known with any degree of accuracy, but one of his grandsons, Abraham, became a prominent merchant in Albany, where he served for years as councilman, was a member of the convention that accepted the Constitution of the United States on behalf of the state of New York, and one of the ten men who founded the Democratic party of New York State in the old Vanden Heyden house at Albany. The youngest of his four sons, Joseph, studied medicine and was appointed a trustee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City in 1811. A large number of prominent residents of Flushing invited him to settle there, which he did. He was very successful in his practice and generally admired as a public spirited citizen. He died in 1851, at the age of sixty-seven, and left twelve children.

The Lawrence Family

The Lawrence family has already been mentioned, but a few more words should be said concerning it. The members of this family trace their descent back to the ancient Romans, but the first one authoritatively mentioned in the books of heraldry was Sir Robert Lawrence of Ashton Hall, who in 1119 placed the banner of the Holy Cross upon the battlements of St. Jean d'Acre, and was knighted for his gallantry by Richard Coeur-de-Lion. The coat of arms given to him on that occasion was used by the Lawrence family as a seal for many years in America. Three brothers of the Lawrence family came to America about 1643, William, John and Thomas. The first two were among the patentees recognized by Governor Kieft in 1645 when he regulated the affairs of the village of Flushing. John removed to New York, where he became an alderman, mayor, justice of the Supreme Court, and member of His Majesty's council. William became one of the largest landed proprietors in Flushing, and settled at Tew's Neck, later called Lawrence's, and now College Point. He acted as a magistrate and a leader of the militia. His second wife was a noteworthy woman. She was Miss Elizabeth Smith when she married William Lawrence, and after his death in 1680 she married Sir Philip Carteret, governor of New Jersey. While her husband was absent in Europe, she administered the affairs of the colony, and many important acts were, according to the documents, "passed under the administration of Lady Elizabeth Carteret." The city of Elizabeth in New Jersey is called after her.

The Prince Family

The Prince family deserves mention because their first representatives on Long Island were the founders of the first large nurseries. They were Samuel and Robert Prince, the sons of one John Prince who had come to America about 1663 and had settled in New England. The two sons came to Long Island after they had grown to manhood, married and had many children. Samuel settled on Great Neck, and established the nurseries which were to become famous, about the year 1725 at Great Neck. His brother Robert lived at Flushing, where he started nurseries a few years later, and it seems that the two establishments were soon after combined. Robert Prince occupied a house on Lawrence Street just northeast of the "Effingham Lawrence'' house. The old mansion was a building of considerable pretense and not taken down until 1863. It was at this house that the Duke of Clarence, afterward King William IV of England, was received when he visited the town, and here also General Washington and his suite were entertained in 1789. In Washington's journal, where he entered a detailed account of the happenings of each and every day, we find the following entry under date of October 10, 1789: "I set off from New York about nine o'clock, in my barge, to visit Mr.Prince's fruit gardens and shrubberies at Flushing. The vice-president, governor, Mr. Izard, Colonel Smith and Major Jacobs accompanied me." At this house another memorable incident happened. In 1823 a bust of Linnaeus was crowned here by De Witt Clinton during a memorable meeting of eminent American and foreign scientists. In 1793 William Prince, a grandson of Robert, purchased eighty acres of land in Flushing, lying between the present railroad line on the west and Farrington Street on the east, and established a nursery there, which he called the "Linnaean Nurseries," while his brother Benjamin remained on the old homestead and carried on his business under the name of the "Old American Nursery. " The two establishments were combined a few years later.

Rufus King

In the course of our description of notable buildings in Queens we have mentioned the Governor King mansion at Jamaica, and a few words must be said about the family of the man who lived in that house. His father was Rufus King, born at Scarborough, Me., in 1755, who, almost immediately after being admitted to the Bar, was elected a member of the General Court of Legislature of the state of Massachusetts where he soon became prominent by successfully advocating, against a powerful opposition, the granting of an impost of five per cent to the Congress as indispensable to the common safety and the efficiency of the confederation. In 1784 he was chosen a delegate to the Continental Congress, then sitting at Trenton. There he proposed a resolution the purport of which was the virtual and actual abolition of slavery. The resolution did not pass but it was later adopted word for word in the famous ordinance for the Northwest Territory which secured the freedom from slavery for the new' states formed north of Mason's and Dixon's line. Rufus King was a member of the federal convention which adopted the Constitution and also of the committee appointed to "revise the style of and arrange the articles." After serving in the United States Senate for nearly two terms he was appointed ambassador to the court of Great Britain, having declined the office of secretary of state, which had been made vacant by the resignation of Edmund Randolph. He remained in London for eight years, and was recalled, at his own request, by Thomas Jefferson in 1804.

For nearly nine years he lived on his farm at Jamaica far from the madding crowd, but when the war with Great Britain had broken out and the nation was in need of strong men, he accepted another election to the United States Senate. His first speech was directed against the cowardly proposal to remove the seat of government to some inland city because the British had destroyed the capitol at Washington. In 1819 he was again elected to the Senate, in spite of the fact that the majority of the Legislature was not of his party, and it is a memorable fact that this man was twice made a senator of the United States by his political opponents. It speaks volumes for his greatness and the strength of his character that this was possible, but it also shows how much common sense and toleration the members of the Legislature possessed, for they gave him the highest honor they could bestow because they knew him to be the man best fitted to represent the state, and they did not consider it necessary to turn him down and elect a weaker man in his stead because he was not in accord with them as far as general principles of party politics were concerned. It was a time when patriotism could still overcome party  exigencies. Rufus King earnestly opposed the admission of Missouri as a state because the proposed constitution permitted the holding of slaves. The argument made by him on that occasion has furnished the foundation for almost all subsequent arguments against slavery. He also opposed strongly the compromise proposed by Henry Clay which was intended to satisfy both parties, and voted against it when it was passed. In 1825 he retired after having served four terms in the Senate. Once more he followed the call of his country when John Quincy Adams insisted that he alone could settle the questions pending between the United States and Great Britain, and accepted the appointment as ambassador to the Court of St. James, but his health did not permit him to stay long. He resigned in 1827 and passed the remainder of his life partly on his farm at Jamaica and partly in New York City.


Website: The History
Article Name: Notable Men of the Borough of Queens Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY:Illustrated History of the Borough of Queens, New York City; by George Von Skal; Compiled By F.T. Smiley Publishing Co., New York City 1908
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