The Troubles at Quarantine 1857

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To The Editor of the New York Daily Times:

The citizens of Richmond County have for years been urging upon the public and the State the impracticability of maintaining an effectual Quarantine upon the site of the present institution, and the impropriety and cruelty of the attempt. They have been answered in a spirit which I will not characterize: "Long ago, when the Quarantine was established in its present position, its site was in the midst of a farming district.

Those who sold the ground for it thought they had made a good bargain; those on the Island who got contracts for supplying the institution with milk and vegetables, were glad to have the market it furnished. The ferry people were glad to have the increased business to which it led. If any objections were made by the people of the Island at that time, they were overborne by those interest's and by the convenience to merchants which the site afforded. Since then circumstances have changed. Staten island, from being a purely rural and agricultural has taken a purely suburban, manufacturing and commercial character, and a populous town has grown up in the vicinity of the Quarantine, by reason of that same convenience which led to the institutions being placed upon its present site. But those who have bought property on the Island and who have settled upon it, have done so with a knowledge of the danger and inconvenience to which the Quarantine would subject them. They have, therefore, no right to object to it. The time to oppose it was before it was established. As the opposition was then overborne, it has no right to a further hearing."

Now let us consider under what circumstances the citizens of Westfield find the desolating nuisance about to be reestablished among them. The Grand Jury of their County have presented the present Quarantine as a nuisance. It has for years been difficult for the mere sober and conservative inhabitants to restrain the community from lawlessly destroying the hospitals. Under these circumstances the Legislature appoints a Commission to remove the Quarantine to a suitable and safe position. Before this Commission is appointed, and during the time the subject is under consideration, a liquor-dealer of New York, who owns property at Seguine's point, is known to have gone to Albany and is believed to have been in intimate association with one or more of those who were immediately afterwards appointed Commissioners.

The Commissioners were instructed to endeavor to obtain Sandy Hook of the State of New Jersey. They proceeded, therefore, to the Capital of that State while the Legislature was in session. In what manner they managed is not known; but it is known they only succeeded in exasperating the Government and people of New Jersey, and in being sent home with a kick. Then follows a short interval of silence and mysterious inaction on the part of the Commissioners, and the next thing we of Westfield hear about the matter, is an obscure paragraph in the Times that the next day the Commissioners, with Governor King and a select party of friends, will make a steamboat excursion to Ward's Point, Seguine's Point and other localities suggested as suitable for the quarantine. This was the first hint that any one had been so foolish as to think of Seguine's Point as a suitable place for such a purpose. Knowing it to be in every way unsuitable, no attention was paid to the suggestion. But the steamboat did appear at the Point the next day, and Governor King and the Commissioners landed. Then it was whispered that the liquor-dealer had sold his property, and that the only suitable place which the commissioners had considered was Coney island, and that Governor King, who owns property at Jamaica a number of miles to leeward of Coney Island, thought there were strong objections to that site. It was also ascertained that two of the Commissioners were Long islanders.

Still, relying on the utter impracticability of establishing a Quarantine at Seguine's, we merely smiled at the apparent reasons which had induced the Commissioners to come so far out of their way to look at it. Our surprise was great then when a few days after we saw it stated that Mr.__, somebody we never heard of before, but since reported also to be a Long Islander, had sold the land hitherto supposed to belong to the liquor-dealer on Seguine's Point, to the State for a Quarantine ground. As soon as this was ascertained to be true, we used the most energetic legal proceedings to resist what we universally considered, and what I have no doubt you, Mr. Editor, and every other man who has studied the matter, have considered to be a measure knavish, corrupt and purely mercenary in its inception, weak, careless and indolent, if not worse, on the part of the Commissioners, and cruel, murderous and oppressive in its certain results, on the part of the State.

Large, talented, and most earnest and indefatigable deputations of our best citizens were immediately sent to Albany to remonstrate. Public meetings, in which all our best and most conservative citizens took part, were held; the unsuitableness of the proposed site for the purpose; the practicability of procuring much more suitable sites elsewhere were demonstrated and published to the world, and it was finally resolved in a public assemblage, better representing the medical, legal and educated talent, and the wealth, character and conservatism, as well as the simple, democratic common-sense "bone and sinew" of Richmond County than say which, perhaps, ever before met together, that we would resist and prevent the re-establishment of the hateful Lazaretto at Seguine's Point with every legal means, and at the last, in extremity, knowing it to be a purely and atrociously indefensible act of government oppression for the benefit of a few individuals at the hazard of all we held dear but our honor, we resolved that we would resist it with all the powers which our Maker had given us.

The Commissioners scorned to make an explanation, the Governor was silent, the press in general, and our fellow citizens generally out of the county, gave less attention to the matter than they did to the birth of the ninth infant of England.

A proposition and offer to provide either of two more suitable positions on the island was made to the Commission; it was ascertained that a lease of Coney Island for Quarantine purposes could have been obtained at almost nominal rent; a proposition and offer was made and published by a person in every way competent, to immediately construct, at a moderate compensation, a suitable site for a Yellow Fever Hospital on the West Bank, a low water sand island, several miles from the nearest inhabited land, within a cable's length of the two principal channel entrances to New York harbor, with anchorage ground all around it equally good with that now proposed to be used by the pest-ships. Paying not the slightest respect or attention to all, whether in the shape of petition, proposition, remonstrance or warning, the Commissioners took possession of the ground at Seguine's Point, and advertised for proposals of builders.

When their Surveyor came upon the ground he was warned that he would remain at his peril. The same night while he was sleeping in the buildings, they were fired by some person or persons unknown. Who did the deed and with what motive, whether in pursuance of a plan of deliberate secret conspiracy, or in the sudden determination of men maddened with apprehension and indignation. I know no more than you, Mr. Editor, but I do not agree in any case with you, that they are to be considered only as ordinary, sneaking burglars and villains. It was an unjustifiable act, but it was far more venial than the proceedings which have led to it on the part of the majority of the Quarantine Commissioners. Where grass fails, men will take to stones.

And now I would ask, in all grievous sincerity, of those who for years have been telling us that the only proper time to object to the Quarantine at its present site, was before it had been fixed there, what would they have us do? I do not believe there is one resident within ten miles of Seguine's Point, who will not give freely of his time, money and talent to make objection to the establishment of the Quarantine at that point effective. Let us know what means will answer the purpose that we have left untried, and when all legal persuasion and remonstrance fails, I ask any man with a wife, mother, children and home to protect against pestilence and death, what he would finally be driven to?


Website: The History
Article Name: The Troubles at Quarantine 1857
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


New York Daily Times, May 16, 1857. p.3 (1 page)
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