Learning About New York Part VI

Brooklyn is on the western end of Long Island, separated by the East River from the south part of New York city, and communicable with it, by numerous steam ferries, in four or five minutes of time. Its close vicinity to New York destroys its distinctive importance, though in population--Williamsburg being now incorporated with it--it is the third city in the Union, New York and Philadelphia only exceeding it. The ground on which it is built is much more elevated than that of New York, especially toward its southern extremity, where the "Brooklyn Heights," memorable in Revolutionary history, present a bold front to the sea, rising abruptly to an elevation of seventy feet above tide water, affording a panoramic view of the city and harbor of New York, of unequaled beauty and magnificence. Population, in 1810, 4,402; in 1830, 15,396; in 1840, 36,233; in 1850, 96,838; now about 300,000.

The first settlement of Brooklyn was made, in 1625, by George Jansen Rapelje, at Wallabout Bay. In 1667, Gov. Nicholls granted a patent "to certain inhabitants of the town of Breuckelen," which signifies "broken land." With Brooklyn and its neighborhood is connected the memory of the unfortunate and bloody battle of Long Island, in which the Americans were defeated, occasioning the withdrawal of the army from Long Island to New York. In 1816, Brooklyn was incorporated as a village, and in 1834, as a city.

The city is generally laid out with order and symmetry, and the streets mostly cross each other at right angles: some of them are of great width, and many are adorned with beautiful shade trees, which, in the summer season, impart to them an air of comfort. Brooklyn is remarkably well built, the dwellings generally elegant in design, and some of them splendid specimens of architectural beauty.

The city has many fine public buildings: conspicuous among them are the City Hall, Athenĉum, Lyceum, Academy of Music, Savings Bank, French Academy, Orphan Asylum, Church of the Trinity, Church of the Pilgrims, and other churches, of which there are 136 in all. Washington Park, on the site of Fort Greene, is an elegant public ground, planted with trees, and, being on an elevated site, commands an exceedingly attractive view of the surrounding country. The water works of Brooklyn supply the inhabitants with abundance of pure water. It is obtained from Rockville reservoir and others adjacent to Hempstead, and thence conducted by an open canal to Jamaica reservoir, through a conduit to Ridgewood reservoir, where it is forced up to the elevation desired for use.

Navy Yard, Brooklyn.

"The United States Navy Yard, at Brooklyn, is situated on the south side of Wallabout Bay, which makes up with a broad curve from the East River, at the north-eastern part of the city. From this point a ferry runs directly across to the foot of Walnut-street, New York. About 40 acres of ground are included in these premises. There are two large ship houses for the protection of naval vessels of the largest class when building, together with extensive workshops, and every requisite for a great naval depot. There is connected with this establishment an important literary institution, called the United States Naval Lyceum, formed in 1833 by officers of the service connected with the port. It contains a mineralogical and geological cabinet, and a fine collection of curiosities of a miscellaneous character. The government has constructed a dry dock here similar to that in the United States Navy Yard at Charlestown, Mass. On the opposite side of the Wallabout, about half a mile east of the navy yard, is the Marine Hospital, situated upon a commanding elevation, and surrounded by about 30 acres of land under high cultivation. In this bay are always one or more large naval vessels lying in ordinary. These mark the spot where lay the Jersey and other British ships, during the revolutionary war, made use of as prison ships, for the confinement of those American soldiers whom they had taken prisoners in battle, in which it is said that as many as 11,500 prisoners perished in the course of the war, from bad air, close confinement, and ill treatment. These unhappy men were buried upon the shore, with little care but to put their bodies out of sight. In 1808, the bones of these sufferers were collected, as far as could then be done, and placed in 13 coffins, corresponding with the old 13 states, and honorably interred in a commemorative tomb erected for the purpose, not far from the navy yard.

In the year 1836, Jeremiah Johnson, Esq., a gentleman who had filled many public offices in Brooklyn, communicated the following to the Naval Magazine, relating to the treatment of the American prisoners on board of these vessels. His statement was derived, in a great measure, from personal knowledge:

A large transport, named the Whitby, was the first prison ship anchored in the Wallabout. She was moored near "Remsen's Mill," about the 20th of October, 1776, and was crowded with prisoners. Many landsmen were prisoners on board this vessel; she was said to be the most sickly of all the prison ships. Bad provisions, bad water, and scanted rations were dealt to the prisoners. No medical men attended the sick. Disease reigned unrelieved, and hundreds died from pestilence, or were starved, on board this floating prison. I saw the sand beach between a ravine in the hill and Mr. Remsen's dock become filled with graves in the course of two months; and before the 1st of May, 1777, the ravine alluded to was itself occupied in the same way. In the month of May of that year two large ships were anchored in the Wallabout, when the prisoners were transferred from the Whitby to them. These vessels were also very sickly, from the causes before stated. Although many prisoners were sent on board of them, and were exchanged, death made room for all. On a Sunday afternoon, about the middle of October, 1777, one of the prison ships was burnt; the prisoners, except a few, who, it is said, were burnt in the vessel, were removed to the remaining ship. It was reported at the time that the prisoners had fired their prison; which, if true, proves that they preferred death, even by fire, to the lingering sufferings of pestilence and starvation. In February, 1778, the remaining prison ship was burnt at night; when the prisoners were removed from her to the ships then wintering in the Wallabout.

In the month of April, 1778, the Old Jersey was moored in the Wallabout, and all the prisoners (except the sick) were transferred to her. The sick were carried to two hospital ships, named the Hope and Falmouth, anchored near each other about two hundred yards east from the Jersey. These ships remained in the Wallabout until New York was evacuated by the British. The Jersey was the receiving ship--the others, truly, the ships of Death! It has been generally thought that all the prisoners died on board the Jersey. This is not true; many may have died on board of her who were not reported as sick; but all the men who were placed on the sick-list were removed to the hospital ships, from which they were usually taken, sewed up in a blanket, to their long home.

After the hospital ships were brought into the Wallabout, it was reported that the sick were attended by physicians; few, very few, however, recovered. It was no uncommon thing to see five or six dead bodies brought on shore in a single morning; when a small excavation would be made at the foot of the hill, the bodies be cast in, and a man with a shovel would cover them by shoveling sand down the hill upon them. Many were buried in a ravine on the hill; some on the farm. The whole shore from Rennie's Point to Mr. Remsen's dock-yard was a place of graves; as were also the slope of the hill near tile house, the shore from Mr. Remsen's barn along the mill-pond to Rapelje's farm and the sandy island, between the flood gates and the mill-dam; while a few were buried on the shore, the east side of the Wallabout. Thus did Death reign here, from 1776 until the peace. The whole Wallabout was a sickly place during the war. The atmosphere seemed to be charged with foul air from the prison ships, and with the effluvia of the dead bodies washed out of their graves by the tides. We have ourselves examined many of the skulls lying on the shore; from the teeth, they appear to be the remains of men in the prime of life.

The harbor of Brooklyn is extensive, and is capable of being very largely improved by adding to the number of its docks and slips. Vessels of the largest size can come up to its piers, to discharge or receive their cargoes. The Atlantic Dock is a very extensive basin for the reception of shipping, about a mile below the South Ferry, constructed by a company incorporated in 1840, at a cost of about $1,000,000. The basin within the piers covers 42½ acres, with sufficient depth of water for the largest ships. The outside pier extends 3,000 feet on Buttermilk Channel. The piers are furnished with spacious stone warehouses. The terminus of the Long Island Railroad is located near the landing from the South Ferry, which connects with New York at the S.E. corner of the Battery. From the station, the road is carried, by a long tunnel, under a number of the most important of the streets of Brooklyn, which it has to cross in its route.


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Learning About New York State Part VI
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Our whole country; or, The past and present of the United States, historical and descriptive. In two volumes By John Warner Barber ... and Henry Howe ...Cincinnati, H. Howe, 1861.
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