Richard Mather Bayles.

History of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time online

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Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 24 of 72)
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by the road and partly by the Bay." The land was then occu-
pied in different parcels by different individuals as follows: 373
acres by Samuel Ward; 200 acres by Albert Ryckman; 50 acres
by John Manner; 50 acres by Edmund Wood; 50 acres by An-
drew Prior; 25 acres by James Churchward; 67| acres by Benja-
min Drake; 23 acres by Joseph Totten; and 1U acres by Jacob


On the same day, the same commissioners sold to the same
individual, for 1,120.16 ($2,802), about eighty acres of land in
the town of Castleton, consisting of eight lots, all hounded
southerly by "a road leading from the Rose and Crown to Don-
gan's Mill," which tract of land was forieited by the attainder
of Benjamin Seaman.

On the 30th day of April, 1785, the same commissioners sold
to Cornelius C. Rosevelt, <>t' New York, two hundred acres
of land, more or less, for 3,000 ($7,500), forfeited to the
people of this state by the attainder of Benjamin Seaman,
the same being then in the possession of Paul Michean.


The policy of the government of the United States appears
always to have been of a pacific and conciliatory character
toward its enemies, after they had been subdued and rendered
powerless for evil. All tories, as well as foreign foes, were
permitted to take a position among the citizens of the country
upon taking the oath of allegiance. All animosities were
buried, and the descendants of a great number of these re-
pentant royalists, now residing on the island, are ignorant of
the position their ancestors took in the great political ques-
tions which agitated the country a century ago.

Some marks of the British occupancy of the island have
remained to designate the localities of their encampments and


the scenes of some of their active operations. One of the
most conspicuous of these evidences is the old fort which oc-
cupies a commanding hill to the west of Richmond. The site
overlooks the valley in which mainly lies the village. The
embankment encloses a space about tifty feet square and is
situated near the brow of a hill which descends by a steep
slope nearly three hundred feet to the salt marshes which lie
at the base. The earth works, now beaten down by the ravages
of a century, are still several feet in height, in the form of a
square, facing the three directions in which the hill overlooks
the surrounding country, while the entrance to the fort was
from the fourth side, on the northwest, where the natural grade
renders approach easy.

More than thirty years ago Major Howard found a consider-
able excavation in or under the hill that rises just west of Nau-
tilus Hall at Tompkinsville. Being anxious to know its origin,
he made numerous inquiries but without success until he was
referred to an old black man, about eighty years of age, who,
on being shown to the spot, explained that it was the saw pit
where the British sawed timber for their barracks. The negro
had often seen them engaged in that work. The hills were
covered with a thick growth of heavy white oak timber
which the British cut away, and subsequently pine and cedar
came in and occupied the ground. The British had here a
cantonment for seven thousand men extending along the foot
of the hill and up the ravine partially followed by the present
course of Arietta street. The timber was cut down to build
these barracks. The troops were here for seven years, and as
the old black man remarked, "On fine days and in summer
the hills would be just covered with the red coats."

As late as 1832 the remains of some of the dwelling places of
the Hessian soldiers were distinctly to be seen along the
Richmond road, at the foot of the hill in the rear of Stapleton.
These consisted of excavations in the side of the hill, eight or
ten feet square, which had been covered with planks or pieces
of timber, upon which earth or sods were placed to form roofs.
The fronts had been boarded up, and probably the sides. How
they had been warmed in winter or whether they had been
warmed at all was not apparent. They must have been miser-
ably dark, damp caves, but probably, in the opinion of their
English masters, good enough for Dutch mercenaries.


In closing this chapter of revolutionary history, we can per-
haps give no more lifelike pictures of those times in general
than may be gathered from the substance of interviews with
living witnesses who gave their impressions and recollections
of many scenes and events that passed under their notice. The
facts gathered at a few such interviews with persons then liv-
ing at advanced ages, but now long since dead, were noted
down by Professor Charles Anthon, more than thirty years
ago about the years 1850 to 1853; and from the notes of
those interviews we have condensed the most interesting items
referring to the revolution, in the following paragraphs. These
facts are given as nearly as may be to the manner and form of
their development in the interview, without regard to any
order in matters of time or topic, or even harmony, of state-

From a conversation with Captain Blake, March 15, 1851 :
He was about 13 years old when the British landed. It was
three or four days before any of them were seen where he lived.
Then four soldiers came along and said they wanted something
to eat. When they had finished they each threw down a half
dollar, to the great surprise of the people. The soldiers in gen-
eral behaved at first very well, paying for everything that they
took, but when they came back from Jersey they stole every-
thing they could lay tlieir hands on. In general the people
were well treated. Fifteen pence was the price for a dozen
eggs. The currency used was principally English. Dollars
passed for 4s. 6d. The soldiers were very liberal. All the
vacant buildings were occupied by them. At Ryers' there was
a "Fives' Court," a kind of game at which the British officers
spent a great deal of time in playing. During this time a man
by the name of Housman occupied the old Dongan manor
house. The Hessians wore large whiskers, coming up to the
corners of the mouth. He once saw two Hessians receive two
hundred lashes apiece. They used to come around and buy
cattle. The Forty-second regiment lay in Bodine's orchard.
They were Scotch and wore the Highland uniform. The Het-
fields were all robbers. There were several brothers of them.
They frequently brought over thirty or forty head of cattle
from Jersey to the British. On one occasion they threw a man
into a hog-pen and required him to eat corn. On his refusal to
do so they took him out and hammered his toe-nails off.


Decker's house was on the site of the Port Richmond hotel
(now St. James). It was of brick. At the time of the invasion
under Sullivan the Americans burned it. The Dutch church
was burned on the same occasion. Mr -Blake's father was cross-
ing the mill-dam, and when he reached the west side he came
all at once among the Americans. They remained there until
the British troops appeared with light-horse. They fired and
killed a light-horseman, then ran away through the woods like
so many frightened horses.

From an interview with Rev. Dr. Van Pelt, June 5, 1851 :
A man stopped at his house about the year 1804, he then living
in the Port Richmond hotel. That man said he was in the en-
gagement at the Dutch church. The weather was cold, but the
heat of the action caused them to sweat profusely. The church,
which was like a hay stack in form, was completely riddled by
balls. Dr. Van Pelt said that when the war broke out there
were two other Dutch churches on the island ; one in Westlield
and another at Richmond. The latter had just been completed
when the war broke out. It was a frame building, and the
British used it gradually up for firewood. Judge Micheau was
a witness of this, but was afraid to say anything, lest he should
be suspected of disaffection. The few on the island who were
attached to the American cause belonged generally to the Dutch
church. Many persons living here professed attachment to the
British, but secretly sent very valuable information to General
Washington. A Mr. Latourette was engaged in carrying wood
to the city during the hard winter of 1779-80, as long as a pas-
sage remained open, and would often enable American officers de-
tained as prisoners in the sugar house to escape. It was neces-
sary for every one who wished to leave the city to present him-
self to General Howe for permission to do so. Latourette would
go before the general with these officers in disguise, and say,
" General, I have brought you a fine load of wood, and am go-
ing directly down for more ; I have some countrymen here who
would like to go with me/' The general would give them a
hasty look and say, "Let them all pass." Then they would
go aboard the boat and make sail for Staten Island. At the
mouth of the kills an armed vessel was stationed to examine
all boats that passed, but .Latourette being well known was
allowed to pass without examination under the plea that he
was in a hurry to bring another load of wood to General Howe.


So having the officers secreted in the vessel he was able to land
them safely where they could easily effect their escape.

From an interview with Mrs. Bird, November 22, 1851, she
then being 91 years of age : She was 15 years old when the
British landed. They landed mostly at Van Bnskirk's dock.
As they were landing they interchanged rifle shots with the
Americans on the opposite shore of the kills. The first she saw
of the British was a body of Highlanders who came marching
up into the Clove (where she was living), from the direction of
Van Duzer's ferry in quest of lodging. Some of them were
quartered in their barn. She lived with her adoptive father,
Thomas Seaman, whose house at that time was the first one on
the left, as you turn out of the clove road into the Little Clove.
General Knyphausen was a very fine looking man and used to
ride great white horse. The Hessians were all fine looking
men. Their dress was nearly all blue, and both dress and ac-
coutrements were very heavy. Some wore beards and some did
not. During the war the people along the north shore did not
dare to burn lights at night, even in cases of sickness or other
extreme need, lest they should be suspected of showing signals
to the rebels. People in general had to be very discreet, and
keep their mouths shut. "Parson Charlton" of St. Andrew's
church wore a very white wig. The " Rose and Crown 1 ' was a
public house during the war, and the headquarters for that part
of the island. The "Black Horse" was also a tavern then.
The Queen's Rangers were then stationed at the point since
called the "Telegraph." There was a Presbyterian meeting
house in the west quarter, which the British first converted into
a hospital and then destroyed.

From an interview with Mr. Isaac Simonson, December 26,
1851, he being 90 years of age : The camp on Staten Island be-
fore the revolution, to which the troops came on their return
from Canada, in the time of the French war, was at the quaran-
tine or watering place. At the time of the revolution, General
Howe, within a few days after landing, employed Isaac Decker,
a noted man and a great friend of the British, who was a captain
of the light horse, to go all over the island and direct the farm-
ers who were willing to dispose of their cattle or sheep, of
which there were a great number on the island, to drive them
to the watering place. None were taken by force. When the
farmers had brought them they were all paid by the officer



whose duty it was to attend to that business. When these cat-
tle arrived at the watering place they were turned into the fields
of the " Glebe," among the young oats and wheat, and mowing
grass. Guards were stationed to watch them, as the fences were
all destroyed, not a rail being left in three months. At that
time things were very cheap. After the British came prices
more than doubled.

The next day after the British landed, Mr. Simonson, with
some other boys, went down to what is now Port Richmond to
see them. They landed during the night. When the fleet ap-
proached the Lower bay they anchored outside of Sandy Hook
to wait for pilots to bring them in. The same Isaac Decker,
before mentioned, was a fisherman, and with others of the same
occupation who accompanied him, went down and brought in
the ships. Decker piloted them to a landing place, and landed
himself in the first boat. The spot was called the "White
Rock." The exploit made Decker suddenly famous in a local
way. The church at Port Richmond had eight corners and then
went up high to a balcony, above which was a steeple which
contained a bell. The sides were shingled from the ground up.
The soldiers lived in it. The building finally blew down, no one
being in it at the time. The Isaac Decker spoken of lived in
the house known as Decker's which was burned at the time of
Sullivan's invasion. At that time the Americans burned this
house and three vessels, also Dongan's or John Bodine's barn,
in which the British had a hospital, which was afterward rebuilt
after the same model and on the same foundation, by John C.
Dongan. When the Americans had got out of the woods and
on the meadows they halted, while the forts on the Jersey side
near Elizabethtown fired on the British, who were still on the
upland and had no cannon. Cole's ferry was the same as Van
Duzer's and Darby Doyle's.

After the revolution all about the quarantine grounds was
commons. Colonel Billop was a tall, slim man. His father-in-
law, Seaman, owned a large tract in the manor, off which he
sold the wood. Toward the latter part of the revolution he had
teams cutting and carting there. The inhabitants commonly
worked on the roads on Saturdays. One very warm day Mr.
Isaac Simonson remembered working in company with others
on the road that runs down from Four Corners to the north side,
when Colonel Billop and Colonel Seaman came along, riding on


horseback. They stopped and chatted with the road-master,
and gave something to the men, as was then customary, but
the men were dissatisfied with the smallness of the gift.

John and Peter Latourette lived at Fresh kill. They were
great patriots, and when the British came, tied to Jersey, whence
they used to make visits in whale-boats to the island. Many
of the inhabitants of the island were placed in confinement by
the British, on account of being whigs. Among these were
Hezekiah and Abraham Reckhow, brothers of Mr. Simonson's
wife's mother. They were both at first confined in the guard-
house in the fort at Dr. Westervelt's, but her father succeeded
in getting the former out, as he was subject to fits. Abraham
was taken from the guard-house to the prison ship, "Jersey,"
where he suffered greatly. Mrs. Peter Woglam was put into
the same guard-house for standing up for her husband, but
having friends on the other side who interceded for her. she
was released. Those Staten Islanders who were thus confined
were principally from the west quarter (Westfield). The guard-
house mentioned was very dark and partly under ground.
General Skinner lived within or about a hundred yards north
from the fort. The British had redoubts all along the heights.
There were no prisoners kept at the fort that was located near
the site of the pavilion. The property at the entrance of the
kills was occupied by Judge Ryers as a farm before the war.
He sold it to Buskirk. It was not a regular ferry till the
war, when one Mackatee hired it.

Joshua Mersereau was the first militia colonel on Staten Is-
land. The old colonel was no friend to the British, but to his
country. The enemy were after him two or three times. He
had notice of their coming and hid himself in a swamp. The
Hetfields were a rough set of men "and feared neither God nor
Devil." Cornelius, their leader, held a major's commission
from the British. They accused Ball of being one of those who
killed Long. Ball was a trader who brought things such as
poultry, beef, and the like from the Jersey side. The Het-
field's caught him and took him to Mackatee' s. They took
him at Squire Merrill's, and intending at first only to make a
prize of his wagon load of beef, poultry, etc., they told him to
go on and they would follow with his wagon, but he would not
leave it. They took him to General Skinner, at the fort at the
Narrows, but he would have nothing to do with him, but told



them, " He is your prisoner ; do what you please with him."
They took him across the kills ; got a table from Ham Brit ton's
at the mill on this side ; placed the table under a big tree and
stood Ball upon it; then, having fastened a noose about his neck
and tied it to a limb, they kicked the the table from beneath
his feet and hung him till he was dead. Mrs. Simonson saw it
from the Staten Island side. Jake Hetfield kicked the table
from under the feet of Ball. They all belonged to Jersey, ex-
cept one called "Tow-head Jim," who was also born in Jersey,
but served his time as a ship-carpenter on Staten Island. Long
was the man who was hove into the hog- pen. He was on the
British side, and was caught in Jersey. John and Cornelius
Hetfield were both afterward tried for the murder of Ball, but
neither was condemned. The Hetfields were not all brothers.
Cornelius was an only son. He was a fine looking man, with
dark hair, fair skin, and fine, ivory-like teeth. His father was
very rich, and Cornelius was either brought up a minister, or
at any rate received a fine education. He was very active and
strong, and he would preach and pray like a minister. (The
name is spelled sometimes Hetfield and sometimes Hatfield.)
He had one sister, who married a man by the name of Blanchar.
The large property which his father left to Cornelius Hetfield
was transferred to his brother-in-law to prevent its confisca-

The night when Hetfield and his party burned the church in
Elizabethtown they came back and had a meeting in the large
mill at Port Richmond. They went in .there and Hetfield
preached a sermon, and prayed like a minister. Hilliker bought
this old mill, which was a large building containing a dwelling
house, and had two runs of stone. It afterward caught fire and
burned down. Hilliker built a smaller one in place of it, and
that was burned, after which another was built. Daniel Seller
was a great friend of the American cause. He was almost the first
settler at Fayetteville, and built a public house there and cleared
away the woods during the revolution. Col. Aaron Cortelyou
kept a store where Edward Taylor since lived. It was this store
that the negro Anthony Neal broke into, or was accused of
breaking into and was hung for the offense.

From an interview with Mr. Peter Wandel, January 8, 1853 :
When the British first landed on the island they destroyed all
the fences, and when they went to Jersey proclamation was


made to put them up again, but when they returned they de-
stroyed them again. The forts abandoned by the British were
never occupied by American soldiers. The buildings that were
in them were afterward gradually removed. There were bar-
racks, and in the fort at the Narrows there was a magazine un-
der ground, made of timbers laid very close together, like a
wall. This was built a year or two before the end of the war.
After the evacution of New York city by the British they made
no stay on the island. They left things here in a very damaged
state. All was commons about the quarantine grounds. Cor-
nelius Hetfield was a noble looking fellow, but capable of do-
ing almost anything. He was, probably, not under General
Skinner's command, but a kind of commander himself. He
ought to have been hung. He, however, went to Nova Scotia
after the war. Smith Hettield was a great bully. The refugee
post on Bergen Point was opposite to Port Richmond. There
was a whole company there. Wandel once came near being-
made a prisoner by Hyler. He was with others on the banks
fishing when Hyler, with his party in three boats, came upon
them and took several of them. He probably would have taken
the whole fleet of twenty-two fishing boats had it not been for
the interference of an armed schooner that happened to pass.

An appeal was afterward made to the governor, and he sent
down a gun boat, and the next time they went down to fish the
gun boat kept Hyler off. When Stirling came upon the island
Peter Wandel, then a youth, served in the fort that stood back
of Dr.Westervelt's, as a volunteer for the occasion. For this his
father gave him a good whipping. Stirling could have taken
all the forts in half an hour had he known their weakness and
scantiness of provisions and ammunition. But instead of doing
this he strung his troops all over the island. They were ex-
tended all along the heights, the snow being four feet deep, and
the weather intensely cold. The light horse went along the
north shore in pursuit of them, and took some prisoners, but
not many. No reinforcements came to the forts that day, but
subsequently two hundred sleighs came down, and Ned Beattie,
one of the Hetfield gang, availed himself of the opportunity
to bring down a barrel of rum. The route they followed in
coming down from the city was first to cross from the Battery
to Powle's hook, and then come down over the flats and along


the Jersey shore, and cross the kills from Bergen Point, taking
Shooter's island on the way.

The village of Richmond in the time of the war was generally
called Cuckold's town. Todt hill was not so called before the
war, but the name began to be nsed during the latter part of
the war. Decker's ferry was afterward called Ryers', and
still later Mersereau' s. Opposite to it was a house called Duf-
fy's ferry, on the Bergen Point side. The wood cut by the
British during the war was chiefly from the hills behind quar-
antine, which were covered with all kinds of timber. Between
Old Town and New Dorp it was very wild, with scattered trees
and huckleberry bushes. There was heavy timber all around
Fresh pond. The .riflemen from Virginia were very fond of
fresh water fish, and would make a raft of rails upon which
they would go out on the pond and catch cat fish and very
large eels. The cat fish sometimes w r eighed eight or ten pounds

Wandel, when a boy, went to school to Mr. Rogers, in a
small one-story house that stood just above the Port Richmond
church ; afterward taught by Mr. Riley, and moved to a point
near the dock. His father's house was a short distance east of
the Snug Harbor site. He stood at the door of his father's
house and saw Hetfield's party engaged in hanging Ball on a
tree on Peter Buskirk's farm. The night the British arrived
his family was up in the clove, his father having removed them
all thither through fear of the troops, but being assured of
safety they all returned the next day. The British turned
their horses in upon the growing crops on the farm. ]S"o com-
pensation was ever received for it. At that time then there
were not over nine houses between Van Duzer's and Richmond.
When the fleet came up to Prince's bay the children all went
up into the garrets to look out to see the ships come in. All
the people in the neighborhood immediately got fresh provisions
ready and killed great numbers of their young cattle. The
English came ashore to purchase these articles.

After the ships had come to at quarantine, the sailors took
the sails off, and made tents of them for some of the soldiers.
The encampment extended from New Brighton to Stapleton.
In all the space occupied by them, in a short time there was
not a blade of grass to be seen. Everything was trodden down
by the troops, who were kept " forever marking time.'' Before


the arrival of the main body of troops three vessels kept cruis-
ing in the waters about Staten Island. These were, in the or-
der of their size, the " Asin," the "Phoenix" and the "Sav-
age," the last being a sloop. At this time there were on the
island a body of New England troops stationed at the Narrows
and another of Virginia riflemen, among whom were some men
sixty years of age. These were billeted among the farmers on
the north side. The British vessels stopped at the watering
place to get water one day, the "Savage" lying quite close to

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 24 of 72)