Richard Mather Bayles.

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

. (page 25 of 72)
Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 25 of 72)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the shore, while six or seven of her men were engaged in get-
ting water. The Virginia riflemen heard of it, and taking Peter
Wandel' s father for a guide, started for the spot. They rushed
upon the sentinel so suddenly that he had not time to fire be-
fore he was seized and made a prisoner. As they continued
their course down the hill they were seen from the sloop and
tired upon by those on board. The rinemen protected them-
selves behind rocks and trees as well as they could, and none
were hurt by the tire. The men who were getting water ran
into the stream up to their chins, but being ordered to come
out under pain of death, they obeyed, and all were taken
prisoners. One of the men on board the "Savage" went up
into her "round top" with a blunderbuss, but the rinemen
shot him off. The British were prevented from getting water
on this occasion. This was the first blood shed in the war in
this quarter. On the American side none were injured except
Neddy Beattie, who heard the firing and took a walk over the
hill to see what was going on. He was struck by a spent ball,
but without receiving any serious wound.

There were three forts during the war near the Watering
Place, one near where the pavilion now stands, one at the
" Marble house," and one behind Dr. Westervelt's. Colonel
Billop was accounted very clever, a large, stout, noble looking
man. He pretty much governed the island during the war.
Some robbers from Jersey plundered a Mrs. Marshall who lived
near Rossville. She had a mare and colt. They took the
former but left the latter. The next morning the mare came
home again, swimming across the sound. During the war little
" bush shops" were frequent all over the island. Their whole
stock in trade consisted of rum and a gill cup. The latter hav-
ing no handle the dealer would put his thumb in it to hold on
by and at the same time lessen the quantity required to fill it.


From a conversation with Mr. Dissosway, December 26, 1850:
There was an encampment of British soldiers in Edwards'
orchard, on the Shore road corner toward New Brighton. In
making excavations while erecting one of the buildings on this
property an entire skeleton was dug up. From time to time
several baskets full of bones have been uncovered at the same
place. It was the custom to send the invalid soldiers of the
British army to Staten Island. There was another encampment
at Belmont's hill, where the Hessians lived underground. The
Port Richmond hotel, or the building that occupied its site and
was the property of Judge Ryers, a leading tory, was the scene
of a great deal of fun during the revolution. Ryers was the
grandfather of Dissosway. He made a fortune out of the
British. He was a contractor for supplies to the British troops.
The Americans would drive their cattle over from Jersey to be
sold. These would be kept at the slaughter-house, which was
near Bard's. The Americans would come over at night, steal
the cattle and sell them again to Ryers, who never said any-
thing. He was a man of large size and great business tact,
His first wife was killed by fright at the landing of the British.

From a conversation with a Mrs. Blake, who had been a Miss
Merrill: She was born near Bull's Head. There were a number
of Americans who came over from the Jersey shore one day and
were making merry at a drinking house. An English officer
who was staying at her father's house appeared at dinner with
his ruffles all bloody. He explained that he had killed half a
dozen drunken Americans. She recollected seeing a negro
woman covering one dead body with brush.

Captain Blake said: Bodine's mill was the third one erected
on that spot. During the war the Scotch Forty-second regi-
ment was quartered in Dongan's orchard. The Hessians lived
near about the "marble-house," in caves. He had visited them
in their underground habitations to get the money for a beef
which had been run through by them. They were fed on slices
of pork, and rum with sugar shaken up in it, which later they
called "Schnaps."

From a conversation with Mr. P'eter Jacobsen, October 18,
1851: His grandfather, Christian Jacobsen, was killed in his
own house by the British. Four soldiers came at night, when
he was in bed. They entered the kitchen and aroused the
blacks, demanding to know where their master kept his money,


aud threatened to kill them if they did not tell. An old black
woman passed by a secret route to the room of Mr. Jacobsen and
aroused him. He opened the kitchen door and asked what the
noise was about, whereupon one of the soldiers returned some
insolent reply and at the same time fired upon him. The ball
entered his side and he died in a few hours. The soldiers were
made known to the officers, and the man who did the firing was



Condition at close of Revolution. Population. County Buildings. Manners
and Customs. War of 1812. Extracts from the Records. The Militia.
Growth and Improvement. Earthquakes. Quarantine. The Civil War.
Some Notable Events.

WE come now to the history of a period of almost uniform
prosperity and advancement, with perhaps varying
degrees at different times, but with no more such eras of de-
vastation as that which we have been reviewing. Returning
peace found the island in a demoralized state of desolation.
But the sunshine of peace quickened its capabilities into new
life. We see it now as a new era of prosperity has dawned
upon the land. The clouds have rolled away and the vigorous
youth of a new government, set out to run the race of its exist-
ence, fills the prospect with cheering promises.

The whigs who had left their homes and property at the be-
ginning of the war now returned and began the work of rebuild-
ing the places that had been laid waste. The condition in
which they found their property need not be described. It. was
what may readily be imagined as the result of seven years' oc-
cupancy by a lawless military force and frequent raids of plun-
derers from abroad. But the town organizations were re-estab-
lished and the wheels of government gradually set in motion.

It would be interesting to note the manner of doing this, but
the records are too scanty to give us much knowledge.

On the 26th day of September, 1775, there was a court of
common pleas and general sessions held at the court house, in
Richmond town, after which there is no record of any court
having been held in the county until Monday, the 3d day of
May, 1784, "being the first Court held after the Declaration of
Independence being published." This court was held at the
house of Thomas Frost, the court house having been burned by
the British, David Mersereau, Esq., being judge.


The first case on the record is entitled, " Tfte State PS. Thomas
frost.'' The grand jury bronght in a bill of indictment against
the defendant for profanity, " and the Deft, being in Court was
called and the Indictment Read to him. Whereupon he
pleaded not guilty and entered into recognizance himself in
twenty pounds and Peter Mersereau his security in ten pounds
to appear at the next Session to Try the Traverse." Unfortun-
ately there is no record of the result of this indictment. The
next court whose proceedings are recorded was held in Septem-
ber, 1794.

It may be a matter of interest to know the names of the
officers of the first court held under the new government ; they
are as follows : David Mersereau, Esq., judge ; Cornelius Mer-
sereau, Hendrick Garrison, Peter Rezeau, Anthony Fountain,
John Wandel, Gilbert Jackson and Lambert Merrill, associate
judges; Abraham Bancker, Esq., sheriff; Jonathan Lewis, cor-
oner ; Daniel Salter, James McDonald, John Baker and Abra-
ham Burbanck, constables. The first act was to read the com-
missions of the several officers. The first civil suit on the cal-
endar was Richard Housman against Henry Perine. Trespass,
damages 50.

Subsequent to this the courts of this county were regulated
by the following act of the state legislature passed February 5,

"Beit enacted," &c.

>l That the Courts of Common Pleas and General Sessions of
the Peace, in and for the County of Richmond, shall be held at
the Court-House in the same County, on the fourth Monday in
January, the first Monday in May, and the fourth Monday in
September, in every year, and may continue and be held until
the several Saturdays next following, inclusive."

It is probable that in the work of restoring order and improve-
ment to the desolated farms and homesteads the surplus ener-
gies of the people were so much engaged that they had little
time for unnecessary litigation. A paper of May 9, 1788, con-
tains the following item :

"A correspondent observes, much to the credit of the inhab-
itants of Staten-Island, that the courts of general session, and
common pleas, on that Island, county of Richmond, held on
the 5th instant, in four hours after their convening, adjourned
to September term, not having found a single bill of indictment,


or a recognizance, presented. Who, except lawyers, would not
wish to become a resident in so virtuous a community?"

A record under date December 1, 1789, contains the following
accounts :

" To Richard Scarret for digging a Grave 0. 10.

"To Lewis Dey for Boarding the Carpenters when repairing the
County House & Building the Gallows & Furnished 100 shingles
1 Bushel of Lime a pair of hinges & For fetching Anthony
Cornish from New York Goal fees &c &c 6. 0.

"To Lewis Ryerss [then sheriff] for two locks for the Goal, for
going to New York for to Report Anthony Cornishes Escape
from Goal, for Going to New York when he was apprehended,
for Fetching him from New York, Making the Gallows & Exe-
cuting of Anthony Cornish, for Expence of Apprehending of sd
Cornish at New York, Goal costs 16. 16. 0"

"We have been unable to find a more detailed account of
this case. A very aged man, living when this was written
(1875) and nine years old at the time of the execution, and who
remembered it well, said that the prisoner was known as ' Black
Antony, 1 being a negro ; he had committed a murder on board
of a vessel in the sound. The place of execution was near the
site of the present school house in Richmond village."

The explanation above is that made by Mr. Clute. We have
in another chapter given an account of the execution of a
negro, which corresponds so nearly in some points with the
above as to make it quite probable that it was the same case.
But if such is true, there are differences enough to make one or
the other inaccurate. As we have not the means at hand to de-
cide which is the correct one, we leave them both for the judg-
ment of others to decide.

"Oct. 19: 1790. The following is the amount of the In-
habitants of the county of Richmond as numbered by the
Supervisors and Assessors of said county Agreeable to an Act
of the Legislature passed the 18th day of February 1790.

Males. Females. Slaves.

Town of Southfield 309 330 258

Town of Westfield 440 451 267

Town of Northfield 463 409 167

Town of Castleton 381 340 127

Souls in Richmond Co.

In all 3942 1593 1530 819"



The growth of the count}' in population during the decades
from that time to the present is as follows : 1790, 3,838 ; 1800,
4,564; 1810, 5,347; 1820, 6,135; 1830, 7,082; 1840, 10,965;
1850, 15,061 ; I860; 25,492 ; 1870, 33,029 ; 1880, 38,991.

The following extract from the records tells its own story of
the preliminary steps toward building a new court house.

" July 7 : 1792 At a meeting of the Supervisors Together
with the Judges of the Court of Common Pleas for the County
of Richmond the 26th of June 1792 Lawrence Hillyer, Joseph
Barton Jun. were unanimously appointed Commissioners to
Superintend the Building of a Court House in the Town of
Richmond on a Lott of ground given by Doctor Thomas Frost,


and Thomas Frost having since been appointed a Commissioner
to be with the said Lawrence Hillyer and Joseph Barton to
Superintend Said Court House and to Advertise for Undertakers
& to receive proposals that may be Consistent with ^economy
and the Interest of the County.

"RICHARD CONNER Clk Supervisors."

In 1792 a tax of 315 ($787.50) was levied upon the county for
building the court house, and the sum of 15 ($37.50) was paid
to Dr. Thomas Frost in payment for the "Lott" which the
previous entry says he had given for the purpose. The record


does not give the name of the " undertaker" to whom the con-
tract was awarded.

This building is still standing opposite the hotel known as the
Richmond County hall. When the present court house was
built, the old court house property was sold to Walter Belts,
who converted it into a dwelling. It is now (1875) owned and
occupied by Isaac M. Marsh, Esq. While this building was
used for a court house, the brick building on the opposite cor-
ner was the prison.

The same year, 1792, another tax of 84 ($210) was levied for
finishing the court house. The completion of it was delayed
for nearly two years, for under date of October, 1794, we are
informed that the supervisors met in it for the first time.

The lot on which the present court house stands was con-
veyed to the supervisors by Henry I. Seaman and wife, by
deed bearing date April 19, 1837, at a nominal price, for the
purpose of erecting a court house thereon; according to the
terms of the conveyance, when the property shall cease to be
used for that purpose, it shall revert to the said Seaman or his

On the 22d December, 1847, Farnham Hall and wife, in
consideration of fifty dollars, conveyed to the supervisors
the lot in the rear of that on which the court house now

In one of the old record books containing minutes of the pro-
ceedings of the supervisors, is the following entry:

"1827, May 5th, At a meeting held this day, present Har-
manus Guyon, John Totten & Nicholas Crocheron, Supervisors,
also Richard Crocheron, Esq., James Guyon, Esq., and Walter
Belts, Esq., Commissioners appointed according to a law passed
April lOlh, 1826, an acl lo provide for Building a Fire proof
Clerk and Surrogate's office in the County of Richmond,
whereby it was made the duty of the Supervisors at their an-
nual meeting lo cause lo be levied and collected a sum not ex-
ceeding One Thousand five hundred Dollars, over and above
the expense of Collecting the same, for the purpose of building
a fireproof Clerk and Surrogate's Office for Said County, to be
located in such part of Said County as the Judges of the Said
County, or a majority of them shall direct, and in which all
the public Records and Papers belonging as well to the Clerk
as the Surrogate of the Said County shall be kept, and the said


Judges have fixed Upon the Cite of the Old County-house on
the East side of the Goal for the locating the same.

" Whereupon resolved by the Said Supervisors Present that
the county-house be sold and removed without delay to make a
clear Cite for the purpose of erecting Said Clerk and Surro-
gate's office, and also that the proceeds of such sail be paid to
the County Treasurer, subject to the order of the Supervisors,
and also that the said Commissioners be and hereby are em-
powered to sell Said County house for the best price that can
be got for the same at public Vendue. notice to be given of the
sime (sic) of such sale. And the Supervisors having caused to
be raised and paid into the Treasury of Said County the sum of
six hundred dollars for and towards the Building Said Clerk
and Surrogate's office. Also resolved by the Supervisors that
they will in case the six hundred dollars raised for the purpose
of building Said Clerk and Surrogate's office should be Insuffi-
cient to pay for building the same; In such case they will Bor-
row as much as will be sufficient to complete the same. Pro-
vided however that the whole cost of building such office shall
not exceed one thousand five hundred dollars.



"Whereupon it was ordered by the Supervisors that their Clk
shall Immediately give to said Commissioners an order on the
County Treasurer for the said sum of six hundred Dollars.

' ' Which said order was indue form made out and delivered to
one of the said Commissioners for the Payment of the said six
hundred Dollars as aforesaid.


of the board of Supervisors \ 600 00."

The above document is given in full, as a specimen of the
verbose and exceedingly precise style in which Col. Richard
Conner, as clerk of the supervisors, kept all the county records
under his official care.

The " Goal " herein alluded to is that building which stands
on the corner, north of the old dilapidated hotel called the
"Richmond County Hall," and the clerk and surrogate's fire-
proof offices, built on the "cite" of the former county house
is the brick building adjoining it on the east. The cost of



erecting it is not known, but bills for material and labor to the
amount of $941.08 were audited that year. The building was
completed during that and the following years, as will be seen
by the following record dated October 7, 1828.

" It is Resolved by a Majority of the Supervisors of the
County of Richmond that three men be appointed to take
charge of the records of the County of Richmond, in conse-
quence of the 111 health of the present County Clerk, Jonathan
Lewis, Esq., and that they make an Inventory of such Books
and Papers as they shall find in the office of Said Clerk, and
shall deposit such Books and Papers in the office now erected


in the Village of Richmond for that purpose. Resolved that
Walter Betts, Esq., Richard D. Littell, Esq., and Abraham
Auten, Deputy Clerk, is hereby appointed to take an Inven-
tory of said Books and Papers and deliver them to the said
Abraham Auten, Deputy Clerk, on his giving a receipt for
such Books and Papers on the Schedule or Inventory,
and deliver such Schedule so signed to the^Su per visors of Said

The old court house and the lot in which it stands was sold
at auction to Isaac M. Morris December 17, 1837. That build-
ing still stands on the west side of the street, nearly opposite



a point midway between the old Dutch Reformed church and
the old jail above referred to. It is a two-story-and-basement
building, and is now devoted to private uses.

The present jail, in the yard in the rear of the present court
house, was built in I860. A new county clerk's office, on the
opposite side of the street from the court house, is now being-


We have but little evidence of the use of the whipping-post
and stocks in this county. All that we have at hand is the
record of the supervisors under date of October 26, 1801, when
a bill was audited for the amount of -$12 to Lawrence Hillyer
"for Erecting a Public Stocks according to Law."

In giving a glimpse of the domestic and social customs of
the early years of the republican period we condense from an
interview made years ago with one whose personal recollection



extended back to that time. Most articles of home consump-
tion were then made at home. Each member of the family
had one new pair of shoes every year, made by a shoemaker
who came to the house in the fall. It was the custom of that
craft to go from house to house in annual rounds of repairing
and newly fitting shoes for the feet of the family. There was
little money on the island. People were paid in articles of pro-
duce. A girl who could spin at the rate of seven hundred
strands to the pound was considered a good spinner. The
young ones spun tow. It was customary for the negroes to
raise tobacco for their own use. All people drank a great deal
of cider. It was offered to every neighbor or stranger on ar-
riving. It was a custom to put into the pitcher of cider a piece
of hot toasted bread or a doughnut, to warm the beverage.
This hospitality was indulged on the occasions of the people
assembling at some neighbor's house fora religious service.

The conveyance then in use was the farm wagon, with a pair
of clean sides to be put on it after it had been all the week used
for carting manure or other dirty substances. The old fash-
ioned rush-bottom chairs were placed in it for seats. To this
the horses were hitched and their movements were guided by
means of a single rope rein on the outside of each horse and a
connecting rope running across from one bit to the other.
These were called " couple-towse." Men of somewhat wealthy
or aristocratic pretensions wore knee-buckles. A silver-
mounted riding whip was considered a great acquisition to the
make-up of an aspiring man. Two-wheeled gigs were some-
times used. They had no tops, but had wooden springs, called
" grasshopper springs."

It is said that John C. Dongan brought to his wife, from
Europe, the first silk dress ever seen on Staten Island. He
pronounced it only a "middling good one," having cost but
fifty pounds, when for one hundred pounds he could have ob-
tained a really good one. A schoolmaster, by the name of
Pritchett was remembered as coming to the employer to get his
pay for teaching. He took it in fresh meat and other articles.
After spending the evening, chatting and drinking cider, he
went home, having prepared for his lonely walk through the
woods by having a stout hickory stick burned to a live coal at
one end. By brandishing this stick in the air he kept the


wolves, with which the woods abounded, and which would be
attracted by the smell of the meat, from attacking him. It
was customary for the most respectable persons to go to taverns.
One of the highest repute was the "Bull's Head," then kept
by a man named Johnson, and later by one Garrison. The
"Black Horse" was of rather inferior tone, being frequented
by those who ran horses on the road there.

Flax was raised in considerable quantities, not only for the
linen fibre it yielded, but for the seed, large quantities of which
were shipped to Ireland, where it brought a good price. John
V. D. Jacobsen, who lived at New Dorp, and was accounted
one of the three richest men on the island in his time (Judge
Seguine and Jacob Mersereau being the others), died in 1826,
his property being valued then at seventeen thousand five hun-
dred dollars. In those times the price of a drink at a tavern
was three cents, but in the time of the war of 1812 this was in-
creased to four cents when sugar was taken. Cigars cost
twenty-five cents a hundred, and were frequently kept by land-
lords to be given away whenever asked for.

The war of 1812 passed without leaving any considerable
traces upon this island that are now discernable. Fortifications
were thrown up for defense in case the British fleet should
come into the bay. One of these was located on the summit of
the hill at Prince's bay, a little north of the light-house. The
embankment was on the seaward margin of the height, and part
of it has evidently been washed away by rains and the tide un-
dermining the bank. It is said that the fort contained a block
house, the stones of which were afterward used in the con-
struction of the light-house and keeper's house adjoining.
Another earthwork was at Little Fort hill, near the site of the
present fort that commands the narrows.

The general laws of the state from time to time enacted for
the gradual extinction of slavery were the same in their appli-
cation to this county as elewhere. The records of the differ-
ent towns show some interesting relics of the custom. We
have only space for a few. Here is a transcription from the
Westfield town records :

"I Winant Winants of the County of Eichmond and State
of New York and Town of Westfield, Yeoman Doth Certify
that I have Had a Female Negroe Child Born of a Slave the


26th July 1799 Named Bett from its Birth to this Date is Six
months and Twenty Four Days old.

" Recorded this 19th February, 1800.
" HENRY PARLEE, Town Clerk."

This is also from the records of Westfield :

"This is to Certify that on the third Day of February 1800

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 25 of 72)