Richard Mather Bayles.

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

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declared his conclusion " that the health authorities of the port
of New York look upon the health and lives of the people of
Richmond county as matters of secondary importance, and
hardly worthy their consideration." Several cases of yellow
fever occurred, all of which were directly traceable to viola-
tions of the board of health rules. It was also evident that
great laxity existed in the administration of quarantine rules,
men being allowed to pass to and from infected vessels where-
ever they pleased.

At a meeting of the board August 19th it was reported that
seventeen cases of yellow fever had occurred outside of the
quarantine walls. A district at Tompkinsville was then infected
with yellow fever. Power was given to Doctor Mundy, as health
officer of the board, to make and attend to the enforcement of
such rules and regulations as he thought proper, and the pen-
alty affixed for the violation of such rules in the name of the
board was limited at one thousand dollars fine or two years im-
prisonment. August 27th the board met again. The infection


of yellow i'ever which was spreading into the town, was clearly
caused by the presence of a fleet of infected vessels lying at
quarantine. Doctor Mundy in his report at that meeting said :
" But over this source of evil I am aware that your honorable
Board has no control, and therefore I have no suggestions to
make in relation to it." Subsequent events, however, showed
that suggestions were alive from another source, of which we
have no written record to tell us of their growth. The same re-
port gives another cause of the transmission of disease by in-
fected articles being conveyed to the home of one of the em-
ployees whose duty it was to burn them. He did not do so,
but carried the clothing to his residence and there washed it.
The whole district lying in the triangle surrounded by the bay,
the hospital buildings and Griffin street was infected. The
doctor recommended prompt, decisive action to prevent a re-
currence of the offense.

At a meeting of the board on the 1st of September the follow-
ing resolutions were unanimously passed, and ordered to be
published :

"Resolved, that the whole Quarantine Establishment, located
as it is, in the midst of a dense population, has become a pest
and a nuisance of the most odious character, bringing death
and desolation to the very doors of the people of the Towns of
Castleton and Southfteld.

"Resolved, that it is a nuisance too intolerable to be borne
by the citizens of these towns any longer.

"Resolved, that this Board recommend the citizens of this
Town and County to protect themselves by abating this abom-
inable nuisance without delay."

On the night of that and the following day, September 1 and
2, 1858, about thirty men entered the quarantine enclosure,
and after removing the patients from the several hospitals, set
fire to and burned down every building connected with the
establishment. That some excesses should be committed by an
exasperated populace, was to be expected. There was so much
system, however, in their mode of operation, that it was evi-
dent everything had been previously arranged, and that the
people were carrying out instructions previously received.
During the continuance of this intense excitement, it was re-
markable that not a single life was sacrificed, nor was any one
seriously injured.


These summary proceedings of the people of Staten Island
produced great excitement, not only in the city of New York,
but throughout the state, and indeed throughout the country.
The people engaged in them were termed in the public prints
barbarians, savages, incarnate fiends, sepoys, and in fact no
epithets were considered too vile to be applied to them. But
they were all borne with equanimity, sustained by the con-
sciousness that sooner or later there would be a revolution in
public opinion. After all the mischief had been done, the gov-
ernor of the state declared the island to be in a state of revolt,
and sent over several regiments of militia, who were for some
time encamped upon the grounds immediately north of the

A matter of a character so serious, could not, of course, be
passed over in silence. Legal proceedings were at, once insti-
tuted, and Messrs. John C. Thompson and Ray Tompkins, who
were regarded as the instigators and ringleaders of the incend-
iaries, were arrested on a charge of arson, and arraigned before
the county judge, Hon. H. B. Metcalfe, for examination. His
opinion, which was extensively copied and read, had great in-
fluence in changing public opinion. His closing remarks merit
repetition and preservation.

"Undoubtedly the city of New York is entitled to all the
protection in the matter that the State can give, consistently
with the health of others ; she has no right to more. Her great
advantages are attended by correspondent inconveniences ;
her great public works, by great expenditures ; her great for-
eign commerce, by the infection it brings. Bat the legislature
can no more apportion upon the surrounding communities her
dangers, than her expenses ; no more compel them to do her
dying, than to pay her taxes ; neither can be done."

Thus ended the charges brought against the prisoners ; no
person was punished for any complicity in the matter, but the
county, very unjustly in the opinion of many, was compelled
to pay for the value of the property destroyed, both public and
private ; nevertheless, the people consoled themselves with the
reflection, that even at that price, they had cheaply, as well as
effectually, rid themselves of a grievous nuisance, which had
not only depreciated the value of their property, and exposed
themselves and their families to contagion in its worst forms,


but had actually been the direct cause of the death of hundreds
of their relatives and neighbors.

The board of health employed a force of special police, twen-
ty-five by day and an equal number by night, to keep a con-
stant guard around the quarantine enclosure, to allow no com-
munication between it and the town. The infected district at
Tompkinsville was more effectually quarantined, and the health
officer was instructed to prevent all intercourse with the dis-
trict, even by fencing it in if he should deem it necessary.
Meetings of the board were held daily, and all physicians were
required to report daily all cases of infectious diseases. On the
14th of September the board passed unanimous resolutions that
immediate steps be taken to prevent the re-establishment of the
quarantine buildings, and appointed a committee to legally re-
strain the board of health of the city of New York and the
health commissioners and commissioners of emigration " from
re-erecting the said hospitals, buildings and shanties or in do-
ing any act by which the said nuisance may be re-established,
continued or maintained in the Town of Castleton."

The quarantine establishment was never rebuilt here. A
floating hospital was arranged and anchored in the Lower bay
in 1860, and later hospitals were erected on two small islands in
the Lower bay nearly opposite New Dorp, but far enough from
the island shore to give freedom from any apprehensions of in-
fectious communications.

Under an act of April 16, 1860, a commission was authorized
to investigate the damage sustained by the state in the destruc-
tion of the old quarantine hospitals. The commission met in
June, and after an extended inquiry, made their award, fixing
the whole amount at $121,598.39. The supervisors of Richmond
county in December accepted the award, and soon after issued
bonds of the county to meet the same. These were given to the
commissioners of emigration, who sold them as occasion re-
quired and appropriated the proceeds to the expenses of their
work. By an act of the legislature, passed in 1870, the bonds
then remaining, to the amount of $10,725, were ordered to be
surrendered and cancelled by the comptroller.

At the beginning of the year 1861 clouds of discord and po-
litical strife began to darken the sky and obscure the prospects
of the island in common with other parts of the land. Fanat-
icism and hot headed indiscretion had accomplished their work


and the direful results were then hidden behind the veil which
was about to remove and disclose the horrors of four years of
civil war. As the opening events developed, the people in some
measure were able to lay aside party spirit and join with some
show of unanimity in the work of sustaining the government in
its efforts to contend with a gigantic rebellion. In accordance
with the recommendation of the president, Wednesday, Jan.
uary 4th was observed as a day of fasting and prayer, that the
threatened war clouds might pass away.

One of the first acts of hostility in which Staten Island was
directly concerned was the seizure early in that month, of the
schooner " S. W. Lutrell " of Staten Island, at Norfolk, Va.,
for violation of the inspection laws of that state for preventing
the escape of fugitives and slaves.

A large and enthusiastic Union meeting said at the time to
be the largest mass meeting that had ever convened on the is-
land, was held at Tottenville on Saturday the 26th of January.
A banner was raised, bearing upon it the motto, "The Consti-
tution and the Union," and the most enthusiastic expres-
sions of loyalty and devotion to the country of our
fathers were indulged in. Guns were fired for the states of the
Union, for General Scott and for Major Anderson, and resolu-
tions were adopted, among which was the following :

" Resolved, That the peace and happiness of this country
depend not on mere amendments to the Constitution, nor con-
cession to the slave power, but upon a strict adherence to the
Constitution, and a wise, firm and determined execution of the
federal law."

In April preparations were made to meet the expected call
for troops to defend the nation. The island began thus early
to assume a martial appearance. Uniformed men might be seen
hurrying to and fro, and recruits from almost every household
were answering to the call, and making ready to go into camp.
On the 20th of the month a number of young men who had
joined the Seventy-first N. Y., embarked with the regiment on
board the steamer " R. R. Cuyler." Others enlisted in the
Seventy-third and other regiments. The flames of patriotism
burned high, and party feeling was forgotton in the desire to
maintain the integrity of the nation. An editorial in a local
paper said "We know that the soldiers of Staten Island go
with no vindictive feelings towards the South to gratify. They


go with the sword in one hand, and the olive branch in the
other ; and the secession traitors South, as well as the abolition
traitors North, are the objects of their special abhorrence."

The community now began to be greatly agitated in regard to
the war in prospect. Handbills were posted throughout the
county calling for recruits in the Scott Life Gruard in New
York ; sign boards, bearing the words " Death to all Traitors,"
were nailed np on trees along the shore roads ; in one instance
an effigy, with protruding tongue, was hung by the neck from a
stake in the center of a mill pond, while on his breast the figure
bore a placard, on which were the words "The Traitor's Doom;"
a secret combination was said to have been formed on the island,
whose members assumed the duty of learning who were pos-
sessed of traitorous sympathies and inclinations, and warning
them against manifesting those sympathies too freely; recruit-
ing officers frequently visited the island from the city and drew
away large numbers of the young men ; flags were raised on
vessels in the river and bay, on house tops and public build-
ings, on horses and vehicles in the street, and were even worn
upon the persons of ladies and gentlemen, some, however, sub-
stituting rosettes instead of flags. Daring the month the Sev-
enty third was engaged in recruiting its ranks, and tendered
their services to the governor. The regiment was under com-
mand of Colonel Ray Tompkins. At the close of the month it
was under marching orders. The Middletown guard, an inde-
pendent organization commanded by Captain Stahl, also pre-
pared to take an active part in the war. The ministers in the
different parts of the island made reference on Sunday to the
national troubles. The arrival of Major Anderson and his com-
mand in New York, after the evacuation of Fort Sumter, set
free a blaze which swept over the whole northern states; and
Staten Island, so closely connected with New York, could not
but feel a double portion of the patriotic enthusiasm that
glowed already with such a fervid heat. A mass meeting of
the citizens of the county was called at the old quarantine
grounds in Tompkinsville, on Saturday the 27th, " to take
measnres for the prompt action of Richmond County at this
crisis." This meeting, though not large, was enthusiastic. It
was addressed by Mr. Clark and Henry J. Raymond. The vig-
orous prosecution of the war was urged, and the following reso-
lutions offered by Mr. G. W. Curtis were adopted :


" Whereas, The people of the United States within the
Union, and under their own Government, have for three-
quarters of a century enjoyed an unparalleled prosperity and
progress, for the continuance of which the Constitution of the
United States is the perpetual guarantee ; and,

" Whereas, That Constitution provides for a constant, refer-
ence of every disputed political policy to the peaceful decision
of the people at the polls, and of every question arising under
the Constitution and laws to the judgment of the Supreme
Court of the United States, thereby removing all conceivable
occasion for forcible resistance to the laws ; and,

" Whereas, An armed rebellion now threatens the very ex-
istence of that Government, seizing the forts, arsenals, navy-
yards, vessels and hospitals which belong to the people of the
United States, and consummating its crime by firing upon the
flag of the nation, the glorious symbol of our unity, our liberty,
and our general welfare.

" Resolved, That it was the duty of all persons in the country,
who felt themselves aggrieved, to resort to the peaceful and
legal means of redress provided by the Constitution ; and that
when, instead of so doing, they took up arms and organized
resistance to the Government of the country, they struck at the
very heart of organized civil society.

" Resolved, That the Government of the United States has
properly sought, by every kind of forbearance, to avoid the
sad necessity of asserting its authority by force of arms, but
that it is at length manifest to the whole world that it must now
subdue or be subdued.

" Resolved, That in forcibly maintaining that authority every-
where within its dominions, and at every cost, the Government
wages no war of invasion or conquest, but simply does its duty,
expecting every citizen to do the same, and to take care that
the doom of the rebels and traitors who would ruin the most
beneficent Government in the world, and so destroy the hope
of free popular institutions forever, shall be swift, sudden and

" Resolved, That when the supreme authority of the Govern-
ment of the people of the United States shall have been complete-
ly reestablished, we, with all other good citizens, will cheerfully
cooperate in any measures that may be taken in accordance
with the Constitution, fully to consider and lawfully to redress


all grievances that may anywhere be shown to exist, yielding
ourselves, and expecting all others to yield to the will of the
whole people, constitutionally expressed.

''Resolved, That we, loyal citizens of Richmond Connty
hereby, before God and man, take the oath of fidelity to the
sacred flag of our country, and to the cause of popular liberty
and Constitutional Government which that represents, pledging
ourselves to each other, that by the love we bear our native
land, and our unfaltering faith in the principles of our Govern-
ment, we will transmit to our children, unimpaired, the great
heritage of blessings we have received from our fathers.

" Resolved, That a committee of three from each town in the
County be appointed by the Chair, to solicit subscriptions for
the benefit of the families of residents of the County, who may
be absent upon actual service, and for the equipment of volun-
teers; and that this fund shall be distributed by a Committee
consisting of the Supervisors of the County.

"Resolved, That it be recommended to the citizens to form
companies in their various neighborhoods, to elect their own
officers, to drill regularly, and to hold themselves ready to an-
swer the call of their country.

" Resolved, That knowing the readiness of the women of this
country to take their part in the holy struggle, we invite them,
by the immediate formation of local societies of relief, to pre-
pare bandages and lint for husbands, sons, brothers and lovers,
that all hands may work, as all hearts are beating, for God and
and our native land."

Several regiments of soldiers, among whom were Wilson's
Zouaves, were encamped in the quarantine enclosure at that
time. They were marched out and drawn up in line at this
meeting and much of the speaking was addressed to them.
To the question put to them, "Are you ready to march through
Baltimore?" they gave a hearty response expressive of their
determination and earnest readiness to face the conflict which
was before them.

An unpleasant feature of the presence of these troops tempo-
rarily stationed here soon began to manifest itself. These re-
cruits, fresh from the low haunts of New York city and unused
to the restraints of military discipline, were not held by the
orders, however strict, forbidding them to leave the enclosure
of the quarantine grounds. They frequently scaled the walls


and in parties, sometimes as many as thirty, roamed along the
shores and over the country, visiting the houses and annoying
the inhabitants. Many petty depredations and thefts were com-
mitted by them. A few were arrested and taken back to the

The island now became a rendezvous for many regiments and
parts of regiments while waiting to fill their ranks with recruits
or for orders to move forward toward the seat of war.

The ladies also, acting on the suggestions contained in the
resolutions already quoted, formed associations in the different
villages of the county, and while the sterner sex were drilling
and equipping for the hard experiences of the battle-field they
were preparing lint and bandages and other conveniences and
comforts for the disabled, the sick and the dying.

The supervisors, in response to the people's resolutions, met
at Tompkinsville on April 27th and appointed W. S. Pendleton
as treasurer to hold the fund that might be raised for the
equipment of volunteers and the support of their families
during their absence. They also authorized him to dispense
the fund, with the concurrence of one or more supervisors.

A number of young men, constituting an organization known
as the "Young American Guards," began drilling at the Conti-
nental hotel at Port Eichmond, tinder the direction of Abraham
C. Wood.

When the first recruits were equipping themselves for the
war, great difficulty was experienced in finding a sufficient
supply of uniforms and equipments. The market in such
things was soon run dry, and men who were anxious to be off
for the seat of war were delayed until the necessary equip-
ments could be obtained or manufactured.

After the first installment of Staten Island boys had gone
out in the Seventy-first and other regiments, their friends
looked anxiously for tidings from them. And as their ac-
quaintances and even strangers on the island were desirous of
hearing from them, their letters were often published in the
local papers and were read with great interest.

During the following summer the popular feeling must have
been agitated to a fever heat. Besides the commotion caused
by the exciting news from the war, and the presence of large
numbers of soldiers in the midst, and the recruiting, flag-rais-
ing, speech-making and other work for the cause of the nation,


there were other causes generating agitations that helped still
further to inflame the public mind. In partisan politics the
outbreak of the war and other influences had greatly disturbed
the lines of the old political parties, and a new organ-
ization called the Citizen's Union party, which was favorable
to sustaining the Union arms and reforming some local abuses,
was growing up amid a vast amount of partisan friction. The
unsettled condition of the quarantine management also was a
cause of frequent alarm for fear that the occupation of the old
grounds might be renewed, or the floating hospitals in the bay
might be drifted near enough to bring infectious diseases to
the island. The frequent disturbances created by drunken
soldiers and the consequent insults and annoyances that the
people suffered from them, together with the discord generated
by the efforts that were made to suppress liquor selling to the
soldiers, and the resistance of a numerous and determined band
of liquor dealers who were tempted by the unusual profits to
continue in the business, all conspired to add more fuel to the
flames of popular passion.

The petty depredations frequently committed by soldiers en-
camped here, and the fear of still greater insecurity .from that
source led to the organization of a "Home Guard," and a
volunteer police force, to be called out by the supervisors in
case of any general disturbance that might be caused by the
lawlessness of men from the encampments. Reasonable means
were taken by the authorities of the camps to prevent the men
going out to obtain liquor or to prey upon the peace of the

At the circuit court held in November, 1861, the grand jury
delivered to the court the following presentment, which is sug-

" The Grand Jury of the County of Richmond, upon the ter-
mination of their duties, respectfully present, that they are
gratified that no serious violations of law have demanded their
investigation during the present session of this court, and re-
gard that as a gratifying evidence of the peaceable and law-
abiding character of the citizens of this County. Such cases,
however, as have fallen under their notice disclose the fact that
many violations of public order may be traced to the indulgence
and use of intoxicating liquors, and they would recommend
that the Commissioners of Excise should stringently, and with


energy, prosecute all persons who are engaged in the sale of
strong and. spirituous liquors without license, and collect the
penalties prescribed for such violations of the law. In this con-
nection, the Grand Jury would intimate that inasmuch as those
penalties are directed by the statute to be appropriated when
collected for the benefit of the poor of the County, that no com-
promise of any suits instituted for their recovery can be legally

Some idea of the extent to which the people responded to
the calls of the nation may be gained from the fact that up to
the end of November, 1861. in the town of Castleton, there had
been subscribed three thousand two hundred and fifty dollars
for the families of volunteers. There had volunteered from
this town one hundred and twenty-eight men, leaving sixty-
four dependent families to be cared for.

At a meeting held at the court house on the evening of No-
vember 13th, a committee was appointed to obtain blankets, mit-
tens, stockings, and other useful articles for the soldiers in the
field. Other meetings were held in other villages to further the
same object, which was the work of the sanitary commission.
All through the years of the war the ladies were not lacking in
their readiness to engage in labors of love and mercy in doing
what they could for the comfort of those on the field of battle
and in hospitals.

After the first recruits who went out in the spring of 1861 had
served their three months in the war, the work of recruiting for
the war settled down to actual business. Meetings were now
held at different places to arouse the enthusiasm and patriotic
devotion of the strong-armed men of the county to go forth to

Online LibraryRichard Mather BaylesHistory of Richmond County (Staten Island), New York from its discovery to the present time → online text (page 27 of 72)