Gravesend, Brooklyn– Remembering the Past

In New York City, for those who are interested, it’s not difficult to find a few pieces of Dutch history and/or influence spread here and there throughout the city. A good location to start might be the Brooklyn neighborhood of Gravesend.

First off, here’s a few facts about Gravesend. Gravesend is one of the ORIGINAL towns of New Netherlands, the Dutch colony that existed for less than 100 years. Second, out of all the original towns, half were chartered by the Dutch (Newton, Jamaica, Flushing, and Hempstead) and the other half were chartered by the English (Brooklyn, Bushwick, New Utrecht, Flatlands, and Flatbush). Gravesend happens to be one of the places chartered by the English. Moreover, Gravesend was settled BY A WOMAN– remarkable anywhere for that period in time.

The woman’s name was Lady Deborah Moody. She had traveled from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, looking for religious freedom as she was an Anabaptist, which was anything BUT a popular religion back during this time period. After not finding what she was looking for up North, she traveled South into New Netherlands where, not surprisingly, she was allowed to practice her religion as the Dutch allowed their citizens to have “freedom of religion”.

Parts of the Past That Still Exist TODAY

350+ year old brick sidewalk-- photo taken by Kevin Walsh

There are several items which date back to when the area used to be part of the Dutch colony, known as New Netherlands. First off, there are two cemeteries exist within Gravesend that actually date back to the mid-1600s. One of these cemeteries is the Old Gravesend Cemetery and the other one is the Van Sicklen Family Cemetery.

Second, there are a small number of original brick sidewalks that are over 350 years old, that still exist and are still used to this day.

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An old map of Gravesend

Probably the trait that has really done well with is the neighborhood’s layout. As seen in the photo below, when Gravesend was a city and not just park of Brooklyn/NYC, the area was planned out in a square-like shape that has been quartered, thanks to two of the old city’s main roads.

As Kevin Walsh of the website “Forgotten New York” has said, not much about Gravesend’s layout has changed in over 350 years. “The original map of Gravesend, as laid out in the mid-1600s, can be described as a square with a cross in the middle. Amazingly this original street layout is still in place…” The pictures speak for themselves.

Map of the Gravesend neighborhood today

LEFT: A map of the same area in Gravesend today with the old “square” layout clearly visible. The outside streets are Village Rd South, North, and East as well as Van Sicklen St. The “cross-section” of the map is made up of Gravesend Neck Road and McDonald Ave.

 

 

The other Dutch millstone of Long Island City

The Dutch Millstones in Long Island City (Queens)

Back in 1650 before New York City existed, a Dutch/German man named Jorissen Burger built himself a grist mill in the current-day Dutch Kills neighborhood of Queens. During this period in time, the area was part of the New Netherlands colony, which was established by the Dutch, mainly for fur trading. Today in 2010, the 400 pound (each) millstones from Burger’s grist mill HAVE SURVIVED, and are viewable to people from the general public. Their history is as follows:

Long Island City is not actually a real city, but instead it exists as a neighborhood in Queens, New York. Dutch Kills, as mentioned in the paragraph above, is a sub-neighborhood– this means that it only consists of a portion of Long Island City and NOT the entire neighborhood.

One of the Dutch millstones in Long Island City

 

The Journey of the Millstones

Not surprisingly, the Long Island City millstones have moved around several times since they were built, around the year 1650 or so. Of course, they originally existed as parts from Burger Jorisson’s grist mill. The millstones stayed where they were until the first half of the 1800s. After that, the millstones were moved to another individual’s farm. This farm was their home until the property was destroyed in the early 1900s. Soon after, they were moved to a traffic island at Queens Plaza, which is where they stayed until recently.

Now the millstones can be found at their temporary home, the Queens Library. They will stay there for about 18 months until a new park close to Queens Plaza is built. The plan then is to have the stones displayed for the public to see. Whether they would be protected from the elements or not is currently being debated.

 

But What is So Important About the Millstones?

The other Dutch millstone of Long Island City

With this being said, it should also be mentioned that at the location at Queens Plaza where they resided, the stones were visible yet invisible. Queens Plaza is in Long Island City and it has been said that 500,000 people would pass these historic millstones every day…. but did not know their true significance in relation to the growth of the city of New York?


Dutch Origins of the “Melting Pot”

One of the major things that New York City is known for is it’s wide variety of different cultures. According to published reports, there are about 170 different languages spoken in New York City today1. In addition, 36% of the city’s current population were NOT born in the United States2. This is something that was characteristic of and encouraged by the Dutch colony, back when New York City was then known as the New Netherlands. This should not be surprising, especially because the Dutch during the 1600s, were known as being “…the most progressive and culturally diverse society in Europe” (Shorto 6).

Old map of New Netherlands

The colony of the New Netherlands was unique, especially for the 17th century. While the Puritans who lived North of the colony were busy worshipping God, living their life in a moralistic” manner, and persecuting the Quakers, those who lived in the New Netherlands colony were much more tolerant of differences between various groups of people. “Over time, a diverse assortment of settlers from various societies and cultures trickled into the Dutch colonial outpost on Manhattan Island (area previously known as New Amsterdam)” (Foote 41). Different skin colors, different religions, and different nationalities were, for the most part, tolerated in this Dutch colony. An example of this would be the fact that during the colony’s existence (early to mid- 1600s), up to 18 different languages were being spoken (F413). Compared to other North American colonies where the population lacked variety (such as with the Quakers, Puritans, etc), New Netherlands was the original North American “melting pot”.

One reason for this is the fact was a result of New Netherland’s location. With New Amsterdam, the capital of New Netherlands, being located on the mouth of the Noort Rivier (now known as the Hudson River) and not terribly far from the Atlantic Ocean, it isn’t particularly surprising that New Amsterdam in particular, became the major place for trading between various European, the Caribbean, and North America countries/settlements. Various historians believe that one reason that New Netherlands was so diverse was because of all the trading going on at New Amsterdam between many different countries and many different groups of people as well. People from all over the Atlantic were trading goods at New Amsterdam, including many Native American tribes.

Another reason for the diversity in New Netherlands was because of the country who colonized this area BEFORE England did later on in the 1600s. That country, of course, is the Netherlands, and they have long been known for their tolerance when it comes to various aspects of a person’s life, including religion and politics. This attitude of tolerance is something that dates back to BEFORE Henry Hudson “discovered” the area that later became New York City. Of course, it is not surprising that when the Dutch started to settle in in and around what is now known as New York state they brought this tolerance of differences with them.

Unlike the Puritans who lived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the citizens of New Netherlands were, for the most part, allowed to practice the religion of their choice. While the Puritans were persecuting those who did not hold the same values as they did, in the New Netherlands, people of a variety of different religions co-existed with little issue. Some of the different types of religious people who practiced their religion of choice in the New Netherlands included, but was not limited to: Jews, Anabaptists, and Quakers. In addition, the Dutch Reformed Church had also put down some roots when the Dutch created New Netherlands. Today, the Dutch Reformed Church has developed into Christian Reformed Church in North America, and the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, among other various sects with Dutch Reformed roots.

With this being said, it’s no surprise that New Amsterdam became “…the first multiethnic, upwardly mobile society on America’s shores….” (Shorto 3). It is also not ironic that “…the very first place in America in which multi-ethnic society first formed was also the where the Dutch had been” (S313). The Dutch believed in tolerance and when they settled in the current-day New York/New Jersey area, they brought this important idea with them. Despite the fact that New York City has grown to be one of the most populated cities in the world, the idea of tolerance can still be seen today. All one has to do is just walk the streets of New York City to see the different varieties of people and culture that New York is known for. Of course, it was the Dutch who welcomed with open arms a wide variety of people from different backgrounds, religions, locations, races, languages, and beliefs in general.

 

1 Queens: Economic Development and the State of the Borough Economy: June 2006

2 The Newest New Yorkers 2000 Briefing Booklet published by the New York City Department of City Planning– Population Division


Dutch Roots of the New York City Flag

The official New York City flag

All around New York flies a lasting    symbol of the city’s Dutch roots. A  flag colored orange, white, and blue  waves in the hazy skies, next to the  sea of skyscrapers and apartment  buildings. Seriously…. it’s probably hard to travel  around the city and NOT see this flag at least once. But, of course, the question remains: what exactly does the New York City Flag stand for? To better understand the subject at hand, we’ll look at the flag in two parts: the stripes and the emblem.


STRIPES

As stated before, the New York City flag consists of three different colored stripes: one is orange, another is blue, and the third one is white. These colors are derived from the flag of the New Netherlands as well as an older flag of the Netherlands. The only difference between the NYC flag and the others is that the lines on the other ones run the opposite direct to the NYC flag. Moreover, on the current-day New York City flag, the stripes run perpendicular and are all the same size.

 

EMBLEM

The official New York City emblem

First off, the emblem has the date “1625” on the bottom of the flag. This is the date that New Amsterdam was settled. Now there’s a couple of interesting side notes about this. One interesting fact is that the Dutch had already been in the area that is known as current-day NYC for many years before 1625. Another interesting note is that the original New York City emblem had a different date on it– “1664”, which is when the English took power over the area from the Dutch. In December of 1977, the date on the emblem was changed to “1625”, to recognize and honor the city’s Dutch roots that, according to many historians, have made many significant contributions to the city as we know it today.

There are several other ways in which the New York City emblem represents the city’s Dutch heritage. For example, also incorporated into the city’s emblem are four sails from windmills, two men (one of them being a Dutch sailor, the other being a

Native American), two flour barrels, and two beavers. The flour barrels and beavers represent early commerce in the area after the Dutch had started to settle there.

 

Interesting Fact

Both the New York Mets (Major League Baseball) and the New York Knicks (National Basketball Association) team color schemes use the three colors that made up the stripes on the New Netherlands flag: orange, blue, and white– see below.

logo for the New York Mets

logo for the New York Knicks


Dutch Roots of NYC Place Names

What’s in a name?” –from Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Believe it or not, several of the boroughs in New York City have names that are derived from when the area was part of the Dutch colony called New Netherlands. This, of course, was almost 400 years ago, but nevertheless, the following names have withstood the effects of time:

 

BROOKLYN

The name “Brooklyn” dates back to the mid 1600s when current-day New York City was part of the New Netherlands. Originally, Brooklyn was known as Breuckelen, a name derived from a town in the Netherlands.

Today, Brooklyn still has roots in the former Dutch colony that it used to be a part of. An example of this is the borough’s motto, which happens to be in Dutch, and is as follows: “Een draght mackt maght.” When translated into English, the motto means “In unity there is strength.”


THE BRONX

In 1639, a Swede by birth who was then employed by the Dutch, settled in what is now known as The Bronx. His name was Jonas Bronck and it was from his name which the name of the Bronx was derived. Originally known as “Bronck’s Land”, this form of the area’s name only lasted until the late 1600s and various versions of the name were used until the late 19th century when “the Bronx” finally became the official name of this borough.

 

STATEN ISLAND

The name “Staten Island” comes from Henry Hudson, an explorer in the service of the Dutch in 1609. When he first encountered the area that is now Staten Island, he wrote about it in his sailing log, using the name “Staaten Eyeladt.” This name supposedly was given to honor the Parliament of the Dutch, which was known as the “Staten-General”. Despite this fact, a European settlement did NOT exist in the area until 30 years later, but the name (in one form or another) Hudson had given the area had stuck and was still used almost 400 years later.

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NEIGHBORHOODS IN NEW YORK CITY WITH DUTCH NAMES

  • Bowery, Manhattan (Bouwerji)– ‘Bowery’ means farm in Dutch.

  • Harlem, Manhattan (Nieuw Haarlem)– Named after a city in the Netherlands.

  • Greenwich Village, Manhattan (Greenwijck)– named in the 1670s after a Dutch village that existed on Long Island during that same period of time.

  • Flushing, Queens (Vlissingen)– Named after a city in the Netherlands called     Vlissingen. Obviously, Flushing is the anglicized version.

  • Coney Island, Brooklyn (Konijnen Eiland), –Konijnen is the Dutch for “rabbit island,” a name that originated because Coney Island used to have a reputations as a good place to hunt, especially when it came to rabbits.


BODIES OF WATER IN NEW YORK WITH DUTCH NAMES

  • English Kills** River

  • Schuylkill** River

  • Kill Van Kull** Channel

  • Arthur Kill (Dutch: achter kill)– Tidal straight between Staten Island and New Jersey

  • Fresh Kills– Freshwater Estuary/Stream, also where the Fresh Kills Landfill got it’s name from.

**(Note: the word ‘kill’ in Dutch means river)

 


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