One of the prettiest and most popular of the old townships in Kings county, New Utrecht, has less of a really interesting history than any of them. [Transcriber's note: oh swell!]
NEW UTRECHT, LONG ISLAND, NY, HISTORY
The History of Long Island,
from its earliest settlement to the present time.
NY Lewis Pub. Co. 1902
[transcribed by Coralynn Brown]
It somehow had, until the arrival of the ubiquitour trolley, always lived practically within itself. It covered an area of eight square miles - rather more - and boasted of its villages of New Utrecht, Bath, Fort Hamilton and Bay Ridge. The New Utrecht water front as a place for summer residence has been popular since early in the past century. For many years the Hamilton House, kept by Hawley D. Clapp, was a favorite resort for summer boarders. Curiously enough, a point on the New Utrecht shore was selected by Drs. Bailey, Bard, Rogers, Tillary and others as site for their first bathing establishment erected on Long Island. This institution flourished, and when burned, in 1802, was rebuilt and long continued to be a favorite resort of New Yorkers. As time went on hotels and boarding houses increased in number and popularity. Of late years, however, many attractive all-the-year-round settlements have been added to it, of which Bensonhurst may be regarded as the chief.
The land boomer has been particularly busy in New Utrecht and to his efforts we owe such communities as West Brooklyn, Van Pelt Manor, Homewood, Blythebourne and as the auctioneers say, "a host of others." It is now all surveyed, a mass really of streets, driven with mathematical-like regularity in straight lines and at equal distances in spite of all natural obstacles, historical association or family sentiment, and while only a few of these streets, comparatively, have been thoroughly opened and built up, still every year is adding to the number and the time is not far distant when New Utrecht will be but a memory and it will recognize as gracefully as possible its new position as Brooklyn's Thirtieth Ward.
It was the last of the five Dutch towns to come into existence, and it was the last which really threw off the old condition of things and accepted emphatically the new - those which now prevail.
The first patent issued for lands in what afterward became the township was granted in 1643 by Governor Kieft to Anthony Jansen, who came here from Holland at an early age. He did not seem to succeed on his 200 acres and sold them in 1660. In the meanwhile Cornelius Van Werckhoven essayed to start a colony in the territory, but the unfortunate result for that colonizer has already been told in these pages. Jacques Cortelyou, who succeeded to his interests, established a settlement in 1657 and named it in honor of the ancient city of Utrecht. Twenty-one grants, each of fifty acres, and a house lot were that year issued by Governor Stuyvesant. Ninteen of these were given to the settlers and the remaining two were reserved for the poor. Those to whom the patents were issued were: Jacques Cortelyou, Nicasius de Sille, Peter Buys, Johann Zeelen, Albert Albertson (Terhune), William Willemse (Van Engen), Jacob Hillickers (alias Swart), Peter Jansen, Huybert Hoock, Jan Jacobson, Yunker (or Squire) Jacob Corlear, Johann Tomasse (Van Dyck), Jacobs Backer, Rutgert Joosten (Van Brunt), Jacob Pietersen, Peter Roeloffse, Claes Claessen (Smith), Cornelis Beeckman and Tennis Joosten.
The most noted of these pioneers was Dr. Sille. He emigrated from Gelderland in 1653 and settled at New Amsterdam, where he became a close friend to Governor Stuyvesant, who at once appointed him to the high office of First Councillor. Dr. Sille was a widower when he came here, and in 1655 he married a Dutch lass; but the marriage proved an unhappy one and the couple separated on account of incompatibility of temper; but which of the two was to blame in the matter the records fail to state. The lady survived him, however, and the law records show that she had something to say in the diposal of his property; so that very likely it was the husband's temper that was out of joint. Stuyvesant, however, did not lose faith in De Sille on account of his matrimonial misfortune, and in 1656 he appointed him Schout Fiscal of New Amsterdam. On receiving his patent in New Utrecht De Sille appears to have at once removed there and built a house, where he resided until his death, some time prior to 1674.
"This house (which was demolished in 1850) was," says Van Bergen, "a fine relic of colonial life. Substantially built after the manner of the Dutch architects of the time, with its thick stone walls, its capacious fireplaces, its prominent chimney, its long, rambling sort of roof of red tiles brought from Holland, its heavy beams and long rafters, and its odd windows with their little panes of glass - this ancient colonial house was for nearly 200 years an evidence of the care, stability and comfort of the early settlers of New Utrecht. Into this house General Nathaniel Woodhull, the Long Island hero in the Revolution, was taken to die, and before the old fireplace which had warmed the colonists for more than a century the brave patriot enjoyed some comfort before his death.
"De Sille was a man of many accomplishments, well versed in the law, not unacquainted with military affairs, of fine character, a poet and a historian." For the last named quality we still have evidence in his "History o the First Beginning of the Town of New Utrecht," which was translated by the late Teunis G. Bergen. De Sille's only son returned to Holland in 1662 and died there. Of his two daughters, Gerdientje married Gerretse Van Couvenhoven, of Brooklyn Ferry, and Anna married Hendrick Kip Jr. It is curious to note as an instance of how things were done in those days that when Anna's son, Nicasius, was fourteen years of age "she bound him to Jan Montange (Flatbush) to learn the cooper's trade. Montange was to board the apprentice, find his washing and mending, give him eight stivers every Sunday for spending money, send him to evening school and at the end of his term give him a Sunday and every-day suit of clothes."
Bergen tells us - and no man was a better authority - that of the pioneer settlers of New Utrecht named above Joosten Van Brunt is alone represented by male descendants in the town to this day, although Cortelyou, De Sille, Van Dyck and Terhume are represented through female descendants, while Jansen Van Salee, the first patentee, is represented by the Sicklen and Emmanis families. Joosten Van Brunt was quite a prominent man in his day and a useful and prosperous citizen. He came here from the Netherlands in 1653, and was a Magistrate of New Utrecht for several years, extending his landed property considerably beyond the limits of his original patent by judicious purchases as well as by securing additional patents. In 1674 he bought De Sille's house, when it was put up at auction by the latter's administrators and it continued in the possession of his descendants until its demotition, in 1850. Some of his descendants still reside on the property which he purchased or secured. He had three sons - Nicholas, Cornelius and Joost. Nicholas, who was a farmer on some one of the parental holdings, married Helena, daughter of Jacques Cortelyou, and died in 1684, leaving a son, also named Nicholas, who was born in the same year. The latter, on the death of his grandfather prior to 1713, became heir to most of his property, but did not long survive, for his own will was probated in 1714. He was married, but his children appear to have died in infancy and the bulk of his original owner's estate reverted to his second son, Cornelis, who had long before that time won wealth as well as prominence in the affairs of the colony. He was assessed in 1706 on 144 acres of land in New Utrecht. From 1698 to 1717 he was a member of the Colonial Assembly. 1718 he bought the Pennoyer patent in Gravesend for 365lb., rather a large transaction for those days. Cornelis died in 1748, leaving a family of four sons and five daughters. His younger brother, Joost, was of a military turn, and was in succession Ensign, Captain, Lieutenant, Colonel and Colonel of militia. For over forty years he held office of Supervisor. He died in 1746, leaving a son, Rutgert, who in 1744 succeeded him in his office of Supervisor and was a Captain in the local militia. Rutgert acquired considerable wealth - so much that he was known as "Ryke Bood" or rich brother, and he became the owner of considerable real estate. In 1752, six years before his death, he transferred, for 2,200, a tract of 246 acres in New Utrecht to his son-in-law, Joris Lott, husband of his daughter Maria. Such were the pioneers of a family which has continued to be connected with New Utrecht to the present day.
Governor Stuyvesant gave New Utrecht a patent in 1662, when Jan (Tomassen) Van Dyke, Ruger (Joosten) Van Brunt and Jacob Hellakers were chosen as Magistrates and the dominion of Adriaen Hegeman as Schout was extended over the new township. Soon after the patent was issued Stuyvesant made a visit to New Utrecht in solemn state, hoisted the flag of the Netherlands, and wound up by partaking at a feast in the home of the pioneer, Van Brunt. This may be said to be the first excitement in the history of New Utrecht. The second occurred in 1663, when the adventurer John Scott rode into the village with his gang of braggadocios, took possession of the unguarded blockhouse, fired one of its guns, and proclaimed Charles II the sovereign ruler of New Netherland. Scott tried to make Jacob Hellakers and others swear allegienace to the English sovereign, threatened several women with the sword and then clattered away to win fresh victories. Little over a year later there was a still more serious excitement, for on December 8, 1664, a fleet of English vessels appeared in Nyack Bay and it was not long before Colonel Nicolls' coup changed New Netherland into an English colony, sent Peter Stuyvesant, indignant and bellicose to the last, into retirement and brought New Utrecht as well as the other Dutch and English towns on Long Island under the British flag. New Utrecht seems to have submitted to the change with placid submission and was represented by two delegates at the convention which Governor Nicolls called in 1665 after he had secured a firm grip of the reins of government. In the following year is accepted a enw patent from his hands, found itself one of the towns of the West Riding of Yorkshire, and the "Duke's Laws" became the supreme legal code of the town. The Engish rule lasted for nine years and then disappeared as suddenly as it came, for on July 29, 1673, a fleet of vessels with the flag of Holland at each of their mastheads was seen in Nyack Bay and were heartily welcomed and soon New Netherland was Dutch once more. Governor Colve's rule was especially welcomed in the Dutch towns on Long Island, and on August 29 every male inhabitant of New Utrecht of suitable age took the oath of allegiance to the Fatherland and swore to it undying fidelity. They also accepted a new charter or patent for the town from the astute Colve, for that enterprising potentate had found out, like Nicolls and Stuyvesant and all the rest, that there was money in such things.
Matters were just beginning to settle down into their accustomed dreary routine when a fresh change occurred. On August 27, 1674, another fleet was discovered lying in Nyack Bay, and before the burghers fully realized the nationality or purpose of the strange craft the sailors were in possession of New Utrecht, helped themselves to beef and other good things and took possession of all the cattle, grain and vegetables in the place. That night New Utrecht was once more annexed to the British crown and itwas not afterward that the Dutch rule in New Netherland became forever a thing of the past. English laws and government were planted again, to stay this time until revoked by the people themselves. In 1686 Governor Dungan issued another patent to the town, and in it the quit rent was fixed at six bushels of winter wheat, payable in the city of New York Marhc 25, in each year.
Beyond what has been related above, the story of New Utrecht is practically destitute of interest until the time of the Revolution. It made progress but slowly. In 1647 it had a population of some 35, in 1698 it had 259, of which 48 were slaves. Perhaps the only matter which aroused genearl interest was the local congregation, and even that had but little incident to record excepting the same quiet progress which characterized the civil history of the town.
Ecclesiastically New Utrecht was the ward of Flatbush. Church services were at first held in the schoolhouse when the weather was unpropitious, but those who were able were expected to walk to the sanctuary at Flastbush. Provision was made in the schoolhouse, however, for the spiritual edification of those who were unable for one reason or another in any weather to undertake such a journey. In 1677 the people formed themselves into a congregation and the dedicatory services were conducted by the Rev. Casparus Van Zuren. Bergen tells us that "the names of the first elders were:
Jan Guysbertz and Myndert Korten; the first deacons were Arian Willemsen (Bennett) and Jan Hansen (Van Nostrand).
More than 26 families formed the congregation at the beginning of the church organization. The following is the list of the original members:
Jan Hansen (Van Nostrand) and wife; Myndrt Korten and wife; Daniel Vorveelen and wife; Jan Gysbertz. Willemtje; Neeltje; Adrian Willemsen Bennett and wife; Jan Pietersen Van Deventer and wife; Nyntie Van Dyck; Gysbert Tysz Van Pelt and wife; Adriaantje; Joost Du Wien and wife; Pieter Veritie; Jean de Pre; Nicholas du Pre; Lourens Jansen and wife; the mother of Joost du Wien; Annetje Bocquet; Magdalena Van Pelt."
It was not until 1700 that the first church building was erected, and octagonal stone structure something like that of Flatlands with a large rooster perched on the top of an iron cross over the belfry.
Like so many other Long Island towns, the control of New Utrecht's civil government was vested for many years in the same hands by which the affairs of the church were managed. On this point a recent writer says:
The first church officers chosen performed the duties of overseers of the poor. The control of town and church affairs by the same individuals thus early begun was continued throughout the eighteeth and into the present century. Here as elsewhere in the county the past died hard and the town records were kept in the Dutch language until 1763. Oddly enough church officers were elected at town meetings, the same as other functionaires, and were ex officio poor overseers. It was also common to confer the offices of constable, collector and poundmaster on the same individual, for the plausible reason that neither alone was of much value and might be considered a burden rather than a favor to the incumbent. So unwelcome was the post of constable that it was necessary to assign it to the married men of the community in rotation, and in case the receiver of the honor was unable to serve he had the right to name a substitute, whose fidelity he was willing to vouch for. At first five and afterward ten pounds was the compensation allowed to the collector. In 1799 the elders of the church were chosen commissioners and the deacons trustees of common schools, which regulation continued till 1812, when the present state common-school system was adopted. Political distinctions were not recognized in town affairs.
Apropos to the long continued church government it is intersting to reacall the case of a dominie who performed his own marriage ceremony in 1663, while another wife was still living. The defendant alleged that the first wife had eloped and he therefore presumed that he might perform the ceremony for himself as well as for any one else. This plea was set aside, the marriage annulled and the defendant fined in two hundred guilders more for his insolence and impertinence to the court.
At first the ministers were those of Flatbush, but when the collegiate compact, as it was called, was dissolved, the Rev. Dr. John Beattie became sole minister of New Utrecht. His pastorate lasted from 1809 to 1834, and he was succeeded by the Rev. Robert Ormiston Currie, who continued until 1866, when the Rev. David S. Sutphen became pastor. He held the pulpit until 1880, when he was succeeded by the Rev. Alfred H. Brush. The old graveyard of New Utrect, which still is preserved amid all the modern changes at what is now Sixteenth Avenue and King's Highway, may be said to mark also the site of the first church. In his sketch of New Utrecht, of which much use has been made in preparing this sketch, Teunis G. Bergen wrote:
The old graveyard of the village, near where the first church edifice stood, still preserves the old lines and shows the grassy mounds over the graves of the early dead of pioneer times, as well as over the remains of those who died but a short time ago. The graceful monument erected to the memory of Drs. DuBois and Crane commemorates deeds of noble sacrifice. In the year 1856 some shipping in the quarantine then opposite Staten Island, communicated the fatal seeds of yellow fever to the inhabitants of Bay Ridge and Fort Hamilton. Family after family was broken up or sadly ruined by the terrible scourge. In the endeavor to stay the ravages of the disease and help the afflicted, these two physicians bravely did their utmost until they, too, fell victims to the pest and were interred in the ancient church-yard. Since then the quarantine hospitals have been established lower down in the bay, near Sandy Hook; and nothing has occurred to detract from the salubrity of the air of New Utrecht throughout its whole area.
Of late years, however, this old burying ground has been sadly neglected, and a recent visitor described it as "uncouth and unkempt," the weeds luxuriant, the stones decaying, broken or fallen, the insciptions fast becoming unreadable, and the whole place, with the exception of a few plots, left "to hang as it will grow." This reproach to New Utrecht, thus slur upon the memories of the village fathers who there rest, should not be permitted to continue. The people should strive to preserve as long as possible the amenity and sacredness of the little enclosure. It is a part of the history of the old town.
For a month or two prior to the landing of the British forces on August 22, 1776, New Utrecht was the scene of constant excitement. In 1740 or thereabout*
*The following data bearing on this are taken from an article in the story of New Utrecht from a recent issue of the "Brooklyn Eagle."
"In 1740 the seines of Justice Cortelyou secured the enormous catch of 9,000 shad. The farmers and shore dwellers were in such constant communication with Staten Island that in 1738 a regular ferry was established between Yellow Hook, near Bay Bridge, to an opposite point across the Narrows. This service was conducted by John Lane. The latest instance of large game is recorded in 1759, when a full-sized bear attempted to swim across to New Utrecht from Red Hook and was shot by Sebring of Brooklyn. From 1776 to the end of the British occupation, sympathizers with the Patriot cause were forced to make nightly trips across the Narrows in fishing boats to Staten Island and New Jersey. At this period the bluff on which Fort Hamilton was afterward built was occupied by the houses of Denyse Denyse, Abraham Bennett and Simon Cortelyou. In the bombardment from the ships, on August 26, 1776, the Bennett and Denyse dwellings were struck by shots from the English guns."
a ferry was established between Bay Ridge and Staten Island and the landing on the Long Island end was beside the bluff now occupied by Fort Hamilton and was locally known as Denyse's ferry. A small battery was placed there early in August, 1776, by the Americans with the view of stopping the traffic between the shore and the British ships then in the harbor. The good folks of New Utrecht were not above turning an honest penny by supplying the enemy with fresh meats and farm and garden produce, and the ferry to Staten Island not only carried over to the enemy an abundance in the way of provender but was the means of much information being conveyed concerning the doings of the patriot forces which should have been zealously withheld from the British troops then on Staten Island or from the British sailors in the bay. From its very nature the water front of New Utrecht presented many convenient places for sening to the enemy on the waters or on the land across the bay the persons or the communications of spies and informers of all sorts, and it also gave the British a stretch of coast line which from its extent and unguardedness almost invited a descent.
The little battery of two or three twelve-pounders gave a good account of itself while it had the opportunity. It put a stop, to a great extent, to the illicit and unpatriotic traffic in its vicinity and it opened fire on the frigate Asia when that famous ship came within its range. The Asia, responded, and while the battery escaped harm the houses in the neighborhood suffered severely. Bergen says that this battery opposed the landing of the British on August 22, but there seems no clear warrant for this. The invaders in the disposition of their fleet on that eventful morning certainly placed a vessel - the Rainbow - to cover the place where the little fort was supposed to be. All the historical evidence shows that the British landing was practically unopposed, and indeed General Parsons in his minute report of the matter to John Adams mentions nothing of such a defense. Probably, therefore, the armament had been moved to some of the forts in the established line of defenses where it might be enabled to do more effective service than in an outpost to which was opposed an entire fleet and a veteran army.
It is generally held that the landing from the British army was effected at Denyse's ferrry, but probably the coast from ther to what is now Bensonhurst was soon alive with the red-coated troops and the European mercenaries. For two or three days New Utrecht swamed with the invaders, and the roar of cannon and the din of musketry deadened all other sounds, while fields of grain were ruthlessly trampled down and farm houses and cottages despoiled of their provender, battered by shot, or doomed to flame by the exigenceis of the short campaign or the brutal malice of the soldiery. It was a terrible episode in the story of the quiet township, a whole epoch as it were crowded into a few days; but after it passed matters resumed their wonted quiet and the people were given a chance to repair the damage and prepare their fields for fresh crops. During the British occupation the town felt the iron hand of the invader more heavily than those of any other of the old Dutch towns, for they had lived even more among themselves than had the others, and their Dutch doggedness, and determination and loyalty, were more marked; but when the occupation, with all its bitterness, became a thing of the past New Utrecht gradually resumed its old ways and contentedly sowed and reaped, laughed and dozed, as the seasons came and went and the years slipped on.
It got another awakening when the war of 1812 broke out, for then a rock lying off the then famous Denye's ferry and locally known as Hendrick's Reef was selected as the site of one of the forts forming the defenses of the harbor. This fort was originally called Fort Daimond, on account of the shape of its little island site, but the name was afterward changed to that it now bears - Fort Lafayette. In the other defenses of Long Island; when the war of 1812 seemed to threaten them with another British invasion, the people of New Utrecht took an equal interest with their neighbors. On August 22 they worked on the Brooklyn fortifications and the New Utrecht company in the Long Island (Sixty-fourth) Regiment was maintained easily at its full strength. It was officered by Captain William Denyse, Leiutenants Barcalo and Van Hise, and Ensign Suydam. There was also another military company formed under Captain J. T. Bergen, while in New Utrecht was an armed camp for drill and instruction which bore the name of General Morgan Lewis.
In 1823 Fort Hamilton (the locality known to the Indians as Nyack) was commenced and was pronounced as completed in 1832. But military evolution is a constant evolution and even to the present day it is still undergoing enlargement and improvement. It now occupies a reservation of 155 acres and ranks as one of the most complete fortifications on the North Atlantic coast. At the time of this writing  an army board is considering several very extensive inprovements, to cost in the neighborhood of $1,000,000.
The barracks are to be rebuilt, and the parade ground will be graded and enlarged and also beautiful by extensive tree planting. The government reservation is to be transformed into a fine park through which will pass a driveway connecting Bay Ridge with Bath Beach, Bensonhurst and Coney Island. Fine macadamized streets are to take the place of the old dirt roads. The redoubt at the southeastern corner of the grounds will be leveled, as it is in the way. The stables, store-room, hospital and the quarters of the non-commissioned officers are to be left standing. The improvements include a new sewer system. In fact little of the old barracks will be left when the improvements now under construction are completed. Most of the officers' quarters, however, will remain, and it is hoped that the old Cortelyou mansion will be spared. It is a historic landmark, having been General Howe's headquarters when he effected his landing on Long Island in August, 1776.
The modern history of New Utrecht is one simply of peacful progress. Its villages - Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Bath, Lefferts Park, Dycker Meadow, Bensonhurst - are, as we see them, mainly new developments, whose existence in these later days are due to the general desire for suburban homes and the wiles of the land boomer. None of them has any history in the strict sense of the word, - any interest beyond their own borders, - although Bay Ridge came into unkind prominence in 1873, when one of the supposed abductors of Charley Ross, of Philadelphia, was shot while engaged in an attempt to rob the old Van Brunt mansion which then stood on the site now occupied by the Crescent Athletic Club.
In 1831 the Methodists first organized a church in Bay Ridge, and in 1834 St. John's Episcopal church was organized at Fort Hamilton. It was founded mainly by people connected with the military reservation, and the late Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General, was one of its vestrymen in 1842, at which time he was a Captain in the United States army. In 1852 another Episcopalian body was founded, - Christ Church, Bay Ridge, - mainly through the efforts of the late J. A. Perry, the first Comptroller of Greenwood Cemetery, who died August 26, 1881.
The advent of the street car, the laying of a line of railroad right through its farms to the seaside, and, more potent than all, the introduction of the trolley, have opened its every nook and corner to the outside world. Streets now cross each other on the map with mathematical nicety, all over its old-time territory, farms have been cut up into city lots and every season new communities are being brought together. The time of the change from urban to suburban conditions was marked by many curious cantrips, none more curious than those of Cornelius Furgueson, who among other things, had the township nightly lighted up with 3,900 gas lamps at a time when there was neither house nor barn to benefit - one gas lamp it was said for every three persons in the township, or ten for each house! The company which supplied the gas received $28 for each one very year and paid a handsome commission on the contract. There were stories, backed up by strong evidence, that hastened the end of New Utrecht's separate existence. Governor Morton signed the bill for its annexation to Brooklyn May 3, 1894, and the measure went into effect on July 1 following. Since then New Utrecht has been reduced to the official position of a city ward, but its progress as such has been much more rapid than it ever experienced as a township, while its future is of the brightest possible description.
One of the prettiest and most popular of the old townships in Kings county, New Utrecht, has less of a really interesting history than any of them. [Transcriber's note: oh swell!]