Settlement of Gravesend, Long Island

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The Hudson River near Bear Mountain, NY, up which Henry Hudson sailed in 1609
The Hudson River near Bear Mountain, NY, up which Henry Hudson sailed in 1609
Here we found beautiful rivers, bubbling fountains flowing down into the valleys, basins of running waters in flatlands, agreeable fruits in the woods…The woods abound with acorns for feeding hogs, and with venison. There is considerable fish in the river; good tillage land…Had we cows, hogs and other cattle fit for food…we would not wish to return to Holland, for whatever we desire in the paradise of Holland, is here to be found. If you will come thither with your family, you will not regret it. MySource:O'Callaghan, 1849:131-132, quoting a letter from a Dutch colonist about 1624



In 1524 Person:Giovanni de Verranzano (1) anchored off the mouth of the Hudson River, noting that We found a pleasant place below steep little hills…And from among those hills a mighty deep mouthed river ran into the sea. Veranzano. 1524. The French, who had employed Verranzano, did not followed up on this discovery, but 75 years later (1609), Henry Hudson, in the Half Moon would make landfall at this same location, noting that this was pleasant a land as one need tread upon. The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon. (See Exploration of the Hudson River for additional information on the exploration of the Hudson River.)

Hudson was in the employ of Dutch Merchants, and was seeking the fabled "Northwest Passage". He himself was not especially interested in such a "pleasant a land" as he had discovered, as it soon became apparent the the Hudson River did not lead to the Pacific. Hudson would go on to explore further north, dying in 1611 in the artic, still seeking the Northwest Passage. His Dutch employers saw things differently. These Dutch merchants had grown rich exploiting fur resources of Siberia through their Muscovy Company, and saw yet another opportunity here to the west. Additional exploration ships were sent to the area within the year. By 1613 trading posts would be established as far up river as Albany, and as far south as the Delaware and the Dutch would claim the area as the “New Netherlands”.

Giovanni Verranzano anchored in New York Harbor, 1524
Giovanni Verranzano anchored in New York Harbor, 1524

The interest of the Dutch merchants was trade, not colonization. Their employees never saw the New Netherlands as home, and always intended to return to “the paradise of Holland”. This may have made business sense, but it would prove disastrous for the long-term interests of the colony. The English considered that they also had a claim on the land, based in part on the explorations of Bartholomew Gosnold who attempted to establish a colony in 1602 on an island off the Massachusetts coast, (and ingenously, partly on the fact that Hudson was an Englishman!) Gosnolds colony had been quickly abandoned, but once the English learned of Hudson’s discoveries, they launched further explorations of the coast. English colonists would soon follow settling first at Plymouth, Massachusetts, and then elsewhere along what they referred to as the “New England” coast.

Unlike the Dutch, these English settlers came with the intention of making a home in the New World. Population growth in New England was rapid, with over 20,000 immigrants arriving by 1640. In the New Netherlands, the first permanent settlers would not arrive until March 1624. Others settlers would follow, but by 1647 the total population would number under 2000 souls, and by the time the British took over the colony from the Dutch in 1664, the population would still be just 10,000.

At first the Dutch sought to spread their colonists over a broad area, occupying as much territory as possible. This meant that individual settlements were small, and at risk from Indian attacks; by 1626 the settlers, numbering perhaps 200 persons, were pulled back to New Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan Island. Over time, settlements spread out from New Amsterdam, with colonists moving into the surrounding countryside, and up the Hudson River. By 1636 the Dutch had begun to settled the western end of Long Island. Within a few years several towns would be established, forming the future core of New York City: Brooklyn, Bushwick, Flatbush, Flatlands, New Utrecht and Gravesend. Most of these towns were settled by Dutch speakers, and would become known as the “five Dutch towns”. They would leave a strong Dutch cultural imprint on the area. The remaining town, Gravesend, was settled by Englishmen, and would stand out because of its distinctly English character. A sixth town, Mespath, located near modern Brooklyn, was also found by English speakers, but would be soon extinguish during the Indian uprising of 1643.

Lady Moody

Lady Deborah Moody, a member of the minor English aristocracy, came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638, 18 years after the Pilgrims landed Plymouth. The colony had been growing rapidly, and many thousands of immigrants had come in what came to be known as the Great Migration (1630-1640). Lady Moody would be among the last of the Great Migration immigrants. After 1640 the immigrant flood would become a trickle. Many factors were involved in this, but one stands out for our purposes: the Puritan fathers were intolerant of other views. Those who disagreed with the leadership’s religious views were harshly treated. Cotton Mather, in reference to the Anabaptists and others, would later write:

Some few of these people have been among the Planters in New England from the beginning, and have been welcome to the communion of our Churches, which they have enjoyed, reserving their particular opinions unto themselves. But at length it came to pass, that while some of our churches used it, it may be, a little too much of cogency towards their brethren, which would weakly turn their backs when infants were brought forth to be baptized, in the congregation there were some of these brethren who in a day of temptation broke forth into schismatical practices, that were justly offensive unto all of the churches in this wilderness. (Source:Mather, 1855:532)

Harsh measures were enacted against those who would not conform to Puritan belief. This intolerance did not come without a price. Stephen Winthrop, brother of Governor John Winthrop noted from London that:

Heere is great complaint against us for our severetye against Anabaptist. It doth discourag any people from coming to us for fear they should be banished if they disent from us in opinion. (Source:Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1895:29.)

Sir George Downing, a cousin of the Winthrops, rails against the “law of banishing for conscience, which makes us stinke everywhere.” (Source:Hofstadter, 1996:81)

Even Lady Moody, was not immune to this intolerance. Her reasons for emigrating from England were largely the same as those of the Pilgrim fathers---a desire to follow her own conscious in matters religious. Lady Moody was an Anabaptist, and believed that the sacrament of baptism should be reserved for adults who could make a conscious decision, rather than a rite performed at birth. This was in conflict with Puritan beliefs, and eventually resulted in her banishment and excommunication.


In 1643, when Gravesend was founded, it was surrounded by primeval forest, marshes and prairie. In 1902 Peter Ross, in his "History of Long Island", wrote:

Standing there, looking at the throngs of all classes of society passing and repassing on the streets, the crowded cars, the loaded teams, and the elevated railroad crashing overhead, one can hardly realize the little village of the middle of the seventeenth century with its few scattered houses nestling as closely together as possible so as to afford mutual protection from the bands of predatory or murderous Indians, with fields of growing grain giving a golden tinge to a landscape whose prevailing color was green, the color of luxuriant nature.

He was writing about Brooklyn, a few miles north of Gravesend, but he could have been speaking equally of the area around Gravesend. This is well shown in Vingboon's 1639 map of Manhattan and the surrounding land.

Manhattan on the North River (Hudson River), Johannes Vingbonn, 1639
Manhattan on the North River (Hudson River), Johannes Vingbonn, 1639
Johannes Vingboon was the cartographer for the Prince of Nassau, and prepared a number of maps of portions of the east coast of North America, based on his personal recognisance. A zoomable version of this map is available at American Memory.

Vingboon's map, based on his personal recognizance of the area, is a reasonably accurate depiction of the lay of the land, but its value for us is the fact that it shows the location of settlements, both Dutch and Native American. Apart from a few homes hugging the shoreline along the East River, and an isolated homestead deeper into the Island, Vingboon's map shows the forest wilderness broken only by the occassional Indian villages. One of these villages, Massabarkem (probably the "Tikkonis" of Vingboon's map) was to be the future site of Gravesend.

Detail from Vingboons map of 1639.
Detail from Vingboons map of 1639.
A detail from Vingboon's map is shows the immediate area surrounding what would become Gravesend. Clearly shown is "Coneye Eyland", usually translated as "Island of Rabbits". Gravesend was established at Massabrakem, a Canarsee indian village, and is probably the feature shown as "Tikkonis".

As can be seen from Vingboon's map, in 1643 the settlers of Long Island were living in close proximity to various native American peoples. The relationships between the Dutch and the Native Americans were complex, and can not be described simplistically. But in late 1641 and early 1642, those relationships deteriorated rapidly, culminating in "Kieft's War" after the then Governor of New Amsterdam, William Kieft, or as it is sometimes known, the "Wappinger War", after one of the tribes involved. "Kieft's War" is probably the better title, since it is fairly clear that its cause, or perhaps blame, lies with William Kieft.

The causes and reasons for Kiefts War do not directly bear on the founding of Gravesend per se. Moody arrived during its course, and it formed part of the circumstances in which she found herself. An overview of Kieft's War is provided by Source:Tuckerman, 1893, an excerpt from which is to be found at MySource:Tuckerman, 1893:34 et seq, and to which the interested reader is referred.

Lady Moody and her followers were not alone in their banishment for reasons of religious conscience. Other had preceded them. The best known of these was Roger Williams who founded a separate colony that came to be known as "Rhode Island", but there were many others, all fleeing the repressive atmosphere of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Among those who had previously fled were Anne Marbary (exiled 1638, and better known by her married name of Anne Hutchinson), the Reverend Person:Francis Doughty (3), driven off in 1641, and Roger Throckmorton. All three held views related to baptism that were unacceptable to the Puritan fathers, and both came initially to Roger Williams colony. In 1642 both left the Rhode Island area, and settled with the Dutch on Long Island. Why they left Rhode Island is not clear. One suggestion that has been made, that seems not unreasonable is that the Massachusetts Bay Colony viewed the Rhode Island colonists as illegitimate, since they lacked a charter authorizing their settlements. It may be that Hutchinson and Doughty felt sufficiently threatened that they chose to move on to the New Netherlands, rather than run the risk that the MBC might eventually enforce their intolerant views on the settlers of Rhode Island. In support of this view we can point to the following letter from Roger Williams would later write:

Upon frequent exceptions against Providence men, that we had no authority for civil government, I went purposely to England, and, upon my report and petition, the Parliament granted us a charter of government for these parts, so judged vacant on all hands. And upon this, the country about was more friendly, and wrote to us, and treated us as an authorized colo. only the differences of our consciences much obstructed. MySource:Knowles, 1834:194-195.

From this we gather that the pressure on the Rhode Island settlers was sufficient to force Williams to seek relief, in the form of a formal charter for his colony, in England. From Governor Winthrop's Journal, we can fix the approximate time of Williams voyage to England. Winthrop, wrote in his Journal for 20 June 1643 that

The Indians also of Long Island took part with their neighbors upon the main, and as the Dutch took away their corn, etc., so they fell to burning the Dutch houses. But these, by the mediation of Mr. Williams, who was then there to go in a Dutch ship for England, were pacified, and peace re-established between the Dutch and them. Source:Winthrop and Hosmer, 1908:96.

Thus Williams was in the New Netherlands sometime immediately prior to 20 June 1643. The timing of this trip is very suggestive. It follows shortly after Hutchinson, Doughty, and Throgmorton left the Rhode Island Colony presumably out of fear of continuing hostility from the MBC, and more or less coincidentally with the exile of Lady Moody.

The movements of Lady Moody and her company following her exile are not entirely clear. Some authors place her first in Rhode Island to meet with Roger Williams. That would seem logical, given the similarity of religious views, but it does not seem possible given known facts. Lady Moody was exiled on 24 June. As we noted above, Roger Williams was in the New Netherlands sometime prior to the 20th, waiting for his ship to England, and negotiating a truce between the Dutch and the Native Americans.Lady Moody might have met Williams in the New Netherlands but clearly such a meeting could not have influenced her choice of destination. There seems to be no direct evidence that Moody passed through Rhode Island, or that she ever spoke directly with Roger Williams.

Her choice of refuge in the New Netherlands seems to reflect the same motivations suspected of Hutchinson and Doughty: that until they were outside English held land, they would not be allowed to safely follow their conscience.

Founding Gravesend

After 1641 the Dutch were anxious to secure additional settlers, in part because of continued slow growth of the colony, but also because of increasingly hostile relationships with the Native American tribes, culminating in Kieft's War of 1642-1645. The temporary peace secured by Williams in June of 1642, coinciding with Lady Moody's arrival, would be fragile. Open warfare would break out again the following year, but in the summer and fall of 1642 there was probably some hope of peace prevailing. In any case, Kieft set aside a substantial area in western Long Island for Lady Moody and her colony, as he had done for Hutchinson, Doughty, and Throckmorton.

In August of 1643, the Native Americans renewed hostilities.

…the Wechquaeskecks broke loose beyond the Harlem River and murdered Anne Hutchinson and her household of sixteen, sparing only her little daughter, and some of the settlers on Throgmorton's and Cornell's plantations...Soon the flame of war burst out along the western shores of river and bay and upon Long Island. Here only Lady Deborah Moody 's plantation was saved, her stout party of colonists beating off the attacks of the savages. Francis Doughty, the clergyman who had settled at Mespath, fled with his associates to New Amsterdam where he ministered for a time to his compatriots, the Dutch residents assisting them to support him. He was the first English clergyman who officiated on Manhattan. Then the savages devastated Manhattan itself so that above the Kalck Hoek Pond only half a dozen bouweries remained and the inhabitants of these were in hourly fear of destruction. MySource:Van Rensselaer, 1909:228

We do not know much more of the nature of the first settlement of Gravesend. We would like to know who, besides Lady Moody, was numbered among her company. We'd like to know how far along the community had progressed in the two months between Lady Moody's banishment from MBC, and the attack by Native Americans in August. Had they erected homes in that short time? Were they protected by a palisade? Why were they able to fend off the attack, while others failed? Was there any loss of life during the attack? Possibly the answer to these and similar questions lie buried in the surviving Dutch era archives, waiting to be extracted, but so far information on this point does not seem to have surfaced in the common literature currently available to us. Source:Gerard, 1892:19-31 suggests that Lady Moody's newly constructed home in Gravesend served as a fortification against the attack, which implies that a palisade had not as yet been constructed. He also indicates that after the initial attack the settlers fled to nearby, and better established Amersfort (later Flatlands), which in itself suggests the the development of the Gravesend location was not far advanced when the attack came.

In anycase, what we know is that the colony managed to survive the attack, and after hostilities passed, Governor Kieft would proclaim in 1645:

I William Kieft, Governor General of this Province, have given and granted unto the Honored Lady Deborah Moody, Sir Henry Moody, and their associates a certain quantity or parcel of land, together with all the havens, harbors, rivers, creeks, woodland, marshes, and all other appurtenances thereunto belonging, lying and being upon and about the westernmost part of Long Island, and beginning at the mouth of a creek adjacent to Coneyne Island…. MySource:Kieft's Proclamation of 19 December 1645

Kiefts 1645 proclamation, following approval of the Dutch West Indies Company, formalized or perhaps reaffirmed prior agreements between Kieft and Lady Moody that had been struck in 1643. While we do not know who was numbered among Lady Moody's company in 1643, and survived the Indian attack we do know who was numbered among her company in 1645, for their names are listed in Kiefts proclamation. The following table identifies these early settlers of Gravesend, preserving the original order given in the proclamation, and adding information about their origin, and subsequent history.


Index First Division Spouse Year of Emigration Place of Emigration/Initial Settlement European Place of Origin Fate
1 Lady Deborah Moody Sir Henry Moody I 1638 Lynn Massachusetts Wiltshire, Eng Lived out life in Gravesend
2 Sir Henry Moody unm 1638 Lynn Massachusetts Wiltshire, Eng Relocated to Virginia after death of mother
3 person:James Hubbard (14) ? c1637 Charlestown Mass
4 Person:George Baxter (12) Alice 1630 ? New Netherlands
5 John Morrell 1) Martha, 2) Elizabeth Baylis Died at Newtown, Long Island
6 Richard Ussell Abigail Davis, marriage annuled Rhode Island ? Amesbury, Wiltshire, Engl
7 Person:Nicholas Stillwell (9) 1) Abigail Hopman, 2) Ann van Dyke 1635 New Netherlands Netherlands Not in Second Division; removed to
8 Person:George Holmes (19) 1635 Virginia/Connecticut, New Netherlands
9 Thomas Hall Anna Mitford, widow of William Cuyck by 1639 Virginia, New Netherlands Bristol/Gloucester Gloucestershire, Eng. Not in Second Division
10 John Tilton Mary Pearsall 1639 Lynn, Mass Warwickshire, Eng Lived out life in Gravesend
11 person:James Ellis (3)
12 person:Cornelius Swellinant (1)
13 Edward Browse
14 Richard Stout Penelope Van Princis, widow of Van Printzin 1644 New Netherlands Richard Stout: Nottinghamshire, England, (served with the British Navy seven years, discharged 1642; Penelope Van Princis: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Lived in Gravesend until 1665, then to Monmouth Plantation (Middletown, Monmouth Co., New Jersey).
15 Thomas Cornish
16 Thomas Greedy New England Devonshire England Lived out life in Gravesend
17 Thomas Spicer 1638 Newport, RI Barfreeston, Kent England Lived out life in Gravesend
18 Walter Wall Pauline Masters 1635 ? West Indies, >New Netherlands Lived in Gravesend until 1665,then to Monmouth Plantation
19 John Cooke 1620 Plymouth Lived out life in Gravesend
20 James Grover 1635 LynnMass Lived in Gravesend until 1665,then to Monmouth Plantation
21 John Rinkman/Ruckman Elizabeth 1635 Plymouth Colony Merstham, Surrey Co, England
22 William Musgram
23 Thomas Whitlock Salisbury, Wiltshire, England D. Monmouth Co., NJ 1703
24 Richard Gibbons
25 Randall Huett
26 Person:Ralph Cardell (1)
27 Robert Pennoyer 1635 Boston Bristol, Gloucesthire, England Moved to Stamford Connecticut
28 William Wilkins m. (1) ?; m. (2) 29 Dec 1672 Anne, widow of Nicholas Stillwell, she m. (license) 13 Jan 1679 William Foster of Jamaica, NY Died Gravesend 1676
The above table is a work in progress. Data is being collected from various sources, and biographies developed for each individual. Sources of information will be included in those biographies, which (when ready) should be consulted for the basis for any conclusions shown here. Until those biographies are completed the foregoing should not be assumed to be correct, and are present only as as starting point. Bill 13:30, 4 March 2008 (EST)

Simple lists such as this do not in themselves tell us very much, but in this particular case there is more here than is obvious. Suffice it for the moment that the people on this list did not live in a vacuum. They were, for a time, intimately acquainted with the other persons on this list. The histories of some of those on the list, such as Lady Moody and George Baxter, are well known, and their significance to the community clearly understood. We know their family histories, we know who they married, and what became of them and their children. We know in some cases their role in the community. For others, such as Richard Ussell, we know virtually nothing beyond their appearance on this list. We don’t know if they married, we don’t know if they left progeny. In short, we know little of them other than that they were part of the village of Gravesend, and vitally important for its survival and scuccess--for that community was just too small for it to be otherwise.

A plot of the village dating to 1645 survives in the town records, showing it to be composed of four squares, each surrounding a central common yard, and separated by two cross streets. An outer perimeter road marks the location of the village palisade. Barely discernible in this sketch are farm roads radiating at a 45 degree angle from each corner. Individual farm plots, typically of about 20 acres, lie about the periphery. This arrangement probably reflects security requirements during the early years of Gravesend. Such an arrangement would have allowed plot owners to work their land during the day, and return with their animals to the protective shelter of the village palisade at night.

Eventually, the Gravesend palisade would rot away, the individual commons areas would be acquired by individuals for private uses, the small plots would be bought up by a few successful settlers, and eventually the farms would recede, replaced by closely packed homes, stores and schools, not to mention rail and subway lines. But the basic civic layout of the village would largely remain intact through the years. As Brooklyn to the north grew, annexing the original towns, it gradually extended its streets to the south. The crystalline, right-angle aligned Brooklyn Grid, as we might call it, now overlies much of western Long Island, occasionally adapting itself to remnants of the street plans of six original towns. If you look at a modern street map of the Gravesend area the original square of 1645, subdivided into its four quadrants, can still be seen in the street layout. The perimeter road marking the palisade is still clearly visible, as are the main crossroads, now known as Gravesend Neck Road and McDonald Street. Old Gravesend is clearly visible because its roads are misaligned with the Brooklyn grid. Thus Gravesend appears in modern street maps as a small imperfection in the larger sea of Brooklyn city streets.

[Need a suitable map showing Lady Moody's original layout of the town. So far I haven't been able to find an example in a non-copyrighted context.]]

A view of Manhattan by Johannes Vingboon, about 1664
A view of Manhattan by Johannes Vingboon, about 1664
This watercolor shows the the tip of Manattan Island at the time when the Dutch lost control of New Netherlands. Some attribute this work to .....]



Van Rensselaer, Schuyler. 1909. History of the city of New York in the seventeenth century. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Source:Van Rensselaer, 1909 MySource:Van Rensselaer, 1909:228