The Colonial history of Brooklyn


It’s amazing how much of a pivotal role our city played during the Colonial era. As this new Smithsonian article brings out, “New York City is an afterthought—if it’s part of the conversation at all.” — Yet NYC suffered great losses, and with just a population of 25,000. The most heartbreaking of those being trapped in squalor aboard brutal British Prison ships and other make-shift prisons around the colony.

via The grisly history of Brooklyn’s Revolutionary War martyrs


Prison Ship Martyrs Association

This is a group dedicated to preserving the memory and history of these tragic events. They even have the names of 8,000 victims.Whether they were captured, fought, or died. Chances are there were many more, but the records are what they are.

Further Reading:

When skulls and bones washed ashore in Brooklyn

The Battle of Brooklyn: A loss that helped win the Revolution

The Battle for Brooklyn, 1776

The last remnant of a colonial Brooklyn road

Every time I find an article like this, I’m always amazed how rich with Colonial history Brooklyn really is. I’m still surprised hearing George Washington’s name and that we can claim “The Battle of Brooklyn.” I try to imagine Brooklyn before it became the mini Metropolis it is today – With businesses competing in cramped quarters alongside residential homes and buildings. (Wistfully staring out the glass doors by the parking Lot at a row of 6 attached homes.- most likely 2-family, maybe with a tenant thrown in the converted basement.
The map in the post shows just how much open space there was in 1760, vs. The painting of Red Hook in 1865, overflowing with buildings, houses, factories, bridges and then some.

Ephemeral New York

Redhooklanestreetsign2Red Hook Lane is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stretch of road off bustling Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn.

This one-block lane is the last remnant of colonial-era Red Hook Lane, a Canarsie Indian trail that became the route from the heights of Brooklyn town through Dutch farmland to the swampy Red Hook waterfront.

Enlarge this 1760s map and you can just make out “Red Hook Lane” beneath Flatbush Avenue, where it says “Brookland Parish.”


It has Revolutionary War significance too. Red Hook Lane, an important Continental Army artery, is where George Washington watched the British outflank the Patriots at Gowanus Pass during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

Redhooklanesouth“Old Red Hook Lane was originally 25 feet wide, and ran from Boerum Place diagonally across Atlantic Avenue, between Court Street and Boerum Place, running near the old engine house on Pacific Street,” according to an 1894 New York Times piece.

“Then, turning…

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Explaining Coney Island to the rest of the world

It’s that time of year to learn more about the history of one of America’s biggest playgrounds, Coney Island! Great post by Ephemeral New York.

Ephemeral New York

Much has been written about Coney Island, once just a thread of sandy beach supposedly named for its rabbit population (konij is Dutch for rabbit).

By the 1880s, of course, this little outpost had become Sodom by the Sea—a tawdry playground of hotels, pavilions, dime museums, freak shows, amusement parks, exotic animals, and more, all bathed in thousands of colored lights.


The phenomenon that was Coney Island attracted hordes of working class New Yorkers as well as foreign journalists, who wrote articles attempting to explain Coney to curious readers outside New York City.

Lunapark1906These articles serve as an illuminating look at the spectacle that rose out of the sand in just a few short post-Civil War decades.

“Coney Island, one of the great resorts for the million, is reached from the foot of 23rd Street in about an hour,” wrote English novelist Mary Duffus Hardy in…

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NYC Department of Records and Photos

The NYC Department of records has an extensive photo gallery of images starting from the cusp of the wild roaring twenties down till the present day. Okay, it’s not ‘old’ Brooklyn, but it’s still classic imagery nearly a hundred years old. I was just thinking the other night how the twenties seemed so far behind us now.

The website displays the finer prints and you can purchase them. (Too bad it’s not original Brooklyn prices!) You can check them out here:

Images of Brooklyn

Also of note: You can research vital records from all the boroughs and purchase copies that date back to before 1910. Now we’re talking old!

NYC Archives and Records

If you really want to start digging, try the Municipal Archives Collection  With records dating back to the earliest days of European colonial settlement in the seventeenth century, up to the present mayoral administration, the Municipal Archives houses 150,000 cubic feet of historical government records, including manuscripts, official correspondence, vital records, ledgers, several thousand feet of moving images, over one million photographs, sound recordings, maps, and architectural plans.

My mother’s side of the family is pure Brooklyn and they date way back to the 1880’s. They were immigrants from England (Though interestingly the ‘English’ side of the family was born in Kildare, Ireland.) I found proof of this many years ago on a whim when I visited the awesome Brooklyn Historical Society. They had a ledger/family tree book filled with names, dates of birth, and dates of death filled in by my great-grandfather. The book stopped after my grandmother’s third child was born. The Brooklyn Historical Society has since been remodeled and I eventually have to secure an appointment to see those old records again. At the time I copied them by hand as best I could. I was still just a kid, a nerdy early nineties kid with a burgeoning fascination for Old Brooklyn. I need to dig in the bowels of the basement to find those files. I would like to go again, re-copy and then remake that family tree on the computer and add the additional names. See, my grandmother didn’t stop at a 3rd child, she had 16!

The Revolutionary Promenade

The Brooklyn Promenade, also known to locals as the ‘Esplanade,’ opened in 1954 and provided Brooklynites and tourists with 8 blocks of spectacular views of the lower Manhattan Skyline and East River. In stacked levels underneath this walkway is the super-charged BQE (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway). The Promenade is a gorgeous stretch of paved stones that hearkens back to the 19th century. In warm weather the area is filled with baby strollers, bikers, joggers, gawkers, roller skaters, (Or Roller bladers) people selling day-glow toys, and even film productions make use of the open space. Ten years ago a friend and I walked past actor Harvey Keitel filming something or other.

I personally enjoy walking onto the promenade and relaxing on the benches with a cup of coffee or ice cream from the delicious ‘Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory’ (even better than coffee!) I like to just read and mediate on life. The Promenade is the perfect place to end your stroll through beautiful Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO (Which is an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan–Brooklyn Overpass, not the Disney elephant.) And it is the icing on the cake after walking the illustrious Brooklyn Bridge.

The Promenade in the 21st Century

The promenade was once the location of the ‘Four Chimney House’, which has long since been torn down. It was a mansion owned by the Pierrepont family. (For which Pierrepont Street a few short blocks away is named.) The area was mostly a thoroughfare for the wealthy of the time. Hezekiah Pierrepont had ideas for a promenade as early as 1824, but it did not become a reality until over a century later.

In late August of 1776, British forces under General William Howe defeated Patriot forces under General George Washington at the Battle of Brooklyn. (AKA-The Battle of Long Island.) Washington’s army suffered over 2500 casualties. Washington used the roof of the Pierrepont mansion to oversee a strategic retreat. The night was stormy and foggy.

Washington and 9,000 soldiers were able to sneak across the river and prepare for a new battle the following morning. The escape took the entire night and George Washington was the last man to cross the river. However, the British eventually retained victory over the Patriots and overtook New York. It was the first Victory for the British during the Revolutionary War and it was recorded as General Washington’s first daring escape.

Old Brooklyn Postcards #1

The first image is a bathhouse which is no longer standing. Shore Road is currently a popular spot which overlooks the Verrazano Bridge and has a long walking and Bicycle path for Brooklynites to relax, eat, fish, and take in some sun.

If you look closely to your left at the second image you can see Erasmus Church and Erasmus Hall Academy–a once Private institution. The school became public in 1896. The church was built by the Dutch settlers in 1786, back when Flatbush was known by its original name, Vlacke bos, which meant, Flat Woodland.

In 1904 more buildings were added and housed one of the most notable High Schools in Brooklyn–Erasmus High. Erasmus now functions as 5 separate schools and after 3 centuries, the structure is officially a New York Landmark. You can see how Flatbush Ave. in 1909 is already a burgeoning business community. It later became known as ‘The Strip’, a term young entertainment seekers used whenever they wanted a night about town during Brooklyn’s heyday in the 20’s-50’s.