EARLY BROOKLYN AND ITS VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT


EARLY BROOKLYN

SETTLEMENT BY THE DUTCH IN 1636 WALLABOUT, GOWANUS, " THE FERRY, AND BREUCKELYN THE VILLAGE CHARTERED BROOKLYN IN THE REVOLUTION FIRE ACT OF 1768 FIRST FIREMEN APPOINTED, 1772 FIRST FIRE COMPANY, 1785 THE FIRST ENGINE FIRST FIRE DEPARTMENT ORGANIZED, 1788 CHIM NE INSPECTORS THE SECOND ENGINE INCREASE OF THE DEPARTMENT

THE FIRE-BELL VILLAGE INCORPORATED 1816, AND NEW COMPANIES ORGANIZED JOHN DOUGHTY, THE FIRST CHIEF ENGINEER BANNER PRESENTATION, 1826 THE CITY INCORPORATED, 1834 CONSOLIDATTON ACT, 1855 FIRE COMMISSIONERS APPOINTED, 1857.

THREE-QUARTERS of a century after the settlement of New Amsterdam by the Dutch, the West India Company organized a systematic scheme of colonization; and among Those who responded to their invitation to come to America were the " Walloons," so-called to denote their foreign origin (Waalsche) by their neighbors in Holland, whither they had come from France among the persecuted Huguenots. They had previously applied to the English for permission to emi-grate to Virginia, but had been refused, and they gladly turned their faces toward NewAmsterdam, in the New World.

It was largely from among the Walloons that the first settlements in the future Brooklyn were peopled; but the first grant of land within its limits was made in June, 1636, to-Jacob Van Corlear, one of Director-General Van Twiller's lieutenants, who shared his chief's fondness for real estate speculation, for which their official position afforded them opportunity. His purchase, made from the Indians, was of an extensive tract at " Castateuw, on Seven-hackey, or Long Island, between the Bay of the North River and the East River." Andries Hudde and Wolfert Gerritsen secured adjoining property, and Van Twiller himself soon after bought other acres. But the first house built was erected on the site afterwards occupied by the old Schermerhorn mansion, (on the present Third Avenue, near Twenty-eighth Street,) by William Adrianse Bennet, who soon became the sole owner of a tract originally purchased by himself and Jacques Bentyn—930 acres on Gowanus Bay—also in 1636, and erected a residence on it .

In June, 1637, Jansen de Rapalie bought a farm on Wallabout Bay, on a part of which now stands the United States Marine Hospital, and by 1654 the settlement thus founded was increased by so large a proportion of the Walloons as to lead to its being called the " Waal-Bogt," (Wallabout) or the " The Bay of the Foreigners."

By 1642 a ferry had been established between Peck Slip on the other side of the river and the foot of the present Fulton Street, and the settlement that soon grew up near it became known as " The Ferry."

The Gowanus and Wallabout settlements are regarded as constituting the original centres from which the community gradually spread, until, in the course of two and a half centuries, there had grown up from these isolated farmer-settlements the great city of to-day. But other settlements were made so nearly at the same time with those mentioned, that they really formed a part of the original nucleus of Brooklyn. Besides " The Ferry," there was one of these to which we owe the name of our city. The Dutch farmers from the New Amsterdam came across the river and laid out their plantations in the region now bounded by Fulton, Hoyt and Smith Streets. This settlement they called " Breuckelen," after a town in Holland, dear to the memory of many of them, situated about eighteen miles from Amsterdam. Thus the new Breuckelen and the New Amsterdam, like their prototypes, were near neighbors. In an interesting account of a visit to old Breuckelen, in Holland, written by the late Henry C. Murphy, and printed in the Brooklyn Eagle of September 12, 1859, the name is said to be descriptive of the character of the land on which the town is built, and signifies ''marsh-land.'' By the older inhabitants of this city, the similarly marshy character of the ground on Fulton Street at the point described is still remembered; it was the bed of the valley which received the drain of the hills on either side of it from Wallabout to Gowanus Bay, and was marshy and springy. In the Dutch chronicles of the Dutch Breuckelen, (originally pronounced Brurkeler,) there are found as many varieties of spelling as in the colonial and county records of its New World namesake; but the final form of the name in this country, settled on about the end -of the last century, retains the significance of the early name, and Brooklyn as well as Brookland—one of the recorded forms—sufficiently -conveys the idea of the marsh or brook-land. But Breuckelen, Gowanus, Wallabout and The Ferry were in the beginning distinct settlements, and it was not until after the British occupation of New Amsterdam, (which in consequence became New York, in 1664,) that the name of Brooklyn was made to cover the whole community.

It had been recommended in the "Code of General Instructions," issued by the West India Company's Chamber of Accounts, which directed the Provincial Council's efforts to colonize the new territory, " that they do all in their power to induce the colonists to establish themselves on some of the most suitable places, with a certain number of inhabitants, in the manner of towns, villages and hamlets, as the English are in the habit of doing.' In pursuance of this advice, the settlers on Long Island, in 1646, petitioned the Colonial Council for permission to " found a town at their own expense," which was granted in June of that year by a commission from the Council, appointing Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertsen as Schepens or Magistrates, " to decide all questions which may arise as they shall deem proper," and charging " every inhabitant of Breuckelen to acknowledge and respect the above-mentioned Jan Evertsen and Huyck Aertsen as their Schepens, and if any one shall be found to exhibit contumaciousness toward them, he shall forfeit his share." In the following winter, Jan Teunissen was appointed Schout or Constable.

In 1660 some petitioners from Wallabout were permitted to settle at the " Keike," or Lookout, at the foot of South Fourth Street, there founding the nucleus of the Eastern District. Following closely on the occupation by the British, Long Island and Staten Island were constituted a shire, named Yorkshire, in honor of the Duke of York, the town of Brooklyn was established, a conformatory patent being granted, in 1667, by Governor Nichols, and the town laws were reformed to harmonize them with the constitution of English town laws, in place of those of the Dutch. Later in the century the name of Long Island was changed to the " Island of Nassau," but the name never went into general use, and though never explicitly repealed, became obsolete, except so far as it is reflected in some of the local names still remaining, as in the streets and commercial companies.

The inhabitants of Brooklyn submitted to the new-comers, and very generally took the oath of allegiance to Great Britain. The history of the town continued on the uneventful course of an agricultural community, sharing the common experience with hostile Indians, to be sure, and taking their turn at cheating, abusing, fighting and appeasing them; but in general, living that happy life which makes no figure in history. In 1669, Brooklyn was referred to as one of "two villages of little moment," and for many decades it continued to justify the designation. The first church (Dutch Reformed) was erected in 1654 at " Midwout," (Flatbush,) and services were held there and in New Amsterdam on successive Sundays, until 1700, when Brooklyn obtained a pastor of her own, and Dominie Selyns was installed

Brooklyn's part in the Revolutionary war was an important one, but cannot receive just attention here. Her citizens contributed of their means, services and men, to the defence of the common liberties, and the town became the scene of the important Battle of Brooklyn, which resulted in the occupation of Long Island by the British throughout the war. Although the inhabitants found the intruding military to be efficient guardians of the peace, and ready to amuse, and be amused, after the fashion of troops encamped in a town, the condition of the town after the war, from pillage and wanton destruction, was deplorable, and the tragedy of the wretched " Prison Ship " in Walla bout Bay, is commemorated to this day in the tomb of the 11,500 martyrs in the heart of the city.

Brooklyn was incorporated in 1816 by which time the scattered communities of the earlier day had grown toward each other and joined hands in the building up of a great and prosperous metropolis, which from that time began reaching forth and covering into its limits the outlying towns and villages, until the city of to-day, and its industries, residences, public buildings and varied interests, constitute one of the vastest and most valuable trusts ever placed in the safe-keeping of a Fire Department, such as it is the purpose of this work to chronicle and describe.

There is no mention in the very early records of any fires or the means for preventing or extinguishing them, though possibly we may infer that when, in 1661 Carel de Beauvois was appointed schoolmaster to the village, and there were added to his scholastic duties those of grave-digger, chorister, clerk, and bell-ringer, if it was necessary to call the villagers from their houses or from their fields for common defence against fire or against a living foe, it was his bell that summoned them; but the fires that may have occurred during the first century and a-half, and the individual and combined efforts to subdue them, are not chronicled. The first record of any organized move in this direction is of a meeting that was held on April 7, 1772, for the selection of six firemen, chosen for the protection of the village, in conformity with an act passed by the Legis lature, " for the more effectual extinguishment of fires near the Ferry, in the township of Breucklin, in Kings County, passed the 31st day of December, 1768." At this meeting the choice fell on Joseph Sharpe, John Crawley, Mathew Gleaves, Joseph Pryor, John Middagh, and William Boerum. The year 1785 saw the organization of the first fire company. A meeting of Freeholders and inhabitants was held at the house of Widow Margaret Moser, near the Ferry, an inn which was a common resort for meetings of various sorts for the residents. The members of the company commissioned for one year were Henry Stanton, captain; Abraham Stoothoof, John Doughty, Jr., Thomas Havens, J. Van Cott and Martin Woodward. For the purchase of an engine, it was voted to raise by tax the sum of £150 and one was ordered from Jacob Roome, of New York, who had just begun the manufacture of engines in America, all previous engines having been imported from England. This first engine was a very primitive sort of water-tank—a wooden box, eight feet long, three feet wide, and two and a-half feet deep, holding 180 gallons of water, which was poured into it from buckets, filled at wells and cisterns—there being at that time no provision for procuring water by suction. A condensing-case rose from the middle of the box, three feet high, and the arms were placed lengthwise of the engine, with handles at which four men could work the pump on each end—eight men in all. There was no hose, but a goose-neck elbow at the top of the condensing-case, to which was attached a six-foot pipe with a three-quarter inch opening at the nozzle. Through this pipe, slanted toward the fire, a stream could be thrown sixty feet. This cumbersome " tank " was drawn to fires on its wooden blockwheels by means of a single rope, without a reel, and was guided by a short tongue. This crude affair was christened " Washington, No. 1," and the company from which it took its name has continued under successive reorganizations to this day. The organization effected at the meeting referred to was completed by the adoption of rules and regulations governing the duties of the firemen, which also provided for a regular inspection and practice play on the first Saturday in each month.

The term of the firemen's service was fixed at one year, and they were chosen annually in town-meeting; and as the office was regarded as one of honor and respect in the community, there was an annual competition for the privilege of serving. On April 14, 1786, Henry Stanton was re-elected captain, and the following were chosen firemen: John Doughty, Jr., Abraham Stoothoof, Anthony Remsen, John Garrison, John Van Nostrand and James Leverich. A year later, the number of firemen having been increased from seven to nine, all the above except Stoothoof and Remsen were re-elected, and in addition Joseph Carwood, George Stanton, Thomas Havens and Thomas Bowrans Henry Stanton remaining captain. At this meeting also provision was made for the accumulation of a regular fund to meet the expenses of the company, each fireman being compelled to take out a license, for which he paid into the treasury the sum of four shillings. At this time, the firemen had little to attract them besides their interest in their work and the honor of being members of the Department. They had no special privileges, and no exemptions from any of the duties laid upon other citizens.

The efficiency of the organization during three years demonstrated its value; and the immunity of property from fire with this slight equipment, together with the example of New York's Fire Department, with its fifteen companies and legislative permission to enroll three hundred men, caused Brooklynites to regard the extension of their Fire Department as a necessity. As a beginning toward this end, a meeting of the inhabitants was held in 1788, and a petition was forwarded to the Legislature for a formally organized Department, with privileges similar to those granted to New York. The resulting act of the Legislature, passed March 15, 1788, fixed the fire limits for " the freeholders and inhabitants of the town of Brooklyn, in Kings County, residing near the ferry, within a line to begin at the East River, opposite to and to be drawn up the road that leads to the still-house, late the property of Philip Livingston, deceased, [the present Joralemon Street,] and including said still-house and the other buildings on the south side of the same road, to and across the road leading from Bedford to the ferry, {now Fulton Street,] south of the house of Matthew Gleans, and from there northwesterly, including all the houses on the east side of the road last-mentioned, and east of the powder magazine of Comfort and Joshua Sands, and from thence down the East River to the place of beginning." And the inhabitants of the district described were authorized to appoint annually at the town-meeting eight able and sober men residing in the limits aforesaid, to have the custody, care and management of the fire-engine or engines, and the other tools and instruments. These men were to be officially designated as the Firemen of Brooklyn," and were to be ready at all times, day and night, to manage, work and exercise the same fire-engine or engines, tools and instruments, and to be subject to such rules, orders and regulations as the freeholders and inhabitants of the town should impose. By way of remuneration, as well as in order to secure their service in case of fire, these firemen were exempted from serving as overseers of highways or as constables, from jury duty and inquests, and from ordinary militia duty. The enrolment of firemen in the town book and their certificates of appointment were to be sufficient evidence of their right to exemption. These exemptions rendered the position of fireman even more desirable than it had been before, while the dignity attaching to service in a Dcpartment duly organized under the laws of the State gave it additional eclat. Provision was made in the act for raising the funds necessary for the expenses of the Department now in the same manner and at the same time as the poor fund.





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