Saturday, August 14, 2010

Brooklyn Memories: A Glance backwards, 60 years Ago (1)

We have before us a volume entitled "A Topographical View of the Township of Brooklyn, in Kings County," bearing evidence of having been written towards the close of the last century. It is partly in manuscript and partly made up of printed extracts from the columns of a newspaper of a date antecedent to the writing. The newspapers from which the extracts are made we presume to be The Courier and New York and Long island Advertiser. It was the only paper then on the Island, and was published by Mr. Thomas Kirk, a quiet old gentleman of the old school, who long survived his generation, and lived until Brooklyn had grown to be one of the first cities in the Union.The "Topographical View" we suppose was published in the "Advertiser," and was afterwards enlarged and designed to be printed in book form, but this intention does not appear to have been carried out.

Kings County, in which the township of Brooklyn is situated, the writer says, has been called the garden of the State, and after describing its boundaries he says that it abounds with all the conveniences and many of the luxuries of life. " Commodious public house, elevated and enchanting prospects, rich and fertile fields, lowing herds, &c., render, it perhaps, more pleasant than any other situation in the State." This reads very well, but in the next sentence he claims credit for things not quite compatible with convenient public house, rich and fertile, fields or lowing herds either. "Few (places) he says can boast that its inhabitants by crossing to New York, may enjoy the busy hum of laboring art, and in an hour after, retirement to almost impenetrable solitude. The county, he goes on to say "was first legally separated from other counties in the year 1691, and contained the several towns of Boshwick, Bedford, Breucklin, Flatlands, Flatbush, New Utrecht and Gravesend, with the settlements and plantations adjacent. After the Revolution an act of the Legislature was passed which prescribes that "The County of Kings", (the name seems to have been transposed from Kings County as before written, in accordance with changed relation of the country to the old gentlemen who filled the position from which the county was named. "The County of Kings contains all that part of this State bounded easterly by Queens County, northerly by the County of New York, westerly partly by the Hudson River and partly by the ocean, and southerly by the Atlantic ocean, including Coney Island. By an act of the same date, this County is divided into six townships, viz: Flatbush, Brooklyn, Bushwic, Flatlands, or Amesford, Gravesend and New Utrecht." The County, he goes on to say, contains four thousand four hundred and ninety-five inhabitants, and of this number, six hundred and twenty-one are electors. From which it appears the population has increased over sixty fold in sixty years. The small number of electors in proportion to the population is also noticeable; but it will be remembered that a property qualification was required to qualify a voter, and suffrage was not made universal for over a score years afterwards. "Of these," our author continues, "nine hundred and three are free white males of sixteen and upward, seven hundred white males under that age, fourteen hundred free white females, fourteen hundred and thirty-two slaves, and forty-six free persons not enumerated." In Kings Co. sixty years ago the slaves numbered nearly as many as they do now in the State of Delaware, and formed about one-third the entire population of the County. And there was no blight, or curse or mildew upon the land either, for the historian goes on to say that "the inhabitants are chiefly of Dutch extraction, some are attached to their old prejudices, but within a few years past, liberality and taste for the fine arts have made considerable progress." He does not go into any great fuss about the matter either, though he was "breathing the air of the revolution," and doubtless often braved the dangers of the East River to see its master spirit as he went in and our of his residence on the Bowling Green. "The slaves," he says, "are treated well," but he adds calmly enough, "the opinion relative to their freedom is too much influenced by pecuniary motives," of the masters, we suppose. "It would certainly, "he concludes, "redound to the honor of humanity could their freedom be effected here."

The township of Brooklyn was organized by an act passed by the Legislature in 1788, and by the State Census taken two years after, it was found that Brooklyn contained a population of sixteen hundred and three persons, so that the population of the township has increased in sixty years nearly two hundred fold a thing unparalleled, we think, in the history of any city. Of this 1603, three hundred and two were free white males, five hundred and sixty-five free white females, four hundred and sixty-five free white females, four hundred and five slaves, more than one fourth the entire population, and fourteen others (free colored persons, we suppose.) Of the whole number 224 were freeholders and entitled to vote. "In many places," the writer says, "the land of the township is even and very fertile; in other places the "reverse, though generally inkling to the former. The borders of the township are enliven with many delightful country seats, are very commodious for shipping, and vessels of 500 tons may lay almost at any of the wharves." This is a very gratifying statement, though not expressed in a manner that would meet with the approbation of Lindley Murray.

To be continued: Brooklyn Memories-A Glance Backwards, Sixty Years Ago (2)

Source of Information: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 5/4/1860

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