The History of the town of Flatbush, in Kings County, Long Island

The History of the town of Flatbush, in Kings County, Long Island by Thomas M. Strong, D. D., Pastor of the reformed Dutch Church of Flatbush.
This History was prepared as a part of a course of Lectures by the "Flatbush Literary association," during the winter of 1841-2.


THIS History was prepared as a part of a course of Lectures by the "FLATBUSH LITERARY ASSOCIATION," during the winter of 1841-2. In yielding to the request which has been made to him from several sources to have it published, the author would remark, that he has made some additions and corrections in it since it was delivered. His object has been to make it as copious and authentic as practicable. He has aimed more at fulness and accuracy of detail than at ornament or display of composition. The great difficulty in accomplishing a work of this nature, arises from the fact, that the early history of the town is wrapped up in manuscripts written in the Dutch language, and many of them too in a very small and cramped character. These but few can decipher and translate. The author has happily been favored with the assistance of two gentlemen of Flatbush, who have aided him very materially in this particular. Several papers of importance relating to the civil and ecclesiastical history of the Town, have been translated by them for the purpose of furthering this work. To these gentlemen, John C. Vanderveer and Jeremiah Lott, Esq's., the author would return his grateful acknowledgments. The latter gentleman, in addition to several translations and other documents, has also kindly furnished the draft of the map which accompanies the volume. Assistance has also been derived from "Smith's History of New-York," "Thompson's History of Long-Island," and "Furman's Notes, &c., of the Town of Brooklyn." Besides these sources of information, General Jeremiah Johnson, of Brooklyn, and several elderly persons living in the village of Flatbush, have been consulted. From these individuals important facts relative to the scenes which took place during the revolutionary war and the times immediately preceding and following that great event, have been obtained. The plan of the work now presented to the public, embraces five divisions: The Civil--the Ecclesiastical--the Literary History of the Town--the incidents which transpired therein during the war, which resulted in our American Independence, and a description of some of the changes or improvements which have been introduced in more modern times. The author is conscious that in regard to the earlier history of Flatbush, there is much that is defective--arising from the want of sufficient sources of information. These will not probably be fully supplied until the return and publication of the report of Romeyn Brodhead, Esq., who is now in Holland as a Commissioner from the State of New-York, to collect information relative to the settlement and early History of this State. He has already obtained possession of a great amount of valuable facts, which will throw much light upon both the early civil and ecclesiastical affairs, not only of the Dynasty of New-Netherlands generally--but particularly of the west end of Long-Island. When this work shall appear, it will supply all that is defective in the present volume, as far as relates to the early history of the town. In the mean time, trusting to the candor and generosity of the public to receive with favor, an attempt to regain and preserve the facts connected with the history of one of the oldest towns in the state, consent has been given to the publication of this work.

FLATBUSH, L. I., APRIL 4, 1842.


    LONG-ISLAND was discovered in the year 1609, by Henry Hudson. He was an Englishman by birth, but was engaged by the East India Company of Holland to discover a passage to the East Indies in a westerly direction from Europe. He had been employed in the same service by the English, and had failed in his enterprise, and been dismissed from their employ. Upon which he was engaged by the Dutch, and fitted out with a vessel called the Half Moon. After coasting in his third voyage as far south as Virginia, he turned to the north again and saw for the first time the highlands of Neversink. On the 3d of September 1609, he entered the great bay between Sandy Hook, Staten-Island and Amboy. He observed among other things, that the waters swarmed with fish and some of very large size. On the 4th, he sent his men on shore, and relates that he found the soil of white sand and a vast number of plum trees loaded with fruit, and many of them covered with grape vines of different kinds. The natives are represented in general as manifesting all friendship, when Hudson first landed among them. But on one occasion shortly after his arrival, their bad feelings were from some cause not stated, excited. Hudson sent out a boat under command of one Colman to catch fish, and the Indians attacked the men. One of the arrows which they discharged, headed with a sharp flint stone, struck Colman in the throat and mortally wounded him. The sailors not being able to defend themselves, hastened back to the ship, carrying poor Colman dying with them. His body was taken on shore after his death and buried on the island which is now called Coney Island--a corruption of the original name Colman, which was given it by Hudson and his company, in commemoration of him who was buried there, and who was the commander of the boat which bore the first Europeans through the passage so familiarly known to us all as the Narrows. De Laet, a Dutch historian, says, that at this time the natives were clothed in the skins of elks, foxes and other animals. Their canoes were made of the bodies of trees; their arms, bows and arrows with sharp points of stone fixed to them. They had no houses, he says, but slept under the blue heavens: some on mats made of brush or bulrushes, and some upon leaves of trees. Hudson passed up the river which still bears his name, and left it to others to discover that the land on which he had touched, was an island. This was done by Adrian Block, in 1614. He sailed from New-Amsterdam, now New-York, through the sound to Cape Cod, and visited the intermediate coasts and islands. He appears to have been the first who ascertained that Long-Island was separate from the main land. Long-Island at this time, bore the name of Mattouwake, or Meitowak and Sewanhackey--the last of which, means the isle or land of shells, and was no doubt given to it in consequence of large quantities of seewant or shell money, being manufactured here.

The objects of the Dutch being at first chiefly of a mercantile character, but few settlements were made in the country by them. The first was established on an island near the present site of Albany, in the year 1614, where they built a fort, which in honor of their sovereign, they called Fort Orange. It was not however, till the year 1624, that any settlement was made on Manhattan Island. In that year Fort Amsterdam was built and the foundation laid for the city of New-Amsterdam, now New-York. The resources of the country and the prospect of a very lucrative trade with the natives in fur being made known in Holland, soon induced many to emigrate to this new country. The object of the first settlers evidently was trade. But as it soon became known that lands equal in fertility to those of Holland were to be found here, and advantages of no ordinary character were offered to the agriculturist, many families were induced to leave their father land and settle in this country. The first settlement on the west end of Long-Island, appears to have been made as early as 1625, in which year, according to a family record in the hands of General Johnson of Brooklyn, the first child of George Jansen De Rapalje, was born at the Wallaboght--and it is the tradition among the Dutch, that this was the first white child that was born on the island. It is however not probable, that many emigrants had yet arrived from Holland with the object of cultivating the soil, as the earliest deed for land in the town of Brooklyn, is a grant to Abraham Rycken, in 1638, and the earliest deed on record, is a grant to Thomas Besker, in the year 1639; and the earliest grant for lands in Kings County that has been discovered, was in 1636. The first purchase from the Indians on Long-Island that has been discovered, was in the year 1635; and the earliest deed for land to individuals, was from these Indians to Jacobus Van Corlear, for the tract subsequently called Corlear's Flats. The description of this tract in the deed, is as follows:--"The middlemost of the three flats to them belonging, called Castoleeuw, on the island by them called Sewanhackey, between the bay of the North-river and East-river of the New-Netherlands, extending in length from a certain kill coming up from the sea, mostly northerly till into the woods, and a breadth of a certain valeye eastward also to the woods." About the same time, a deed was given by the same Indians, to Andries Hedden and Wolphert Garritsen, for what is called the Little Flats; and another to Wouter Van Twiller the Director, for what has since been denominated Twiller's Flats. The deed is dated June 6th, 1636. These three latter tracts lie partly in Flatbush and partly in Flatlands. It is not improbable, however, that considerable settlements were made before any formal grants or Patents of lands were obtained. It was soon ascertained that the lands in and about Flatlands, were level and free from woods. This was a strong inducement to settlers who came from the level country of Holland, and who had no domestic animals for the plough, to occupy this part of the island. It is believed that as early as the year 1630, a settlement was effected in that town, which was then called New-Amersfort, after Amersfort, a town in the province of Utrecht, in Holland, from which probably some, if not most of the earlier settlers came. It also received the name of De Baije, or the Bay. In 1634, this town appears to have contained quite a number of inhabitants.

But about this time, the Dutchmen found that the plain clear land was not so strong and productive as that which bore heavy timber; this induced many of them to seek a settlement somewhat farther to the north--and from the best account it would appear that about the year 1634, the settlement of Flatbush commenced. It then comprised a tract of woodland bounded on the north by the Hills, on the south by Flatlands, and extending east and west in one continual forest. This tract was evidently purchased by the governor of the colony, or by the first settlers, from the native Indian proprietors, but the amount of consideration paid cannot now be ascertained. At the time of the purchase, it was heavily covered with timber, (consisting principally of hickory and white and black oak,) with the exception of two small parcels which were clear and destitute of trees, lying to the east of the town, then called by the names of Corlaer's and Twiller's Flats, and another on the south of the town adjoining Flatlands, called the Little Flats. The land thus described, from its being principally covered with timber, and from its peculiar location, having the hills on the north and Flatlands on the south, was appropriately called by the first settlers, by the name of Midwout, or Middlewoods.

The first settlements in the town were made along an Indian path leading from the Hills to New-Amersfort, which is now the present highway or street through the village of Flatbush. All subsequent settlements were principally confined to the same path, and will readily account for the crooked direction of the present road. The first settlers were intent upon making agriculture their principal means of subsistence. In order therefore to concentrate their dwellings as much as possible, so as to protect their families from Indian intrusions or other depredations, and to form a village of farmers, they determined to lay out their farms in narrow oblongs fronting on both sides of the path above mentioned. The farms were accordingly laid out into forty-eight lots or tracts of land, extending six hundred Dutch rods on each side of the Indian path, and having severally an average width of about twenty-seven rods. The lots or farms on the east side of the path, were all laid out in a direction running east and west: while those on the west side thereof, had a south-westerly inclination so as to correspond with the direction of the Hills adjoining the north-westerly side of the town. An allotment was then made between the several proprietors of mostly two lots or more a piece, and for the support of the gospel among them according to their own religious faith, the most central and eligible lots were reserved and set apart for their church. The distribution among the proprietors, was probably made by lot, which appears to have been the almost invariable practice of the Dutch in dividing the lands which they patented. A considerable portion of wood-lands lying on the west, north and east sides of the towns, together with Corlaer's and Twiller's Flats, were left in common and remained for years undivided.

There can be no doubt that the existing governor in order to secure the inhabitants of Midwout in the quiet possession of their purchase from the native Indian proprietors, confirmed the same to them by his Ground Brief or Letters Patent. But when this was granted cannot now be ascertained with entire certainty. In the year 1684, twenty years after the surrender of the Colony to the English, an order was issued by the Governor and Council, commanding all the inhabitants of the Dutch towns in the provinces of New-York and New-Jersey to bring their Dutch Patents and Indian Deeds into the Secretary's Office in New-York. This order was no doubt complied with by this as well as the other Dutch towns on Long-Island, and thus the original patent with those of the other towns, except Gravesend, which being settled chiefly by English emigrants, was favored by the Governor,) was destroyed or sent to England. The object of this arrangement was to cause the towns to take out new Patents, and thus not only acknowledge the English government, but increase the revenue of the English Governor. It is probable however, that the first patent obtained from the Dutch Governor was only for that part of Flatbush which goes under the name of the old town, which was granted about the year 1651 or 1652. The original proprietors according to H. C. Murphy, Esq., of Brooklyn, were Jan Snedecor Arent Van Hatten, one of the Burgomasters of New-Amsterdam, Johannes Megapolensis, one of the ministers of the same city, and others. On the 20th day of June, in the year 1656, a Ground Brief or Patent was granted by Governor Stuyvesant to the "indwellers and inhabitants of Midwout," for the Canarsee Meadows, which are therein described as "a parcel of meadow ground, or valley, lying on the east north-east of the Canarsee Indian planting lands." This is the only original Dutch Patent of any part of the town which has been discovered.

These meadow lands lying at Canarsee, appear to have been divided and an allotment made of them among the proprietors about the time of obtaining this Patent, or very shortly after, as in some of the Ground Briefs to individuals mention is made of certain portions of these meadow lands as appertaining to the farm, and they are designated by particular numbers.

Subsequently to the allotments made by, and between the inhabitants of Midwout, of the several parcels of land to them respectively allotted, many were desirous to have written titles to their lands; and for this purpose applied to, and obtained from Governor Stuyvesant, Letters Patent to secure them in their possession. These Patents to individuals bear different dates, and some as late as within a year or two previous to the surrender of the country to the English. Some of them were recorded in the town books, even several years after the surrender.

Flatbush appears to have increased in the number of its inhabitants very rapidly after its first settlement; for as early as the year 1658, it was the seat of Justice for the County, and a market town. At that time the public officers of the county, the Minister, Sheriff, Secretary or Clerk, as well as a public School-Master resided in it. The courts were held here, and the general business of this section of Long Island was transacted here. Four years previous to this, viz: in the year 1654, the order of the Governor was issued for building the first church. But this we shall more particularly allude to when we come to speak of the ecclesiastical history of the town.

Governor Stuyvesant the last of the Dutch Governors, was unquestionably a brave and an honest man. But various causes of discontent arose previous to, and during his administration, which called for the remonstrance of the people. The laws were imperfect, and many of them not at all adapted to the times. The voice of the people was not had in the choice of magistrates, nor in the enactment of the statutes, by which they were to be governed. Causes of Justice were too frequently decided from mere wantonness and caprice, and the Governor and Council appeared indisposed to remedy many existing evils in the administration of civil and criminal jurisprudence. The sense of public insecurity in time, produced a spirit of general discontent, and the people with great unanimity resolved to state their grievances to the Governor, and respectfully demand redress. Accordingly the Burgomasters of New Amsterdam, called upon the several Dutch Towns to send delegates to a convention to be held in that city on the 26th. of November, 1653. At this convention delegates appeared from Flatbush as well as from the other towns. The convention adjourned to the 11th. of December following, when after mutual consultation, and discussion of various matters, they adopted a remonstrance, which in an able but respectful manner set forth their grievances. This ancient document is interesting as showing that at that early day the people had intelligence enough to understand their rights and know the legitimate objects of civil government. The remonstrance was signed by all the members of the convention. The delegates from Flatbush whose names are attached to it were "Elbert Elbertson, and Thomas Spicer." The Governor and Council gave no formal answer to the remonstrance of the deputies, but entered one on their minutes, in which they denied the right of Flatbush and of Brooklyn and Flatlands to send delegates, and protested against the meeting, although it had been called at the request of the Governor himself. Entertaining a just sense of the responsibility attached to them, the deputies made another but ineffectual attempt to obtain a recognition of their rights. On the 13th of December 1653, they presented another remonstrance, in which they declared, that if they could not obtain a redress of their grievances from the Governor and Council, they would be under the necessity of appealing to their superiors, the States General. This so irritated Governor Stuyvesant that he ordered them "to disperse, and not to assemble again upon such a business."

In 1654, it appears that the country was much infested with robbers. The inhabitants of this and the neighboring towns were much annoyed by their depredations. To guard themselves against these, the magistrates of Midwout united with those of Brooklyn and Amersfort in forming a military volunteer company against "robbers and pirates," as they expressed themselves. This company was formed on the 7th, of April, 1654, and determined that there should be a military officer in each town, called a Sergeant, as well as a public patrole in each village. On the day following the organization of the company, the Governor issued his proclamation against certain robbers, whom he states "had been banished from New-England, and were wandering about on Long-Island."

In 1655, a large body of Northern Indians, made a descent on Staten Island, and massacreed sixty-seven persons; after which, they crossed to Long-Island and invested Gravesend, which was relieved by a party of soldiers from New-Amsterdam. To guard against similar attacks, as well as to defend themselves from the encroachments of their neighboring Indians, the inhabitants of Flatbush were ordered by Governor Stuyvesant in 1656, to enclose their village with palisadoes. These fortifications were required to be kept up under the English government, as will appear by the following record of the court of Sessions for the West Riding of Yorkshire, upon Long Island, December 15th, 1675. "The Town of Flatbush having neglected the making of ffortifications, the court take notis of it, and reffer the censure to ye Governor." It is further ascertained from traditionary information, that the first church was fenced in with strong pallisadoes, and that the early settlers went out in the day time to cultivate their farms, and returned in the evening and lodged within the enclosure during the night time for their safety and mutual protection; and that this practice continued until there was a sufficient number of substantial dwellings erected, so as to render the precaution unnecessary.

In the original Dutch Patent of the town, there was some reserve of quit rent to be paid to the Governor. But as the Patent cannot be found, the amount, or the kind of this quit rent cannot be ascertained. But on the 6th of June, 1656, Governor Stuyvesant issued a peremptory order, prohibiting the inhabitants of Flatbush, as well as those of Brooklyn and Flatlands, from removing their crops of grain from the fields until the tythes reserved by their Patents had either been taken or commuted for.

It is not distinctly known to what branches of agriculture our early Dutch ancestors devoted themselves. But as for a considerable time they had to cultivate the ground without the aid of animals, and chiefly by the hoe and spade, it is probable that they turned their attention to that which would yield the most profit from the smallest piece of ground. There is reason to believe that in common with some other places, on the west end of Long-Island, tobacco was raised in considerable quantities in this town during its early settlement. For in addition to that consumed in the Colony, shipments of this article were made from New-Amsterdam to Holland. As early as 1643, a grant for a tobacco plantation at the Wallabought was made. Tobacco became too, at an early day a standard of value for lands and other property: And in 1638, an Act was passed, commonly called the Tobacco Statute, in which, mention is made of the high estimation in which the tobacco shipped from New-Netherlands was held in the European market, and various regulations are prescribed relative to the manner in which it shall be cultivated, inspected, and sold. We have no doubt that the inhabitants of Midwout early engaged in the production of this article. (See Thompson's History of Long-Island for the Tobacco Statute, page 177.) Great attention too was paid to the raising of Barley. Vast quantities of malt liquors were made in New-Amsterdam, and of consequence, a ready market was there found for this article. It became in some subsequent years almost the staple of this part of Long-Island; so much so, that 20,000 bushels of Barley were annually sold from Flatbush alone.

Van der Donk, in his History of New-Netherlands, which was published in 1655, also states that much attention was paid by the Dutch agriculturalists to the cultivation of the best vegetables and fruits of various kinds; and a great variety of beautiful flowers.

Nothing of very special interest occurred in Flatbush, from the date which we have last mentioned, until the period of the surrender of the country to the English, which took place in the year 1664. The number of the inhabitants in the town, appears to have increased quite rapidly up to this time, when it is supposed it contained a larger population than at the conclusion of the revolutionary war, in 1783.

We will be pardoned for digressing here for a few moments, for the purpose of narrating the manner, and some of the terms and conditions, on which the surrender of the country was made to the English authorities. King Charles, by Letters Patent, granted to his brother, James, the Duke of York, his heirs and assigns, Long-Island, all Hudsons' River, and all lands from the west side of Connecticut River to the east side of Delaware Bay, together with all royalties and right of government. This embraced all the countries then governed by the Dutch. Soon after the grant of this Patent, King Charles despatched a small force, for the purpose of subduing the country. The Dutch inhabitants were apprized of the designs of the English, by the vigilance of Governor Stuyvesant, who had received information, that an expedition was preparing against them, consisting of three vessels, of forty or fifty guns each, having on board about three hundred soldiers, and laying at Plymouth in England, waiting for a fair wind. The Dutch authorities were called together, by their Governor, and they ordered the fort to be put in the best state of defence. As soon as the vessels arrived in the outer harbor of New-York, which was in August, 1664, Governor Stuyvesant sent a polite note to the English commander, dated, August 19th, 1664, desiring the reason of their approach and continuance in the harbor without giving the Dutch notice. This letter was sent by John Declyer, one of the chief council, the Rev. John Megapolensis, minister, Paul Lunden Vander Grilft and Mr. Samuel Megapolensis, doctor of physic. On the next day, Col. Richard Nicolls, who was the commander of the expedition, and was clothed with the powers of Governor, sent an answer, and demanded a surrender of the country. In this document he informed Governor Stuyvesant, that he had been sent out by the King of England, for the maintainance of his unquestionable rights, and that he had been commanded to demand the surrender of the country, and in his name he now required such surrender. He however assured him, that every Dutch inhabitant who should readily submit to the King of England, should be secured in his estate, life and liberty. He despatched the summons by four persons, through whom he expected to receive an answer. These persons were George Cartwright, one of his Majesty's commissioners in America, Captain Robert Needham, Captain Edward Groves and Mr. Thomas Delavall.

Governor Stuyvesant promised an answer the next morning, and in the mean time convened the council and Burgomasters. He was, unquestionably a brave soldier, and had lost a leg in the service of his country, and was desirous to defend the place by all the means in his power. He therefore refused both to the inhabitants and the Burgomasters a sight of the summons, lest the easy terms proposed might induce them to capitulate. The inhabitants were called together at the Staatds House, and informed of the Governor's refusal. On the 2d day of September, 1664, the Burgomasters came in council, and demanded to see the summons, which the Governor then in a fit of anger tore to pieces. But notwithstanding the yielding disposition of the inhabitants to the British commissioners, which arose, no doubt, from a growing discontent with the Dutch government, which had existed for several years in the country, Governor Stuyvesant resolved upon a vigorous resistance, and sent to the English commander a long letter, vindicating the justice of the Dutch claims to the territory which they occupied.

While the Governor and council were contending with the Burgomasters and people, in the city of New-Amsterdam, the English commissioners published a proclamation in the country, encouraging the inhabitants to submit, and promising them all the privileges of British subjects. Many, on discovering from Governor Stuyvesant's letter, which was then likewise published, that he was averse to the surrender, being fearful of the impending storm, resolved to join the strongest party, and began to beat up for volunteers, particularly on Long-Island. The Governor being thus invaded by a foreign foe, and threatened to be deserted by those on whose friendship he had depended, perceiving that resistance would only occasion a wanton effusion of blood, agreed to appoint six distinguished citizens on his part, who, in conjunction with an equal number of British commissioners should conclude a treaty for the surrender of the country.

The commissioners on the part of the Dutch were

               John D. Deckar,
               Nicholas Verleet,
               Samuel Megapolensis,
               Oleffe Stevens Van Kortlandt,
               James Cousseau,
               Cornelius Steenwick,
On the part of the English, they were

               Robert Carr,
               George Carteret,
               John Winthrop,
               Samuel Willys,
               Thomas Clarke,
               John Pinchen.
This treaty was agreed upon. It consisted of twentythree articles, of which it is sufficient to give the outlines of some of the most prominent. The Staats General, or the Dutch West India Company were to enjoy all farms and houses except those in the forts, and had liberty within six months to transport all arms and ammunition which belonged to them. The people might remain free denizens, and occupy or dispose of their lands, houses and goods, as they pleased. They were to enjoy free liberty of conscience, and retain their own customs respecting their inheritances. No judgment which had passed any of the courts of judicature could be called in question, and all previous differences respecting contracts, were to be determined according to the manner of the Dutch. No Dutchman nor Dutch ships could be pressed to serve in war against any nation whatever, and no soldiers quartered on the inhabitants. Inferior civil officers might continue to fill their stations till the customary time of a new election, and the inhabitants were entitled to choose deputies, who should have free voices in all public affairs. The soldiers were to march out with the honors of war, and each of them who chose to remain in the country was entitled to fifty acres of land. The Articles were approved by Colonel Richard Nicolls, on the 7th, of September, and on the 9th, of September, 1664, by Governor Stuyvesant.

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