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The History of Staten Island

In 1611 Henry Hudson was not very popular with his crew aboard the Discovery—in fact, his crew mutinied and set Henry adrift in a small boat, never to be heard from again. Just two years earlier, though, he and his shipmates aboard the Half Moon famously discovered Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, too. Hudson named the island in honor of the Dutch parliament, the Staten-Generaal. He spelled it Staaten Eylandt, and thus begins our history of Staten Island. 

Early History of Staten Island

The Lenape Nation of Native Americans did not think too much about ol’ Hank—their history of Staten Island began with their habitation some 600 years earlier. Four years after Henry passed through, the Dutch established fur trading posts on the island, doing a brisk business with the Hackensack and Raritan tribes. By 1661, Governor Peter Stuyvesant gave the okay to permanent Dutch and French settlements at Oude Dorp (what is now South Beach). 

On November 1, 1683, the Duke of Richmond is memorialized by having Staten Island named Richmond County. He is the reason the popular tourist destination, Historic Richmond Town, bears the name. 

Revolutionary War Era

The few thousand citizens of the island saw the war at their doorsteps, as British forces moved onto and held the island for most of the conflict. General Howe used Staten Island as a staging area for his invasion of New York City in 1776, with the largest armada ever seen up to that time (140 ships!) anchored in New York Harbor. With the British firmly entrenched, the island lost most of its trees to their need for firewood, wagons and wheels. 

Civil War

New York State abolished slavery in 1827, a moment celebrated in the history of Staten Island with July 4 festivities and speeches by abolitionists. Staten Islanders served in the Union Army and are remembered with a memorial in Bethel Cemetery in Tottenville, at the southern end of the island. 

City Life

New York City consolidated Richmond County as one of the five new boroughs in 1898. With this consolidation came the need for connection. From 1817 to 1905, the genteel history of Staten Island was marred by increasingly aggressive ferry boat operators. This led to the city's takeover of the service, which operates the Staten Island Ferry for some 70,000 daily passengers to this day, for free. 

Linking Staten Island to the mainland is the Outerbridge Crossing (1928), the Goethals Bridge (also 1928) and Bayonne Bridge (1931) to New Jersey. Tying Brooklyn to Staten Island is the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (1964). 

World War II and Postwar Years

Staten Island did its patriotic duty with shipyards, ammunition plants and able wartime workers, even hosting Winston Churchill in 1943. After the war, the island shared the nation’s prosperity, enjoying New York City’s first drive-in theatre in 1948, and the opening of Staten Island Community College in 1956. A lesser landmark was the opening of what would become the world’s largest landfill, Fresh Kills, in 1948 (it closed in 2001). 

The Last 50 Years

In 1973, the Staten Island Mall opened. Staten Islanders packed the shores for the Parade of Tall Ships in July, 1976. Base closure struck Naval Station New York in 1994, with the property converting to a mixed-use waterfront development, New Stapleton Waterfront. In 1999, the Single-A baseball team, Staten Island Yankees, began playing professional baseball. They currently play at Richmond County Bank Ballpark.  

In the 21st century, Staten Island has seen its first mosque (2011) and the devastation of Hurricane Sandy (2012). Resilient, stoic, the island stands waiting for the curious tourist to discover. 

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