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Wallabout Bay

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Title: Wallabout Bay  
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Subject: Brooklyn, Brooklyn Navy Yard, HMS Jersey (1736), Prisoners of war in the American Revolutionary War, New York
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Wallabout Bay

Looking across the bay from Williamsburg Bridge
Historic row houses on Vanderbilt Avenue in the nearby neighborhood.

Wallabout Bay is small body of water in Upper New York Bay along the northwest shore of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, between the present Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges, opposite Corlear's Hook on Manhattan to the west, across the East River. Wallabout Bay now abuts the site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The nearby neighborhood of Wallabout, dating back to the 17th century, is adjacent to the bay. The neighborhood is a mixed use area with an array of old wood frame buildings, public housing, brick townhouses, and warehouses; it is bounded by Navy Street to the west, the Brooklyn Navy Yard to the north, Myrtle Avenue to the south, and Classon Avenue to the east, and contains the historic Lefferts-Laidlaw House, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.[1]

The name comes from the Dutch "Waal bocht", which means "Walloons' bay", named for immigrants who left what is now Belgium.


The Wallabout became the first spot on Long Island settled by Europeans when several families of French-speaking Walloons opted to purchase land there in the early 1630s, having arrived in New Netherland in the previous decade from Holland. Settlement of the area began in the mid-1630s when Joris Jansen Rapelje exchanged trade goods with the Canarsee Indians for some 335 acres (1.36 km2) of land at Wallabout Bay, but Rapelje, like other early Wallabout settlers, waited at least a decade before relocating full-time to the area, until conflicts with the tribes had been resolved.[2]

Most historical accounts put Rapelje's house as the first house built at Wallabout Bay. His daughter Sarah was the first child born of European parentage in New Netherland, and Rapelje later served as a Brooklyn magistrate as well as a member of the Council of Twelve Men.[3] Rapelje's son-in-law Hans Hansen Bergen owned a large tract adjoining Rapelje's.[4] Nearby were tobacco plantations belonging to Jan and Peter Montfort, Peter Caesar Alberto, and other farmers.

1766 map

Starting in 1637, the Wallabout served as the landing site of the first ferry across the East River from lower Manhattan. Cornelis Dircksen, the lone ferryman, farmed plots on both sides—near to where the Brooklyn Bridge now spans—to best employ his time on either bank of the river.

A feudal system of land tenure was suspended in 1638, and the small settlement became a colony of freeholders: after a ten-year period of paying the Dutch East India Company a tenth of their yield, colonists would own their farmland. ("Bruijk" means "to use" and "leen" means "loan" in Dutch.) The humble "Bruykleen Colonie" expanded out from the Wallabout to become the city of Brooklyn.

Wallabout Bay was the site of one of the earliest murder trials in Brooklyn's history. On June 5, 1665, Barent Jansen Blom, an immigrant from Sweden and progenitor of the Blom/Bloom family of Brooklyn and the lower Hudson Valley, was stabbed to death by Albert Cornelis Wantenaer, allegedly in self-defense. Wantenaer was tried for murder in the Court of Assize on October 2, 1665. He was convicted of a lesser charge of manslaughter, suffering the punishment of loss of his property and a year’s imprisonment.[5]

The area was the site where the infamous British prison ships moored during the American Revolutionary War (most infamous of which was the HMS Jersey), from about 1776-1783. Over 10,000 soldiers and sailors died due to deliberate neglect on these rotting hulks, more American deaths than from every battle of the war combined. Though their corpses were buried on the eroding shore in shallow graves, or often simply thrown overboard, local women collected remains when they became exposed or washed onshore and many more were discovered with the development of the area and expansion of piers. The nearby Prison Ship Martyrs' Monument in Fort Greene Park houses remains of the prisoners and overlooks the site of their torment and death.

The bay eventually became the site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Parts of the bay were filled in to expand the yard. In the late 19th century, fill created a small island, as depicted in the Taylor Map of New York, and later fill joined it to the mainland.

Gabriel Furman, in his Notes Geographical and Historical, relating to the Town of Brooklyn, in Kings County on Long-Island (1824),[6] traces the name from the Dutch "Waal bocht" or "bay (or bight) of the Walloons", referring to the original French-speaking settlers of the local area. Another theory ascribes it to the River Waal, an arm of the Rhine, an important inland waterway in the Netherlands, long referred to as "inner harbor" which would speak to the geographic position of the bay.[7]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places.  
  2. ^ A History of the City of Brooklyn, Stephen M. Ostrander, Alexander Black, The Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1894
  3. ^ 14 Generations: New Yorkers Since 1624, the Rapaljes Are On a Mission to Keep Their History Alive, Steve Wick, Newsday
  4. ^ A History of the City of Brooklyn, Stephen M. Ostrander, Alexander Black, The Brooklyn Eagle, Brooklyn, N.Y., 1894
  5. ^ Scandinavian Immigrants in New York, 1630-1645 Part III, Swedish Immigrants in New York, 1630-1634 by John O. Evjen, Ph.D. Published 1916, Minneapolis reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. Baltimore, 1972, reprinted for Clearfield Co., Inc. Baltimore, 1996.pp. 321-322. Accessed May 6, 2014
  6. ^
  7. ^ Veersteeg, Dingman; Michaëlius, Jonas (1904), Manhattan in 1628 as Described in the Recently Discovered Autograph Letter of Jonas Michaëlius, Written from the Settlement on the 8th of August of that Year and Now First Published: With a Review of the Letter and an Historical Sketch of New Netherland to 1628, Dodd Mead, p. 176 

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