Staten Island, New Jersey. Map

Staten Island, New Jersey: Was It Ever, and Could It Ever Be Again?

Did you ever notice on a map of the NYC region, the Hudson River is the delineation between New York and New Jersey, with the sole exception of Staten Island? Logically, the border between the states should have continued in a straight line down through the Verrazzano Narrows, and not the Kill Van Kull, as it does.

According to Wikipedia’s Staten Island entry, “Although Staten Island is officially an administrative borough of New York City and its coterminous Richmond County is an administrative county of New York State, Staten Island is topographically and geologically a part of New Jersey.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staten_Island)

How might life have been different if Staten Island had been part of New Jersey, instead of New York? For one, Staten Island is actually centrally located…in New Jersey. Surrounded on three sides by New Jersey, we islanders are sandwiched between Jersey land on three sides. With easy access to the Bergen Peninsula, Northern New Jersey, Central New Jersey, and the Jersey Shore, Staten Island might have become NJ’s mecca for trade and culture, as Manhattan had for New York and the nation. Further, Staten Island’s rocky backbone of diabase and serpentine also means that skyscrapers could have been built here. Rather than being the Forgotten Borough, Staten Island might have instead been known as New Jersey’s Key City.

Staten Island has served as New York City’s hinterlands, receiving NYC’s trash for decades, and served as part of the grand plan for New York City development, including Robert Moses’ re-imagining of the entire city and long Island in terms of cars, highways, and driving . (See Article Here)

Would Staten Island look anything like it does today had it instead been New Jersey’s ultra-prime real estate, akin to a Jerseyans version of Manhattan, albeit far larger? In fact, at almost 59 square miles, Staten Island is nearly three times more spacious than Manhattan, only about 23 square miles. With our rolling hills and scenic overlooks, it’s almost certain that SI might have become a sprawling city with grand vistas that might have rivaled even San Fransisco.

In fact, the states of New Jersey and New York both wanted to claim Staten Island as their own, and the debate spans back as far as colonial days. It’s well-known that in the 1670s, the spat was settled by the Duke of York, who headed the Dutch colony subsequent to the 1664 conquest of the British, who had previously ruled New York.

According to Island lore, the Duke proposed a solution to the question of determining which state will control Staten Island. According to his plan, any “small” island in New York Harbor that a boat could circumnavigate, or sail around, in less than a day, would be part of New Jersey. If you were to visit the Billop House, a stone structure built before 1680 by Captain Billopp and kept in his family for generations, situated at the southernmost point in New York State in Tottenville, now a historic site better known as the Conference House, chances are your tour guide will inform you of this monumental boat race.

Back then, there were no speedboats, or even motorized boats. The Jersey side of the dispute must have thought it was an easy win, and so they agreed, likely thinking that it would be impossible for any boat to sail around the entire island in less than a day. Unfortunately for the New Jersey side, the Duke found a skilled British skipper named Christopher Billopp, whose incredible skill on the seas enabled him to sail around the island in only twenty-three hours.

I know; I know. It sounds like an incredible amount of time to get around an island with less than sixty miles of land mass, but at the time, it was considered quite a feat. There is a debate, however, as to whether this actually ever happened, and so maybe 23 hours isn’t such a speedy time to traverse Staten Island, after all. We may never truly know for certain.

And of course, claiming land that was already inhabited by Native Americans seems ludicrous in retrospect; it’s a lot like someone claiming they own your entire neighborhood. Staten Island had already been well-populated for not hundreds, but rather many thousands of years, probably beginning at the end of the last Ice Age, about 12,000 years ago.

Prior to British taking control of the settlements in the New World, back in the times when New York was called New Amsterdam, Staten Island was a part of what is now New Jersey. In 1630, the Dutch West India Company granted land stretching from modern-day Hoboken southward, indisputably including Staten Island, to Knight Michiel Reiniersz Pauw, a burgemeester of Amsterdam and director with the company.

Deals were also made with the local Lenape tribes residing on Staten Island. However, the Dutch lost the land to the British, and the city of New Amsterdam became New York City, and the New Netherland colony began to be referred to as New York as well.

The real issue after the British took control arose from a charter the Duke of York penned, granting the newly acquired lands seized from the Dutch, which granted the land, in the document called New Caeserea or New Jersey to Sir George Carteret and Lord Berkely of Stratton.  Particularly, this phraseology seems to assure us that Staten Island was intended to be part of New Jersey: “…all that tract of land adjacent to New England, and lying and being to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson’s river…”*

Remember, both Brooklyn and Queens are actually located on the gigantic island we call Long Island and the American Natives referred to as Matowacks. In fact, for the longest time, U.S. Postal Service mail was not addressed to Queens, N.Y., but rather to Queens neighborhoods, followed by Long Island. (Astoria, Long Island; etc.)

Staten Island is clearly west of Long Island. Further, if we look at the Hudson River, the majority of its water drains into the Atlantic via the Narrows 5,267.89 ft (1.61 km), and not the Arthur Kill waterway, which measures an average of about 1,145.14 ft (349.04 m) in width between Staten Island and the mainland of New Jersey.

Verrazzano Bridge. Image Credit: Joey BK

Verrazzano Bridge. Image Credit: Joey BK

Furthermore, Staten Island lines up neatly with the Bergen Peninsula, to the North, and the Narrows is really just the mouth to the Upper New York Bay, the body of water the Hudson empties into. Clearly, according to the original document, Staten Island would have been undeniably part of New Jersey.

And, in times when seafaring travelers likely outnumbered those traversing the relatively new lands of America by rail car, our Island’s surrounding waterways afforded easy access to points across Northern and Central New Jersey. In fact, many streets, even neighborhoods and towns on Staten Island, share the same name with many of these places.

The Passaic River to the North, the Western fork that begins up past Newark Bay, allowed ferries and ships of commerce to easily get to the Northern new Jersey towns of Kearny, North Arlington, Nutley, Belleville, Passaic, Lyndhurst, Garfield, Elmwood Park, Fair Lawn, Hawthorne, Paterson, Totowa, and Willowbrook.

The Eastern branch draining into Newark Bay, the Hackensack River, passes through East Rutherford, Secaucus, North Bergen, Moonachie, Little Ferry, South Hackensack, Ridgefield Park, Bogota, Teaneck, Hackensack, Maywood, and all towns along the way up to those surrounding the Oradell Resevoir, such as Closter, Emerson, and Northwood. The Overpeck Creek, between Ridgefield and Ridgefield Park, runs as far north as Englewood.

The Rahway River, just West of Victory Boulevard in Travis, allowed vessels to get to Rahway, Winfield, and Clark, New Jersey. The Raritan River, right across the water from Tottenville, situated between the lands of Perth Amboy and South Amboy, made it easy for ships carrying goods and ferrying passengers to get to Keasby, Parlin, South Amboy, Edison, Highland Park, New Brunswick, Somerset, Piscataway, Middlesex, Bound Brook, South Boundbrook, Manville, Colonial Park, Millstone, Blackwell Mills, Pleasant Plains, Pike Run Village, Montgomery, Rocky Hill, Kingston, Princeton, and Lawrence Township.

The South River branching from the Raritan River, made traveling over water to Gillespie, South River, Runyon, and Spotswood easy sailing. And that is likely not every town along the way. in the future, perhaps we will see ferry service to one or more of these towns. Staten Island truly is in the center of New Jersey!

An older island resident hailing from a long-established and distinguished Island family that has lived here for centuries, wishing to remain anonymous (lest he be sent packing to New Jersey!), claims that there was a time when the island was split down the middle, with residents of Northfield and Westfield considering themselves New Jerseyans, while those in Castleton, Middletown, and Southfield, thought themselves New Yorkers.

This story was re-told over generations, and thus far, we don’t have any maps or writings to back up this assertion, but with the longstanding controversy, there’s no reason to think it’s untrue. And of course, perhaps there were families and businesspeople who expressed this sentiment, but did it extend all the way to paying taxes to New Jersey, and not New York? it’s doubtful. Any readers with further information regarding this point are encouraged to write Staten Islanders News Organization.

According to records, a full five years before the “circumnavigation challenge” New York colony governor Francis Lovelace purchased the land of Staten Island from the Leni Lenape tribe. This seems quite strange, owing to the fact that the entirety of the region was effectively stolen from the “Indians.” The Staten Island native peoples received, “…400 fathoms of wampum along with guns, lead, powder, hoes, and knives….” in exchange for the granting of their prime land to New York.

Would the Native peoples really have cared, one way or the other? Apparently, it had already been granted, without a word from its inhabitants, to the New Jersey colony, and so, this was more a way of stealing the land from the Jerseyans than anything else. After all, the Staten Island native tribes continued to live on the island even after the Dutch had settled it, and even after it had been granted to New Jersey, under English rule. So, we might wonder why they might have caredwhether the British colony of New York or New Jersey claimed “ownership?”

The infighting over Staten Island did not end there. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme court heard a case over the land borders between New York and New Jersey, as New York State was attempting to collect taxes on waterfront New Jersey land that New York claimed as its own . Before this case could be heard, however, President Martin Van Buren decided to intervene and proposed a clear boundary between NY and NJ, this time running down the center of the Hudson River, but included Staten Island as part of New York. So, New York had to stop its efforts to tax New Jersey wharfs and piers, and likewise, New Jersey had to give up its longstanding, rightful claim, that Staten Island was part of the state.

Actually, that’s not the end of the story, either. In 1998, the Supreme Court finally heard the case about the New York-New Jersey border. No; Staten Island wasn’t ceded to New Jersey, however, parts of both Ellis and Liberty Island were.

And, though Staten Island officially became part of NYC when the city charter was drafted in 1898, four bridges spanned the waterways between Staten Island and New Jersey for many decades, well before the opening of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn. There was a train bridge, which was the first.

It was later replaced with the vertical lift rail bridge that still stands today. In addition, there was the Bayonne Bridge, the Goethals Bridge (now replaced by the twin span Goethals), and the Outerbridge Crossing. And so, although a part of New York City and State, officially, in the first half of the twentieth century, Staten Islanders had easier access to New Jersey, and so local towns resembled NJ towns more than NYC.

If you’re looking for Staten Island, New Jersey, there actually is a place that has this name. More correctly called Staten Island Junction, New Jersey, this is an area of Cranford where the passenger and freight lines to Staten Island branched off the main NJ trunk rail lines and headed Eastward over the Arthur Kill to Staten Island.

Is there a possibility of Staten Island becoming part of New Jersey in the future? After all, there is still quite a bit of talk about seceding from New York City. Might some future Islanders decide to go for broke and secede from the state of New York, and not just the City of New York? We have yet to see.

According to a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in 2016, covering more topics than anyone might have thought possible, aptly called “Every Random New York Poll Topic You Could Think Of And Probably Some You Couldn’t'”, it was determined “On the topic of Staten Island, 24% of New Yorkers support ceding it to New Jersey while 43% want to keep it and 34% aren’t sure. “(https://www.publicpolicypolling.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/PPP_Release_NY_4132016.pdf) And so, the future of Staten Island as part of both NYC and NYS is not as certain as we might imagine.

 

*The Duke of York’s Release to John Lord Berkeley, and Sir George Carteret, 24th of June, 1664 (1)

THIS INDENTURE made the four and twentieth day of June, in the sixteenth year of the reign of our sovereign Lord, Charles the Second, by the grace of God of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King Defender of the Faith, &c., Annoq. Domini, 1664. Between His Royal Highness, James Duke of York, and Albany, Earl of Ulster, Lord High Admiral of England, and Ireland, Constable of Dover Castle, Lord Warden of the Cinque ports, and Governor of Portsmouth, of the one part: John Lord Berkeley, Baron of Stratton, and one of His Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council, and Sir, George Carteret of Saltrum, in the County of Devon, Knight and one of His Majesty’s most Honourable Privy Council of the other part: Whereas his said Majesty King Charles the Second, by his Letters Patents under the Great Seal of England, bearing date on or about the twelfth day of March, in the sixteenth year of his said Majesty’s reign, did for the consideration therein mentioned, give and grant unto his said Royal Highness James, Duke of York, his heirs and assigns, all that part of the main land of New England, beginning at a certain place called or known by the name of St. Croix next adjoining to New Scotland in America; and from thence extending along the sea coast unto a certain place called Pemaquie or Pemaquid, and so by the river thereof to the furthest head of the same as it tendeth northward; and extending from thence to the river of Kenebeque, and so upwards by the shortest course to the river Canady northwards; and also all that island or islands commonly called by the several name or names of Matowacks or Long Island, situate and being towards the west of Cape Codd and the Narrow Higansetts, abutting upon the main land between the two rivers there, called or known by the several names of Connecticut, and Hudson’s river; together also with the said river called Hudson’s river, and all the land from the west side of the Connecticut river to the east side of the Delaware Bay: and also several other islands and lands in said Letters Patents mentioned, together with the rivers, harbours, mines, minerals, quarries, woods, marshes, waters, lakes, fishing, hawkings, buntings, and fowling, and all other royalties, profits, commodities and heriditaments to the said several islands lands and premises belonging and appertaining, to have and to hold the said lands, islands, hereditaments and premises, with their and every of their appurtenances, unto his said Royal Hiness James Duke of York, his heirs and assigns for ever; to be holden of his said Majesty, his heirs and successors, as of the manner of East Greenwich, in the County of Kent, in free and common soccage, yielding and rendering unto his said Majesty his heirs and successors of and for the same, yearly and every year, forty beaver skins, when they shall be demanded, or within ninety days after; with divers other grants, clauses, provisos, and agreements, in the said recited Letters Patents contain’d, as by the said Letters Patents, relation being thereunto had, it doth and may more plainly and at large appear. Now this Indenture witnesseth, that his said Royal Highness James Duke of York, for and in consideration of a competent sum of good and lawful money of England to his said Royal Highness James Duke of York in hand paid by the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret, before the sealing and delivery of these presents, the receipt whereof the said James Duke of York, doth hereby acknowledge, and thereof doth acquit and discharge the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret forever by these presents hath granted, bargained, sold, released and confirmed, and by these presents doth grant, bargain, sell, release and confirm unto the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret, their heirs and assigns for ever, all that tract of land adjacent to New England, and lying and being to the westward of Long Island, and Manhitas Island and bounded on the east part by the main sea, and part by Hudson’s river, and hath upon the west Delaware bay or river, and extendeth southward to the main ocean as far as Cape May at the mouth of the Delaware bay; and to the northward as far as the northermost branch of the said bay or river of Delaware, which is forty-one degrees and forty minutes of latitude, and crosseth over thence in a strait line to Hudson’s river in forty-one degrees of latitude; which said tract of land is hereafter to be called by the name or names of New Caeserea or New Jersey: and also all rivers, mines, mineralls; woods, fishings, hawking, hunting, and fowling, and all other royalties, profits, commodities, and hereditaments whatever, to the said lands and premises belonging or in any wise appertaining; with their and every of their appurtenances, in as full and ample manner as the same is granted to the said Duke of York by the before-recited Letters Patents; and all the estate, title, interest, benefit advantage, claim and demand of the said James Duke of York, of in or to the said and premises, or any part or parcel thereof, and the reversion and reversions, remainder and remainders thereof: All of which said tract of land and premises were by indenture, bearing date the day before the date hereof, bargain’d and sold by the said James Duke of York, unto the said John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, for the term of one whole year to commence from the first day of May last past, before the date thereof, under the rent of a peper corn, payable as therein is mentioned as by the said deed more plainly may appear: by force and virtue of which said indenture of bargain and sale, and of the statute for transferring of uses into possession, the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret, are in actual possession of the said tract of land and premises, and enabled to take a grant and release thereof, the said lease being made to that end and purpose, to have and to hold all and singular the said tract of land and premises; with their, and every of their appurtenances, and every part and parcel thereof, unto the said John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, their heirs and assigns for ever, to the only use and behoof of the said John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret their heirs and assigns for ever; yielding and rendering therefore unto the said James Duke of York, his heirs and assigns, for the said tract of land and premises, yearly and every year the sum of twenty nobles of lawful money of England, if the same shall be lawfully demanded at or in the Inner Temple Hall, London, at the Feast of St. Michael the Arch Angel yearly. And the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret for themselves and their heirs, covenant and grant to and with the said James Duke of York, his heirs and assigns by these presents, that they the said John Lord Berkley and Sir George Carteret, their heirs and assigns, shall and will well and truly pay or cause to be paid unto the said James Duke of York, his heirs and assigns, the said yearly rent of twenty nobles at such time and place, and in such manner and form as before in these presents is expressed and delivered. In witness whereof the parties aforesaid to these presents have interchangeably set their hands and seals, the day and year first above written. JAMES

Sign’d, seal’d and deliver’d in the presence of
WILLIAM COVENRYE,
THOMAS HEYWOOD.

(1) Verified by “Grants and Concessions of New Jersey.” Leaming & Spicer. 2d Ed., pp. 8-11.

Source:
The Federal and State Constitutions Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies Now or Heretofore Forming the United States of America
Compiled and Edited Under the Act of Congress of June 30, 1906 by Francis Newton Thorpe
Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1909.

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