The second of a brand-new set of three ferry boats commissioned by the NYC DOT has been launched into the water in Florida. The new boat is part of a new class of ferry boats, the first of which, and the class itself, is named after Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, who was killed in Afghanistan when he shielded a Polish lieutenant from a suicide bomber and took the fatal blow himself.
After Debi Rose started a petition, many Staten Islanders signed on to have this boat named in honor of the oldest continuously inhabited black settlement in the United States. Most people, including many New Yorkers, are not familiar with Sandy Ground.
In 1828, a few months after slavery was officially fully abolished in New York, making all slaves legally freed, and years before it was abolished in the country as a whole, there was a ferry boat operator by the name of Captain John Jackson. Not only was Captain Jackson a former slave, now a free black man, his community was also a safe haven on the underground railroad. In fact, Captain Jackson even brought some fleeing slaves there by ferry boat.
Consequently, it is most appropriate that a ferry boat in the Staten Island Ferry fleet is named after this historical community.
The community thrived for a very long time because there are rich oyster beds in the water near where the settlement was, and there was land which they farmed for themselves. This gave the former slaves, as well as free black men, the ability to earn their own living, and own and build their own homes.
While most of the homes and buildings that were in the Sandy Ground community do not remain, there are many building that do remain, including five from the earliest times of the settlement that have been declared historical landmarks. These include the church, three homes, and a cemetery.
In addition to the buildings, the descendants of some of the original settlers still worship at the church, most of the original settlers left in the 1960s due to the overworking of the oyster beds. While some of the original residents took up new occupations, such as blacksmithing, iron working, and midwifery, many of them found new homes elsewhere.
However, the current Sandy Ground Historical Society is important as it may contain the oldest known African cemetery in America. The Sandy Ground Historical Society also maintains many documents from the original settlers, which constitute the largest documentary collection of of African-American history on Staten Island, according to NYC Arts.
It is the hope of the historical society that by naming the boats after Sandy Ground, it will inspire more New Yorkers to find out about this historical community. If one wants to know more about Sandy Ground, there is a museum that will soon be open to the public again for tours, classes, and other educational activities.
The third boat in the fleet has not yet been named, although there are some petitions online to vote for the naming of the final new ferry. This new boat, along with the other two, will be decided by the residents of Staten Island.
One of the latest petitions for naming the third boat is to name it after Stephen Siller, the firefighter who ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center with his gear strapped to his back on September 11th. He was off-duty at the time, and gave his life helping others. He was the inspiration for the formation of the Tunnels 2 Towers Foundation, founded by his family members. (See our article about the Tunnels 2 Towers Foundation)
A second petition on change.org has the idea for naming the third boat after Bernard Carabello. Bernard is a disabled person who was born with cerebral palsy, and was misdiagnosed with mental disabilities. Geraldo Rivera met him while on his surprise tour of the Willowbrook State School, where he exposed the abhorrent conditions at that facility, including overcrowding, lack of caretakers, and lack of any sort of education.
Bernard now works as an advocate for the rights of the disabled, including former patients at Willowbrook and other mental institutions. He believes that mental institutions dehumanize the patients, and that better care for the mentally disabled, including providing them with affordable housing and integrating them into the community, is a more humane solution than simply building more Willowbrooks to care for them.
He lives in Manhattan, and travels around the country advocating for the rights and dignity of disabled persons and their families. He is the founder of his own consulting firm specializing in the creation of self-advocacy groups, the Bernard J. Carabello Co., and is a living testament to the dignity and self-sufficiency of the disabled. He still credits Geraldo Rivera with changing his life forever, and a ferry boat named in his honor would inspire others to share his story.
These three new ferry boats will replace three retiring boats, which are the John F. Kennedy, the Andrew J. Barberi, and the S.I. Newhouse. The new boats are more storm resilient, and will be capable of being used for evacuations. They will also be able to dock at other locations than the ferry terminals, which will make them much more useful in emergency situations. For those interested in the facts of the three ships, they can be found in the Press Release from Eastern Shipbuilding.
The two ferry boats which are closest to completion, and have been officially named, were being built in 2018, when the Category 4 Hurricane Michael hit the coast of Florida. Only those two boats, at the Eastern Shipbuilding location, survived the devastating hurricane. All of the other boats under construction at the time were destroyed.
On June 26th, the Sandy Ground ferry boat was launched into the water in Florida. While there is still a lot of work to be done, this occasion was celebrated by many politicians from the local area, with the daughter of Florida’s Representative Jay Trunbnull, Brittany Trunbull, performing the christening of the ship with the breaking of a bottle of champagne on its hull. The ship was also blessed that day by Father McQuinone of the Evangelist Catholic Church, and colors were presented by the JROTC from Deane Bozeman High School.
Staten Islanders can be proud to know they these three new ferries, including the Sandy Ground ferry, were named by fellow Staten Islanders, and every time one rides the ferry, they will be reminded of an important part of this nation’s history, and of the important contribution of former slaves to the building of the community on Staten Island.