The Crisis on Staten Island–Defying The Committee of Safety

During the active movements of the British and Colonial armies in the East [Boston], all was excitement on Staten Island. The arrival of the mail-coach at Richmond Town was each day greeted by hundreds of people, and the news from the seat of war created animated controversies that resulted in hand-to-hand combats.

The population of the Island consisted of about three thousand people, including men, women, children and slaves. The men were about evenly divided in their support of the English government, and families soon became disunited and at enmity over the vital issues of the day. The first movement, however, that resulted in open disloyalty to the King; was the partial organization of two military companies which offered their services to General Washington.

Before the General’s answer could be received, the British army arrived, With all its pomp and glitter, and the inexperienced natives were so terrified that they thought it wiser to be on the stronger side, and so consented to be mustered into the King’s service.

This was a stinging blow to the patriots who were anxious that Staten Island should be in possession of the Colonial army, and they called a secret meeting at Smoking Point (Rossville) for the purpose of recruiting citizen soldiers who were opposed to the oppression of the parent government. But the leaders were betrayed and the meeting prohibited.

Before proceeding farther let us review the social and political
condition of Staten Island at the commencement of hostilities. The
geographical position of the place gave positive direction to the
political sentiments of its inhabitants. Commanding the approach
to the metropolis of the province, whoever possessed it took advan-
tage of its natural facilities in a military point of view. The Dutch
liad a fort on the heights of the Narrows, (now Fort Wadsworth), during their control; the English enlarged and strengthened it; the State of New York increased its importance during the war of 1812, and the National Government, purchasing it m 1861, has from time to time added to its importance, until it is now one of the strongest points of defence in the whole country.

Whoever, then, possessed this important point, before the Revolu-
tion, to a certain extent possessed and controlled the Island and the
metropolis. ” Whilst the English held the government of the prov-
ince, the people naturally imbibed English sentiments; freedom of
opinion on political subjects, so far as the nature and character of
the government was concerned, was not tolerated. It is not to be
wondered at, then, that a people who, for more than a century” had
been taught to believe that it was little short of treason to doubt the
divine origin of monarchy, and especially of the English monarchy,
should be conscientiously opposed to a change which was calculated
to overturn all their most cherished institutions. More than half of
the population of the Island, at the dawn of the Revolution, were
either of English birth or descent”; and many entertained the idea
that the rebellion could not by any possibility succeed. Many indeed
who favored rebellion hoped against hope.

A great majority of the early Dutch settlers were in favor of inde-
pendence, and those of French descent were about equally divided
on the question. Quite a number of the French having settled here
before the conquest of the province by the English, had intermarried
with the Dutch, who were then the dominant class, and had imbibed
Dutch opinions, manners and customs, and had even fallen into the
use of the Dutch language. In some of the families bearing French
name, and of French descent, at the present day, are to be found
family records, such as they are, written in the Dutch language.”

In February, 1775, Richmond County was represented in the Colon-
ial Assembly by Christopher Billopp and Benjamin Seaman, and
when, on the 23d of the same month, a motion was before the house
” that the sense of this House be taken, on the Necessity of appointing
Delegates for this Colony, to meet the Delegates for the other Colonies
on this Continent, in General Congress, on the 10th day of May next,”
these representatives of Richmond voted in the negative.

The character of Staten Island was now pretty thoroughly established. The people of Elizabethtown had been eagerly watching and waiting to see wliat movemeut would here be made. The stand which the Islanders would take was no longer in doubt, and the Committee of Observation of Elizabethtown on February 13th, 1775, issued the following interdict:

“Whereas the inhabitants of Staten Island have manifested an
unfriendly disposition towards the liberties of America, and among
other things have neglected to join in the General Association pro-
posed by the Continental Congress, and entered into by most of the
Townships in America, and in no instance have acceded thereto. The
Committee of Observation for this Town, taking the same into con-
sideration, are of opinion that the inhabitants of their District ought,
and by the aforesaid Association are bound, to break of all trade,
commerce, dealings, and intercourse whatsoever with the inhabitants
of said Island, until they shall join in the General Association afore-
said; and do Resolve that all trade, commerce, dealings, and inter-
course whatsoever be suspended accordingly, which suspension is
hereby notified and recommended to the inhabitants of this District
to be by them universally observed and adopted.

“GEOEGE ROSS, Clerk.”

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Quoted From: Morris, I. K. (1898). Morris’s memorial history of Staten Island, New York. New York: Memorial Pub. Co. 

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