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A Litigious Legacy: the Story of a Gravesend Map

By Mary Mann

Posted on July 23, 2020

Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend

Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend

originally laid down by a scale of five chains or 20 rods to an inch, 8th August 1788 by Herman Lefford & Roger Strong: April 16th 1806; [18??]

It was April of 1639, and Anthony Jansen van Salee and his wife Grietje had just been given six months to leave the New Netherlands forever. Anthony, the first known person of Muslim descent to settle in the Americas, had been in and out of court often over the years, chiefly for refusing to pay mandatory fees to the Dutch Reform Church. Grietje had also weathered her share of court cases, including a charge that she’d “measured the male members of three sailors on a broomstick.”

So the Jansens were given the boot. But Anthony appealed to the Dutch West India Company, under whose auspices he’d first arrived in the Americas, and struck a deal—he didn’t have to leave the area entirely, he just had to get off the island of Manhattan. So he purchased 100 morgens (about 200 acres) of land just across the East River, on a long, marshy island that was largely unsettled at the time. New York’s first Muslim resident thus became one of Brooklyn’s earliest land-owners.

Jansen actually purchased two pieces of land: a large plot known as the Old Bowery (nothing to do with the Bowery in Manhattan—“bowery” is just an anglicized version of the Dutch word for farm), located approximately in the current neighborhood of Bath Beach, and a smaller plot called the 12 Morgen, situated more or less where L&B Spumoni Gardens is today. Between and alongside these plots lay a verdant coastline, excellent for fishing, and the topic of centuries worth of land disputes.

Notably, given their record, the Jansens don’t appear to have been involved in any of the battles over what the Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend titled “The Neck of Land in Dispute.” Perhaps they left their problems behind in Manhattan along with their primary accuser, minister Domine Everardus Bogardus. The trouble began instead with Anthony’s successor, Francis de Bruyn, who claimed the land by virtue of its proximity to the Old Bowery and 12 Morgen.

The Neck of Land in Dispute
The Neck of Land in Dispute

This put him in conflict with the Town of Gravesend, established by religious nonconformist Lady Deborah Moody in 1645 “for freedom of worship and self-government.” Francis and the Gravesenders quarreled for years until the matter was finally referred in 1669 to Governor Lovelace, who offered a Solomon-esque solution: 1/3 of the land for Francis, 1/3 for the Town of Gravesend, and 1/3 for Lovelace to dispose of as he pleased. Francis promptly started a business fishing for porpoises off his hard-won piece of coast in Gravesend Bay.

As noted beneath its title, the first iteration of the Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend was drawn in the 1788, just as The Neck of Land in Dispute once again became a bone of contention. This time the quarrel belonged to Albert Voorhees, who’d purchased the land from the de Bruyns and refused to allow the Gravesenders to “fish, hawk and gun along and upon” the strip of coast as they once had. The battle between Albert and the Town of Gravesend reached a fever pitch in a 1789 trial that featured none other than Aaron Burr as the town’s attorney.

The old white oak stump

The old white oak stump

It’s possible that this map was drawn in order to illustrate, for purposes of negotiation, where the original property lines stood, as Voorhees claimed the land was included in Anthony Jansen’s patent. This would explain why “the old white oak stump” was deemed important enough to be drawn and labeled on the map, as it appears to be the only landmark marking the dividing line between The Neck of Land in Dispute and Jansen’s Old Bowery.

Burr and Gravesend won that battle, but The Neck of Land in Dispute continued to live up to the title that Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend gave it, according to A history of the town of Gravesend, N.Y., which notes that multiple suits relating to the land were still pending in 1884.  The thin stretch of coast proved an appropriately litigious legacy for Jansen’s Brooklyn property, the consolation prize for his Manhattan expulsion.

Interested in seeing more maps from BHS’s collection? Visit our new online map portal. You can also visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our photography and artifact collections. We look forward to inviting you back to BHS in the future to research our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

Sources:

Map of the western part of the Township of Gravesend originally laid down by a scale of five chains or 20 rods to an inch, 8th August 1788 by Herman Lefford & Roger Strong: April 16th 1806; [18??], Map Collection, Bergen-[18–?]uu.Fl; Brooklyn Historical Society. [link]

Anthony Jansen (Janszoon) Van Salee deed, 1643; Anthony Jansen (Janszoon) Van Salee deed, 2019.013, Box A0143; Brooklyn Historical Society. [link]

Gomez, M.A. (2005). Black crescent: the experience and legacy of African Muslims in the Americas. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. [link]

Stockwell, A.P. & Stillwell, W.H. (1884). History of the town of Gravesend, N.Y. Brooklyn: s.n. [link]

Inventory of the County and Borough Archives of New York City: Kings County (volume 2). New York, NY. : Historical Records Survey, 1939-1942. [link]

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