Friday, September 20, 2013

Sandy Hook - It's Story

October 12th, 1880


Sandy Hook is one of the striking features in the scenery of New York. It is a low point of sand projecting from below the Highlands into the sea. Before its extreme end runs the channel of deep water through which passes all the commerce of the port—the most important of all the world's seats of trade. Beyond the deep channel the bar rises, covered with white breakers, and extends to the distant Rockaway shore. Around Sandy Hook all the interest of the scene centres, and its bare point, now marked by the new fortifications, has witnessed some of the most wonderful voyages of the past. It saw Verazzani in his antique craft—the most awkward and dangerous of vessels—make his way slowly, with lead and line, into the wide-spreading harbor, and trace for the first time the unknown shore. What a wild and lonely scene it was!—the home of a few savages and of wild beasts and birds. But Verazzani never came back, and the next ship that sailed by Sandy Hook into the tranquil bay was that of Hendrick Hudson.
His vessel, the Half-Moon, was a Dutch galliot, strongly built, as were all the Dutch ships of the time, but so small, heavy, and slow that it seems almost incredible that it should ever outlive a storm or make any headway on the sea. The stern and prow were high and broad, the bow round, the hull unwieldy, the masts and sails too small for such a vessel, and the rudder almost unmanageable. Compared with the modern sailing ship, nothing could seem more inconvenient or unfit for navigating stormy seas than these vessels of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet with them Barentz broke into the icy ocean of the North, and defied the arctic cold. Great fleets of them, sometimes numbering several hundred, sailed from Amsterdam around the Cape of Good Hope to the East Indies, drove off the Portuguese, and came back laden with the precious products of the East—gems, gold, and spices. The immense quantity of cloves and cinnamon used by our ancestors is startling. But the slow ships sailed safely along the African shore on both sides, and in the midst of pirates, privateers, storms, and cyclones made profitable voyages that gave Holland a wonderful prosperity.
The Half-Moon crossed the bar, anchored in the lower bay, and the Dutch navigators proceeded cautiously to survey the hostile shore of Coney Island, where now the countless visitors of Manhattan or Brighton Beach gather on summer evenings, and at length ventured to sail up through the Narrows, drew near to Manhattan Island, and saw some of its early inhabitants. The first New-Yorkers were very indifferently clad; but the young ladies—squaws, as they were called—were well acquainted with paint and powder, and had an inexhaustible appetite for feathers, beads, and other finery. Shells were the money of the country; and fur robes, rich with embroidery, were worn by the chiefs.
After a pleasant voyage in September, 1609, up the Hudson River to Albany, the famous navigator passed through the harbor out to sea, and then sailed away, never to return—unless we accept Irving's legend, and hear with Rip Van Winkle the roar of the balls of the Dutch sailors as they play their weird games amongst the Catskills, while the lightning flashes and the thunder peals in the dismal night. But Sandy Hook now became a well-known scene to the Dutch sailors. Immigrants came over; a few houses were built at first on New York Island; Albany was settled in 1614, and the same year Adrian Block, when his own ship was burned, built a new one on the Manhattan shore. It was the first vessel produced in this centre of the world's trade. It was not quite as broad as it was long; but its length of keel was thirty-eight feet, on deck it was nearly forty-five feet, and its breadth about eleven and a half. On this peculiar craft the gallant explorer set out to survey the great East River. He passed safely the perils of both Hell Gates, coasted the unknown shores to Block Island, and left an imperishable name on that pleasant summer resort. New Amsterdam became a famous seat of trade. Fur and tobacco were its chief commodities. A fine tobacco plantation stretched along the East River at Corlaer's Hook, and at Albany the Van Rensselaers and Schuylers contended for the fur trade of the savages, sometimes coming to blows. Many Dutch galliots now sailed leisurely over from old Amsterdam to the new. New York Island was covered with rich farms. In 1679 peaches were so plenty that they were fed to the swine; strawberries covered the ground in rare profusion. Sheltered within the protecting arm of Sandy Hook, the little city nourished and grew great. It had no idle hands. Its burgomasters all either kept shops, taverns, or worked on farms, and scorned sloth. All was prosperous growth, under the famous Governor Stuyvesant, when suddenly, in August, 1664, for the first time, a hostile English fleet sailed up the great harbor, and anchored in Gravesend Bay. It was composed of two fifty-gun ships and one of forty, with six hundred soldiers. The consternation in the city was great; but Governor Stuyvesant ordered the guns to be run out on the fort at the end of Broadway, called out the militia, and prepared for a desperate contest.

The Sandy Hook lighthouse, part of the Gateway...
The Sandy Hook lighthouse, part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Sandy Hook © 2004 Matthew Trump
English: Sandy Hook © 2004 Matthew Trump (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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