Staten Island is a bedroom community within one of the largest cities in the world. It is the least populated borough, and often considered a stepchild of its larger siblings. As a result, Staten Island's history has been largely overlooked; nevertheless, it has played proximately in both the affairs of New York City and our country. The Island is shaped like a triangle and is 13.9 miles long and 7.3 miles wide, a total of 60.9 square miles, making it the third largest borough. Physically, Staten Island is situated closer to New Jersey than New York, separated by the narrow Arthur Kill (The word "kill" is Dutch for river or channel). There are three bridges that connect Staten Island to New Jersey and only one connecting the Island to New York. While most of Staten Island is flat, there are seven hills that run from St. George to Latourette. Todt Hill is the highest point on the Atlantic coast south of Maine (410 feet above sea level).
First sighted by Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, the Island remained mostly populated by the Raritans and Unamis Indians until about 1630, when the Dutch attempted to establish settlements there. The Dutch, who called the isle "Staaten Eylandt," failed to maintain settlements as the Indians, feeling threatened by the settlers, drove each attempt from the Island. Many of the ensuing wars were instigated by the Dutch; in all, blood was spilled on both sides in three wars: the Pig War (1641), the Whisky War (1642) and the Peach War (1655). The disputes were finally settled, and in 1661 the Dutch established a lasting colony called Oude Dorp, or Old Town, near South Beach. In 1664, when the English seized the city of New Amsterdam for the King of England, they renamed the Island Richmond County in honor of the Duke of Richmond, son of King Charles II.
Under the English, Richmond began to flourish, and by 1700 the population had grown to just over a thousand, mostly English, French, and Dutch. During its early days, Richmond remained a rural community, supporting many farms, mills, and a growing fisherman's industry, mostly shell fishing.
The Revolutionary War
The Island played a prominent role during the Revolutionary War. Before the British arrived in New York, George Washington spent two days surveying Staten Island and established a look-out at the Narrows (now Fort Wadsworth) to give him advanced warning of the British arrival. The British General William Howe arrived in New York City in the summer of 1776 after evacuating Boston, intending to land his army at Gravesend Bay. When he discovered George Washington was "dug in" where he intended to land, he decided to wait for reinforcements. On July 2, 1776, Howe began landing his troops at the Watering Place (Tompkinsville) on Staten Island to make preparations for the coming battle. Eventually, as many as 30,000 troops occupied Staten Island waiting for what would become the Battle of Long Island. On July 12, General Howe's brother, Admiral Lord Howe, arrived with his fleet, followed on August 14 by Generals Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis. Finally, on August 27, Sir Howe attacked George Washington's army on Long Island (Brooklyn).
Later that year, Admiral Lord Howe sought to end the war by driving a wedge between the provisional government and George Washington. He met secretly with John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Edward Rutledge on September 11, 1776 at the home of Christopher Billopp, a British loyalist. But the Americans refused to give up George Washington, and the meeting failed to bring an early end to the war. Since that meeting, the house has been called the Conference House and is open to the public.
The final shot of the American Revolution was fired on Fort Wadsworth by a departing British warship on November 25, 1783. After the war, many of the Island's wealthiest and most influential citizens, who had remained loyal to the Crown, fled to Canada. Their estates were confiscated by New York State, subdivided and sold.