Roosevelt Island in NYC. Ever seen it? If you’ve been to Manhattan, I bet you have and just didn’t realize it. If you drove over the East River on the Queensboro Bridge, I know you’ve seen it. You may have noticed the lighthouse on the northern end or the tram from 2nd Avenue and 59th Street in Manhattan to the island. To me, it was always a fascinating place because it was a part of my family since the 1600’s. For the United States, that’s ancient history. For the rest of the world, that was yesterday!
Native Americans used to call it Minnahanonck, which means “long island” and it is that. It is about 2 miles long with a maximum width of 800 feet. A Dutch governor bought it from the Canarsie tribe in 1647 and raised hogs on it, so it became known as Varcken (Hog) Island. In 1652, a different governor declared the sale to the Dutch was void. Actually, the West India Company wanted it and thought fortifications would be good there to help protect them.
After the Dutch capitulation to the British in 1666, Captain John Manning grabbed the island and renamed it Manning’s Island. Manning must have been an interesting fellow. He was appointed the Sheriff of NY in 1667. Unfortunately, while the governor was away and he was in command of Fort James, he surrendered the City of New York back to the Dutch in 1675. Well, it didn’t go well for the captain after that. He was court-martialed, accused of treachery and cowardice, had a sword broken over his head on the steps of City Hall, and was banished to his island. Ok, that was a really bad year and he lived at least another ten years on that island.
From Minnahanonck to Varcken to Manning’s Island, this is already quite a history for this small island. Next it was named Blackwell’s Island and that name lasted for 235 years. Yes, the Blackwell family are my dad’s ancestors and I’ll show you the ancestral home, which still survives. It is NOT what I expected to see in New York City but it definitely makes a statement! I’m just not sure what that statement would be…