Our Congregant, U.S. Vice President Daniel D. Tompkins,
protected our Old Dutch Church in the swirl of early 19th century history
and helped launch the brilliant career of Cornelius Vanderbilt
Fourth Governor of New York from 1807 to 1817
Daniel D. Tompkins (1774-1825) served for the entire War of 1812 which ended in February 1815. He chose to borrow heavily, often on his own credit, in order to equip and arm the state militia when the legislature wasn't in session, or would not approve the necessary funds.
Tompkins was largely responsible for the passage of legislation outlawing slavery in New York State, and he supported the creation of a firm date for the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Since Port Richmond was a maritime community, this war for economic independence on the seas, impacted its economy.
Sixth Vice President of the United States under James Monroe
After the war, throughout his term 1817 to 1825, Tompkins was in poor health due a fall from a horse on November 3, 1814.
In addition, he was involved in legal wrangling over his debt. The issue was finally resolved in 1824, when Congress approved a grant to him of $95,000 -- $2,350,500 in today's currency.
He was the only 19th century vice president to serve two full terms. But, sadly he passed away only 99 days after this term ended.
Daniel D. Tompkins Official Gubernatorial Portrait
Oil Painting attributed to John Wesley Jarvis
Our Congregation fights for independence -- once again.
In June of 1812 the United States declared war on Great Britain. It would be two years before the Consistory would again make any extended entry.
Militia volunteers supplied their own guns and clothing and later filed claims for reimbursement.
Many of our Congregant families made claims: Corsen, Braisted, Housman,
De hart, Decker, Van Pelt.
There are gravestones for a dozen of the names and of the right age for service.
Governor Tompkins appointed Rev. Van Pelt Chaplain to the state troops stationed on Staten Island.
Later, President James Monroe made Van Pelt Chaplain for the Harbor of New York
and the Third District.
Photo courtesy of the Staten Island Borough President's Office /Michael Falco
Vanderbilt's association with Tompkins made him rich and gave him entry to high society. Tompkins was mentor to his fellow Congregant who was 20 years younger.
Vanderbilt’s career began when we was 16, just two years before the War of 1812. During the War Tompkins established the first steamship line between Staten Island and Manhattan.
Cornelius Vanderbilt acquired a government contract to supply the six New York forts. Much of this money may have come from his fellow Congregant Daniel D. Tompkins' financing of the war.
Profits from this venture allowed Vanderbilt to build three sailing vessels, one, the largest schooner on the Hudson River. Commanding this vessel generated the "Commodore" nickname, a moniker he was glad to encourage by wearing regal naval attire.
Vanderbilt was also paid to outfit a major expedition to New Orleans. The War was over, but word had not yet reached North America before the battle was fought.
Van Pelt's association with Tompkins altered our Church's history.
In the early 1800’s a quarantine station was built on the north shore of Staten Island. Located between the waterfront, St. Mark’s Place, Hyatt and Hannah Streets, the station was surrounded by a high stone wall. Starting from where the S.I. Ferry is today, up the hill and past S.I. Borough Hall, it operated from 1799-1858.
If found with disease, immigrants and maritime crews were taken off ship to this facility. During the time known as the Great Irish Hunger, tens of thousands of Irish immigrants were detained at this hospital. Thousands perished and were buried at one of two cemeteries on S.I. Immigrants from Europe who were sick with smallpox, yellow fever or malaria were forcibly detained there until they recovered or died. The station included several large hospital buildings, houses for staff, gardens and a cemetery.
Tompkins moved to Staten Island in 1814 while Governor. He bought hundreds of acres surrounding the Quarantine Station and designed the village of Tompkinsville. The streets Hannah and Minthorne are named for his wife. Tompkins discussed with Van Pelt his deep concerns about the conditions in Quarantine and persuaded Van Pelt to hold services within the station’s walls. Tompkins frequently attended the services, which were regularly attended by the residents and staff of Quarantine.
In 1818 following an unusually harsh Cholera outbreak on Staten Island, Tompkins, by then Vice President of the United States, donated land outside the Quarantine so that a Church building could be erected. It was located approximately where Victory Boulevard meets Bay Street today. Gov. Tompkins implored his Pastor, "to begin preaching to the poor wretched souls, at the Quarantine, so badly affected and so utterly abandoned." Van Pelt, began to minister and soon with a grant of land from Tompkins, the Reformed Church of Brighton Heights was birthed. The cornerstone was laid on October 1, 1818 and the building dedicated on October 23, 1820. For five years it was part of the Reformed Church in Port Richmond, with Van Pelt serving as minister at both sites.
In July 1823 the Tompkinsville church became an independent congregation known as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in Tompkinsville. The congregation continued to grow as the neighborhood became more commercial and a brewery opened a few blocks from the Church. The congregation decided to seek a more suitable location. In 1862 land in Brighton Heights was given to the church and the cornerstone for a new building was laid on October 27, 1863
In 1816 Gov Tompkins gave the Old Dutch Church a gift of land so that the main entrance to the church would be through the steeple. It also provided space for Section II of the cemetery, and ultimately for the Sunday School addition.
There were now three Dutch Reformed churches on Staten Island: the North Church and the two its congregation had built -- the East Church at Tompkinsville and the South Church at Richmond. Van Pelt ministered to all three.
Our Congregants helped create
a Snug Harbor for "aged, decrepit and worn-out" Sailors,
now glorious botanical gardens and a cultural center for us all.
After vicious rumors and 30-year litigation -- that went all the way to the US Supreme Court
-- the First Secular Charity in the US rises.
In 1790, Robert Richard Randall, a bachelor and retired sea captain of Scottish descent from Louisiana, took up residence on a 21-acre farm in Manhattan in today's West Village.
On June 1, 1801, he summoned Alexander Hamilton and our Congregant, Daniel D. Tompkins, as lawyers to draw up his will. Randall told Hamilton and Tompkins that he did not know how to dispose of his property most wisely.
Hamilton asked how his fortune had been made.
Randall answered that it had been made for him;
he had inherited it from his father.
Hamilton inquired how his father had acquired it?
"By honest privateering."
Hamilton then suggested that since the assets of the Randall estate had been earned from the sea, that they should be returned to the sea. Randall took this to heart and, as there was no aid available for disabled and aged mariners, or for that matter any American, he decided to establish a retirement home for aged and disabled sailors. Four days after making his will, Randall died, on June 5, 1801. Eight trustees were named. In 1806, the estate was incorporated.
There was a challenge to Randall's will by the children of his half-brother. The foreman of the jury for the suit to break the will recounted the challengers' attempted slander: that a certain grim and gloomy Captain Randall, another Kidd and ravager of the seas, after a dark career of prosperous piracy, during which by countless murder and unimaginable atrocities, had amassed incredible wealth, became remorse full in his declining years and in the vain hope of propitiating divine favor by good works, left his ill-gotten booty to found a hospital for decrepit sailors.
For nearly thirty years the legal warfare between the Contestant and the Trustee-Executors continued, until the Supreme Court of the United States, in March 1830, sustained the will and turned over the estate to the Trustees.
In May 1831, the Trustees purchased one hundred and forty acres of land, salt meadow and marsh for $10,000 from a member of one of our Old Dutch Church's most prominent families, Isaac R. Housman, on the north shore of Staten Island directly on the Kill van Kull facing New York City. On Aug. 1, 1833, the facility was opened and the first mariners were admitted, realizing Robert Richard Randall’s vision for a Snug Harbor “for aged, decrepit and worn out sailors."
Snug Harbor is probably the first old age home in America.
For more than 100 years it prospered. However, in the 1950s, costs were rising and the number of residents, affectionately known as “Snugs” was decreasing. The Trustees obtained approval of the court to move to a new facility in Sea Level, N.C. In June 1976, the remaining 105 "Snugs" moved south. On September 12, 1976, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center opened to the public.
In 1995 the property was almost razed by developers, but by the action of local preservationists including Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, 83 acres became today's Snug Harbor Cultural Center.
It is said to be the largest ongoing adaptive reuse site
and the largest collection of Greek Revival architecture, in the United States.