The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Long Island

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The American Cyclopædia
Long Island
Edition of 1879. See also Long Island on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LONG ISLAND, an island comprising Kings, Queens, and Suffolk counties, New York, situated between lat. 40° 33' and 41° 10' N., and Ion. 71° 51' and 74° 2' W.; extreme length E. and W., 115 m.; extreme width, 23 m.; average width, about 14 m.; area, 1,682 sq. m. It is bounded N. by Long Island sound, E. and S. by the Atlantic ocean, and W. and N. W. by the Narrows, New York bay, and the East river, connecting the ocean with the sound. The sound through the greater part of its extent separates it from Connecticut, and the East river from New York city. Several small islands which lie in the adjacent waters are attached to it politically, among which the principal are Shelter, Gardiner's, Fisher's, and Plum islands. The population in 1870 was 540,648, of whom all but 144,549 resided in the city of Brooklyn. The coast is deeply indented with numerous bays and inlets, abounding with shell and other fish. A large deep bay, divided into Gardiner's bay, Little Peconic, and Great Peconic, extends inland 30 m., and divides the E. end of the island into two distinct parts, the northern terminating at Oyster Pond point, and the southern at Montauk point, about 20 m. further E. Along the S. border is a remarkable bay nearly 100 m. long and from 2 to 5 m. broad, formed by the Great South beach, a narrow strip of fine white sand from ¼ m. to 1 m. wide, with occasional openings to the ocean. Jamaica, Hempstead, Oyster, and Huntington bays are toward the W. end of the island. The coasts of Long Island have been provided by government with an excellent system of lighthouses, and life-saving stations have been established provided with proper facilities for affording aid to vessels in distress. Though much diversified, the surface presents no great elevations. A ridge of hills extends, with occasional interruptions, from the N. boundary of New Utrecht in the west nearly to the extreme end of the northernmost eastern branch of the island. The highest of these are Harbor hill, at the head of Hempstead harbor, and Jane's hill, one of the West hills in the town of Huntington. A number of spurs known under various names proceed from the main range. To the north of these hills the surface is generally uneven and broken; to the south remarkably level, with a gradual inclination toward the sea. There are several large tracts of apparently infertile plains, portions of which, however, by the application of suitable manures, have been put under profitable cultivation. The island, which has always been abundantly supplied with wood, still contains considerable forests. The great pine plains commence about 40 m. from the W. end, and continue almost uninterruptedly for about 50 m., occupying for that extent nearly one half of the island. There are many springs and small streams; the largest of the latter, the Peconic, flows into Great Peconic bay after a course of 15 m., in which it furnishes numerous mill seats. Fine natural ponds or lakes abound, and many swamps and marshes are scattered over the surface. Of salt marsh the island is computed to contain 116 sq. m. The soil is generally very fertile and under a high state of cultivation, a large portion of the agricultural industry being engaged in providing vegetables for the New York market. The climate, owing to the influence of the sea, is more temperate than in the same latitude in the interior, the thermometer seldom falling below zero or rising above 90°, the mean temperature being about 51°. There are many public resorts on the island for fishing, bathing, and summer residence. The E. portion forms the customs district of Sag Harbor. Here the whale fishery was formerly extensively carried on, but it is nearly extinct. The menhaden fishery is now an important branch of industry, and cod and mackerel fishing are pursued to some extent. The island is well supplied with railroads, the principal lines being the Long Island, which extends nearly the whole length, the South Side, and the Flushing and North Side. — When first discovered Long island was inhabited by 13 tribes of Indians, of whom there now remain but about 200 individuals, mixed with negro blood, and retaining no knowledge of their ancient language. The date of the first settlement by whites has been variously stated. It was commonly supposed to have taken place as early as 1625, but more recent investigations prove this not to have been the case. Stiles in his “History of the City of Brooklyn” indicates 1636 as the date, but a minute of the Dutch council, a translation of which is given in an appendix, shows that settlements began to be made in 1632. These settlements were at the W. end, and under the authority of the Dutch; the E. portion was first settled in 1640 by the English. Its name, which it received from the Dutch, was changed by the colonial legislature to that of the island of Nassau, which was never adopted by the people. The E. extremity was claimed by the colonies of New England, and became the subject of frequent disputes until the final extinction of the Dutch authority by the English. — During the troubles which preceded the revolution the inhabitants of Long Island manifested a strong spirit of patriotism; but the reverses of the American arms suppressed the active coöperation of the people in behalf of independence. After the evacuation of Boston by the British, strenuous efforts were made by Washington to fortify the city of New York and its approaches. Gen. Greene was intrusted with the defence of Long Island, and constructed a line of intrenchments and redoubts from Wallabout bay to Gowanus cove, about a mile from the village of Brooklyn. The main works at the former end were on the hill afterward known as Fort Greene, on which the ditch and embankment still existed some years since, but which has been converted into an ornamental ground under the name of Washington park; on the other extremity, a battery was erected at Red Hook, and a fort on Governor's island, nearly opposite. About 2½ m. from the intrenchments, between them and the S. side of the island, was a range of hills, then densely wooded, and crossed by three roads: one, on the right of the works, passing near the Narrows to Gravesend bay, the central one through Flatbush, and the third far to the left through Bedford to Jamaica. Much confusion was created by Gen. Greene falling sick, and the command devolving upon Gen. Sullivan, then just returned from Lake Champlain, and unacquainted with the ground and with Greene's plans. On Aug. 22, 1776, the British landed 9,000 strong at New Utrecht, on Gravesend bay, without resistance. They were commanded by Sir Henry Clinton, assisted by Lords Cornwallis and Percy, Gen. Grant, and Sir William Erskine. Cornwallis, rapidly advancing to the central pass, found it occupied by the rifle regiment of Col. Hand, and, unwilling to risk an encounter, took post at Flatbush. On the 24th Washington visited the American lines, and appointed Gen. Putnam to their command. On the 25th the British were reënforced by two Hessian brigades under Gen. De Heister, and on the 26th began to carry out their plan of operations, which was to menace the first two passes mentioned, while Sir Henry Clinton with a body of chosen troops was to take possession of the road leading from Jamaica to Bedford. While the works were strengthened and other preparations made to resist attack, the pass by Bedford had been neglected, and only visited by an occasional patrol, who on this night failed to discover the approach of the enemy. Gen. Clinton, accompanied by Gen. Howe, the commander-in-chief, and by Lords Percy and Cornwallis, secured the defile and took possession of the heights without molestation or discovery, being guided by a tory of the neighborhood. The advance of Gen. Grant with the left wing along the road by Gravesend and the Narrows was resisted by Col. Atlee with a guard of Pennsylvania and New York militia. Atlee retired fighting until he had fallen back upon Lord Stirling, who with two regiments had hastened to his relief. Here active firing was kept up by both sides without an attempt at a general action. At the same time De Heister opened a cannonade from Flatbush upon Col. Hand and his riflemen, but without offering to advance, and the guns of the British men-of-war were brought to bear upon the battery at Red Hook. These, however, were mere diversions. Clinton having descended the pass opened his guns on the Americans, and at this signal of his success De Heister ordered the redoubt, of which Gen. Sullivan had taken the command, to be stormed; but the latter, who found his left flank engaged and himself in hazard of being surrounded, ordered a retreat, not soon enough however to escape the light infantry of the British, who drove him back upon De Heister. The Americans still fought bravely, a large body cutting their way through to the intrenchments, the rest who were not killed either escaping among the hills or surrendering as prisoners. Among the latter was Gen. Sullivan. On hearing the cannonade of Clinton, Stirling, who had maintained his position in front of Grant, endeavored to return to the lines, but found himself cut off by Cornwallis. He attacked the enemy with such determination that the British held their ground only by the assistance of reënforcements, until Stirling, seeing no further hope, surrendered. The enemy, having forced all the approaches, were now before the American works, and soon proceeded to intrench themselves and plant their batteries. With this formidable force before him, and with indications that the British fleet intended moving up the river so as to cut the force in Brooklyn entirely off, Washington, who was now in personal command, determined to recross with the American army. This retreat was effected on the night of the 29th with complete success. Long Island from this time until the close of the war remained in the possession of the British. The whigs were subjected to much ill usage, and a partisan warfare between the tories and the whigs from Connecticut was kept up during the greater part of that period.