New York Daily Photo Analytics

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pirate, Part 1

This is a city of islands, shoreline, beaches, bays, canals, piers, cruise ships, ocean freight, ferries, tugboats, boardwalks, sailboats, and even jet skis and kayaking. It is not Venice, but water defines and constrains its borders, and the congestion encountered when leaving or entering a borough will make this abundantly clear.

In Manhattan Island, I wrote:

It is important to note and easy to forget that, first and foremost, Manhattan is an island, and that its role as a harbor is what led it to become the great city that it is. By the early 1800s, after construction of the Erie Canal, NYC was an international port and the greatest shipping center between Europe and America. Unlike cities like San Francisco or Portland, Maine where the maritime presence is very strong, one could easily go weeks, months or longer in NYC and never see or sense the water.

New York City is also decidedly NOT New Jersey, a constant in the collective mind of city inhabitants. It's the place that New Yorkers love to hate but which flanks the West Side of Manhattan, Staten Island, and parts of Brooklyn - from those areas, vistas are nearby communities in New Jersey.

Recently, while in Staten Island, I decided to make a pilgrimage to Sailors Snug Harbor, a very well known historical site that I was familiar with since my first days in New York City but which I had not yet visited.

As I worked my way towards the north shore of Staten Island on Richmond Terrace, an opportunity afforded itself for a spectacular view of the waterway between Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey. For many, this would neither be a scenic photo opportunity nor a waterway to admire, however, perhaps owing to a lifetime traveling the New York City and New Jersey environs, I do sometimes find that industrial vistas can be dramatic or surreal. The SCALE of structures is often mammoth and the objects themselves foreign.

A man sat alone at the end of railroad tracks, admiring the vistas and shipping activity. Not knowing whether he was a vagabond, I struck up a conversation. He identified Bayonne for me and the Bayonne Bridge. The seascape was dominated by container ships, tugboats, and petroleum storage facilities.

Knowing that I would be writing a story, when I asked about his background, he told me that he was a pirate. Hoping this would spice up the story some. I learned that he was a Staten Island native, quite knowledgeable of the area and history of Sailors Snug Harbor, my destination only a short distance away. He informed me that the riches of the Snug Harbor estate was built on piracy. In fact, he was correct.

Thomas Randall had been a privateer — a legalized pirate of sorts. Thomas was an 18th-century Scottish sea captain and world trader who commandeered any French merchant vessel he could defeat. His son, Robert Richard Randall, became the institution’s founder and bequeathed his 20-acre farm in Greenwich Village to set up a home for “aged, decrepit, and worn-out sailors.” There were twists and turns in the history of Sailors' Snug Harbor and their parcels of real estate, which we will visit in Part 2. Makes you want to be a pirate...


Rose from Oz is Back! said...

Brian, do you know what has happened to the area the 'home' was set up on? - the 20 acres?? seems like very interesting G. V. history.

An Honest Man said...

Brian, a minor quibble. 'Scotch' is now only used to refer to whisky or bonnets - otherwise Scottish is used.