An independent city prior to 1898, Brooklyn developed out of the small Dutch-founded town of "Breuckelen" on the East River shore of Long Island, named after Breukelen in the Netherlands.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to settle the area on the western edge of Long Island, which was then largely inhabited by the Canarsie Native American tribe. The settlement was part of New Netherland, and the Dutch West India Company lost little time in chartering the six original towns (listed here first by their later, more common English names):
Many incidents and documents relating to this period are in Gabriel Furman's early (1824) compilation.
The capital of the colony, New Amsterdam across the river, obtained its charter later than Brooklyn did, in 1653.
What is today Brooklyn left Dutch hands after the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664, to become a part of the colony of New York.
The English organized the six old Dutch towns of southwestern Long Island as Kings County on November 1, 1683 (N.Y. Col. Laws, ch4/1:122), one of twelve counties then established in New York. This tract of land was recognized as a political entity for the first time, and the municipal groundwork was laid for a later expansive idea of Brooklyn identity.
Lacking the patroon and tenant farmer system of the Hudson Valley, this agricultural county achieved one of the highest fractions of slaves among the population of any county in the English continental colonies.
On August 27, 1776, the Battle of Long Island (also known as the Battle of Brooklyn) was one of the first major engagements fought in the American Revolutionary War. British troops forced Continental troops off the heights near the modern sites of Green-Wood Cemetery, Prospect Park, and Grand Army Plaza. The American positions at Brooklyn Heights consequently became untenable and were evacuated a few days later, leaving the British in control of New York Harbor.
The surrounding region was controlled by the British for the duration of the war, and the British military was largely supported by a dominant Loyalist sentiment in Kings County. New York only changed from a British colony to an American state with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The first half of the 19th century saw the beginning of the development of urban areas on the economically strategic East River shore of Kings County, facing the adolescent City of New York confined to Manhattan Island. The New York Navy Yard operated in Wallabout Bay (border between Brooklyn and Williamsburgh) for the entire 19th Century and two thirds of the 20th.
The first center of urbanization sprang up in the Town of Brooklyn, directly across from Lower Manhattan, which saw the incorporation of the Village of Brooklyn in 1816. Reliable steam ferry service across the East River to Fulton Landing converted Brooklyn Heights into a commuter town for Wall Street. Ferry Road to Jamaica Pass became Fulton Street to East New York. Town and Village were combined to form the first, kernel incarnation of the City of Brooklyn in 1834.
In parallel development, the Town of Bushwick, a little farther up the river, saw the incorporation of the Village of Williamsburgh in 1827, which separated as the Town of Williamsburgh in 1840, only to form the short-lived City of Williamsburgh in 1851. Industrial deconcentration in mid-century was bringing shipbuilding and other manufacturing to the northern part of the county. Each of the two cities and six towns in Kings County remained independent municipalities, and purposely created non-aligning street grids with different naming systems.
But the East River shore was growing too fast for the three-year-old infant City of Williamsburgh, which, along with its Town of Bushwick hinterland, was subsumed within a greater City of Brooklyn in 1854.
Agitation against Southern slavery was stronger in Brooklyn than in New York, and under Republican leadership the city was fervent in the Union cause in the Civil War. A great victory arch at Grand Army Plaza was built after the war, and a smaller monument to Abolitionist leader Henry Ward Beecher downtown.
Taking a thirty-year break from municipal expansionism, this well-situated coastal city established itself as the third-most-populous American city for much of the 19th century. As 'Twin City' to New York, it played a role in national affairs that is only now shadowed by its modern submergence into its old partner/rival.
Economic growth continued, propelled by immigration and industrialization. The waterfront from Gowanus Bay to Greenpoint was developed with piers and factories. Industrial access to the waterfront was improved by the Gowanus Canal and the canalized Newtown Creek. The USS Monitor was only the most famous product of the large and growing shipbuilding industry of Williamsburg. After the Civil War, trolley lines and other transport brought urban sprawl beyond Prospect Park and into the center of the county.
The rapidly growing population needed more water, so the City built centralized waterworks including the Ridgewood Reservoir. The municipal Police Department, however, was abolished in 1854 in favor of a Metropolitan force covering also New York and Westchester Counties. In 1865 the BFD also gave way to the new Metropolitan Fire District.
Throughout this period the peripheral towns of Kings County, far from Manhattan and even from urban Brooklyn, maintained their rustic independence. The only municipal change seen was the secession of the eastern section of the Town of Flatbush as the Town of New Lots in 1852. The building of rail links such as the Brighton Beach Line in 1878 heralded the end of this isolation.
Sports became big business, and the Brooklyn Bridegrooms played professional baseball at Washington Park in the convenient suburb of Park Slope and elsewhere. Early in the next Century they brought their new name of Brooklyn Dodgers to Ebbets Field, beyond Prospect Park. Racetracks, amusement parks and beach resorts opened in Brighton Beach, Coney Island and elsewhere in the southern part of the county.
Toward the end of the 19th century, the City of Brooklyn experienced its final, explosive growth spurt. Railroads and industrialization spread to Bay Ridge and Sunset Park. In the space of a decade, the city annexed the Town of New Lots in 1886, the Town of Flatbush, the Town of Gravesend, the Town of New Utrecht in 1894, and the Town of Flatlands in 1896.
Brooklyn had reached its natural municipal boundaries at the ends of Kings County. The question was now whether it was prepared to engage in the still-grander process of consolidation now developing throughout the region. Andrew Haskell Green and other progressives said yes, and eventually they prevailed against the Daily Eagle and other conservative forces.
In 1898, Brooklyn residents voted by a slight majority to join with Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens and Richmond (later Staten Island) as the five boroughs to form the modern City of Greater New York. Kings County retained its status as one of New York State's counties. The loss of Brooklyn's separate identity as a city was met with consternation by some residents at the time. The merger was called the "Great Mistake of 1898" by many newspapers of the day, and the phrase still denotes Brooklyn pride among old-time Brooklynites.
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