Part #5 of 12
Their Island, Homes, Cemetery and Early Genealogy in Queens County, NY by permission of its author, an 11th generation Abraham Rijcken vanLent descendant, Edgar Alan Nutt.
No record has been found of the disposition of each brother’s half of the island. Abraham had ten children and died on February 23, 1770, in his seventy-ninth year. If it had been left to a specified heir or heirs, it passed out of his or their hands by as early as about 1785, as will be shown below. However Abraham himself may have sold his half, or in the settlement of his estate it may have been sold.
What happened to Andrew’s half is also not known. He left five children as well as his widow, Jane (Berrien), who died on Sepember 26, 1775. His will provided that his widow have the use of his real and personaL estate during her widowhood, so unless he had sold or otherwise disposed of his half of the island during his lifetime, it remained in his estate through September 1775.
James Riker states that “two years after the Peace of 1783 Mr. Riker bought the half of Riker’s Island, erected a house there, and made it his residence, subsequently purchasing the other half of the Island.” That “Mr. Riker” was Andrew, son of Abraham.
A gap in the known line of ownership of Riker’s Island therefore exists, as short for one half of the island as from 1770 (Abraham’s year of death) to 1785 (two years after the peace).
The same sources states that Andrew’s son Peter, who died in 1851, had moved to the island with his father and had lived on the island for nearly sixty years.
As will be shown in another section below, the entire island was rented to other parties in 1847, therefore Peter could not have lived on it after 1847 and the “almost sixty years” must have begun no earlier than about 1787. Andrew therefore must have bought this half by 1787, and he could have done so somewhat earlier, possibly in 1785. Which half was which is impossible to tell without the pertinent deeds. . . .
At some point after 1785 Andrew had bought both halves, reuniting the ownership of the island; and he built a house and settled there. His household consisted of himself, his wife Elizabeth (Wyckoff) who died on March 5, 1789, their son Peter together with his wife Mary (Kelly), whom he had married on May 19, 1782, and the first of their six children, Andrew, who had been born on April 1, 1784.
Initially there were therefore four adults and one infant in the house which appears to have been the first on Riker’s Island since George Hewlett’s which was destroyed in the Indian attack in the middle of the seventeenth century.
Andrew died in his eighty-sixth year on November 14, 1815, leaving a May 17, 1806, will which was probated on April 19, 1816, and which left the island to his two sons, Abraham and Peter. Following Andrew’s death the island household consisted of Peter with his wife and probably two teen-aged children. He then had joint ownership of Riker’s Island with Abraham who according to the same source spent the latter part of his life living on the island.
He had been born on May 10, 1756, and died on January 28, 1843, so 1815 or thereabouts could have marked the beginning of his life’s latter part. Probably, therefore, he moved to the island soon after his father’s death, and since his four children had long since reached their majority, he was probably accompanied only by his wife. Presumably the two of them moved into the house, making it a probably crowded household of four adults and two teen-aged children who no doubt remained only several more years.
On May 11, 1826, eleven years after inheriting his half interest in Riker’s Island, Abraham mortaged that share to Cornelius Berrien who was a Newtown neighbor and pilot. On equal date with the mortage indenture a bond between Abraham and Cornelius Berrien was executed, and both documents specify Abraham’s indebtedness as being five hundred dollars at five percent per annum, with the indenture in addition referring to a penal sum of one thousand dollars. The indenture’s security, in case there was default with respect to the bond, was:
“All the one and undivided moiety or half part of the certain island whereon the said Abraham Riker now lives, situate lying and being in the East River, within the limits of the Township of New Town, in Queens County and State of New York aforesaid, commonly known and distinguished by the name of Riker’s Island; Together with all and singular the tenements and appurtenances thereunto belonging...”
The mortgage had a history of its own. Cornelius Berrien died, probably on August 6, 1833, and on May 12, 1834, an executor of his estate sold the mortgage to his nephew, Ezra N. Berrien, for five hundred dollars, the full amount of the mortgage.
There is a report that Ezra N. Berrien, who was a Newtown farmer and Cornelius’ nephew, owned Riker’s Island; however it is clear from this document that he merely owned the mortgage. On September 16, 1839, he similarly sold and assigned the mortgage to another Newtown farmer and neighbor, Luke Kouwenhoven.
A series of receipts shows that payments of interest due on the mortgage were annually paid and that in 1839 a principal payment of three hundred dollars was made. A final receipt dated May 2, 1845, showed that Luke Kouwenhoven received from Jeremiah Welch, acting executor of the estate of Abraham Riker, $235.70 in full for principal and interest due on and in cancellation of the mortgage.
Abraham had died on January 28, 1843, his widow before him on April 12, 1841. Although he died testate, the September 16, 1837, will has not been found, and while also no appraisal of his real and personal property has been found, there is an inventoryof his personalty, plus a record of the July 7, 1845, sale of farm crops on the reverse side of the inventory sheet, as follow, which shed some light on life on Riker’s Island. . . .
Living on the island necessitated having both a boat and tools to build or maintain a boat, and it required being able to make as well as to repair iron ware and tools. The farm, or at least Abraham’s part of it, was an active one, in spite of his age; he raised hay, corn, and flax, and livestock included at least one cow, although apparently not a horse.
The household items are more surprising: eight bedsteads and twelve matresses together with twenty-four chairs suggest a large house or perhaps the means of sqeezing many people into a small house. Two bird cages and a quantity of books suggest that all was not work.
Two absences from the inventory are surprising. The surviving pieces of an antique set of table china, unmarked and without decoration other than gold trim, in the author’s possession, for generations have been identified as “the Riker’s Island china,” and the inventory does not include them.
Additionally there is a pair of girandols, again always referred to as having come from the island, that is not included. Most surprising is the extent of the inventory items, enough to furnish a whole house. It was assumed above that Abraham and his wife moved into the house on the island in which his brother and wife plus initially probably two teen-aged children lived, making a household of six at the most, and without doubt the house was already furnished.
However the extent of the items in the inventory suggest that there was a second house on the island, even though no reference to a second house has been found and no indication of a second house appears on either an 1839 map or on the 1852 map in The Annals of Newtown. On both, these maps the location of a single house is at the north end of the island.
Of Abraham’s four children only Elizabeth survived him. Sons Peter and John died on November 10, 1829, and on February 14, 1823, respectively, both not married, while son Abraham, a widower, died on March 14, 1823, leaving three children.
Elizabeth had survived her first husband, Benjamin Franklin Welch, the father of Jeremiah Welch, the acting executor of Abraham’s estate and the great- great-grandfather of the author, and had secondly married Andrew VanHorn. Elizabeth from the estate received $1189.82, son Abraham’s three children each $396.61, one of Elizabeth’s sons and one grandson each $296.80, and two persons of undetermined relationship to Abraham $297.47. Abraham’s total distributable estate was therefore $3270.72.
To settle the estate, and therefore to reduce Abraham’s assets to distributable cash, the mortgage on his half share of Riker’s Island had to be retired and the island had to be sold. The first was accomplished as above. The sale was dated on May 2, 1845, as per the deed recorded on the following day in Liber 65, page 264. The terms of the deed specified the price as six thousand dollars and the grantees as “Henry Riker of the township of Newtown aforesaid farmer and Edward Riker of the City and State of New York, builder”.
The island’s description was simply “all the one equal undivided moiety or half part of all that certain island situated in the east River or Sound within the Township of Newtown aforesaid now and for a long time past known as Riker’s Island containing one hundred acres of land be the same more or less.”
With J. L. Riker and Abram R. Welch as the witnesses and with D. Phoenix Riker as the certifying Commissioner of Deeds, the deed was a family affair. In addition to the deed there is the receipt of attorneys J.H. & H. L Riker for “drawing the contract for the sale of undivided moiety of Rikers Island” and for “drawing Executor’s deed from Jeremiah Welch to Henry and Edward Riker.”
With this sale the ownership of Riker’s Island passed entirely into the family of Abraham’s brother Peter, for the two purchasers were two of his sons: Henry and Edward; and as a result of the sale the ownership continued to be undivided with Peter having a half share and the sons each a quarter share.
The motive for the two new quarter share owners buying their shares of Riker’s Island from Abraham’s estate cannot be known for certain; their wanting to live on it with their father might be a possibility, but their looking upon the island as a good investment seems more likely.
By early in 1847 Peter had moved out of the house and off the island, completing the “almost sixty years” of his residence there, and on February 18, 1847, the three owners signed a leases for the entire island in favor of Moses Brown, a Newtown farmer, and John Marshall, a Westchester County boatman. The term of the lease was five years from March 1, 1847, at the rate of four hundred dollars a year to be paid semi-annually.
The island was described as containing “one hundred acres of Land, be the same more or less,” and there were no restrictions on the use of the island by the renters except that no one was to “cut down or mutilate any of the trees.”
This last provision may have been to protect an apple orchard that was referred to some fifteen or so years later.
Messrs. Brown and Marshall had had enough of leasing the island before the expiration date, and on November 12, 1849, they assigned their lease to Jacob A. Appley of New York City.
The new lessee did not last long. On February 18, 1851, he assigned the lease to Richard Totten, but with several provisions: Totten was to be responsible for two hundred dollars in rent plus a tax payment of thirty dollars, and Appley retained the use of the house and the barn.
The original lease indenture made no mention of who was responsible for the property tax and it is difficult to not suspect that Appley turned this to his advantage, as he did with his continued right to the use of the house and barn, even though his assignee was obligated for paying the rent at the full rate.
The reference to “the” house is strong evidence that there was but a single one on the island, in spite of the implication of Abraham’s personalty inventory to the contrary discussed above, unless of course a second house had in the meantime been removed or destroyed.
A hand-written note added to the indenture was signed by Richard Totten and witnessed by J. S. Riker, it is simply “I hereby Assign under the within Lease. Dated 26 April 1851.”
Presumably Richard Totten held the island and Jacob A. Appley the house and barn through the remainder of the lease’s term until March 1, 1852. In the meantime, on February 5, 1851, in his ninety-first year, Peter Riker died. Little record of Edward has been located except that he was born on September 4, 1789, and that in 1847 he was a carpenter in New York City.
If, however, he is the same Edward whose wife was Mary and who had a daughter, Mary Jane Adeline, who was born on August 18, 1845, and was baptised as a paternal orphan in Schenectady on May 2, 1852, then it would appear that by about the lease’s expiration date Henry would have been Riker’s Island’s sole remaining share holder of the three. However, two deeds executed less than three months after Peter’s demise and about a year before the lease’s expiration date make irrelevant to the island’s ownership the status of the two sons.
On March 15, 1851, two virtually identical deeds to the same Richard Totten, a former ropemaker, and to Joshua Totten, a farmer, were made by Peter Riker’s “only children and heirs at law:” Andrew and Ann his wife, Edward and Mary Eliza his wife, Henry and Deborah his wife, Hannah and her husband Jacob L. Mott (who received her right), and Robert and Phebe his wife.
The first deed for half of the island, for nine thousand two hundred dollars, was recorded on April 26, 1851, in Liber 88, page 255, subject to the discharge of a May 2, 1845, six thousand dollar mortgage (recorded in Liber T.T. of mortgages, page 395) made by Peter, Henry and his wile, and Edward in favor of Luke Kouwenhoven.
The deed was executed by the five heirs and their spouses and was witnessed by J. L. Riker. The deed for the other half of the island was recorded on March 17, 1855, in Liber 128, page 385. No indication has been found as to either the disposition of the unexpired lease of the island or the long delay in the recording of the second lease.
As to why the grantors in the two deeds were identical although in fact one half was owned by Henry and Edward in their own rights while the other half was owned by Peter’s five heirs including Henry and Edward, the reason probably lies in the fact that the two halves were equal but undivided such that there were no specific locations and that by the deeds as made there was no question but that the entire island was conveyed regardless of what part by whom and on what basis it was acquired.
The result was that the two Tottens acquired equal but undivided half shares of the whole island while Henry and Edward each received 35% of the net of the twelve thousand four hundred dollar combined sale price and the other three heirs each received 10% of the net. With that, and contrary to several conflicting family legends as to who of the Rikers were the final ones to have owned and then to have sold it, Riker’s Island, after almost two hundred years of almost continuous ownershop, passed out of the Riker family.
On May 1, 1851, a month and a half after acquiring his half share for nine thousand two hundred dollars, Joshua Totten and his wife sold that half share to Cornelius Eagles for the same amount. The deed, recorded on July 9, 1851, in Liber 190, page 149, referred to the same mortgage mentioned above and in addition to a mortgage between the two Tottens and their wives and the same Luke Kouwenhoven for two thousand five hundred dollars made on April 28, 1851, and recorded in Liber 59 of mortgages, page 184.
Richard Totten on September 11, 1851, executed a similar deed, but for ten thousand dollars, to Cornelius K. Sutton.
A September 2, 1851, receipt for five hundred dollars by Totten from Sutton was recorded that date in Liber 92, page 73, and was witnessed by Riker in-law Harris Wilson and A. C. Kingsland of whom more below.
These two deeds resulted in Riker’s Island being owned, again in undivided equal half shares, by Cornelius Eagles and Cornelius K. Sutton.
The Governor of New York, John T. Hoffman, on October 6, 1871, executed Letters Patent which granted to Daniel G. Kingsland, Ambrose C. Kingsland, Cornelius K. Sutton, and John T. Wilson land surrounding Riker’s Island “under water and between high and low water mark” as identified in a March 11, 1871, survey made by Ward Carpenter and Sons of Tarrytown.
The deed, recorded on November 11, 1879, in Liber 549 page 392 (and in Book 42 of patents, page 148, the Secretary of State’s Office), includes the survey’s metes and bounds, specifies that the conveyed land contained 15 and 1/3 acres surrounding the island’s 73 and 1/3 acres, and refers to a September 28, 1871, resolution of the State’s Commissioners of the Land Office as authorizing the grant.
In the twenty year interval between the above September 11, 1851, deed, and the present one various matters had occurred: the island was used as the venue for a series of prize fights and as a military camp during the Civil War . . .
In addition ownership had changed from Eagles and Sutton to two Kingslands, Wilson, and the same Sutton. Eagles had died on February 27, 1854, and while no instrument has been found whereby his half interest was conveyed, it appears that that interest had been passed to the two Kingslands, each thereby owning a one-quarter share of the island.
Similarly while no relevant instrument has been found it appears that Sutton had retained half of his half interest while conveying the other half to Wilson. Prior to the 1871 deed ownership had thus devolved to four one-quarter shares, one to each of Daniel G. Kingsland, Ambrose C. Kingsland, Cornelius K. Sutton, and John T. Wilson.
Between the previous deed’s date and May 17, 1884, the two Kingslands and Sutton had all died such that, in a deed of the latter date to John T. Wilson for one hundred twelve thousand five hundred dollars, the grantees were the executors and wives of the three decedents. [Ambrose C. Kingsland died on October 14, 1878.]
The deed specified William H. Kingsland as the surviving executor of Daniel C. Kingsland; George L. Kingsland, Ambrose C. Kingsland (Jr. or the 2nd?), and Cornelius F. Kingsland as executors of Ambrose C. Kingsland; and Clara B. Sutton, Ambrose C. Kingsland, and Gregory Sutton as executors for Cornelius K. Sutton.; it was executed by these executors plus two wives; and it was recorded on August 23, 1884, in Liber 637 page 365.
The deed explicitly identified the conveyance as being of “three equal undivided fourth parts” of Riker’s Island plus the underwater lands granted by the previous deed, thus confirming the devolvement identified above. The result was that by this deed John T. Wilson owned Riker’s Island and its surrounding under water land in its entirety.
On August 8, 1884, John T. Wilson and Josephine his wife sold his entire holding to the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commonalty of the City of New York for one hundred and eighty thousand dollars, as recorded on August 23, 1884, (same date as the previous deed’s recording), in Liber 637, page 370.
This conveyance was preceded by two necessary actions. On May 25, 1884, the State’s governor signed a bill authorizing the City to buy Riker’s Island for an unspecffied use for no more than one hundred and eighty thousand dollars; and on August 5, 1884, the Commissioners of Charities and Correction contracted to buy the island for the aforesaid price including one thousand dollars for a title search.
The flurry of deeds in less than six months of 1851 plus the rapidity by which John T. Wilson sold the island suggest that the transactions may have been part of a plan, and the persons involved support that inference.
Ambrose C. Kingsland was Mayor of New York City in 1851 and 1852 (the first mayor under newly-adopted law to serve for a two-year term rather than the former one-year term), and was a person of wealth and influence. He was a ship owner and sperm whale oil merchant with a mansion at 114 Fifth Avenue, but he is chiefly known for his role in the city’s acquisition of Central Park.
His involvement in Riker’s Island matters began at least as early as September 21, 1851, when he was a witness to Richard Totten’s receipt of partial payment by Cornelius K. Sutton. This was done while he was mayor, and he was uncle to Cornelius K. Sutton whose middle name was Kingsland.
As he had the vision for the city to have the benefit of Central Park, perhaps he also envisioned the future usefulness of the island. The other Kingslands, both his co-owners and the various Kingsland executors, as well as the other Suttons, were without doubt his relatives. Perhaps they were, in the 1884 sale to Wilson, fulfilling his plan, as well as reaping a handsome profit for their estates.
The case would be stronger if Wilson had also been a Kingsland relative (and even stronger if also the Tottens), but there is no such indication. John T. Wilson was a prominent person in his own right whose wealth came from selling provisions during the Franco-Prussian War as well as from his cracker factory at 73-79 Fulton Street in Manhattan. At the latter he employed over 300 men and boys in the six story building that had 26 ovens and consumed 1500 barrels of flour per week.
During the Civil War he was a prime supplier to the Army and the Navy. On January 3, 1863, a gigantic fire destroyed the factory and about a dozen other businesses in neighboring buildings. It might be speculated that Wilson was a front for the Kingslands such that the family of the former mayor would not be seen as profitting from the acquisition and sale of the island which, at the time and no doubt in the eyes of most New Yorkers, would not have been a pressing need.
The remoteness of Riker’s Island appears to have made it irresistible in the 1850s as a site for what the area newspapers called the “disgusting spectacle” of prize fights which were seen as contrary to the public good, if not outrightly illegal.
During the night of April 27, 1852, three chartered steamboats transported friends and others from lower Manhattan to Riker’s Island; the fight between Phil Clare and Englishman George Leese began after daybreak and lasted for nine rounds in 21 minutes; it ended with the latter being knocked out and with a resulting riot.
The next year on the morning of March the first a 15 minute bout between Adams and Connaty, attended by several hundred, resulted in Connaty’s winning the $150 prize. It was noted that the authorities made no attempt to prevent or to stop the fight, but the following day Adams was caught and subsequently sentenced to six months in prison. This fight was arranged by one Robert Lees about whom nothing further has been learned.
On February 7, 1855, a fight between Jack Leese and Jim Mclntire of Philadelphia was arranged but was prevented by the police from taking place. There may have been still other fights but that of the morning of July 9, 1856, was the most remarkable. Over three hundred spectators left Rivington Street at one o’clock on the ship Titan and arrived at three. The fight between Englishman Barney Aaron and a mulatto named Robinson began at daybreak, lasted for 80 rounds in 2 hours and 20 minutes, and resulted in Aaron being declared the winner.
On July 14, 1856, a fight began but lasted only for four rounds before the arrival of the police. The final fight on record was scheduled to take place on July 16, 1867, but the police arrested the fighters before the fight could begin.
These fights, whether taken place or aborted, were during the ownership of the island by Cornelius K. Sutton and either Cornelius Eagles or his Kingsland heirs or assigns, and it might be wondered whether these men sanctioned the encounters or had no knowledge about them. Either way those that occurred while Ambrose C. Kingsland was the city’s mayor would possibly have been an embarrassment to him if his connection with the island had been commonly known.
Civil War-related Rikers Island notes, see
===>>>Rikers Island was 'Camp Astor'<<<===
Rikers Island's role in NY correction history warrants our providing material on its "pre-Correction" background that is so bound up with Rikers family history. Bishop Nutt's book serves as an excellent vehicle for doing that. His approach is not exclusively or narrowly genealogical. More than simply tracing lineage, he places his family history in wider chronological and geographic contexts through which his exhaustive research tracked it, thus reflecting much other history -- of the island, county, city and country.
Strictly genealogical citations, notes, and codes in the printed book have been reduced or dropped in these excerpts. This presentation includes a book print copy information page.
NYCHS retains and reserves all rights to images of photos it took during the June 5, 2005 homestead tour and the September 1998 Samuel Perry Center dedication and their captions as well as captions of inserted images not taken from the printed book.