Once Named Blackwell Island After My Ancestors
Years ago we found out we had an abandoned pioneer family cemetery in rural Missouri. I wrote about my Missouri Blackwell ancestors here if you would like to read about them. As I traced our Blackwell line back through the generations I didn’t think it would lead to Roosevelt Island, previously Blackwell Island, in New York! To find this information I had to trace back to my 7th Great Grandfather Robert Blackwell.
Robert Blackwell 1676-1757
Francis Blackwell 1713-1791
Son of Robert Blackwell
Francis Blackwell 1746-1813
Son of Francis Blackwell
Jeremiah Blackwell 1783-1855
Son of Francis Blackwell
William Blackwell 1810-1870
Son of Jeremiah Blackwell
Lucretia Blackwell 1854-1927
Daughter of William Blackwell
Ameda Joseph Gamache 1885-1958
Son of Lucretia Blackwell
Jeannette Helen Gamache 1922-1983
Daughter of Ameda Joseph Gamache
Malcolm Neil 1951-
Son of Jeannette Helen Gamache
Jenne Ila (me)
Daughter of Malcolm Neil
Robert Blackwell was born in Westminster, London, England in 1630 to Thomas Blackwell and Bridget Madison. When Robert was 32 he was appointed to the prominent position of a Yeoman. This was essentially being a body guard for King Charles II. Yeoman’s were well respected and awarded acres of land and great pay in exchange for their loyalty.
the Yeoman position was reorganized and downsized in 1669. This left Robert without a career.
Around this same time Roberts wife passed away. Robert was now a widower, a single dad of 2 young children, and out of a job. He decided to sell his property, leave England behind, and travel to the newly named territory of New York. The English seized the area from the Dutch and renamed it after James, the Duke of York. Robert first settled in Piscataway, New Jersey which also part York’s territory.
Soon, he relocated to Elizabethtown, New York where I found a deed describing him as a merchant. Six years later he married Mary Manningham, stepdaughter of captain John Manning, on 26 APR 1676. She resided on Mannings Island, in the East River.
originally named Minnahannock by the Canarsie tribe. Minnahannock means ‘Long Island.’
The name appropriately described the island. The dimensions totaled 107 acres (later expanded to 147), is 2 miles long, and 800 feet wide (.15 miles) at its broadest. It runs North-South, opposite of what will become 40 Manhattan blocks from 46th to 86th Streets.
Next, the Dutch acquired the island from the Canarsie Tribe and raised hogs there. It became known as Varcken (Hog) Island. The Dutch lost the territory to the British. The island was soon after awarded to Captain John Manning on July 24, 1667. He moved onto the island and named it Mannings Island. Captain Manning then gifted the island to Robert and Mary Blackwell after their wedding.
quickly Robert became the title holder of the island and the new couple established a residence there renaming it Blackwell Island.
Robert had ten more children during his second marriage. He remained there until his death in October of 1717. The Island stayed within the Blackwell family for two more generations. After the Revolutionary War the Blackwell family was struggling financially. The British, having occupied the island during the War, left the island in a distressed state. Blackwell Island was even used to hold American prisoners of war. Soon after the soldiers left the Blackwell’s ran an advertisement in 1784 and described the property with intent to sell. Below is the description of the island at that time:
… 107 acre island, “was about four miles from the city,” included among other amenities, “two small Dwelling Houses, a Barn, Bake and Fowl House, a Cyder Mill, a large orchard, stone quarries and running springs.”https://www.rihs.us/landmarks/blackwell_house.htm
Blackwell Island was not sold and 12 years later the family was more financially stable. A new home was built on the island, which still stands today. The island remained in the Blackwell family until 1828. The owners, James and Jacob Blackwell, sold it the city of New York for $32,000.
That would be $714,026.67 in todays money. What a steal!
New York quickly built a prison on the island and the Blackwell home functioned as an administration building and residential quarters for staff. Not long after the prison was built the island soon housed workhouses, a hospital, a home for the poor, and a Lunatic Asylum. The Island was renamed in the early 1900’s as Welfare Island due to the style of activity that took place there at the time.
In the late 1960’s the island was again repurposed and began to market itself as a residential island. The island went through one last name change to Roosevelt Island. Today it has several small neighborhoods, parks and a few historical landmarks.
One historical landmark is my ancestors home, Blackwell FARMHouse, which has been restored.
The house is now used as a government center and surrounded by green landscape. At this point in my studies I had completed all this research of the island and understood its connection to my family. I only had one thing left to do. Buy a plane ticket.
I flew into New York and visited this homesite on what was blackwell island.
I knew the dimensions of the island in my brain but seeing it in person was informative. At the end of the island, where the home sits, I could easily hit a golf ball into the East River in either direction. I could physically feel the water rushing round the sides of the island. I was unable to go inside the home, however, I was able to pick a few flowers and made some small mementoes.
Studying, researching and documenting our history is so important and necessary. If you have an opportunity to visit the genealogical site in your family history please take it. It was worth it so many times over to physically see where my Blackwell Family lived and imbedded themselves into American History.
Have you been to Roosevelt Island? Please comment if you have even heard of it!
Having a party or gathering anytime soon? Try making these Stuffed Mushrooms!