The history of Port Richmond immigration centers around new opportunity as well as ambition. European explorers first founded Staten Island when Giovanni da Verrazano discovered the Island in 1524. Trade played a big part in Staten Island immigration. Henry Hudson established Dutch trade in 1609, which led to the eventual population of the area now known as Port Richmond starting in the mid seventeenth century. Dutch, French and Belgium immigrants were the first to settle in Staten Island however Greeks were also motivated by business opportunities available in Port Richmond. Despite not commonly using their real Greek names in business, the Greeks did play a significant role in commerce in Port Richmond.
Port Richmond, also called Northfield in the past, started off as a small town located on Northern Staten Island. Residents created a cemetery in Port Richmond, and the rest of the community developed around the graveyard. Early Port Richmond had such a tie to the graveyard that it was even referenced as the burial place by locals. Churches, such a Dutch Reformation church appeared in Port Richmond as early as 1715, as local Dutch settlers sought to practice their own religion on the island. Also known as the Church at the North Side, the Reformation Church would develop its own archive which would include the theological writings of Rev. Cornelius Van Santvoord. The longevity of the church’s presence on the Island is a testament to its influence on immigration. Free practice of religion was one of the many reasons for immigration to America, as reflected by the churches that appeared in Port Richmond.
Several remaining artifacts from Port Richmond’s history give a glimpse into the lifestyle of immigrants in Port Richmond’s history. A Japanese Mai Ogi fan observed in the Staten Island Historic Richmond Town Collection sheds light on different social groups of people on the island.
This novelty item became popular after its appearance during the world fair of 1876. The fact that a family business was selling such a luxury item suggests both wealth and trade were part of Port Richmond culture in the late nineteenth century. Staten Island had to be involved in trading or shipping business or else shop owners wouldn’t have been able to stock hand made items made as far as way as Japan.
Another noteworthy item, also found in Staten Island Historic Richmond Town’s Collection was a volunteer firefighter’s hat from 1894. Some immigrants sought jobs as merchants, worked on the docks or even became firefighters. Many immigrants such as Alvin B. DePuy even ended up as volunteer firefighters, and worked other jobs in between fighting fires.
Other objects including a firefighter’s trumpet, which was owned by Wilbur F. Disosway, a foreman of Zephyr Hose Company No. 4 in 1863, convey the use of technology to facilitate firefighting. Firefighting could have drawn residents to Port Richmond, either for work or because residents felt safe.
Finally, the panic of 1893 as well as shipping industry in Port Richmond could be linked to increased immigration in Staten Island due to a lack of jobs, both nationally and worldwide. Staten Island immigration has always been about new opportunities, forming communities, and achieving freedom. Port Richmond maintains a history of being a major part of transportation, shipping, and industrial that happened on the island.
Colton, Tim. 2010. “New York Harbor Ferry Boats.” Last modified November 14. http://shipbuildinghistory.com/today/statistics/nyferries.htm.
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“Port Richmond – Old Staten Island.” Old Staten Island. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
Papas, Phillip, and Lori Robin Weintrob. Port Richmond. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Pub., 2009. Print.