Algonnquin Indians, who are more commonly known under the general label ‘Lenape’, originally occupied the village of Tottenville. Proof of their residence lies in the large burial ground that is located in what is now known as Conference House Park in Tottenville. In 1687, seventeen years after the English had taken over the Island, the Royal Navy captain Christopher Billopp’s land grant on the part of the Duke of York was increased to 1,600 acres, which included not only the area known as Tottenville, but also the entire south shore (and perhaps more). After the Revolutionary War this vast tract of land was parceled up into private farms and locales, forming a town known as Westfield, Bently’s (after Billop’s sailing vessel) Manor and Tottenville over the next century and a half. (Tottenville Historical Society, 2012).
The demographic over time:
The earliest settlers of Tottenville were the Lenape. The largest Indian burial ground that we have access to, and the relics and ruins along the shore attest to this. In 1670 the Lenape left Staten Island, and the land remained largely unsettled until 1687, when it was incorporated into Billop’s estate.
The house that he built became famous as the ‘Conference House’ for the Revolutionary War conference that was held there.
Following the War, the land and house were confiscated and divided due to the family’s Tory loyalties. At this point, a town began to develop here. The earliest settlers of the space were Caucasians of Northern European descent (including family names like Totten, Smith, Hill, and Corsen) who established farms, and formed the first lasting settlements in this area. (Tottenville Historical Society 2011)
By the 1800s the Oyster Industry and other developing or established Industries, like shipbuilding, promoted a shift from primarily agrarian to Industrial within the town. (Italians, a source of cheap labor on the docks, as opposed to the dominant Irish and English of the past, presumably gained a racial foothold in the town with these developments.) According to most sources, the population, even with shifting European dominance, remained primarily homogeneous with respect to origin –as in, from Caucasian Europe.
It was not until as late as 1964, when the Verrazano Bridge was opened, decreasing the importance of Tottenville as an Industrial center, directly connecting Staten Island to the rest of New York City and beginning the spread of the diversity of the city into Staten Island, that the town began to grow (Tottenville Historical Society 2011), and its homogeneity started to disintegrate. However, this process has begun at the North Shore, with an Influx of Blacks, Hispanics and recently Asians, as well as other minorities that make up less than .5% of the population. (This burgeoning diversity has also appeared to increase the religious diversity on the Island, primarily Catholic in the past.) It is only recently that the south shore has seen the actuality of these immigration trends. (Berger;Urbina 2003).
The demographic within Tottenville today:
Tottenville is still populated mainly by Caucasians. Blacks, Asians and Hispanics represent the marked minorities within the town. Each of these has seen recent increases. According to Joseph Berger and Ian Urbina, in an article published in the N.Y. Times on Septemer 25, 2003, entitled “Along With Population and Diversity, Stress Rises on Staten I: More Diversity on Staten Island,” the southernmost neighborhoods of the Island, including Tottenville, had recently seen the greatest increase in minority representations –Black, Hispanic and Asian –among a predominantly White (most likely of European descent) population. According to a graph in the same article, prior to the year 2000 only the Asian presence (of these three minorities) in the south was greater than ~1% of the population.
The article also mentions the then recent phenomenon of students belonging to these minorities transferring into Tottenville High, which had a “93.7% white population” from minority dominated schools on other parts of the Island (mostly in the northern neighborhoods). (Berger;Urbina 2003)
When asked, Arthur J. Weiss, a resident of the southern edge of Pleasant Plains who often visits Tottenville, replied that the majority of the Tottenville population was, indeed, White. He also mentioned that the majority of those whites were of Italian descent. On the growth of minorities, he stated that Asians seemed to be more numerous than in the past, but that there were also more Blacks and Hispanics in his own neighborhood in addition to Tottenville proper (interview on April 15, 2012).
The place we now call Tottenville, once a home to the Lenape, for years a british lord’s family Estate, and known as ‘Bently’s Manor’, ‘Westfield, and nearly ‘Allantsville’ over the years, was never a place of racial or ethnic diversity. Home to a population of European Caucasian descent, it has only recently been faced with an influx of some of the minority populations that characterize NY City as a whole, mainly Hispanics, Blacks and Asians. It remains to be seen how well the Southern tip of Staten Island will adapt to the flexibility necessary for a multi-ethnic, multi-racial environment.
Berger, Joseph, and Ian Urbina. 2003. Along with population and diversity, stress rises on staten I. New York Times (1923-Current file), Sep 25, 2003. Accessed April 15, 2012. http://central.ezproxy.cuny.edu:2048/docview/92489223?accountid=26979
Tottenville Historical Society, First. Tottenville Historical Society, “Tottenville Historical Society.” Last modified 2011. Accessed April 11, 2012. http://www.tottenvillehistory.com/index.php.
Tottenville Historical Society, First. Tottenville Historical Society, “About Tottenville.” Last modified 2011. Accessed April 15, 2012. http://www.tottenvillehistory.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=2&Itemid=14
Tzivya S. Weiss, April 15, 2012, Interview on the Current Population of Tottenville, Interviewee Arthur J. Weiss. http://eportfolios.macaulay.cuny.edu/sibilia12/2012/04/16/interveiw/