Councilwoman Debi Rose launched a drive today to name one of the three new Staten Island ferries after the borough’s historic Sandy Ground settlement. Following up on correspondence with the Department of Transportation last year, the Councilwoman launched a petition today calling for Mayor Bill de Blasio to honor this important chapter in Staten Island history.
“The earliest Staten Island ferry boats were named after places in New York City, including each of the five boroughs and many neighborhoods of Staten Island,” said Councilwoman Rose. “I have asked the mayor and the Department of Transportation to return to that tradition and name one of the three new ferry boats after Sandy Ground, the oldest settlement of free African Americans in the United States.”
“Too few New Yorkers know about this rich chapter in the history of our borough and our nation,” the councilwoman added. “My hope is that the Sandy Ground ferry boat would honor the lives and legacies of the settlers of Sandy Ground by prompting future generations of New Yorkers and visitors to learn more about this settlement, which was, appropriately enough, founded by a ferry captain. Sandy Ground settlers played an important role in our nation, and the settlement brings together many important threads in our borough’s history.”
Located on the southwest shore of Staten Island, Sandy Ground traces its history to Feb. 23, 1828—just one year after slavery was abolished in the state of New York—when Captain John Jackson, a ferry boat operator, became the first African American to own property on Staten Island. Other freed families followed him, thus giving birth to a rural village of black farmers and oyster gatherers that soon became known as Sandy Ground. The community became a center of political activity and social life for free blacks along the East Coast.
The center of the community, the Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, was founded in 1850 and served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Descendants of Sandy Ground settlers still worship there today. The Rossville AME Zion Church, the Sandy Ground Historical Society Museum and Library, and descendants of Sandy Ground settlers work to keep this legacy alive today. Just last year, the New York Landmarks Conservancy announced that 576 gravesites had been discovered at the Rossville AME Zion Church cemetery using specialized radar, making the cemetery home to the remains of 673 Sandy Ground residents.