On Oct. 10, 1645, Director William Kieft of New Netherland granted a patent to a group of
English settlers, among them the Lawrence and Hicks families, to develop a farming settlement
on Western Long Island. The area encompassed a section of approximately 16,000 acres of land.
That land was later to become Flushing Township, a truly unique area once composed of wild
coastal land, rich forests and open meadow.
At the time of the Dutch occupation, the area was called Vlishing or Vlissingen by the Dutch.
The township extended south to “the hills,” a high ridge evident on Long Island.
It included Flushing Creek, named “Head of the Vleigh” by the Dutch. Originally, the Dutch
government secured the area from the Algonquin nation, probably for the usual price of 50 acres
of land in exchange for an axe and the right for Indians to collect all the bulrushes they desired.
The Dutch then named the area for the city of Flushing in Holland and the name has applied ever
The area thrived with a mingling of cultures and peoples. There were numerous indications
of Indian life along the coastal region and in the woodlands, especially in Little Neck where the
tribes found raw materials for the production of wampum. Indian burial grounds and villages were
obvious to the English settlers as well as the authoritative Dutch rule
The Lawrence family settled in the area now known as College Point and later extended into
Bayside. Later, when William Lawrence became a wealthy merchant and ship owner, the Bayside
area was enriched by the tall-masted trading ships that sailed her waters.
Thomas Hicks settled in the Little Neck area and named his land for the way that it stubbornly
extended itself out into the bay water.
There was another patch of land that required a proper name. Before the earliest settlers
came to this area, the Indians had a landmark that served as a marker for guiding them to shore.
Later, the Dutch and finally, the English ships were guided by the same marker that had served
the Indian dugouts. The marker was a large, white boulder that stood upon the shore and the area
was named for this boulder. It still is called to this day, Whitestone.
One outstanding feature of the early history of Flushing is its stand for religious freedom. In
1651, a Quaker farmer named John Bowne purchased a piece of land from the Indians for eight
strings of wampum. He built his home on that land in 1661 and it was used as a place of worship by
his fellow Quakers. Today, the Bowne House is still standing in Flushing and is considered to be
the oldest house of worship in New York.
However, the simple, quiet life sought by the Quakers in Flushing Township was not to
materialize. In the year 1657, a Quaker named Robert Hodgson was arrested for preaching his
religious ideals. Director Peter Stuyvesant had him brought from his Hempstead home to New
Amsterdam where he was chained, imprisoned, whipped and forced to do hard labor.
The Quakers of Flushing, as well as other town residents, would not passively accept a harsh
action, especially since Director Stuyvesant had been intolerant of Quakers in the past. They were
persecuted and local residents were fined by Stuyvesant for even harboring a Quaker in their
homes. As a protest, 26 residents of Flushing signed a lengthy rebuke to the director, calling for
religious tolerance and freedom of conscience for all faiths to be practiced within Flushing and
New Netherland. The document achieved the desired results. Religious freedom was granted to the
people of New Amsterdam and the document itself, the Flushing Remonstrance, was considered to
be the first statement of religious freedom in America.
As a result of the Flushing Remonstrance, the Bowne community of Quakers received a
proper recognition in Flushing. In 1672, the founder of the Quaker religion, George Fox, visited
the community and preached to the people on the grounds of Bowne’s farm. In 1683, William
Penn visited and brought news of the Flushing settlement back to England with him, praising the
work of the settlers.
In 1694, the official Quaker Meeting House was completed and in 1703, a Quaker school was
built. By this time, the Dutch government had been replaced by the English, but the principles of
religious tolerance prevailed in that quiet corner of the colonies. By the time the first census was
taken in 1698, there were 647 people residing in the township of Flushing.
The period of the Revolutionary War was as trying to the patriots of Flushing as it was to the
other patriots in America. One Whitestone resident who contributed greatly to the cause of
American freedom was Francis Lewis. In 1765, Francis Lewis purchased a 200 acre farm in the
Whitestone area. In 1775, he was chosen to represent his state at the Continental Congress and
the following year, he became one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. That year,
the British occupation of Long Island began and his home was occupied by British troops, his land
plundered and his wife taken captive and put into prison for her husband’s brave act.
There were almost 200 families living within the Flushing area during the Revolutionary
period. The patriots rallied. The first infantry company of the Colonial Militia became a section of
Colonel Josiah Smith’s regulars, but the patriot forces were beaten back from their Flushing
homes during the battle of Long Island and the British occupied the Township.
The peaceful Quaker meeting house was used by the British as a prison, hospital and storage
center while the Society of Friends were forced to meet in private homes and barns. The prize
trees of Prince’s Nurseries were cut down and used carelessly and the landmark nursery was
brought to near ruin.
There were roguish and harsh incidents perpetrated on the streets of Flushing Township. At
one point, cattle were slaughtered by soldiers who were impatient to fill their meat supplies. Half-
used carcasses were discarded and scattered on the village streets. The Light Horse galloped
through the towns, seeking out patriots and runaway slaves. There were punishments such as
running the gauntlet and “picketing” for horsemen who were made to stand with one foot
balanced on a wooden stake in the ground while tied to a tree. Houses were burned, cattle and
livestock taken and available wood stripped and used for firewood. There were so many troops
stationed throughout the township that they took one- half day to cross through Flushing during
During this time, there were many melancholy footnotes to the history of the township. In
1776, General Washington recommended that Congress send 200L to Flushing Township for the
support of the poor and homeless who were sent there from New York City during the war. During
the British occupation, Nathan Hale was known to stop at Whitestone before his capture. He was
taken to a small fort located in the Whitestone area used mainly for repairs on the British ships.
The young spy was collecting information about the enemy forces while traveling on a common
commercial vessel. The British spy, Major Andre, also stopped at Whitestone before his fateful
meeting with Benedict Arnold. Soon after the war, in 1789, there was a sad incident at the home of
the town clerk, John Vanderbilt. Two black servant girls set fire to the house, burning valuables
and town records. The girls were caught and proven guilty by prosecuting attorney Aaron Burr.
One girl was set free due to her age, however, the other was executed by hanging. By the time
George Washington passed through the township in 1789, approximately 1,600 inhabitants had
many tales to tell of the strange times and occurrences within their area.
One of the most worthy aspects of the Township’s history was the abundance of gardens and
nurseries. As early as 1685, the French Huguenot settlers brought many varieties of fruit trees
with them from France and planted them in their new home. During the Revolutionary War, the
first winter wheat in America was introduced by a Flushing farmer. Even earlier, in 1737, William
Prince had established the Linnean Gardens, one of the oldest nursery gardens in America. It
included the ginkgo tree from Japan which later became the oldest of its kind in America.
By 1839, Prince’s nursery was composed of 60 acres of exotic trees and plants. In 1798, the
Bloodgood nursery was established in Flushing and in 1838, the Parsons nursery was flourishing.
In 1847, Samuel Parsons traveled throughout Europe in search of exotic trees. Upon his return, he
introduced the first weeping beech to America.
Some of the worthiest trees in their species existed on the streets, nurseries and gardens of
Flushing Township. Between Myrtle and Mitchell Avenues, grew the finest cedar of Lebanon in
America. On Parsons Avenue, Samuel Parson himself planted his Chinese taxoduim and the
Washington Place weeping branch was considered to be the finest of its kind in the world.
Found on the streets of Flushing during the 1800s were: ash trees, beech varieties, apple,
cherry, mulberry trees, birch, cypress cedar and linden, magnolia, wisteria, balsam fir, ginkgo and
poplar. It is no wonder that Joyce Kilmer found the inspiration for the poem “Trees” while viewing
the magnificent trees of the Township. The poet was fully inspired by the number of exotic trees
that graced the streets of Flushing. However, by 1840, the nurseries had reached the peak of their
monopoly and the growth and propagation of the exotic trees began to decline.
During the 19th century, the Flushing Township had evolved into the areas of Beechhurst,
College Point, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Murray Hill and Flushing Village. Manufacturing,
commerce and industry took over much of the land and brought about the decline of the
agricultural community. However, the graciousness was still evident during the 19th century
although the hint of the industrial era began to show.
As early as 1735, clay pipes were manufactured in Whitestone and found to be of such an
excellent quality that they were exported to England for distribution. By 1775, an enterprising Scot
named Dunbar was carrying mail privately for a fee. In 1800, a bridge was erected across the
Flushing Creek, however, it was blown down and not rebuilt until a later date. By 1801, there was
daily stagecoach travel between Flushing and New York City and by 1800, there was sailboat ferry
service between Whitestone and the mainland, but the waters were always treacherous. In 1822,
steamboats traveled between flushing and New York, however, the trip was often time consuming
and could cost a traveler two or three days while waiting for favorable weather.
The year 1823 brought the New York Gaslight Company, one of the first in America, to
Flushing. In 1836, there was a Chicory factory opened when it was discovered that this area was
quite conducive to the production of chicory after the weakening of chicory production in Europe.
The Heinrich Franck and Sons factory became an oddity in the township. By the 1800s, the
Bayside area had been formally named by the wealthy heir Effingham Lawrence who named it for
its position on Little Neck, Bay. In 1854, a wealthy entrepreneur, Conrad Poppenhusen, began the
Enterprise Rubber Works after aiding Charles Goodyear in the perfection of the rubber
Later Poppenhusen established other industrial works from breweries to ribbon factories. In
1870, he became influential in organizing the present Long Island Rail Road Company in College
Point. Also in 1670, the blasting of rocks from Hellgate channel occurred. Before the removal of
these rocks, ships had to be guided through the channel by pilot boats and the pilots would make
Whitestone their stopping place and headquarters. At this time, Flushing Township was somewhat
divided between being an industrial area, a commercial center and a residential area.
Culturally, Flushing’s history is rich and productive. In 1804, the son of Francis Lewis,
Morgan Lewis, was elected the Governor of New York State. He was one of several native Sons of
Flushing who rose to great heights and it is no wonder, considering the prevalent history of
education and religious tolerance enjoyed by the residents of the township.
In 1814 the first free school was established in Flushing, however, as early as 1810, the
Methodist Society had included minorities in their worship and education. In 1814, the Flushing
Female Association opened an integrated free school on Liberty Street. The Association was
established to aid children of parents who could not attend school. In 1823, the first post office was
established by Benjamin Lowerre near Douglaston.
In 1814, the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church was established by Richard
Allen. He was an African American leader who was born to slavery and bought his freedom for
$2,000. Later he set up a church in a blacksmith shop. In 1837, a new church was built and became
an important stop on the Underground Railroad for fugitive slaves.
By 1863, the town hall was completed and contained not only town offices but also a place
where residents could hold balls, plays, concerts and militia meetings. In 1868, Conrad
Poppenhusen granted a gift of $100,000 for the foundation of the Poppenhusen Institute which
later contributed much to educational methods. In 1883, a small art class began needlework
projects to fund the building of Flushing Hospital and in 1884, a fee of $1 per year was paid for
membership in the private library.
The year 1903 brought the first-free kindergarten in America to Flushing. This followed the
1875 opening of Flushing High School, the oldest public high school in New York City. By 1898, the
25,000 residents of the Township could be pleased and proud of their town.
Some were born to greatness in Flushing; others arrived and did great things. In 1826, the
Reverend William Muhlenberg was named pastor of St. George’s Church in Flushing. He was the
son of Henry Muhlenberg, one of the founders of the Lutheran Church in America. In 1835,
William Muhlenberg purchased a farm with the intention of founding St. Paul’s College. He
named the area of land “College Point’ after his school. Although the college faded financially in
1850, Reverend Muhlenberg’s presence in Flushing had been one of worthy contribution. He
composed many hymns, including one which was approved by President Lincoln as a Thanksgiving
hymn to be recited after the Civil War. Reverend Muhlenberg donated the proceeds from the
hymn to the widows and orphans of the Civil War soldiers.
In 1854, another native son of Flushing was born. James A. Bland, an African American
songwriter wandered from his homestead and wrote famous American ballads such as “Carry Me
Back to Old Virginny,” “O Dem Golden Slippers,” and “In the Evening By the Moonlight.” Also of
fame was Bloodgood Cutter, a Long Island poet who was colorful enough to be included in Mark
twain s “Innocents Abroad.” Bloodgood Cutter is buried in the cemetery of the old Zion Church
located in Douglaston. In 1898, when Flushing became a part of New York City it added a noble
and colorful personage to the ranks of famous New Yorkers.
As early as 1657, the United States Government noted the importance of the Bayside location
to national defense. The Government bought the Willet’s Point area of Bayside and in 1861 began
training the Union Army on their acquisition while guarding the East River. In 1862 a fortification
was begun with plans that had been drawn previously by Robert E. Lee. There was a solid stone
wall along the shore with portholes for guns. A 1,000 foot tunnel ran from the shore fortification
to the munitions supplies on the hilltop. It was the first vehicular tunnel in New York City, 10 feet
high and 9 feet wide. It still exists today and gossip has never been proven that there is a tunnel
between the Fort at Willet’s Point and Fort Schuyler.
In early 1900, President William McKinley named the fort at Willet’s Point after Brigadier
General Joseph G. Totten who was killed at the siege of Vera Cruz during the Spanish American
War. Fort Totten remained vigilant, guarding the East River Sand as a home to the Army
Engineer Corps until the 1970’s.
At the turn of the century, the population of the original township was well over 100,000
inhabitants. In 1939, the first of two World’s Fairs drew hundreds of thousands of spectators from
all over the world. Also of importance that year was the opening of a major New York airport.
Mayor LaGuardia dedicated the new airport which later was to have his name. Approximately
325,000 people attended the opening ceremonies. At that time, it was the largest crowd ever to
visit an airport in a single day. The new airport boasted many advanced wonders of technology
such as a 13½ million candle power beacon that could be seen by pilots from as far away as
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The now urban township had long since been divided into individual
villages each marked with a distinct flavor, whether the pulse of industry or the quiet marsh life
of the shore.
The population was growing quickly as suburban seekers flocked from ‘the city’ to join the
‘old time’ residents. In 1946, Fresh Meadows was being constructed with a total population of
11,000 people. In 1948, the Queens Botanical Gardens was opened to preserve some of the last
reminders of the beautiful flora of the vicinity. In 1957, a commemorative stamp was issued to
celebrate the anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance. The stamp was imprinted with the
wording “religious freedom in America,” truly a great inheritance for any area.
Today, Flushing Township, the villages that once harbored Indian tribes and entrepreneurs,
humanitarians and fighters for civil liberties, are well endowed with industries and residential
areas. They boast great structures such as the Triborough and Whitestone Bridges, the
Shea Stadium and Flushing Meadows Park and Museum. The ethnic, racial and religious heritages
all mingle at this time and blend to form a community truly worthy of its impressive past and
certain of its path toward tomorrow.
first published in the Long Island Heritage