The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

“The Ancient Seat of Graft”, or Long Island City- part 1

with 4 comments

Title quoted from “Building Gotham, by Keith D. Revell” here’s pp 134 in Google books

Hatches abound in Newtown, what do they hide 2?

Manhole cover on Jackson Ave.- photo by Mitch Waxman

Neo-Pragmatist musings:

Modernity causes us to look upon the sometimes sleazy relationships between our political class and the real estate and banking interests they do business with as something new, untempered, and unique. This is the hazard of our times, a lack of institutional memory and insight. This lack of pragmatic introspection has resulted in widespread voter apathy, which in turn has caused the political class to seek support from those who will give it to them. Only when the citizenry at large comes to the polls in great numbers do the politicians realize with whom their constituency lies.

Previous generations, in their attempt to reinterpret the past and govern in the present through say… fashionable political lensing, have obscured many of these pragmatic realities of governance. There will always be a “mafia”, the rich will inevitably victimize the poor, industries will destroy the neighborhoods they define. No bill or proclamation can make these forces disappear,  and in the defense of our “Politik’s”, you must admit that modernity compares quite favorably against the past here in our Newtown Pentacle, when the subjects of good government and civic minded progress are invoked. For those of you who live in the Pentacle… let that thought… just… settle in.

 Newtown Creek Pan 1
Newtown Creek from Hunter’s Point Avenue Bridge- photo by Mitch Waxman

The short history of Long Island City is hair curlinggraft and corruption wise. It’s an american story about a boom town run by industrialists, bankers, and railroads situated at the border confluence of two other, far larger- far richer, boom towns- Breuklyn, and New Amsterdam.

LIRR Wheelspur yard

LIRR Wheelspur yard, taken from Pulaski bridge fencehole– photo by Mitch Waxman

Native New Yorkers and the Knickerbockers:

The Mespaecthe or Mispat were part of the Rockaway (Rechaweye or Rechqaakie) Chieftanate. Their “village” was in Dutch Kills near the modern Borden Ave. They called the area between vanished Sunswick Creek and Newtown Creek “Hohosboco”. The Rockaway’s were part of a larger tribal/national/ethnic group- the Metoac. The Metoac were the “Thirteen tribes of Long Island”, and included the Jameco, the Manhattan (island people), and the Sewankie (the sea people). By 1630, the Metoac, whose territories were bordered by the Lenapi (Delaware) and Algonquin nations, had fallen under the control of a Delaware martial tribe called the Pequot. The Pequot forced the Metoac to manufacture tribute, Wampum, which in turn bought the Pequot and the larger Delaware Nation better terms in their dealings with the Dutch fur trade. This was New York City’s first speculative financial bubble, and it collapsed in 1655.

In the 1640’s, the first Dutch settlers had crossed into the “Mespit” (or head of the stream) and settled a strip of land they called Dominie’s Hook (land was granted to the Rev. Everard Bogardus in 1642 for the establishment of a dutch reform church). The Mespit was, of course, the Newtown Creek. A colony was established in 1642 called “Maspat” (which is a Mespaecthe word meaning Bad Water) near modern day Maspeth. The first European settlement in Queens, the europeans proved themselves to be such a nuisance that the village was attacked in force by the Mespaecthe and the settlers fled to the fortified island of Manhattan for safety. 

In 1647, Rev. Bogardus died in a shipwreck, and his wife inherited the property. The Dutch began building watchtowers and stationing troops throughout the Newtown Pentacle in an effort to cut down on raids by the aboriginal population. By 1655, the Mespaecthe had realized the error of allowing a foothold for the Europeans and after a British/Mohican alliance effectively ended the ambitions of their overlords- the Pequot, they began a campaign to regain their ancestral lands.

In 1655, smallpox came to the Mespaecthe. By 1666, the year of London’s great fire, there were only 500 Mespaecthe left. In 1788, there were only 162. In 1833, the remaining Mespaecthe were christian converts (of the Mohegan sect) and a great many of them joined with Samson Occam and left New York to become part of the Brothertown Indians. They migrated to Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, leaving the Newtown Creek for the europeans. The story gets a little hazy around this point, as these people were the focus of a genocide- but those who stayed in the area mostly migrated to the eastern tip of Long Island and assimilated into the Matinecock and Shinnecock tribes in the area of Montauk Point. Largely, they became whalers and sailors in the early 19th century, and inter-married with other tribes.

In 1697, a Dutch sea captain named Peter Praa bought the Bogardus properties and set up farming. He died in 1740, and the land was left to his granddaughter Anne Bennet. Her son, Jacob Diks, inherited next and he passed the land to his daughter- Anna Hunter. In 1817, Hunter, who had three sons, left the land to her children under the proviso that it be sold and the moneys divided evenly between them. This is why the “Mispat” became known as “Hunter’s Point”.

Newtown Creek cruise (retouch)

Hunters Point from Newtown Creek photo by Mitch Waxman

interesting note: The modern city is in the early stages of replacing the Kosciusko Bridge, which carries traffic over the Newtown Creek. Descendants of the Matinecock and Canarsee tribes have emerged, and are unhappy about further degradation of their ancestral lands. “A lot of people think we are extinct, but we have many who are still left”.

NYC panorama 3

Queens Museum of Art- Worlds Fair Panorama, Long Island City and Greenpoint at center- photo by Mitch Waxman

This week, hopefully, I’ll have the rest of the story ready. Get ready for Battle Ax Gleason, Wilhelm Steinweg, the German Socialists of Schuetzen Park, and the arrival of Long Island City’s 800 pound gorilla and raison d’etre- the Long Island Rail Road. A few smaller posts coming in the next couple of days for sure, but I have some double checking of factoids to do before I publish.

Best one of this batch
Long Island Railroad crossing Borden Avenue at grade– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is always the case, if anything you’ve read here is contradicted by something you know, leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 7, 2009 at 5:07 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] » This one’s a little light, still working on part 3 of the Long Island City history (part 1 here, part 2 here). Did you know there was a “newsboy legion” which hung around Vernon […]

  2. […] I followed the course as the Marathon runners blasted along. For me, the real show is always the sideline, but I shot a lot of pictures of the competitors between 9 and 12:30 in Long Island City. […]

  3. […] a Newtown Pentacle post of […]


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