The site of Bedford was acquired by the Dutch West India Company in the 1630s and 1640s from the Canarsee Indians, but as early as 1790, more than a quarter of its residents were of African descent.
The area was primarily used for farming throughout the 18th century and was occupied by British troops after the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War.
When slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827, blacks still found it difficult to buy land, but their persistence made them successful in eventually buying.
William Thomas and James Weeks, both African-Americans, bought land in the 1830s that would eventually become the settlements of Carrville and Weeksville, encompassing an area almost as large as modern-day Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Transportation innovations of the Brooklyn and Jamaica Railroad in 1836 brought in Irish, German, Jewish, Scottish and Dutch Americans. New immigrants from Europe, the south United States and the Caribbean then moved in after the subway reached the area in 1936.
The increased population made housing scarce and unemployment prevalent with landlords lacking the funds for upkeep on their buildings.
With grassroots advocacy in its roots though, Bedford-Stuyvesant picked itself back up with the help of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and other advocates who created a legacy of landmarked historical sites.
How Bensonhurst Got Its Name
Cornelis van Werkhoven, who worked for the Dutch West India Company, acquired a huge amount of land from the Nyack Indians in 1652, trading for it with six shirts, two pairs of shoes, six pairs of socks, six hatchets, six knives, scissors and combs. The Dutch called the area Yellow Hook, for the color of the clay found there.
Five years later, New Utrecht became one of the original towns of Brooklyn and was named for van Werkhoven’s native home of Utrecht, in the Netherlands.
Originally, New Utrecht stretched from the southern tip of Green-Wood Cemetery down to Gravesend Bay and included today’s Bensonhurst, part of Bath Beach, Bay Ridge, Fort Hamilton, Dyker Heights and Borough Park.
Bensonhurst gets its name from Arthur W. Benson, the former president of Brooklyn Gas, and one of the original investors in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. He began buying up farmland in the area in 1835. Then the Benson family later divided up their property and sold parcels to developer James Lynch, on the condition that the land bear the family name. Lynch created a gated community called “Bensonhurst by the Sea.”
New Utrecht was annexed to City of Brooklyn in1894. When the 4th Avenue subway line was extended to the area in 1915, it brought new residents and many of the large homes, including the Benson family homestead, were razed to build brick row houses and apartment buildings. Bensonhurst lost its status as a “gated” community and shortened its name to Bensonhurst.
Historic New Utrecht remains as a small part of Bensonhurst.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook.
He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism.
He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.