Gravesend, one of the original six towns of Brooklyn, originally included an enormous amount of land that encompassed Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach.
It was settled in 1643 and chartered in 1645 by a group of English Anabaptists led by Lady Deborah Moody, a wealthy widow, as a haven for religious dissenters. Moody originally went to New England but its residents didn’t like her radical Protestantism so she moved to New Amsterdam, founded Gravesend and became the first woman to charter land in the New World.
Legend has it that Moody’s house was used as a hospital during the American Revolution’s Battle of Brooklyn.
Gravesend began to transform after it was annexed to the City of Brooklyn in 1894.
The electrification of the Sea Beach and Culver rail lines meant that those who settled in the area could reach Manhattan in 45 minutes. A large Italian-American community then formed.
Most of Gravesend’s current houses were built after the 1920s and while many had been converted into two-family dwellings during the Depression, recent residents have restored them.
How Gravesend Got Its Name
Lady Deborah Moody, her baronetcy inherited from her husband, was a 43-year-old widow when she immigrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639. She had left England because she felt she could not live there as an Anabaptist. But that religion was not acceptable in the Puritan New England settlements either and she was forced to leave there too.
Lady Moody and some of her followers moved to the more religiously tolerant New Netherland and settled on unoccupied land in south Brooklyn in 1643. In late 1645, William Kieft, governor-general of New Netherland, granted her a charter that not only allowed freedom of religion, but the right to make the land a self-governing town.
She called it Gravesend and became the first woman to charter land in the New World.
The name Gravesend may have come from the Dutch words grafes and ande, which together would mean “end of the grove.” Another theory is that Kieft named it for Gravesande, a town in Holland that had been the seat of the Counts of Holland and means “count’s beach.” Gravesend is also a city on England’s Thames River.
Lady Moody made Gravesend a home for many religious dissenters, especially the peace-loving Quakers, who also were banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
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.