Revolutionary War Period
Colonel Christopher Billopp was a leading citizen of Staten Island and served as head of the Staten Island militia. He led the opposition urging Staten Islanders to vote against joining the Provincial Assembly. The majority of Staten Islanders were loyal to the King of England and, in fact, welcomed British soldiers when they arrived on their shores on July 4, 1776. On July 9, 1776, nearly all adult males signed an oath of loyalty to the king. Nine thousand British soldiers camped on Staten Island, a number that swelled to nearly twenty thousand when a second wave of soldiers including the Hessians and other mercenaries arrived. The 6th Brigade of approximately 1,200 men camped near Billopp’s Ferry at the end of Amboy Road, Tottenville. During this period the Billopp manor house was used as a barracks by Hessian soldiers and others.
The Conference House (formerly Billopp House), built circa 1680, is named for the peace conference that was held there on September 11, 1776. The conference was unsuccessful and the war continued.
Although no major battles were fought on Staten Island during this period, a notable skirmish took place in nearby Rossville (formerly Blazing Star) in 1777. A cannon used during that conflict, which had been donated to Conference House Park, was stolen from the park in 1972, and has never been recovered. Any information pertaining to the cannon's whereabouts will be greatly appreciated.
Located in Bethel UM Church Cemetery, Tottenville, is the gravesite of Joseph W. Palmer, a Revolutionary War soldier. Palmer, a Tottenville resident served with a New Jersey Regiment. He suffered a musket ball injury that ultimately led to his death in 1851.
Civil War Era
Rev. Nicholas Vansant, former pastor of Bethel UM Church, Amboy Rd., candidly wrote about the atmosphere in Tottenville during this period in his book, Sunset Memories:
“The war fever ran high, making it needful for me in that eminently conservative locality to stand up in private and in public for the government, which, of course, evoked some criticism and opposition, not to say threats of violence………..During the reign of the bloody draft riot in New York in July 1863, a sensation amounting to a veritable scare was produced by a rumor that the rioters were on their way to Tottenville. The appalling message, “The rioters are coming! The rioters are coming!!” passed rapidly from mouth to mouth, till the whole neighborhood was wrought up to a ferment of tremendous excitement. Our good neighbor, Mr. Taylor, living nearly opposite, rushed over to the parsonage and, repeating the rumor, advised us to come at once to his house, saying that the rioters would be sure to raid the parsonage first. So, taking his advice, we vacated our own home and took shelter in his. But the rumor, though not an intended hoax, was a totally false alarm, without the least foundation except in the heated imagination of its originators.”
Grand Army of the Republic
The Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a national fraternal organization of Union Army veterans, was founded in 1866 in Decatur, IL. On May 22, 1880, GAR Lenhart Post No. 163 was organized in Tottenville with the following charter members:
The post was named in honor of Naval chaplain John L. Lenhart, Tottenville resident, who drowned aboard the USS Cumberland during the historic battle at Hampton Roads, VA in 1862. Lenhart was the first naval chaplain to die in service to this country. A monument to his memory was erected in Bethel Cemetery, Tottenville. The Lenhart Post disbanded in 1924.
Civil War Monument
A tall, white marble memorial, erected in Bethel Cemetery and dedicated on Decoration Day 1891, is inscribed as follows:
Sacred to the / memory of our / Defenders / The Noble and / Gallant Men who / Died in the late / Civil War
The soldiers’ names inscribed on the base of the Bethel monument are:
"Now the great day of dedication had come, and an elaborate program had been planned, featuring a parade and the unveiling of the monument… ..visitors from all parts of the Island and from New Jersey began to arrive. A large delegation of distinguished guests were met at the railroad station by a special guard and marched from there to the churchyard. The parade started at the foot of Main St. at 10:00 A.M. Tottenville’s “finest” took the lead and were followed directly by the Tottenville Cornet Band. The place of honor fell to the Lenhart Post of the G.A.R., the sponsor of the occasion…..The parade ended at the Bethel Church. There a solemn memorial service took place. The Soldiers’ Monument, a marble shaft, suitably engraved to the memory of the men who died in the late Civil War was unveiled. The band played “America” and the gathering was dismissed with a benediction. So ended a most memorable Memorial Day in Tottenville.”
Spanish American War
Pvt. Joseph S. Decker, Co. I, 71st Regt., a resident of Tottenville, was the only Staten Islander killed in the war with Spain. A grand parade in his honor took place in February 1899. His body lay in state in the former Edgewater Village Hall Stapleton. Interment took place at Bethel Cemetery, Tottenville, where in 1912, a ceremony and monument unveiling was held.
World War I
World War II
During World War II, many towns across America erected wooden memorials to honor the local servicemen and women. In Tottenville, a large, billboard-sized Honor Roll plaque was located on Main St. across from the Stadium Theater. In Charleston, a similar plaque was erected on Arthur Kill Rd. near Sharrotts Rd. Most of these plaques were made of plywood and did not last long. The whereabouts of both local monuments is uncertain today.
The 100 Club of Staten Island sponsored the Honor Roll Plaque in Tottenville. It was dedicated on September 19, 1942 and contained 352 names. A later photo recorded more than 750 names. Frank Kelly served as President of The 100 Club and Honorary Chairman of the Honor Roll Plaque Committee; Claude B. Gandy, Commander of the American Legion Beauvais Post, was the Committee's General Chairman. John Youngberg and Julius DelGrosso meticulously painted the plaque and lettering.