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Staten Island NY 10307

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Tottenville History

Staten Island: Before, there was a place called Tottenville.  Earliest Settlers: Native American Indians

The original residents were the Algonquin Indians of the Lenape culture. The Unami, one tribe of the Algonquin nation, settled in a string of communities along the western shores of Staten Island from West Brighton to Tottenville. Tottenville is home to the largest known Native American burial ground in the metropolitan area. Known as Burial Ridge, this protected site is located within Conference House Park.

In 1624 the first families of white people settled on Staten Island - the Walloons of Belgium. But they didn't stay long. Following numerous confrontations with the Native American tribes, they soon retreated to New Amsterdam (Manhattan).

The Dutch arrived around 1630 and colonized the north shore of Staten Island near the Fort Wadsworth area. They, too, engaged in numerous conflicts with the Indians, but this time it was the Indians who began to retreat. By 1661, Staten Island had fallen into British hands. They negotiated an agreement with the Indians, who left the Island permanently in 1670.

Christopher Billopp, a British Royal Navy captain, was granted a 932-acre tract of land by the Duke of York in 1674. In 1687 the land grant was increased to 1,600 acres, encompassing the entire southern portion of the Island. On a rise of land overlooking Raritan Bay, Capt. Billopp built a two-story stone house c. 1680, known today as The Conference House. Originally, Billopp's house and property was known as The Manor of Bentley. Bentley was the name of his sailing vessel. Because of their loyalist connections, Billopp's descendants lost the property after the American Revolution. The land was subsequently divided into smaller farms and sold. The use of the name Bentley Manor, however, would continue through the 19th century.

Tottenville Changes Its Name & Tottenville Post Office is Established
The land area now known as Tottenville was originally part of the Manor of Bentley and later the Town of Westfield. On February 5, 1851, a post office was established at Tottenville; John Totten was appointed the first postmaster. For reasons unknown, in 1853 the post office moved to Bentley St. into the home of George Cole and was renamed Bentley Post Office.

By 1861, fueled by political changes, a controversy over the name of the town ensued with Stephen D. Arents, master sail maker, promoting the name Arentsville, while the Totten family pushed for Tottenville. The influential Totten family won the battle and the "Tottenville Post Office" was reopened on Totten St. (today's Main St.) near the railroad station.

In April 1910, in response to a petition of 300 names, the Post Office Dept. changed the name to Bentley Manor. Supporters of the historic name, led by the D.A.R., responded with two petitions containing over 1,300 signatures. The Washington Post, dated November 5, 1910, reported the following: "Complying with a general request by citizens, Postmaster General Hitchcock yesterday ordered the name of the postoffice at Bentley Manor, N.Y., changed to the old name of Tottenville."

In addition to the controversy over the name change, a debate was also brewing about how Billopp actually received the original land grant that included Tottenville. Following extensive coverage in the New York newspapers, George Oakley Totten, Jr., a direct descendant of Tottenville's founding family, wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times on April 2, 1910:

John Totten Jr.

"I have been greatly interested in your articles about the change of name of the Tottenville Post Office. In an editorial article you give the popular legend of how Billopp received his grant of land for sailing around the island. It is a pretty story and is given as you state it on page 102 of Bayles's "History of Richmond County, New York," but you will notice that on page 105 Bayles says: 'Another account says that Billopp received the plantation as a douceur from the Duke of York for his gallantry in some naval office.' So, pretty and romantic as the story sounds, it may or may not be true."