Posts Tagged ‘Wallabout Bay’

When skulls and bones washed ashore in Brooklyn

December 22, 2011

In the years after the Revolutionary War, Brooklynites living along Wallabout Bay off the East River were greeted almost daily by a macabre sight.

Human bones and skulls, bleached by the sun, would be unearthed by tides, washing ashore.

These were the remains of men who died aboard the prison ships—16 rotted, disease-ridden vessels docked near Wallabout Bay, where British soldiers held thousands of captive patriots in horrific conditions.

More than 11,500 prisoners perished on these ships, their bodies thrown overboard or hastily buried in waterside graves.

“For many years after the end of the war, the sandy beaches of Wallabout Bay remained littered with the bones of men who died in the prison ships—one resident of the area described skulls lying about as thick as pumpkins in an autumn cornfield. . . . ” wrote Edwin G. Burrows in his 2008 book Forgotten Patriots.

In 1808, residents collected the bones and built a small crypt for them on Front Street and Hudson and Hudson Avenue, in today’s Vinegar Hill.

As decades passed, city leaders called for a more heroic monument to the men known as the prison ship martyrs.

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park was dedicated in 1908. Twenty-two boxes containing a fraction of the remains of the martyrs are still inside a vault there today.

[A prison ship anchored in the bay; Wallabout Bay, site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in 1851, 70 or so years after the ships occupied the bay]

Walkin’ about Wallabout

November 10, 2009

Wallabout is either a dressed-up name for the gritty area abutting the Brooklyn Navy Yard and sliced by the BQE. Or it’s a true neighborhood with a vibe distinct from Fort Greene and Clinton Hill to the south.


Whatever your take, Wallabout is a stronghold of Brooklyn history that’s worth a look. The name comes from the Dutch word Waal-bogt, which means a bend in the river. This bend is Wallabout Bay. Here, the British docked 12 prison ships holding captured Revolutionary War soldiers.

More than 11,000 men died on ships like the one in the engraving above. Some of their remains are entombed in the haunting Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in nearby Fort Greene Park.

Wallabout grew into a residential district in the mid-19th century, housing workers who toiled along Brooklyn’s thriving waterfront. These workers lived in wood frame houses, some of which still stand.


These 2- and 3-story houses, with lovely porches, are modest and charming—especially compared to the mansions up the hill closer to the Pratt campus.

In fact, historic Wallabout, which the Historic District Council defines as eight blocks roughly between Myrtle and Park Avenues, has the largest concentration of pre-Civil War wood frame homes in the city.


Wallabout has literary cred as well. Walt Whitman is believed to have lived in the nabe; his former home is supposedly 99 Ryerson Street (not pictured, since it’s covered in cheap siding).