Built Two Centuries and a Quarter Ago on the Shore of Newtown Creek – Calvary’s Absorption of Land the Cause – Reminiscences of the Family
The extension of Calvary Cemetery by the addition of one hundred acres occasions the demolition of the Alsop mansion, of historic interest. The Alsop family was distinguished n the annals of Newtown down to recent date. Now but one descendant remains, and he long ago quitted his ancestral home. Thomas Wandell was the founder of the Alsop family, through Richard Alsop, his nephew, when be brought from England, while a mere boy, about the year 1665 and adopted his son and heir. The one act in mr. Wandell’s life in Newtown which serves to perpetuate his name in local history was his effort to thwart the burning of human beings for witchcraft. He was foreman of the jury that tried Ralph Hall and his wife, and acquitted them. Richard Alsop fell into the possession of Wandell’s property about the year 1691, and continued “lord of the manor” until his death in 1718. He left several sons and daughters. Richard Alsop was prominent in public affairs. It was in his time that the boundary dispute between Bushwick and Newtown rose to a white heat, and resulted in the destruction of a great deal of property by fire and ax, on either side. The Bushwick people claimed that their boundary extended to the straight line which ran from the old Brook school to the northwest corner of Jamaica. The Newtown people claimed that their boundary ran from the Arbitration Rock to the same point which is now the boundary existing between Brooklyn and Newtown. The amount of land in dispute was twelve hundred acres. Governor Lord Cornbury disliked such heated and violent contention, and he settled the dispute by declaring that the land belonged to himself, and took possession of it. Subsequently, he divided the land equally between his royal supporters, Arma Bridgens, Robert Millwood, William Huddlestone, Adrian Hoogland and Peter Pras. This latter individual had the sagacity to unload at once, while the others clung tenuously to the soil, and were finally compelled to vacate. In 1706 Newtown vested her rights in Richard Alsop, Joseph Sackett, Thomas Stevenson and William Hallett, and suit was begun to recover the land and determine the boundary line. This suit lasted twenty years, and the Town House and lands had to be sold to fee the lawyers and meet other expenses. In January 1769, the line was established to the satisfaction of Newtown, and has existed unchanged from that time to the present. The historic Arbitration Rock was blasted some few years since, and made use of for building stone. The suit for the recovery of the land taken by Governor Cornbury was continued until 1727. As late as 1837, a descendant of the original Bridgens brought suit to eject the tenants from that land at Laurel Hill under the Governor’s fraudulent title and old Bridgens’ will; but he was beaten. William Hallett, who was one of Alsop’s associates in the troubles of 1706, was murdered with is wife and five children, by two of his slaves. The murderers, a man and his wife, were executed at Jamaica, the woman being burned to death and the man being roasted on hot irons. Lord Cornbury was a most bigoted Episcopalian. During the plague of 1702 in new York, the Governor retired to Jamaica and was tendered the use of the Presbyterian parsonage by the Rev. Mr. Hubbard. The Governor expressed his gratitude by bestowing the church and parsonage on the Episcopal divine, and they remained in that denomination for the succeeding quarter of a century.
The male children of the first Richard Alsop, Thomas, Richard and John, became prominent in the legal profession and mercantile life. The children of the second Richard adhered to the ancestral seat in Newtown and married into the Sacketts, the Brinckerhoffs the Whiteheads, the Fisks, the Woodwards and the Hazzards – names now extinct save as they appear on the tombstones, many of which are sadly neglected. The Alsop Cemetery is within Calvary Cemetery, which absorbed all of the property, and is thus certain of receiving proper care. The owner in trust of the reservation is William Alsop, the only living lineal descendant, who resides in New York at present, but for a great many years had his abode in Florida. The family relics have disappeared almost entirely. The only thing that remains to be cherished is an old clock, which is in the remaining descendant’s possession. The house itself, two centuries and a quarter old, has now disappeared forever. The yellow fever epidemic of 1798 made havoc in the Alsop household, and two tombstones mark the graves of the victims, one of whom was Elizabeth Fish, the widow of Jonathan Fish. She was the widow of the grandfather of President Grant’s Secretary of State. Several slaves died of the contagion, and one at least called Venus, on account of her remarkable beauty, was buried in the family plot. The graves were made ready before death, and no coffins were used. The bodies were merely wrapped in the infected cloths, saturated with pitch and tar, and hastily interred. The slaves’ graves are not marked by stick or stone, because the custom of that time forbade it. The house at one time occupied by Peter Donohue, near the side entrance of Calvary, at Blissville, was built by Thomas Alsop, the father of William. Eventually, it fell into the hands of Paul Rapelyea. The farm surrounding it was part of the Alsop estate, derived from the marriage of Thomas Wandell with the widow Herrick, who owned it in 1750. After the death of Richard Alsop in 1790, the property was divided between the sons, John and Thomas. John retained the old homestead, and Thomas received the Blissville section. John Alsop died in April 1837, and his widow sold the property to a corporation, and it now embraced in Calvary. John Alsop left no children. Thomas, his brother, married Catherine Brinckerhoff, the daughter of George, a Revolutionary patriot residing at Dutch Kills. A British officer, Finlay McKay, cut his name on a pane of glass in the old Brinckerhoff house in 1776, and it remains there to this day. The well on the Alsop property, which was sunk at the time the mansion was built, still supplies water to many families in the neighborhood. The house was one hundred feet long, and the first floor was divided into four rooms, with a hallway eighteen feet wide. Two round windows, resembling port holes, were cut in the ends of the building in 1776 by Lord Cornwallis for musket practice, and as lookouts to guard against surprise. The chimney place, around which the slaves need to gather, had the capacity of receiving logs of wood ten feet in length. Rufus King married Mary Alsop. He died at Jamaica in 1827. Of this union came John Alsop King, who was Governor of this state from 1857 to 1859.