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Tottenville History Blog

17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive: Meet the People. Experience the Events.

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                                                       May 2019


On Monday, April 15, Borough President James Oddo and the NYC Department of Education welcomed fourteen Staten Island schools participating in the Billion Oyster Project to a Maritime Forum at the Michael J. Petrides School in the Borough President's Hall of Science.

Approximately 60 students made one-on-one presentations regarding their field work to Borough President Oddo and Deputy Borough President Ed Burke.

This is the first time all Staten Island schools and students participating in the Billion Oyster Project were gathered together in a single event. Those in attendance had the opportunity to participate in a passport program where they collected a sticker from each table they stopped at.

Reading how oysters are once more of interest reminded me of Barnett Shepherd’s book Tottenville: the Town the Oyster Built, where he wrote:

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“The Raritan Bay and nearby tributaries were known for abundant, high-quality shellfish and especially oysters. In the earliest times oysters were a main source of protein for local residents, so plentiful that they were available for all to take freely. They were the food of the common man. Only as they became scarce did they become delicacies for the rich and for special occasions. In 1713, 1730 and 1737 laws were enacted by New York and New Jersey to limit the season for harvesting oysters. Access to the oyster beds was limited to native residents only.”

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A fascinating book edited by Annie Hauk-Lawson & Jonathan Deutsh shares the role of food in the history of New York City from the Lenapes to modern times. What I want to focus on from Gastropolis: Food & New York City is the 18th Century and the role of oysters during that time.

“Oysters particularly delighted New Yorkers. Peter Kalm reported in 1748 that New York had ‘oysters of such exquisite taste, and of so great a size.’ Indeed, the oysters were numerous that they were ‘pickled and sent to the West Indies and other places’ in great quantity. By the 1770s, oysters were so cheap in New York that ‘very many poor families have no other subsistence than oysters and bread.’”

“In 1783, Johann David Schoepf, a German physician assigned to German troops in the British Army during the Revolutionary War, proclaimed that oysters could be ‘had in more or less quantity everywhere around New York.’”

“In the 1790s, Moreau de St. Mery proclaimed that “Americans have a passion for oysters, which they eat at all hours, even in the streets. They are exposed in open containers in their own liquor and are sold by dozens and hundreds up to ten ‘clock at night in the streets, where they are peddled on barrows to the accompaniment of mournful cries.’” 

“Oysters were among the few foods that were avidly consumed by both the lower and upper classes, and as a result, oyster cellars and saloons proliferated throughout the nineteenth century.”

Learn More

Today the Billion Oyster Project's mission is to restore oyster reefs to New York Harbor through public education initiatives.

                                                       April 2019


Spring is starting to show itself in Tottenville as I write this, something that makes me happy. The season offers rebirth, not only to nature, but to all of us when we stop to reflect on the possibilities.

January and February made this winter not a good one for me, consumed with worry and hospital visits to a friend who thankfully is now home and healing. At the end of February until March 21st I went on a previously booked two-week Caribbean cruise, with four nights before and after in Fort Lauderdale to acclimate my body to the rapid change in weather from snow to sun.

There is something about the sun beaming onto me in weather that is warm, but not humid, that helps renew me. When a gently breeze is added I can equate it to feeling God’s warmth embracing me, reassuring me that all is well. Now home, it has been so healing to me when I can sit on my porch on the days which we’ve been fortunate to have such weather here at home.

As I resume compiling my research notes on the 18th Century Tottenville History now that I am back home, I decided this month to share with all of you some of the feedback I’ve received thus far on the 17th Century book.

I was touched by a congratulations card from a neighbor who told me:

“I enjoyed reading your book and appreciated its conversational tone. I look forward to reading 18th Century Tottenville History.”

When I was writing the book, I struggled with its tone. Many sections sounded too much like a history text book to me which prompted repeated edits to change it to a conversation for readers to feel as if they were meeting the people and experiencing the events. I must confess that the process was painstaking and quite frustrating, many times making me doubt if I could achieve what I set out to do. When finally, I took the leap in faith and published in November, I prayed I had done a decent job of it. What a blessing to be told I had!

Another neighbor posted an Amazon review after reading the book.

“I felt I was in a time capsule traveling from meeting the native Americans to the meeting at Conference house regarding Revolutionary war. Eager to read 18th Century Tottenville etc. We need to self-educate our history as the schools seem to fall short with this.”

A friend in England who is interested in 17th Century English History bought the book for my book’s chapter on England, as well as to support me as a friend. His review on the Amazon UK site said:

“If you have a keen interest in 17th century history then you will know the development of early settlers in the USA from Europe from the European point of view. This delightful book looks at a different perspective from the settlers themselves and their efforts to make a success in the New World. The characters and story is interesting, and the author has researched her subject thoroughly and with obvious passion. A lovely story, well written, an enjoyable read.”

After the review, another book sold in England, making the story of Tottenville helping me to become an internationally published author. Wow!

As book sales continue to grow, I look forward to more feedback from readers and to more Amazon reviews.


Thanks for all the continuing support of my work!


                                                       March 2019

Meet John and Gilbert Totten

As I begin work on the 18th Century for the next in the Kindle series, it is appropriate to share some information on the beginning of the Totten family on Staten Island. Thus, this month we’ll talk a little about John Totten and his son Gilbert to get a taste of what will be in the new book.

The patriarch of the Totten family in America, John Totten came from England to New York, most likely Hempstead Long Island in the 18th century. A weaver by trade, John purchased land in Princes Bay in 1767 where he lived with his wife, Mary Manwaring Totten and their children.

The eldest son Gilbert was born on December 13, 1741 in Westfield. A farmer, he went on to own four parcels of land in Tottenville, the area eventually named after the family. Gilbert married Mary Butler, living with their children here. The original farm was near Disosway’s Grist Mill. 

Disosway’s was the only grist mill to serve Tottenville for over 200 years, begun around 1700 by Cornelius Disosway. In 1786 he left the mill to his sons, Cornelius and Israel. As years went by there were name changes to the mill as the ownership changed.

Francis Asbury came as a missionary to America sent by John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist reform movement within the church of England in 1771. On February 25, 1772, Asbury preached to a group on Staten Island gathered at the home of Gilbert Totten. Gilbert and his younger brother Joseph, who was born in 1759, were among the founders of Woodrow Methodist Church along with Israel Disosway and others who met in their homes until the building was constructed in 1842.

February 2019

Our Lady Help of Christians School

A school for children in Tottenville to get a Catholic parochial school education began in 1904 in a convent chapel on Main Street. In 1910 the school opened on Yetman Avenue behind the church. In 1956 the current school was constructed with the addition added in 2010.

The loss of the school at OLHC was threatened many times before but saved through parents coming together to fight for their children's future at a small school that gave the individualized Catholic education they wanted for them. 

“Where my children go to school is where my parish will be,” I remember telling Father Burke when he told me the school needed to be closed. Holding my infant daughter in my arms, I continued, “And if I need to build a tent in the parking lot, my daughter will graduate from OLHC!”

All three of my children graduated from OLHC. The school survived a financially rough time through faith. 2010 saw classrooms built to expand the school. Now nine years later it’s closing. Where is that faith in the future?

The Archdiocese issued this statement:

“Sadly, Our Lady Help of Christians School in Staten Island will cease operations at the end of the current academic year. Despite the Archdiocese’s best efforts to maintain the operational and financial viability of the school, continuing to educate students in a building that is underutilized has proven unfeasible.”

That the battle apparently is lost I find heartbreaking.

                                                                January 2019

Happy New Year!

Last year ended on a particularly happy note for me with the publication of 17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive on Kindle.


I want to thank those of you who have already bought a copy and encourage you to let me know what you think about the book by leaving a review on Amazon.

Please leave your review. 

- It's easy to do and matters a great deal!

• It doesn't have to be long. Even a few words will be enough.

• It will help Amazon readers make an informed decision.

• It will make a huge difference in the book's Amazon ranking.

• It will help increase the Author Ranking.

YOUR single Amazon review is important.

Your feedback will help as I begin exploring 18th Century Tottenville for the next book in the series scheduled to publish by the end of 2019.

With that in mind let’s start looking at the 18th Century with some highlights of what Phillip Papas shared in his book That Ever Loyal Island: Staten Island and the American Revolution.

In this century of the American Revolution almost 99 % of Staten Island remained loyal to King George III, being the only county to not send delegates to the First Continental Congress.

Most were middle class yeomen farmers. They owned modest farms ranging in size from 80 to 275 acres run by family labor. Bentley Manor, Billopp’s 1600-acre estate, however, was the one exception.

“Among those governing the island, none was more influential than Christopher Billopp … Wealthy and imbrued with strong political and religious connections, Billopp played a prominent role in the activities on Staten Island before and during the American Revolution.”

Loyalty to the King by the farmers was most likely related to keeping the status quo to not upset their lives and to following the lead of Billopp. 

On July 4, 1776, as the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, the last of Howe’s British troops landed on Staten Island “greeted warmly by the elated and anxious Staten Islanders.” On July 6 over 500 men “happily took an oath of allegiance to King George III. … Billopp accepted the rank of lieutenant colonel with a commission to lead the provincial corps.”  Yet later the following happened.

 “British occupy forces plundered and physically attacked Staten Islanders, regardless of their declarations of loyalty. … Even property belonging to … Christopher Billopp was not safe from the British occupying forces.”

By 1783 most of the Loyalists left Staten Island, leaving behind “a community physically and emotionally scarred by the war, … it was time to heal old wounds, to rebuild their community, and give their loyalty to their new country: the United States.”

Tottenville History Blog

November 2018

My Tottenville History research began when The Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island (COAHSI) awarded me a grant in 1999 to hold an interactive workshop  at Our Lady Help of Christians Auditorium on September 24 of that year. 

In 2000, the New York Public Library sponsored another workshop at the Tottenville Branch, and in 2002, the N.Y. State Assembly named me a Staten Island Woman in History.

Now in 2018 the first in a series of books from that work is available on Kindle.


Writing the Book

After twenty years of accumulated research it was time to write the book. 

I had such great information and wanted to share ALL of it with you. Doing that, however, would have inflicted back injuries on my audience who would have to lift the massive heavy book that would produce!

I became overwhelmed trying to decide what to include and what to delete from four centuries of Tottenville history. The turning point this year was the chain of events that began in the spring that led to making this book become a reality in the fall.

Writers helping other writers has been my mantra for all the years of my writing book reviews for other authors. Now I am the one who is so grateful to the other writers that shared what I needed to hear this year to get the book done.


First, at  the ASJA annual writing conference in Manhattan, a quote from Andrea Jarrell talking about writing her book started the process.

"I finally stopped sabotaging my dream."

She put  her book first on her daily writing schedule, knowing as a professional, she'd do the paid work to meet deadlines.


Next came my joining an Alexa Skill writing class with Clay Morgan and Donna Kozik that included admission to one of Donna's Write an eBook in a Weekend courses. 

During that weekend I organized the many file cabinets of research in my office into separate book ideas by century and with encouragement from Donna just started writing and writing and writing. It took my refusing to go to sleep on Sunday night until that draft was done, but I made it to bed around 2am with 8000 words in a very rough draft of an eBook.

Clay's love of history had him contributing ideas that further improved my work.


Then a webinar with Jeff Goins gave me the final tools I needed with his five draft process of writing a book:

  1. Junk
  2. Structure
  3. Rough
  4. Surgery
  5. Last

He shared his writing system of 500 words a day, every day, not looking at the end result, but rather consistently adding progress into each of the five drafts.

To me 500 words seemed such a small amount and so doable. After all, I wrote 8000 words in one weekend and already had my junk draft. It was in the doing, however, that I learned it wasn't the word count, but the organization & consistency, that made the process work.

Happy Thanksgiving

My deepest gratitude this holiday goes to the support & encouragement I receive from the writing community and from you, my ever loyal readers.  

When you get the chance to read my book, please do share your thoughts about it with me either by email or what would be especially helpful, as  a customer review on Amazon.  

From your feedback I'll discover the direction for writing the next eBook in the series on 18th Century Tottenville.

With love,


Tottenville History Blog

September 2018

For September this post will be shorter than usual as I devote most of my writing time to the final revision of the last draft of 17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive: 

Meet the People. 

Experience the Events.

I plan to publish  on Amazon Kindle before the month ends.

The Conference House, however, has two events in September I wanted to share with you.

On Saturday, September 8th from 11am – 4pm will be “1776” (Rain date 9/9) to commemorate the Peace Conference I wrote about last month.

In addition, on Saturday, September 22nd from 2pm-6pm will be the Harvest Festival.

August  2018

Did you know?

On August 5, 1674 British Royal Navy Captain Christopher Billopp received land granted to him that included what is now Tottenville. The 932 acres grew to 1600 acres when the land grant increased in 1687.

“The Conference House (formerly known as the Billopp House) is a two-story, rubble stone masonry building constructed circa 1680 by Captain Christopher Billopp. Originally a rectangle in plan, with two rooms and a center hall on each level, the house was extended in the 18th century with the addition of a one-and-a-half story kitchen wing. The wing was constructed of rubble stone and clapboard. The steep gable roof is distinguished by brick gable ends and parapets.”

The Conference House is a designated New York City Landmark.

In my soon to be released book 17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive: Meet the People. Experience the Events. I write an entire chapter on Christopher Billopp, as well as sharing what information I discovered about his wife.

August 2018

Did you know?

On August 5, 1674 British Royal Navy Captain Christopher Billopp received land granted to him that included what is now Tottenville. 

The 932 acres grew to 1600 acres when the land grant increased in 1687.

“The Conference House (formerly known as the Billopp House) is a two-story, rubble stone masonry building constructed circa 1680 by Captain Christopher Billopp. Originally a rectangle in plan, with two rooms and a center hall on each level, the house was extended in the 18th century with the addition of a one-and-a-half story kitchen wing. The wing was constructed of rubble stone and clapboard. The steep gable roof is distinguished by brick gable ends and parapets.”

The Conference House is a designated New York City Landmark.

In my soon to be released book 

17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive: Meet the People. Experience the Events. 

I write an entire chapter on Christopher Billopp, as well as sharing what information I discovered about his wife.

Does the date September 11, 1776 mean anything to you? ​

If Tottenville interests you, it should. That is the date of the failed Peace Conference at the Conference House to try to stop the Revolutionary War. 

Representatives of the Continental Congress (John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Benjamin Franklin) met with a representative of the King (Lord Richard Howe) at the home of Colonel Christopher Billopp to try to prevent war. 

To clarify between the two Christophers, Colonel Christopher Billopp was the grandson of British Royal Navy Captain Christopher Billopp.

“Colonel Christopher Billopp (1737-1827) was born in the manor house and inherited the Manor of Bentley. He was the “Tory Colonel” of the American Revolution.”

A rowboat carrying John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Edward Rutledge, and a British hostage left Perth Amboy, New Jersey with the colonists disembarking from the rowboat onto what is now the Conference House Beach. Admiral Lord Richard Howe met them, and together they climbed to the top of the hill to the Conference House to attempt a compromise to the Revolutionary War.

As they tried to negotiate peace, they were destined to fail.

Imagine how frustrating it must have been for the four men who sincerely tried to end the war.

Before the war, Lord Howe and Benjamin Franklin were friends in London.

Franklin regularly played chess with Howe’s widowed sister. Inside Howe’s home they tried to find a way to arrive at a peaceful solution. Representing the Continental Congress, Franklin introduced Adams and Rutledge to Howe as they sat cordially around the table. The conference lasted three hours as they tried to reach a compromise.

Howe stressed the advantage to the colonists to be part of the British Empire. The delegates reiterated the colonies voted for independence after past indignities, trying to convince Howe of the ways that an independent nation would be a benefit to England.

The Continental Congress representatives only had the authority to work for peace through independence from England. The Declaration of Independence had already stated the colonists’ grievances with the “history of repeated injuries and usurpations” of King George III as discussed in last month’s blog post. It was the job of John Adams, Edward Rutledge, and Benjamin Franklin to try to get freedom for the colonies without continuing the war.

Lord Richard Howe, the King’s representative, had strict instructions from King George III that would never allow the colonies their freedom. His job basically was to get the colonists to back down from this breaking away from the crown to end the war.

As they tried to negotiate peace, they were destined to fail. With both sides unable to compromise with these conditions set firmly in place, there was no common ground with which to reach a settlement. Continuing to fight the Revolutionary War was the only possible response left to resolve the issue.

Meet Lord Richard Howe

This article in the Journal of the American Revolution gives an informative background of Lord Richard Howe.


The Conference House holds an annual reenactment of this Peace Conference. 

Chris the Hobby Guy graciously allowed me to  share his video at last year’s event with you.

Looking forward to this​ year’s celebration,


July 2018

Happy Independence Day! 

I have always seen the 4th of July as so much more than a red, white, & blue summer celebration. Barbeques….picnics…..fireworks displays….summer fun on a hot July day & night. 

It is great to be free to enjoy this time thanks to Congress adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The meaning of the day held significance to me ever since I was a little girl.

My mother was born in Italy; my father was born in the United States. As I was growing up my mother instilled in me how important it was to be an American, despite its human flaws.

My Dad fought in World War II. At home my Mom was spit on for being Italian. Italy sent a notice to join Mussolini’s army to her older brother, which he promptly discarded. Their younger brother was in the US Army with my Dad.


Our freedoms are not free. Our country is not perfect, but that’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to work to improve it.

The Declaration of Independence 

Because of an act of violence reported in the news at the Capital Gazette, I found out something I never knew about the Declaration of Independence that I want to share with you. 

“The Maryland Gazette traces its origins back to 1727 in Annapolis … In July 1776 the Gazette was one of the first newspapers to publish the Declaration of Independence, although it appeared on page 2; then, as now, local news took precedence.” Chris Kaltenbach, Baltimore Sun, June 28, 2018

I found the complete text of the Declaration of Independence, not the shortened version that was in our school textbooks, complete with list of the King’s offenses that prompted the document.  Have you ever read every word of it?

Imagine what it was like to read it with Congress before signing. They were taking a risk. They were going against the King. They were declaring independence from tyranny.

Read the full text of the Declaration of Independence.

Meet King George III

“England’s longest-ruling monarch before Queen Victoria, King George III (1738-1820) ascended the British throne in 1760.”

Do you know what King George did that propelled us onto the course of the Revolutionary War?

Quoted from the Declaration of Independence:

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. 

— Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”

See the flag this 4th of July remembering its meaning

Do you know what it symbolizes?

  • Stars are a symbol of the heavens and the goals to which humankind aspires; stripes are symbolic of rays of light from the sun. 
  • Thirteen stripes represent the original thirteen colonies that declared independence from England; fifty stars symbolize the current 50 United States. 

  • White signifies purity and innocence, red signifies valor and bravery; and blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.”

Each American is responsible for keeping our freedoms. Yes, that means you and me. Imagine if one day the America we grew up in no longer allows the freedoms we take for granted. 

If we leave it to others, we should not be shocked if one day these freedoms disappear.       --Angie

In memory of: 

  • Gerald Fischman
  • Rob Hiaasen 
  • John McNamara
  • Rebecca Smith
  • Wendi Winters

Tottenville History Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Latest Blog Entry

June 16, 2018

Great News to Share with You

Many of you have been waiting for my book on Tottenville to finally become a reality. I know I sure have!

The book 20th Century Tottenville is taking longer than anticipated as I go the traditional publishing route creating a book proposal to submit to literary agents and university presses that have indicated interest in the project. 

Who knew that compiling information and writing a non-fiction book proposal would be more difficult for me to do that writing a book?


Thanks to a course I’ve been taking this summer I am in the process of learning how to write & self-publish an eBook from all the crates full of prior to 1900 information accumulated over the years that will not be in 20th Century Tottenville

So while I have no idea when 20th Century Tottenville will finally make it to publication, I’m determined that the beginning of Tottenville History will be published as an eBook by the end of the summer! 

My working title for this first eBook is:

17th Century Tottenville History Comes Alive: 

Meet the people. Experience the Events.

I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for all your support & patience,