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A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.

No. 15.

THE Apprentices' Library.—Its origin—corner stone laid in 1825, by Lafayette.—The Day and the Scene—the Public Ceremonies—the Veterans.—Lafayette assisting the children.—Unearthing of the Corner Stone, and the old documents.—Brooklyn Officials of former Days.—Pastors of Churches, etc.—The old Corner Stone relaid in the present Armory, and the Documents deposited again.—The hands of Lafayette have consecrated this edifice.

THE premises at the corner of Henry and Cranberry streets, now the City Armory Building, resounding these times to the clash of arms, and the nightly orders of the drill-officers, are probably more rich with historical interest than the hundreds of young men who congregate there to learn soldiering have any idea of. This was the spot occupied, until 1858, by the three-story edifice known as the Apprentices' Library.1 Clustering around the last-named establishment, and forming part of its authentic records, are so many points of importance in the past of Brooklyn that we have determined to make it the subject of one of our papers.

The Apprentices' Library Building was for many years the Municipal Hall of Brooklyn. It was here the City Fathers met, and transacted the business of the public. Here, too, was the Post Office of Brooklyn. The County Clerk's apartments were in the same edifice, and in the upper story the Judges of several Courts from time to time held their sessions. The reason of its being called the Apprentices' Library was that a few benevolent gentlemen, some forty years since, had combined together to establish a Free Library for youths and mechanics; and the enterprize led to their contributing money to put up the edifice which afterwards went by that name. It was intended, (so we have been informed by old citizens) that the whole building, when completed, should gradually be devoted to purposes akin with that of the free library, such as educational improvement, lectures, studies appropriate for mechanics, &c. But this was never carried out, for some reason or another; probably because it was found that the building turned out to be a very handsome pecuniary investment, and returned to its owners, eventually, almost cent. per cent. from its increased value and central position.

The corner stone of the building was laid in 1825. The writer of these sketches, who was at that time a lad in his seventh year, remembers the occasion perfectly well, having been present at it. It was on the 4th of July. The famous Lafayette was then on his last visit to America—the fourth, we believe.2 It was a historical event, that last visit, full of solemnity, as most of the old soldiers were dead. A few old veterans still remained, and gathered around Lafayette, here in Brooklyn and New York, at this last visit. Well do we, casting our mind back as we write, remember the scene, now more than thirty-five years ago—the group of bent, thin-faced, white-haired, old-fashioned fellows that were drawn together here in Brooklyn, on that occasion, and who met Lafayette when he came over the ferry. It was early in the forenoon. The weather was very fine. All the school and Sunday school children of Brooklyn were congregated at the lower end of Fulton street, and marshalled into two lines, facing inward, with a wide space between them. Lafayette landed from the boat, in an old-fashioned yellow coach, and passed through these lines of little children, (of which the present writer was one).

All the principal persons and officers of Brooklyn of course, with Joshua Sands, the President of the Board of Trustees, had gathered at Fulton, then better known as Old, Ferry—the Revolutionary veterans, if we remember right, being entertained in the meantime at Coe. S. Downing's inn, then a well-known public-house on the east side of the street, between Front street and the ferry.

Lafayette, with his hat off, rode slowly through the lines of children and the crowd that was gathered on the walks, and that looked at him and cheered him, from the houses, all the way up. After he had passed along ahead, to where Market street now is, the carriage stopt, and the children, officers, citizens, &c., formed behind in procession, and followed him up to the corner of Henry and Cranberry streets, where the operation of laying the corner stone was to be performed by Lafayette himself; he, having been invited, obligingly consented to execute the work. When arrived there, he alighted from his carriage, and, in the centre of a group of veterans and some of the functionaries of Brooklyn, he awaited the arrival, and getting in order, of the children and the rest of the procession. The excavation, &c., for the foundation walls and basement of the proposed building was quite rough, and there were heaps of stone and earth around, as was to be expected in such cases. Everything was more informal than it would be now, and as the children arrived, there was a little delay in getting them into safe and eligible places—whereupon many of the citizens volunteered to lift the smaller fry down the banks of the cellar, and place them on safe positions, &c., so that they might have a fair share in the view and hearing of the exercises. As most of the group around Lafayette were assisting in this work, the old companion of Washington, while waiting the signal to begin, pleasantly took it into his head to aid the same work himself, as he was in a place where there were a number of lads and lassies, waiting their turn to be lifted down. As good luck would have it, the writer of this series was one of those whom Lafayette took in his arms, and lifted down to be provided with a standing place; and proud enough as he was of it at the time, it may well be imagined with what feelings the venerable gentleman recollects it now.

There was quite an amount of speechifying, and, we suppose interchange of compliments of the usual nature; after which they took Lafayette riding out on the heights and round the city. This was the last time Lafayette ever saw these shores—being, we believe, his fourth visit. Twice he came during the Revolutionary war, once a few years after the close of the war, and the establishment of independence. Of course, we repeat, it is one of the dearest of the boyish memories of the writer that he not only saw, but was touched by the hands, and taken a moment to the breast of the immortal old Frenchman.

The corner-stone then and there laid was a slab about thirty inches long, eighteen broad, and eight inches thick, enclosing and covering a small cavity or chest formed of brick, stone and mortar, in which were deposited various local memoranda and items that the child, in his seventh year, after seeing them thus deposited in '25, was singularly permitted to behold again when a man in his fortieth year: for in '58 the old Apprentices Library was taken down to make room for the present City Armory and the relics and current memoranda of the period of the first building, and of the visit of Lafayette, were unearthed again, and, after lying so long in darkness, once more, for a brief period, revisited the glimpses of the moon.

It will be well worth while to make a few minutes of these documents, which may perhaps one day become a precious record for antiquarians. There was a village Manual and Directory among the relics (printed at the office of Alden Spooner)3 from which we glean the names of the following officers, chosen at the just preceding election in May, 1825:

  • President of the Board of Trustees—Joshua Sands.4
  • Trustees—John Doughty,5 John Moser,6 David Anderson,7 Joseph Sprague.8
  • Assessors—Wm. A. Sale,9 Jeremiah Mills,10 Benjamin Meeker.11
  • Clerk to Board—John Dikeman.12
  • State Commissioner—J. D. Conklin.13
  • Health Physician—J. G. T. Hunt.14
  • Weighers—G. P. Pease,15 John Titus,16 Andrew Tombs,17 R. W. Doughty.18
  • Measurer—Henry Van Brunt.19
  • Measurer of Lime—W. A. Sale.20

The above officers were not elected, but appointed by the Board of Trustees.

We now come to the Fire Department of thirty-six years ago, in Brooklyn, as recorded in these relics:

  • Chief Engineer—John Doughty.
  • Vice President of Incorporated Firemen—Joshua Sutton.21
  • Secretary—Richard Cornell.22
  • Collector—Michael Trappel.23

The names of a number of other officers at the time are also given, among which are the following, civil, military, naval, &c.:

  • Post Master of Brooklyn—Thomas Kirk.24
  • Commander at the Navy Yard—Commodore Chauncey.25
  • President L. I. Bank—Leffert Lefferts.26
  • Cashier of the same—Daniel Embury.27

The militia seems to have consisted of but one regiment, the 64th Infantry, of Kings County, with the following officers:

  • Colonel—Robert Nichols, of Brooklyn.28
  • Lt. Col.—John Lott, Jr., of Flatlands.29
  • Major—Wm. R. Dean, of Brooklyn.30
  • Adjutant—James W. Smith, Brooklyn.31
  • Quarter Master—Barnet Johnson, Wallabout.32
  • Paymaster—Samuel Garrison, Gravesend.33
  • Surgeon—Cornelius Dubois, New Utrecht.34
  • Surgeon's Mate—Adrian Vanderveer, Flatbush.35
  • Serjeant Major—Wm. Jenkins.36

Among those connected with the local institutions are the following head men:

  • Pres't Brooklyn Fire Insurance Co.—Wm. Furman.37
  • Secretary—Freeman Hopkins.38
  • Pres't Medical Society—Joseph G. T. Hunt.39
  • Pres't Bible Society—Joshua Sands.
  • Pres't Brooklyn Gas Light Co.—Fanning C. Tucker.40

Among the church statistics we find the following:

  • Pastor Ref. Dutch Church—Rev. Selah Woodhull.41
  • Rector St. Ann's—Rev. H. U. Onderdonk.42
  • Sands St. Methodist—Rev. Thomas Burch.43
  • First Presbyterian—Rev. Joseph Sandford.44 (This is the same church and premises, now occupied by Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's45 Society.)
  • Jay St. R. C. Church—Rev. John Farnham.46
  • African M. E. Church—Rev. William Quinn.47

We dare say that in looking over these names, our few remaining elder citizens will have their memories carried back very easily to those times, and will without difficulty call up the personal appearance and manners of many of the above mentioned ministers and official functionaries. We can almost see some of them as we write. Old Josey Moser,48 for instance, dressed in drab clothes, goes along with his peculiar gait, round-shouldered, clean-shaved, or sits in his place in the Methodist church, from which he is never absent of a Sunday, rain or shine.

The old Apprentices Library being torn down to make room for the present Armory (which we suppose will in its day in the future have to fall to make room for something else,) the stone which capped and held safe the above relics was carefully preserved, and in 1858, when the Armory foundation was laid, it was duly put in its new corner, and now forms a part of the existing building. It is a valuable memento, and our citizens should be more generally aware of its history, as identified with the foregoing narrative. That stone has been touched by the almost sacred hands of Lafayette, and is therefore hallowed by associations that, as time rolls on, will every year become more and more precious.

Of the above mentioned records and memoranda in the old cavity, and in a glass bottle inclosed in it, we believe they were all of them in sufficient preservation to be added to the deposits in the cavity under the corner stone of the present Armory building.


1. Whitman also discusses the Apprentices (alternately Apprentices') Library and Lafayette's visit in "Brooklyniana No. 8" (January 25, 1862). [back]

2. The Marquis de Lafayette was a Frenchman who fought in the American Revolution. He did a farewell tour of the United States in 1824–1825, the event to which Whitman refers. For more on Whitman's perception of this event, see David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman's America (New York: Knopf, 1995), 33–34. [back]

3. Alden Spooner (1757–1827), who served in the American Revolution, was a printer from Vermont who handled much of his state's official printing. He also owned and published the Long Island Star from 1811 to 1819. [back]

4. Joshua Sands (1772–1825) and his brother Comfort Sands were wealthy landowners in Brooklyn in the early nineteenth century. Joshua Sands was the eighth president of the New York Chamber of Commerce and also served as a representative to the U.S. Congress and as a New York state senator. [back]

5. John Doughty, Jr., served as treasurer, clerk, and engineer for the Brooklyn fire department at various times. Together with Thomas Everit, Jr., Doughty established a tanning and wool business. He occupied several other Brooklyn offices during his fifty years of public service. [back]

6. John Moser, a German immigrant, served as president of the Frank Brewing Company and as a director of two banks and the Academy of Music. [back]

7. David Anderson is unidentified. [back]

8. Joseph Sprague (1783–1854) became a leading name in Brooklyn politics. Before Brooklyn obtained a city charter in 1834, Sprague served several terms as its president. In 1843 and 1844 he was elected Mayor of the city, and he held a number of other offices before his death in 1854. [back]

9. William A. Sale was one of the builders of Old St. Ann's Church in Brooklyn. [back]

10. Jeremiah Mills served in the New York State Legislature. [back]

11. Benjamin Meeker (d. 1849) was a carpenter and mechanic. [back]

12. John Dikeman (1794–1879) served two terms as Kings County Judge and taught at the first Sunday School in Brooklyn. He authored the manuscript The Brooklyn Compendium in 1870. [back]

13. J.D. Conklin is unidentified. [back]

14. J. G. T. Hunt was the first health officer in Brooklyn, taking office in 1825. He also served as president of the Kings County Medical Society from 1825 until his death in 1830. [back]

15. G. P. Pease is unidentified. [back]

16. The John Titus mentioned here is probably the same John Titus who served as a captain in the militia during the American Revolution and who also spent time as a Brooklyn firefighter. [back]

17. Andrew Tombs is unidentified. [back]

18. R. W. Doughty is unidentified. [back]

19. Henry Van Brunt is unidentified. [back]

20. W. A. Sale is unidentified. [back]

21. Joshua Sutton later served as a director of the Brooklyn Fire Insurance Company. [back]

22. The Richard Cornell mentioned here may be the same Richard Cornell who briefly served as sheriff of Queens County in 1819. [back]

23. Michael Trappel was a Brooklyn butcher who had worked for Doughty and Everit's tanning and wool business for twenty years. [back]

24. Thomas Kirk (1772–1851) was a printer who published several Long Island newspapers, including the Courier and New York and Long Island Advertiser beginning on June 26, 1799, and the Long Island Star beginning on June 1, 1809. [back]

25. Isaac Chauncey (c. 1785–1840) served in the Navy during the War of 1812, best known for his Cruise on Lake Ontario. He may have also been the first to introduce the lima bean to American gardens. [back]

26. Leffert Lefferts III (1774–1847) descended from the largest slaveowning family in the county. Known as "the Judge," Lefferts III was the first judge of Kings County and the first president of Long Island Bank. In the 1840s he became one of the first half-millionaires in Kings County. [back]

27. Daniel Embury was a banker who eventually became president of the Atlantic Bank in Brooklyn. His wife Emma Catharine Embury was a prominent Brooklyn poet. [back]

28. Robert Nichols, a former general, helped establish the city hospital in 1839. The hospital later became the Brooklyn City Hospital. [back]

29. John Lott Jr. was a general in the Revolutionary War militia and later a justice of the peace in Brooklyn. [back]

30. Wm. R. Dean is unidentified. [back]

31. James W. Smith is unidentified. [back]

32. Barnet Johnson was the son of General Jeremiah Johnson. Barnet Johnson's grandfather, also named Barnet Johnson, fought in the Revolutionary War. [back]

33. Samuel Garrison is unidentified. [back]

34. Cornelius Dubois, Sr., also served as president of the First National Bank of Poughkeepsie, New York. [back]

35. Adrian Vanderveer established the first Sabbath school for the Reformed Dutch Church around the year 1830. [back]

36. Wm. Jenkins is unidentified. [back]

37. William Furman served as county judge before Leffert Lefferts. [back]

38. Freeman Hopkins is unidentified. [back]

39. Joseph G. T. Hunt is the same as J. G. T. Hunt, noted above. [back]

40. Fanning C. Tucker, who married the daughter of Joshua Sands, served as rector of St. Ann's church and presided over a bank in New York. [back]

41. Reverend Selah Woodhull (1786–1826) served as secretary of the American Bible Society for a time, and later became a professor at the theological seminary of the Reformed Dutch Church. [back]

42. Henry U. Underdonk served as pastor of St. Ann's church prior to Fanning C. Tucker's rectorship. [back]

43. Reverend Thomas Burch (1778–1849), originally from Ireland, served as pastor of the Foundry Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., from 1814 until 1816. [back]

44. Joseph Sandford is unidentified. [back]

45. Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887) was a famous preacher and abolitionist in the antebellum North. His society, also known as Plymouth Church, was first established in Brooklyn in 1847. [back]

46. John Farnham is unidentified. [back]

47. The African M. E. Church was the African Methodist Episcopal Church, for which William Quinn was the first and only church-planting missionary to the western states in the 1840s. [back]

48. Joseph Moser (d. 1854), also known as Old Josey or Uncle Josey, was a devout Methodist known for his generosity. He was a wealthy business owner, though he seems to have lost his fortune later in life. [back]

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