Historic, but not famous

Cornelis Melyn, early settler of Staten Island, instigator

Cornelis Melyn (1600 – c. 1662) was an early Dutch settler in New Netherland and lived on Staten Island. He was the chairman of the council of eight men, which was a part of early steps toward representative democracy in the Dutch colony. He was born in Antwerp which was part of the Spanish Netherlands. He decided to move to New Amsterdam on his second visit in 1638. He returned to the Netherlands and applied for the Patroonship of Staten Island, which he was granted July 3, 1640. A Patroonship allowed a landholder in New Netherland and its colonies, proprietary and manorial rights to a large tract of land in exchnage for 50 new settlers to the colony.

Melyn and his family were forced to flee Staten Island during a war with the Lenape and his plantation was destroyed. He purchased three plots in Manhattan where his family lived for 3 years while waiting to return to Staten Island. During that time, Melyn is attributed with having written the Vertoogh van Nieu Nederland’ (‘A Tale of New Netherland’), considered one of earliest descriptions of life in colony and condemnation of Dutch West Indies Company policies. He was in conflict with the govenor, Krieft and eventually also Peter Stuyvesant. Cornelis was sent to trial in Amsterdam, but returned again to resume his attempt to colonize Staten Island, along with a group of about 70 persons.  His feud continued with Director-General Stuyvesant, who had him arrested and imprisoned without trial or hearing in 1655.

In 1659, he relinquished his right of Patroonship of Staten Island. His death is not recorded but believed to have been in 1662.

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Historic, but not famous

Wilhelm Christian Weitling, writer, tailor, inventor

Wilhelm Christian Weitling (1808 – 1871) was a tailor, inventor, and radical political activist. He immigrated from Germany and invented attachments for commercial sewing machines like devices for double-stitching and the button holes. Prior to his inventions, these had been done by hand and kept many families afloat with piece work by the women and children of poor areas in NYC.

Weitling was raised in dire poverty, while his mother made a meager living as a maid and cook. His father, who never married his mother, was killed in war before Wilhelm turned 5.  His education was limited to elementary school and any reading did on his own at the local library. He still learned not only German, but French and eventually English and some Italian.  He apprenticed with a tailor at an early age and was a skilled journeyman tailor by age 18.

He moved to Paris where he became politically active, an agitator and writer, he was published and translated in many languages. His work was mostly Marxist or Communist in tone and intent. He spent time in prison and after his release traveled many places including New York City. By 1850, he had made NYC his home and started publishing a monthly journal which grew to 4000 subscribers.

His attention turned to invention in his later years. He received nine patents for improvements to sewing machines, among which were double stitch, button hole and embroidery attachments. He received a patent for a dress-trimming crimper which he had worked on for 17 years, and on his death left several unfinished machines.

He died in NYC, leaving behind a wife and 6 children.

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Historic, but not famous

Joseph Howard Jr. (June 3, 1833 – March 31, 1908) was an American journalist, war correspondent, publicist and newspaperman. He was one of the top reporters for The New York Times, city editor of the Brooklyn Eagle and longtime president of the New York Press Club.

During the Civil War, Mr. Howard forged a conscription document saying President Lincoln was calling up an additional 400,000 men. That eventually caused the temporary artificial inflation of the gold market in NYC, allowing him to make a huge profit on his holdings in a very short period of time. He was arrested for what became known as “Howard’s Proclamation” or the “Great Civil War Gold Hoax” and held as a prisoner of war at Fort Lafayette for less than 3 months and eventually pardoned.

Mr. Howard initially wanted to be a civil engineer, but took up journalism for the adventure and got his first job with the NY Times after falsely gaining entry to an strike as a reporter and actually submitting an article to the Times via telegraph. He covered the election of 1860 and falsified news about Abraham Lincoln and that he traveled in disguise. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, became a war correspondent and was present at the battles of Bull Run and Ball’s Bluff.

He also played a series of practical jokes such as holding open the paper’s lines to telegraph the genealogy of Jesus and, in September 1862, he violated an order prohibiting journalists from attending the funeral of Brigadier General Philip Kearny by sneaking in dressed in clerical robes. This incident caused his editors to remove him as a regular columnist and he was forced to become a freelance reporter.

He still wrote regularly for many papers and magazines throughout the area. Among the social and political events he reported included the trial and execution of presidential assassin Charles J. Guiteau, the Red River Rebellion led by Louis Riel, the presidential campaigns and inaugurations of James A. Garfield and Grover Cleveland, the death and funeral of Ulysses S. Grant and the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was one of the founding members of the New York Press Club, serving as its president four times. He died of kidney failure in 1908 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, his birth burough.

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Historic, but not famous

Edward “Monk” Eastman (1875 – December 26, 1920) was a New York City gangster who founded and led the Eastman Gang, which became one of the most powerful street gangs in New York City and is considered to be one of the last of the 19th-century New York gangsters. His father was a civil war veteran who abandoned the family by the time Edward was 5 and he lived with his maternal grandparents, mother and siblings.  

His first arrest was in 1898 and while in prison became part of the Allen Street Cadets. He was known for his messy hair and small derby hat as well as gold teeth.  His legitimate work included owning a pet store where he sold birds and as a bouncer for a local club. Eastman became acquainted with Tammany Hall politicians, who would eventually put him and his cohort to work as repeat voters and strong-arm men.

Eastman was sent to Sing Sing prison for 10 years after attempting to rob a young man who’s family had hired 2 Pinkerton guards to follow him. Eastman shot at the bodyguards and was caught by the police. Though Tammany Hall had helped him out multiple times in the past, they sat this one out, so Eastman had to do the prison time. He served 5 of the 10 years, but when he got out he found his gang fractured into many small divisions and one of his cohorts dead. With no gang to run with, he became a petty thief and opium addict. He served many small sentences in jail.

Eastman enlisted in the army for World War I and received many accommodations for bravery. He served in France with “O’Ryan’s Roughnecks”, the 106th Infantry Regiment of the 27th Infantry Division. After Eastman’s discharge in 1919, the Governor of New York, Al Smith, recognized his honorable service by restoring his U.S. citizenship (voting rights were removed with his conviction as a felon.). After returning from military duty, he returned to a life of petty crime and was shot on the street by corrupt Prohibition Agent Jerry Bohan.

Mr. Eastman was buried with full military honors in Cypress Hills Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. Bohan was later convicted of his murder and served three years in prison.

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