Gravesend is a neighborhood in the south-central section of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, in the U.S. state of New York. As of 2010, Gravesend had a population of 29,436.
Gravesend was one of the original towns in the Dutch colony of New Netherland and became one of the six original towns of Kings County in colonial New York. It was the only English chartered town in what became Kings County and was designated the “Shire Town” when the English assumed control, as it was the only one where records could be kept in English. Courts were removed to Flatbush in 1685.
Gravesend is notable for being founded by a woman, Lady Deborah Moody; a land patent was granted to the English settlers by Governor Willem Kieft, December 19, 1645. A prominent early settler was Anthony Janszoon van Salee. Gravesend Town encompassed 7,000 acres (2,800 ha) in southern Kings County, including the entire island of Coney Island, which was originally the town’s common lands on the Atlantic Ocean, divided up, as was the town itself, into 41 parcels for the original patentees. When the town was first laid out, almost half were salt marsh wetlands and sandhill dunes along the shore of Gravesend Bay.
Gravesend was annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1894.
The derivation of the name “Gravesend” is unclear. Some speculate that it was named after the English seaport of Gravesend, Kent. An alternative explanation suggests that it was named by Willem Kieft for the Dutch settlement of “‘s- Gravesande”, which means “Count’s Beach” or “Count’s Sand”. There is also a town in the Netherlands called ‘s-Gravenzande.
The modern neighborhood of Gravesend lies between Coney Island Avenue to the east, Stillwell Avenue to the west, Kings Highway to the north, and Coney Island Creek and Shore Parkway to the south. To the east of Gravesend is Sheepshead Bay, to the northeast Midwood, to the northwest Bensonhurst, and to the west Bath Beach. To the south, across Coney Island Creek, lies the neighborhood of Coney Island, and across Shore Parkway lies Brighton Beach. The neighborhood center is still the four blocks bounded by Village Road South, Village Road East, Village Road North, and Van Sicklen Street, where the Moody House and Van Sicklen family cemetery are located. Next to, and parallel with the van Sicklen Family Cemetery is the Old Gravesend Cemetery, where Lady Moody is purported to be interred. Gravesend Cemetery’s most exotic occupant is Egyptian émigré Mohammad Ben Misoud, who was part of a Coney Island attraction and was afforded a proper Muslim funeral upon his death in August, 1896.
Gravesend is served by three lines of the New York City Subway system. The services and lines, respectively, are the D train on the BMT West End Line at 25th Avenue and Bay 50th Street; the F train on the IND Culver Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and Avenue X; and the N train on the BMT Sea Beach Line at Kings Highway, Avenue U, and 86th Street. The Coney Island subway yard is in the neighborhood. Gravesend is patrolled by the NYPD’s 60th, 61st, and 62nd Precincts.
The first known European to set foot in the area that would become Gravesend was Henry Hudson, whose ship, the Half Moon, landed on Coney Island in the fall of 1609. The island and its environs were at that time inhabited by bands of Lenape people.
The land subsequently became part of the New Netherland Colony, and in 1643 it was granted to Lady Deborah Moody, an English expatriate who hoped to establish a community where she and her followers could practice their Anabaptist beliefs free from persecution. Due to clashes with the local native tribes the town wasn’t completed until 1645. But when the town charter was finally signed and granted it became one of the first such titles to ever be awarded to a woman in the new world.
The town Lady Moody established was one of the earliest planned communities in America. It consisted of a perfect square surrounded by a 20-foot-high wooden palisade. The town was bisected by two main roads, Gravesend Road (now McDonald Avenue) running from north to south, and Gravesend Neck Road, running from east to west. These roads divided the town into four quadrants which were subdivided into ten plots of land each; the grid of the original town can still be seen on maps and aerial photographs of the area. At the center of town, where the two main roads met, a town hall was constructed where town meetings were held once a month. Today, Lady Moody is believed to be buried in Old Gravesend Cemetery.
The religious freedom of early Gravesend made it a desirable home for ostracized or controversial groups, such as the Quakers, who briefly made their home in the town before being chased out by New Netherland director general Petrus Stuyvesant, who was wary of Gravesend’s open acceptance of “heretical” sects.
In 1654 the people of Gravesend purchased Coney Island from the local natives for about $15 worth of seashells, guns, and gunpowder.
In August 1776 Gravesend Bay was the landing site of thousands of British soldiers and German mercenaries from their staging area on Staten Island, leading to the Battle of Long Island (also Battle of Brooklyn). The troops met little resistance from the Continental Army advance troops under General George Washington then headquartered in New York City (at the time limited to the tip of Manhattan Island). The battle would prove to be the largest fought in the entire war.
Although Coney Island continued to be a major tourist attraction throughout the 20th century, the closing of Gravesend’s great racetracks in the century’s first decade caused the rest of the old town to recede back into obscurity. Most of it became a working- and middle-class residential Brooklyn neighborhood. In the 1950s the city constructed the 28 building Marlboro Houses, located between Avenues V and X from Stillwell Avenue to the Gravesend Rail Yards. It is run by the New York City Housing Authority.
Beginning in the 1990s, with an influx of Sephardic (mostly Syrian) Jews, the northeast section of the neighborhood saw the development of upscale single-family homes at prices upwards of $1 million.