Anybody with a Brooklyn Genealogy in the 1800’s stands a good chance of having a family member connection to the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Ship builders, Iron Workers and other tradesmen found work in high numbers all the way up to its closing in 1966, employing upwards of 70,000 during it’s peak period of production during WWII. My own Great Great Grandfather was listed as an Iron Worker, Engineer, and Ship Builder in both the New York and US Federal Census reports throughout his entire adult life. His Son in law (my great grandfather) was listed as an Iron worker at the age of 16 on the 1900 census, until his death certificate in 1937 lists him as lifetime Iron Worker in the Navy Yard. My 2x Great Grandfather lived to be 84 years old, and outlived both of my Great Grandparents, and at least one of his Grandchildren, killed in Normandy. To illustrate how unique this was for the time, my other 2x Great Grandfather died in 1890, over 54 years earlier, leaving behind 5 children under the age of 10. I mentioned earlier my Great Grandfather was an Iron Worker by age 16, (as was his 17 year old brother) and knowing that he grew up right next door to the woman he would marry, it is entirely possible that my 2x Great Grandfather took a fatherly roll in the neighbors life and helped them acquire a job that would support them both until their deaths many years later. By all accounts the
Brooklyn Navy Yard plays a tremendous roll in my own family history, so I think it important to mention a few points for anybody interested in their family history, the history of Brooklyn, or America in general.
Brief History of the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Brooklyn Navy Yard opened in 1801 on Wallabout Bay, part of New Yorks East River. It is on the site of the first European inhabited land on Long Island. Joris Jansen Rapelje first purchased over
300 acre’s of land at this location from the Canarsee Indians in 1637.
The site encountered it’s most disturbing period during the time of the America Revolutionary War when the British docked several ships in Wallabout Bay that housed many thousands of prisoners between the years of 1776 – 1781. The conditions the continental soldiers were kept in on board these ships led to the death of over 10,000 soldiers. While combat casualty numbers for the Revolutionary War are only estimates, it is generally thought that the 10,000 soldiers killed on these prison ships is more then the 8,000 total Continental Army combat fatalities.
Following the war the location was used for new ship construction. The land was purchased by the federal government in 1801 and soon after became an active Navy Shipyard as a result of President John Adams push for a strong Navy.
On January 1st, 1808 the United State made the importation of slaves Illegal, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard provided no fewer then 10 ships that patroled the waters off the coast of Africa starting in
1820 and ending with the U.S. Civil War.
In later years the Navy Yard saw it’s greatest boom during WWII, and finally closed in 1966.
Ships Built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
There are many ships built in the Brooklyn Navy Yard worth mentioning, and this list is certainly not going to cover all of them, but instead will include just a few of the more notable and historic vessels built there.
- Launched in February 1855, the USS Niagara was used to lay the Transatlantic telegraph cable over the years of 1857 & 1858
- The USS Monitor constructed in just 3 months during the winter of 1861 – 1862, was the first Ironclad Warship commisioned by the US Navy. It is most famous for surving several key battles during the civil war. It’s new design however, was not perfected and the ship sunk during a storm in the waters off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina on December 31st, 1862
- The USS Maine was launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1890. An exposion aboard the Maine caused it’s sinking in Havana Harbor on February 15th 1898. This event led to the U.S. entering what would become the Spanish American War, even though the explosion was, and is still widely believed an have been an accident
- The USS Missouri, currently a museum in Pearl Harbor, was constructed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard between the years 1941 – 1944. It became the site of the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in Tokyo Bay on September 2nd, 1945. Signed by then Japanese General Yoshijirō Umezu, as well as represenatives of at least 9 Allied Nations.
- The USS Arizona launched from the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 1916 and was sunk on December 7th, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor Hawaii.
The Brooklyn Navy Yard Museum
Today, you can visit the museum located in Building 92. Check for a schedule of bike and walking tours, and for museum hours. From the Bldg 92 website:
BLDG 92 is located at the intersection of Carlton and Flushing Avenue at 63 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is located on Brooklyn’s waterfront between the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges and surrounded by DUMBO/Vinegar Hill, Fort Greene and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn.