Part #4 of 12
Their Island, Homes, Cemetery and Early Genealogy in Queens County, NY by permission of its author, an 11th generation Abraham Rijcken vanLent descendant, Edgar Alan Nutt.
Members of the Riker family, in identifying themselves in terms of their branch’s origin or reference, speak of such as New York, Queens County, New Jersey, Closter, Indiana, or Jefferson County. When looking back still further individual Rikers frequently refer[red] to themselves as having some sort of a connection with Riker’s Island.
With family ownership of that island having extended for some two hundred years, the memory passed down from generation to generation may relate to a connection that existed down to as late as the end of the two centuries of ownership, or only to the beginning of the ownership, or to some time in between.
However, not all Rikers, regardless of the spelling, have or may credibly claim such a connection.
As shown in the previous chapter, there are Rikers who belong to Riker families that descend from distinctly different progenitors than the first Riker owner of the island, whether a contemporary of that progenitor, even possible cousin of some degree, or whether a later immigrant.
An example of the former is the family of Hendrick Rycken who immigrated in 1663 and whose sons adopted the Suydam surname in place of Rycken. An example of the latter are Rikers who have the Riker spelling as a permutation of a very different surname: such as those descending from Joseph Reichert, a 1710 German immigrant who settled in Rhinebeck, New York, later adopting both the Rikert and the Riker spellings.
It is clear that the Rikers, by whatever spelling, who can legitimately claim a connection with the ownership of Rikers Island are only those who descend from the first Riker owner.
That person is Abraham Rycken, of undetermined parentage, who reportedly emigrated from Holland in 1638 and settled first in New Amsterdam near the east side of the lower end of Broadway, possibly then on Long Island [Brooklyn] at Wallabout, and finally in Newtown’s "de Armen Bouwerie," the Poor Farm of the New Amsterdam Reformed Dutch Church.
At present Rikers Island is the location of New York City’s complex of correctional facilities and is connected with the mainland of Long Island by a 5,500 foot causeway-bridge opened in 1966.
In spite of that connection and its proximity to Long Island and Queens County. of which it was long a part as well as of that county’s Village of Newtown, in 1884 subsequent to its acquisition by the City of New York, it was transferred to [New York County and later, in the Greater New York City Consolidation of 1898, it became part of one of that county's then two boroughs,] The Bronx.
Currently the island consists of five hundred and eighty acres in contrast to early estimations of from forty to eighty-seven acres, with the vast growth in size resulting from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries’ use of it as a dump for much of New York City’s coal ashes and cinders, as well as a depository for the material produced in the excavation of the city’s subway system,
Through the island’s enlargement nothing of its original shape remains, and as a result of the various correctional buildings and related features, its original contours and surfaces are no longer evident.
Elevated land comprised both ends of the island with a narrow waist between, There was meadow land and orchard, and there was at least one house plus a number of farm buildings: all are now long-since gone.
The first individual owner of record of Rikers Island was Abraham Rycken. Reportedly having come from the Netherlands to New Netherland in 1638, he over time obtained title to several parcels or land.
In the year of his arrival he obtained from Director General William Kleft a grant of land that James Riker reports as having been in the Wallabout. Two years later, on August 8, 1640, Kleft formalized the grant with a patent defining the parcel or parcels as
"situate on the Long Island, opposite Berrien garrick (?) where Gysbert Rycken on one side and the Highway, extending from the Kill in the wood East north East & West south West, and Hans Hansen on the same is situated. Contains along the Kill in the straight breadth five hundred treads, to which parcel of land is attached a third part of High Valley, situate next behind the land of George Rappaljie & Gysbert Rycken. . . ."
Whether or not or to what extent Abraham Rycken utilized this grant is not apparent, but by 1640 he was living in New Amsterdam on either the Heeren Gracht (Broad Street) or Prince Street.
On February 25, 1654, he obtained a second grant for which no document has been located; [James] Riker states that this was in the Armen Bowerie (Poor Farm) area, an area which now is included in the present LaGuardia Airport.
His reason for acquiring and settling on this tract can not be known for certain, but it is worth noting that it was adjacent to the farm of Harck Siboutsen who earlier had lived on the Heeren Gracht next to Abraham Rychen’s house and that some years later the former’s daughter Catrina married the latter’s eldest son Ryck Abramsen. Siboutsen’s sons changed their surname to Krankheit and Ryck's sons adopted Lent as their surname. The two families were close over the course of many years and their closeness may well have motivated Abraham Rycken to settle where he did.
While not relevant at this point it is also worth noting that the Siboutsen farm became the farm of a Lent grandson of Abraham Rycken, the farm that later included the Riker Cemetery and the Lent-Rapelye House, both of which are to be considered later.
From his farm Abraham Rycken could look out across the mile of Bowery Bay between the Long Island shore and the small island that became Riker’s Island. For some reason the island was attractive to him, and on August 19, 1664, he obtained a patent for it from Director General Peter Stuyvesant who on September 8, 1664, was forced to capitulate to English authority. The patent specifies
“a small island lying beyond Hellgate, named Hulett’s Island, north of the farm of the poor (i.e., 'de Armen Bouwerie' or the Poor Bowery), with the valley or meadow thereunto annext, which valley contained three morgen and two hundred rods.”"
The designation of the island as Hulett’s will be looked at below.
Perhaps the valley’s area was cited because it was considered the more arable part of the island and hence an indication of the island’s worth. Three morgan are six acres and the two hundred (square) rods amount to an acre and a quarter, totaling seven and a quarter acres.
Although the transition from Dutch control to English control might have generated questions as to land titles and even to their abrogation, the latter did not occur, no doubt in large part because the Dutch settlers were fed up with both the West India Company and the corrupt administration of its succession of Directors General, and they welcomed the English authority.
Consequently the Dutch settlers were treated generously, not as defeated enemies, and land titles granted by the Dutch authority were respected as having been legitimately given and received. In Abraham Rycken’s case he received a confirmation of his earlier patent: on December 24, 1667, Governor General Richard Nicolls ratified that patent specifying
“a certain small island, lying and being without Hell-gate, to the North of poores Bowery, commonly called and knowne by the name of Huletts Island, with the Meadow Ground or Valley annext; which said Meadow contains the quantity of six Acres, or three Morgen, and two hundred Rods.”
Abraham Rychen’s being given the 1664 patent was not the first event involving the island, nor was Abraham the first of the family to be associated with it.
[James] Riker reports that certain Indians on August 1, 1664, sold to William Hallett, Sr., a large tract of land that was roughly triangular in shape comprising the land northerly of a diagonal line running from a point on the East River southerly of Hellgate to Fish’s Point between Bowery Bay and Flushing Bay, together with "an island which is commonly called Hewlett’s Island, which island the aforesaid Hewlett did formerly live upon."
It is not evident who the “aforesaid Hewlett” was, but presumably he was identified in the now missing sale document. Hewlett of course is the modern spelling of the name Hulett as in the Stuyvesant patent or as in its variation Hulet.
On December 5, 1664, the chief of the Indians, who apparently were of the Canarsee tribe, confirmed the sa1e, and subsequently Governors Richard Nicolls and Thomas Dongan both confirmed Hallett’s title in general but excepted the grants of parcels within the tract that had already been made to other individuals.
Abraham’s patent was thereby protected, and [James] Riker further states that Hallett at the time of the sale did not recognize Dutch authority and therefore had not consulted with Stuyvesant with the result that the island specified in his purchase was otherwise assigned eighteen days later.
The references to Hulett/Hewlett in relation to what became Riker’s Island carry the matter back before both Hallett’s purchase and Abraham Rycken’s patent. Two versions of the connection exist. One, the earlier, [James Riker] states that
“the island was so-named in honor of the ancestor of the Hewlett family of Long Island (probably Lewis Hewlett) ... who at an earlier day had been driven from it by the Indians, who destroyed his house and other property.”
The later version [Henry I. Hazelton, Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens , vol. 2, p. 1025; 1925] is similar but identifies a different Hewlett and introduces new details:
“The first Hewlett settlement, it is believed, was on Riker’s Island, George lived there with his first wife, widow of Guisbert Riker, until the Indians becoming troublesome they made their escape one afternoon. The redmen the following day destroyed their home and all their belongings. They settled at Hempstead.”
Which version is correct can not be determined with certainty, but although the literary principle favoring a simple account over a more elaborate one as an indication of primacy would endorse the first version, two elements peculiar to the second version are verifiable, are not simply later embellishments, and hence give greater credibility to it.
George Hulet was in fact the son of Lewis (or Louis), and George together with wife Mary Baylis (Bayless) are buried in Hempstead, Long Island’s, Old Town Burial Ground as #268 “G.Y.H. 1722 ae 88” and #269 “M.H. 1733 ae 78.”
There is no record of a Hewlett having owned the island, in fact the 1664 Hallett purchase indicates that until that date it was Indian land such that any Hewlett who lived there was a squatter.
The date of the Indian attack is another undeterminable factor, but there were attacks on Long Island in 1643, 1655, and 1659. . . . .
The existence of Gysbert Rycken is not open to question, rather it is his relationship or lack of it with respect to Abraham, as discussed in the previous chapter, that is undetermined; however, the fact of a relationship of some degree might have been the basis for Abraham’s acquisition of the island. The two men in 1640 were Wallabout neighbors and hence contemporaries. . . .
Remaining is the possibility that Abraham and Gysbert were of the same generation and approximate age, that they were cousins of some degree, even first cousins. In this scenario the resulting dates fit more easily with Gysbert’s widow marrying George Hewlett. . . .
The reason for George Hewlett settling on the island cannot be known. Perhaps there is truth in the version in which his father Lewis settled on it, such that he succeeded his father as squatter. If this was what happened, with Lewis leaving the island for an unknown reason, and with George then taking up residence for a few years before being evicted, in a sense, by the Indians who had not yet ceded their rights to the Europeans, it makes sense although as with most of this discussion it is pure speculation.
There is another possibility, still speculation, for George settling on the island with Gysbert’s widow: perhaps Gysbert had gone there first and had started settling a pioneer farm before dying and leaving his widow whose new husband joined her there. If either of the latter two scenarios were the case then Abraham’s interest in the island may have derived from its having earlier been his relative’s settled farm, albeit a squatter’s farm, which he took steps to acquire after Gysbert’s successors were forced from it.
The date of Abraham’s death is not recorded and the place of his burial is not known, but he executed a will on March 9, 1688/89. Notable details of the will include its being in English, not Dutch; his validating the will by “his mark” rather by signature thus indicating his illiteracy; his being identified as both Abraham Rick and Abram Rick; and his omitting references to his wife. No doubt his wife had predeceased him. The bequeathal portion of the will is as follows:
“. . . I Give & bequeath all ye rest of my Estate Viz Lands Goods & Chattels unto my Sonn Abraham Rick.”
The will was proved on April 10, 1689, just a month after it was made . . . . Abraham Jr. was the eighth child in birth order and it may seem strange that he was made principal heir (and also the estate’s administrator) rather than either Ryck Abramsen as the oldest son or the six heirs in an equal division. Possible reasons might include favoritism, the fact that Abraham was the only son remaining on the homestead farm, prior distributions to the other children, and Rick Abramsen’s and Hendrick’s rejecting the Rycken surname in favor of Lent.
Whatever the reason, and even though the properties were not specified in the will, it is certain that Abraham was the sole heir and owner of Abraham’s entire or remaining real property, the latter including both the homestead farm in the Poor Bowery as per the 1654 grant and Hewlett’s Island, which became Riker’s Island, as per the 1664 patent.
There is no indication that Abraham ever lived on his island any more than that his father ever did so, but probably both farmed the meadow land in its middle section. It appears that in his latter years sons Abraham and Andrew with their families continued to live in or near their father’s house....
John [Ryker]’s residence after his marriage is not recorded but in or by 1744 he moved to Closter in New Jersey’s Bergen County, Hendrick lived in New Amsterdam, and Jacob had a bakery on New Amsterdam’s Beekman Street and probably lived there as well.
A family legend reports that in his old age Abraham’s house was filled with family including great- grandchildren; these probably were the families of the brothers Abraham and Andrew. When he died on August 20, 1746, in his ninety-first year, he had been blind for some years.
Perhaps his deteriorating eyesight and his decreasing ability to work his farm and to oversee his property, together with his advanced age and the presence of the two sons, constituted the reason why he sold properties, including the island, to sons Abraham and Andrew on November 10, 1733.
The deed states that the brothers paid £300 to their father who, as his father before him had done, made his mark instead of his signature. The properties conveyed by the deed [included] as follows:
“(2.) with also a certain island lying and being in ye sound northward of ye poor Bowry aforesaid, commonly called and known by ye name Huletts Island, containing in quantity both upland and meadow, by estimation forty acres. . . .”
Plainly the two brothers together bought and owned undivided shares of the several properties including the island, and six years later they had come to an agreement as to a division of them.
Presumably each brother by deed ceded to the other his claim to the others half; Andrew’s deed is missing but its provisions may be assumed by the terms of Abraham’s deed which, as in the case of the two previous documents, was made not by signature but by the grantor’s mark,
This deed is dated May 11, 1739, and it grants to Andrew the first tract, as specified above except that its acreage is given as about forty-nine acres rather than fifty-one, plus two and a half acres of another tract and half of the island. The division of the island was as follows:
“half of a certain island lying & being in ye sound northerly of ye Bowery aforesaid to begin at a certain black oak tree marked on all four sides & standing near ye edge of ye bank at ye northernmost end of said island & so to run through ye middle thereof, and ye said Andrew Rtcken to have that half on ye easter side. ”
Rikers Island's role in NY correction history warrants our providing material on its "pre-Correction" background that is so bound up with Rikers family history. Bishop Nutt's book serves as an excellent vehicle for doing that. His approach is not exclusively or narrowly genealogical. More than simply tracing lineage, he places his family history in wider chronological and geographic contexts through which his exhaustive research tracked it, thus reflecting much other history -- of the island, county, city and country.
Strictly genealogical citations, notes, and codes in the printed book have been reduced or dropped in these excerpts. This presentation includes a book print copy information page.
NYCHS retains and reserves all rights to images of photos it took during the June 5, 2005 homestead tour and the September 1998 Samuel Perry Center dedication and their captions as well as captions of inserted images not taken from the printed book.