Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Riots and Burning of Marine Hospital

In the early to mid 1800's immigration was at an all time high in New York City. Most of them where carrying infections diseases, and they were all being directed to Staten Island's New York Marine Hospital, a quarantine that sat on Bay St. in Tompkinsville. Like Sea View this hospital was made of more then one building. Each of the buildings housed its own patients with a certain disease. The different diseases ranged from typhus, typhoid, cholera, smallpox, and most terrifyingly, yellow fever. Even the sailors that guided the ships into the harbor had to be quarantined, even if they didn't show symptoms of any sickness.
 As you could imagine this angered a lot of local Staten Islanders. They feared for the borough because at the time Staten Island was a place where mostly the rich lived. With its beautiful houses and prominent oyster farming many feared these diseased immigrates would ruin what they where so proudly building up.

The baggage that the hospital had brought on to Staten Island was devastating. For the half of century the hospital operated, it brought fatal consequence to the outside community repeatedly. An outbreak of yellow fever on the island had started to alarm its residents. So they took action themselves. On September 1st, 1858 a group of Staten Islanders met and discussed what kind of actions they should take in the removal of the hospital. Up until then no one had listened to them about their worries and understandably so they where concerned and angry. They decided on a plan of action like no other, they would burn the place to the ground and take the lives of every last infected nuisance in the damned hospital.

The mob was well organized and made no attempt to disguise themselves. At 9:00 pm on the same day as a celebration was going on across the water in Manhattan for the laying of the Atlantic Cable, the mob stormed the Marine Hospital. They knocked down the cemetery wall and flowed in, the first building they invaded was known as the small pox shanties. They set it on fire in such little time there was no time to react, by the time the building was well on its way to ashes the riot had moved to another building. This building was empty at the time due to renovations it was undergoing. The staff did everything they could, saving the lives of some and putting them on the lawn of the only building that would survive the ordeal. The police on the other hand did nothing but encourage the mob, some of them even assisted. A Doctor arrested some of the cops and locked them in the Woman's Ward. This was only for a short time because some of the mob and a few other police men freed the men. The fire fighters arrived with their truck, but told the doctor there was little they could do to put out the fire because the hose had been cut. Due to sweeping winds from the water the fire grew consuming 7 of the main buildings and several out houses and a coal house that was filled with 600 tons of coal. The mob ran after doctors and servants, they threw valuable documents and new findings as well as developments on the sicknesses in to the flames.They took storm of   Dr. Thompson's private house and chased him, while some enjoyed themselves with his stash of liquor and champagne. Dr. Thompson's house was burned down in less then two hours with his papers and manuscripts blowing around the grounds.

People all over the island where rejoicing, there was nothing left of the hospital except for one standing building known today as Bayley Seton. The only sight to see was smoke and patients laid out on the lawn covered in blankets, some alive, some dead. The mob was made up of some of the most respected and well known men in the Stapleton area including a Justice of Peace. The next day, a meeting was called, it stated as followed: "A meeting of the people of Richmond County will be held at Nautilus Hall, Thompkinsville this evening September the 2nd at 7 1/2 o'clock, for the purpose of making arrangements to celebrate the burning of the Shanties and hospitals on the quarantine grounds last evening, and to transact such other business as may come before the meeting." 

I don't agree with violence, but at this time I am not sure i can blame these people, they may very well have saved us from ruins early on. It is very possible that Staten Island could have become an island of hospitals, this was not the only quarantine station on the island, but that will come later.


  1. thats crazy! i love the pics too...and i agree with you..those people probably saved alot of staten island..who knos if it would of been the way it is today if they didnt do that

  2. thats crazyy and i love the pics and i agree with u as to how those people def save alot of staten island..things could have been alot different today..

  3. yea i think so but the island has been shot to shit recently anyway

  4. This is a great story of which I was completely unaware! I was born in the "Marine" Hospital -> United States Public Health Service Hospital -> Bayley Seton. I lived there till I was nearly 16 and moved away from NY in 1978. I lived there in Quarters #7. If you are looking at the hospital, ours was the last brick duplex next to the nursing home. We lived in the right hand side next to the grassy area that separated our duplex from the next one closer to the guard shack. My father was a physician w/ the USPHS for over 24 years and principally cared for persons affected by leprosy. Yes. Leprosy (Hansen's Disease) Leprosy is "alive and well" in the world (even in the U.S.) and if you want to know more, check out Anyway, I rode my bike all over that compound. I knew all the guards at the gate, and most of the others who lived on the compound. I must have climbed (and named) half the trees on the property. I used to climb the aluminum light pole in the grassy side yard just for fun and scared the crap out of our mom. Spent countless hours playing up on the hill where there was a big yellow concrete "H" where the helicopters landed to bring in sick / injured. Everyone knew us as my dad's kids. It was a great place to grow up. I passed through there about 4 years ago and was SO sad to see the run down condition of things there. How sad. Those buildings are very well built and what a shame to demolish a place w/ such rich history. I think they should renovate these buildings and use them as housing or a satellite campus for a university, etc. Did you know those buildings have COPPER roofs I think? What amazing architecture, etc. Well, thanks for posting this story. Oh yeah, one more funny memory: One winter, we discovered we had a resident possum living in our wood pile on our front porch (yes the officer's quarters had wood-burning fireplaces). We used to feed it Alpo. LOL.

  5. I love personal stories! glad that you found your way to my blog and took the time to write this comment if you have any other stories please email me

  6. Interesting story! I came across this one, because I am researching to find out which hospital I was born at. My father was in the military, stationed at Lake Hurst, NJ, but I was born in Staten Island, NY in 1965. I was just curious as to why we had to come there, versus Lake Hurst. I assume because this was the hospital that took care of military births.