Governors Island / Fort Jay Island
by Wolfgang Schippke, DC3MF


Govornors Island, since 1904 also known as Fort Jay Island, is located in the mouth of River Hudson, close south west of the southern extremity of Manhattan Island, and close east of Ellis and Liberty Island, inside New York Habour. In former times, when the first Europeans arrived to the island it was known by the natives as Pagganck Island, and was a cult place. Most of the island is overbuilt by Fort Jay (built in 1798 as Fort Columbus, and renamed to Fort Jay in 1904) and Castel Williams (1811).

The first European to see the island was probably Giovanni De Verrazano, who reached the harbor in 1524. Its Indian name, "Pagganck", and the Dutch name "Nooten Eylandt" or "Nutten Island", referred to the groves of walnut, chestnut and shellbark trees on the island. Wouter Van Twiller, director general of New Netherlands, bought the island from the Manahatas Indians in June 1637 for what is believed to have been two ax heads, a string of beads and a few nails. This purchase was annulled in 1652.

Between 1664 and 1674 the English and the Dutch exchanged the island through war and treaty, The English finally took possession of the island under the terms of the Treaty of Westminster in 1674.

From 1691 to 1702, the English colonial governors urged fortification of New York Harbor. In spite of their efforts, through a series of unique taxes including a levy of five shillings and six pence on everyone who wore a periwig, only 1,500 pounds was raised for defenses of the Narrows. Many sources indicate that Lord Cornbury appropriated these funds to construct a mansion on Governors Island.

The house was placed on the high ground on the northeast section of the island and was used by Lord Cornbury and following governors as a gubernatorial mansion.

Troops were stationed on the Island for the first time in 1755. The "Royal Americans" were under the command of Sir William Pepperell, an American born Major General. The first infantry school in America and a hospital were established on the island at this time.

The years before the Revolution were quiet on the Island, and the defenses were neglected. Suddenly, "rebel New York" was threatened by the British. General Israel Putnam and 1,000 troops arrived to aid Colon Prescott's famous Bunker Hill Regiment, already stationed on the island. During the night of April 9, 1776, the troops labored to throw defenses against the British fleet. By August the island defenses had been built and were considered one of the strongest American posts.

On September 15, 1776, the British occupied New York, including the island. The War for Independence moved up the Hudson River. Governors Island, although garrisoned and fortified, remained inactive. In 1783, with peace and reoccupation by the Americans, Governors Island changed hands for the last time. Although Gov. Clinton retook ownership of the land from Columbia College and began work on Fort Jay in 1794, New York State did not cede the island to the United States until Feb. 15, 1800. With the threat of war with France, it was again garrisoned by the U.S. Army and remained under their control for the next 172 years.

On June 30,1966, at a joint ceremony, the Army left the Island to the solemn music of Retreat; a few minutes later Rear Admiral I.J. Stephens accepted the Island for the Coast Guard as a saluting battery boomed out a salute to the admiral's flag as it was broken out over Fort Jay.