Fishing haven for Native Americans, Dutch family farm, military garrison and idyllic parkland are all terms that have described Governor’s Island, which sits in between Brooklyn and Manhattan, right below the Financial District.
What was once land occupied and used mainly as a fishing port by the local Native American tribes, it was in the 1600s that the island the natives called Pagganck (or nut island because of the many nut bearing trees). In June of 1637, Wouter Van Twiller, a representative of Holland, purchased Governors Island from the Native Americans of “Manahatas” for two ax heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails for his private use but a year later, the island was confiscated by the Dutch government.
In 1664, the English captured ‘New Amsterdam’ and along with it, the unfortified Noten Eylant or Nutten Island (as it was called by the Dutch). Under British control, the island came to be known as Governors Island, as it was where the royal governors stayed while in New York. In the 300 years that followed, the island was used by both the American and British armies as a military outpost, being of particular importance during the Revolutionary War, when George Washington’s army was forced to retreat from the island to Brooklyn and in the War of 1812 when the only shots fired in anger from Governors Island were directed at British naval ships as they invaded New York Harbor in mid-September of 1776.
Through the 1960s, Governors Island served the US military; during the American Civil War, it was used for recruitment and as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers and throughout World War I and II, the island served as an important supply base for Army ground and air forces. In 1995, the Coast Guard stationed on the island closed and a few years later, President Clinton designated 22 acres of the island, including the two forts, as the Governors Island National Monument. On January 31, 2003, 150 acres of Governors Island were transferred to the people of New York.
There is free ferry service to and from the island in both Manhattan, at the pier in the Financial District, and Brooklyn, at Pier 6 in Brooklyn Heights.