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1) Blockhouse Decatur at Rockaway Point
and
Captain Ingersoll's Company
of the 41st U.S. Regiment.

August 1814 - March 1815

(Updated: October 18, 2000)


The earliest record of any military post in Rockaway is a fortification called a Blockhouse, constructed on the tip of the Rockaway peninsula during the War of 1812. Recent research has shed light on this little known aspect of the early military history of the Rockaways.

Construction:
The need for a fortification at the entrance of Jamaica Bay is noted in a letter, dated "New York, 15th June, 1814", addressed to the Secretary of War, by Major General Morgan Lewis, commander of the Third Military District. Lewis notes that by looking at a map of the area "you will perceive how easy it would be for an enemy in barges to effect a landing at the head of Jamaica Bay within six miles of the Navy Yard, march across, destroy that establishment, and return to their boats in the course of a night".

In 1813, a local carpenter and "very industrious and intelligent mechanic" named "Cropsy" of New Utrecht, Brooklyn was contracted to build several blockhouses, including one at Bath Beach (Brooklyn), Utrecht Bay (Brooklyn), Denyse's Heights (?) at the west end of Long Island, Princess Bay on Staten Island, at Sandy Hook (near the lighthouse), the Highlands of Navesink (NJ), and Jamaica Bay (Rockaway), for the defense of NY Harbor by General Joseph Gardener Swift (Chief of Engineers 1812-1818, and in charge of construction of defenses in NY harbor 1813-1814). Not all of the Blockhouses were actually constructed until 1814, and the records are not clear if all of the listed sites were constructed at all.

On June 27, 1814, it is recorded that the land at the tip of Rockaway was purchased from Nathaniel Ryder and wife.

In a letter, dated "New York, June 19, 1814", to the Secretary of War by Major General Lewis, the General writes: "The Blockhouse at Rockaway is nearly completed,- but we have no guns, which are mounted, to place in it. Among the dismantled gun boats, lying in Guannas bay, are several mounted on slides, which would precisely answer our purpose;- but I cannot find who has charge of them, of course know not how to get possession of them (sic). I will thank you for the early information on the subject."(Guannas bay is believed to be a phonetic spelling of Gowanus Bay in Brooklyn)

Supplies and Troops:
An order book of the Adjutant General's Office (A.G.O.), Third Military District, dated August 5, 1814 states; "Coln. Bogardus will take under his immediate orders the Garrison of the Block House at Rockaway. He will see that it is regularly supplied with provisions and all other requisites, relieve the garrison as often as he finds convenient and sign all other requisitions for its use. An awning, officers tent and spy glass will be necessary. He will establish signals between it and the Hdqrs. of his Regt. and support a communication with it by interior navigation through Coney Island Inlet."

Colonel Bogardus:
According to National Archive records, Colonel Robert Bogardus (born in 1771) of the 41st Regiment U.S. Infantry (organized in 1813) served from July 29, 1813, until his honorable discharge on June 15, 1815. He was later promoted to General and died on September 12, 1841. Colonel Bogardus was the Regimental Commander of the 41st Infantry, composed of eight Companies, and was stationed at New Utrecht, Brooklyn in 1814. It is believed that he is the same Robert Bogardus that served on the New York State Senate in 1827.

Captain Ingersoll:
According to National Archive records, Captain John (Josiah) Ingersoll of the 41st Regiment U.S. Infantry (organized in 1813) served from August 1, 1813, was promoted to Captain on January 7, 1814, was the Company Commander of the Company from New Utrecht that was stationed at Rockaway in 1814. Pay records for Captain Ingersoll indicate that he was stationed at the Blockhouse at Rockaway Point (referred to as Blockhouse Decatur in 1815) from August 10, 1814 to March 3, 1815. His pay was $40 per month from the New York State Militia. He received an honorable discharge on June 15, 1815. In the 1810 Census of NY, Ingersoll was living in the 5th Ward of Manhattan, with his wife and two daughters.

Sea Fencibles:
"Sea Fencibles" were local volunteers recruited to provide vital coast defense roles to protect U.S. harbors from British naval attacks. The 41st Regiment U.S. Infantry was one such N.Y. State Militia unit composed of Militia and Sea Fencibles recruited from New York City area. Recruiting for the unit was done in New York City as evidenced by reports of personnel disposition from the post.

"Blockhouse Decatur":
U.S. Army A.G.O. Records also indicate that Captain Josiah Ingersol's Company of New York State Sea Fencibles were stationed at "Block House Decatur" from December 29, 1814 to March 1, 1815. From the review of numerous records, it is clear that the name "Blockhouse Decatur" was used to refer to the fortification located at Rockaway Point during the period of December 1814 to March 1815.

Other A.G.O. records relate to Captain Ingersol's August 24th, 1814 request for "60 hammocks, 60 boarding pikes, 65 cutlasses, and 20 kids or mess pans for the purpose of equipping the Sea Fencibles for the block house at Rockaway Point".

The date August 24th, 1814 has important significance as it was on this day that British forces burned Washington D.C.

A small sloop was to deliver Captain Josiah Ingersoll, 1Lt Isaac Waite, 3Lt John Hazard, Boatswain Oliver Nelson, two Gunners, two Quarter Gunners, one Purser's Steward and 60 privates, as well as seven days of rations. The unit would replace Colonel Bogardus and his men already at the blockhouse with 20 muskets and equipment belonging to the State delivered by Major Fairlie.

An examination of original pay records confirmed the presence of these officers at Rockaway and their salary was as follows:
1Lt Isaac Waite, $30 per month, August 10, 1814 to March 3, 1815.
3Lt John Hazard, $25 per month, August 10, 1814 to March 3, 1815.
Boatswain Oliver Nelson, $20 per month, August 10, 1814 to December 31, 1814.

Armament for the Blockhouse and Troops:
The unit would be armed with 60 muskets (including the 20 already at the block house), 60 cartridge boxes, 65 cutlasses, 1000 musket cartridges, 500 musket flints, 20 pistols, 100 pistol flints, and a flag for the block house was also provided (August 24, 1814, Major General Lewis).

A report dated September 14, 1814 describes how "we caused a strong block house, mounting a 24 pounder (a type of cannon) in the top, on the west end of Rockaway beach, at the entrance of that bay. This has been taken charge of by the United States, and an adequate force is stationed thereat." (The Military Papers of Daniel B. Tompkins, Governor of New York, 1807-1817, Volume III, pages 532, 534, and 535).

Meanwhile in Baltimore, on September 13-14, 1814, the British were bombarding Fort McHenry. A later report from the Blockhouse at Rockaway commanded by Captain Ingersoll dated October 9, 1814 shows it staffed by 1 Captain (Ingersoll), a 1st Lt, a 2nd Lt, a 3rd Lt, an Asst. Surgeon, a Boatswain, 7 Gunners, 6 Quarter Gunners, and 90 Privates for an aggregate total of 99 men.

On November 5, 1814 a total of 92 men were still stationed in Rockaway under Captain Ingersoll.

Blockhouse Decatur is Abandoned:
One report indicated that Captain Ingersoll and his Company of Sea Fencibles of the 41st Regiment U.S. Infantry was stationed at Fort Greene (located just south of the Navy Yard in Brooklyn) on December 2, 1814, but most records including the original pay records show his troops at Blockhouse Decatur until March 3, 1815.

The Treaty of Ghent was signed on December 24, 1814, but the President did not declare the War of 1812 to be over until February 1815. The entire 41st Regiment U.S. Infantry (8 Companies) was finally disbanded on May 31, 1815.

The land was eventually turned over to the Treasury Department to establish a life saving station. From December 1855 to January 1856, numerous correspondences were reportedly exchanged between the War, Treasury, and Justice Departments to determine if the U.S. Government was the actual title owner of this property.

This controversy continued for years, created by companies and citizens making claims to the property, but on August 11, 1910, the N.Y. World Newspaper reported that the U.S. Circuit Court in Brooklyn determined that the property valued at $12 million legally belonged to the U.S. Government.

No Trace of Blockhouse Decatur Remains Today:
Since the tip of the peninsula has moved westward as deposited sand lengthened the peninsula, the exact location of this fortification is unknown as no maps have been located depicting the site of the blockhouse. This structure was the earliest known fortification on the Rockaway peninsula and no trace of it remains today.

Recently a reader has provided information about wooden remains that were unearthed during a sewer construction project at Beach 137th Street. According to an article that he recalled from "The Wave" newspaper, this foundation was believed to be the remains of this blockhouse. It was later discovered to be the hull of an old wooden ship.

The latest theory concerning the location of the blockhouse is that the peninsula turned nothward at it's tip and ended in the area of the Rockaway inlet just off Roxbury.

Do any of our readers have any further detalis on this?

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