Greenpoint, October, 2015

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

All About Wallabout

Brooklyn Navy Yard and Wallabout Bay, c. 1851
In my research on the Rapeljes (or Rapelyes) of Brooklyn, I discovered that Joris Jansen Rapelje had exchanged goods with the Carnarsee Indians for property on Wallabout Bay in Brooklyn, just north of what would become the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The name Wallabout Bay intrigued me. It comes from the Dutch, "Waal bocht" for "bay (or bight) of the Walloons." And that bight has bucketfuls of history: the site of the first European settlement on Long Island (the Rapelejes and a few other Walloon families); location of the first ferry across the East River; and the doleful spot where British prison ships docked during the Revolutionary War, allowed thousands of prisoners to die, and dumped their corpses into the Bay. For more about Wallabout Bay, check out Pauline's Pirates & Privateers Blog.

Riddley's map of Inland
It got me thinking about other place names I encounter or might discover between the river and the BQE: Hunter's Point, Red Hook, Bushwick Inlet, Whale Square, New Town, Squibb Park, Buttermilk Channel, Good Shoar, Fork Stoan, Bernt Arse.... Alright, I admit the last three are from Russell Hoban's novel, Riddley Walker, about a post-apocalyptic Britain. Hoban, who died on December 13th, is best known for his children's books, especially those about Frances, his charming badger heroine. For the very adult novel, Riddley Walker, published in 1980, he made up not only these wonderful place names but the simplified yet often confounding English his characters speak. For example, of the guy in the Infiniti ad I blogged about the other day, Riddley might have said, "Pressurs littl barset" (precious little bastard). And he'd have been right!

In future posts, I'll explore some of the history and geography of these place names--the ones in New York, that is, not Hoban's Inland. Though who knows, it might turn out that  that there's a Walloon version of Dunk Your Arse Island in Wallabout Bay.

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