April 13, 2017
The second of three new ferry boats will honor the landmarked community founded by freed slaves in the early 19th century, which became the anchor for African-Americans living on Staten Island
STATEN ISLAND-Mayor Bill de Blasio, Council Member Debi Rose, and NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced that the second of three new Staten Island Ferry Boats would be named in honor of Sandy Ground, among America’s first African-American settlements, established by freed slaves on Staten Island’s South Shore nearly two hundred years ago. The Mayor made the announcement at a town hall hosted by Council Member Debi Rose, who led the petition campaign to name the boat. The Sandy Ground will be the second of three new Staten Island Ferry boats that New York City will have built in the next three years, with the new fleet expected to begin service in 2019.
“The story of Sandy Ground is an incredible chapter in American history that may be unknown to most New Yorkers,” said Mayor de Blasio. “Honoring this historic community with a state-of the art new ferry will encourage visitors to travel to the landmarked Sandy Ground community to learn first-hand the rich and too-often untold histories of freed slaves in this country as well as of African-Americans on Staten Island. I thank Council Member Rose for her visionary leadership and tireless efforts to keep this history alive.”
Sandy Ground’s history as a freed slave community dates back to 1828, when Capt. John Jackson, an African-American ferry boat operator became the first Black to own property on Staten Island, buying property in what is now the South Shore community of Rossville. Over time, Sandy Ground was settled by African-American oystermen who fled Maryland’s more restrictive laws. New York’s booming oyster trade allowed residents there to own their own property, boats and businesses.
Five structures in the Sandy Ground community were designated as New York City landmarks by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2011, including three residential structures, a cemetery, and the A.M.E. Zion Church, which had also served as a major stop on the Underground Railroad. A.M.E. Zion remains an active church today, with descendants of Sandy Ground settlers still worshipping there.
"We are so thrilled that a new ferry boat will be honoring Sandy Ground, New York’s first settlement of free African-Americans founded by an African-American ferry boat operator,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. "I can think of no better community to honor than Sandy Ground, where a critical moment in American and New York City history was lived right here on Staten Island. I applaud Council Member Rose for her leadership and vision.”
“It is wonderful to celebrate Staten Island’s maritime past and honor the lives and work of the free African American oystermen and their families who built a community at Sandy Ground in the mid-1800s,” said Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. “We thank our partners in government for ensuring that the new ferry boat will encourage New Yorkers and visitors to experience this important historic neighborhood, which is home to several New York City Landmarks.”
“Historically, many of our ferries and all matter of watercraft have relied on place names to honor their home and towns. I believe we have the perfect confluence of joining history to one of our beaming new ferries by naming it Sandy Ground, one of Staten Island's historic settlements. We rely on our ferry to bring us home where we find shelter and safety and Sandy Ground exemplifies all those basic needs that an African American ferry captain sought and found here on Staten Island. I appreciate that Mayor de Blasio holds those values and looked to celebrate them with this profound designation,” said Council Member Debi Rose.
"I am glad to see the memory of the Sandy Ground community preserved for future generations, and I hope the Mayor and DOT will continue to work with the community to find appropriate names for future ferries,” said Council Member Joe Borelli.
The first named ferry in the new fleet, the Staff Sgt. Michael Ollis, was named by Mayor de Blasio last year to honor a Staten Islander killed in 2013 saving fellow soldiers in Afghanistan. That boat is anticipated to be delivered to New York City in early 2019. The Sandy Ground is expected to be finished in fall 2019, and the third and yet unnamed final boat is anticipated to be completed by early 2020.
The three new 4,500-passenger ferry boats will be funded by a $156 million Federal Transportation Administration grant awarded in 2014 thanks to Senator Charles Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City’s congressional delegation, and $138 million in City funds and $20 million in other state and federal grant funds. The first new class of boats added to the ferry fleet since 2006, the three new state-of-the-art boats will reflect modern technology, will be able to operate more safely in extreme weather conditions, and will feature popular design elements of past Staten Island Ferries, including outdoor promenades.