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Our History: Ex-city mayors boast Queens roots

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In its past, Bayside has been known to have been home to three early mayors of the city of New York. Further investigation, moreover, revealed that our community is actually linked to a number of mayors of our city since its inception as the town of New Amsterdam. Their names reflect those of the families who have played a dominant role in our area since its very beginnings, Willet, Lawrence Hicks, and Bowne, for example.

The Willet(s) family, which had settled here from Suffolk, England, have been illustrious members of our local area through generations of descendants.

Acknowledged on record as the first mayor of New York is Thomas Willet, who served in 1661 and was appointed by the English Governor Nicholls on June 12, 1665, when the English first took New York (New Amsterdam) over from the Dutch. He was appointed again in 1667. Although British by birth, he had lived in Leyden, Holland, and was fluent in the Dutch language. Through his mercantile interests and his property holdings, as well as his knowledge of trading practices, he was well-known and on excellent terms with the Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant. Thus he was a valuable asset when the English took over the city, which, though polyglot in composition, had many Dutch citizens and officials.

John Lawrence, one of the original patentees of Flushing in l645, took an active part in the affairs of that community and served there as town clerk. He later moved to New Amsterdam and became prominent in the Dutch colony. Following the British conquest of New Amsterdam, he was appointed mayor of the city in October 1672, and it was his unhappy duty to surrender New York to the Dutch fleet in 1673. However, the city reverted again to the British in the following year. Following his second term in 1691, he was appointed judge of the Supreme Court and retained that post until his death in 1699.

Whitehead Hicks, a descendant of John Hicks, one of the original patentees of Flushing, was the last mayor of the city of New York under British rule during the Revolutionary War. He was in office for essentially a period of ten years from 1766 to 1776. The old Whitehead Hicks homestead near Little Neck Bay had the distinction of being the residence of three mayors of New York: Whitehead Hicks, Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence, and Andrew Mickle.

A direct descendant of Mayor Thomas Willet was Colonel Marinus Willet, who was born in neighboring Jamaica. A career soldier, he was also a well-known public figure, wealthy merchant and landowner. An active Son of Liberty before the Revolution, he was a leader of the patriots in New York City and seized the arms of the British forces when they evacuated the city in 1775. In 1807, he succeeded DeWitt Clinton as mayor of New York.

Cadwalladar D. Colden, namesake and descendant of the leading colonial scholar, political leader, and former Lt. Governor of the State, Cadwalladar D. Colden, was mayor of New York from 1818 to 1821.

Appointed in 1819 and serving as Mayor until 1833, was Walter Bowne, whose family was related to John Bowne, of Flushing, famed for his stand for religious tolerance. Mayor Bowne's summer residence, known as "Clifton," was in Flushing. His major challenge in office was to cope with a devastating cholera epidemic that threatened the city. Most feared of 19th-century diseases, cholera threatened cities along the Atlantic seacoast when transatlantic steamship travel and ensuing waves of immigration from less fortunate regions of the world began to increase. Deaths from the disease in 1832 numbered more than 3500, a significant number in relation to the population in those times.

By the l830s, the temper of the times was changing. All across America the spirit of "Jacksonian Democracy" was operative. There was a deep desire by the common man to take control of affairs. In colonial times, New York City had been subservient to the state and this was especially true with regard to the office of mayor of our city, which throughout had been a gubernatorial appointment. Though many of the appointed mayors were excellent, New Yorkers now clamored to choose their own chief executive for their city.

This was achieved in 1834, when for the first time, a mayor was chosen by popular election. Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence, the Jacksonian Democratic candidate, was elected. It marked a turning point also, for the mayor became as well, the mayor of a party and its leader in the City. During Lawrence's regime, the conservative Philip Hone reports: "the Democratic rabble had turned the traditional mayor's New Year's reception to a Five Points Tavern and the mayor had to summon police to clear the room."

Cornelius Van Wyck Lawrence served as mayor from 1834 to 1837. In 1834, he had defeated Gulian Verplank by 181 votes. The election of 1835 saw him re-elected by a vote of 17,696 but by 1836 he was challenged by several candidates, including the inventor Samuel F.B. Morse, who ran on the "Native American" ticket. Lawrence led the race with a count of 15,754 votes.

Newtown-born James Harper was elected mayor in 1844, the nominee of the American Republican Party. Harper was the publisher of "Harpers Weekly" and founder of the publishing firm known as Harper-Collins. His most notable achievement was the formation of a Municipal Police Department, one of the earliest organized police forces in the nation.

The last mayor in the 19th century to reside in Bayside was Andrew H. Mickle. Born in l805, he died in 1863. Elected in 1846, he served as Mayor in l846 and 1847 and was a Democrat. He was a leading tobacconist by trade and his first wife was the daughter of a previous mayor. His second wife, Mary Nicoll Lawrence, was the daughter of Anne Townsend and Effingham Lawrence. When she died in l896, she was buried in the Lawrence Family Graveyard.

The Mickle homestead in Bayside, "Baylawn," was named by Robert J. Walker, a former secretary of war, who was a great friend of the Mickle family. The mansion was destroyed by fire in October 1890.

During Mickle's term of office the city was building northward, losing forever its rural element. After the ravages of the fire of l835, the demolished warehouses had been replaced by tenements filled with immigrants. There began to be a concern for the "greening" of New York, for though Bryant Park had been enclosed, there were no real public parklands available. The movement to salvage green space began, which led eventually to the planning of Central Park, the ultimate model for an urban parkland.

Two other early mayors of the 19th century have names with a very familiar ring, which leads me to believe that they, too, should be included here, but further research is needed to justify their inclusion at this time.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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