The New York Quarantine, a medical
center and quarantine station for people with infectious
diseases for this major port city, had originally been
established at Bedloe's Island in New York Harbor (1758)
and subsequently relocated to Governor's Island elsewhere
in the harbor (1796). After an outbreak of yellow fever
in 1799, it was decided that the quarantine should be
positioned even further away from the highly populated
Manhattan Island (as it was then known) and moved to Staten
(Illustration from Frank
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 30, 1856.)
Despite strong opposition from
the community, the Quarantine was established in the section
of Staten Island now known as Tompkinsville, on the Island's
North Shore. Dr. Richard Bayley, father of the Catholic
saint Elizabeth Anne Seton, was the first U.S. Public
Health Officer and the individual in charge of the Quarantine.
The Quarantine was an immense establishment containing
a number of hospitals, a burying ground, a crematory,
and residences. It was not uncommon for residents of the
surrounding communities to become infected with the diseases
of quarantined patients, as the employees were not bound
to the grounds and hospital disinfection an sanitation
standards were extremely primitive by today's standards.
Despite continuous complaints, however, the city insisted
adamantly on maintaining the Quarantine at this site.
In 1858, the local Board of Health
on Staten Island condemned the quarantine as a "pest
and a nuisance of the most odious character, bringing
death and desolation to the very doors of the people of
the Towns of Castleton and Southfield." One local
newspaper denounced it as a "Pestilence in our midst."
Finally, frustrated by years of vain protests, on the
nights of September 1st and 2nd, 1858, about thirty residents
of Staten Island -- luridly reported in one Manhattan-based
newspaper as "scores" of "disguised and
armed residents" -- marched through the North Shore's
streets with torches, seized the hospital, removed the
patients, and burned down the quarantine station's buildings.
"The Staten Island Rebellion,"
as the press of the time called it, was also dubbed by
some reporters and editorial writers "The Sepoy Rebellion,"
after a famous uprising against the British by colonial
Indians in southeast Asia a few years earlier. It is reported
in all the local histories of the period -- Bayles, Leng
and Davis -- that no one was hurt in the uprising. The
quarantine station was never rebuilt on Staten Island.
This incident has recently returned
to public consciousness with the discovery of a quarantine-station
cemetery beneath the municipal parking lot in St. George,
a short walk from the ferry terminal.