Dear NJHM:

I am interested in the history of Bayonne, New Jersey. How and when it was founded, how it was named, the early settlers, its importance in history, etc. Can you help?


Dear Marvin:

The first reference to Bayonne in history is in 1609 when Henry Hudson stopped there before proceeding on his journey up the river which would later bear his name. He called this tip of the peninsula which jutted out into Newark Bay, "Bird's Point". The Dutch as part of New Amsterdam later claimed this land, along with New York and the rest of New Jersey. In 1646, the land was granted to Jacob Jacobson Roy, a gunner at the fort in New Amsterdam (now Manhattan), and named "Konstapel's Hoeck" (Gunner's Point in Dutch). In 1654, additional grants were given and shelters were built as centers for trading with the Leni-Lennapes. Soon, they became enraged with the Dutch trading tactics, and drove out the settlers. A peace treaty was arranged in 1658, and the Dutch returned.

In 1664, the British gained control of New Amsterdam, and they called the future Bayonne, "Constable Hook", and later "Bergen Neck". It was part of the township of Bergen, which included present day Jersey City and North Bergen. Trading posts and woods gave way to homes and large estates. During the next century the area became the vacation spot for the socialites of the New World. The first industry did not settle there until the War of 1812, when the Hazard Powder House was built to provide gunpowder for the navy and the forts in New York Bay. In 1864, in order to speed the movement of troops and munitions, a railroad trestle was built over the Newark Bay and the railhead (the end of the line) was moved from Elizabethtown (Elizabeth) to the Bayonne area. 1n 1869, the area of Constable Hook, Saltersville, Bergen Point and Centerville were incorporated as the City of Bayonne by the State Legislature.

The founding of the Prentice refinery in 1875 marked the beginning of the city's change from rural to urban. Many corporations and industries became drawn to Bayonne due to the railroads and its proximity to New York City and other urban centers. These included many refineries most notably Standard Oil of New Jersey who laid pipelines to bring crude oil directly from Oklahoma and Illinois. These refineries squeezed out many of the remaining recreational and historic areas along the shoreline. In addition, these refineries polluted the land and surrounding waters with numerous spills, destroying fishing, boating, etc.

As for the name "Bayonne," I had always assumed it was named somehow after the town of Bayonne in France. I had also assumed it would be easy to check. I may be wrong on the first assumption, and definitely wrong on the second. Although I have many references to Bayonne history at my disposal, none mention how it was named. I am indebted to Bob Griffin of Bergen County Historic Books, Inc., for the following choices. Take your pick.

1. "First History of Bayonne, New Jersey," by Royden Page Whitcomb, 1904, pg.61

[quote] There has been some doubt as to the signification [sic] of the word naming the locality. It may have derived its name from Bayonne in France, being pronounced Ba-yon. There is a story that French Huguenots settled there some time before New Amsterdam was settled. They are said to have remained about a year. This, however is probably some old fireside legend, without a particle of truth in it. The author has searched, but can find nothing to give this story foundation. He was also told that when Erastus Randall, E.C. Bramhall and B.F. Woolsey bought the land owned by Jasper and William Cadmus, for real estate speculation, they called it Bayonne by reason of its touching the borders and being on the shores of two bays, Newark and New York - hence Bay-on, or on the bays. This in all probability, is the real origin of the name.[unquote]

2. "Bayonne - Old and New," by Gladys Mellor Sinclair, 1940, pg. 15.

[quote] Bayonne was named, according to tradition, after Bayonne in France, pronounced Ba yon. It is said that French Huguenots settled here before New Amsterdam was settled. There is a tradition which seems to be without historical foundation that Bayonne got its name from the fact that it is located on the shores of two bays, Newark and New York - Bay-on or on the bays.[unquote]



The WPA Guide to 1930's New Jersey
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