As the hyphenated name implies, the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, more commonly referred to as Bed-Stuy, has a dual history.
In the 1630s and 1640s, the Dutch West India Company acquired woodlands from the Canarsie Indians and named it Bedford. Also known as Bedford Corners, it was the first major settlement east of what was then known as the Village of Brooklyn. Neighboring Stuyvesant Heights, farmland that became a community after the Revolutionary War, was named for Peter Stuyvesant, the last governor-general of New Amsterdam before it was ceded to the English.
The neighborhood was an agricultural area through most of the 18th century, aided by black African slaves who helped the Dutch farm the lands.
In 1827, when slavery was officially abolished in New York State, Brooklyn became a popular settlement area for free blacks from the South. William Thomas and James Weeks, both free blacks, purchased adjoining property in the neighborhood from Henry C. Thompson, another free black property owner. Thomas’ land eventually became Carrville, which no longer exists. Weeks cut up his property into plots to sell to other blacks. This area became known as Weeksville and was home to more than 800 residents. Weeksville had its own school, churches, and its own abolitionist newspaper, The Freedman’s Torchlight.
The completion of the Brooklyn Bridge and the elevated subway in the 1880s made the area more accessible and new immigrants poured into the neighborhood.
Weeksville, a key part of what became Bedford-Stuyvesant, was largely forgotten in the 1930s. The last of its dilapidated houses were set to be demolished before they were rediscovered and restored in 1968 and the area opened for public tours as the Weeksville Heritage Center.
Today, Bedford-Stuyvesant, in north-central Brooklyn, is the largest black neighborhood in New York.
Brooklyn-born Norm Goldstein is retired, after working 44 years for the Associated Press, the global news agency, where he served as a reporter, feature writer, editor, author and administrator. He also worked for AP as director of Educational Services and editor of the AP Stylebook. He graduated from Brooklyn College and the Penn State Graduate School of Journalism. He currently lives in Brooklyn Heights.