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Gravesend, one of the original six towns of Brooklyn, originally included an enormous amount of land that encompassed Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, Bensonhurst, Brighton Beach and Manhattan Beach. 

It was settled in 1643 and chartered in 1645 by a group of English Anabaptists led by Lady Deborah Moody, a wealthy widow, as a haven for religious dissenters. Moody originally went to New England but its residents didn’t like her radical Protestantism so she moved to New Amsterdam, founded Gravesend and became the first woman to charter land in the New World.

Legend has it that Moody’s house was used as a hospital during the American Revolution’s Battle of Brooklyn.

Gravesend began to transform after it was annexed to the City of Brooklyn in 1894. 

The electrification of the Sea Beach and Culver rail lines meant that those who settled in the area could reach Manhattan in 45 minutes. A large Italian-American community then formed.

Most of Gravesend’s current houses were built after the 1920s and while many had been converted into two-family dwellings during the Depression, recent residents have restored them.

  • Once boasting a strong Italian community, Gravesend has become more diverse with an array of immigrants from around the world.
  • The site of Gravesend's founding at the intersection of Avenue U and Village Road North is marked by a stone monument that tells the story of town's beginnings.
  • Lady Moody House is forever attached to Lady Deborah Moody, Gravesend's founder, and is believed to have been used as a hospital during the American Revolution's Battle of Brooklyn.
  • Gravesend's Italian community lives on in businesses like this pasta shop.
  • Gravesend's residential blocks are filled with standalone houses that give the neighborhood a suburban feel.
  • L&B Spumoni Gardens is a popular pizzeria and restaurant that opened in 1939.
  • In the neighborhood's eastern side, large mansions line the blocks.
  • Calvert Vaux Park juts off the southwestern edge of the neighborhood with a view out to Gravesend Bay.
  • Ocean Parkway marks Gravesend's border to the east.
  • Kings Highway is one of Gravesend's popular commercial streets.
  • Two women wait for the B82 bus on Kings Highway.
  • Avenue U, one of Gravesend’s commercial blocks, shows the influx of different immigrant groups through its diverse restaurants and shops.
  • A man watches the N train arrive at the Avenue U station.
Photos by Paul Frangipane

How Gravesend Got Its Name

Lady Deborah Moody, her baronetcy inherited from her husband, was a 43-year-old widow when she immigrated from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639. She had left England because she felt she could not live there as an Anabaptist. But that religion was not acceptable in the Puritan New England settlements either and she was forced to leave there too.

Lady Moody and some of her followers moved to the more religiously tolerant New Netherland and settled on unoccupied land in south Brooklyn in 1643. In late 1645, William Kieft, governor-general of New Netherland, granted her a charter that not only allowed freedom of religion, but the right to make the land a self-governing town.

She called it Gravesend and became the first woman to charter land in the New World.

The name Gravesend may have come from the Dutch words grafes and ande, which together would mean “end of the grove.” Another theory is that Kieft named it for Gravesande, a town in Holland that had been the seat of the Counts of Holland and means “count’s beach.” Gravesend is also a city on England’s Thames River.

Lady Moody made Gravesend a home for many religious dissenters, especially the peace-loving Quakers, who also were banned from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Norm Goldstein

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.