New York Harbor


I went on a boat trip on Sunday into New York harbor, one of my favorite places. We followed a giant container ship from Singapore under the Verrazano Bridge.

Indian tribes were the first here to fish and to trade. The Dutch and the English followed them. It’s a great harbor with a great history. The fishing’s gone, unfortunately, and I wonder what happened to the Indians? Their story never seems to be told.

Indian fishing

Indian fishing

The Hudson River reaching north was a trading dream. Early on, furs and timber and raw materials were brought here from the interior to be shipped all over the world. The Eire Cana only increased the river’s reach.

liberty stat - Version 2Millions of immigrants, looking for work and a place to live, sailed into this harbor from distant places. The sign welcoming them, the Statue of Liberty, and the place where many of them were processed, Ellis Island, are on the left of the harbor as you come through the Narrows from the open sea.

Many of our ancestors, my own included, first saw the New World here. Many never left the area. On a recent TV program on Italian immigration, the question was asked “Why did so many Italians choose to live in New York City and New Jersey?” “That’s where the work was, “ someone said. My ancestors–Irish and Swedes– chose to live and work here too. Skyline medium

Skyline close

As you look at the impressive skyline of New York, look also to Brooklyn on the right and Jersey City and Bayonne on the left, Staten Island behind you. Those places were where the immigrants who built the city lived–and still do.

Quarentine station, staten island,

Quarentine station, staten island,

The Quarantine Station built in 1799 by Doctor Richard Bayley, father of St. Elizabeth Seton, was located near Stapleton on Staten Island, just south of the Staten Island Ferry terminal at St. George. Passengers with infectious diseases like small pox, cholera or yellow fever were detained and treated there, and sometimes returned to their own countries.

In the summer of 1801, Elizabeth Seton was staying with her father at the quarantine station when a boatload of sick Irish immigrants were brought in. She describes what poorer immigrants faced coming here:

“I cannot sleep–the dying and the dead possess my mind. Babies perishing at the empty breast of the expiring mother…Father says such was never known before: twelve children must die for want of sustenance…parents deprived of it as they have lain for many days ill in a ship without food or air or changing…There are tents pitched over the yard of the convalescent house and a large one at the death house.” (Letter July 28, 1801)

That same year, Richard Bayley died from yellow fever contacted while caring for a boatload of Irish immigrants at the Quarantine Station. He’s buried in the family plot next to the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew in Richmond, Staten Island.

Too bad no remains of the quarantine station are left to remind us how difficult an immigrant’s journey could be. There’s no quarantine station in the harbor now; sick immigrants and travelers go to nearby hospitals, as far as I know.

People in ancient times looked at travel over the uncertain sea as a perilous challenge. You never knew when you would arrive or the welcome you would get. No cruise ships then to make the journey a pleasure. An anchor was the sign the ancients used to symbolize their arrival, safely reaching port. Some ancient Mediterranean seaports like Alexandria and Antioch adopted the anchor as a symbol of their city.

Early Christians used this same sign on the burial places of their dead to symbolize their hope in Jesus Christ. The anchor closely resembles a cross. Jesus would bring them safely home, to harbor, to the New Jerusalem.

7 thoughts on “New York Harbor

  1. Gloria

    Thank for this post, Fr. Victor, and for your beautiful photos.
    Ted’s mother and father came to America through Ellis Island. After they died we had their names put on the wall over the walkway that goes around the main building. There are no words to describe how we felt when we saw their names inscribed in that shiny black marble.


  2. Anita O

    My grandfather is in the marble, too. He came from Lebanon, a subject of Ottoman rule–Turkey. They were all so proud to be here, and couldn’t wait to assimilate into the American way of life!


  3. jedode1

    Father Victor, Thank you. Three of my four grandparents passed through Ellis Island. What a grand reminder that we are all on a journey, to a better, fairer land. Meanwhile, Lord, grant us grace to bless this land with our presence and more of Your Presence, as we walk the path to which You’ve called us. Amen.


  4. cenaclemary12

    A beautiful boat ride to remind me that my elders came ashore from Ireland, and Germany to be greeted by Lady Liberty. Even the ones from Plymouth landing who settled in Boston area later migrated to New York…for jobs!
    My grandfather was Irish and here he worked at Macy,s as a glass blower in the basement. Who knows how many vases, glasses, bowls, etc. he helped create for households. My other grandfather was a livery driver
    which meant horse and carriage.Before taxis took over the city streets! We each have rich heritages!


  5. Natalie

    The shoemaker, the iceman, the seamstress, the homemaker…my grandparents came from a small town nestled in the province of Bari, Italy. Bari is also a port city on the Adriatic. When the citizens of Bari were afflicted by cholera, the sailors set out for Myra, Turkey for the ‘cure.’ This cure was the bones or relics of St Nicholas. These desperate, faithful sailors, stole the good Saint’s remains and sailed them to Bari. The legend goes that when St Nicholas’ remains entered the port, the cholera left the city. A miracle…result of a theft…but a miracle just the same. The Barese people were so grateful they built a basilica to house St Nicholas’ remains. The top of this basilica is where the Roman Catholics worship and the Eastern Orthodox Catholics worship in the church below.
    When my 4 grandparents left Bari over 100 years ago, thankfully they did not steal a relic to bring with them to America. They brought with them their Cathoilc faith. It is their legacy. The family inheritance that has been passed down to their great grandchildren. With Gods help it will continue to be passed down to other generations like a part of our DNA!
    A long journey…but well with it…for both my grandparents and the Barese sailors!


  6. Berta Hernandez Orlando Hernandez

    This country is so rich in beautiful stories of hope and love. All immigrants travel to new places usually for a better life. May the people of this wonderful country continue to find it in their hearts to be open to all that have hope! Faith, love and hope, is all we need according to St Paul, but the greatest one is Love. If we let the love of God guide us we will always be opened to all!


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