The Original Latourrette Homestead and the French Church on Staten Island
This posting is designed to share some information and to solicit input about the original Latourrette homestead (about 1698-99) and the French Church at Fresh Kills (about 1700 or shortly thereafter) on Staten Island. It also corrects information presented in Lyman Latourette’s Latourette Annals in America (1954), pp. 21-2. In the course of this presentation, the actual sites will be identified so that they can be located by the interested reader on satellite maps available on Google Earth and/or Google Maps.
In his discussion of locations, not realizing he is dealing with or ignoring conflicting information, Lyman identifies two different sites for the Latourrette homestead, one being just south of the French Church (quote about Seaman’s house in 1850 on p. 21) and the other one between St. Andrews Church and Mt. Izzard (top of page 22). As we shall see, the latter is the correct one and has been known by Latourrette descendants for more than 100 years, as confirmed by the pictures taken of the deteriorating house by William Ward Mersereau around 1890. (See Lyman’s Annals, p. 22 and the picture on p. x with Mersereau’s wife Eunice Dutcher in the doorway, as identified by Timothy Main of Newark Valley, NY, who saw the three original photos, now lost or misplaced, some years ago. Thanks Tim.)
Perhaps, as in several other critical matters, Lyman didn’t notice or just ignored the ambiguities in the information he was presenting. The quote on p. 21 about Seaman’s house being the original homestead and close to the French Church is followed by the statement that Henry Latourette’s (1708- ca 1790-94) widow sold the homestead to an Alexander Cairns in 1803. Here is the section from Lyman’s Annals:
« Vosberg, in his Staten Island records, writes:
'A chronicle of 1850 states that Henry I. Seaman's house on Fresh Kills lies just south of the former French Church site; a portion of this house is 150 years old, so considered by Mr. Seaman. If so it is co-eval with the original French Church on Bellville's acre. This house was originally inhabited by one of the LaTourettes, that ancient Huguenot family. In front of the house flows the smooth waters of the Fresh Kills and its meanderings can be traced tilt the mountains of New Jersey bound the scene.
"The lest documentary evidence regarding the French Church Register was sworn to by Henry LaTourette in a certified copy of ex-tracts, and is now in the New York Historical Society Library. Henry LaTourette, weaver, lived at Fresh Kills not far from the site of the Church; undoubtedly the Church Register was in his hands in 1758." »
Lyman adds to this quote the following :
« Henry LaTourette was the last member of the LaTourette family to live on the 75-acre tract. He died in 1798. His widow sold the tract to one lexander Cairns. »
(Thanks to Robert Hoadley for the dates on Henry, his second wife Sarah Lane, 1719-1806, the widow cited, and the date of the sale.)
One wonders how Lyman reconciled the sale to Cairns and the claim by Seaman that he was living in the Latourrette homestead, then 150 years old.
Lyman does not give a citation for his quote from “Vosberg” and one wonders were he obtained it. There is a Royden Woodward Vosburgh, who was associated with the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society for many years and is the author of an extensive study of church records of New York held by the Society on microfilm and referred to as the Vosburgh Collection, 1913-1928.
Actually, Seaman is mistaken that around 1850 he was living in the original Latourrette homestead, built 150 years earlier, close to the site of the French Church. The two sites are at least a mile apart as the crow flies and about 2 miles apart by the original roads around the east end of Fresh Kills, through what is now the living museum at Richmond Town. The homestead site is north of Fresh Kills in LaTourette Park on the glacial terminal moraine, sometimes referred to as the Serpentine Ridge, at an elevation of approximately 90 to 100 feet above sea level, while the French Church site is south of Fresh Kills off the ridge and just south of the wetlands of Fresh Kills at an elevation of about 8 feet. The Fresh Kills French Church was actually located approximately at what is now known as 760 Arthur Kill Road, which can be identified on Google Earth or Google maps. (Thanks to William Mc Millen of Glenmont, NY for identifying this site and other information given below.)
Seaman’s mistaken assumption that the house in which he was living was the original Latourrette homestead could have been the result of a descendant from Jean Latourrette (about 1651-about 1726) and Marie Mercereau (1670-about 1733) living in another early Staten Island home, which ultimately came into the possession of Henry I. Seaman. I am searching for early maps or records which may identify and track this Seaman house. (Question: Does anyone have any more information on this Seaman house? When was it built and when did Seaman live in it?) Also, see more information about the Seaman property below under site of the French Church.
Another interesting piece of information from this research is the fact that the 1874 Beers Atlas of Staten Island indicates that the original homestead property of 75 acres acquired by Jean Latourrette in 1698, and sold in 1803, is by the date (1874) of the Atlas back in the hands of the Latourette family. The Atlas shows that to the southwest of Richmond Hill Road, which cuts through La Tourette Park, there is a parcel of land of 200 acres labeled the La Tourette Estate. On the Atlas, within that acreage, one can identify the original homestead by a building on the south side of a road (no longer there) which extended from in front of the large 1836 La Tourette House across Richmond Hill Road to the southwest. Across the road from the original house to the north, there is a pencil notation on a xerox copy of the Atlas provided by John Abb at Richmond Town that there were at some time barns. (This notation does not appear on the original Beers Atlas accessed below.) This section of the Atlas is number 23 of 38 sections and can be accessed on the web and enlarged at
The road in question on the 1874 Atlas (no longer there), south of which the original homestead was located, continued to the southwest and joined Old Mill Rd, which ran from St. Andrews Church also toward the southwest. Old Mill Road still exists today as a short street just north of St. Andrews Church and ending next to the parsonage. It can be found on Google Earth by seeking it as a street on Staten Island. On the 1874 Atlas, a section of the La Tourette property lies south of Old Mill Road and north of Richmond Creek. The extension of Old Mill Road to the southwest from where the roadway ends next to the St. Andrews parsonage has been described in recent years as a path, but it was impassable this summer (2008). People exploring the location of the original Latourrette homestead would be advised to do it in the winter months, as cautioned below.
In passing it should be noted that the 1874 Beers Atlas also shows the 1836 La Tourette House, now the clubhouse for the golf course, to the northeast of Richmond Hill Road, as well as a large acreage on that side of the road labeled La Tourette Estate. This house, built in 1836 by David La Tourette (1786-1864) and Ann Crocheron La Tourette (1794-1862), is described as a “stately federal-style brick mansion.” (Question: Does anyone have information as to how David La Tourette acquired the original homestead of 1698 and expanded it to the 200 acres shown on southwest side of Richmond Hill Road on the 1874 Beers Atlas?)
Also, it should be noted that the original 1874 Beers Atlas shows no evidence of the Seaman property or the French Church, parsonage and cemetery that is now 760 Arthur Kill Road, about 1 mile west of the historic Richmond Town. (However, see below about what is penciled in at what appears to be the Seaman site.) The church was destroyed during the American Revolution and it appears all traces of the cemetery were ultimately removed. (Jon Butler’s research indicates the church was closed by the elders in 1734 when Pastor David de Bonrepos died. See The Huguenots in America, 1983, p. 192. Questions: One wonders how the church building was used after 1734. Bayles notes in his 1887 book (p. 94) that there were at that time remnants of grave markers in the church’s cemetery dating to 1765 and 1784 with one of the latter carrying the initials J. L. How many Latourettes/Latourrettes were buried there?)
The Location of the Sites and Comments:
Fresh Kills French Church:
On Google Map find 760 Arthur Kill Road, Staten Island. On Google Earth, locate Arthur Kill Road and move browser to 40 degrees 33’ 37.32” N and 74 degrees 09’ 58.79” W. This is approximately one mile west of Richmond Town along Arthur Kill Road as the location of the church was described in 1887 by Richard M. Bayles (editor), History of Richmond County (Staten Island), p. 94. It also confirms that the Seaman house, as noted above, was likely close to the Church. But, as indicated above, this is at some distance from the original Latourrette homestead.
More on the Seaman House:
On the 1874 Beer's Atlas there is a three section property listed under Capt. T. G. Benham. Part of it lies in Southfield and part in Westfield on Staten Island. This fits with the three Seaman fields mentioned in the story about the French Church by Bayles, p, 94. This location is consistent with what is currently identified as 760 Arthur Kill Rd, the site of the French Church, as one views that location from Google Earth.
In accessing the original sections of the atlas #19 (Westfield) and #20 (Southfield) -- now sections 22 and 23 on the digital presentation of the atlas on the internet someone wrote in pencil on the digital section # 22 what appears to be the name of Benham-Seaman. This is in the southeast corner of section #22 on the internet map. Zooming into this area, the pencil notation reads Benham-Seaman.This reconfirms that the site of the French Church is near to the Seaman property and at a distance from the original Latourrette homestead, as well as to indicate the Seaman house was not the original Latourrette homestead.
To see this go to http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=773856&imageID=1515723&word=Westfield&s=1¬word=&d=&c=&f=&lWord=772962&lField=11&sScope=Source&sLevel=&sLabel=Atlas%2520of%2520Staten%2520Island%252C%2520Richmond%2520County%252C%2E%2E%2E&backParam=&snum=&total=14&num=0&imgs=12&pNum=0&pos=10#http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=773856&imageID=1515723&word=Westfield&s=1¬word=&d=&c=&f=&lWord=772962&lField=11&sScope=Source&sLevel=&sLabel=Atlas%2520of%2520Staten%2520Island%252C%2520Richmond%2520County%252C%2E%2E%2E&backParam=&snum=&total=14&num=0&imgs=12&pNum=0&pos=10#
which is a map of part of Northfield and part of Westfield-- pan and zoom into the southeast corner of the map
Original Latourrette Homestead:
The site of the original Latourrette homestead is located in La Tourette Park in the woods off of the left side of the first fairway as you approach the green. Its approximate location can be found on Google Earth at the coordinates 40 degrees 34’ 25.30” N and 74 degrees 09’ 05.91” W. (Thanks to Mr. Mc Mullen for narrowing the location to these coordinates.) This location is west of the northwest corner of the driving range. The fairways and driving range are very clear on Google Earth and it appears the road that once went just to the north of the homestead was located along what is now the left side of the fairway. On Google Earth visually trace a straight-line path by extending the road that turns into the 1836 mansion on the other side of Richmond Hill Road to the southwest. Then, compare the depiction of the road on the 1874 Beers Atlas.
The homestead site is now heavily overgrown with poison oak and poison ivy in dense underbrush and difficult to find in summer. Although the author had identified the approximate site, he could not locate the ruins this past June of 2008. Thanks to Mr. William Mc Millen we have a contemporary description of the site:
“The location of the old Latourrette house is in the location that you have been looking. It is along the south side of the old road, and yes it is in a very overgrown area. There is not much left of it except a cellar hole to identify its location and a few stones and a few brick bats. All of the stones that this house was made from were taken in the 1930s and used in building the Park buildings and bridge at Clove Lake Park, as well as all the stone fences that were on the Latourrette property. There is also a partially filled in well to the south west of the house site.”
Note: The author will try to find the site during the winter months.
The correct location of the homestead is in the second description given by Lyman Latourette in his Annals, as between Mount Izzard and St. Andrews Church. Mt Izzard (no longer shown on any contemporary maps) is a hill lying to the west of the site of the homestead. Its location is found on the 1874 Beers Atlas as “Old Fort or Lookout Place,” just to the southwest of the La Tourette Estate. On the 1874 Beers Atlas one can see that the original homestead lies between this site and St. Andrews Church. (Location of St. Andrews Church below) This was the site of one of the fortifications the English and Hessians built during the American Revolution along the terminal moraine. Although, Mt. Izzard is only about 130 feet above sea level, it overlooks the area of Staten Island extending to the east to the Atlantic Ocean.
One can image how much at age 68 Henry Latourrette, who lived at the homestead, was surrounded by the British and Hessians during the period 1776 to 1783 when up to a reported 30,000 troops occupied the island. If a legend about the British occupying his home is true, he may have had to quarter English officers there as was the custom of the day, while a number of Latourrettes left the island and went to New Jersey, some to flight for the Revolution. It is alleged that the house served as the headquarters of a Colonel Simcoe who commanded the Queens Rangers. (See Ira K. Morris, Memorial History of Staten Island, 1898, p. 241 where Mersereau’s picture of the homestead appears with a caption about Lt. Colonel Simcoe.) Several small forts were built on hillsides of the terminal moraine and a legend says that planning for the battle against George Washington’s army at Springfield, New Jersey, was planned at the Latourette homestead.
In his Annals, Lyman Latourette reports that the records of the French Church, presumably at least the marriages and baptisms, were in the possession of Henry Latourrette in 1758. However, they appear to have been lost after that time, perhaps at the time of the American Revolution. In contrast to the contemporary published research on the French-speaking Calvinist churches established in the late 17th century in New York City; Boston; Charleston; rural South Carolina; New Paltz; New Oxford, Massachusetts; and Narragansett, Rhode island, the history of the French Church on Staten Island is yet to be fully explored by a competent, modern historian. Therefore, there are large gaps in our knowledge about the Fresh Kills French Church and what preceded it after August 6, 1661, when a group consisting of French –speaking Calvinist Walloons and Dutch led by Pierre Billiou, born near Lille, France, reached New York with his family on the ship St. Jean Baptist with the intent to settle on Staten Island. The record of French-speaking Calvinism on the island is sketchy but it appears Billiou established a church, but by 1678 there are reports that the settlers had neither a church nor minister. The author attempts to trace this sketchy history in a new monograph about Pastor Peiret and Jean latourrette.
From what we know about the Fresh Kills French Church, it is clear that Jean Latourrette was involved in acquiring the land in 1698 for its construction. (See Bayles, pp. 92-3. Bayles repeats the entire transaction of the gift of the land with Jean Latourrette, signing as one of the representatives of the church.) Also, as a master carpenter who already was heavily involved in the building and improvement of the wooden French Church of New York, we can assume that he played a major role in the construction of the one on Staten Island.
The 1836 David La Tourette House:
The coordinates for the 1836 house are approximately 40 degrees 34’ 33.63” N and 74 degrees 08’ 48.62” W. The house is located on the north side of a roadway that goes around a green (lawn) circle which can be quickly identified on Google Earth.
St. Andrews Church (The Church of St. Andrew):
The establishment of this Anglican Church (now American Episcopal Church) dates to 1708. The first structure was finished in 1712. It appears that the first Anglican priest, Aeneas Mac Kenzie, used the Fresh Kills French Church for his services and provided religious instruction there for Huguenot children, as invited by Pastor David de Bonrepos. Later, it is recorded that Jean Latourrette (about 1651- about 1726) was a warden of the church. The author is writing a short history about the French Church and Jean Latourrette.
The location of St. Andrews can be found on Google Maps at
or on Google Earth at approximately 40 degrees 34’ 22.68” N and 74 degrees 08’ 49.15” W.
Any addition information about Latourrette homestead and its sale in 1803, the Seaman house, and when David La Tourette reacquired the original homestead and expanded it to 200 acres would be greatly appreciated. (Can anyone verify Lyman’s statement in the Annals (p.21) that it was purchased in 1803, presumably in 1803, by one Alexander Cairns from Sarah Lane, the second wife and widow of Henry?)
Also, any information about the nature of the construction of the French Church would be appreciated, as well as information about the records of the church which were suppose to be in the hands of Henry Latourrette in 1758 and apparently lost thereafter, perhaps during the American Revolution.
An interesting question is how did Henry Latourrette manage to live at the homestead when close relatives left the island and supported the Revolution? (Of course, at the age of 68 he and his wife were likely forced to or pretended to support the Crown.)