The Brooklyn Navy Yard and the US Occupation of Haiti, 1915–1934

Portrait of Gompers as a young man in a suit and a newsboy style hat.

As we reflect on the deeper meaning and troubling implication of the US president describing certain foreign countries as “shitholes,” it has also opened an opportunity to think critically about how and why these places became impoverished. Often, European and American imperial intervention – or outright exploitation – played a significant role. While we celebrate the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a center of innovation, labor, and service, we must also recognize its role in projecting American power across the globe, sometimes for less-than-noble ends.

Take Haiti, the world’s first free black republic, founded as the result of a slave rebellion against French colonial rule. Following the revolution, France and the Great Powers attempted to strangle this young nation in the crib, placing trade embargoes and saddling it with astronomical debt. The United State has a long and complicated history with the second-oldest republic in the Western Hemisphere, but the height of US involvement was when the American military occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Many of the actions of this military operation originated 1,300 miles away in Brooklyn.>> Continue reading

The Many Names of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Some of the subjects we frequently have to address on our tours of the Brooklyn Navy Yard are: where is it? and what is the official name?

So let’s start with the first question. The Brooklyn Navy Yard is located on the banks of the Wallabout Bay, a bend in the East River located opposite Manhattan’s Corlears Hook. The Yard has grown considerably since it was established in 1801 with the purchase of 23 acres of land on the bay’s western shore. Today, it encompasses 300 acres that encircle the bay from west to east, bounded by Little Street and Navy Street to the west, Flushing Avenue to the south, and Williamsburg Street, Kent Avenue, and Division Avenue to the east. >> Continue reading

Adams, Jefferson, and the Unlikely Founding of the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Two hundred and thirteen years ago today, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was founded, the last of the six original shipyards established by the US Navy. Today we celebrate the yard’s history of shipbuilding and innovation, and its continued importance to the economy of Brooklyn as an industrial park, but it almost never existed. Its founding in 1801 was rife with controversy, and around it swirled one of the central political battles of the early American republic. Today the Navy is one of the cornerstones of American power – possessing 10 of the world’s 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and more than one-third of all the naval tonnage in the world, the US Navy is 3.5 times the size of its nearest competitors, China and Russia. But at the end of the 18th century, the American navy was small and, at times, a non-existent force. While it achieved some notable victories in the Revolutionary War over a far superior British adversary, by 1785, economic constraints forced the nascent republic to sell off the last of its warships.>> Continue reading