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  • Back in the long, long ago, New York and New Jersey fought over the islands betwixt them.

  • Were they New York or were they New Jersey?

  • To determine what was whose, New York proposed a race!

  • All islands that could be encircled in less than 24 hours would belong to New York.

  • Those not, to New Jersey.

  • Staten Island was the big prize -- then described as "the most commodiousest and richest land".

  • New Jersey wanted it and given the island is huge and back-in-the-day boats were slow,…

  • New Jersey thought the island impossible to encircle in under a day, and so it would be hers.

  • But young New York, determined to expand her empire state, thought she had the man for the job.

  • Captain Christopher Billopp.

  • The clever captain, lashed empty barrels to his ship, to help catch the wind and make haste,…

  • andtwas this that made the difference, winning the race against time, …

  • and encircling the most commodiousest island of Staten for New York in just over twenty three hours.

  • This delightful deed earned Billopp historical immortality in books and articles and on Wikipedia

  • and the embiggened New York gifted the captain an estate, on Staten Island of course, …

  • that still stands today, a historical museum and park for the local Staten Island Yorkers that, ...

  • were it not for Billopp, would find themselves Jerseyites instead.

  • What a cute story!

  • So *perfect* for the video about New York and New Jersey's border disputes I'm working on.

  • But wait, was the 24 hour race around *each island individually* or *all islands at once*?

  • This wording isn't clear.

  • Might as well ask the museum about the route.

  • I’ve always found that hometown historians happily honor hometown heroes.

  • Well, no reason to just sit around, let's follow the footnote trail.

  • New York Times, 1913.

  • [microfilm fed to microfilm reader / mouse clicking]

  • Ok, Billopp gets inspired to put the barrels on his ship.

  • There's great suspense as people await their resident state fate

  • and Billopp took “a little over twenty three hoursto complete his journey.

  • That's less than helpful and it's a newspaper: no sources are listed, just the journalist’s name.

  • But she did write a book six years later containing much the same story.

  • (though the onlookers go from suspense to *throbbing suspense*)

  • And, unlike a newspaper, there is a Bibliography (yay!) but it's not broken down by chapter (boo!).

  • I really don't want to go through this. Please tell me the museum wrote back.

  • Hmmmm

  • Wait a minute: More than two hundred years ago?

  • The article says almost three hundred years ago.

  • That’s nearly a hundred years apart. When did this race even happen?

  • Almost three hundred years ago from 1913 would be 1620-ish.

  • But New Jersey only became New Jersey in 1664 via a royal charter.

  • Whichdoes that thing even mention Billopp?

  • Why do so many organizations put up these tiny, unreadable gif versions of their *founding documents*?

  • Then there's no mention of Billopp, or even Staten Island, so the race had to happen *after* the charter.

  • Which means it's no more than 249 years before this article. That's the *oldest* a source could be.

  • What's the *youngest* reliable source that might mention the race?

  • Well, the Supreme Court dealt with New York and New Jersey island ownership in the 90s.

  • Does that mention Billopp?

  • [popcorn crunching loudly over Supreme Court recording]

  • (Grey) Uhhooohhh

  • [Supreme Court recording continues]

  • (Grey) Ohhhh, New Jersey youre getting rekt….it’s only just begun.

  • [popcorn crunching loudly over Supreme Court recording]

  • (Grey) Hahahahaha, he got you New York!

  • [popcorn noises over Supreme Court recording]

  • [popcorn container set down on table] thunk

  • (Grey) What was I doing?? Oh right

  • Nothing about Billopp here, but they do mention another 1880s Supreme Court situation.

  • But that also makes no mention of Billopp.

  • Meanwhile the museum *still* hasn't gotten back and I'm getting suspicious theyre avoiding me.

  • But there is a history section on the site, saying the house was built about 1680, …

  • and Christoper Billopp was a filthy royal loyal

  • …. and his home the site of a failed peace talk

  • between the righteous revolutionaries and the conquerous crown.

  • A traitor for the video! Sweet.

  • Wait, that's a hundred years apart again

  • Oh, damn it! There's two of them!

  • Captain Christoper Billopp (two l's, two p's)

  • and Colonel Christoper Billop (two l's, one p)

  • The later the great grandson of the former.

  • Both living on Billopp Manor, Staten Island.

  • This has caused much confusion….

  • But Billopp the Captain died in 1726, so the race had to happen between 1664 and then.

  • Ok, I give up. Let's dive into this.

  • NOTHING IS CONSISTENT!

  • Look, look: on Wikipedia and in the New York Times, the race took a little over 23 hours.

  • But The Staten Islander, 1911, says the race took exactly 23 hours and 37 minutes.

  • Where did that come from??

  • And the ship.

  • Sometimes she’s an Atlantic-crossing vessel with cannons.

  • And sometimes she's Billopp's personal plucky boat.

  • Or the manor.

  • In the earliest versions of the story, Billopp already lived on the manor.

  • But in later versions, it was a prize for his victory.

  • Or the barrels. *The barrels*!!

  • In A History of Thomas and Anne Billopp Farmar and Some of their Descendants (1907), …

  • there's this paragraph about the exact location where Billopp billowed the barrels.

  • But that detail is nowhere else ever mentioned. Just here.

  • But in the earlier Morris's Memorial History of Staten Island (1898) …

  • It is said that he covered the deck of his vessels with empty barrels, thus gaining considerable sailing power.”

  • The "it" init is said”…

  • (a weaselly phrase if there ever was one)

  • is J. J. Clute, who wrote The Annals of Staten Island twenty years earlier, …

  • telling the tale with no barrels a'tall.

  • And Clute starts hishistory' book saying he spoke to a bunch of old-timers

  • right before they died and got stories out of them, …

  • to add to The Forest of All Knowledge, that otherwise would have been lost.

  • Which is a polite way of saying: “This is oral history."

  • Which is a polite way of saying: “This is hearsay."

  • Which means: “This is a hear story.”

  • Which means: “This isn't history.”

  • And so it is revealed.

  • The tale of the race is cute and perfect because it's a Lady Godiva story.

  • (told long after it supposedly happened)

  • And survived the centuries by being clever and cute.

  • And evolving to be clever-er and cuter-er as it passed along.

  • It’s Ye Old Meme.

  • [Grey sighing]

  • So much time wastedchasing ghosts.

  • Time to fix the record and time to let this go.

  • [tapping fingers on desk]

  • Butwhose ghost?

  • Tall tales take tellers.

  • Who told this story for the first time?

  • Reaching across the centuries to steal hours from my life, for the lulz?

  • OK. I've picked up a trial that predates J.J. Clute.

  • There's a New York Evening Post article from 1873…

  • (with the race, without the barrels, and where Billopp already owned the land, by the way)

  • that lists the prime culprit: Reverend Disosway.

  • The 'local chronicler' who told the story.

  • I’m pinning him as the old-timer Clute spoke to for his book that got the story going.

  • There’s references to Disosway writing articles for The Richmond County Gazette

  • about this race that never happened.

  • And Staten Island’s Historical Archives have digitized *hundreds* of volumes.

  • But having gone through *them all*, there’s no articles by Disosway.

  • But there are some missing volumes.

  • Now, look.

  • I don't want to get all conspiratorial here

  • About a History Museum that never wrote back.

  • Or a Staten Island Historical Archive that just so happens to be missing the couple parts I’m looking for.

  • But I’m inso deep now.

  • I’ve tracked down the only place on earth with surviving physical copies

  • of the Richmond County Gazette.

  • The New York Public Library.

  • Who just so happens to also list the vital volumes as missing.

  • But are they really?!

  • Perhaps, somewhere in their archive of old and rare books are the missing editions.

  • But alas, I live thousands of miles away.

  • The trail ran cold, but I have the culprit’s name.

  • Disosway (1798 to 1868) is the first tall tale teller.

  • But the first written records are lost to history.

  • Time to let it go.

  • [airplane whirring]

  • [airplane cabin noises]

  • [airport music / people talking in the background]

  • [traffic noises]

  • I couldn't let it go.

  • I came to the New York Public Library to see for myself that Disosway's first story

  • about Billopp in the Richmond County Gazette really is missing.

  • [loud foot steps on the marble stairs]

  • OhhhhhThis is it. The last place with answers.

  • The Rare Book Room.

  • [Grey knocking on door]

  • (Grey, whispering loudly) It's really over now.

  • I tried to talk the librarians into letting me into their rare books crypt.

  • And, to my great surprise, they said… “No.”

  • (librarian) Shhhh!!

  • (Grey, to librarian) Sorry.

  • (Grey, whispering more quietly) But I did get to talk to someone who might just be the world's expert on the The Gazette

  • and confirmed to me (quite firmly) that the lost volumes really are lost.

  • Sothis is it. The end of the footnote trail. There’s nowhere left to go.

  • [ferry horn blows]

  • [unintelligible voice speaking over boat speaker]

  • While I'm here, might as well go to the Billopp Museum, …

  • and talk to the historians who never got back to me.

  • (chuckling) Ignore my emails? I might just show up!

  • You've got to be kidding me. They closed it!

  • I came all this way and they closed it?!?!

  • [Grey chuckling turns into crazed laughter]

  • Wellat least I know the building is real.

  • Though when and why it was built isn’t exactly nailed down.

  • Andas far and I can know

  • Captain and Colonel Christopher Billops were real people, …

  • connected to the founding and freedom of the country.

  • And these hooks on reality probably helped Disosway’s tale survive over the centuries.

  • From his mouth to Clute's ear and book, onward to others.

  • And eventually the New York Times, to be sourced in the Wikipedia, …

  • to be found (I wish it had never happened) by me.

  • But here, on the southern tip of Staten Island, …

  • alone and locked out of Billopp's house, it’s really the end of the story.

  • Nothing else waits on this island for me, but ghosts and graves.

  • Oh!!

  • Where is it??

  • [loud thunder crashes over rain sounds]

  • I know youre here somewhere!

  • [rumbling thunder and rain sounds]

  • [softer rain sounds]

  • Ahh, hahaha. Oh, it’s amazing!

  • [soft thunder dying out]

Back in the long, long ago, New York and New Jersey fought over the islands betwixt them.

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贏得史坦頓島的競賽 (The Race to Win Staten Island)

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    林宜悉 發佈於 2021 年 01 月 14 日
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