The Conference House
The Conference House
The Conference House, built in the 17th Century and located at the southern most tip of New York State in Staten Island, is famous for the Peace Conference held there on September 11, 1776.
In the early 1920's this beautiful manor house was about to be razed. Through the efforts of a group of concerned citizens the House was saved. The House, a National and New York City Landmark, is the only pre-Revolutionary manor house still surviving in New York City. It stands majestically in Conference House Park overlooking Raritan Bay.
Visit the House, walk the same floorboards that Ben Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge walked in 1776.
Captain Christopher Billopp, after years of distinguished service in the Royal Navy, came to America in 1674, leading an infantry company. The following year, he settled on the best part of Staten Island where he was granted a patent for 932 acres of land. As archaeological evidence suggests, there was an Indian village on the site.
In 1677, the fortunes of colonial service took Capt. Billopp to New Castle on the Delaware River, where he commanded the local garrison. Upon appointment of Thomas Dongan as governor of the colony of New York, the good captain returned to Staten Island and became active in the local government. He was further rewarded by another patent, expanding his Staten Island property to 1,600 acres.
It's difficult to ascertain exactly when his manor house was built, but one surviving map shows that, before 1680, a building existed on the site of the Conference House. What is known for sure is that Captain Billopp's descendants lived in the house until the American Revolution.
In 1776, war was in the air! A descendant of Captain Christopher Billopp, who bore the same name - Colonel Christopher Billopp, lived with his family in the lovely manor house on Staten Island.
The citizenry of America were weary of the onerous government of Great Britain, and the struggle for freedom began. In July of that year, the Declaration of Independence was written and war was declared against Great Britain.
Col. Billopp, a Loyalist, defended England's government of America. English troops were resident on Staten Island, even tented on the property surrounding the manor house. Across Raritan Bay in New Jersey, American troops were camped. Billopp watched them through his spy glass from the windows of the upper story of his house.
The American Revolution had begun. By order of the King, Admiral Lord Howe was made Acting Peace Commissioner, with the edict to try to stop this Revolution. Howe invited American delegates to a Peace Conference to be held at the Billopp Manor House on Staten Island on September 11, 1776. The invitation was accepted and Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge became the American delegates.
Admiral Lord Howe, in command of His Majesty's Atlantic Squadron, looked forward to the Staten Island Peace Conference he had organized over the clamoring for war; he wanted peace.
For Benjamin Franklin this wasn't the first diplomatic mission, or the last. A sage and prescient man, he had known that the journey from Philadelphia to Staten Island, tiresome for a man of 70, would be in vain. But he was curious to find out what the British were up to. Arguable the most venerated member of the Continental Congress, and surely its most astute diplomat, he had been elected to the mission unanimously. As had John Adams, the radical. Representing the South was Edward Rutledge, at 27 the youngest but, unexpectedly, the most conservative member of the delegation. Dr. Franklin was expected to steer a middle course between the two younger men.
When the colonies declared their independence, the insurgent State of New York confiscated the property of pro-British colonists. Colonel Billopp, the hereditary owner of the House and ardently pro-British, felt pressed to emigrate to Nova Scotia, where he and his family were given property by the King of England to recognize his loyalty to the Crown.
For the next 150 years, the House would pass from one private owner to the next and remain in obscurity. One of the owners turned it into an inn, others made structural alterations.
What a majestic sight this National and New York City Landmark is! The Landmarks Preservation Commission described the building as "the most imposing surviving Seventeenth Century manor house on Staten Island ... A magnificent two and one-half story fieldstone residence ... the house is rectangular in plan with a centrally designed hall and an attic of immense dimensions. The stone masonry, impressively bold in appearance, is characteristic of the medieval influence on some of our early Colonial architecture." The masonry was made of local, unusually small, stones, and mortar mixed with ground sea shells gathered at the Staten Island shore.
Pictures and information were provided by the Conference House
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