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September 28, 2018

History Lesson: Inside Walloon Settler’s Memorial

Like so many monuments in Battery Park, Walloon Settler’s Memorial seems to fade into the backdrop of the buildings, the parks and the architectural backdrop of New York. However, upon closer study, this time-honored memorial, located walking distance from Wagner Battery Park, is worth paying attention to, as it reflects the history of our city and country dating back to its formation.

Walloon Settler’s Memorial stands at nearly ten-foot-tall and was designed by noted architect Henry Bacon, the mastermind behind Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial and Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Pool. The monument features a gold, almost gilded inscription commemorating the “Walloon Settlers,” a group of 32 Belgian Huguenot families who joined the Dutch in 1624 on the ship Nieu Nederland (“New Netherland”) to colonize New Amsterdam – aka what is now called the island of Manhattan.

The Walloons were natives of the County of Hainaut in Belgium. Their community fled to nearby Holland to escape religious persecution. They were made to feel unwelcome in Holland, so the Walloons, who were led by Jesse de Forest, first appealed to the British in 1621 for permission to settle in the British-controlled Virginia colony.  When their request was denied, they petitioned the Dutch West India Company to allow them to settle in the Dutch-controlled colony of New Amsterdam.  Their application was granted and the Walloons left Holland in March 1624, landing in New York on May 20, 1624.

The Walloon Settler’s Memorial was dedicated on May 20, 1924, the 300th anniversary of the Walloon settlers’ arrival in New York.  The monument was a gift of the Conseil Provincial du Hainaut and features Hainaut granite, a Belgian stone.  That year Governor Alfred E. Smith and the New York State Senate issued an official proclamation recognizing the Walloons’ stature in New York history.  The Federal Government issued three commemorative stamps and a silver 50-cent coin to mark the anniversary. But the monument has been on the move ever since. As a result of the construction of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, the monument was moved from the northeast part of the park to a lawn in the northwest portion near Castle Clinton.  In 2014, as part of the redesign of the Battery and relocation of many interior monuments to the park, the monument was installed along Battery Place, opposite the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel entrance.