The following is the fourth of an eight-part essay about 19th century Greenpoint’s transformation from isolated farmland into a center of shipbuilding and waterborne commerce. In it, Gary E. Eddey interweaves the story of our neighborhood’s earliest industrialization with his own family history, focusing on his great, great-grandfather, Carnes Eddey – a shipwright from Greenpoint.
Carnes and Alfred were born and raised in the southwest corner of Staten Island, on a 22 acre farm in the town of Woodrow. The farm, clearly marked on the Beers’ Atlas of the day, was handed down to their father Andrew from his father, William. The grandfather had inherited the land from his wife’s family, one of the island’s original Huguenot families. The brothers’ mother, Catherine Poillon, also born on Staten Island, was descended from another French Huguenot family of means. According to William Simonson Eddy, she was a “religious person who mandated strict observance of the Sabbath,” so the boys never missed a Sunday Mass at the Woodrow Methodist Episcopal Church. Fortunately for them, the church sat diagonally across the road from their home. The homestead and small farm has since been replaced by characteristic Staten Island townhouses. The wooden church with columns still stands, as does the poorly guarded graveyard that surrounds it.
Although both brothers started their careers as ships’ carpenters, it is not clear what they did in the yards as their careers advanced. The census and other records mention simply that Carnes was a shipwright. As mentioned in an earlier essay, Carnes Eddey’s short death notice/obituary in the New York Times stated that he had worked closely with the architect of the Monitor, John Ericsson.
It is doubtful that either brother got rich as shipwrights. Through evidence found in census records and other historical data, shipbuilding work generally paid poorly throughout the century, with the inflation of the post- Civil War period eroding prior wage gains. An average salary of a shipwright might be $2.00 per hour, with or without inflation. The work days were long – ten hours were the norm. However romantic it may appear, their work was not easy and there was no job security. When Carnes and Alfred were later laid off, it was not the money they earned from being shipwrights that bought them homes and farms in New Jersey. Rather, it appears to have been an inheritance from their mother’s family.