As part of a cultural fight over statues and who gets remembered and honored, New York City is looking to commission a new monument to local women’s history.
New Yorkers can nominate a famous (deceased) woman, group of women, or past event involving women here until Aug. 1.
Here’s one Brooklyn-centric suggestion to get the ball rolling: Deborah Moody, who led a group of dissidents to found Gravesend, Brooklyn, in 1643, personally carving a town out of a wolf-and-bear-heavy forest at a time when women largely couldn’t even own property. She even boasts a hashtag-friendly slogan. Due to her stubborness and religious beliefs, she was once called a “dangerous woeman” by John Endicott, the deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Moody had a long streak of radical independence even as a member of the nobility in the lap of luxury in her birth-country of England. She studied at the Sorbonne and apparently designed an estate garden before her husband died in 1629. She developed an itch for exploration that wasn’t exactly condoned by polite society: “in her wanderings she had violated a statute that limited the length of time a person could remain away from home,” writes Brooklyn historian and Cornell University professor Thomas Campanella in a 1993 Landscape Journal article titled “Sanctuary in the Wilderness.”
Moody eventually fled the social strictures of England for North America. Her Anabaptist faith led to persecution in Massachusetts, where she spent some time. So like many travelers, she headed for what is now New York, where the Dutch allotted her a piece of land in the wilderness of south Brooklyn.
The town charter was the first in the New World to list a female patentee, according to a 1976 city Landmarks Preservation Commission report. The community was established as a center of religious freedom and self-government, and became an early haven for Quakers who were persecuted elsewhere. And Moody was the pioneering architect of the impressively planned area, laid out via a grid system, traces of which can still be seen hundreds of years later even in the car- and subway-track covered modern city.
“Gravesend was the only permanent settlement in America’s early colonization period to have been initiated, planned, and directed by a woman,” writes Campanella, whose forthcoming book “Brooklyn: The Once and Future City” devotes a chapter to Moody.
Naturally, Moody faced obstacles, including from men: Dutch Director-General William Kieft’s bloody attacks on local natives meant that Moody and her band needed to briefly seek refuge elsewhere.
And though the community and its freedoms were poised to become a shining city by the sea, that never quite happened — partially thanks to the makeup of Gravesend Bay, which was shallower than nearby ports.
Despite her iron-willed accomplishments during a time that was hostile to women like her, today there is only a small plaque dedicated to the founder and dissident in Lady Moody Triangle — a strip of street in Brooklyn.