Column: The complex history of Hart Island

Lt. Robert Gould Shaw May, 1863.
Photo courtesy Thomas Casey

The East Bronx History Forum and the Huntington Free Library are pleased to announce the Forum will hold its 157th meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 8 pm., with a Zoom presentation about Hart Island by Natalie J. Sobchak Lacina, an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. The many diverse stories of Hart Island, located just off the east side City Island in the Bronx starts in 1654 and is debated in 2021.

In 1654, Hart Island was deeded to Thomas Pell by Wampage, aka Anhooke, who’s tribe was responsible for the death of Anne Hutchinson in 1643, not far from Pelham Bay Park. Now, The Department of Corrections has transferred Hart Island to the Parks Department. Another interesting fact is that the first mustering of recruits from the New York 31st, U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War were organized on Hart Island. The Massachusetts 54th Colored Troops were led by Lt. Robert Gould Shaw and recognized for bravery in the movie “Glory.” Lt. Robert Shaw studied at Fordham Preparatory in the 1850s and Denzel Washington who won an Oscar portraying Private Trip in “Glory” is a Fordham University graduate.

Sobchak Lacina, a professor at Fordham Law School, who with her husband have called City Island their home for more than 30 years. Natalie is an attorney that worked 20 years at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and currently for the Pace Women’s Justice Center, that provides free legal services to victims and survivors of domestic violence. Natalie also majored in History at Boston University and together with her legal and not for profit expertise, led to a focus on neighboring Hart Island.

Please join us and discover the complex history of Hart Island and learn about the most recent changes and the possible future to the largest unknown piece of the Bronx. The East Bronx History Forum will post the login details on our web page at Please help defray the cost of the meetings by using the donate button. We will meet online, at 8 p.m., Wednesday Sept. 22.