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Archives & Special Collections

Special Projects

On this Web page you will find information about special projects on which Archives & Special Collections is focusing.

  • William Gamble Commonplace Book Conservation Project. The Archives and Special Collections is raising money to contract for professional conservation of the William Gamble Commonplace Book. In addition to stabilizing the volume, conservators at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia will create a physical copy that researchers will be able to handle and a digital intermediary for remote use. If you'd like to help us with this important project, please consider donating:  https://library.csi.cuny.edu/archives/donations
  • Documentation Projects. With funding from the NYS Archives Documentary Heritage Program, The CSI Archives & Special Collections has successfully undertaken three documentation projects concerning Staten Island. The first project was an effort to collect material documenting the history of the Willowbrook State School. The Archives & Special Collections has amassed a collection of oral histories, newspaper clippings, and personal papers reflecting the experiences of residents, their relatives, and staff members. The Archives & Special Collections also spearheaded an effort to collect and document the community response to the events of September 11, 2001. This collection includes speeches, photographs, ephemera, and newspaper clippings. Below are included links to each of the documentation projects.The Archives and Special Collections is currently engaged in a project to document the disability rights movement in New York City.

William Gamble and His Commonplace Book

  • The William Gamble Commonplace Book. Gamble was a highly skilled draftsman and calligrapher. The bound manuscript volume in our collections appears to be a gathering of some of his finest works including: a prospectus for an encyclopedia that presents sample pages of information charts, an example of micro-calligraphy, a self-portrait, and a map of Staten Island.
  • Gamble in New York, 1759-1782. William Gamble was born in Dublin, Ireland about 1730, the second son of a linen merchant who had a large family. When his father died in 1749, William received £200 outright. He subsequently left Ireland for America and probably arrived in the late 1750s. He settled in Albany, where he probably operated a mercantile business. He was a freemason and by 1769 was Grand Master of the town's Ineffable Lodge, also serving as a scrivener and creator of tracing boards for certificates. After the imposition of the Stamp Act in 1765, Gamble applied for the office of Stamp Collector and in 1766 when colonial protests over the act escalated, rioters attacked his house. Remaining loyal to the Crown, Gamble's situation in Albany became precarious. Through his brother he tried to obtain positions elsewhere. Finally, in March 1777 he obtained permission from the relevant Colonial Committee of Safety to leave Albany and go to New York.  A December 1777, newspaper recorded his passage to New York with his son George (Augustus). Although George was an ensign in the British army by 1778, it is unclear when William received an appointment to the Commissary, a civilian department of the British army.
  • Gamble on Staten Island, 1782-1783. In May 1782, Gamble appears in an official document as Assistant in the Commissary at Staten Island. While he was on Staten Island, he utilized his cartographic training to map British troop encampments on Staten Island (the map is one of the most interesting parts of the Commonplace book). He remained on Staten Island until the evacuation of British troops from New York in October 1783. Gamble was assigned to take spare provisions to the Bahamas, where many Loyalists went into exile after the Revolution.
  • Gamble Post-Revolution, 1783-1795. Gamble was appointed Commissary of Provisions in the Bahamas, a significant promotion. He was responsible for obtaining food for Loyalist settlers until they were able to establish themselves and grow crops. William and his son George would flourish in the Bahamas. By 1790, William controlled 3,060 acres of land on the Caribbean islands of new Providence, Middle Grand Caicos, and Grand Caicos, as well as a sloop, the 'Argus,' and 26 slaves. He also held positions in the Council of the Bahamas, earning the right to be referred to as the "Honourable William Gamble Esquire." He died in January 1795.

William Gamble: A Sketch

Kerner’s research on William Gamble grew out of her project to transcribe and research the content of over 100 letters, many of which have references to William’s younger brother Major Thomas Gamble (c. 1735-1821), who served in the British Army during the American Revolution. After Thomas retired to Little Gaddesden England, a very wealthy man, he maintained acquaintanceships and friendships with Americans, including Aaron Burr, and Benjamin Franklin’s son William. She plans to publish her work in 2022.

Willowbrook Documentation Project

The College of Staten Island’s Archives and Special Collections is building a collection of materials documenting the “unofficial” history of the Willowbrook State School. The records constituting the official history (memos, reports, financial records, legislative materials, etc.) are in the hands of the New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disability and the New York State Archives.

We are collecting materials that reflect the experiences of residents, staff members at all levels, and parents and caregivers. This unofficial history is an important resource for historical research and could include correspondence, event posters, newsletters, flyers, photographs, newspaper clippings, or notes. Those with materials of memories to share can contact the archives. Email archives@csi.cuny.edu, or write to us at:

Willowbrook Project
Archives & Special Collections, 1L-216
College of Staten Island Library
2800 Victory Boulevard
Staten Island, NY 10314

The history of the Willowbrook State School is crucial to understanding the history of the treatment of people with developmental disabilities. The College of Staten Island, as the institution that has come to occupy the site of the school, has a unique opportunity to make information available about the school’s history.

How to Find Patient Information

Some people contact us concerning specific patients. Access to records of patients is held by state repositories and is indefinitely restricted. However, former Willowbrook residents, their legal representatives, immediate family members and descendants may request this information.

Requests should be communicated to:

The New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities

The New York State Archives

The Staten Island Developmental Disabilities Council

Documenting the Disability Rights Movement in New York City

As a reflection of The College of Staten Island Archives and Special Collections commitment to documenting the Willowbrook story, the archives is using a New York State Documentary Heritage Planning Grant to look at the disability rights movement in New York City. The disability community is diverse, but civil rights and social inclusion are shared goals. The project team is reaching out to a broad group of stakeholders, some of whom have previously gathered to discuss the need for a central archive of disability rights history for the New York City metro area and an institutional partner for the undertaking. Discussion participants have ties to 504 Democratic Club, American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today (ADAPT), Camp Jened (Hunter, NY), Disability Independence Day March, Disabled In Action (DIA), the NYC Department of Education, District 75, and The Arc. With the College of Staten Island as an institutional partner, the grant-funded project will build on earlier efforts and expand outreach to independent living centers throughout the five boroughs and disability-specific organizations. The project is committed to making certain that documentation for the disability rights struggle be preserved and available to researchers.We are currently conducting community outreach to determine the scope of the project. If you have materials that should be a part of this archive, please read this announcement and fill out a brief form.