There were 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 43 of whom have (or had) streets named for them in South Williamsburg and Bed-Stuyvesant. These streets were mapped and named around 1846, when this area of the city of Brooklyn (then generally called East Brooklyn) was just being developed. The 13 signers not commemorated in East Brooklyn[i] already had streets named for them elsewhere in Brooklyn (or streets that coincidentally had the same name, and thus conflicted).
As originally conceived, all of the streets in South Williamsburg (between Division Avenue and Flushing Avenue) were to be named for signers of the Declaration of Independence. In Bed-Stuy east of Nostrand Avenue the streets were named for signers and other patriots (heroes of the Revolution and the War of 1812), as well for local landowners. Some of the streets named for the signers have disappeared over time – either renamed or removed from the map entirely. Others have been extended north into Williamsburg (which was not part of Brooklyn until 1855). And a few of the streets probably only existed on paper and have either disappeared entirely or were long ago renamed.
Here are the 56 signers and the streets named for them:
John Adams and Samuel Adams (both of Massachusetts). Adams Street in downtown Brooklyn had previously been named in honor of John Adams. (According to Benardo and Weiss’ Brooklyn by Name, Adams Street was originally Congress Street; Joshua Sands had the street renamed in honor of the first Vice President, who had named Sands as Port Collector for the Port of New York.).
Josiah Bartlett (Massachusetts). Bartlett was the second signer of the Declaration and one of a few medical doctors. Located in the Broadway Triangle area of South Williamsburg, runs for two and half blocks from Broadway to Flushing Avenue.
Carter Braxton (Virginia). Windsor Place in Windsor Terrace was formerly Braxton Street. This street appears to have been in existence prior to 1846, so no Braxton Street in East Brooklyn.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton (Maryland). Only Catholic signer of the Declaration and the last surviving signer when he died in 1832 at the age of 95 years old. As a Roman Catholic, Carroll was a hero amongst early Catholic immigrants, particularly Catholics, and thus Carroll Street (and Carroll Gardens) had already been named for Charles Carroll by the time of the Patriot streets.
Samuel Chase (Maryland). Kent Avenue from Flushing to Division Avenue (the Brooklyn/Williamsburgh city line) was formerly Chase Avenue. In 1846, Kent Avenue terminated at Flushing Avenue; the name was extended north pretty early on (it is not clear if Chase Avenue actually existed or was just a name on a map).
Abraham Clark (New Jersey). Clark Street in Brooklyn Heights existed prior to 1846.
George Clymer (Pennsylvania). Clymer Street runs from Division Avenue to Kent Avenue, and today is the northernmost street named for a signer that retains its original length.
William Ellery (Rhode Island). Located two blocks south of Flushing Avenue in Bed-Stuy. The street is now three discontinuous blocks, the remaining portions removed for the construction of Marcy Houses and Woodhull Hospital.
William Floyd (New York). One of three Long Islanders (the others being Francis Lewis and Philip Livingston) to sign the Declaration of Independence, he has now been fully erased from the street map. Floyd Street located between Stockton Street and Park Avenue in Bed-Stuy. Most of the street was removed as part of the construction of various public housing developments; the one block between Marcy and Tomkins Avenues remains, but has renamed Martin Luther King, Jr. Place. PS 59, the William Floyd School, at the corner of Throop and Park Avenues sits across part of the former Floyd Street.
Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania). Franklin Avenue, which runs south from Flushing Avenue (a continuation of Wythe Avenue), probably existed prior to the patriot naming spree in East Brooklyn. There is also a Franklin Street in Greenpoint, although that name came later.
Elbridge Gerry (Massachusetts). Gerry Street is located in the Broadway Triangle area, running for about three blocks from Broadway to Flushing Avenue. Gerry was Vice President under James Madison and is the source of the term gerrymander.
Button Gwinnett (Georgia). Now part of Lorimer Street, Gwinnett Street used to be located in the Broadway Triangle area, running from Broadway to Flushing Avenue, between Middleton and Walton Streets. When the street grids of Williamsburg and Brooklyn were rationalized in the 1860s to 1880s, most of the Brooklyn names were extended into Williamsburg. Gwinnett Street was an exception, taking its name from the street in Williamsburg.
Lyman Hall (Georgia). In 1836, there was already Hall Street in Gowanus (no longer extant). The Hall Street is in Wallabout/Clinton Hill was formerly Houston Street, and was renamed sometime after 1846.
John Hancock (Massachusetts). Hancock Street in southern Bed-Stuy runs from Broadway to Franklin Avenue.
Benjamin Harrison (Virginia). Harrison Avenue runs from Flushing Avenue north to Division Avenue in South Williamsburg.
John Hart (New Jersey). Hart Street in central Bed-Stuy runs from Broadway to Nostrand Avenue.
Joseph Hewes (New Jersey). Hewes Street historically ran from Broadway to Kent Avenue; the western block or so was eradicated in the 1950s to construct the BQE.
Thomas Heyward Jr. (South Carolina). Heyward Street runs from Broadway southwest to Flushing Avenue in South Williamsburg.
William Hooper (North Carolina). Hooper Street historically ran from Broadway to Kent Avenue; it is now bisected by the BQE.
Stephen Hopkins (Rhode Island). Hopkins Street is located a block south of Flushing Avenue. Historically it ran from Broadway to Nostrand Avenue; it is now bisected by Marcy Houses and Woodhull Hospital.
Francis Hopkinson (Pennsylvania). Thomas Boyland Street in the Broadway Junction area was formerly Hopkinson Street.
Samuel Huntington (Connecticut). There is a Huntington Street in South Brooklyn (Carroll Gardens/Red Hook) that pre-existed the street namings in East Brooklyn.
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia). The author of the Declaration of Independence gets two streets named for him – Jefferson Avenue in Bed-Stuy was part of the patriotic street naming program in the 1840s. Jefferson Street nearby in Bushwick was named much later.
Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee (Virginia). Lee Avenue in South Williamsburg is named for the brothers Lee of Virginia. (The Lee brothers were first cousins, twice removed, of Robert E. Lee.)
Francis Lewis (New York). Lewis Avenue runs from Broadway south to Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy. Lewis had an estate in Whitestone, Queens and has a boulevard and school named for him in Queens.
Philip Livingston (New York). Philip Livingston was the only Brooklyn signer of the Declaration. The Livingston family was one of the earliest Dutch families in colonial New Netherlands/New York, with a vast estate near Kingston. Philip Livingston had an estate of about 40 acres in what is now Brooklyn Heights, and Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights had already name for him as a result.
Thomas Lynch Jr. (South Carolina). Lynch Street runs from Broadway south to Wallabout Street in the Broadway Triangle/South Williamsburg area.
Thomas McKean (Pennsylvania). McKean is the only signer whose name has never appeared on a map of Brooklyn, and that is only due to a spelling error. Whoever had the job of reading the Declaration and writing down all the names misread “Thomas McKean” as “Thomas M. Keap”, and thus Keap Street (which originally ran from Kent Avenue northeast to Broadway) is “named” for Thomas McKean. In 1886, Tenth Street in Williamsburg was connected to and renamed Keap Street. The western end of Keap Street has been bisected in two places, first by the BQE and then by the construction of the Bedford Gardens housing project.
Arthur Middleton (South Carolina). Middleton Street runs from Broadway south to Wallabout Street in the Broadway Triangle/South Williamsburg area.
Lewis Morris (New York) and Robert Morris (Pennsylvania). Two signers, but they got the shortest street out of all the signers AND the street probably never existed in real life. On the map it was a one block stretch, just south of Division Avenue and north of Rush Street. In the 1846 map the street didn’t even extend to Kent Avenue as that part of the shore had not been landfilled, and the street does not appear on any subsequent maps. Lewis Morris was born in New York and had a large farm in what is now the Bronx and is the origin of the neighborhood name Morrisania.
John Morton (Pennsylvania). Morton Street in the northern part of South Williamsburg is the block north of Clymer Street. Today a small section of Morton Street remains, connecting Bedford Avenue to Juliana Place in the Kent Village housing development.
Thomas Nelson Jr. (Virginia). A Nelson Street in South Brooklyn already existed. Given its location a block north of Huntington Street, it is possible that the two street were named for signers Samuel Huntington and Thomas Nelson, Jr. Or perhaps it is a coincidence.
William Paca (Maryland). Rockaway Avenue between Hopkinson Street and Stone Street was once Paca Street.
Robert Treat Paine (Massachusetts). Not the Common Sense one, that was Thomas - unrelated. Paine Street was a victim of a very early “urban renewal” project – the proposed creation of the Wallabout Canal. What is now Wallabout Street between Marcy Avenue and Broadway was once mapped as Paine Street. In 1848 the city embarked on a project to turn Wallabout Creek, which ran roughly parallel to Paine Street, into a canal with esplanades on either side. From Kent Avenue to Marcy Avenue, parallel and just north of Flushing Avenue, the creek was straightened; past Marcy, the canal turned to the northeast to follow the route of Paine Street. A new street – River Street - was laid out to either side of the canal, creating an esplanade along the canal route. By 1874, the canal was gone and the street was renamed Wallabout Street. Paine Street and River Streets existed for very brief periods of time, but the route of the canal does explain the ongoing flooding issues in that area of South Williamsburg.
John Penn (North Carolina). Penn Street runs from Broadway to Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg, a block south of Hewes Street.
George Read (Delaware). Reed Avenue (later Reid Avenue), which is now Malcolm X Boulevard, was likely named for George Read (not the worse spelling mistake, see McKean, above).
Caesar Rodney (Delaware). Rodney Street originally ran from Kent Avenue to Broadway. In the 1880s the Ninth Street in Williamsburg was renamed Rodney Street. Sections of Rodney Street in South Williamsburg have been lost to the construction of the BQE and the Bedford Gardens public housing complex.
George Ross (Pennsylvania). Ross Street runs from Kent Avenue to Williamsburg Street West.
Dr. Benjamin Rush (Pennsylvania). Rush Street was the second street south of Division Avenue, and, after Morris Street, the second shortest of the Signer streets. Unlike Morris Street, Rush Street actually existed in real life, although it has all but been removed by the construction of Kent Village and the Park Plaza Apartments. The sort of street/parking lot between Roberto Clemente Ballfield and Park Plaza is actually the remnant of Rush Street.
Edward Rutledge (South Carolina). Rutledge Street runs from Kent Avenue to Broadway, between Penn and Heyward Streets.
Roger Sherman (Connecticut). Sherman Street in Prospect Park Southwest existed at the time of the East Brooklyn street namings; probably not named for Roger.
James Smith (Pennsylvania). Historically there was a Smith Street in South Brooklyn and another in East Williamsburg, neither of which were named for James Smith of Declaration of Independence fame. After consolidation, the Smith Street in Wiiliamsburgh was renamed Humboldt Street.
Richard Stockton (New Jersey). Stockton Street originally ran from Nostrand Avenue to Broadway in Bed-Stuy. Most of it was removed for different public housing developments, but two block-long sections remain, one between Marcy and Tompkins and the other between Lewis Avenue and Broadway. Stockton also has a rest stop named in his honor on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Thomas Stone (Maryland). Sherlock Place in the Broadway Junction area was originally Stone Street.
George Taylor (Pennsylvania). Taylor Street in South Williamsburg ran from Kent Avenue to Broadway, where it meets up with Roebling Street. A section of the street was removed to construct Taylor-Wythe Houses.
Matthew Thornton (New Hampshire). A one-block street at the southernmost edge of Broadway Triangle.
George Walton (Georgia). Walton Street runs from Wallabout Street to Broadway in South Williamsburg/Broadway Triangle.
William Whipple (New Hampshire). A two-block long street at the southern end of Broadway Triangle, Whipple Street runs from Flushing Avenue to Broadway.
William Williams (Connecticut). Probably excluded due to a conflict with the pre-existing William Street (singular), which is now Pioneer Street in Red Hook. There is a Williams Avenue in East New York, but that was not part of Brooklyn in 1846. There was also a William Street in Greenpoint (now Monitor Street) and a William Street in Bushwick (now Aberdeen Street).
James Wilson (North Carolina). Wilson Street ran from Kent Avenue to Broadway, a block south of Taylor Street. Like Taylor Street, a half-block section has been removed to construct Taylor-Wythe Houses.
John Witherspoon (New Jersey). Vernon Avenue in Bed-Stuy, a block south of Myrtle, was originally mapped as Witherspoon Street.
Oliver Wolcott (Connecticut). Probably excluded do a conflict with the pre-existing Wolcott Street in South Brooklyn (Red Hook).
George Wythe (Virginia). Wythe Avenue, which originally ran from Flushing Avenue to Division Avenue, was named for George Wythe. In the 1880s, the name was extended north to Second Street in Williamsburgh. Coincidentally, George Wythe was a mayor of Williamsburg, Virginia.
[i] Samuel and John Adams, Braxton, Carroll, Clark, Hall, Huntington, Livingston, Nelson, Sherman, Smith, Williams and Wolcott.