Millions of genealogists are familiar with the records of Ellis Island, the immigration portal that processed millions of immigrants to these shores. How many of us know where the island got its name?
In 1630 the colonial governors of Nieuw Amsterdam purchased a small, 3.5-acre mud bank in Upper New York Bay, near the New Jersey shore. The Indians called it Kioshk, or Gull Island, after the birds that were its only inhabitants. Together with Bedloe's and several other islands in the harbor, it formed what the Dutch called the Oyster Islands, after the many surrounding oyster beds. The island barely rose above the surface at high tide.
The tiny island was bought and sold several times. By 1776 the island was owned by Samuel Ellis, a New York merchant and owner of a small tavern on the island catering to fisherman. He modestly called the place "Ellis' Island."
In 1794, the State of New York seized the island and secured it as part of its harbor defenses against a war with Britain and France that fortunately didn't materialize. The state of New York apparently did not compensate Samuel Ellis for his island.
Ellis died, and in 1808 the New York State paid his heirs for the land. The name Ellis Island stuck. Later in the year, the Federal Government bought Ellis Island for $10,000.
You can read more about the history of Ellis Island at http://www.ellisisland.org/genealogy/ellis_island_timeline.asp