The island was called Gull Island by the Indians and Oyster Island by the Dutch. Later the English erected a gibbet or gallows on the island for hanging criminals and so the island became known as Gibbet Island. The Indians sold it to the Dutch East India Company for trinkets. The company later sold it to Mynheer Paauw who also bought land along the New Jersey coastline. Samuel Ellis, a colonial merchant bought the island and it became at last Ellis Island. After the Revolution, the island was sold to New York State and in 1811 Fort Gibson was built on it in preparation for the War of 1812. No fighting took place at Fort Gibson, it was mainly a munitions storage fort.
When immigrants began pouring into New York City, New York State processed them at an old fort known as Castle Clinton on the Battery at the tip of Manhattan. When that facility became too small for the large number of immigrants arriving in the country, they chose Ellis Island as the new immigration center. After erecting new wooden buildings, it opened in 1892 but those buildings burned in 1897. New buildings were erected in 1900 and it reopened. Eventually the control of immigration was turned over to the Federal government. Over 15 million came to America through Ellis Island.