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The Peter Crippen House is an important link to Huntington’s nineteenth century African American history.  Unfortunately, the house, which has been vacant for twenty years, has fallen into a state of serious disrepair.  The Town of Huntington purchased the property in late 2019 to use as a parking lot for the Town’s sewer plant, which is located next door.

Thanks to a Technical Assistance Grant from the Preservation League of New York State, the Town was able to hire a consultant to determine if and how the oldest section of the house could be relocated to a site more suitable to its long term preservation.  We are currently awaiting the results of that study.

The Crippen House was originally constructed, circa 1658, as a grist mill. The mill remained in use through 1672, when it was closed due to concerns about the unhealthfulness of its mill pond. The mill building was sold and around 1674 moved about 525 yards to the north to its current location close to the head of Huntington Harbor where it was converted to residential use. Preliminary analysis of the building confirms its construction as an industrial building rather than as a residence. Its heavy timber framing, dimensions, and sturdy proportions are reflective of industrial Dutch framing of the period. The building is a rare, early surviving example of this building type.

Crippen Aerial

The 1658 mill was built on Mill Lane near the blue arrow. The red circle is its current location.

Over the next two centuries, ownership of the mill building and the property on which it sits was transferred among various local residents, including members of the Scudder family, who appear to have built another mill on Creek Road, and later Zophar Platt who built a third mill further north in 1752.  John Brush acquired the Platt mill and the property containing the first mill building in 1785.  Some time before 1835, the first mill building was acquired by members of the Johnson family who sold it to Elbert Walters.  In 1854, Walters sold a small parcel immediately to the south of the first mill building to an African American named Nelson Smith.  Ten years later, he sold the converted mill building to Peter Crippen.

Crippen was born ca. 1809 on a Virginia plantation. Thomas Crippen, the Quaker owner of the plantation, manumitted all of his enslaved people, including Peter Crippen’s parents, privately in accordance with a 1782 Virginia law. As a result, Peter was born a free person. A lack of financial assistance, dangers related to travel, and legal challenges to the 1782 law prevented Peter’s family from immediately relocating. They remained on the plantation and in 1818, Sarah Crippen, who had inherited the plantation from her father, filed a new deed of manumission for Peter and his father.

By the 1830s, following the Nat Turner rebellion, life as a free black person in Virginia became increasingly difficult.  Peter’s father had died in the late 1820s. Around the same time, the owner of a brickyard in Huntington began actively soliciting workers from Virginia. Peter Crippen arrived at the brickyard by 1836.   Eventually, he lived in the Cold Spring Harbor section of town where he worked for a member of a wealthy family and later worked in the West Hills section.  When he lived near Huntington Harbor, he supported his family by fishing, clamming and gathering seaweed.  He also worked for local farmers and tended his own small garden.

Crippen played an important role in the local African American community. In 1843, he was one of the seven founders of the African Methodist Ebenezer Church in Huntington (now Bethel AME Church, which was listed on the National Register in 1985).  His neighbor to the south, Nelson Smith, was also a trustee in the AME church’s incorporation.  Census records over the years list Crippen as a laborer or fisherman.

While this property was on marginal land near the head of Huntington Harbor, the purchase reflected an important achievement for Crippen. As a landowner, he could assure a measure of safety and security for his family and for himself as he lived out his final years. The house was about a half-mile from the AME church and located within a small African American community. Land ownership by African Americans remained rare during this period. In addition to Crippen and Smith, Town assessment records confirm one other Black man was a landowner at the time.

Peter died in 1875, at about 65 years of age. The Crippen family continued to own the house into the early twenty-first century.

Crippen Mill Wing

The original mill building

While the house is in poor condition, it retains integrity and the ability to convey its historic significance. It is a remarkable and rare survivor illustrating two aspects of Huntington’s history, seventeenth century industry and early African American landownership.

In 1985, Town Historian Rufus Langhans inspected the house and recommended that the town acquire it and move it to another site that would be more suitable to its long-term preservation.  The matter was dropped until 2006 when the Town allocated funding for an archaeological study of the grounds and an architectural study of the house.  These studies were never completed because of questions about title to the property—the house had passed informally from generation to generation over the years since Peter Crippen had acquired it.  By 2019, those questions were resolved and the Town’s sewer district acquired the property with plans to demolish the house to build a parking lot.

Crippen 2006

In June 2020, the Huntington Town Board approved a contract with a local demolition company to raze the house in order to construct a parking lot for the sewer plant.  The Town proposed to try to save as many elements of the house as possible.  Media coverage of the plans to demolish the building was met with protest from many quarters.  In addition to emails pleading with the Town to reconsider the decision, an online petition garnered over a thousand signatures.  Soon, a group of Town officials and community leaders was assembled to consider alternatives to demolition and the Town Board postponed its demolition plans indefinitely.

The house sits on marshy land prone to flooding and is surrounded on two sides by the Town’s sewer treatment plant.  The committee agreed that the house should be relocated to a location that would be more suitable to its long term preservation and yet retain its historic context.  A vacant Town owned site on the other side of the sewer plant was selected.  The site sits on the major north south artery in the area and thus is much more visible.  At the same time, the selected site conveys the same context the house has on its current site.  The long-term plan for the house would be to make it a part of a future African American history museum. Volunteers are being asked to help establish an independent not-for-profit organization to organize and operate such a museum.

In November 2020, the New York State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Crippen House is eligible for listing on the National Register under Criterion B in the area of Ethnic History: Black for its association with Peter Crippen and under Criterion C in the area of architecture as a rare remaining seventeenth-century mill building on Long Island.

In addition, to widespread community support, the Town of Huntington’s African American Historic Designation Council as well as Bethel AME Church, and the NAACP, Huntington Branch support the Crippen House project. Preservation Long Island, the leading historic preservation organization in the region, has provided guidance and support for the project and has included the house on its 2021 list of Endangered Historic Places.

Crippen Artifacts

A few of the 513 artifacts discovered during the Phase I archaeology study.

A generous donation from the Manes Peace Prize Foundation funded a Phase I archaeology study of the property that was completed in February 2021. The dig received extensive media attention on local news sites, radio stations and all three New York City based television news programs.  Based on the results of the Phase I study, archaeological standards call for further study of the site.  Donations are being solicited for a Phase II study.

In February 2021, the Town Board voted to rename the street on which the house is located as Creek Road/Peter Crippen Way.  A historical marker is also to be installed on the site.  The contract with the demolition company has been canceled.

Much has been written about Huntington’s long and rich history.  Some topics, such as the American Revolution and Gold Coast mansions, receive more attention than others.  One neglected topic is slavery, which was a part of Huntington’s history for a century and a half starting in the seventeenth century and lasting until the abolition of slavery in New York State in 1827[1].

This account is based on Huntington town records that have been previously published, primarily Manumission Book of the Towns of Huntington and Babylon (originally printed in 1980 by Rufus Langhans and updated with additional entries by Stanley Klein in 1997) and Huntington Overseers of the Poor Records 1752-1861, by Rufus Langhans, 1986.  These printed volumes do not appear to include all the relevant records in the Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives.  Additional documents are being scanned and posted to http://www.nyheritage.org.

Slavery in New York dates to 1626 when eleven enslaved Africans arrived in New Amsterdam.  The extent of slavery in seventeenth century Huntington is unclear, but dates to the earliest years of European settlement.  A trail from 1660—seven years after the First Purchase—makes reference to an enslaved person.  Mary Sutten was charged with keeping and altering the property of Lide Higbe and enlisting the help of an enslaved African to pilfer the material.[2]  Six years later, Thomas Whitson sold to Jonathan Lewis a horse in part payment for Lewis’s man servant.[3]

A census completed in 1755 is perhaps the earliest enumeration of enslaved peoples in Huntington.  According to the census, 84 residents of the Town were enslaved.  These 84 persons were held in 54 households, which is an average of 1.55 enslaved persons per household.  The largest number held by one family was four.  There were about 363 taxpaying households at the time[4], which means 15% of tax paying households were enslavers.

Henry Lloyd, whose property on Lloyd’s Neck was then a part of the Town of Oyster Bay, held eight enslaved men and women.  One of those men was Jupiter Hammon, who was born on Lloyd’s Neck in 1711 and spent most of his life there.  Hammon was the first published African American poet.  To learn more about Hammon and his family read the excellent piece written by Rex Metcalf and Charla Bolton posted in the Long Island History Journal.  Preservation Long Island, which owns the Joseph Lloyd Manor House, has undertaken a project to come to a better understanding of Hammon’s life, work, and place in history.  More information can be found on the Jupiter Hammon Project page on PLI’s website.

One of the enslaved men included in the 1755 census was named Dick.  Over the course of 12 years, Dick was enslaved by six different men. In 1754, when he was 34 years old, he was sold by John Hewlett of Oyster Bay to Benjamin Jarvis of Huntington for £70.  On the 1755 census, Jarvis is listed as having one enslaved male and one enslaved female.  In 1760, Jarvis sold Dick to Thomas Jarvis, who ten months later sold him to Zophar Platt (who was the Town’s largest holder of enslaved persons on the 1790 census).  After two years, Platt sold Dick to Jonathan Scudder, who assigned Dick to Solomon Ketcham in 1766 for £50.[5]

New York newspapers in the eighteenth century often contained ads requesting the return of enslaved persons who had run away, including several from Huntington.  In 1757, Ned ran away from Isaac Brush, who offered a reward of forty shillings for Ned’s return.[6] 

Even as some Huntingtonians were granting freedom to those they enslaved, others sought the return of those who had run away. Long-Island Star, April 27, 1814.

Lue was described as having scars on his shins “by being scalded when he was a boy.”[9]  Bill also was scarred on his left hand and foot “by a burn when he was small.”[10]  One has to wonder if these scars were the result of accidents or punishment.

A Livt (sic) Joseph Luis was listed on the 1755 census as enslaving one male and one female.  In 1767, Joseph Lewis posted a notice that Daniel, age 21, and Ben, age 13 had run a way.[11]  Five years later, Ben ran a way again. Ben had been seen in New York City and it was feared he might try to escape by seeking employment on a ship leaving the city. [12]  Likewise, Nathanial Potter suspected that 16-year-old Harry would attempt to go to sea to escape enslavement in 1795.[8]

A heart wrenching example of the cruelty of slavery when children are born can be found in a letter dated October 22, 1817 to Benjamin Horton from Silas Wood, who would later serve in Congress.  Horton had conveyed an enslaved woman to a Mr. Mills for a period of eight years.[13]  At the conclusion of the eight-year term, the woman would be freed.  During those eight years, the woman gave birth.  Havens asked Wood to give a legal opinion as to ownership of the child.  Wood wrote that “Slaves by our law are considered as articles of property in the same manner as domestic animals.  And the Courts apply the general rules of property applicable to brute animals to them.”  Under those laws, Wood explained, the child became the property of Mr. Mills, even though the child’s mother had since gained her freedom.

By the time of the first federal census in 1790, there were 213 enslaved persons in the Town of Huntington, plus 15 on Lloyd’s Neck–two and half times more than 35 years earlier.  Sixteen percent of households held enslaved persons and on average there were now two enslaved persons per household.  Seventy-four residents were listed as “Other Persons” which would include indentured servants.  It is unclear to what extent “Other Persons” included people of color.  The enslaved population was 6.5% of the total.

Ten years later, the number of enslaved persons fell to 185, while the number of “Other Persons” rose to 113.  The number of enslaved persons dropped to 53 in 1810, while “Other Persons” rose to 208.  In 1820, there were 31 enslaved persons and the census included a new category “Free Colored Persons,” which stood at 179 (the number of “Other Persons” was 57).  In 1830, there were no enslaved persons in Huntington and 335 “Free Colored Persons.”  The population of people of color in Huntington remained in the 5-6% range through 1850.  It should be noted that the enslaved population included Indians as well as African Americans.

The drop in the number of enslaved persons reflected the gradual abolition of slavery in the State of New York.  In 1785, shortly after the end of the American Revolution, New York passed a law authorizing the manumission of enslaved persons under the age of 50 without bond provided that it was determined that the person to be freed was “of sufficient ability to provide for himself.”  A 1788 law allowed for the manumission of older enslaved persons provided the owner posted a £200 bond “to keep and save such slave from becoming or being a charge” to the town.

On March 29, 1799, New York enacted a law “for the gradual abolition of slavery.”  The law provided that any child born to an enslaved person after July 4, 1799 would be deemed to be born free.  “Provided nevertheless that such child shall be the servant of the legal proprietor of his or her mother until such servant if a male shall arrive at the age of twenty-eight, and if a female at the age of twenty five.”  The proprietor—or enslaver—was entitled to the labor of the child until the child reached the requisite age.  A later law required that the enslaver teach enslaved children to read.  If they could not read the scriptures by the time they were 21 years old, they would be granted their freedom, depriving the enslaver of seven years of an enslaved man’s labor (four years of a woman’s labor).

Under the 1799 law, an enslaver was required to record the birth of any child born to an enslaved woman within nine months of the birth and pay a fee of twelve cents (failure to do so would result in a fine of five dollars).  The proprietor had the option to abandon his or her rights to the services of the child.  If the proprietor abandoned the child, the proprietor was responsible for the support of the child until the child’s first birthday.  Then the child would be considered a pauper and could be bound out by the Town’s Overseers of the Poor “on the same terms and conditions that the children of paupers” are.  Until the child is bound out by the Overseers, the New York State would reimburse the expense of support up to $3.50 per month.  If the proprietor failed to give notice of the birth, he would be responsible for the child’s support until the age of 25 or 28, depending on the child’s gender.

The act also allowed proprietors to “immediately after the passing of this act to manumit such slave by a certificate for that purpose.”

Starting in 1801, laws were passed in New York limiting the ability to sell enslaved persons out of the state.  Stricter requirements were enacted over the years.  “From this we may conclude that there were some evasions of the Law of 1801.”[14]  In 1809, formerly enslaved persons were permitted to own property and to marry.

Throughout the first quarter of the nineteenth century several other laws and amendments to existing laws were passed in New York.  Finally, in 1817, New York enacted a law declaring that “every Negro, mulatto, or mustee, within this state, born before July 4, 1799, shall, from and after July 4, 1827, be free.”  Children born to enslaved mothers after July 4, 1799 could remain bound until they reached the requisite age.

Documents in the Huntington Town Clerk’s Archives illustrate the effect of these laws.[15]  These documents pertain to 97 persons enslaved in the Town of Huntington.  Thirty-four of the documents involve children born to enslaved mothers.  Of these 21 are a recording of the birth of a child to an enslaved mother (two of which specifically state that the owner is not abandoning his rights to the child).  An additional 13 are abandonments. 

Fourteen of the surviving documents are manumission papers and 44 are certifications by the Town’s Overseers of the Poor upon an application for manumission that the enslaved person is under age 50 and capable of supporting him or herself. Two of the manumissions were to take place at some time in the future (3 years in one case, 5 years in the other).  Presumably, enslaved persons who were certified by the Overseers of the Poor were manumitted.

As noted above, from 1790 to 1810 the number of enslaved persons in Huntington decreased by 160.  While some of that decrease may be attributable to deaths, clearly not all manumission papers are included in the printed books.

A typical Overseers’ certification reads:

Whereas Jonah Wood of the Town of Huntington in the County of Suffolk and State of New York hath in pursuance of the provisions of the statute of the state aforesaid in such cases made and provided Made Application to us the undersigned Overseers of the Poor of the Town of Huntington aforesaid for the emancipation of A Certain Negro Man Named Samuel We have therefore examined into the State and circumstances of Said Slave and find him to be under fifty years of age and in our judgment and Opinions of Sufficient Ability to provide for and Maintain himself.  We do therefore Certify that we approve of and Consent to the Manumission of Said Slave In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our Names this fifteenth day of August in the year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and five 1805.[16]

Manumission of Charles and Experence by members of the Conklin family in 1820

The conditions of the 1785 law regarding certification of age and ability were followed even though the 1799 law did not require such certifications.

One document records an agreement between enslaver John Gardiner and Cato, who was enslaved by Gardiner,  pursuant to which Cato “is to have his Freedom in two years from the first of January One Thousand Eight hundred and two and [to] this we do both agree to and set our hands and Seals.”[17]  The Overseers of the Poor did not certify that Cato was under 50 and able to support himself until February 1806[18]—two years after he was to be freed under agreement.

Solomon Ketcham’s manumission of James on October 25, 1799 contains the following evocative phase: “[I] do hereby grant him full power to go where he may see fit.”[19]

Compare that grant to the experience of Peter Fleet, who was born into slavery in the household of Isaac Skidmore.  At the age of ten, he was sold to Gilbert Fleet and then sold to Augustin Fleet and Renselair Fleet and lived with them for about 14 years.  Then he was sold to Benjamin Van Wyck of Oyster Bay, who in turn sold him to Thomas Smith of Oyster Bay.  He was next sold to Benjamin Bayley of Brookhaven, who sold him to John Smith of Smithtown and then returned back to Bayley, who sold him to Simon Syren of North Hempstead.  After three years with Syren, Peter Fleet received his freedom and returned to Huntington, where he married and had seven children.[20]

While the law required enslavers to record the birth of a child born to an enslaved mother, it also allowed the enslaver to abandon the child. 

The main reason that so many slaveowners favored the abandonment program was that it provided them with compensation for the loss of their black children as permanent slaves. Abandoned children were turned over to the care of local overseers of the poor at age one and were legally considered paupers to be bound out to service. The law did not prohibit overseers of the poor from housing abandoned black children with the same masters who had just abandoned them until they were bound out to service. Former owners were paid $3.50 per month (reduced to $2 per month after March 26, 1802) by the poor officials for boarding the children they had just abandoned. Since overseers of the poor would be inclined to farm out such children back to the owner of the child’s mother for care, the abandonment program commonly functioned as a compensated abolition scheme. Masters received both monthly payments and the daily services of the children.[21]

No record of an abandoned child being bound out to the former enslaver has been located in the Huntington records.  However, it seems likely that the Overseers would have kept the baby with his or her mother.  To do otherwise would have been unduly harsh.  In 1807, the Huntington Overseers of the Poor submitted a certification for reimbursement to the State for the care of four abandoned children of enslaved mothers: two boys named James and two girls named Rachel.[22] 

James, who had been born on March 24, 1802, was abandoned by John Gardiner when he was four-and-a-half months old.  The Overseers applied for reimbursement of the expense of “maintaining and supporting” James from January 1 to March 24, 1806, his fourth birthday.  It is unclear what became of James after his fourth birthday.  James’s mother Darkis or Dorcas was manumitted by John Gardiner in 1812.

The other James had been born on May 10, 1803 and abandoned by David Fleet three months later.  Rachel had been born September 19, 1803 and abandoned by Abraham Van Wyck, Jr. when she was five months old.  The other Rachel was born December 23, 1803 and abandoned by Epenetus Sammis three months later on the same day as the first Rachel.

The report from the Overseers of the Poor for 1808 indicates that Benjamin Miller was paid $10 for taking in “Rachel Abandoned blk child.”[23]  The following year, Rachel was bound out to Isaac Hewlett.[24]  These records may refer to the two Rachels or to the same one.  In neither case was the person to whom Rachel was bound out, the enslaver who abandoned her.  Hannah, mother of the Rachel born on December 23, 1803, was manumitted by Epenetus Sammis in 1813.[25]

Thirty births to enslaved mothers were recorded between 1799 and 1805.  Of those, thirteen were abandoned; yet in 1807, the Overseers applied for reimbursement for the expense of supporting four children.  The ones whose births were recorded (including the two who were expressly not abandoned) were presumably cared for by their mothers’ enslavers. What of the other nine children?  Did they not survive until 1806?  Or are the records missing?

The Overseers of the Poor set the following terms for those they “hired out:”

The person or persons who takes Any of the poor is to find them meat, drink, washing, lodging & Nursing suitable and mend & find all their Clothing that is Necessary for one year from the date & return them as well clothed as they took them

The Overseers of the poor is to pay the Doctoring but must not call a doctor without Applying to the Overseers of the poor first, in case any of said poor persons should wander away or leave their home, the person who keeps them this year is to take care & see that such poor person is brought back and taken care of at their own cost without giving any other person any trouble and upon failure thereof the Overseers of the poor is to be enabled to Stop such cost out of the first Agreement as may arise from such failure.[26]

Lemuel Carll enslaved a woman named Margaret, who gave birth to four girls between January 1805 and February 1810.  Margaret herself was manumitted in April 1811.  The records of birth submitted by Lemuel Carll indicate that he named the children, not their mother.  According to the 1790 census, Carll enslaved one person; in 1800, there were two enslaved persons in his household; none in 1810 (even though Margaret was not freed until 1811).

One of the four girls whose birth Lemuel Carll recorded was Lydia, born on January 26, 1805.  In 1824, when she was 19 years old, Lydia applied to the Overseers of the Poor for relief.  She said that she lived with Lemuel Carll until she was 8 or 9 years old. She then went to live with Daniel Powell in the Town of Oyster Bay.  She did not know if there was a bill of sale or other documentation conveying ownership of her from Lemuel Carll to Daniel Powell.  Powell’s wife ordered Lydia to leave in March 1823.  Lydia was pregnant at the time; David Chatterton[27] of Oyster Bay was the father. 

Lydia returned to Huntington to live with Peleg, a man of color (a man named Peleg had been manumitted as an adult by Scudder Carll in 1815; it is unknown if this is the same Peleg with whom Lydia went to live, nor have I established the relationship between Lemuel Carll and Scudder Carll).  Lydia gave birth to a boy in June 1823.[28]

Records for Lydia’s sisters have not been found.

It is difficult to trace the experiences of those who had been enslaved.  A few named appear in multiple records, such as:

  • Harry was manumitted by Thomas Roe in 1823. The list of residents of the Huntington Poor House in 1850 lists a “Harry Roe of Col.”  He was in the Poor House from September 19 through October 10.   Presumably this is the same man who was freed by Thomas Roe in 1823.  He does not appear on the decennial census.
  • Twenty-eight-year-old Prince was granted his freedom by Abraham Van Wyck in 1802.[29] He then went to work for Isaac Hewlett and rented “Sundry tenements” from Hewlett.  He married and had two children.  In 1821, when he was 47 years old, he applied to the Overseers of the Poor for aid to buy fuel.[30]
  • Tamar, who was enslaved by widow Naomi Young, gave birth to twins Clarissa and Maryann on June 6, 1801. They were abandoned when they were seven months old.[31]  The Overseers of the Poor report for 1805 shows Maryann, age 4 years and 23 days, bound to Charles Colyer for $20 in June 1805.[32]  Claracy (presumably Clarissa) was bound out to the Reverence William Schenck for $40 in February 1806.[33]  The birthdates are off by three days, but these are undoubtedly the same girls abandoned by Naomi Young.  Why the Overseers paid twice as much for Clarissa/Claracy as for Maryann is a mystery.

In 1825, the Overseers purchased a farm on the west side of the Green to use as a Poor House.  Rather than being sent to various private homes throughout the town, the poor would be sent to this farm.  Within the poor house, the races were segregated.  According to the records, several people refused to go to the poor house.  The Trustees in 1825 ordered that all paupers were to be provided for at the poor house.  “Those who refuse to conform are to have no assistance except extraordinary cases at the discretion of the Overseers of the poor.”  That year nearly two dozen residents, Black and white, lived at the poor house.

Following the abolition of slavery, the number of people of color residing in the Town of Huntington increased 50% from 1820 to 1830 (210 to 335).  Economic opportunities must have been available here.  For example, Peter Prince was born in Westchester County where he lived until 1819 when he was at least 37 years old.  He then came to Huntington.[34]  Peter Prince died as a resident of the Poor House on February 20, 1836.[35]  Likewise, Thomas Tredwell was born in New Lots in Brooklyn and came to Huntington around 1820 when he was 35 years old.[36]  Elias Harden was born in Westchester and moved to Huntington in 1817.[37]

In the 1830s, there were several people of color, such as Peter Crippen, who came to Huntington from Virginia.  That is the next chapter of the story.

 

[1] Children born to enslaved mothers may have remained bound after 1827.

[2] Huntington Town Records, Vol. I, page 24

[3] Huntington Town Records, Vol. I, page 81

[4] Based on the assessment role in 1763, Huntington Town Records, Vol II, page 467.

[5] Huntington Town Records, Vol. II, page 418-420

[6] New-York Mercury, September 12, 1757

[8] Greenleaf’s New York Journal and Patriotic Register, January 24, 1795

[9] The Argus & Greenleaf’s New Daily Advertiser, May 26, 1795

[10] American Citizen, June 11, 1801

[11] New-York Journal, September 24, 1767

[12] New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, March 30, 1772.

[13] The letter is in the collection of the Huntington Historical Society

[14] The Negro and New York, 1783 to 1865, The Journal of Negro History, Vol 16, No. 4 (October 1931), page 393; posted at https://www.jstor.org/stable/2713870

[15] These documents have been transcribed and printed in Manumission Book of the Towns of Huntington and Babylon with some earlier manumissions and index 1800-1824 (Rufus Langhans 1980); updated with additional entries in 1997 by Stanley B. Klein, Ph.D.

[16] Huntington Manumission Book (1997 edition), page 19

[17] Manumission Book, page 72

[18] Manumission Book, page 23

[19] Manumission Book, page 68

[20] Overseers of the Poor Part 2, page 87

[21] Born to Run: The Slave Family in Early New York, 1626-to 1827, by Vivienne L. Kruger, MA. M.Phil., Ph.D. (Columbia University Doctoral Thesis 1985); posted at http://newyorkslavery.blogspot.com/2007/08/chapter-thirteen.html

[22] Posted online by the Town Clerk’s Archives at https://cdm16694.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16373coll130/id/653/rec/21

[23] Overseers of the Poor Book, page 8

[24] Overseers of the Poor Book, page 10

[25] Manumission book (1997), page 56

[26] Overseers of the Poor Part 2, page 1.  See also “My Brother’s Keeper, Caring for Huntington’s Poor”

[27] A David Chatterton had arrived from England in 1821 at age 18.  It is unknown if this would be the same David Chatterton

[28] Overseers of the Poor Book, Page 133

[29] Manumission Book, pages 67 and 69

[30] Overseers of the Poor Book, page 114

[31] Manumission Book, page 9

[32] Overseers of the Poor Part 2, page 2

[33] Overseers of the Poor, page 3

[34] Overseers of the Poor, page 109

[35] Overseers of the Poor, page 40

[36] Overseers of the Poor, page 110

[37] Overseers of the Poor, page 97

Before there were Highway Departments, roads were built by neighbors.  Local residents were expected to provide free labor to build and repair roads in each Town.  Huntington’s early town meetings included the designation of several men as overseers of the highways, who would coordinate needed road repairs.  Residents could pay to be relieved of their obligation or be subject to a fine.

In New York, eligible males were assessed

a minimum of three days of roadwork under penalty of fine of one dollar. The labor requirement could be avoided if the worker paid a fee of 62.5 cents a day. As with public works of any kind, incentives were weak because the chain of activity could not be traced to a residual claimant – that is, private owners who claim the “residuals,” profit or loss. The laborers were brought together in a transitory, disconnected manner. Since overseers and laborers were commonly farmers, too often the crop schedule, rather than road deterioration, dictated the repairs schedule.*

In order to address this problem and to help provide better access to markets, in 1807, the State of New York passed “An Act Relative to Turnpike Companies,” which authorized private investors to lay out and construct roadways and to charge a toll for their use.  By 1830, hundreds of turnpike companies were incorporated throughout New York State; although not all proposed turnpike roads were seen through to completion

In 1817, the legislature passed “An Act to incorporate the Huntington and Smithtown Turnpike company.”  The new company was authorized to sell stock to finance the construction of a toll road to run from the head of the Nissequogue River west to the Jericho Turnpike, which had been authorized four years earlier and which terminated at the county line.  The act authorized Silas Wood, Abel Ketcham, Charles H Havens, Jacob Harned, and Walter Jones “and all such others as shall associate with them to make a good and sufficient turnpike road.”

The road was to run “on or near the post road,” indicating that there was already a road covering at least part of this east-west route.  Two toll gates were to be established, one with a mile of the house of Jeffrey A. Woodhull in Comac and the other within a mile of the end of the Jericho turnpike.  The map below shows the location of the toll gate in Comac.  The section of the map that includes the western end of the turnpike does not show a toll gate.  Perhaps it was never built.

By June 1819, the road was being advertised as a convenient route to the trout fishing in central Suffolk county, noting it was seven miles shorter than the route from Brooklyn along the south shore.

1858 map showing the toll gate just west of Townline Road in Comac.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The toll depended on what was being driven as follows:

  • For every score of sheep or hogs, 12½ cents
  • For every score of cattle, horses or mules, 15 cents
  • For every horse or mule and rider, or led horse or mule, 7 ½ cents
  • For every chair, chaise, gig or sulkey, drawn by one horse 15 cents and for every additional horse 7½ cents
  • For every coach, coachee, chariot, phaeton or curricle drawn by two horses 37½ cents and for every additional horse 7½ cents
  • For every cart, stage, waggon (sic) or other four wheeled carriage, not before mentioned, drawn by two horses, mules or oxen 12½ cents and for every additional horse, mule or ox 6 cents
  • For every cart, waggon, sleigh or sled drawn by one horse or mule, 7½ cents
  • For every sleigh or sled drawn by two horses, mules or oxen, 9 cents, and for every additional horse, mule or ox, 4½ cents.

Frequent ravelers could buy a pass “for the privilege of using the road by the year, or for any less time.”  Travelers to and from public worship were excused from paying the toll.

Turnpikes promised little in the way of direct dividends and profits, but they offered potentially large indirect benefits. Because turnpikes facilitated movement and trade, nearby merchants, farmers, land owners, and ordinary residents would benefit from a turnpike.* 

No records of the Huntington and Smithtown Turnpike company have been located, so we do not know if that general rule applies.

Likewise, no information about early toll collectors has been found.  In the 1840s, David Conklin was “the keeper of the toll gate” until he died suddenly in his sleep on September 26, 1844.  By 1850, Samuel Brown was collecting the tolls.  Brown also operated an inn known as the Comac House, similar to the Huntington House and Northport House hotels in those communities—only they didn’t have a toll gate attached.  It is assumed that the hotel was located adjacent to the toll gate.

Tolls ceased to be collected when the turnpike company was abolished in 1856 and the road was declared a public highway.  Later the road acquired the name of its companion turnpike to the west.

 

*Klein, Daniel and John Majewski. “Turnpikes and Toll Roads in Nineteenth-Century America”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. February 10, 2008. URL http://eh.net/encyclopedia/turnpikes-and-toll-roads-in-nineteenth-century-america/

Early in the morning of July 16, in the midst of a nationwide debate about whether Confederate monuments should be removed, a statue of a Union soldier in Saratoga Springs, NY was knocked down and broken (read about it here). Officials are mystified as to why the statue was vandalized.

It is unlikely that a statue in upstate New York would be confused for a Confederate memorial; although statues in the north and south often looked the same because they were made by the same companies.  Union or Confederate?

There is a legend that all Civil War statues in the north face south and those in the south face north. Maybe that’s one way to tell them apart. It should be noted, however, that Huntington’s Civil War statue faces west.

Huntington’s Civil War Statue

In fact, Huntington’s Civil War Soldier was the subject of some speculation 65 years after it was dedicated. The Long-Islander asserted that “the granite soldier’s statue outside the former Huntington Library on Main St. cannot be identified as representing either side of the Civil War.” (August 11, 1960, page 5). The article concludes, “The case remains a mystery.” Why it was even a question is the real mystery. Why would Huntington’s Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Association, the organization that built the namesake building and had the statue erected, have a memorial to a Confederate soldier?

The statue was installed three years after the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Building was constructed. It was supplied by A. Klaber, described as “chief among the high-class marble workers” in New York City. The Association appointed Temple Prime, Thomas Young, and Joseph Irwin as a committee to purchase a statue to be placed in front of the new library building. The granite statue, which cost $1,300 (plus $69.47 to David S. Ireland for the foundation), was dedicated on Memorial Day 1895.

Twenty five years later, shortly after the end of World War I, a proposal was made to replace the granite statue with a bronze statue; presumably the new statue would be of a World War I soldier rather than a Civil War soldier. That proposal went nowhere.

A rendering of the memorial flagpole proposed to replace the statue

Another proposal, to replace the soldier with a memorial flagpole, was presented by five residents of Huntington to the trustees of the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Association at their January 6, 1920 meeting. The reported reason for the change was to have “something more aesthetic;” although one wonders if, in the aftermath of the devastation of the Great War, the proposal was spurred by a desire for something that was less militaristic, something that perhaps did not glorify war as much as a statue of a soldier. The proposal included a watercolor rendering of the flagpole.

As recorded in the Association’s minutes: “A majority of the members present were opposed to the change.”

And, of course, today the statue remains.

 

 

Karl Ampelmann’s visit to Huntington concludes with visits to several local churches.  This week, there is an extra question, but you still only need 7 correct answers to be entered in the prize drawing.

Karl’s authentically fictional story begins in Jagddorf, a small town in eastern Germany. He loves to explore the world on foot.  He has walked all over Europe.

Since the name of his town roughly translates to “Hunting Town,” he has sought out other places with similar names in different languages.  Searching such place names on GoogleMaps and then researching those towns further, he became intrigued by the Town of Huntington on the north shore of New York’s Long Island.  It had so many historic sites to explore as well as parks, beaches, hiking trails, and shops.

He arrived in Huntington a short time ago and has been seen walking everywhere, especially to Huntington’s many historic sites.

Have you spotted him?

Click the link below to play:

Click Here for Week 4

This contest will run for four weeks, with a different set of clues each week. If you identify all seven images correctly each week you will receive one entry in a drawing to win the grand prize, a set of local Huntington history books, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Each week you answer all questions correctly will be one entry, for four possible contest entries per person.

Karl Ampelmann’s visit to Huntington continues!

Karl’s authentically fictional story begins in Jagddorf, a small town in eastern Germany. He loves to explore the world on foot.  He has walked all over Europe.

Since the name of his town roughly translates to “Hunting Town,” he has sought out other places with similar names in different languages.  Searching such place names on GoogleMaps and then researching those towns further, he became intrigued by the Town of Huntington on the north shore of New York’s Long Island.  It had so many historic sites to explore as well as parks, beaches, hiking trails, and shops.

He arrived in Huntington a short time ago and has been seen walking everywhere, especially to Huntington’s many historic sites.

Have you spotted him?

Click the link below to play:

Click Here for Week 3

This contest will run for four weeks, with a different set of clues each week. If you identify all seven images correctly each week you will receive one entry in a drawing to win the grand prize, a set of local Huntington history books, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Each week you answer all questions correctly will be one entry, for four possible contest entries per person.

Karl Ampelmann’s visit to Huntington continues!

Karl’s authentically fictional story begins in Jagddorf, a small town in eastern Germany. He loves to explore the world on foot.  He has walked all over Europe.

Since the name of his town roughly translates to “Hunting Town,” he has sought out other places with similar names in different languages.  Searching such place names on GoogleMaps and then researching those towns further, he became intrigued by the Town of Huntington on the north shore of New York’s Long Island.  It had so many historic sites to explore as well as parks, beaches, hiking trails, and shops.

He arrived in Huntington a short time ago and has been seen walking everywhere, especially to Huntington’s many historic sites.

Have you spotted him?

Click the link below to play:

Click Here for Week 2

This contest will run for four weeks, with a different set of clues each week. If you identify all seven images correctly each week you will receive one entry in a drawing to win the grand prize, a set of local Huntington history books, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Each week you answer all questions correctly will be one entry, for four possible contest entries per person.

Meet Karl Ampelmann!

Karl’s authentically fictional story begins in Jagddorf, a small town in eastern Germany. He loves to explore the world on foot.  He has walked all over Europe.

Since the name of his town roughly translates to “Hunting Town,” he has sought out other places with similar names in different languages.  Searching such place names on GoogleMaps and then researching those towns further, he became intrigued by the Town of Huntington on the north shore of New York’s Long Island.  It had so many historic sites to explore as well as parks, beaches, hiking trails, and shops.

He arrived in Huntington a short time ago and has been seen walking everywhere, especially to Huntington’s many historic sites.

Have you spotted him?

Click the link below to play:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd5or5z2XbHTbVE3w9RwWPM299QX9yNnPR9HIs7CeJTXdO1fg/viewform

This contest will run for four weeks, with a different set of clues each week. If you identify all seven images correctly each week you will receive one entry in a drawing to win the grand prize, a set of local Huntington history books, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Each week you answer all questions correctly will be one entry, for four possible contest entries per person.

In 1965, the Town of Huntington placed a historical marker on the southwest corner of Main Street and Spring Road to commemorate Huntington’s Earliest Church:

Besides emphasizing a rather insignificant fact—the sales price—the marker compounded the error by using “LBS” to designate English currency instead of using the symbol £.

In September 2017, Harvey Spencer, an English ex-pat living in Northport, mentioned the error to me. Then a few months later another resident sent me an email complaining that “5 LBS is a measurement of weight, not money. 5 POUNDS should have been used, or perhaps the symbol. Most amusing, but reflects poorly on the town’s intellect.” Ouch.

As far as I know no one else had raised the issue in the 53 years the sign had been there—certainly not in the 18 years since I became Town Historian.

Of course, the English unit of currency originally did correspond to a unit of weight.  In the Middle Ages, silver coins were the common currency of several European countries. If one weighed 240 of those silver coins, he would find they weighed a pound.  Under the old system, a British Pound was made up of 20 shillings and each shilling was made up of 12 pence; or 240 pence to a Pound. After decimalization in 1971, a British Pound has only 100 pence, not 240. And a pound of silver is worth much more than a Pound (about 181 times more).

But that doesn’t excuse using Lbs in place of £. The lack of the proper symbol so offended Mr. Spencer that he and his wife Lesley agreed to pay for the not insubstantial cost of a new marker.

Surely, there must be something more to say about Huntington’s earliest church than the price it was sold for. Actually, there is not much more recorded about the original church. Nonetheless, the wording could be more complete:

The new mark recently installed on the southwest corner of Main Street & Spring Road.

One question still remained: exactly where was the first church building*?  As Al Sforza pointed out in his book Portrait of A Small Town II, Huntington, New York “In The Beginning,” there is some question in the historical record as to the location of Huntington’s first church building. Dr. Sforza cites three records to support a location on the north side of Main Street.

First, a footnote on page 306 of Volume II of the Town Records published in 1888, says the church was “on ‘meeting house brook’ (now Prime Avenue).” Since Prime Avenue is north of Main Street, this reference indicates the church was on the north side of Main Street. However, it is possible that the footnote refers to the road as it runs south of Main Street even though on the 1873 map of Huntington that road is labeled as Spring Street.

Another source, the 1882 History of Suffolk County, was written by Charles R. Street, who also provided the footnote above. That text asserts that the church stood “about where the thimble factory of Ezra C. Prime now stands.” The fact that the historical marker for Prime’s thimble factory is on the north side of the street seems to support the conclusion that the church was also on the north side of the street. However, by 1882, Ezra Prime had converted his first thimble factory on the north side of Main Street into a residence and had opened a second factory on the south side of Main Street.

The third reference is from Romanah Sammis’ 1937 book Huntington Babylon Town History, which states that the church was “on the north side of Oyster Bay Path and beside the stream which then became Meeting House Brook.” Mrs. Sammis may have been relying on Mr. Street’s statements.

In any event, each of these sources was written more than two centuries after the church was built and 167 years after it had been dismantled. In other words, there is no definitive support for either location, so the new marker was installed in the same location as the 1965 marker.

The current confusion about the location of the 1665 church mirrors the controversy about where to build a new church in 1715. As early as 1711, the townspeople agreed that a new church was needed. Forty men pledged various amounts ranging from £30 to 3 shillings to build the new church “in the hollow in the same place where the ould meeting house now standeth or near there abouts.” The total amount pledged was £228. 13s+. At the time, there were at least 132 heads of household living in Huntington.

No further reference to building a new church are found in the Town Records until four years later when notice was given to the inhabitants of town that “the Majer part of sd in habitants Doth agree to gitt timber for a new meeting house; to be sett upon the East hill.” So much for building in the hollow.

The dispute pitted the West End men against the East End men. The West Enders favored building in the hollow where the old church was. The East Enders wanted to build at the top of the hill to the east. It is hard to imagine that each side objected to having to walk an extra 200 yards up hill either before or after Sunday services. There must have been more to the dispute than a longer walk, but whatever it may have been has been lost to history.

By 1715, 14 of the men who had pledged to donate to build the new church in the hollow had changed their minds. There were an additional seven identified as “west end men” whose names had not appeared on the 1711 list who also consented to build the new church on the East Hill. Twenty-four of those who had pledged in 1711 did not consent to building on the East Hill; they were joined by 16 men who were not on the 1711 list of potential donors. So the supporters of building in the hollow remained at 40 in number, less than a third of the men of the town.

In March 1715, the East Enders suggested arbitration. Each side would select a minister and those two ministers would select a third to settle the matter after each side presented its case. The offer was made “for peace and quietness Sake that Soo we may be united amoung us and that wee may live to gether like Christians as wee ought to do.” The West Enders accepted the suggestion and by mid-April each side selected ten men to make its case before Mr. Magnis, minister of Jemeco (perhaps Jamaica), Mr. Pomarary, minister of Newtown and Mr. Wolcy, minister of Oyster Bay.

The ministers were apparently successful in resolving the dispute. In June 1715, the West End men agreed to locate the new church on the East Hill. It seems that they had previously taken matters into their own hands and began to build a new meetinghouse near the old church. As part of the agreement, the East End men agreed to reimburse the West End men for the expense in money and labor for erecting the framing for a new building and to move it to the hill. Once the new church was completed, the West End men “are to have Equall priveledge in and with the sd. House as if the whole town had built the sd. House in Equall proportion according to Estates.” The agreement was made “for uniting and Continuing us all in peace Love and unity.”

Two years later, Mr. Wolcy of Oyster Bay was invited to come to Huntington to assist Mr. Jones as minister of the new church. As for the old church, it was auctioned off to Jonas Platt, Jr. for £5. 2s. Mr. Platt was given a year to pay. What he did with the old building is not known.

And what of that new church built on the East Hill in 1715?  It served the community until the American Revolution.  At first the occupying British troops used the building as stable.  Then it was dismantled to build a fort on top of the Old Burying Ground.  Soon after the war, a third Old First Church was built.  It continues to be a place of worship today.

___________________________________________________

*  That original church or meetinghouse was built to comply with the newly enacted Duke’s Laws, promulgated by the Royal Governor soon after the English took control of the area from the Dutch. The Duke’s Laws provided that

Whereas the publique Worship of God is much discredited for want of painful & able Ministers to Instruct the people in the true Religion and for want of Convenient places Capable to receive any Number or Assembly of people in a decent manner for Celebrating Gods holy Ordinances These ensueing Lawes are to be observed in every parish (Viz.) 1. That in each Parish within this Government a church be built in the most Convenient part thereof, Capable to receive and accomodate two Hundred Persons.

 

+ To put that sum in perspective, in 1713, Jacob Conklin paid £96. 10s. 6d. for 2,792 acres of land in Half Hollow Hills. Charles Street notes in the Town Records (Vol. II, page 317 footnote), “How he acquired the large sums of money which he disbursed during this period in the purchase of lands was a mystery never fully solved.” According to legend, Conklin had been a member of the pirate Captain Kidd’s crew—either voluntarily or by force. At one point, Captain Kidd sailed into Cold Spring Harbor to replenish the ship’s water supply. Conklin, who had been born in Huntington, managed to escape with a tidy sum of money, which was either his wages or treasure he stole from the captain. Whether that’s true or not, it is a good story.

We are living in a historic time.  Never before have we experienced a pandemic like the current COVID-19 pandemic.  The closest event is the pandemic of 1918 (there are been three other pandemics in the last century, in 1957, 1968 and 2009).  With advances in medicine and public health policy, the connection between today and events a century ago may seem tenuous.  But sometimes the connections are personal and profound.  The first recorded death in Huntington from the 1918 influenza pandemic was Pasquale BiFulco, a 38 year old Italian immigrant who died at Huntington Hospital on October 13, 1918.  A century later, on April 1, 2020, Mr. BiFulco’s grandson, Dr. Al Sforza, the beloved historian of Huntington Station, died in the same hospital from COVID-19.

What was life like in Huntington during the 1918 pandemic?  What can we tell future generations about life during this crisis?

I will try to provide an answer to the first question.  I hope you will help to provide the answer to the second question.

The country was, of course, at war in 1918 and perhaps the worst of the pandemic was experienced in army camps.  The first cases in the United States were at an army base in Kansas in March of 1918.  At the end of September 1918, it was reported that there were 300 cases of influenza at Camp Mills in Nassau County, including one death.  A local doctor, Nathaniel Meyers, had left his thriving medical practice in Huntington to train as a surgeon in order to serve in Europe.  The 29 year old doctor died in New York City.  He is listed on the Town’s World War I monument at the Main Street entrance to the Old Burying Ground (at least three of the 39 Huntingtonians listed on the memorial died as a result of the pandemic).

As the trauma of the war subsided, the tragedy of the pandemic was accelerating.  In 1918, the Jos family lived on 8th St. in Huntington Station.  Nine year old Rose and her younger brother Joe contracted the flu.  Their mother Louisa used a conventional method of treating colds and applied mustard plasters to their chests.  The children recovered, but their mother became very ill.  Her husband and an older son raced to the nearest telephone which was located at Mullen’s Hotel near the train station.   Louisa died during the night on
November 8th before the doctor arrived the next morning.  She was 36 years old and left her husband with five children.  Rose Jos remembered watching her mother being taken away down the stairs; one of her brothers was crying.  She also remembered hearing all the church bells in the area ringing when her mother was laid out. It was Armistice Day.

The disease was known as the Spanish Flu not because it originated in Spain, but because Spanish newspapers were the first to report on the disease.  As a neutral country during World War I, Spanish journalists weren’t subject to censorship as journalists in the warring countries were.  Reporting on the pandemic was scarce in Germany, France and Britain.  (In Spain, the 1918 disease was referred to as the French Flu. We won’t get into a discussion of why the current disease is not the Chinese Flu.)

By late September, notices were published in the local papers to prevent “the alarming spread of the Spanish influenza all over the country.”  People were advised to “Keep out of crowds and away from theatres, movie houses and other places where people come together in large numbers.”  Use of handkerchiefs was encouraged.  Spitting was discouraged.  Those with colds were advised to gargle three times a day with a mix of “half a teaspoonful of table salt, half a teaspoonful of baking soda and six ounces of water.”

On October 4, The Long-Islander devoted one and a half columns to the Surgeon General’s report on the epidemic.  The report presented a review of previous epidemics back to 412 B.C. as well as the little that was known about the current manifestation of the disease.  The main step to be taken to avoid contracting the disease sounds familiar: avoid crowds.  However, unlike our current situation, the Surgeon General claimed that “the disease is too mild to make it advisable to stop all the activities of a city.”  He did recommend that “masks for sick-room attendants are advisable.”

Copies of this poster could be ordered from the Surgeon General’s office.

The Surgeon General concluded by noting, “The most dangerous form of human contact in the presence of epidemic influenza is, in all probability, that with coughers and sneezers.  Coughing and sneezing, except behind a handkerchief, is as great a sanitary offense as promiscuous spitting, and should be equally condemned.”  So much for asymptomatic spreaders of a virus.

The editor of The Long-Islander sought to allay people’s fears: “Don’t get frightened after reading that learned dissertation in our columns this week on Spanish influenza and take to your bed.  It is after all the old-fashioned grip and every time you cough or sneeze it does not signify you are going to have it.  Keep your courage up and avoid overcrowded cars and other meeting places.  Do not get too tired from overwork and eat moderately.  Live in the open air as far as possible.”

Two weeks later, the situation in Huntington took a turn for the worse.  By mid-October, it was reported that 151 children at the Union Free School in Huntington were home with influenza and four teachers were also sick.  One teacher, 22 year old Gertrude Ross, had died.  To put the impact of the disease in perspective, the graduating class of 1918 had 26 students, which means that the 151 sick students may have been about half the student population.  School officials asked Dr. Gibson, the Town’s Public Health Officer, whether they should close the schools.  Dr. Gibson said disease was “of a mild type” and advised that closing the schools was unnecessary, but that children showing symptoms of influenza should be sent home at once.  Within a week, the schools were ordered to be closed.

Pastors of the protestant churches in town canceled Sunday services.  The pastor of St. Hugh’s Catholic church held mass out on the lawn.

The shutdown didn’t last long.  Theatres and dance halls reopened on Saturday, November 2; churches on Sunday; and schools on Monday.  Time missed from school would be made up during the Christmas break and Lincoln’s birthday.

On November 8, the virus was reported to be “rapidly on the wane all over the country.”  The Huntington Board of Health was congratulated for taking the steps necessary to halt the spread of the disease.  A week later it was claimed that “the spread of influenza has been completely checked and there is no further danger.”

Another week passed and East Side School in Cold Spring Harbor had to be closed “owing to the sudden outbreak of the influenza in the village, several families being ill.”  By the end of the year, it was reported that “the influenza has broken out again in Commack and nearly every family has one or all members down with it.”  Before long, Teresa Rommandato of Commack had lost her husband, a son, and a daughter to the disease. Four other sons and two daughters survived and another son was born a few weeks later.

A notice from January 1919

During the course of the epidemic, like now, the shortage of nurses was noted.  People were also discouraged from hoarding–in 1918 it was coal that was in short supply.  Many miners had been sidelined by the disease.  Homeowners with wooded lots were encouraged to burn wood instead of coal.

Four months after declaring victory over the disease in November, the threat continued.  “It is said to be on the decrease just now on Long Island.  Let us hope it will soon run its course.”  The advice for staying healthy: “It is best not to overwork or what is more important, not to overeat.  Get full hours of sleep, avoid excitement and preserve a cheerful, sunny frame of mind.”

Although the basic advice to avoid crowds and cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing remains true today as it was in 1918, our current experience of the disease is much different.  Other than for a few days in late October, public life did not pause in 1918.  People went about their daily routine until struck down by the virus.  And decisions about whether to close schools and other public gathering places was made on a local level, varying from town to town.  Now these decisions are made on a statewide basis and rather than recommendations, the edicts are mandatory.  Those failing to maintain social distancing (i.e. staying six feet from others) may be subject to a fine.

Because the archives are closed, I have not been able to see what documentation there is, if any, about people’s experiences during the 1918 pandemic.  What did they do, what did they think, how did it affect them?  These are the types of questions I hope you will help us to answer for future generations looking back on 2020 and the extraordinary measures we have taken.

The Association of Public Historians of New York State is seeking your help in recording how we came through this crisis:

We are living in a historic moment in time! The COVID-19 crisis is reshaping our daily lives and our communities. In the future, others will look back and learn from our experiences. This is why it is so important to begin recording the history of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on New York State’s people and communities. What is happening to us right now must not be forgotten! We need to document our experiences so that they can inform the response to future crises.

The Association is seeking answers to questions such as:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What are you hearing and seeing around you?
  • What are you doing, and what effect is this having on you, your family, your neighbors, and your community?
  • How is your life different now than it was before the pandemic?

To help you record your answers, the Association has prepared a Google Form, which can be found at https://forms.gle/ZUxePXJLcQC2fKCK8.  The form requires a Google account.  If you don’t have an account and don’t want to create one, you can leave a comment here or send an email to me at rhughes@huntingtonny.gov.

Thank you for your help.  Be well.  Stay Home.