Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Tally Ho!

It is not surprising that one can stumble across pieces of Huntington history in any number of places throughout town.  But in Nashville, Tennessee?  A friend recently visited Belle Meade Plantation there and found a carriage made right here on Wall Street in Huntington village in 1884. 

The park drag or private coach, also known as a Tally Ho was the work of one of Huntington’s many nineteenth century carriage manufacturers.  William T. Downs, who had displayed a knack for building things as a school boy, learned carriage making at his uncle Frederick G. Sammis’ factory on Green Street.  During his apprenticeship, he developed the ability to build any type of carriage.  After a brief stint in Western New York, Downs returned to Huntington and opened his own carriage manufacturing business.  He soon developed a reputation for excellent workmanship. 

His success led to the need for a larger factory, which he built on the east side of Wall Street, half a block north of Main Street.  When the factory was completed in the Spring of 1884, he was also in the process of securing a contract to manufacture a large number of cabs for the New York Cab Company.  Unfortunately, at the same time, he became seriously ill and was not able to finalize the contract.

However, in August 1884, he was well enough to witness the delivery of his masterpiece—a Tally Ho for Frank A. Underhill of Oyster Bay.  A Tally Ho, also known as a Park Drag, was the conveyance for the wealthy set.  Coaching was a popular sport in England developed as a social and leisure activity based on the mail runs of the 17th and 18th centuries.  Apparently, the English aristocracy thought the mail carriers were having a lot of fun running their mail coaches through the countryside.  Of course, the aristocrats’ carriages were more luxurious than the mail carriages on which they were based.  Eager to emulate their English cousins, the American upper class took up coaching in the post-Civil War period.

A Tally Ho could seat up to ten passengers, who would sit on the outside of the carriage.  The carriage provided space to store equipment as well as food and drinks for picnics.  The high seats also provided a good viewing platform to watch horse races.  In New York City, an annual parade of these coaches down Fifth Avenue served to close the New York social season.

Underhill took delivery of his carriage on a summer Thursday morning accompanied by a party of eight.  A large number of residents gathered on Main Street to witness the state-of-the-art carriage led by four horses.  After showing off his new carriage in the village, Underhill and his party rode to Comac where two additional horses from the Carll Burr stables were added.  From there, they rode to Port Jefferson and then on to Bridgeport by ferry.  Their final destination was the White Mountains.

Three months later, Downs was dead at the age of 35.

The fate of the Underhill coach is uncertain, but it is unlikely that Downs had the chance to produce more than one Tally Ho.  The coach at display in the carriage house at Belle Meade Plantation was acquired by Edmund E. Richardson in 1888. It was used until 1896.  It was then stored in Mrs. Richardson’s carriage house at her St. Charles Avenue house in New Orleans. The donor purchased the coach in 1937. In 1966, it was donated to Belle Meade.

Downs’ Wall Street carriage factory continued in business under different ownership.  In 1905, it was purchased by Joseph Cantrell who developed his wood sided auto body to be place on an automobile chassis.  Cantrell’s Deport Wagon was the forerunner of the suburban staple, the station wagon.

A 1949 Cantrell Station Wagon

Read Full Post »

Thomas Powell

On a wet and cold Saturday afternoon in May 2022, the Long Island Chapter, National Society Colonial Dames, XVII Century recognized the Powell Cemetery where Thomas Powell, the founder of Bethpage, may have been interred three hundred years ago.

Powell was entrusted with delicate negotiations on behalf of the Town of Huntington with both the native population and the new governor of New York at a time of change for the young town.  Yet, almost immediately after completing that work, he left Huntington. 

Powell, whose father’s name was also Thomas, is thought to have been born in New Haven in 1641.  His father was part of the group of Puritans that travelled with the Rev. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton first to Massachusetts, then to Connecticut where they established the colony of New Haven.  Thomas, the son, may have been born in New Haven shortly after the colony was established in 1638.

Thomas Powell, Jr. apparently came to Huntington as an apprentice.  Previous writings contend that he was apprenticed to Jonas Wood of Halifax.  However, the existing records seem, to me at least, to point to Thomas Mathews as his master.  In his annotations to the Huntington Town Records, Charles R. Street writes that “it appears by the Court records that he [Powell] had, when younger, lived with Jonas Wood nine years.” (HTR Vol. I, page 56 footnote).

The court records to which Street referred seems to be a 1662 lawsuit between Thomas Mathews and Joanna Wood, widow of Jonas Wood to collect a debt of £54 2s 2d.  The case involved a dispute about rum and wine.  Mathews, Wood, and Edward Higbee were involved in the rum and wine trade.  In an earlier deposition, Mark Megs testified that he had helped Mathews load rum and wine onto a boat.  Megs testified that he understood that Wood and Higbee had purchased the rum and wine from Mathews and that there was no partnership among the three men, that is Wood, Higbee and Mathews.  The truth of the matter is not important for our purposes.  It only goes to show that the existence or non-existence of a partnership among the three men was in question.  (HTR Vol. I, page 13). 

In the 1662 case, Powell testified that the writing in his master’s book was read to Wood or Higbee or both at Daniel Whitehead’s house in Oyster Bay and one of them (Wood or Higbee) agreed that the record was accurate.  He further testified that he had lived with his master for nine years and that his master’s records had never been questioned.  Mathews then testified that the entry in his book was a true entry and that the wines there mentioned were delivered on board a boat on account of “Edward higbe Jonas wood and him selff.” (HTR Vol. I, page 42). 

Street seems to have been confused by a line (underlined below) in the records which lacks punctuation and also seems to be missing the word “of.” 

Thomas powell deposed sayth, yt the writings yts in his masters books was redd to good higbe or good wood one or boeth of them he cannot tell which : viz : that particular accountes his master good wood and good higbe : touching the 6 pipes of wine and the pipe of rum. [a pipe is approximately 108 gallons]

Street appears to read “his master good wood and good higbe” as identifying wood as Powell’s master.  However, in light of Mathews’ testimony that that liquor was delivered “upon account for Edward higbe[,] Jonas wood[,] and him selff” that line should be understood to mean that Powell’s master read the particular account of three men: Powell’s master, Wood, and Higbee.  In other words, the word “master” must refer to Mathews, not Wood.

Further support for the supposition that Powell was indentured to Mathews, not Wood, is a transaction in 1665 in which Powell sold land as an agent for Mathews (HTR Vol. I, page 64).  Powell also acted as an agent for Mathews for a land transaction in Oyster Bay in 1669 (OBTR Vol. I, page 56).  If he had once worked and lived with Mathews, it would make sense that Mathews would appoint him to act on his behalf.  Mathews would have been less likely to do so if Powell had worked for his adversary in the earlier court case.

In 1663, Powell purchased a home lot on Park Avenue near the Town Common.  This is now the property on which the Dr. Daniel W. Kissam House sits at 434 Park Avenue.  (HTR Vol. I, page 56).  Incidentally, Powell was also the recorder at the time.  He eventually owned several other parcels of land on both the north shore and south shore of Huntington (HTR Vol. I, page 128), including as part owner of one of the Ten Farms laid out in 1672 to counter claims to the Eastern Purchase asserted by Smithtown (HTR Vol. I, page 188).

Powell married Abigail Wood, daughter of Jonas Wood of Halifax, in 1664.  They had eight children.  Abigail died in 1688.  Powell’s second wife was Elizabeth Phillips, and they had seven children.  Over the years, Powell was entrusted with several public offices, such as layer out of land, overseer, and recorder.   

Powell may have converted to Quakerism in 1672 when George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends, visited Long Island.  There had been Friends in Oyster Bay prior to Fox’s visit.  In fact, Fox timed his arrival to be at Oyster Bay for the half year meeting, which lasted four days.  After the meeting Fox stayed on Long Island for a few days and “had meetings in several parts thereof.”  (George Fox’s Journal, Abridged by Percy Livingston Parker, Isbister and Company, London, 1903, page 433).  Fox returned to Oyster Bay after a visit to Rhode Island and “had a very large meeting

Prior to this time, Powell had been chosen in 1667 to serve as Constable (HTR Vol. I, page 110).  But when selected to serve as Constable fifteen years later he refused to serve “having scruples of swearing as the law directs” (HTR Vol. I, page 334).  He also refused to take the oath required by law when he was chosen to serve as Commissioner in 1684 (HTR Vol. I, page 390).

Likewise, Powell refused to pay the minister’s rate.  Huntington’s first minister, William Leverich, left town around 1670.  Eliphalet Jones then occasionally preached in Huntington until 1676 when he became Huntington’s second resident minister.  In addition to being given 20 acres of land, Jones received a stipend from the Town paid by the residents—except for Thomas Powell, whose refusal to pay the minister’s rate from 1676 through 1681 was noted in the Town records. (HTR Vol. I, page 308).  As a Quaker, he did not wish to support the Congregationalist minister.

Despite his refusal to pay his share for support of the minister, Powell was called upon to represent Huntington’s interests before the new Royal Governor.

When Thomas Dongan, the new governor of New York, requested that the Town surrender the patent issued in 1666 and be given a new one—at a higher quit-rent, Powell was appointed to handle the negotiations.  Dongan had been appointed governor by the Duke of York in September 1682.  In March 1686, the new governor notified the towns on Long Island that he would auction to the highest bidder their excess lands, i.e., lands granted to them under their colonial patents, but not yet purchased from the Indians.  The governor also advised the towns that would have to renegotiate their annual quit rents.  (HTR Vol. I, page 436). 

At the annual Town meeting in April 1686, it was unanimously voted to not surrender the Nichols Patent, but to give the governor a copy.  The Town, of course, did not wish to pay for a new patent at a higher quit rent.  The fact that the governor was Catholic probably added to the Puritan townsmen’s refusal.

The townsmen voted to appoint Powell and three other men to negotiate with the Indians to settle the boundaries between the Town’s land and the Indian lands and to purchase more land from the Indians.  (HTR Vol. I, page 440).  Two years earlier, Powell and three others were appointed at a Town meeting to negotiate with Indians who settled on the Town’s lands to pay rent or leave (never mind the fact that it was the Indians’ land to begin with). (HTR Vol. I, page 393).  Powell had also been one of three Huntington men appointed to meet with the Chickenoe of the Massapauge Indians to confirm the line between Huntington and Oyster Bay on the south side of the Island (HTR Vol. I, page 90).

In October 1686, Powell was chosen, along with Isaac Platt, “to ackt to ye best of their discretion in our behalf” in discussions with the representatives appointed by the Governor to determine which lands had already been purchased from the Indians.  (HTR Vol. I, page 468).

On November 4, 1686, Powell was elected to represent Huntington in Southampton.  Two weeks later he was selected to represent the Town in New York—that would be quite a task to travel from one end of the Island to the other.  (HTR Vol. I, page 470).  By the end of November, the Town offered to pay £20 for a new patent with a quit rent of 20 shillings.

The new patent wasn’t issued until August 2, 1688.  In that patent, Governor Dongan appointed Powell as one of the nine trustees of the “Freeholders and Comonality of ye Towne of Huntington” to manage the Town’s common lands. (HTR Vol. I, page 533).  Less than two weeks later, Edmond Andros replaced Dongan as governor and Powell was sent back to New York to negotiate with the new governor.  It is unknown what the negotiations would be about, and Andros did not issue a patent to Huntington to replace the Dongan Patent.

When all the negotiations were done, Powell submitted his expense report, which detailed his trip to New York, his meetings with the Indians (which were accompanied by quantities of rum), and his work marking the boundaries.  (HTR Vol. II, page 7).

After two years representing the interests of the Town, travelling back and forth to New York, meeting with the Indian sachem Swanamee, and marking boundaries, Powell left Huntington.  A deed dated April 18, 1689, identifies him as “latte of Huntington.”  (HTR Vol II, page 38). 

Where had he gone?

In 1695, Powell received a deed, known as the Bethpage Purchase, from the Indian proprietors of Massapege for a 15 square mile tract of land straddling the county border and encompassing the present-day communities of Bethpage, Farmingdale, Plainedge, Plainview, and parts of Melville.  The deed notes that “part of above bounded lands having been in ye possession of ye sd Thomas Powell above seven years before the signing and dellevry hereof.”  In other words, Powell was living there since 1688, immediately after he submitted his itemization of his expenses for representing the Town of Huntington in connection with the Dongan Patent.  The following year, he secured permission from the Huntington Trustees to purchase that portion of the land located on the east side of the county line.  (HTR Vol. II, page 188).

It is possible that the death of his first wife in 1688 had something to do with his decision to relocate.

Powell lived out his life in Bethpage.  In 1698, he helped organize the Bethpage Preparative Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.  He died in 1722.

Read Full Post »

Painters and photographers who recorded our community in years past allow us to see the community as they saw it.  Often the view is very different today: some houses no long stand, roads have been widened and paved, whaling ships no longer lie at anchor in the harbor, vistas are now obscured.  It is with these images created long ago that we can get a better understanding of the past.

For a view of late nineteenth century Long Island, one painter is indispensable—Edward Lange.  The artist was an immigrant from Germany who lived in Elwood from 1871 to 1889.  During those two decades, he painted at least fifty locales in Huntington alone; he produced dozens more across Long Island.  Often proud farmers would commission Lange to paint their tidy farmsteads.  Sometimes, local entrepreneurs would hire him to paint their businesses to serve as advertising and help attract customers.  Lange also painted vignettes of town scenes.  He would then photograph the painting and offer to sell prints to the public.

Preservation Long Island has almost thirty of his works in its collection, representing about one sixth of Lange’s known oeuvre on Long Island.  PLI is currently conducting an in-depth investigation into Lange and his work.  Once completed, there will be an exhibit at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook and a new book about the artist and his work.

Lange’s paintings are a treasured part of many local historical society and museum collections.  An untold number of others are in private hands, including a Cold Spring Harbor scene that was recently discovered in South Carolina.  The 1881 painting depicts a mansard roofed house on Shore Road that disappeared decades ago and had not been known to local historians.  It is an exciting and confounding discovery.

Edward Lange, Residence of William Neale, Cold Spring Harbor, 1881, Watercolor and gouache on paper, 17.625 x 24.125 (unframed), Collection of Rebecca and Charles Wadsworth. Image courtesy of Preservation Long Island.

The painting was discovered thanks to an internet request for Lange paintings posted by Preservation Long Island.  The owner had purchased the painting at a tag sale in South Carolina.  The painting does not identify the house or location, presenting local historians with a mystery to solve.

Peter Fedoryk, who is the Edward Lange Curatorial Fellow at Preservation Long Island, surmised the painting may be of a house on Shore Road in Cold Spring Harbor.  However, there are no mansard roof houses on Shore Road and local historians were not aware of any such house ever existing on Shore Road.  Not wanting to let a good mystery go unsolved, Toby Kissam and I spent the next month obsessing over this painting.

To start the hunt, Toby searched the term mansard roof in the online archives of The Long-Islander newspaper, which produced an intriguing clue from the August 11, 1876 edition.  The item reported that a worker installing a mansard roof for Mr. Neale had fallen from the roof.  He was not expected to live.  This sad news was our first clue.

The following month the paper reported that Mr. Neale was soon to move into his new house, “one of the handsomest houses on Ocean avenue.”  Roads usually did not have official names in the nineteenth century; and it is conceivable that Shore Road could have been called Ocean Avenue.  The only other item found referring to the elusive Mr. Neale was a probate notice posted by his wife on April 13, 1883.

While researching the photograph collection at the Huntington Historical Society on another topic, I found apanoramic photograph of the outer cove of Cold Spring Harbor taken from what is now the driveway to Eagle Dock Community Beach.  Partially hidden behind trees is a glimpse of a mansard roof house along Shore Road.  The supposition that the house was in Cold Spring Harbor appeared to be correct.

A search of deeds on file with the Suffolk County Clerk revealed that William Neale purchased a three-quarter acre lot on the east side of Cold Spring Harbor from Susan Titus in 1872.  Without tracing deeds for the neighboring properties, it was unclear exactly where on the east side of the harbor this land was.  It was thought that it was perhaps the property identified as the Titus estate on an 1873 atlas.  

 Tracing the deeds for this property as well as neighboring properties confirmed that Neale had purchased the “Titus Est.” property.  But where exactly was that house.  Perhaps it was on the property now occupied by a house built in 1941—the only “modern” house along Shore Road (that house was built by Johnston de Forest as a wedding gift for his daughter Priscilla and her husband Doug Williams).  What happened to the house?  It was assumed that the house must have burnt down because there are no mansard roof houses on Shore Road.  Yet no article about a fire or other calamity could be found.

After a month of sleuthing, the answer suddenly became clear, especially after reading the early twentieth century deeds in Riverhead.  The house had not burnt down.  It was still standing at 72 Shore Road.  

72 Shore Road in 2022

William Neale’s widow sold the property in 1886.  Over the next five years, it changed hands five times.  Finally, in 1891, John P. Dole, who lived three doors down on Shore Road, purchased the property.  Dole died in 1902 and the next year his widow sold the property to their son Edward Everett Dole.  He in turn sold the property in 1916 to William A.W. Stewart, whose wife was the daughter of Robert W. de Forest.  Everett Dole continued to live on Shore Road; presumably he moved back to his parents’ house at 48 Shore Road, which he called Tide Crest (his mother died in 1925).

According to a historic structure inventory for the Titus House completed in 1979, for which Priscilla de Forest Williams (Robert de Forest’s granddaughter) is listed as the source, “The house was remodelled by Mrs. W.A.W. Stewart, Jr. about 1920, to more closely resemble a Southern plantation house.”  The date of the remodeling must be off by a few years because William A. W. Stewart, Jr. didn’t marry until 1933.  The family of his wife, Margaret Wetmore, was from New York City and Santiago, Cuba, which may or may not explain the decision to remodel the house as a southern plantation.

The inventory also cited a survey dated September 9, 1871 made for George Mowbray, who at that time owned 60 acres along Shore Road.  The survey included a sketch of the Titus House showing it to have been “a 3-bay 1 ½ story house with small eaves windows, sidehall entrance, and an interior end chimney on the north.”

 It seems that William Neale remodeled the Titus House in 1876 by adding a mansard roof and that half a century later Mrs. Stewart had it removed.  Mystery solved.  

The research also shed light on the other two nineteenth century houses at this end of Shore Road.  The one and half acre property immediately to the north (at 76 Shore Road) was purchased in 1828 by Eliphalet Rogers from the estate of John Lefferts.  The property stayed in the Rogers family for the next 80 years.  There had been two houses on the property into the twentieth century.   The first house built on the property was southwest of the existing house.  The panoramic photograph of the cove shows it to have been a modest house.  It was demolished some time after 1916.  The surviving house may have been added after Eliphalet Rogers died in 1862–or Eliphalet could have built it.  

The last Rogers family members to live there were Eliphalet’s son Charles and daughter Catharine.  But they didn’t own the house, their brother Henry did.  

Henry Rogers lived in Brooklyn and was well-off, although it is unclear what he did for a living.  In an obituary, Henry is identified as a manufacturer.  Later articles say he was a sea captain.  The 1880 census lists him living on Shore Road in Cold Spring Harbor, and gives his occupation as an architect/house builder.  In 1900, he is identified as a carpenter.  In any event, Henry Rogers seems to have been well off–his estate was valued at $65,650, which is equivalent of $1.8 million today.  His brother and sister, neither of whom ever married, were not so well off.  They were described as indigent and relied on their brother for financial support.

When Henry died in 1906, there was a dispute about his will, which had been drawn up shortly before he died.  The will left everything to his wife, leaving nothing to Charles and Catharine, who had been dependent on Henry’s support.  The will was disallowed.  During the administration of the estate, the property was auctioned off.   Edward Everett Dole, who had grown up down the street and whose summer house was next door in the Titus-Neale House (he also lived in Brooklyn), purchased the property from the estate.  He sold it a few months after Catharine Rogers died in 1916.  I suspect Dole let Charles, who died in 1914, and Catharine live out their lives in the homestead.  In the same deed, Dole also sold the Titus-Neale House to the south to Stewart.

The house to the north of the Rogers’ house was at one time a hotel.  Robert H. Bold, who appears to have immigrated from England in 1834, purchased the southern half of that property in two transactions in 1838.  He was identified on one of the deeds as a merchant.  On the 1850 census, he is identified as a Hotel Keeper.  Bold must have died sometime between 1850 and 1856 because by 1860, his wife Sarah had married a Portuguese immigrant, with whom she had a three-year-old daughter.  The two younger daughters of Robert Bold are listed in the household.  The oldest daughter would have been 18 by this time. 

Sarah Bold’s new husband’s name was given as Joseph Prayer on the 1860 census; Joseph Prairie on the 1870 census; and Joseph Perry on the 1880 census.  No telling how his name was really spelled.  He is identified in the census records as a boatman in 1860 and 1880 and as a watchman in a shipyard in 1870.  The Abrams boatyard was located across the street.

In 1884, the three daughters of Robert Bold sold the property to Elwood Abrams, who operated the shipyard across the street.  One could assume that their mother had probably died shortly before the land was sold.  According to the book Clamtown, written by Leslie Peckham, who lived nearby, Elwood Abrams operated an ice cream, soda, candy and tobacco store as well as a boarding house in the home.  After he died in 1917, his daughter Ella and her husband William Wright continued to run the boarding house.  William White also worked as a painter at his brother-in-law’s shipyard and Ella White was also a dressmaker. 

According to Maggie Norton, who was born in 1910 and grew up on Shore Road (and was the granddaughter of John & Jane Dole), the house was known as “Dirty Dick’s boarding house” and it was run by a widow and her son Raymond, whose erratic behavior the children of the neighborhood found scary—he would “spent the day walking back and forth on the porch tearing up tin cans.”  In the census records, no occupation is ever listed for Raymond, who died at age 42 in 1925.  Raymond’s father also died in 1925, so the boarding house was not operated by a widow.   William White must have stayed out of sight. 

Ella White died in 1930.  She spent the last year or so of her life with her daughter in Glen Cove.  In 1929, her brother Walter Abrams sold the house to Julia Fairchild, who added an addition to the north.

Read Full Post »

Babylon 150

 In the 1870s, the Town of Huntington gained a one-mile road, but lost 114 square miles of land.

 Through numerous land purchases from the indigenous residents in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Huntington stretched from sea to shining sea, or at least from the Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean, including the 114 square miles that is now the Town of Babylon.  Originally, European settlers established homes on the north shore.  The south shore was valued for the abundance of salt hay, which north shore farmers would cut to feed their livestock.  Every fall, the farmers would cross the island to cut, cure and cart the hay from the south shore to their farms.

 Eventually, Huntington South, as the area was known, attracted full time residents.  Three hamlets developed—Babylon, Amityville, and Breslau, now known as Lindenhurst.  As these South Side areas grew, their interests diverted from those on the North Side.  In addition, to attend to Town affairs, such as the annual Town meeting, they would have to travel across the Island.  By the 1850s, the Town meetings were held at Elias Smith’s house in Long Swamp  (on the east side of Beverly Road, north of Jericho Turnpike).  Intended to accommodate South Side residents, it must be admitted the location was closer to the north shore than halfway between the shores.

As early as 1852, there were proposals to split the town in two.  Thirteen residents gave notice that they intended to ask the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors to create a new town of Babylon from the lower half of the Town of Huntington.  The boundary line would run west from the southwest corner of the Town of Smithtown through Melville along Old Country Road. Nothing came of that effort.

Enter Henry Livingston, who on July 7, 1869 published the first edition a new newspaper, the South Side Signal.  Livingston was a booster of the South Side, particularly the village of Babylon.  By his third issue, he was advocating for succession: “The division of the town of Huntington is being talked of by those who object to going to the North Side to attend to town business.  In many respects there would be much to gain by a proper division of the Town, as it is full large for convenience.”

A few months alter, he was more explicit: “Huntington is large enough in territory to make two good-sized towns, while the rapid increase of population on the South Side will allow this half to govern itself. We feel kindly towards the North Side but the village of Huntington cannot much longer make laws for Babylon.” (South Side Signal, February 12, 1870). South Siders also contended that “they pay the largest share of the taxes, while the most lucrative offices are given to the people on the north side.” (The Brooklyn Union, January 16, 1872, page 4).

In addition to the convenience of being able to conduct town business closer to home, those agitating for a new town were incensed by the construction of a new road from Main Street in Huntington village to the harbor.  William A. Conant, Suffolk County’s representative in the Assembly, introduced a bill “for the laying out and opening of a highway in the village of Huntington.” The bill was approved by the legislature in May 1869.  The so-called “road bill” authorized the purchase of land for a street to run from Main Street opposite the center line of South Street (now New York Avenue, NYS Route 110) northward to the east side of Huntington Harbor, a distance of one mile.  

The bill authorized the County on behalf of the Town to levy a tax of $4,000 to cover the expense of constructing the road.  The cost of acquiring the land, which was to be determined by independent appraisers, would be raised by another tax.  To put that sum in perspective, in April 1871, the Town raised $200 for roads and bridges throughout the town.  The amount collected for “Contingencies,” i.e., general expenses, was $ $4,500.  In other words, construction of the road would almost equal all other Town expenses for the year (other than care of the poor, which was the largest annual expense at $7,000).  

The tax was not well received.  Several residents petitioned the Town Clerk to call a Special Town Meeting to consider “what measure, if any, shall be pursued by the taxpayers of this Town, to resist, as we consider the unjust expenditures intended to be levied and collected upon the assessed property of the whole Town” for the building of the new road.

 The Special Meeting was held at Long Swamp on June 15, 1870.  Opponents of the new road contended that the road bill was pushed by Assemblyman Conant “for his own personal benefit, and that of a few of his friends, in violation of the rights of the people, and contrary to the interests and wishes of his constituents.”  Furthermore, they contended that the road “is intended to benefit the few at the expense of the many; it is unnecessary and uncalled for; its construction will impose upon the Town a heavy taxation, for which no adequate benefit will be received.”

  “We condemn the whole scheme as selfish, oppressive, unequal, unjust and insulting to our people.”

 The vote in favor of the resolution against the road was 403 to 0.  Soon after the Special Town Meeting, an injunction was issued restraining the Commissioners with proceeding on the road project.  However, since the road was authorized by the State, only the State could abandon the project.  By July the road was complete from Mill Lane to the harbor and by Halloween it was completed from Main Street to the harbor.  Litigation continued even after the road was completed. But all proceedings were finally dismissed in April 1871.

In his annotation to the Town Records, Charles R. Street notes that “There was much public excitement over the matter and considerable of opposition to the road, resulting in a protracted lawsuit, but the Commissioners performed the duty imposed on them by law, and all their proceedings were sustained.  The utility of the road is now [in 1889] universally conceded.”

The energy directed at stopping the road was now directed to splitting the town.  In addition to the burden of paying the tax assessment to construct the road, arguments were made about the lack of representation for those who could not afford the time to travel long distances to town meetings.  Democracy required smaller towns, both in terms of geographic area and population.  The argument was not limited to the town of Huntington.  The same considerations applied to Brookhaven, Southampton and other large towns in both Queens and Suffolk Counties.  Yet only Huntington was divided.

 By September 1871, it seemed leaders on both the North Side and the South Side agreed that the town was too large to serve the interests of “convenience, unity or harmony.”  In December 1871, the Elias Smith House, which the Town had purchased in 1868 for use as the Poor House as well as a venue for Town meetings, burned down. (Coincidentally, the Poor House was offered for sale for $4,000—the same amount the State Legislature directed the County Board of Supervisors to tax for construction of New York Avenue.  The sale only realized a price of $2,600.)  With no centralized place to meet, it was thought the time to proceed with a division of the town was at hand.

On January 9, 1872, less than a month after the fire at the Poor House, residents of the first election district met at Euterpean Hall in Huntington village and adopted the following resolution:

Whereas A diversity of interests has been created within the last few years by the rapid growth and increase of the villages on the North and South Sides of the Town of Huntington, and 

Whereas, the Town House, where the people have heretofore held their Town Meetings has recently been destroyed by fire, and no appropriate or commodious building now exists in the central part of the Town, where Town Meetings can conveniently be held and 

Whereas, the People of the South side of the Town have, through their local Press and otherwise, exhibited a desire to have the Town divided and to erect a new Town, [it is] now therefore 

Resolved, That it is the sense of this meeting, that a fair and equitable division of the Town of Huntington would result in benefit to each section, and that we are in favor of such division. 

Resolved, That a written request be immediately executed and delivered to the Town Clerk for a Special Town Meeting to be held at or near the Town Farm at Long Swam at an early day as practicable, to take the sense of the people of the whole Town, on the Question of a division of the Town, and if favorable to such division, to decide upon a dividing boundary, and to take such further action as will effect the object. 

Resolved, That we deem an application to the Legislature for the passage of a suitable Act to be the best, most expeditious and most advisable method of procuring such division.

The residents also appointed a committee of three (Town Supervisor J. Amherst Woodhull, Henry C. Platt and former State Assemblyman William A. Conant) to confer with committees from the Town’s other four election districts.  The residents of the Babylon and Amityville election districts adopted a similar resolution.  In the Central or Long Swamp District, the residents expressed an interest in dividing the Town into three new Towns.  They felt that as currently constituted the residents of the middle of the Town could hold the more populous North and South Sides in check by aligning with whichever one was to their advantage on  a particular issue.  Being part of a Town with one or the other would leave them helplessly outnumbered.  The proposed central Town would include the area between the Main Line of the Rail Road and the northern branch line (i.e., the Huntington line).  

With a speed that would astonish the modern-day residents of Long Island, the wheels of government now turned quickly.  Representatives from each district met in Deer Park on January 17 and adopted resolutions calling for a town-wide vote on January 27 to decide whether to divide the Town into two parts, three parts, or leave it as is.

As we know, the vote favored the two Town proposition as follows:

DistrictTwo TownsThree TownsNo Division

The central district chose not to hold a vote and instead planned to attack the division separately.

The voters also elected two representatives from each district to determine the dividing line between the Towns.  The Division Committee met the Monday after the election in Babylon and drew the dividing line a half mile north of the Melville Church, on Old Country Road, to run directly west to east, the same line proposed in 1852. Melville residents objected, preferring to stay in the Town of Huntington.  The line was then moved south about three miles to a line one mile north of the Rail Road’s main line. 

The legislation creating the Town of Babylon was passed by the State legislature on March 13, 1872.  An election for the new Babylon Town Board was held on April 2 and the newly elected representatives met that same day.

Read Full Post »

Who Are You?

A valuable resource for researching the history of a particular area is a historic map or atlas. For Long Island, there are several available including the coastal survey of 1836/37; the 1858 Chace wall map, the 1873 Beers, Comstock & Cline atlas; the 1909 and 1917 E. Belcher Hyde atlases, and the 1931 and 1941 Hagstrom atlases. These maps and atlases are often the first place to start researching. I find that no matter how many times I have stared at these maps, I always notice something new.

For instance, while researching the history of West Hills, I came across the name Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst on the 1931 map of the West Hills/Melville area. Who was she?

1931 Hagstrom Atlas

The name was not a familiar one, unlike her neighbors Robert DeForest (who owned a large estate in Cold Spring Harbor) and Henry L. Stimpson (who served in virtually every presidential cabinet of the first half of the twentieth century). She owned a large parcel of property. Usually property is listed in the name of the husband. Perhaps she was a widow. Was her husband a local farmer? Were they city residents who acquired a large property for a country home as many others did in the early twentieth century?

By the time of the 1941 atlas, the property was owned by the Straight Improvement Company, Inc.

1941 Hagstrom Atlas

Whoever Mrs. L.K. Elmhisrt was, it seemed she had sold her property to a development company. For the most part, the property was never developed–most of it is now part of West Hills County Park.

Going back to earlier atlases, we see that the property had previously been part of Robert DeForest’s extensive land holdings in the area (most of which also became part of West Hills County Park).

The answer to the question, who was Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst, proved interesting, although not necessarily of great significance to Huntington’s history.

It turns out Mrs. L.K. Elmhirst was one of the wealthiest women in the country. Her maiden name was Dorothy Payne Whitney. She was the daughter of William C. Whitney, a financier and Secretary of the Navy under President Grover Cleveland. She was born in 1887 while her father was serving in the Cleveland administration. (Her older brother Harry Payne Whitney married Gertrude Vanderbilt, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art). When Dorothy was 17, she inherited $15,000,000, equivalent to about half a billion dollars today. She felt that “wealth entailed social responsibility.” Therefore, she supported numerous philanthropic causes throughout her life.

During a trip around the world in 1906, Dorothy Whitney met Willard Straight in Mukden (now Shenyang), China. Straight, whose parents had been missionaries in Japan and China, was fluent in Japanese and Chinese. He graduated from Cornell and worked for the Chinese Maritime Customs Service, then as a journalist during the Russo-Japanese War., before joining the State Department. Dorothy and Willard married in Geneva in 1911. They lived for a few months in China where Straight represented American business interests.

During her lifetime, Dorothy supported and established many charities. In her younger years, she led marches for women’s suffrage. She led the campaign to build a community home for working women through the Working Women’s Trade Union League. She led the effort to can fruits and vegetables that would have spoiled on the docks during World War I and was in charge of the Women’s Emergency Committee of the European Relief Council.

In 1914, she and her husband started The New Republic magazine to promote the ideas expressed by Herbert Croly in his book, “The Promise of American Life.” Croly advocated for a new political consensus based on nationalism with a sense of social responsibility and care for the less fortunate.

Discussions organized by Croly at the offices of The New Republic with a variety of progressive thinkers led to a proposal to establish an independent social science institute. The proposal became a reality when Dorothy Straight pledged $10,00 a year for ten years. The New School for Social Research opened in 1919 and operates today as The New School.

When the pledge for the New School was made, Willard Straight was in Europe. He had enlisted in the army as soon as the United States entered World War I. He died from the influenza pandemic in December 1918 while in Paris. He was two months shy of his 39th birthday. In 1925, Dorothy donated the student union building at Cornell in honor of her late husband. Willard Straight Hall continues to serve as a center of campus life at Cornell.

In 1920, the young widow met Leonard Knight Elmhirst. The son of an English rector who was studying agriculture at Cornell, Elmhirst was president of Cornell’s Cosmopolitan Club, which served foreign students. The two met during his fund raising activities for the Club. After completing his studies, Elmhirst worked on rural reconstruction projects in India.

The couple married in September 1925 and moved to England where they purchased the derelict fourteenth century estate, Dartington Hall. They restored the medieval buildings and established the Dartington Trust, which continues to operate various programs to foster progressive learning in arts, ecology and social justice.

Mrs. Elmhirst made headlines in 1935 when she renounced her United States citizenship. Since she was married to an Englishman, she was considered a British citizen. And since she was also an American citizen, even though she lived in England, her estate would be subject to American estate taxes. Her lawyer explained that the combined U.S. and British taxes would amount to more than 100% of the value of the estate. Therefore, she reluctantly gave up her American citizenship. Estate taxes did not become an issue for another three decades. She died in 1968–almost exactly 50 years after her first husband had died.

But what does all this have to do with Huntington?

Very little, other than the fact that between funding The New Republic and The New School, Willard Straight purchased land in West Hills from Robert DeForest. Although the purchase was reported to be of about 250 acres, the tract was actually 179 acres. (In a 1929 letter, DeForest identified Mrs. Elmhirst as “my friend.” Whether that friendship predated the sale is unknown.) A year earlier, in 1916, Straight had purchased the adjoining 41 acre Ezra Smith farm on Round Swamp Road. After the 1917 purchase, it was reported that Straight had no plans to build on the land. Instead there would be a limited amount of planting and farming of the available fields on the two tracts. Three months after she married Elmhirst, Dorothy Straight transferred her land in West Hills to the Straight Improvement Co., Inc.

In 1928, Mrs. Elmhirst dedicated to the State land at the north side of her property for the Northern State Parkway, which was not completed through this section until 1949. It is interesting to note that in his landmark profile of State Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, The Power Broker, Robert Caro describes the accommodations Moses made to the wealthy landowners in West Hills, men such as Otto Kahn, Henry Stimpson and Robert DeForest. Caro goes on to show that Moses made no concessions at all for the farmers–men with “neither wealth nor influence”–whose land was eventually seized for the parkway. Men like James Roth, whose farm on the west side of Round Swamp Road was cut in two by the parkway. Caro does not mention that Mrs. Elmhirst, who most certainly had wealth and influence, donated some of her land for the parkway, as did Robert DeForest, who donated a total of 50 acres in West Hills and other land he owned in Dix Hills near Deer Park Road (The New York Times, May 7, 1928, page 9).

In 1957, the Straight Improvement Company applied to the Town of Huntington to rezone its West Hills property on the south side of the parkway from two acres to one acre. In exchange, the company would donate to the State strips of land 150′ to 200′ wide along the parkway to “insure the preservation of the woodlands which border this beautiful stretch of parkway . . . and would serve as an additional buffer zone.” (The Long-Islander, July 4, 1957, page 1). The Town did not grant the rezoning. Moses said the state would find the money to buy the land “in order to preserve these fine woodlands which, because of their unique and rugged character, should not be stripped and bulldozed for building lots.”

In the 1970s, the Straight Improvement Company’s property east of Mount Misery Road was acquired for incorporation into West Hills County Park. The old Ezra Smith farm property at the southeast corner of the Parkway and Round Swamp Road is now the Thomas School of Horsemanship, which opened there in 1951, and Driftwood Day Camp, which opened on that property ten years later.

Post Script: While writing this, I noticed, for the first time, that Mrs. Elmhirst is shown on the 1931 map owning additional land on Hartmann Hill Road, south of Kingsley Road. There is always something new to see.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

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/

Read Full Post »

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.



Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »