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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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Getting Here From There

Over the centuries, the road connection between the west and east sides of Cold Spring Harbor has varied.   Originally, the road ran over the meadow at the foot of the harbor. This right of way was later converted to a footpath and the road was moved to run over the dam that formed St. John’s Lake.

Because the road ran over the dam, the front door of St. John’s Church practically opened on to the road. The lake and dam were privately owned by members of the Jones and Hewlett families. They were responsible for keeping the road in good repair.

The road passing the front door of St. John’s Church

Even the best maintenance practices could not have saved the road from the washout on February 29, 1904 that broke the dam. The rush of water washed the bridge down to the gristmill on the east side of the harbor and soon created a breach 100 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The ponds at the Fish Hatchery were flooded allowing many fish to escape into the harbor. Town officials immediately began discussing whether to repair the dam or build a new roadway over the meadow where it had been originally.

The breach in the dam

A temporary footbridge was quickly built to allow access over the breached dam. This bridge flooded at high tide. Charles Walters, superintendent of the Fish Hatchery, ferried people across the stream. Carriages and wagon had to detour south through Woodbury or hazard the snow and ice to get to the upper dam at the second lake. The village milkman even made use of the never-used railroad embankment that ran through the valley.

The temporary footbridge

The decision to build a new road over the meadow was more or less settled within a few months. A formal meeting of the highway commissioners of Huntington and Oyster Bay was held in Hicksville in August 1904. The contract for a new concrete bridge was awarded unanimously. The expense of the new bridge was shared by the two Towns. Each Town was responsible for the road on its side of the bridge.

The Jones and Hewlett families as owners of the lake decided to hire the same contractors to rebuild the dam and a new bridge. That bridge is now used exclusively by the pastor of St. John’s Church and his family who live on the opposite side of the lake from the church.

The new bridge

The 1905 bridge was replaced in 1999 as part of a $6.7 million project to reconfigure Route 25A from the Lawrence Hill Road intersection past the top of Fish Hatchery Hill.

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In 1957, a chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was established in Amityville.  One of the early members was Naomi Williams Giffiths, who suggested the chapter be named after her ancestor Dr. Gilbert Potter (1725-1786), who had lived in Huntington village.  On Saturday, October 5, 2019, members of the Gilbert Potter chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution held a ceremony to honor the memory of Dr. Potter and his wife Elizabeth and to place special DAR markers on their graves.  Below is an account of these two American heroes. 

Gilbert Potter’s original headstone and the DAR tablets for him and his wife Elizabeth.

Gilbert Potter was born on January 8, 1725 in Huntington.  He studied medicine with Dr. Jared Elliot of Guilford, CT.   At the age of 20, he served as surgeon on a privateer against the French during King George’s War which was a sideline to the War of Austrian Succession.  Dr. Potter returned to Huntington and married Elizabeth Williams on February 23, 1749.

The Potters had seven children, only three of whom lived to adulthood.  A son named Peleg was born in May 1750 and died nine months later on February 27, 1751.  Another son was born a year and a day later and also named Peleg.  He died at age 13 in 1764.  His epitaph is moving:

To this sad Stone whoe’er thou art draw near
Here lies the Youth most loved the Son most dear
Who ne’er knew joy but Friendship might divide
Or gave his father Grief but when he died.

The couple’s third child, Sarah, lived to adulthood and married Captain William Rogers, who was lost in a storm on the Long Island Sound in October 1780.  Sarah died in 1823.

A second daughter, named after her mother, was born in 1758 and died before her second birthday.  A third son, Nathaniel, was born in 1761.   Nathaniel Potter was a silver smith who also served in the New York State Assembly and as a judge.  When he died in 1841, he left a generous bequest to further the education of indigent children.

Daughter Saraphina, was born in 1762.  She died at age 15 in 1782, when the British occupied a fort built at the top of the Old Burying Ground near the family plot.  Consequently, Saraphina is buried elsewhere in the cemetery.

Gilbert and Elizabeth’s last child, Martha, was born in 1764.  She married Gilbert Williams, who died in 1809.  Martha died in 1813, leaving behind several children, whom her bachelor brother Nathaniel raised.

In 1756, Gilbert Potter served as a captain during the French & Indian War at Ticonderoga. In 1758, he was put in charge of an army hospital in Schenectady.   After the war he returned to Huntington to continue his medical practice.

In February 1771, at a Town meeting it was decided that small pox inoculations could only be given by Gilbert Potter or Daniel Wiggins.  The two doctors had to provide a hospital to quarantine the inoculated.  Potter’s hospital was in Cold Spring Harbor.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution, Dr. Potter was a leading advocate in Suffolk County for the patriot cause.   At a meeting in Smithtown on September 5, 1775, officers were chosen for the First or Western Regiment of Suffolk County.  Potter was elected Lieutenant Colonel.

A few months after his election as Lieutenant Colonel, as war with Great Britain became more likely, Potter wrote a letter to John Sloss Hobart, who was representing Suffolk County at the New York Provincial Congress.  Potter complained that the residents of Queens County (which at that time included what is now Nassau County) were opposed to the patriot cause and were working to undermine the effort.  He advocated for a force sufficient enough to subdue the loyalists in Queens.  He wrote:

Huntington, Dec 10, 75

SIR—You will receive this by Major Brush, who is appointed by the Committee to lay before the Congress, the state of the town as to their slackness in military preparations, as also that we have great reason to believe all methods are used by our neighbors to make them indifferent in this great contest.  We not only beg your advice but assistance, for it is my opinion, if there is not a sufficient number of men immediately sent to effectually subdue Queens Co., and to intimidate the people among us a great many from here will soon be in a little better condition than the rebels of Queens Co., which we have great reason to believe is making interest with our slaves and other servants.  I have exerted myself in my station but if nothing is done by your House, I must be obliged to desist; but as to myself as an individual, I am determined to live and die free.

 I am sir, your most humble servant,

 Gilbert Potter.

 To John S. Hobart Esq in Pro. Congress.

 

The next month, Gilbert Potter and 17 other prominent men were chosen as a war committee for Huntington.  When news of the Declaration of Independence arrived in Huntington on July 22, 1776, the citizens celebrated by burning an effigy of King George III on the Town Common and then continued the celebration at Platt’s Tavern where they drank thirteen patriotic toasts.  Dr. Potter gave a speech during which he quoted a poetic summary of the patriot cause:

Rudely forced to drink tea, Massachusetts in anger,

Spills the Tea on John Bull; John falls on to bang her,

Massachusetts, enraged, calls her neighbors to aid,

And give Master John, a severe bastinade,

Now good men of the law pray, who is in fault,

The one who began, or resents the assault?

As the Battle of Long Island commenced in Brooklyn in August 1776, Potter wrote a hasty letter to Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull.  Potter had just return to Huntington from Jamaica and reported being told that British ships had landed a number of troops near Wading River and began shooting cattle.  Potter expected the British ships to arrive in Huntington the next day.  Potter mustered the militia to prepare to defend the town.  He concluded by reporting that “Our women are in great tumult.”

The next day Potter sent 100 men to Jamaica to assist General Woodhull in driving cattle on the Hempstead Plain to keep them falling into British hands.  The effort was unsuccessful and Woodhull was killed.

After Huntington was occupied by British and Loyalists forces on September 1, 1776, residents were ordered to swear an oath of allegiance to the king.  A majority of the male inhabitants of Huntington—549 to be exact—signed the oath of allegiance.  Gilbert Potter was not one of those 549 men.  Instead he fled to Connecticut.

Dr. Potter was in his fifties during the war and is believed to have confined his activities to clandestine operations.  He would reportedly sneak back into to Huntington from Connecticut to visit his wife and family and to spy on the British troops.  Although not part of the now famous Culper Spy Ring, Dr. Potter provided a similar service for the patriot cause.

In the meantime, Elizabeth took care of the family and also assumed her husband’s medical practice.  She was reported to be as good a doctor as he was.  One of the patients she treated was a young English sailor named Hardy, who was not much older than her teenage son Nathaniel.  Midshipman Hardy, who was stationed on a British navy ship in Huntington Bay, somehow contracted smallpox.  He was taken to the smallpox hospital on Park Avenue where Elizabeth Potter tended to him.  She eventually had him moved to her house on Wall Street where she continued to care for him and where he struck up a friendship of sorts with her teenage son.  Eventually, the sailor fully recovered and returned to his ship.

After the war, Dr. Potter returned to Huntington and resumed his medical practice.  He died in 1786 and Elizabeth died in 1811.  But the story doesn’t end with their deaths.

Shortly after Elizabeth died, the United States was again at war with Great Britain.  Again, British war ships patrolled the waters off Long Island.  By now Nathaniel Potter, Gilbert and Elizabeth’s son, was a successful silversmith and also owned a sloop called the Amazon.  On a trip from Huntington to Albany, the Amazon was seized by the British.  One of the crew on the Amazon was Nathaniel Potter’s nephew Henry.

The young American sailor was vocal in denouncing the British.  He damned the British, their flag, and the Commodore, who put Henry in irons.  Nathaniel Potter was taken out to the ship to ransom his ship back from the British and look after his nephew.  He was shocked to see that the commander of the British fleet was the same sailor his mother had tended to during the Revolution more than 30 years earlier.  Realizing who the intemperate American was, Commodore Hardy ordered him released.  The next day, the Commodore hosted Nathaniel Potter at a lavish dinner on board the British ship where he gave a glowing tribute to the woman who had saved his life.

 

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There are 125 historical markers throughout the Town of Huntington.  Each has a story to tell.  Probably only one is the subject of a 358 page book by a New York Times bestselling author.

In some ways, Isaac Ketcham may have been the most influential Huntingtonian during the years the country fought for independence from Great Britain.  That’s because he alerted authorities to a plot to kill George Washington in the months leading up to the Declaration of Independence and the Battle of Long Island.

It is a story visitors to Firemen’s Park in Cold Spring Harbor may be aware of thanks to the historical marker there, but few, if any, know the full story.

Isaac Ketcham

A new book by the History Channel’s Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch gives much more detail about the story than the few words on the marker.  Ketcham, a widower with six children, was recruited by brothers Israel and Isaac Young (or Youngs) of Cold Spring Harbor to purchase the special paper needed for their counterfeiting scheme.  Even though Ketcham had a change of heart at the last minute and never secured the paper, he was arrested and imprisoned in Manhattan.  While in jail, he overheard other prisoners talking about a plot to assassinate Washington.  Ketcham alerted the authorities and the assassination plot was foiled.

You can read a much more detailed version of the story in Meltzer’s book, which tends to repeat itself in the way many television history programs do for the benefit of those who may have forgotten a previous segment during the commercial breaks.  The story could have been told in half as many pages, but the book is a quick read nonetheless.

The story was previously told in the pages of the Long Island Forum (“Cold Spring Harbor Mysteries #1 The Counterfeit Plot of 1776,” by Andrus T. Valentine, August 1979); The Journal of Long Island History (“Long Island’s Revolutionary Counterfeiting Plot,” by Edward J. Smits, Volume II, Number 1, Spring 1962); and The New York Historical Society Quarterly (“Narratives of the Revolution in New York,” page 143, et seq., 1975).

Poor Isaac Ketcham.  The important role he played in the early months of the Revolution was almost lost to history, he was arrested for a crime he never committed, and even his first name is wrong on the historical marker.

 

First Conspiracy

 

 

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