Posts Tagged ‘Richard Smith’

Taking up just one page in the printed Huntington Town Records, the so-called Eastern Purchase seems straight forward enough. But this simple document spawned a dispute with Huntington’s eastern neighbor that would not be finally resolved for over two centuries.

In 1656, three years after the first Huntington purchase, Jonas Wood, William Rogers, and Thomas Wilkes traded seven quarts of liquor, two coats, four shirts, and eleven ounces of powder for all the land on the north side of Long Island between Cow Harbor (Northport) brook and the Nissequogue River.   The deed was given by Asharoken, the sachem or leader of the Matinecocks.

This new purchase encompassed a territory somewhat larger than the six square miles of the First Purchase. Yet the Huntingtonians seem not to have made an effort to settle there.

In a seemingly unrelated incident, the daughter of Wyandanch, the Grand Sachem of Long Island, was kidnapped on her wedding night by the Narragansett of Connecticut. Lion Gardiner, a military engineer and soldier who established the first English settlement in New York, had befriended Wyandanch and rescued the Grand Sachem’s daughter. In thanks for returning his daughter, Wyandanch gave Gardiner land in Nissequogue in 1659, three years after the Eastern Purchase. The exact bounds of this land are unclear.

In 1663, Gardiner conveyed the land to his friend Richard Smith. It is unknown if Gardiner sold the land or gave it as a gift—according to some accounts the land was lost in a card game. Smith had left England in 1635. He was in Massachusetts until about 1643 when he resettled in Southampton, shortly after that Town had been established. Despite holding a leadership position in Southampton, he was banished from the Town in 1656 because of “his Irreverent carriage towards the magistrates.”[1] Smith then moved to Setauket.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown's celebration of its 350th anniversary.

The statue of Richard Smith unveiled in 2015 as part of Smithtown’s celebration of its 350th anniversary.

In order to secure his claim to the land Gardiner had given him, Smith petitioned the General Court in Hartford, which had jurisdiction over Long Island, to confirm his ownership. The political landscape changed in the summer of 1664, when the English seized New Netherlands from the Dutch as a prelude to the second of three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century. Long Island was now under the jurisdiction of the colonial governor of New York, Richard Nicoll.   So Smith secured a patent from Nicoll on March 3, 1665 confirming his ownership. The patent required that ten families be settled on the land within three years.[2] Smithtown celebrated the 350th anniversary of this patent in 2015.

Later that year Smith also received a deed from the Nissequogue Indians for land west of the Nissequogue River. He made sure to secure another confirming patent from Gov. Nicoll. Unfortunately, this patent, dated March 25, 1667, neglected to specify the western boundary of the tract. The patent covered the land bounded “Easterly by a certain run of water called Stony Brook, stretching north to the Sound, and southerly bearing to a certain fresh water pond, called Ronkonoma, being Se-a-tal-cott’s west bounds; which said parcel of land was heretofore granted by patent to Richard Smith by Richard Nicoll.”[3]

Just four months earlier, Governor Nicoll had issued a patent to the inhabitant of Huntington granting them the land from Cold Spring River on the west to the Nissequogue River on the east and from the Sound to the Sea.[4] Perhaps no one in the governor’s office was in charge of fact checking to make sure the two patents didn’t overlap. Or perhaps someone did notice the discrepancy and that’s why the western boundary in the later Smith patent was left out. Whatever the case, the conflicting boundaries would lead to years of litigation between the people of Huntington and Richard Smith.

The first indication of the dispute to be found in the Huntington Town Records is a promise by John Jones in 1668 to bear the cost of any lawsuit by Smith of Smithfield (as Smithtown was sometimes known) that may arise in connection with an allotment Jones had purchased from Richard Floyd.[5]  There must have been some action by Huntingtonians–either settlement or at least an assertion of a claim to the land–that caused Smith to commence legal action.

The dispute ended up before Governor Francis Lovelace and his council in New York on October 6, 1670. The dispute was not a question of someone conveying the same land to two different people. The dispute was about who had the right to convey the land—the Matinecocks or the Nissequogues.

Smith commenced the action to assert his claim to the land west of the Nissequogue. Smith’s attorneys presented the deed from Wyandanch to Gardiner, the deed from Gardiner to Smith, and the deed from Nesconset, sachem of the Nissequogue to Smith. Smith also introduced testimony that the Connecticut Council (“under whose Government that part of Long Island then held themselves to bee.”) suggested that Smith get a deed from the native inhabitants as well “to prevent all Disputes about it.”[6] Good advice, but it didn’t help in this case.

Smith also introduced testimony from over a dozen Indians to establish that Sachem Nesconset had the authority to dispose of the lands west of the Nissequogue River. Some of the testimony introduced at the Court of Assize in New York had been given in an earlier action heard in Southampton.

In the afternoon, Huntington presented its case. Huntington, which was involved in other litigation involving both Lloyd’s Neck and Eaton’s Neck, reminded the court that when the town lost the Eaton’s Neck case in 1666, the governor promised, the Huntingtonians “should bee noe further molested about their Land.”[7] Some of Huntington’s evidence was disputed. It was noted, for instance, that the Eastern Purchase deed presented to the court “hath noe Christian Witness to it; and the Marks are all made with one Hand Writing.” Two men were brought forth who were said to have witnessed the 1656 transaction, “But it [the deed] being shown them They say they know not the Paper, and that it was not the Paper they had put their hands to.”

The most convincing testimony seems to have been that of Jeremiah Wood. He was about 55 years old and due to ill health his testimony was taken at his lodging in the city by two Justices of the Peace. Wood was one of the purchasers from Nesconset of the disputed land. He testified that the purchase was for land on the east side of the Nissequogue River. When the purchasers said they thought there was too little land on the east side and that they wanted to include land on the west side of the River, Nesconset “told them that hee nor his Indyans had not any right to any Lands there on the West side, only a small Neck of Land, conteyning about halfe a Mile from the said great River to the Little Brooke.” This would appear to be the small stream of water that runs south from the mouth of the Nissequogue River to Harrison Pond.   Wood also testified that he told Smith that the Nissequogue owned no land west of the little brook and Smith said, “hee knew that well enough.”[8]

The 12 man jury considered the various documents introduced into evidence and the testimony. The next morning they delivered a verdict in favor of Huntington. The court added a condition: “That as the plaintiff Mr. Smith had been obliged to settle the families, if he had made good his title against the defendant the inhabitants of the Town of Huntington to the land in dispute, so the defendant shall within the space of three years after the date hereof erect alike ten families.”[9]

Smith was not happy. His wife presented a petition to the governor requesting an explanation of the verdict. On December 1, 1670, the governor and council ordered that Huntington submit an answer. The record is unclear but it seems the governor and council wanted to determine fair compensation for Smith so that “there be no further trouble or molestation concerning this matter.”[10]

Huntington’s answer, if one was filed, has not been found. Instead in February 1671, the Town made arrangements to settle the ten farms as specified in the Court’s decision. The inhabitants of Huntington were divided into ten groups. Each group would be responsible for settling one of the ten farms. The selected farmers, who had to be approved by the Town, would be responsible for all legal fees incurred.[11]

On April 16 and 17, 1672, James Chichester, Samuel Titus, Jonathan Rogers, and Joseph Bayly laid out the ten farms from the head of the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow Little Neck (the area between what is now the Jerome Ambro Preserve and Blanchard Lake). Farms one through four (about 20 acres each) were located between Nissequogue River and Fresh Pond, farms five and six (7.8 acres) were between Fresh Pond and Crabmeadow; farms seven through ten (12 acres) were between Crabmeadow and the Cove (now Blanchard Lake). Each farm also had 40 acres of upland and the benefit of what meadow there was nearest to them.

Lots were drawn among the ten groups of inhabitants of the town to determine who should get which of the farms. Each group was given one of the farms. Each farm had three to five owners (except Farm 3 which had only two owners); there were 29 named owners in total.

In September 1672, thirty Huntington citizens, most of whom were also owners of the Ten Farms, pledged £500 to secure their promise to settle each of the Ten Farms by building, fencing, “planting” as many persons in each farm “as may Properly be a family” as required by the Court to perfect their claim to the land. These subscribers invited any person of Huntington who was of good character to settle on these farms after reimbursing the proprietors for their expenses incurred in defending the Town’s claim to the land. The settlers would be required to:

  1. Erect and maintain sufficient fences around any land they take from the Commons, and to manure the fruit trees;
  2. Refrain from directly or indirectly by their children, servants or dogs hurting or chasing any of the cattle, horses, or hogs;
  3. Satisfy any claims to the land made by the native inhabitants;
  4. Never sell any of the lands to a vicious person or a person of a truly evil report;
  5. Utilize a distinctive ear mark for their cattle and record such ear marks in the town records;
  6. Mark calves, lambs and pigs within 14 to 20 days of their birth; and
  7. Not mark any wild horse until they can prove ownership.[12]

It is unclear how many settlers moved to the Ten Farms (it may have been only four[13]). But even if there were some Huntington settlers on the disputed territory, Richard Smith wasn’t about to give up his claim. He petitioned the Governor again in October 1672 complaining that Huntington introduced false evidence at the trial in 1670 and asking for a rehearing of the matter. The Governor gave Smith until the first Thursday in December to convince Thomas Benedict and Henry Whittng (sic) of Connecticut to appear at the Court in New York or produce other evidence to support his claim to justify a rehearing.[14] Presumably these the two Connecticut men were expected to give evidence of Smith’s claim that Connecticut granted him a patent for the disputed land.

On the first Thursday of December, the Governor, perhaps weary of this dispute, ruled that the matter would be held in abeyance until the following May when he would be holding a general training and meeting of the troops on the east end of the Hempstead Plain. At that time disinterested persons from the east and west ends of the island would be selected to go to the disputed territory to make inquiries and see if they could settle the issue. In other words, the Governor hoped to settle the matter by mediation.

It is unknown if the inspection scheduled for May 1673 took place. But war intervened again. The Dutch recaptured New York in July 1673 during the Third Anglo-Dutch War. Smith, never one to give up a chance to press his claims, commenced an action in the Dutch court. I have not located the records of this action, but Smith evidently sent a copy of a judgment in his favor to the inhabitants of Huntington. In July 1674, Huntington addressed a letter to “Neighbor Smith.” It is worth quoting in full:

By this yea may understand that what you left a paper for, at yea say the towne, in the hands of Joseph Whitman, written in an unknown tongue, to us, from whence it came or what it is, we know not, nether what you intend by it, we know not, but this we know, yet we shall take no notice of it, neither can we, and if you would have us know your mind you must speake and write in a knowne language to us; like wise take notice yt we heare, and intend to know more fully, shortly yt yoe or yours have ackted the part of theaves or robbers by usurping with impudent and shameless boldness to come upon our ground and to seize upon our peace for your owne use on unheard of practice and never practiced by honest men, therefor we doe by these presents, protest against your course and wee resolved first to defend our selves & our estates from the hands of violent usurpers, wth s, no more than the law of nature and nations allowed. Secondly, when the season comes, yoe may expect to have and except the due defeat of such demeritts.[15]  

By the time Huntington had received the indecipherable paper, the English had regained control of New York. Smith returned to the English courts and this time he prevailed. He asserted the deed produced by Huntington (i.e. the Eastern Purchase) was “a False bill of sale” and that Huntington produced false witnesses.[16] He claimed that in any event, the land was not Asharoken’s to sell. Smith said he had purchased the land from Neconsett, Sachem of the Nissequogue under authority of the Connecticut colony and that he had possessed it without incident for 7 or 8 years before Huntington disturbed him. Most importantly, Smith claimed that Huntington “hath not settled yt land according to Governor Lovelace direction.”[17]

Remarkably, the English court in September 1675 found that “the proceedings of the Dutch Court in this case to bee legall and judiciall, and therefore give judgment for the plaintiff.”[18] The outcome was remarkable, not just because it contradicted earlier English rulings, but because the English court was ratifying the decision of the Dutch courts less than two years after the two countries had been at war against each other. The reversal was most likely because Huntington failed to settle the Ten Farms as required by the 1670 decision.

The court’s decision was a compromise in two respects. First the Court granted to Smith only the eastern half of the disputed territory. Each side had claimed all the land from the Nissequogue River to Crabmeadow.[19] The court granted Smith only the land to the east of Fresh Pond. Second, while granting Smith ownership of the land, the Court ruled that the property was within the jurisdiction of Huntington because it was included in Huntington’s patent. This last point seems to have escaped the notice of later commentators.

In 1677, the Governor, now Edmund Andros, issued a patent to Smith confirming his title to the lands from Stony Brook to Fresh Pond.

But what of the Huntingtonians who had settled on the Ten Farms? The Court didn’t address that issue. A month after the court decision, those “poor farmers” submitted a petition to the Governor complaining that in reliance on the 1670 decision in favor of Huntington, the settlers “built upon, Cleared fences, Planted Plowed and so etc upon yt Land on the West side of Nessequauke River and Cutt and provided Hay for their Cattells Provizion this winter.”[20] Without some provision by the governor to allow them to rent or purchase the land, “Your poore Petitioners their wives and Children Must of necessity Inevitably and Ireparably bee ruined and undone.”

The governor apparently sent a letter to Huntington recommending that the Town supply the dispossessed settlers with comparable land within the bounds of the Town of Huntington. Huntington responded that it wasn’t their idea to settle the Ten Farms. They would have rather paid money for the land, but the Court’s decree obliged them to settle the land within three years or else forfiet all claims to it. Moreover, the town didn’t force the dispossessed farmers to move to the disputed territory; they settled there voluntarily. And they only had to reimburse the owners of the farms for the expenses the owners had incurred in asserting Huntington’s claim to the land, “which was an inconsiderable Sum for so much Land.” Regardless of the effort the settlers may have expended, the beneficiary of their building, fencing, clearing, and manuring was Smith.[21]

I have not located a record that bears upon this question, but Romanah Sammis writes that “individual ownership in the property, by some of those named in the ten-farm allotments, came about satisfactorily.” She cites Joseph Whitman—the settler to whom Smith had delivered the decision of the Dutch Court—who owned land near the Nissequogue River that stayed in his family until the early twentieth century.[22]

Even after all the controversy was finally settled, we find that the patent issued to Huntington more than a decade later in 1688 by Governor Thomas Dongan described the boundaries of the town as stretching from Cold Spring eastward to the Nissequogue River.   Six years later, however, a new charter issued by Governor Benjamin Fletcher changed the eastern border of the Town to the west side of Fresh Pond.[23] Three weeks later Smithtown and Huntington exchanged quit claim deeds for the land on the respective sides of Fresh Pond.[24]

Disputes between property owners as to the the exact location of the border were not fully resolved until 1884 when the Supervisors of the two towns finally settled on the boundary line and had marble monuments placed from the Sound to the Sea.[25]

As for the story about the Indians granting to Richard Smith all the land he could encircle in one day, there’s a reason the animal he rode was a bull.


Richard Smith’s bull, Whisper.



[1] Smithtown, New York, 1660-1929, Looking Back Through the Lens, by Noel J. Gish (1996), page 20.

[2] History of Long Island, Benjamin Thomson (1843), page 453.

[3] Thomson, page 454

[4] Huntington Town Records, Vol. I, page 92 (hereinafter HTR)

[5] HTR, Vol. I, Page 113

[6] Documents Relating to the History of the Early Colonial Settlements Principally on Long Island (Weed, Parsons and Company, Albany, 1883), page 640

[7] Early Colonial Settlements, page 641.

[8] Ibid, page 642.

[9] Ibid., page 643. Spelling modernized.

[10] HTR, vol. I, page 170

[11] HTR, Vol. I, page 176

[12] HTR, vol. I, page 193, et seq.

[13] Early Colonial Settlements, page 714, a 1675 petition by Huntington to the governor refers to “four farmers.”

[14] HTR, vol. I, page 197

[15] HTR, vol. I, page 210

[16] Smith wasn’t alone in questioning the integrity of the Huntingtonians. In October 1675, Mathias Nicolls, secretary to the governor, accused the inhabitants of Huntington, in particular Jonas Wood, Isaac Platt, Thomas Skidmore, and Thomas Powell with slandering the secretary’s good name by accusing him of falsifying the records of the colony particularly in connection with the land dispute between Huntington and Smith in April 1674. (Early Colonial Settlements, page 701).

[17] HTR, vol. I, page 209

[18] HTR, vol. I, page 213

[19] Although it appears Smith by this time restricted his claim to the land east of Fresh Pond. See HTR, vol, page 210.

[20] Early Colonial Settlements, page 702

[21] Early Colonial Settlements, page 713-15

[22] Huntington Babylon Town History, by Romanah Sammis (Huntington Historical Society 1937)

[23] HTR, vol. II, page 143

[24] HTR, vol. II, page 160.

[25] HTR, Vol. I, page 213 footnote

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