History

Historic Setauket cemeteries will host an evening of mystery and suspense

Donna Smith portrays Maria Smith Williamson during the 2016 Spirits Tour

By Heidi Sutton

The shorter days, falling leaves and cooler weather signal the arrival of the Three Village Historical Society’s annual Spirits Tour. The popular event, now in its 24th year, will be held at the Caroline Church of Brookhaven and the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemeteries on Saturday, Oct. 20. Guided tours will begin at 5 p.m. with the last tour of the evening heading out into the dark at 7:45 p.m. 

This year’s tour, titled Fickle Finger of Fate, will feature “Spirits” of the past, costumed actors who will portray unfortunate souls of the Three Village area that knocked on death’s door too soon. 

One of the stops during last year’s tour. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

Frank Turano, co-chair of the committee and historical society trustee returned to write the script for the 15-member cast, a massive undertaking that took months of research. When asked how he came up with this year’s theme, Turano said, “Fate takes different turns in people’s lives and that’s what we’re highlighting. These are local people that made a decision in their lives that sometimes turned out good and sometimes not so good.”

All the people that the actors will be portraying lived in Setauket and Stony Brook. “The earliest one lived in the 18th century and the latest one is middle 20th,” said Turano. Those who currently live in the area will recognize the familiar last names like Bates, Parsons, Satterly, Davis and Jones. 

“Until [William] Levitt arrived in this community, this was very much a provincial area with the same people [living here] year after year and generation after generation,” explained Turano who will be portraying Henry Hackett Satterly who enlisted in the army and was shipped out to the Mexican War in the early 1840s. He wound up dying in a hospital in Mexico and was buried in an unmarked grave. His family erected a monument to him behind the Presbyterian Church.

Visitors will also meet the spirit of Captain George Child who perished along with 154 others when the Lexington Steamer caught fire and sank off Eaton’s Neck in 1840. Child was filling in for Captain Jake Vanderbilt, who had called in sick, which sealed his fate.

Artist William Sidney Mount, who is buried at the Presbyterian Church, will have his story told also, but in a different context. “In the late 1840s there was a national popularity with the occult with the Ouija board and cult activities and Mount was fascinated by it and one of the places he went for these séances  was [Thomas Haddaway’s house in Stony Brook] which is now the Country House Restaurant,” said Turano.

Stephanie Carsten will reprise her role of Maria Smith Williamson, whose son Jedidiah died after being run over by a wagon in the mid-1800s, and  Edward Pfeifer’s specter will tell how he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in the 1930s as a ground crewman and was stationed at Clark Field in the Phillipines, “which was considered a plum of an assignment because he was right near Manila” said Turano. 

“Unfortunately, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Pfeifer was transferred to the Infantry Division and was part of the defense of Corregidor.” Pfeifer wound up on the infamous Bataan Death March and died in the prison camp. Added Turano, “He had lots of things that twisted his fate.”

TVHS President Stephen Healy is proud to be able to offer this event to the community, which, along with the society’s annual Candlelight Tour, is one of the society’s biggest fundraisers of the year. “The churches are fantastic — they just are that perfect backdrop to having an event like this and to actually walk through an active graveyard is kind of neat and a little bit spooky as it is,” he said. 

One of the new additions to the tour this year will be roaming characters who will interact with visitors in both cemeteries. Healy will play the part of a turn-of-the-century detective investigating a disappearance, a role he is looking forward to playing at one of his favorite historical events.

“As a local historian group, we try to get the word on locally what happened here, pre and post Culper Spy. People live in this community because aesthetically it looks beautiful, but they don’t know a lot about the rich history and that’s where we come in.”

Tours will leave from the Setauket Presbyterian Church, 5 Caroline Ave., Setauket every 15 minutes starting at 5 p.m. Each tour lasts approximately 1½ to 2 hours. The last tour departs at 7:45 p.m. It is advised to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes and bring a flashlight. 

In addition, a 1920s remastered silent film, “The Daughter of Dawn,” will be screened at the Setauket Presbyterian Church during the event.  Selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” it features an all-Native American cast. Complimentary hot cider and donuts will be served in the Presbyterian Church during the event. 

Tickets in advance at www.tvhs.org are $18 adults, $15 members; $10 children under 12, $8 members. Tickets on the night of the event, if available, are $25 adults, $20 members; $12 children under 12, $10 members. Rain date is Oct. 27. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

Photo courtesy of Preservation Long Island

Looking for something to do this Saturday? Why not take a step back in time and visit the historic Sherwood-Jayne House, 55 Old Post Road, East Setauket on Saturday, Oct. 6? 

Preservation Long Island will offer docent-led tours between noon and 3 p.m. Originally built around 1730 as a lean-to salt box dwelling, the house and agricultural setting were maintained as an operational farmstead for over 150 years by members of the Jayne family. In 1908, Preservation Long Island’s founder, Howard C. Sherwood, acquired the property to showcase his lifetime interest in collecting, studying and living with antiques. The house contains period furnishings and features original late-eighteenth-century hand-painted floral wall frescoes. 

Admission is $5 adults, $3 children ages 7 to 14. Tours are also offered by appointment. For more information, call 631-692-4664.

Mount Sinai Scout Michael Muroff stands with his completed Eagle Scout project Sept. 29, the front door of the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society. Photo by Alex Petroski

A Mount Sinai Boy Scout literally restored an entryway to local history to complete his Eagle Scout project.

The front door to the William Miller House on North Country Road, a centuries-old building that has long served as the headquarters for the Miller Place-Mount Sinai Historical Society, was in a state of disrepair for longer than historian Edna Giffen could remember. Now, thanks to 17-year-old Scout Michael Muroff from Troop 1776, a brand new door constructed with a nod to history in mind hangs from the hinges, serving as a refurbished entry to local history.

Boy Scouts hoping to achieve Eagle status, the highest rank attainable by a male Scout, are tasked with completing a project that demonstrates leadership and benefits the community. Repairing the front door of the historical society met the criteria for Muroff, who said he and his family had been attending events — like the annual Country Fair that took place Sept. 29 during Muroff’s project unveiling — at the house since he was a kid.

Eagle Scout Michael Muroff, center, receives a proclamation from Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner, third from right, after unveiling is project Sept. 29. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I’ve always had an interest in local history, and it was always a subject I excelled at in class, and I thought by doing this project it would be a good way of giving back to the community and something that I really enjoy,” he said.

The work started with four to five weekends dedicated to just stripping the old paint off of the door frame using a heat gun and metal stripper, according to the Scout. With help from a local woodworker and others, a new, yet true to the original batten door was constructed. Batten doors traditionally have between six and eight wooden planks bound together. Muroff’s door features seven planks and includes the door’s original hinges, restored and repainted as well as part of the project. He also found authentic galvanized nails to match the original and maintain the new door’s historic integrity. The door’s original handle was left as is though, according to Muroff.

“The old door was falling apart and dilapidated, so we had to just completely make a new one,” Muroff said.

Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) attended the event and joked she had never seen the front door of the building hang so straight and close so tightly.

“We always like to take time out of our day to recognize and honor our Scouts,” she said. “So much attention is focused on the bad things our kids are doing and not on the good things they’re doing. It makes me feel good to know that we’re surrounded by some really great kids.”

In August, Muroff’s sister Rebecca completed her Gold Award project, the equivalent to the Eagle project but for Girl Scouts, which entailed cataloging the historical society’s vast collection of historic photos. The Scouts’ dad Greg Muroff served as Michael’s Scoutmaster throughout his time working through the program.

“It’s just wonderful that many years coming down to the Country Fair and to see Postman Pete, just to have my children Rebecca and Michael give back to the historical society and the community is just a wonderful thing,” he said. “Mike has a tremendous love of history and this was an ideal project for him.”

He said it will be special for both him and his son to drive past the house on North Country Road for years to come and see his hard work front and center.

“I have to say, as his dad and Scoutmaster I’m especially proud,” the Scoutmaster said. “The Eagle Scout award is more than just a project, it’s a culmination of their Boy Scout career. It means a lot of leadership, service to the community and self-discipline.”

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The Obadiah Smith House. File photo

Two organizations in the Town of Smithtown have been selected to receive more than $13,000 in grants to plan for future preservation of two local landmarks.

The Preservation League of New York State, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve historic structures across the state, announced Oct. 3 it has awarded funds to both Commack Union Free School District and the Smithtown Historical Society.

Commack school district received a $7,620 grant to hire a consultant to perform a full building report on the Marion Carll farmhouse, which was given to the district in 1969 for historic and educational purposes.

“It’s really quite extraordinary,” said Erin Tobin, vice president for policy and preservation at the Preservation League.

This is such an incredible time capsule that has tremendous educational potential.”

— Erin Tobin

The Marion Carll Farm is a historic location of potential statewide significance, according to  Tobin, as the nine-acre property located on Jericho Turnpike consists of an 1860s farmhouse and several outlying buildings and retains many of the objects and possessions of its original owners, the Carll family of Commack.

“It’s a very intact site,” she said. “So many historic buildings on Long Island have been over restored and lost their original material and integrity of the historic building, the plaster, the wall paper and such. This is such an incredible time capsule that has tremendous educational potential.”

Huntington-based Steward Preservation Services, run by architect Joel Snodgrass, has been hired to evaluate the farmhouse and create a plan for the building’s preservation tasked with compiling a list of recommended steps. Tobin said she is aware of some issues in the farmhouse’s kitchen as well as some necessary roof repairs, but the report may uncover additional problems. The report will be done in compliance with standards set by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“There’s a lot of opportunity out there for partnerships,” Tobin said. “It will be interesting to see what the school district moves ahead with. This report might help inform what they want to do next.”

The Smithtown Historical Society also received a $5,800 grant in order to conduct a building report on the Obadiah Smith House on St. Johnland Road in Smithtown. Priya Kapoor, executive director of the Smithtown Historical Society, said she’s thrilled to have been selected to receive the funds.

“[The Obadiah Smith House is] a treasure we want to preserve and, at this point, it needs a lot of attention and a lot of care.”

— Priya Kapoor

“It’s a treasure we want to preserve and, at this point, it needs a lot of attention and a lot of care,” Kapoor said.

The Obadiah Smith House is the first historic home the Smithtown Historical Society ever occupied, according to the executive director, but now finds itself in need of some tender loving care. The building dates back to approximately 1700 and was owned by the grandson of the town’s founder Richard Smith.

“The Obadiah Smith House is one of the earliest houses on Long Island,” Tobin said. “It’s a great example of early English and Dutch building traditions.”

Kapoor said the historical society will also have Steward Preservation Services do a full report on the building’s condition to ensure it is up to code and safe. Once the report is complete, the organization will apply for additional grants and funding to make the repairs. The long-term goal is to be able to open up the Obadiah Smith House to be toured by area students learning about local history, according to Kapoor.

The Smithtown Historical Society is in the process of fixing up and reopening the Franklin O. Arthur Farmhouse’s animal barn to the public in the spring of 2019. Kapoor said she hopes to have space to add more programs and allow people to see firsthand the historic farming techniques used.

“I’m really excited about where the society is going right now with this new direction,” she said. “We’re also excited for each member of the community who is helping us.”

Setauket United Methodist Church circa. 1909. Mechanics Hall, which was once used as a parsonage, is to the right. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

Members of a Three Village church are recalling its history with a significant milestone around the corner.

The Setauket United Methodist Church, located on the northeast corner of Route 25A and Main Street and known locally as the “light on the hill,” will be celebrating its 175th anniversary Oct. 14 with a special service.

Setauket United Methodist Church as it looked today. Photo from Setauket United Methodist Church

Congregants originally gathered in a schoolhouse in 1835 not far from its present location, according to church documents. The Methodist Society of Setauket was formed by Alfred Darling, Peter Darling, Charles Darling, William Cargill and Richard Terrell after attending a revival in Port Jefferson in 1843.

They first purchased what was known as the Baptist Meeting House on the corner, and in 1869 members who were employed in the local shipbuilding industry began building the current church when it was agreed that a bigger building was needed. The congregants sold the old church in 1869 and moved the building across Route 25A. The new building was dedicated Oct. 12, 1870.

Dennis Hutchinson was baptized in the church in 1939 and has been a member all his life. Through the years, he said he has seen the congregation, which currently includes approximately 500 members according to Rev. Steven Kim, grow due to developing surrounding communities and at times shrink.

Hutchinson said he remembers many renovations through the decades, including a new steeple that cost $16,000 in the late ’70s. At a horse show organized by philanthropist Ward Melville, Isaac Lyness, a member of the church, attended the event and was able to meet Melville and tell him about the steeple and the church’s historic significance in Setauket. Melville gave $4,000 to help pay for the new steeple.

“That was quite a generous gift at the time,” Hutchinson said.

Through the decades, church members held various fundraisers including fairs and bake sales, and Hutchinson said local residents always remember how the church would sell clam chowder in the spring. He said one year they made 600 quarts of chowder.

Cecelia Lundquist said during the last 10 years the church members have redecorated the sanctuary and installed a handicapped elevator. Lundquist and her husband, Bob, have been members since 1967 when they moved back to Long Island after her husband was briefly transferred to Virginia. A lawyer they knew from their church in Brooklyn told them about Setauket and suggested they join the church.

“We became members of the Setauket United Methodist Church more than 50 years ago,” Lundquist said. “It has been the center of our lives, both spiritually and socially.”

Barbara Thomas has been a member of the church since she attended as a child, and she remembers when the children would meet under the sanctuary for a brief service in the basement hall named after Samuel Gurney, a missionary with family in the area. The service would be followed by classes.

The original steeple of the 1870 church building is being painted by Ray Tyle, who was a local photographer and artist known for his aerial photographs commonly taken from the tops of flagpoles and other tall structures. Photo from Three Village Historical Society

“I remember long velvet drapes that divided the classrooms,” Thomas said. “The drapes were hung from wire which ran from the walls to the columns that braced the church.”

Thomas said the church bought Mechanics Hall, a building near Main Street that was converted into a parsonage for the pastor, and when the Sunday school and church membership  grew during World War II, to accommodate the growing congregation, an addition was built to connect what then became the former parsonage. It was named after Carl J. Norton, who once produced Christmas pageants for the church. With the addition, the church now had two offices, and the former parsonage was named after early members of the church, the VanBrunt family.

“I am still a part of this wonderful little church and sometimes I witness the return of former members,” Thomas said. “I remember with fondness the men and women who have come to guide us through the years as pastors, and I remember the many sisters and brothers who have graced the church and been a loving family to me.”

There have been approximately 75 pastors through the decades. Rev. Kim has led the congregation since 2016 and said he is looking forward to the anniversary.

“I hope people would rediscover the significance of the great spiritual heritage that has run through Setauket Methodist Church upon our 175th Anniversary,” Kim said.

Hutchinson will speak on the day of the service. He said he let Kim know he has a lot to share.

“In my little talk that I’m going to give on that Sunday, I have so many things [to share] but I should try to get them home by dark,” Hutchinson said.

The anniversary service will be held Oct. 14 at 10 a.m. at the church located at 160 Main St., East Setauket. The service will include sharing memories, guest preachers, a luncheon and a
performance by musicians from The Jazz Loft. For more information about Setauket United Methodist Church and the anniversary service, visit www.setauketumc.org or call 631-941-4167.

Huntington High School students have given a presidential gift to the Town of Huntington that is already being called “timeless.”

Huntington town officials unveiled a new historic marker Sept. 21 in Municipal Lot 49 on New York Avenue commemorating a speech given during the town’s 250th anniversary celebration in 1903 by former President Theodore Roosevelt’s (R).

“In doing so today, we are not only honoring the president who came to address the residents of our town, but the importance of the legacy he left behind,” said Katelyn Sage, a senior at Huntington High School.

Roosevelt’s visit wasn’t only very powerful because he was a sitting president coming here for the anniversary of a great town, but he also started the study of historical remembrance here in Huntington.” 

— Chad Lupinacci

Sage and Huntington senior Luke Farrell have worked together during the past year to research Roosevelt’s 1903 visit to Huntington with Joseph Levy, Huntington school district’s chairman of humanities. After hours of research, the students learned a committee of local women searched through attics, basements and barns to pull together a collection of artifacts from the town’s Colonial era ahead of the presidential visit, according to Sage. The committee and collection served as the foundation of the current Huntington Historical Society.

“Roosevelt’s visit wasn’t only very powerful because he was a sitting president coming here for the anniversary of a great town, but he also started the study of historical remembrance here in Huntington,” Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said.

On the Fourth of July in 1903, Roosevelt gave a speech praising civic-minded virtues to a large crowd gathered in an empty field now near the intersection of New York Avenue and Gerard Street in Huntington. It was reenacted by Theodore Roosevelt impersonator Leer Leary at the unveiling ceremony Sept. 21. A short excerpt is also written on the historic marker.

“In civil life, we need decency, honesty. We are not to be excused as people if we ever condone dishonesty,” the supervisor said, reading the selected Roosevelt quote. “That’s advice to heed for our representative government at all levels, whether it’s the local level, state level or national level.”

In civil life, we need decency, honesty. We are not to be excused as people if we ever condone dishonest.”

— Theodore Roosevelt’s 1903 speech

Roosevelt was only the second sitting president to visit Huntington, according to Lupinacci, after George Washington, who dined at the former Platt’s Tavern in 1790. No sitting president has visited the town since. A traditional blue-and-gold historic marker was erected in 1932 by the New York State Education Department near the intersection of Park Avenue and Route 25A to mark Washington’s visit.

“Luke, Mr. Levy and I have researched and organized this project in order to commemorate an important historic event that not only happened in our town, but has yet to be acknowledged,” Sage said.

The marker commemorating Roosevelt’s visit, funded by Huntington High School’s student government, bears a different design. The students choose to install a plaque that displays a black-and-white photo of the occasion, the quote from Roosevelt’s speech and a short caption describing the historical significance of the event.

“I congratulate them for doing a wonderful job commemorating a period from 115 years ago,” Town historian Robert Hughes said. “The quote they selected reflects modern-day America as well. This is a timeless historic marker.”

A ‘Bill of Health’ certificate stating that the whaling vessel Splendid is free of plague or disease with 28 men on board, including the master, Richard P. Smith, on Oct. 27, 1853. From the Whaling Museum Collection

By Nomi Dayan

Have you ever been asked to please stand by? Ever told someone not to barge in? Have you hung on to the bitter end, or been given a clean bill of health? If so, you have spoken like a sailor. 

Each type of human activity, noted essayist L. Pearsall Smith, has its own vocabulary. Perhaps this is most evident in the speech of mariners. 

The English language is a strong testament to how humans have been seafarers for millennia, with a multitude of words and phrases having filtered from life at sea to life on land. Today, a surprising number of phrases, words and expressions still have nautical origins, notably from sailing terminology in the 18th and 19th centuries. While some adopted phrases have fallen by the wayside, many expressions in our everyday language are derived from seafaring.

Barge in: Referring to flat-bottomed work boats, which were awkward to control

Bitter end: The last part of a rope attached to a vessel

Clean bill of health: A document certifying a vessel had been inspected and was free from infection

Dead in the water: A sailing ship that has stopped moving

Down the hatch: A transport term for lowering cargo into the hatch and below deck

Figurehead: A carved ornamental figure affixed to the front of a ship

Foul up: To entangle the line

Fudge the books: While the origins of this term is unclear, one theory connects it to a deceitful Captain Fudge (17th century)

Give leeway: To allow extra room for sideways drift of a ship to leeward of the desired course

High and dry: A beached ship 

Jury rig: Makeshift or temporary repairs using available material

Keel over: To capsize, exposing the ship’s keel   

Show the ropes: Train a newcomer in the use of ropes on sailing vessel

Letting the cat out of the bag: One explanation links this phrase to one form of naval punishment where the offender was whipped with a “cat o’ nine tails,” normally kept in a bag  

Passed with flying colors/Show one’s true colors: Refers to identifying flags and pennants of sailing ships

Pipe down: Using the boatswain’s pipe signaling the crew to retire below deck

A new slant: A sailor will put a new slant on things by reducing sails to achieve an optimum angle of heel to avoid the boat from being pulled over

Slush fund: The ship’s cook created a private money reserve by hoarding bits of grease into a slush fund sold to candle makers

Steer clear: Avoid obstacles at sea

Taken aback: Sails pressed back into the mast from a sudden change of wind, stopping forward motion 

The author is the executive director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor.

Photo by Anthony White

The fourth annual Culper Spy Day was held Saturday, Sept. 15 offering participants self-guided tours of 24 locations in the Three Village area and Port Jefferson including eight more spots than previous years.

Margo Arceri, founder of the event and owner of Tri-Spy Tours, was pleased with this year’s turnout of more than 800 visitors.

Margo Arceri speaks to visitors about Culper Spy Abraham Woodhull at his gravesite in the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery during the event. Photo by Michael Rosengard

“Culper Spy Day has grown beyond my wildest dreams,” she said. “From Manhattan to Montauk, attendees get to learn and understand just how the Culper Spy Ring helped change the course of the Revolution. These were ordinary people who did extraordinary things. Without the hard work and efforts of each individual
organization and their volunteers, it would not be what it is today.”

Tri-Spy Tours, the Three Village Historical Society, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization and The Long Island Museum hosted the  day with more than 40 organizations participating. Ticketholders experienced Revolutionary War encampments; docent-led tours of historic homes, churches and cemeteries; blacksmith demonstrations; Colonial cooking; children’s activities; invisible ink demonstrations, a TURN memorabilia auction and more.

OVER THE RAINBOW

Helen Badoyannis of Setauket captured this radiant photo in her hometown. She writes, “ I took this photo on July 22 following a downpour resulting in an exquisite rainbow with brilliant colors and demarcations. I happened to be passing by the historic Thompson House and took this just before the rainbow disappeared.”

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

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A Smithsonian postcard shows the interior of the Headsville, West Virginia, country store and post office installed in the National Museum of History and Technology, Washington, D.C., which includes many of the items found in the old Jonas Hawkins Store and Ordinary.

By Beverly C. Tyler

Part two of two.

Following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, 31-year-old Major Jonas Hawkins, Stony Brook general store owner and former courier for the Culper Spy Ring, continued operating Jonas Hawkins Store and Ordinary from his home in Stony Brook.

Students check out a general store display in the Setauket Elementary School auditorium during a 2012 Founders Day program. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By the beginning of the 19th century, the general store came into its own as an institution. It was an outgrowth of independence, and an example of Yankee know-how and frontier enterprise at its best.

The seemingly inexhaustible supply of American lumber and timbers plus a few manufactured items such as barrels went from U.S. ports to the West Indies where they were traded for rum, molasses and sugar. This island produce was, before the Revolutionary War, shipped in turn to England to be traded for manufactured goods — clothing, glass, china and tea — to name just a few. After the Revolutionary War, the trade continued, but the so-called triangle trade was extended to other European countries and to China as American ships began to bring their own tea, spices and other commodities back to the United States from all corners of the world.

In large part, no money changed hands between the country general store owner and the importer or between the merchant and the local seller of eggs and bacon. Bills of credit were commonly given by the importers and continued to be the general practice until late in the 19th century. The country merchant’s major asset was the produce that he collected by barter. The general store owner was in contact with the large general stores in New York City which sold both wholesale and retail as well as with the coastwise schooner captains, freight shippers, money brokers and various jobbing houses.

The country general store was a natural gathering place for residents of the community, especially in the cold winter months when many farmers, farmhands and seamen had nothing better to do. There was often a bench in the store, placed outside in the warmer months, called the liars bench. In the colder weather, the men who came to the store would find places close by the stove which often sat in the open near the middle of the room. It was here that stories were told, tall tales were spun, and the latest information on the state of the nation and the world was discussed. It was often the store owner who had the latest newspaper from New York City, or there was a ship captain who had just arrived with fresh news from one of the major ports.

Benjamin Franklin Thompson — his father called him Franklin — was just 16 years old in 1801. He was a hard, if not willing, worker on his father’s farm in Setauket, and he was often sent to Jonas Hawkins Store and Ordinary for a variety of items.

“November 18, 1800 — Tuesday … Franklin rides to Major Hawkins to carry 36 yards of cloth, gets half a pound paper of tobacco at 0/9 (0 shillings, 9 pence) carries 2 bushels of wheat to mill [Stony Brook Grist Mill] and fetches it home.”

About half the entries in Samuel Thompson’s diary which detailed trips to the general stores in Setauket and Stony Brook indicate that Samuel went himself.

“July 23, 1800 — Wednesday … Ride to Major Hawkins yesterday fetch 2 gall Rum pay 17/. Buye six yards of callonnick for my wife a pettecoat pay 24/ for it.”

It was usual for Thompson to visit the home and store of Hawkins since he was one of the few doctors in the community, and the general store was a vital source of news about local residents as well as being the source of many of Thompson’s medicines.

The inside of a wooden cigarillos box with a typical general store scene. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

“October 9, 1800 — Thursday … I ride to see Betsey Kelly then to Major Hawkins in the afternoon pay 10/ for a gallon of rum get 10 oz common Peruvian Bark pay 3/11.”

Thompson also listed senna and white vitriol as medicines that he purchased during the year 1800 from Hawkins’ store.

Thompson recorded in his diary an average of one trip a month to the general store of Hawkins. His purchases for 10 months included 12 gallons of rum. Thompson had a 200-acre farm and at least five farmhands. His purchases also included small quantities of sherry, gin and brandy. He also records the purchase of earthen cups, pipes, a pitcher and pins.

The country general-store owners were usually a fairly easygoing lot, and they put up with a great deal of tomfoolery from the bench warmers. They were also a no-nonsense breed who recognized a good product or a good worker.

As the 19th century began, the country general store began to change and grow. In 1805, Artemas Kennedy of Arlington, Massachusetts, near Boston, started the Kennedy Biscuit Company. The first “sea biscuits” were supplied to clipper ships as a staple for sailors on the long voyages around Cape Horn to California. The sea biscuit or cracker soon became popular on land as well as at sea, and the cracker barrel soon became a standard item in the country stores.

For those would like to experience an authentic country store, there is the St. James General Store located at 516 Moriches Roads. This “old-fashioned” general store is run for the benefit of residents and visitors through the Suffolk County Parks Department, Division of Historic Services. There are two floors of 19th- and 20th-century goods, and lots of homemade goodies. They have an extensive collection of old-style candies, with many brands that date back to the 19th century. On the second floor are books on Long Island covering many local communities, as well as lots of wonderful children’s books. The back room has an extensive collection of ornaments, some of which are reproductions of antique decorations. Back on the first floor there is a large selection of toys, dolls and games for children that also harken back to the 19th century.

Beverly C. Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

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