History

By David Luces

Over 500 school kids from six different schools gathered on the grounds of the Smithtown Historical Society on May 17 as they were brought back to a pivotal time in our country’s history.

The Smithtown organization hosted its annual Civil War re-enactment as visitors were taken back to the 1860s and got a chance to experience how life was for soldiers and civilians during this time period.

Re-enactors and living historians from the 67th New York Company, 9th Virginia Infantry, Company C and 30th Virginia Infantry, Company B, dressed in authentic wool uniforms, spoke to the students about life during the 1860s, showed them how meals were prepared, ran military drills, displayed different types of weaponry from the era and demonstrated a skirmish between Union and Confederate troops.

Guests were also able to visit and talk to a battlefield doctor and were shown a cavalry demonstration by Boots and Saddles Productions. The cavalry showed students how different types of weapons were used while riding into battle and members took turns slashing at balloons tied to a wooden pole with a sword and then showed the difficulty of shooting a firearm while on a horse.

“I think it’s great that the students are here and they seem really excited,” said Smithtown Historical Society trustee Brian Clancy. “It’s a day off from school for them and they are learning something.”

For more information on the Smithtown Historical Society and its educational programs, visit www.smithtownhistorical.org.

Photo by Darren St. George

Preservation Long Island will host an open house at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm, 55 Old Post Road, Setauket on Saturday, May 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Actor David Burt will portray William Jayne II aka Big Bill the Tory and lead a tour of the home which dates back to1730. Tours will be held throughout the day. Admission is $5 adults, $3 children and seniors. For more information, call 631-692-4664.

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New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), above, addresses attendees of the 2018 Memorial Day Parade at East Setauket Veterans Memorial Park with Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to his left. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The celebration of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first called, began when the first proclamation for a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers killed in the Civil War was made on May 5, 1868, by Gen. John A. Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic.

He declared, “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept from year to year.” May 30 was chosen as the day, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

In 1873 New York State recognized Memorial Day as an official holiday and many other states followed during the next few decades.

In the Three Villages, Memorial Day is observed with ceremonies, first in Stony Brook and then in Setauket. In Stony Brook a plaque first dedicated on July 6, 1946, states, “This tablet is erected and dedicated, as an abiding memorial and as a token of the affectionate esteem of grateful citizens, to those gallant young men and women of the Stony Brook community who, in obedience to their country’s call, courageously offered their lives in World War I and World War II to maintain the American principles of liberty and justice.”

Two men from the local area gave their lives in World War I, Raymond Wishart and Harry Golden. The massive boulder and south-facing bronze tablet were erected on the Setauket Village Green in their memory. The boulder was brought from Strong’s Neck, and the plaque was designed by the well-known artist William de Leftwich Dodge who painted the murals on New York history that are in the state capitol in Albany.

Private Raymond Wishart, son of postmaster and Mrs. Andrew Wishart, was born Sept. 10, 1893, and he died in France Aug. 23, 1918. His remains were returned to this country and were buried in the Caroline Church of Brookhaven graveyard on a Sunday in July 1921. Harry Golden is remembered by his nephew, Sam Golden. “He was a sergeant in charge of the mules,” Sam recalled. “His unit was attacked, and he was killed. He was 28 years old when he died, and he’s buried there in France.”

On the opposite side of the rock is a plaque that was placed there after World War II. It reads, “1941–1945 — In memory of Clifford J. Darling, Henry P. Eichacker, Francis S. Hawkins, David Douglas Hunter, Orlando B. Lyons, Anthony R. Matusky, Edward A. Pfeiffer [and] William E. Weston of the United States Armed Forces who gave their lives in World War II.” A new plaque was later added to honor Chris Brunn who died in Vietnam in 1969.

The graves of these soldiers who served during the two world wars are often decorated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3054. The grave of Francis S. Hawkins, tech sergeant, 853 AAF Bomb Squadron, is also in the Caroline Episcopal Churchyard and Cemetery, near the stone of Raymond Wishart, and it details his service. “The son of Everett Hawkins [the last miller in Setauket] and Celia Swezey was born at Setauket, L.I., June 18, 1911. He volunteered in the U.S. Army Air Force September 24, 1942. On November 25, 1944 he gave his life to his country while on his 28th bombing mission over enemy lines, when his plane ‘The Moose’ was shot down over Hanover and crashed near Gehrden, Germany.”

The graves of patriots who served in the Revolutionary War are not forgotten either. In the Three Village area the graves of 30 patriots, including Nancy Strong, will be decorated before Memorial Day. The graves are in eight separate graveyards some of which are small family burying grounds. The list is a permanent part of the Three Village Historical Society’s Local History Collection.

After ceremonies on the Setauket Village Green, units of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, fire departments and other community organizations parade each year to the Memorial Park in East Setauket for the final services of the day. The brief tribute honoring those who died in the service of their country is an experience that may be observed and renewed each year.

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.

Photo from Northport Historical Society

The Northport Historical Society recently presented a historic map of Huntington to Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) in recognition of his support and efforts on behalf of the residents and community organizations within Suffolk’s 18th Legislative District. 

The map was created in 1873 by cartographer Frederick W. Beers as part of his “Atlas of Long Island.” It is a “snapshot” of the area and captures the Town of Huntington during a time of very rapid growth, which was spurred by the coming of the Long Island Rail Road in 1868.  

Spencer was quick to recognize that the boundaries on the 1873 map are almost exactly the same as his legislative district today and include parts of Lloyd Harbor, Huntington, Centerport, Northport, Asharoken and Eaton’s Neck.

With the map, above, are, from left, board member Carolyn Hyatt-Basche, Leg. Spencer, Society Director Andrea Miller and Society Vice President Philip Ingerman.

Reprints of the 1873 Beers map are currently available for sale in the society’s Museum Shop, located at 215 Main St. in Northport. For more information call 631-757-9859.

Author Angela Reich with her book, 'Shipwreck of Hopes'
Leah Dunaief

Today, May 23, is the birthday of Margaret Fuller. She would be 209 years old. I don’t know if you have ever heard of her. I hadn’t really, maybe vaguely. She was actually born Sarah Margaret Fuller, named after both her grandmothers, until she dropped the first name at age 9. She was in other ways a precocious child, too, the oldest of Massachusetts lawyer and Congressman Timothy Fuller’s children, and he taught her to read and write before age 4.

Fuller, a Harvard grad, was such a stern teacher that he forbade her reading sentimental novels and instead gave her what was then, at the beginning of the 19th century, a vigorous classical education — indeed a rarity for a woman at that time.

Margaret Fuller grew up expecting to be exceptional, and she was: as a journalist, editor, literary critic and women’s rights advocate. She strenuously protested slavery, homelessness and other injustices. She advocated for education for women. She also was reputed to be the best read person in all of New England. She was the only woman allowed to use the Harvard library for her research. Her breakthrough book was “Woman in the Nineteenth Century,” considered the first major feminist work in the United States, and she was friends and the intellectual equal of such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne — said to have modeled Hester Prynne after her, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and admired by Edgar Allan Poe.

Margaret Fuller

She died in 1850 at age 40 in a shipwreck off Fire Island, with her Italian count husband — if they ever married — and 2-year-old son, within sight of the shoreline. Her ship, the Elizabeth, ran aground on a sandbar as it was being captained by the first mate. The event was in all the metropolitan newspapers four days after the tragedy, once word could get out after the gale passed that had come sweeping up the East Coast, destroying the ship. Fuller had been sent by her publisher, Horace Greeley of the New-York Daily Tribune, to Europe from which she filed dispatches for four years, first from England and then from the 1848 revolutionary wars raging in Italy. In effect, she was this nation’s first female wartime correspondent.

Fuller’s life was honored with a book, “Memoirs of Margaret Fuller Ossoli,” a flattering portrait edited jointly by Ralph Waldo Emerson, James Freeman Clarke and William Henry Channing, all of whom rushed to get it out in print before, they feared, her reputation would die. In fact, it was the best-selling book in the United States until Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Margaret Fuller was a remarkable woman, and I am glad to meet her. How did we happen to meet?

We were introduced by Angela Reich and the Three Village Historical Society. Reich wrote a book called “Shipwreck of Hopes,” about the ship Elizabeth, and although this is fiction, the author spent a great deal of time getting the historic context right. She traveled to Harvard, poured over original letters and manuscripts, and otherwise discovered that there were thousands of shipwrecks off the Fire Island coast. Yes, thousands! This just happened to be one of them, and this one carried a famous passenger.

It is a wonderful thing that we can listen to a writer discuss his or, in this instance, her book and all that went into the writing, dressed in our daytime suburban-casual clothes, enjoying other community members similarly gathered and even a little homemade carrot cake on a given Monday night. In the process we learned some local history and met two worthy women: Margaret Fuller and Angela Reich.

We live in a terrific place where such delights — theater, music, documentaries, political debates and book discussions — frequently happen. All we have to do is get off the sofa after dinner and go to them. It’s often hard but so worth the effort. 

Johannes Gutenberg, depicted on the right, was the inventor of printing. File photo

By Elof Axel Carlson

Elof Axel Carlson

Knowledge can be conveyed by oral tradition or by written language. 

The earliest writings were on mud tablets (cuneiform tablets in Sumerian culture) or paper (papyrus sheets in Egypt in the ages of the pharaohs). Paper replaced mud or wooden tablets during the Middle Ages and some monasteries made copying texts (mostly religious commentaries and bibles) a major activity for monks. 

Most of humanity was illiterate until the 15th century. What changed? One of the greatest inventions was movable type, which allowed words to be arranged from metal letters. They could be aligned into sentences and pages and then placed in a wooden press and smeared with an oil-based ink. 

The inventor of this technology was Johannes Gutenberg (1400-1468). He raised the money from Johann Fust. Gutenberg’s son-in-law marketed the books Gutenberg printed (the Bible being his first large-scale project). 

Printed books became affordable to the new middle class emerging in Renaissance Europe.  They also became more diverse and translations (into Latin) of Greek texts were in heavy demand. The first biology text printed in 1476 was “De Animalibus” by Aristotle (translated from the Greek to Latin because Latin was the universal language of scholars throughout Europe until the 19th century). 

The first book in a different language was a German book in 1461. The first book in English was in 1475. Euclid’s “Elements of Geometry” was printed in 1482. The first book printed in North America, “The Bay Psalm Book,” was printed in 1640.

The problem with an oral tradition is its vulnerability to change with time and a high risk of losing lots of information. Written language can survive if preserved copies are kept in libraries, monasteries or royal households. The explosion of knowledge that came during the Renaissance owed much of its success to printing. 

Books were translated into Latin (and during the later Enlightenment into vernacular German, Italian, English and other languages). They could also be written to reflect new knowledge and commentary on any topic. 

Before printing, it took a monk about a year to copy a book using pen, ink and paper. Gutenberg’s press could produce 240 sheets of pages per day. It was not until the 1820s that steam-driven presses became available to scale up the production of books and newspapers. It also required the introduction of paper mills to mass produce paper from discarded clothing or from wood pulp. 

When Martin Luther led his Reformation movement and separated his followers from the authority of the Vatican, he ordered placing the Bible as the prime authority for religious instruction. He shifted it to German so it could be read by all Lutherans. This shifted printing from limited printings of scholarly or commercial technical books to mass production of texts where education was compulsory for all children and for mass production of Bibles so every household would have a Bible. 

As in many instances of new technology, these changes could not be anticipated when Gutenberg first introduced his printing press.  Once made available, more books appeared.  More books led to more readership. More readership led to the spread of diverse views of life and society. Once more diversity entered so did a ferment of ideas on how we should live, what we should revere, and what careers would emerge as new knowledge spread. 

For the scholar it led to the university and to higher degrees certifying an exposure to knowledge in dozens of fields old and new. 

Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.

By Kevin Redding

Seven score and 18 years ago, in 1861,  a battle between the Union soldiers of the North and Confederate soldiers of the South began, setting off one of the most tragic, bloody and integral events in American history.

Under an overcast sky Saturday, May 4, the Farmingville Historical Society brought members of the local community back to that time period with its Civil War Encampment on the grounds of the 1823 Terry House and 1850 Bald Hill School House on Horseblock Road in Farmingville. Visitors to the site were transformed to the 1860s to experience what life was like for soldiers during the Civil War, re-enacted in authentic garb by members of the 67th New York Company, the 9th Virginia Infantry, Company C, and 30th Virginia Infantry, Company B. 

The soldiers showed how meals were prepared over an open fire, ran military drills, fired muskets from the era and demonstrated a skirmish on the battlefield, a.k.a. Farmingville Hills County Park. 

Guests were also treated to Civil War-era candy and other period-accurate sweets and the one-room schoolhouse was open for business. Schoolteacher Sandra Marshak, of Patchogue, led discussions on what it was like to attend school in the 1800s. 

Jim Carrick, an Oakdale resident and member of the 9th Virginia Infantry who demonstrated how soldiers cleaned and loaded their muskets, said of the event, “It’s important to me to make sure that people will remember what this history was and what it was all about. It’s about keeping history alive and the younger generation are our future historians.”

For more information on the Farmingville Historical Society and its programs, visit www.farmingvillehistoricalsociety.org.

All photos by Kevin Redding

Members of the Living History cast, from left, Florence Lucker, Peter Reganato, Beverly Pokorny and Ellen Mason. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum’s popular Living History tours will return on Memorial Day weekend, on Saturday, May 25. Tours will be given every Saturday and Sunday at regular intervals between noon and 3:30 p.m. through Sunday, Sept. 1.

 This summer it’s 1939 in the Mansion. Guides in costume as family members and household staff tell stories of the Vanderbilt family and its famous guests.

 Among the characters portrayed by the Mansion guides will be Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia; Millicent Hearst (wife of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst); Whitney Warren of Warren & Wetmore Architects, who designed the Vanderbilt Mansion and Grand Central Terminal; the Duchess of Windsor; and William Vanderbilt’s siblings, Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan and Harold Vanderbilt, an expert on contract bridge and winner of the America’s Cup.

 “The guides will highlight some of the major events of 1939, including the New York World’s Fair. NBC did its first television broadcast, of a Princeton-Columbia football game. Joe Louis won the first heavyweight boxing title, the first Superman comic book was published, and the movies that opened included “Gone with the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” said Stephanie Gress, director of curatorial affairs.

“Among the surprising economic facts of that year – a gallon of gas cost 10 cents; a loaf of bread was 8 cents; the average new house cost $3,800; and the average annual wage was $1,730,” she added.

Tickets for the tours, which can be purchased only at the door, are $18 adults, $17 seniors and students, $15 children ages 12 and under and include general admission to the museum grounds. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress Prints & Photographs

By Nomi Dayan

Nomi Dayan

Becoming ill is never fun. Becoming ill when away from home is worse. And becoming ill at sea on a whaling ship is the worst of all. “Let a man be sick anywhere else — but on shipboard,” wrote whaler Francis A. Olmstead in 1841 in “Incidents of a Whaling Voyage.”

Whalers who fell ill could find little comfort. Olmstead continued to explain, “When we are sick on shore, we obtain good medical advice, kind attention, quiet rest, and a well ventilated room. The invalid at sea can command but very few of these alleviations to his sufferings.” There were no “sick days” for whalers, who were expected to work during busy times if they could stand. 

The incapacitated whaler would lie on his grimy, cramped straw mattress in his misery, listen to the nonstop creaking of the ship, roll from side to side with the swaying of the ship, and breathe the fishy, putrid air. He would eventually be visited by the “doctor,” a.k.a. the captain. The skipper would rely on his weak medical and surgical knowledge as he opened his medicine chest and offered some powdered rhubarb, a little buckthorn syrup, or perhaps mercurial ointment, chamomile flowers or cobalt. The whaler would then either recover or die. If he passed, the captain would casually mention his death in the next letter home, and perhaps pick up a replacement at the next port.

If the whaler was lucky, he might awaken from his burning fever and shivering chills to hear a soothing voice, feel a cool cloth being gently placed on his forehead, and perhaps taste a bit of food offered to him. He would sit up to catch a glimpse of this angel visiting him with her wide skirt and billowing sleeves.

She was none other than the captain’s wife. Women who lived on board whaling ships with their captain-husbands were primarily there to avoid the widow-like years ashore. Although these wives generally lived a profoundly separate life from the rest of the crew at sea, some wives recorded in their journals how they aided sick crew members as nurses. They wrote how they were bothered to see others suffer, and felt satisfied with their own usefulness in a situation where medical resources were bordering nonexistent.

Even if there was not much she could accomplish medically for a sick or hurt whaler, it seems her presence alone could be a comfort to men: Olmstead lamented that the attention an ill man received from other men “have none of that soothing influence which woman’s tender sympathy alone can impart.”

Mary Brewster, who sailed from Connecticut in 1845, observed that “a whaleship is a hard place for comfort for well ones and much more sick men.” She documented in her journal how “the best part of the day I have spent in making doses for the sick and dressing sore hands and feet. 5 sick and I am sent to for all the medicin[e]. I am willing to do what can be done for any one particularly if sick.”

Another wife of a coastal trader, Mary Satterly Rowland of Setauket, reported an unending job tending maladies and injuries: “First came Jack, a dose of salts. Second case Nick with a sore leg knocked off the skin on launching day. Thirdly Gardner taken cold and confined to the forecastle several days. Fourth, Cook Rheumatic pain and in bed sick … Fifth case Lawrence cut his toe.”

Martha Brown of Orient also played nurse at sea to an unfortunate young man, John. “I went into steerage this afternoon to give him some medicine, and asked him how he felt. His answer was ‘Mrs. Brown, I feel bad.’ My heart was touched. It is very hard to see him gradually growing worse and can do nothing for him.” One can imagine Martha’s grief watching him die shortly after. He was buried at sea.

One whaling wife’s experience as a nurse led her to falling in love with her patient. When 29-year-old first officer Will Williams was badly injured, Elizabeth Stetson nursed him all night, and continued to visit him when he was hospitalized. She washed his hair, cleaned his nails, and chatted – and chatted – and chatted, growing emotionally closer to him until she admitted in her diary, “I hope that Charles [husband] does not mind if I do love Willie so much.” Once he recovered, though, and rejoined the ship months later, she continued to get to know him – and his faults – and the spell was broken.

Most wives were happy to feel valuable and help contribute to the voyage’s success. Some took the initiative to go beyond their nursing roles: Calista Stover of Maine persuaded the crew of a sailing ship to swear off tobacco and alcohol while in port (the pledge didn’t stick). Others tried to reform men’s swearing. However, women tried to improve the crew, their support gives understanding to the root of the word “nurse,” which is Latin for “nutrire” – nourish. No wonder Charles. W. Morgan wrote, “There is more decency on board when there is a woman.”

Nomi Dayan is the executive director of The Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor. In honor of National Nurses Week, the museum is offering pay-as-you-wish admission for nurses (with current ID) and their families (up to 6 people) from May 7 to 12, as the museum recognizes the importance of nursing roles which whaling wives often took in the whaling industry.

Photo from Cynthia Barnes

Starting in mid-April, archaeologists with the Lamar Institute began a month-long search at three significant American Revolutionary War battlefields on Long Island. These included Fort Slongo in Fort Salonga, the fort and headquarters known as Fort Franklin on Lloyd’s Neck, and the two churches on the Setauket Village Green and Patriots Rock in Setauket. 

Participants in the survey include Daniel Elliott, president of the Lamar Institute and his wife, Rita; local historian David M. Griffin, author of “Lost British Forts of Long Island”; and Sheldon Skaggs, assistant professor at City University of New York (CUNY) Bronx and his students.

In conjunction with the recent archaeological surveys, the Three Village Community Trust will host a special Join the Conversation event at the Setauket Neighborhood House, 95 Main St., Setauket on Wednesday, May 8 at 8 p.m. 

Elliott and his team will share their field methodology and discuss their very preliminary findings. This is archeology close at hand. Learn about how the team uses ground-penetrating radar (GPR), systematic and controlled metal detection, to locate and excavate key targets, and plot where each are found using total station laser transit mapping technology for later analysis. 

The project will continue with laboratory analysis and research to enable the identification of the battlefields across the modern landscape while providing data regarding military strategies. Resulting interpretation will be documented in a report available to the public on the Lamar Institute’s website (www.thelamarinstitute.org) by September 2020.

All are welcome to attend this free event. Refreshments will be served and there will be time for Q&A. For more information, please call 631-689-0225.

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