Spirits Tour brings Three Village ghosts to life

Spirits Tour brings Three Village ghosts to life

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Three Oct. 17 Spirits Tour interpreters, from left to right, Dennis O’Connor as Abraham Woodhull, Bonnie Bryant O’Connor as Abraham Woodhull’s wife Mary, and Beverly Tyler as Colonel Benjamin Floyd. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Good evening! Colonel Benjamin Floyd at your service. I was born here in Setauket in 1740, and I started school here at the age of 6 in our one-room schoolhouse. Anna Smith, a good friend and neighbor, started school the same year as me. Anna later married Selah Strong. We were both Loyalists during the Revolutionary War, or so I thought, and we stayed here after British forces took control of Long Island in August of 1776.

I lived my entire life in the Floyd ancestral home here in Setauket behind the Setauket Presbyterian Church and overlooked Setauket Harbor. My father, Colonel Richard Floyd, lived here until his death in 1771. He was appointed judge of the Suffolk County Court of Common Pleas and supervisor of Brookhaven town and president of the Brookhaven Trustees until 1763.

I was very proud of my father and basically followed in his footsteps as a trustee of Brookhaven town starting in 1772, and then as Supervisor of Brookhaven in 1774 and 1775.

With British control of Long Island, I was again elected as town supervisor in both 1777 and 1778. In fact all our Brookhaven town trustees were Loyalists including my neighbors in Setauket, Joseph Brewster and Gilbert Smith. The Loyalists were a majority in the town when I was elected. Those with Patriot leanings including Jonathan Thompson and Selah Strong lost their seats on the Town Board. In fact, Jonathan Thompson and his son Dr. Samuel Thompson fled to Connecticut and I heard that they had joined in supporting the Patriot cause in Connecticut.

Selah Strong was actually arrested and imprisoned in New York City in 1778 for alleged correspondence with the enemy. However, his wife Anna appealed to her brother and other Loyalists in Manhattan and got him released. He then fled to Connecticut. Anna stayed here on the neck with her six children and kept the farm going as well as she could. We all helped each other during this very difficult time and Anna was particularly looked after by her neighbor across Little Bay, Abraham Woodhull. I had thought that Woodhull was a Loyalist during the war but I found out later that he had been a spy for General Washington.     

Other Loyalists who lived in Setauket included John Bayles, Dr. George Muirson and Caroline Anglican Church Pastor James Lyons.

I married Ann Cornell in 1767 and we had four children between 1768 and 1773. Unfortunately our first child, Margaret, only lived two years and my wife Ann died after giving birth to our third son, Samuel, in 1773. My mother , Elizabeth, helped me as much as she could until her death in April of 1778.

Members of my family were split during the Revolutionary War with many including my brother and I supporting the British Crown and remaining loyal to His Royal Highness King George the third. In fact my father and my brother Richard and I were loyal members of the Anglican Church in Setauket. My father was the first warden of Caroline Church and helped get the Anglican church organized and the building built in 1729. I am very proud that I again followed my father as a warden and member of the vestry of the church.

By 1780, British and Loyalist forces had stripped many areas of Long Island of their cattle, horses, hay, wheat, cordwood and anything else of value. British and Loyalist officers gave us chits, written notes, for what they took and said we would receive compensation after they won the war. In addition the officers allowed their troops to take much of what remained without any thought of repayment. By 1780, we were in need of many of the basic things to sustain life in our communities. It was for these reasons as well as for many atrocities committed against Long Island residents that many who had been Loyalists wanted nothing more than for the British to be gone, thus in actual fact becoming Patriots.

Thus in May of 1780, I was voted out of office and Selah Strong, a Patriot who only recently returned to his home in Setauket, was elected as supervisor of the Town of Brookhaven. The tide of war was turning in favor of General Washington, despite the fact that British forces still controlled much of Long Island and would continue to do so until after November of 1783. Like many Long Islanders I was torn between loyalty and reality. I chose to support my community and the direction it was headed but I wisely kept a low profile.

I continued on the vestry of Caroline Church and worked over the next few decades, as America became an independent country, to help the new Caroline American Episcopal Church become a valued addition to religious diversity in the United States of America.

Editor’s note: Benjamin Floyd died in 1820 and is buried in the Floyd plot of the Setauket Presbyterian Church cemetery.     

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.