By Beverly C. Tyler
Long Island, Brookhaven Town and the Three Village area have a rich history, with a population dating back thousands of years before the first white settlers. The first humans to set foot on Long Island were of the Paleo-Indian and Archaic cultures. These hunter-gatherers came to Long Island between 12,500 and 3,000 years ago. The first cultural group, the Paleo-Indians (12,500 to 8,000 BP, before present, defined as 1950) hunted the mammoths and mastodons with spear points called Clovis points. Several Clovis points have been found on Long Island.
Long Island Native Americans of the Algonquian culture settled in Brookhaven and used the land and the sea to provide all of their needs. These early settlers (3,000 to 1,000 BP, the Woodland culture period) used the rich coastal resources to support their native family groups.
There were basically two family groups of Native Americans in Brookhaven during the Woodland period. The Setalcotts, a name meaning “land on the mouth of the creek,” on the north near Long Island Sound, and the Unkechauges on the south shore near the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. They were described as tall and muscular with straight hair and a reddish complexion. They lived in simple lodge dwellings. They hunted in the plentiful forests, fished in the well-stocked bays and streams and grew corn and a few vegetables in small farming plots.
In the 1500s, the first European traders and trappers traveled up and down the east coast of North America. They bought food and furs from the Native Americans in exchange for iron goods, cloth goods and trinkets. Gradually the Native American way of life began to change. At the same time, with no resistance to European diseases, the Native Americans were devastated by smallpox and other diseases. The native population decreased by more than 50 percent, leaving fertile lands open to settlement by people of English descent from New England, eastern Long Island and England. In 1609, Henry Hudson landed on Long Island, before beginning his exploration of the Hudson River. He described the Indians as “seeming very glad of our coming and brought greene tobacco and gave us of it for knives and beads.”
From the time of Native American hunter-gatherers through Colonial times, West Meadow Beach, West Meadow Creek and the adjacent tidal wetlands have been a valuable resource. Archaeological excavations have given us most of the details of how people lived in this area as early as 5,000 years ago. One of the most famous sites in New York State was a nearby shell midden named the Stony Brook Site, excavated by the state archaeologist William Richie in 1955.
From archaeological digs by Richie and others, we know that, between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago, the native people were hunters and gatherers, dependent upon hunting local animals and gathering plants, stones and clay for food, shelter, tools, clothes and medicines.
The Fischetti Site, a prehistoric Indian site for manufacturing tools and spear points, was discovered during a cultural resource investigation of a proposed residential development in November of 1980. Salvage excavations continued through October of 1981.
The site, on the east side of West Meadow Creek opposite the horse show grounds and the new walking trail, was occupied by Algonquin Indians about 3,000 years ago. We know they used this location then because of the type of arrow and spear points and blades recovered. The primary activity here, on the edge of Stony Brook Creek, was making stone tools. We know this by the vast quantities of stone flakes and roughed-out stones.
The almost total absence of food remains at the site shows that this was not the location of a village. However, a village site, the Stony Brook Site, did exist about 800 yards to the south, along what is now known as Aunt Amy’s Creek, during the same time period.
For thousands of years, the Indians used natural resources, wood, stone and animals to make their housing, tools and clothing. About 3,000 years ago, their way of life changed with the introduction of three things: pottery, the bow and arrow and horticulture (farming). Like the earlier Indians, the Woodland Indians continued to rely on natural resources.
The artifacts taken from the Fischetti Site are part of the collection of the Three Village Historical Society. Artifacts from the Richie site are a part of the collection of the New York State Museum.
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.