By Beverly Tyler
In the archives of Setauket’s Caroline Church of Brookhaven is a beautifully written receipt dated September 17, 1729, written with a quill pen in elegantly flowing script. Addressed to Colonel Benjamin Floyd, senior warden at the church, the receipt details the purchase of the 132½-pound bell that still rings the call to Sunday church services at the historic white colonial building at the Setauket Village Green.
In 1936, the church began a restoration including a return to a colonial appearance. The restoration was financed by local philanthropist and businessman Ward Melville and was carried out by his architect Richard Haviland Smythe. During the restoration, a musket ball was discovered embedded in one of the white oak beams in the tower that holds the bell. During the Battle of Setauket on August 22, 1777, it seems likely that one of the Patriots, firing from about the location of Patriot’s Rock, was trying to ring the bell and missed. At the time the bell was visible in the tower as there were no louvers around the bell as there are today.
In September 1985, with the path of Hurricane Gloria expected to take it directly across the middle of Long Island, it was decided to remove the 30-foot steeple and bell. According to a 1985 article in Newsday, “The Rev. Paul Wancura, church rector, said, ‘We were concerned that with the storm coming, it might blow away and cause some real damage.’” Near the end of the hurricane season the bell and steeple were returned to their exalted positions atop the church tower.
Beverly 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.