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Beverly C. Tyler

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Setauket Union Free School District No. 2, the “school on the hill.” Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

My previous article, on March 17, detailed the story of the Setauket Christian Avenue African-American and Native-American settlement and the oral histories collected by Stony Brook University professor Glenda Dickerson and her Theater Arts crew for the 1988 play and exhibit at the fine Art Center. At the time, the Three Village Historical Society produced a journal of the play and the oral histories collected which is now available as a PDF file. In 2014, the society developed and installed a new exhibit that detailed the Setauket/East Setauket area where Native-Americans, African-Americans, German-Americans, Irish-Americans and a new group of Eastern European immigrants lived and worked between 1861 and the first three decades of the 20th century.

This new exhibit, Chicken Hill, a Community Lost to Time, is an exploration of the life of the native and immigrant population in the half-mile surrounding the present 1870 Setauket Methodist Church. In 1861, the Nunns and Clark brick piano factory was erected southwest of the then 1843 Methodist Chapel. Nunns hired mostly German immigrants. It went out of business in 1857. The building became the Long Island Rubber Company in 1876 and soon hired a work force of mostly African- American and Irish workers. By 1888, the majority of workers were Eastern European Jewish workers with a flavoring of Eastern European Catholic workers as well as all the previous ethnic groups.

One of the dozen or more oral histories in the exhibit is by Helen Strelecki Bubka, who grew up on Chicken Hill. “One of my fondest memories was how the boys, Hubbell and his brother Beeb, came to help me. There was a boy living in town and he was pestering me. … I was just a young teenager and I was frightened of him. I found out later that Beeb and Hubbell went and told him to leave me alone. That’s how close the relationships were with our friends on Chicken Hill. … We all got along so well together, black, white, Jewish, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, it didn’t make a difference what nationality or color we were. If you needed help, you could depend on all your neighbors; one way or another, somebody would come through and pitch in and help. If somebody was ill, they would take food to them, they would try to help in so many different ways, it was such a close knit community, and I think that’s my fondest memory.”

Helen Strelecki was one of several children of Samuel and Sophie Strelecki. She was born and raised in Setauket on the family farm on South Jersey Avenue. Her Polish mother and Russian father emigrated from Europe. Helen attended the Setauket School, on the hill, just east of the Setauket fire house and the VFW log cabin building. Helen said, “Lunch times, we all ran home to get our lunch and run back to school quick so that we could, you know, play ball or something during the time.”

The Setauket Union Free School District No. 2 opened in 1911 and brought together students from the three schoolhouses in West Setauket, East Setauket and South Setauket. There are many stories that came from the students who attended the school until it closed in 1951. Many of these stories are detailed in the Chicken Hill exhibit.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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A baseball game at Chicken Hill field. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

“Seek out the spot where the Setalcott Indians first camped. They called it ‘land at the mouth of the creek.’ You’ll know when you come to it because you’ll be standing on Holy Ground. From there it’s an easy step to Christian Avenue.” — Glenda Dickerson

The first lines of the play about the Christian Avenue community, produced in 1988 at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, took us back to a time before recorded history in Setauket, a time when Indian family groups occupied all of Long Island.

These natives left no monuments to be remembered by, no changes that would permanently alter the landscape. As a result, we know very little about their lives. The archaeological remains discovered at the places where they worked, lived and died provide only scant clues.

When the English settlers first came to the “land at the mouth of the creek,” they brought with them their knowledge of how to change the land to make it conform to their patterns of life. They dammed the stream and built a gristmill. They built permanent homes, erected walls and fences, cleared the trees and planted grains, and they buried their dead with permanent stone markers. The early settlers also dealt in another kind of property; they bought and sold Black slaves.

The first recorded notation of slavery in the three villages is listed in the Town records of 1674. “Richard Floyd, of Setakett, sold the … Negro, named Antony, to John Hurd, of Stratford.” It is also recorded that Floyd had purchased Antony two years earlier from Robert Hudson of Rye.

This story of the arrival of black slaves into the Setauket community was detailed in June of 1988 for theatergoers who took a bus tour to the Christian Avenue Community as part of an evening that culminated with the exhibit and play “Eel Catching in Setauket.”

The bus tour took the “eel catchers” — theatergoers — to the Bethel A.M.E. Church on Christian Avenue, where they were given a short message about the church and the community and led in a song and a word of prayer. A tour of the Laurel Hill Cemetery was followed by a fellowship meal served by members of the Christian Avenue community in the Irving Hart Post American Legion Hall.

The “eel catchers’” bus ride back to the Fine Arts Center of the State University at Stony Brook included a tour of some of the locations in Setauket that are part of the oral history and folklore of the Christian Avenue community. Much of the oral history was preserved in the May 1988 Journal of the Three Village Historical Society, which was given to each “eel catcher.” In one oral-history interview, Violet Rebecca (Sells) Thompson brought the Christian Avenue community full circle to the first settlers on Long Island. “ … I went to school in Setauket Union School up on the hill — Education Hill. There were a lot of nationalities. I think we were the only Indians in there … we were the only Americans in the class. … The rest of the kids were Irish … Polish … Lithuanians, all from Europe.”

The play “Eel Catching in Setauket” was in the Fine Arts Center. The exhibits and photographs of the Christian Avenue community were placed all through the theater room and the “eel catchers” wandered through the exhibit viewing the artifacts of the community residents.

The play was a series of vignettes based on the collected materials, performed by eight actors and actresses under the direction of Glenda Dickerson. It took place in the center of the exhibit-theater and around the various exhibits while the “eel catchers” watched and listened to the drama unfold all around them.

The Three Village Historical Society exhibit, “Eel Catching in Setauket” and “A Living Library-The African-American, Christian Avenue Community,” was displayed in Brookhaven Town Hall during the month of February.

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One of the silver coins discovered by George Will Hawkins on his property in 1894. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

A short distance from the Village Green in Setauket was the home of George William Hawkins, a seventh-generation descendant of Zachariah Hawkins, one of Setauket’s first settlers. The Cape Cod house — Three Village Guidebook no. 92B — built before the Revolutionary War, stands next to the Monastery of the Holy Cross on Main Street.

Hawkins was a teacher for more than 30 years in Setauket, East Setauket and a number of other communities, and during that time, he led a quiet life. The fact that he had discovered an old bag of some 200 Spanish silver coins while digging holes in his backyard for bean poles was not made public until 30 years later in 1924.

When he first made the discovery in 1894, he took the coins to the sub-treasury in Manhattan and to his dismay discovered that they were only worth the silver content. He brought them home and sold a number of them as souvenir pieces. Hawkins once said that many of the patriots during the Revolutionary War took their family silver and money and buried it for fear that the British would raid their homes and take everything of value. He believed that this was why the coins, dated between 1770 and 1775, were buried in the garden to the north of the house.

Hawkins was born in Lake Grove on Aug. 23, 1843. He ran away on a sailing ship. He was on various ships out of Boston, went mackerel fishing out of Gloucester and, during the Civil War, was on the transport Lucinda A. Baylis, running supplies and forage for the Union Army.

After the war he returned to Long Island and on April 10, 1867, he married Amelia Jane Williamson of Stony Brook. They bought the house in Setauket, and Hawkins began teaching at the school near the Village Green in Setauket in 1868.

The schoolhouse, which stood where the Caroline Church carriage shed is now located, was replaced by a new school in the middle of the Village Green in October 1869. From 1868 through 1891, Hawkins was the only teacher in the West Setauket School District. George and Amelia Hawkins had nine children who grew up, married and moved from Three Village.

In 1877, Hawkins was elected to the position of district librarian and chairman of the school trustees. That year the school trustees ordered new books for the students. They purchased “Analitical Reader,” Sander’s “Speller,” Thompson’s “Arithmetic,” Warren’s “Physical Geography,” Reed and Kellogg’s “Grammar” and “Red Path School History” among others.

The school district was beginning to put emphasis on education and Hawkins was helping. In 1882, the inside of the schoolhouse was painted, a school clock was purchased — not to exceed $5 — and a biographica1 dictionary was bought. During the remaining years he taught in West Setauket, Hawkins continued to be a school trustee and to take an active interest in the education of the village’s students.

From 1894 through 1896 he taught at the East Setauket School, District No. 36, in the building that still stands at the corner of Coach Road and Route 25A. During these years the school population had increased to such an extent that he shared the teaching duties, teaching 48 of the older students with three other teachers. The total for district 36 during these years was over 185 students.

After his first wife died on July 8, 1904, Hawkins married Fannie Jane “LeRoy” Hallock and, when she died on May 15, 1913, he married Lizzie Terrell.

According to an article in The Brooklyn Eagle, Hawkins told an interesting story of how he met his second wife.

“He and her first husband Chauncey Hallock were on the same boat. Hallock returned home and Hawkins sent home $75 by him, but when Hawkins returned home a short time later he found that the money had not been paid over. He called at the Hallock home several times to see Hallock about the money and in this manner met the wife, who after the death of her husband became the second Mrs. Hawkins.”

After he retired from teaching in about 1898, Hawkins worked for a time in the grocery business. He died on June 4, 1927, in his 84th year and is buried in the Setauket Presbyterian Church Cemetery overlooking the Village Green where he taught local students for so many years.

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Circa 1750 Hawkins-Mount House in Stony Brook at Stony Brook Road and Route 25A. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Our winter weather seems to have as much effect on us today as it did in the 19th century, even though we are well- protected from the effects of the weather in our homes and in our cars as we travel from place to place.

During the winter of 1800-1801, Dr. Samuel Thompson noted the changes in the weather as he ran the operation of his extensive farm in Setauket and cared for the sick. He wrote in his journal, “Thursday, Nov. 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at nine or 10 o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by – Some rain – but breaks away and the weather is cool.”

Later in the month the weather changed, “Nov. 21, wind northeast (blowing) very hard. Begins to snow long before day continues to snow all day – very cold storm.” On Saturday, the northeast wind continued to blow and on Sunday he wrote that the snow fell all day.

The life of the farmer and other residents in Setauket and Stony Brook continued to be busy through the winter months. There were no crops to tend, as in the summer, but the animals had to be taken care of and the weather seemed to make little difference in the routine.

Heat for the family home in 1800 consisted of a wood fire in the fireplace. Large amounts of wood were cut and stacked each fall, but this usually had to be supplemented by trips into the woods to gather more firewood during the winter.

Thompson’s house — the restored Thompson house on North Country Road in Setauket — has a great central chimney with four fireplaces that provided the only heat for the large saltbox-style farmhouse.

The activity at the Thompson farm continued despite the weather.

“Dec. 30 … Cloudy – snows some – weather cool – kill my cow and ten sheep. George Davis’ wife came here and bought eight pounds of flax. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah Green, Setauket Presbyterian Church pastor] came here said Mrs. Akerly was better … Snow this night.”

It was a normal part of the farm routine for local residents to come to the Thompson farm to buy flax, to spin and weave into cloth, or to buy hay for their animals or meat and other farm produce. Thompson and his wife would often have visitors who would spend the night at the farm and leave the next day.

“Dec. 31 … Robbin [indentured farmhand] and Franklin [his oldest son, Benjamin Franklin] cut up the cow and the sheep. Sharper [a black slave farmhand who lived on the Thompson farm] salts them. Salla [Sarah] Smith works here at taloring (sic). Makes a coat and jacket for Killis [farmhand] and a pair of trowsers (sic) for Franklin. Miss Lidda Mount and Miss Sissa Mount come here for a visit, dined here and drank tea here. Mrs. Akerly remains much [sick] so I make her the third phial of antimonial solution.”

The daily routine of life at the Thompson farm continued much the same through the winter. Friends were entertained at tea or at dinner, neighbors and relatives arrived to buy farm produce, and Thompson prescribed for the sick.

Winter weather through the 19th century did not prevent local residents from maintaining their regular activities. In 1819, Henry Hudson was teaching school in Stony Brook in the “Upper School” located on Main Street south of the millpond.

On Feb. 12, he wrote, “ South East wind, I tend school [about 40 students.] Clouds come up to snow at four this afternoon – grows cold – storms hard. I spend the evening at Benah Petty’s with company of young people. Go to Nath. Smith’s to lodge – severe storm. Feb. 13. Snowstorm – cold. I tend school – continues to storm. At four … I go to Joseph Hawkins’ and stay. Feb. 14. Clears off, snow about 10 inches deep – drifted very much. I go to Mr. Green’s meeting [Rev. Zachariah Green] – return to Nath. Smith’s then go to Charles Hallock’s. He tends the meeting and [we were] much engaged [talking about the meeting] and time pleasingly spent. Go to Jedidiah Mills’ this evening. Feb. 15. I tend school, 45 schollars (sic) – continues stormy or more hard [snow or rain] at 4 p.m. – snow goes fast – warm and wet. The company takes a sleigh ride to Setauket. I make out my school bill this evening. Return to Nath. Smith’s at eight to supper. Sloppy uncommon bad walk. Feb. 16. Pleasant sleighing – gone warm. I tend school – 42 schollars – I leave Nath. Smith’s, make three days board. I collect some school money. I make a beginning to the Wido(w) Mount’s to board on the second quarter. Feb. 17. Grows colder – blustering. I tend school. I go to the Wido(w) Mount’s. Comes on to snow at nine this evening – sharp night – some sleighing though poor in the road, considerable snow. Feb. 18. Severe cold, bluster. I tend school – 41 schollars. This cold day. This is the appointment for the bible class. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah] comes here at five o’clock with a missionary priest. I return to Mount’s.”

Henry boarded about three days with each family of his students while he taught in Stony Brook. His travels during the week included going, usually on foot, from the Widow Mount’s — the Hawkins-Mount house in Stony Brook — to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As a schoolteacher on a limited income, Henry did not have a horse and would often walk great distances.

His home, until 1846 when he moved to East Setauket, was at the family’s farm in Long Pond of the Wading River area. After the quarter or half year was over, he walked back to his home, and during the following years, he taught school in South Setauket, Nassakeag, Moriches, and East Setauket often walking from home to school each week. In some years he would walk to Patchogue and back in the same day, or to Riverhead.

Life in the wintertime was hard. The cold was a constant companion and the wood fireplaces could not provide the warmth that we consider to be a normal part of our lives now.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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Valentine postcard sent in 1909 from Canada to East Setauket and rerouted to Brooklyn. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The tradition of sending messages, gifts and expressions of love on Valentine’s Day goes back to at least the 15th century.

In 1477, in Britain, John Paston wrote to his future wife, “Unto my ryght wele belovyd Voluntyn – John Paston Squyer.”

The celebration of Feb. 14 began as an ancient Roman ceremony called the Feast of the Lupercalia, held each year on the eve of Feb. 15. It was on the eve of the Feast of the Lupercalia in the year 270 that Valentinus, a Roman priest, was executed.

According to a 1493 article in the Nuremberg Chronicle, “Valentinus was said to have performed valiant service in assisting Christian Martyrs during their persecution under Emperor Claudius II.”

Giving aid and comfort to Christians at that time was considered a crime, and for his actions, Valentinus was clubbed, stoned and beheaded. The Roman pagan festivals were spread all over the world as the Romans conquered various lands.

It is thought that when the early Christian church reorganized the calendar of festival, they substituted the names of Christian Saints for the pagan names and allocated Feb. 14 to St. Valentine. By the 17th century, Valentine’s Day was well established as an occasion for sending cards, notes or drawings to loved ones.

An early British Valentine dated 1684 was signed by Edward Sangon, Tower Hill, London.

“Good morrow Vallentine, God send you ever to keep your promise and bee constant ever.”

In America, the earliest known valentines date to the middle of the 18th century. These handmade greetings were often very artistically done and included a heart or a lover’s knot. Like letters of the period they were folded, sealed and addressed without the use of an envelope. Until the 1840s, the postal rate was determined by the distance to be traveled and the number of sheets included, so an envelope would have doubled the cost.

In 1840, Nichols Smith Hawkins of Stony Brook sent a valentine to his cousin Mary Cordelia Bayles. The original does not exist, but her reply, written two days after Valentine’s Day, says a great deal.

“I now take this opportunity to write a few lines to you to let you know that I received your letter last evening. I was very happy to hear from you and to hear that you hadent forgot me and thought enough of me to send me a Valentine. I havent got anything now to present to you but I will not forget you as quick as I can make it conveinant I will get something for you to remember me by. You wrote that you wanted me to make you happy by becoming yourn. I should like to comfort you but I must say that I cannot for particular reasons. It isn’t because I don’t respect you nor do I think that I ever shall find anyone that will do any better by me. I sincerely think that you will do as well by me as anyone. I am very sorry to hear that it would make you the most miserable wretch on earth if I refused you for I cannot give you any encouragement. I beg to be excused for keeping you in suspense so long and then deny you. Believe me my friend I wouldn’t if I thought of denying you of my heart and hand. I think just as much of you now as ever I did. I cannot forget a one that I do so highly respect. You will think it very strange then why I do refuse you. I will tell you although I am very sorry to say so it is on the account of the family. They do oppose me very much. They say so much that I half to refuse you. It is all on their account that I do refuse so good an offer.”

Four days later, Mary again replied to a letter from Nichols.

“Dear Cousin – I received your letter yesterday morning. I was very sorry to hear that you was so troubled in mind. I don’t doubt but what you do feel very bad for I think that I can judge you by my own feelings but we must get reconciled to our fate … Keep your mind from it as much as you can and be cheerful for I must tell you as I have told you before that I cannot relieve you by becoming your bride, therefore I beg and entreat on you not to think of me anymore as a companion through life for if you make yourself unhappy by it, you will make me the most miserable creature in the world to think that I made you so unhappy.“

At least two other letters, written the following year, were sent to Nichols from Mary. The letters continued to express the friendship that existed between them. The story does not end at this point. Mary’s father died in 1836 and her mother in 1838, and it is possible that she lived for a time with her aunt Elizabeth and uncle William Hawkins — Nichols’ parents.

Whatever the circumstances that brought them together, their love for each other continued to bloom.

On Feb. 11, 1849, Nichols Smith Hawkins, age 34 married Mary Cordelia Bayles, age 27. Nichols and Mary raised three children who lived beyond childhood — two others died in 1865 within a month.

Nichols was a farmer and the family lived in Stony Brook. Mary died in 1888 at the age of 66 and Nichols died in 1903, at the age of 88. They are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Stony Brook.

Valentines became fancier and more elaborate through the second half of the 19th century. After 1850 the valentine slowly became a more general greeting rather than a message sent to just one special person.

The advent of the picture postal card in 1907, which allowed messages to be written on one half of the side reserved for the address, started a national craze that saw every holiday become a reason for sending a postcard and Valentine’s Day the occasion for a flood of one cent expressions of love.

Beverly Tyler is Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the Three Village Historical Society.

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The front cover of ‘General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War’ by Richard F. Welch. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Holiday shopping at the local stores that help give our historic communities a sense of place just makes good sense. The upcoming Christmas and winter holidays are also good times to purchase a few of the wonderful gifts and books about the local area and to pay a relaxing visit to a few local not-for-profit shops that deserve our special support.

Three Village Historical Society Museum & Gift Shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket

The Society’s gift shop was expanded to complement the exhibit “SPIES! How a Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution.” There you will find gifts including many books, booklets and pamphlets on local history.

A new addition this year is “General Washington’s Commando: Benjamin Tallmadge in the Revolutionary War” by Richard F. Welch. I already knew a lot about Tallmadge but I couldn’t put Welch’s book down. It’s well researched, well organized and interesting. Other books of note include “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” by Alexander Rose. Rose is the consultant for the AMC series “TURN,” which is a dramatization of the Setauket-based Culper Spy Ring.

“Upon Secrecy” by Selene Castrovilla is an engaging book that will delight both children and adults. Castrovilla’s writing brings the Revolutionary War to life as it carries us into the actions of the Long Island-based Culper spy operation. This story will keep you on the edge of your chair as the spy letters move from Manhattan to Setauket and across Long Island Sound to Washington’s headquarters.

“Revolutionary Friends: General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette” by Selene Castrovilla is a delightfully illustrated book that brings to life the relationship between Washington and Lafayette. Lafayette’s own words, inset throughout the book, are a real delight and add to an understanding of the Marquis’s relationship to both Washington and America. At the back of the book are time lines for Lafayette and Washington plus places to visit connected with Lafayette and Washington and details on Lafayette’s Legacy in America. Everyone of every age should read this moving account of a real American treasure.

The gift shop is open Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the gift shop and exhibits are open every Sundays from 1-4 p.m. (Closed Dec. 27 and Jan. 3)

Gallery North, 90 North Country Road, Setauket

The Gallery is diagonally across the street from the historical society. It is very easy to park at one and walk across the street to the other. The entire Gallery is a gift shop with many wonderful paintings and gift pieces by local artists for sale. The current exhibit is “Deck the Halls.” Local artists and artisans have created beautiful paintings, drawings, ceramic and sculpture works, each piece being less than 20 by 20 inches and set at affordable prices that are perfect for gift giving. Gallery North also is showcasing a diverse range of Long Island art. Gallery North current exhibit is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 23. Call 631-751-2676 for more information.

Long Island Museum, 1200 Rte. 25A, Stony Brook

The museum has a small gift shop in the History Museum, which has some wonderful books, and other items you probably won’t find anywhere else. Stop in for a visit and be sure to take in their current exhibits as well. In the Main Gallery of the History Museum is the exhibit “One Square Foot” featuring the works of LIMarts members in a variety of media and themes. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 12-5 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 20.

St. James General Store, 516 Moriches Road, St. James

This “old-fashioned” general store, not technically a not-for-profit, is run for the benefit of Suffolk County residents through the County Parks, as a part of Historical 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; many date back to the 19th century. Be sure to also try one of their delicious molasses pops. On the second floor are books on Long Island covering many local communities, as well as lots of wonderful children’s books. This is now one good, close independent bookstore. 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. The St. James General Store is open every day 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., (631) 854-3740.

There are lots of unusual gifts at these three gift shops. If you are buying a gift for someone, you will almost certainly find something to suit every taste. There are many other wonderful local shops in Stony Brook Village Shopping Center, in Setauket and in the Village of Port Jefferson. A special one in Port Jefferson is Secret Garden Tea Room on Main Street. Have a cup of tea, maybe a scone and jam or a delicious lunch and look over their selection of gifts. Finding a special or unusual gift is not only a good idea, it supports our local businesses and brings us closer together as a community. And you never know who you will run into by shopping locally.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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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.

File photo

By Elizabeth Kahn Kaplan

It’s been quite a journey since sea captain Edward Reginald Rhodes and others launched the Three Village Historical Society in the mid-1960s — a time when this community was undergoing rapid change and expansion. “It was important to the founders that the area’s rich history be recognized, honored and preserved,” said Brookhaven Town Historian Barbara Russell, and for 50 years the Society, with its hundreds of volunteers, has done just that.

“The Society has, from its beginning, regarded the Three Village area as its museum; the homes, people and natural environment as its collection; and the home owners as its curators. One of the primary goals of the Society has been to actively work together with other community organizations to preserve and maintain the historic fabric of our Three Village community,” added Beverly C. Tyler, historian for the TVHS.

Annual events that pay tribute to our rich history include the Long Island Apple Festival each September at the Sherwood-Jayne Farm in Setauket, in cooperation with Homestead Arts and the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities; the Spirits Tour during the third weekend in October, and the Candlelight House Tour during the first weekend of December.

The Society’s educational programs include frequent walking tours conducted by trained volunteers, in-school educational programs and Sunday afternoon docent-led tours at the Society’s headquarters — the c. 1800 Bayles-Swezey House at 93 North Country Road, Setauket — that was funded in large part by a state grant obtained by Assemblyman Steve Englebright in 1998.

Two current exhibits are: Spies! How A Group of Long Island Patriots Helped George Washington Win the Revolution, and Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time, for which the Society received an award of merit from the American Association for State and Local History.

A primary objective since the Society’s founding was the collection and preservation of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be lost. Housed in the Society’s Rhodes Collection in a separate area at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, they are shared with researchers and overseen by the Society’s professional archivist.

Fifty years of distinguished contributions to this community is cause for celebration and what better way than at the Three Village Historical Society’s 50th Anniversary Spy Gala at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, 134 Lower Sheep Pasture Road, in E. Setauket this Saturday evening, Sept. 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. You are invited to the party; come join the fun. Delicious tapas, an open bar, music and a champagne toast await. Come dressed as your favorite spy if you wish.

Celebrate the contributions of 17 past presidents and Boards of Trustees — dedicated men and women determined to preserve Three Village history while expanding the Society’s offerings, from its origins in 1964 to the present day. It’s time to recognize the Society’s achievements and contributions to our community. Tickets are $125 per person and may be purchased in advance by calling 631-751-3730, online at www.tvhs.org or at the door.

A night heron sits at Frank Melville Memorial Park. Photo from Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

The intersection of Main Street and Old Field Road in Setauket marks the entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Park. The horseshoe-shaped park, completed in 1937 includes extensive plantings, a simulated gristmill, a magnificent view of Conscience Bay and the cottage of the last Setauket miller Everett Hawkins. From the park there is an entrance to the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation Sanctuary grounds with its extensive nature paths.

This past month the park and sanctuary suffered a great deal of damage from the storm that devastated a narrow area on the North Shore from Smithtown to Port Jefferson. The park has worked hard to clear debris and bring the park back to its beautiful condition. Please explore the park this month and consider becoming a member of the Friends of the Park. 

The Setauket Millpond was a center of commerce for the community from the time it was settled in 1655 until early in the 20th century. It is easy to imagine almost any time in Setauket history while in the park. Looking out over the milldam, Conscience Bay reflects the 8,000 years the Native Americans lived here before the English settlers came to Setauket. The mill tells the story of the farmer grinding grain in the 1700s. The restored barn remembers the horse “Smokey” and speaks of a 19th-century horse and carriage. The stone bridge relates how an immigrant great-grandson came to Setauket and gave it an image of the countryside of rural England and Europe with a park.

Just after dawn the Setauket Mill Pond shimmers with morning mist and reflects the early morning sky and the trees that partly surround it. Walking along the path in the Frank Melville Memorial Park, the only sounds, except for the occasional car going by, are the birds in the trees and the ducks in the pond. They contrast with the greens, browns and grays of early morning. The contemplative surroundings start the day with the beauty of God’s creation and give perspective to the rest of the day.

The following prose was written by the author:

Birdsong
Spring, the park at morning.
Woodpeckers rat-a-tat, the woosh of wings — Canadian geese, a soft grouse call is heard.
Birdsong, first near and then far, across the pond.
Birdsong left and right.
A gentle breeze turns the pond to silver, moving patterns of dark and light.
The background sound of water flowing over the milldam and into the bay.
Pairs of mallards glide slowly across the pond.
The trumpet call of geese announces flight as they rise from the pond and fly across the milldam, across the march and into the bay.
Trees surround the pond with patterns of greens of every shade.
Dark evergreens and climbing vines.
Bright green beech and silver-green sycamore.
Patches of white dogwood adding depth and contrast.
A heron glides effortlessly across the surface of the pond, rises and disappears into the cover of a black birch tree.
I am overwhelmed by gentle sounds and contrasting scenery, by muted colors in every shade and texture.
Blue-white sky and blue-green water.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.

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Yacht Wanderer flying New York Yacht Club flag. Photo of original Greene postcard from Beverly Tyler

by Beverly C. Tyler

Joseph Rowland’s home and shipyard is in East Setauket at the intersection of Shore Road and Bayview Avenue.

Rowland built the schooner-yacht Wanderer in 1857 for Colonel John D. Johnson who was a member of the New York Yacht Club, a wealthy sugar planter from New Orleans and had a home in the Islips. The Wanderer was designed by Captain Thomas B. Hawkins, who supervised construction.

The sails for the Wanderer were made in Port Jefferson in the Wilson Sail Loft. Wilson also made the first suit of sails for the schooner-yacht America, which captured the cup that still bears the name of that first winner.

That summer of 1857, the Wanderer sailed Long Island Sound with Captain Hawkins as its sailing master.

The ship’s owner, Johnson, sailed it with the New York Yacht Club Squadron. It was said to have been the fastest schooner ever built, too big and too fast so the yacht club wouldn’t let it compete.

That fall, Wanderer voyaged to Havana, via Charleston and Savannah, and it was very widely acclaimed.

However, Johnson sold the Wanderer in 1858 to William C. Corey and soon after it reappeared in Port Jefferson. It was fitted out for the slave trade, probably at the yard of J.J. Harris. Numerous large water tanks were installed. All the people looked the other way, except S.S. Norton, surveyor of the port. He became suspicious and notified federal officials in New York. The revenue cutter Harriet Lane intercepted the Wanderer off Old Field Point and took it in tow to New York over Corey’s loud protests.

Corey glibly talked himself free and the Wanderer was allowed to leave for Charleston, where the real owner Charles Augustus Lafayette Lamar surfaced. Actually he probably crawled out from under a rock. Lamar, staying in the background because of his previous connection with slavers, obtained customs clearance for it.

They completed fitting out for the slave trade and sailed for Africa. Its captain was John E. Farnum, a mean looking cuss.

Slavers were rigged to outrun the slave squadrons of Great Britain and America, both of which were trying to stop the now illegal slave trade. Wanderer took aboard some 600 “negroes” and sailed for America. The slaves were laid down side-by-side alternating head and feet and chained, wrist to ankle. They were kept lying there for days and there was no sanitation. Even worse, if a ship was overtaken by one of the slave squadrons, it was not uncommon to bend an anchor to the last man on the chain and let it go overboard, taking the whole cargo of slaves and destroying the evidence.

On the evening of Nov. 28, 1858, the ship landed 465 Africans on Jekyll Island, Georgia. The rest died during the voyage and were unceremoniously tossed over the side. The ship was seized by federal authorities; however, the Africans, now on Georgia soil, a slave state, were sold at auction.

There was outrage in the U.S. Congress; but little, if anything, was done, less than two years before the start of the Civil War. Wanderer was sold at auction and Lamar bought it. In the spring of 1861 it was seized by the federal government and used as a gunboat in the Civil War. It was credited with capturing four prizes. After the war, the U.S. Navy sold it to private owners who ran it aground on Cape Maisi, east out of Cuba, on Jan. 21, 1871, and she was a total loss. The mess kettle that was used to feed the slaves on Jekyll Island still existed in the 1970s but has since disappeared.

There was even a sign beside it that explained the history of the kettle and said that the Wanderer was built at East Setauket. In 2008, the Jekyll Island History Museum opened an exhibit on The Last Slaver.

A walking tour of the maritime and wooden shipbuilding area along Shore Road in East Setauket will be conducted this Saturday, June 13, beginning at 2 p.m. Meet at the Brookhaven Town Dock for a tour of the homes and shipyards that built ships that sailed around the world. The tour includes the home of the Wanderer shipbuilder and his story.

Beverly Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian.