Tags Posts tagged with "Declaration of Independence"

Declaration of Independence

Pixabay photo

By Lisa Scott

Independence Day traditions bring together families, friends and communities to celebrate being American. It’s not traditionally a time for introspection over barbecues, at ballparks and beaches and enjoying (or hiding from) pyrotechnics. But in 2022 July 4 occurred at a time of deep national concerns: economic, environmental, judicial, governmental and local. 

Journalists, pundits, academics and attorneys have weighed in on end-of-term Supreme Court decisions which overturned Roe v. Wade and New York State’s restrictions on concealed carry of guns, brought religion further into publicly supported education and severely limited the ability of the EPA to address carbon emissions in a time of severe climate change. 

The New York Times on July 3 wrote, “The United States appears to be drifting apart into separate nations, with diametrically opposed social, environmental and health policies… The tearing at the seams has been accelerated by the six vote conservative majority in the Supreme Court, which has embraced a muscular states-rights federalism.” 

The Constitution has been evoked more and more in the past year; some demand a literal  interpretation, while others wonder what happened to its amendments’ rights and freedoms. 235 years ago our nation’s founders wrote “We the People” to commence the preamble to the Constitution, yet the common ground of our civic beliefs has severely eroded. 

Where you live determines what rights you have. We are no longer (if we ever were) equal Americans. But the League of Women Voters has and will continue to educate and advocate for voting rights which exemplify freedom — “the freedom to determine who we are, who we want to be and who we want to make the decisions about our country and our bodies” (Dr. Deborah Turner, President, LWVUS).

At our annual convention in late June the League of Women Voters of the United States  reflected on new barriers to voting and continued attacks on our democracy, and the ways in which LWV is working to register new votes, but particularly to “Get Out the Vote.” From 2020-2022 (even through the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic)) there were 12 million contacts with voters. The League’s efforts tackled systemic challenges to voting rights through advocacy, litigation and organizing. The goal was to build more trust in our elections, grow our electorate with equity, create fairness for voter access and ensure community districting truly reflects our population. 

The League’s Vote411.org voter information website was accessed by 5.5 million voters to view their ballot in over 40,000 races. Over 89,000 candidates were listed. Voters could check their voter registration, request an absentee ballot and review nationwide voting rules. 

LWV litigated on a variety of issues including voter access during Covid-19, the 2020 Census, redistricting, money in politics and excessive voter purges. LWV filed lawsuits in more than half the states to ensure adequate ballot notice and cure procedures, access to drop boxes and greater access to voting by mail. LWV also joined amicus briefs supporting common sense money in politics regulations and intervened in cases to prevent irresponsible voter purges. 

Our New York State LWV has also been active on the state level, including amicus briefs and litigation especially on NYS redistricting and the complications resulting from the court requiring redrawn Congressional and NYS Senate districts, leading to  two primary dates in 2022 (June 28 and August 23).

LWVUS also continued focusing on the protection and enforcement of voting rights in the 117th Congress which included the For the People Act, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Alongside national voting civil rights partners, LWVUS supported hundreds of state and local Leagues in leading and joining distributed actions around the country in support of federal voting rights legislations, resulting in hundreds of actions and thousands of voters engaged. In spite of this work, the US Senate failed to advance (combined) Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act past debate.

In 2022 and beyond, Get Out The Vote efforts must be stronger, louder, and even more creative. We can register millions, but if only thousands vote, have we truly empowered voters? Our democracy is not based on age, race, gender, or zip code — it is for everyone, and that is why we must not only fight back but lead the charge. This is not a partisan issue — This is an American issue. “We the People” should together want to make our democracy stronger and create a more perfect union.

Lisa Scott is president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit https://my.lwv.org/new-york/suffolk-county or call 631-862-6860.

This Fourth of July, Long Islanders continue to grapple with the legacy of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. Pixabay photo

Independence Day is upon us. 

As we prepare for Fourth of July festivities, it is important that we keep in mind what this day celebrates: The signing of the Declaration of Independence, primarily authored by Thomas Jefferson, whose legacy continually evolves. 

Jefferson was born April 13, 1743, in Shadwell in the Colony of Virginia into a privileged family supported by the labor of slaves. 

His father was a planter and a surveyor. Jefferson later inherited his father’s land and slaves and began a lifelong project to construct his well-known estate, Monticello. But Jefferson was destined for a higher calling and was thrust into public life, where he would shape the course of American history.

The American revolutionary penman 

Jefferson was a tall young man, but also awkward and reserved. He demonstrated, however, an early penchant for writing, a skill that served him well as he climbed the ranks of the Virginia House of Burgesses and later the Continental Congress. 

Colonial leaders quickly grasped Jefferson’s compositional brilliance, but also observed he said very little. John Adams, who had worked closely with Jefferson in the Continental Congress, once said, “During the whole time I sat with him in Congress, I never heard him utter three sentences together.” Jefferson was a man of the written — not spoken — word.

While serving in Congress in 1776, Jefferson captured the spirit of his era and produced the Declaration of Independence, a radical pronouncement of America’s uniqueness from the rest of the world, justifying why it was necessary for the 13 American colonies to break off from Great Britain. 

Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Millennia of human conflict and conquest had emphasized man’s separateness in the eyes of his fellow man. America is the only society in history predicated on the notion of human equality, the only place on Earth that had the audacity to proclaim that humans can harmoniously coexist regardless of their religion or race or ethnic background or any other criterion.

While Jefferson presented Americans this challenge, it is worth noting that he did not embody the ideals of the Declaration in his own life. Jefferson was a slaveholder, his place in society secured by the labor of slaves. 

As we reflect upon the Declaration, it is questionable whether its author even believed in its principles. Despite the conflict between his head and his heart, Jefferson’s words impact us to this day.

Inspiring generations on Long Island

Jefferson’s patriotic fervor was felt undoubtedly here on Long Island. Most notably, the great Long Island patriot William Floyd had joined the revolutionary cause, becoming the only Suffolk County resident to sign the Declaration of Independence. Floyd served in the Suffolk County Militia and was a representative to the Continental Congress. He risked his life and property to resist British authority. 

Setauket native Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge is another local hero of the American Revolution. Tallmadge is best known for his reconnaissance efforts, collecting information from the Setauket Culper Spy Ring. 

During a daring raid in 1780, Tallmadge landed near Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a contingent of American soldiers. Undetected, they marched to Smith’s Point, attacked, and took this British supply base at Carmans River and the Great South Bay. Under orders from Gen. George Washington, Tallmadge destroyed large quantities of hay that was stored in Coram.

Floyd and Tallmadge are just two of the many local examples of service and sacrifice that occurred on Long Island during the revolutionary period. These figures fought to form a new nation, a nation that was first articulated by Jefferson.

Tour of Long Island

The first administration of the United States was headquartered in New York City, not far from Long Island. For this reason Jefferson, Washington and James Madison all visited the local area, a place that had sacrificed much and contributed greatly to the independence movement.

Jefferson and Madison traveled extensively throughout New York state and New England, eager to meet their new countrymen. Both leaders stayed in Center Moriches, where they met with Floyd near his estate. All his life, Jefferson had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Intrigued by the various Native American dialects and cultures, he met with several tribes in eastern Long Island. 

Jefferson notably encountered the Unkechaug [Patchogue] Indian Nation. Because most of this tribe spoke English, Jefferson successfully transcribed many parts of their language. His research has helped keep alive cultural studies into one of the two remaining Native American groups here on Long Island today.

From Drowned Meadow to Port Jefferson

Jefferson’s influence can also be felt through the history of Port Jefferson, formerly known as Drowned Meadow. This now-bustling village was first settled in 1682, located within the heart of Suffolk County and the Town of Brookhaven. In 1836, the people of Drowned Meadow renamed their community in Jefferson’s honor.

During his address to Congress in 1806, Jefferson highlighted the importance of connecting the United States through infrastructure programs. He said that “new channels of communication will be opened between the States; the lines of separation will disappear, their interests will be identified, and their union cemented by new and indissoluble ties.” 

Port Jefferson has always been known for the industriousness of its people, as a productive and forward-looking community. Look no further than its shipbuilding history or The Bridgeport & Port Jefferson Ferry to see how infrastructure investments from the past keep us connected to this day. 

Port Jefferson is one of 30 towns and counties across the United States that have been named in Jefferson’s honor. Jefferson surely appreciated Long Island — its natural beauty, its indigenous cultures and the local patriots who provided necessary intelligence to gain tactical advantages over the British forces. 

This Fourth of July, as residents and visitors enjoy fireworks shooting above Port Jefferson Harbor, they should remember their own place in history and the figure in history whose name their community bears today. 

Rich Acritelli is a history teacher at Rocky Point High School and adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College.

Artwork of Selah Strong’s St. George’s Manor, published in the October 1792 issue of New York Magazine. Photo from the Society for the Preservation of Long Island Antiquities

by Beverly C. Tyler

Second in a two-part series.

In mid-1775, while British forces, headquartered in Boston, were facing General George Washington and the Continental Army for the first time, Patriot regiments on Long Island were gearing up to defend the island from Great Britain’s large, well-trained army. Colonel Josiah Smith’s Brookhaven Regiment of 12 companies included Captain Selah Strong’s 7th Company with First Lieutenant Caleb Brewster, seven additional officers and 59 nonrated soldiers.

In the spring of 1776, after forcing the British Army to abandon Boston, Washington moved his army to New York City. The British army and naval forces followed soon after and entered New York Harbor at the end of June with 40 warships, supply ships and troop ships with more than 7,000 British and Hessian soldiers. Washington split his army, placing half on Long Island at Brooklyn Heights as he did not know if the British intended to attack Manhattan or Long Island.

By the end of August, when they attacked Washington’s Continental Army on Long Island, British forces had swelled to more than 20,000 troops. It was to be the largest battle of the Revolutionary War and a major defeat for Washington who lost more than a thousand troops killed or captured.

In early August Smith’s regiment was ordered to join the Continental Army defending Long Island. The regiment, including Strong’s 7th Company marched west to General Nathanael Greene’s camp in Flatbush. In his diary, during the battle, Smith wrote, “August ye 27 we wors alarmed aboute 2 in the morning, and we had many scurmishes and thay atemted to forse our Lines & they kild 1 of my men & we Suppose that we kild a number of them & we Drove them Back & Laie in the trenches all nite.”

It rained all day and night on Aug. 28 and Smith noted, “… thar wors a continual fire kep up between us and the Regulars (British)…” The next day, with continuous rain, thunder and lightning they crossed onto Manhattan. Smith with some members of the regiment marched into Connecticut and finally back onto Long Island at Smithtown. At this point the officers and soldiers with Smith dispersed and went home, many moving their families to Connecticut and the rest, including Strong staying on Long Island.

Strong could easily have moved to Connecticut as he owned land in Middletown, but he stayed and even attended, as a trustee, meetings of the Brookhaven Town Board. Strong was one of many Long Islanders to own property in Middletown or to move there as refugees. One refugee who owned property and spent time in Middletown was William Floyd of Mastic, Long Island’s signer of the Declaration of Independence. Floyd’s first wife died in 1781. Three years later he married Joanna Strong, Strong’s paternal first cousin. Joanna’s brother Benajah served as a captain in Colonel William Floyd’s regiment in 1776 and participated in Benjamin Tallmadge’s successful raid on Fort St. George in Mastic in 1780.

After his imprisonment in New York City in 1778 and his subsequent release, Strong became a refugee in Connecticut, probably based in Middletown. In 1780, following his election as president of the Brookhaven town trustees, a position equal to today’s town supervisor, Strong returned to Long Island, despite the continued presence of British and Loyalist troops, and joined his wife on Little Neck, her family’s ancestral home in Setauket (now Strong’s Neck).

Living on Little Neck with British forces still in control of Long Island, Strong had to be aware of the dangers. Kate Wheeler Strong wrote that, during this period her great-great-grandfather, Strong, saved the life of a British officer. “Not that he was fond of the British, but he had a good reason for saving this man’s life. While walking one day with Caleb Brewster … on the neck on which I now live, they saw a British officer on the shore below. Brewster aimed his gun, but my ancestor stopped him, explaining that while Caleb could flee in his boat, he himself lived here and would have to bear the brunt of the shooting. So Brewster lowered his gun, and the British officer passed on safely …”

Strong wrote a will in 1775, which he later voided, when the war was becoming more certain and he needed to put something, at least temporarily on paper. Kate Strong wrote, “He evidently thought in the event of his death it would not be safe for his wife and children to remain there for he ordered all his land to be sold including tracts on the south side of the island. His wife was to have any furniture she desired …”

His wife was made executrix, and with the help of three other executors, she was to manage the estate until their eldest son Thomas became 21. The names of his executors were Benjamin Havens, Phillips Roe and Samuel Thompson.

The historic Terrill-Havens-Terry-Ketcham Inn during the Revolutionary War was the home and tavern of Benjamin Havens, a spy for the Culper Spy Ring. He married Abigail Strong of Setauket, sister of Strong and related to Abraham Woodhull through their mother, Suzanna Thompson, sister of Jonathan Thompson and aunt of Samuel Thompson. Abigail’s sister Submit married Phillips Roe of Port Jefferson. In April, 1776, both Benjamin Havens and Abraham Woodhull were members of the Committee of Safety, the purpose of which was to keep an eye on Tories in the town. Other members included William Smith (Manor of St. George, Mastic), William Floyd (signer of the Declaration of Independence), Brigadier General Nathaniel Woodhull (Floyd’s brother-in-law and second cousin of Abraham Woodhull), Strong (husband of Anna Smith Strong and brother-in-law of Benjamin Havens), Phillips Roe (Abigail Haven’s brother-in-law) and Phillip’s brother Nathaniel.

In June, 1779, Abraham Woodhull, writing as Samuel Culper, reported that all but two mills in Suffolk County served the needs of the British. Benjamin Havens operated one of those two mills. The same month Rivington’s Royal Gazette reported on a plundering party feast at the house of Benjamin Havens at Moriches that included three Long Island refugees, William Phillips, Benajah Strong, and Caleb Brewster.

These extended family members and Brookhaven town leaders were also Patriot spies. The Culper Spy Ring was more than just five names on Benjamin Tallmadge’s code list, it was a large number of Patriots willing to risk their lives to rid Long Island and America from Great Britain’s continuing presence.

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.