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George William Hawkins

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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.