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Samuel Thompson

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The Thompson House in Setauket on North Country Road was once the home of Dr. Samuel Thompson who documented the winter of 1800 to 1801. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Our winter weather has been mostly mild so far this year, and we don’t expect any significant snowfall until later in the season. Nowadays we are also 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 to 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 diary, “Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at nine or ten o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by. Some rain — but breaks away and the weather is cool.”

“Thursday, November 13, 1800. Wind [from the] west, cloudy and very thick air with smoke and so dark at 9 or 10 o’clock as to light a candle to eat breakfast by.”

— Samuel Thompson

Later in the month the weather changed, and Thompson continued, “Friday, November 21, … [It] begins to snow long before day [light and] 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 of the Three Villages 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. The weather moderated after that early snow and the remainder of 1800 brought only occasional days of snow and rain.

Heat for the family homes in 1800 consisted of a wood fire in the fireplace. Large amounts of wood were cut and stacked each fall but had to be supplemented by trips into the woods to gather more firewood. 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 as the doctor wrote Dec. 30, 1800. “… kill my cow and ten sheep. George Davis’ wife came here and bought eight pounds of flax. Mr. Green [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] came here [and] said [that] 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.

On Dec. 31, 1800, Thompson wrote, “… Robbin and Franklin [his oldest son Benjamin Franklin] cut up the cow and the sheep. Sharper salts them. Salla (Sarah) Smith works here at taloring [sic]. Makes a coat and jacket for Killis [Robbin, Sharper and Killis were black slave farmhands], made 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 [a medicine containing antimony].”

The daily routine of life at the Thompson farm continued much the same through the winter. Friends were entertained at tea or dinner, neighbors and relatives arrived to buy farm produce, and Thompson prescribed for the relief of the residents. Life in the wintertime was hard for these early residents, the cold was a constant companion, and the wood fireplaces could not provide the warmth that we consider to be regular part of our lives now.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm.”

— Henry Hudson

Winter weather did not prevent residents from maintaining their regular activities in spite of cold or snow. In 1819, Henry Hudson was teaching school in Stony Brook in the “Upper School” located on Main Street south of the mill pond. On Friday, Feb. 12, he wrote in his journal, “… I tend school [about 40 students] … snow at 4 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. Saturday, February 13th 1819 … Snow storm — cold. I tend school — continues to storm. At 4 [in the] afternoon I go to Joseph Hawkins’ and stay. Sunday, February 14, 1819. Clears off, snow about 10 inches deep — drifted very much. I go to Mr. Green’s meeting [Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church] — 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.

“Tuesday 16th. West wind — pleasant sleighing — gone warm. I tend school — 42 schollars [sic] — I leave Nath. Smith’s, make 3 days board … I make a beginning to the Wido(w) Mount’s to board on the second quarter. Wedn. 17th … Comes on to snow at 9 this evening — sharp night — some sleighing though poor in the road, considerable snow. Thursday, February 18th … I tend school — 41 schollars [sic]. This cold day. This is the appointment for the bible class. Mr. Green (Zachariah) comes here at 5 O’clock with a missionary priest. I return to Mount’s.”

Hudson taught three of the Mount children, Robert Nelson, William Sidney and Ruth Hawkins. He 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, known as the Hawkins-Mount house on Route 25A and Stony Brook Road, to the Setauket Presbyterian Church. As a school teacher on a limited income, Hudson did not have a horse and would often walk great distances. His home at the time, until 1846 when he moved to East Setauket, was at the family’s farm in Long Pond in the Wading River area. After the quarter 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 or Riverhead and back in the same day.

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.

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1777 map of Setauket. “A” is the Setauket Presbyterian Church and the fort constructed around it in 1777. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

Following the Battle of Setauket, Loyalist Lt. Col. Richard Hewlett, who successfully defended the fort at the Presbyterian Church against 150 Continental Army soldiers under the command of Patriot Gen. Samuel Parsons, wrote a letter to New York Royal Gov. Gen. William Tryon. It was received by Tryon in Manhattan Sept. 3, 1777, detailing some of his observations concerning the battle and some of the men of Setauket whom he considered to be “villains … and traitors.”

“Sir, I take the Liberty to give You an Account of the Behaviour of some of the Inhabitants of this County when lately visited by the Rebels, that Your Excellency may have an Idea what kind of Subjects many of them are.

“Our Hospital was at some Distance from the Works — as there was not a convenient House near —When we were attack’d by the Rebels — A Party of them was sent to it — those Sick who were able, attempting to make their Escape — were fir’d at.”

Hewlett specifically named Jonathan Thompson, who was president of the Brookhaven Town Trustees (1769-76), and his son Samuel Thompson, a town commissioner (1773-74), and detailed their actions. The Thompsons lived on North Country Road in Setauket and were both officers in Patriot militias in 1775, before the British took control of Long Island. Their home is today one of most historic homes on Long Island, the Thompson House, located at 91 North Country Road, Setauket, and is now owned by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Hewlett writes, “Jonathan Thompson who lives next to the Hospital, seeing which Way they ran, Call’d out to the Rebels ‘here here they run’ pointing with his Hand the Way they went. Samuel Thompson Son of the above at the same Time endeavour’d to intimidate the Inhabitants — By telling them — Our Fort had surrendered — that the Rebels intended staying two or three Days — and had a twenty Gun Ship and Number of Privateers in the Sound — Stories well calculated to prevent our having Assistance.”

The letter then describes the continuing “rebel” attitudes of many in Setauket, ending with a short report he had neglected to include in his last letter to Tryon.

Lt. Col. Richard Hewlett’s sword belt plate, circa 1778. Image from Beverly C. Tyler

“Men of this ungenerous Stamp endeavor further by the sly underhand Methods to defraud Government. Their Young Men go over to Connecticut and enter the Rebel Service while their Fathers and Friends take Mortgages on their Estates — and secure in the Oath of Fidelity — hug themselves when they think they have sav’d their Property. There is a constant Correspondence between Connecticut & this County carried on to a most daring Degree I am well convinc’d. The late Party that came over rob’d only me and my Officers Doctr. PUNDERSON & Mr. HUBBARD of our Horses — they must have been particularly pointed out to them as they made great Inquiry after a fine Horse of Captn. ALLISONs on which one of our Men made his Escape that Morning. I neglected mentioning in my late Letter what Equipment the Rebels came over in — it consisted of six Sloops, 26 Whale Boats with other small Craft.”

Hewlett reported what he had discovered about another Setauket resident. This rebel, the husband of Anna Smith Strong and a town trustee from 1767 to 1777 had just recently been replaced on the Brookhaven Town board, along with other Patriot-leaning trustees, by residents loyal to King George III.

“I have this Instant while writing the following authentic Information lodg’d against a Justice Selah Strong by a Gentleman from Connecticut — that he wrote to Genl. Parsons there were a Number of Vessels collecting Forage at Southold — Guarded by a fourteen Gun Schooner and fifty Men on Shore under the Command of Captn. Raymond — who might easily be surpris’d.

“That he secreted a Deserter three Weeks who went by the Name of BOYD — that he has repeatedly sent Intelligence to the Rebels in Connecticut of the Situation of the Troops in this Place by John and Cornelius Clark. This very Mr. Strong has pretended to be our Friend — and several Times given Information of the last nam’d Persons being over — but not untill they were gone. What Security can Government receive — while there are such Villains ready to stab her in secret.

“That Success may attend your Excellency’s Arms and all Traitors be discover’d is the sincere Wish of — Your most oblig’d humble Servt. Richard HEWLETT L.C.”

Hewlett’s letter, in the University of Michigan, William L. Clements Library, Sir Henry Clinton Papers, helps confirm Selah Strong’s activity as a spy for Gen. Washington a full year before the Culper Spy Ring began operations under Abraham Woodhull. It also ties in directly to the efforts of Benjamin Tallmadge, at the time second in command to intelligence chief Gen. Charles Scott, and to Caleb Brewster, who by this time was already carrying spy messages from Washington spy John Clark across Long Island Sound to Fairfield, Connecticut, and through Tallmadge to Washington’s headquarters. The Hewlett letter also became one of the factors that led to Strong’s arrest and imprisonment in New York City as reported by the Jan. 3, 1778, issue of Rivington’s Royalist Gazette.

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.