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Setauket

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Abraham Woodhull and Caleb Brewster meet to convey intelligence for General Washington. (Locke mural Setauket Elementary School)

“… by the assistance of a 355 [lady] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all.” (Abraham Woodhull to BenjaminTallmadge 15 August 1779 — The Washington Papers, Library of Congress)

BENJAMIN TALLMADGE, organizer and leader of the Revolutionary War Setauket spies, was born in Setauket in 1754. He was the son of the minister of the Setauket Presbyterian Church. The home where he was born is still standing in Setauket at the end of Runs Road. Tallmadge grew up in Setauket and attended school here with his close friend Abraham Woodhull.

When the Revolution began in 1775, Tallmadge enlisted in the Continental Army and by February 1777, he had been promoted to the rank of major. In the summer of 1778, General Washington appointed him head of his secret service and tasked Tallmadge with establishing an espionage network against the British in New York City. To conduct this vital undercover operation on Long Island, Tallmadge chose his boyhood friend Abraham Woodhull. Tallmadge and Woodhull chose other friends and neighbors from Setauket to assist them; men and women who could be trusted and who would prove to be so discreet in all their contacts that many of their identities would never be discovered.

ABRAHAM WOODHULL was a descendant of Richard Woodhull, an early Brookhaven Town leader and magistrate. He was born in 1750 on his family’s farm in Setauket, and he was a farmer by occupation. From the beginning of the Setauket Spies in 1778, Woodhull was in charge of day-to-day operations. His code name was Samuel Culper, and the spy operation came to be known as the Culper Ring. Woodhull was referred to as Samuel Culper Senior after he recruited Robert Townsend, who was given the code name Samuel Culper Junior. Not only did Woodhull direct field activities, but he also risked his life countless times by personally collecting information in New York and on Long Island.

Woodhull was responsible for evaluating the reports received from all sources, determining what was to go forward to Washington’s headquarters and seeing that the dispatches were carried across the Sound by Caleb Brewster. Woodhull’s health was poor, and he lived in constant fear of discovery. Despite his fears, Woodhull carried on his duties as a Patriot spy and in a 10 April 1779 letter to Tallmadge wrote, “… and rest assured that I endevour to collect and convey the most accurate and explicit intelligence that I possibly can. And hope it may be of some service toward alleviating the misery of our distressed Country, nothing but that could have induced me to undertake it. . .” (The Washington Papers, Library of Congress)

CALEB BREWSTER was perhaps the most bold and daring of the spies. After the August 1776 Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn, Brewster joined the Continental Army with the rank of a lieutenant of artillery.

In spite of his service designation, one of Brewster’s tasks throughout the war was to command a fleet of fast-sailing whaleboats, operating from the Connecticut shore against British and Loyalist shipping on Long Island Sound (known as the “Devil’s Belt”). Each whaleboat was about 30 feet in length, equipped with sails and oars, and with 12-15 fully armed men. This, together with his knowledge of the Long Island shoreline, his work as a mate on sailing ships, and his boyhood association with Benjamin Tallmadge, made him an ideal choice to carry intelligence back and forth across the Sound.

ANNA SMITH STRONG, great grand-daughter of Setauket’s Lord of the Manor William “Tangier” Smith, devised a wash line signal system, according to Morton Pennypacker in his book “George Washington’s Spies on Long Island and in New York,” published 1939, to identify for Abraham Woodhull the whereabouts of Caleb Brewster’s whaleboats, so Woodhull could find him and pass along messages for General Washington.

As detailed by Pennypacker and embellished by Strong family historian Kate Strong, to avoid detection by the British it was necessary for Brewster to hide his boat in six different places, each identified by a number. Nancy Strong, as she was known by friends and family, hung her laundry from the line in a code formation to direct Woodhull to Brewster’s location. A black petticoat was the signal that Brewster was nearby, and the number of handkerchiefs scattered among the other garments showed the meeting place. Using the most ordinary of personal items and improvising on the most ordinary of personal tasks, she made an extraordinary contribution to the Patriot cause. Kate Strong’s True Tales indicate her information was corroborated by scraps of paper, deeds and letters in her possession, as well as documents she saw or was told about by Pennypacker (True Tales, “In Defense of Nancy’s Clothesline,” 1969).

CAPTAIN AUSTIN ROE, as the courier later known as Long Island’s Paul Revere, was the member of the Setauket Spies most visible to the British and Tories in Brookhaven. Roe ran a tavern in East Setauket where food and drink were served and where travelers could stay overnight on their way to or from the east end of Long Island. The original location of the tavern (it was moved in 1936) was along what is now Route 25A, just west of Bayview Avenue. The site is marked by a state road sign which details a few of the most important facts about Austin Roe and the tavern.

Austin Roe used his position as a tavern owner to justify his 110-mile round trips. While in New York, Roe gathered supplies he needed for the tavern, and expensive materials and goods for Nancy Strong. These trips provided the cover he needed to obtain spy messages. Roe made numerous trips to Manhattan, sometimes as often as once a week. The roads were heavily traveled by British and Loyalist troops and by highwaymen (thieves and robbers). Roe would receive intelligence directly from Robert Townsend, the messages written in code or invisible ink. He would ride back to Setauket and pass the information to Abraham Woodhull.

ROBERT TOWNSEND (code name Samuel Culper, Jr.) coordinated the efforts of the spy network in New York. We will probably never know all the spies who contributed information on British movements, but we do know that Townsend, a resident of Oyster Bay before and after the Revolutionary War, was the principal contact in New York for most of the period between June 1779 and November 1783.

The valuable intelligence transmitted by the spies led to the capture of Major Andre, who was hanged as a spy on orders of General Washington, and the discovery of Benedict Arnold’s plot to turn over West Point to the British. The Culper Spy Ring also supplied Washington with information that enabled him to prevent the British from attacking the French army and navy after they arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, in July 1780 to support General Washington. The most important contribution of the Culper Spy Ring was to provide General Washington with accurate and detailed intelligence. In many instances, Washington was able to check the veracity of information received from other sources by comparing it with intelligence received from the Culper Spy Ring.

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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Community members, local legislators and Scouts joined Setauket firefighters to honor those lost on September 11 with a candlelight vigil on the night of the 20th anniversary of the tragic event.

The vigil took place at the district’s 9/11 Memorial Park, adjacent to the firehouse located at 394 Nicolls Road in Stony Brook. Attendees gathered in the park that includes a pond and waterfall. Three pieces of steel from the World Trade Center in the park are featured and were obtained by Setauket Fire Department worker James Hubbard, who worked at the cleanup site.

The 9/11 Memorial Park also includes two trees planted in 2016 that were seeded from the 9/11 survivor tree located at the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center and a stone monument inscribed with the names of those lost on 9/11.

Pictured clockwise from above, three wreaths placed at the memorial during the ceremony; Setauket FD member Corey Gallagher and his son; the Stony Brook Fire Department assisted Setauket FD in raising the flag in front of the Nicolls Road station for the 9/11 Ceremony; fire department members entering the 9/11 memorial site; members wore masks due to the closeness during the ceremony; and Asst. Chief Charles Regulinski, Captain Justin Kinney and Chief Scott Gressin attended the ceremony.

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Members of North Shore Jewish Center were on hand for the unveiling of a historical marker at 152 Main Street in Setauket. The building is the site of the first synagogue to be built on Long Island. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The Jewish Historical Society of Long Island and North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station celebrated the 125th anniversary of the first synagogue to be built on Long Island Sept 5, according to a press release from JHSLI.

Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich speaks at the Sept. 5 event. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The spot of  the former synagogue building is located at 152 Main Street in Setauket where II Acts thrift store now stands and is owned by Setauket United Methodist Church.

In 1893, the congregation Agudas Achim, meaning association of brothers, was incorporated in Setauket, according to the press release. Three years later a plot of land was purchased on the west side of Main Street just north of 25A and a house of worship was constructed. The opening of the synagogue, the first to be built on Long Island outside of Brooklyn and Queens, was dedicated on Sept. 2, 1896.

“With all the growth and change that has taken place on Long Island over the last 125 years it’s amazing this historic building still stands,” said Brad Kolodny, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Long Island.  “We are proud to honor the legacy of those who built the synagogue.”

Among those in attendance for the ceremony and unveiling of a historical marker were Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) and Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center. Also, attending the event were North Shore Jewish Center members who are descendants of the families who came to Setauket to work in the former rubber factory and founded the synagogue.

Sunny Docherty wanted to do something different for her birthday this year. Photo by Sabrina Artusa

By Sabrina Artusa

This past April, Setauket Elementary School fourth-grader Sunny Docherty decided to spend her birthday a little differently. Instead of brainstorming a list of gifts to ask for, Sunny asked only for her family and friends to donate to Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue & Adoption Center. Sunny heard of the nonprofit organization through family friends, Natasha and Jim Commander, who are regular volunteers there. 

Save-A-Pet, located in Port Jefferson Station, is currently saving animals from kill shelters in the South. Volunteers are fervently dedicated to helping the most overlooked members of our community — our animals. In addition to caring for mistreated pets and finding them a home, Save-A-Pet also provides any necessary medical attention.

Volunteers like the Commander family, who live in Stony Brook, walk the animals, socialize with them and treat them with love and care, eventually teaching them how to trust again. Many of the animals have been abused, but volunteers like the couple are working at reversing the trauma through “love and exercise,” as Natasha Commander said.

The truth of her statement is exemplified in her foster dog Muddy, who was saved by Save-A-Pet. After only a week with the family, Muddy is dutifully attached to the Commanders. He’s laying at their feet, wagging his tail and appearing to smile.  

Sunny was introduced to Save-A-Pet through the Commanders and, of course, Muddy. “It’s an incredible thing that they do — [kill shelters] shouldn’t kill animals,” she said.

Dori Scofield, president of Save-A-Pet, said she “loves when kids in the community get involved. They truly help the organization tremendously.”

Scofield emphasized the significant impact kids have on the organization. 

“Kids are huge contributors,” she said. 

From a roll of paper towels to small drives outside of grocery stores, Scofield makes it clear that no contribution is too small and no person is too young. Age does not impede a person’s ability to make a difference. 

Photo by Sabrina Artusa

Thanks to Sunny, Save-A-Pet will be receiving $156 — money that will be put toward the care and medical needs of the animals. Scofield said that they “always have animals in dire need of surgery,” so Sunny’s contributions will be put to good use. 

While affectionately petting Muddy, it becomes clear from Sunny’s smile that she is proud of her decision to donate. Sunny definitely embodies her name. As her mother Carré Griggs said, “Sunny was born sunny.” Her father, Jim Docherty, said that he is “not surprised at all” by Sunny’s charitable deed. 

Her impact extends beyond the monetary donation. One of her friends has also decided to trade gifts for donations. In fact, Sunny herself credits one of her friends — who has donated her birthday money in the past — for inspiring her to do so this year. 

“I don’t think kids want presents anymore,” Griggs said. “They want to help.”

Sunny hopes to inspire people to get involved. To anyone moved by her story, she said, “Do something, donate or foster a dog in need.”

File photo

In the wake of the June 17 stabbing of 39-year-old Benjamin Flores-Mendez, who was found dead in Port Jefferson Station on the Greenway Trail, new precautions are being taken to help make residents feel safer when exercising alone.

To make the Greenway Trail safer, Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) requested cameras on the trail, bike patrols during the day and sector car patrols at night. As a result of Hahn’s push for better safety, cameras and new patrols are already in place

“As a Suffolk County resident, parent and legislator, public safety is always top of mind, and if I’m sent to Congress, that will continue,” Hahn said. “I’m proud of my work to keep our communities safe, like investing in security cameras and additional patrols in crime-prone areas and would welcome any new opportunities to expand on those efforts.”

As part of a women’s running group herself, Hahn advocates running with a partner and recommends using trails during daylight hours. 

According to Herb Mones, chair of the Three Village Civic Association land use committee, the Greenway Trail is the most used recreational area in the community.

Although this is the first reported incident of this type, Mones was still disheartened to learn the news. 

“Being part of the trail’s initial planning, and still active in its stewardship, I was shocked to see violence occur on the trail,” Mones said. “This corridor is a place for people to enjoy, and it is sad to see a loss of life on this path.”

Suffolk County police have stepped up their patrols on the trail and, with Hahn’s support, the implementation of security cameras will help deter any suspicious activity. 

“It is important for trail users to report any suspicious behavior, and refrain from being out on the trail at nighttime when there is less likelihood to observe your surroundings,” Hahn said, adding that it is illegal to be on the trail between dusk and dawn. 

File photo

Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau officers and two good Samaritans rescued a man who nearly drowned in Port Jefferson on Sunday, June 21.

 Alan Goldberg was attempting to anchor a boat on Whitehall Beach when he lost his footing and became unresponsive in the water at approximately 2:30 p.m. Two good Samaritans on the beach, Frances George and Karl George, performed CPR until Marine Bureau Officers Cory Kim and Shane Parker arrived on scene and transferred Goldberg onto Marine Delta.

The officers, with the assistance of Frances George and Karl George, continued CPR while transporting Goldberg, 70, of Coram, to the Port Jefferson Boat Ramp. He was transferred to a waiting ambulance and taken to St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson with serious injuries.

Frances George, 30, and Karl George, 65, both of East Setauket, were not injured.

On Monday, Feb. 1, the first snowstorm of the year hit Long Island, causing people to stay home and shovel nearly two-feet of snow.  We asked residents to share their snow day photos with us.

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Setauket firefighters saved a man who accidentally drove into a pond off of Hulse Road. Photo from Setauket Fire Department

By Donna Deedy

A 78-year-old man accidentally drove his four-door sedan straight into the icy waters of a pond off of Hulse Road during the Feb. 1 snowstorm. The driver was quickly rescued when Setauket Fire Department Chief Scott Gressin arrived at the scene at 11:39 a.m., just one minute after receiving a 911 call.

“The man had self-extricated himself from the vehicle,” Gressin said. “I found him on the hood of his car, which was submerged up to where the doors meet the windows.”

The driver was soaking wet, he said, but uninjured. After tossing the man a rope to tie around himself, the chief said the man was safely towed to the pond’s edge with the assistance of other Setauket firemen, who arrived at the scene with floatation devices and water rescue gear.

The accident occurred at Setauket Meadows, a 55-and-over community where the unidentified man lives. After confirming that there were no other passengers in the vehicle, emergency responders took the man to his nearby home, where he changed into dry clothing and refused further medical care.

The chief said that the man was appreciative, but somewhat embarrassed.

“It was a rapid, robust response,” Gressin said. “Fortunately, the department is equipped with specialty ice-and-water rescue apparatus and trained in cold water rescues.”

Setauket Fire Department responds to roughly 3,600 alarms each year. Winter water rescues are rare, Gressin said, but countywide first responders recurrently rescue passengers from sinking vehicles.

James Robitsek, and Setauket Patriot supporters, rally outside Village Hall in Port Jefferson in November. File photo by Julianne Mosher

The Setauket Patriots — who have headed several marches and caravans across the North Shore of Long Island in support of President Donald Trump (R) — have lost their Facebook page and are now operating under a private group account. 

James Robitsek, founder of the group, said that last week 200 members of his group gathered on four charter buses to visit the Capitol on Jan. 6, with an extra 100 members driving themselves to the rally.

“The actions by those storming the Capitol building [Jan. 6] should not be tolerated, are condemned, and were not conducted by any of the members that came on our buses to attend a peaceful protest. He said the Setauket Patriots page, that holds more than 20,000 members, was taken down by Facebook. The private group is still online. 

“The group will remain, and we will continue to hold community events like we have in the past,” he said.

Robitsek added that “false information that is being disseminated on social media, mischaracterizing members of our group is hateful and vengeful and just plain wrong. Just as violence and domestic terrorism will not be tolerated, we also will not allow other groups to violate and slander good-hearted citizens that love our America.” 

Additional reporting from Rita Egan 

A protester holds up an "Impeach Trump" sign. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Protesters rallied in two North Shore locations this past weekend, to demonstrate their First Amendment right to protest. 

Nearly 100 people stood on the corner of Route 25A and Bennetts Road in Setauket on Saturday holding signs urging that President Donald Trump (R) be impeached. For the last 18 years, the North Country Peace Group has stood on the bend, every weekend, to protest.

This year was different.

“I’m going on 79 years, and I’ve seen a good chunk of American history,” said protester Jerry Shor. “I’m really sad this happened to our government, which I owe a lot to … We have tremendous respect for our government.”

And although Shor said he doesn’t always agree with what the government does, he knew he had to exercise his right to demonstrate, protest and make his feelings known. 

In response to the storming of the United States Capitol Wednesday, Jan. 6, members of the group wanted to make their voices heard — their anger at the president for inciting violence, and their urge to remove Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1) from Congress. 

“I usually don’t come out, but today seemed like a day we had to because of what happened in Washington on Wednesday,” said protester Bob Keeler. “And Lee Zeldin, who supposedly represents us in the Congress, is not representing me very well. It’s time for him to be a former congressman.”

Several protesters stand on the corner of Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station, responding to events taken place at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Normally the corner has a large group of counter-protesters — known as the North Country Patriots — across the way. This weekend there was only a small group of five. 

“The real patriots are the ones who are voicing their opinions the way our forefathers really meant to be voiced,” Shor said. 

Protester Paige Pearson said she had a bad feeling that something was going to happen Jan. 6. 

“My immediate thought was I wasn’t surprised,” she said. “But I’m extremely disappointed.”

Pearson said she was disheartened to see what was happening in Washington D.C., especially when she previously participated in other protests that were peaceful and civil. 

“We’ve been fighting for months and months, trying to stay as peaceful as possible,” she said. “And then all of these people can just storm into the Capitol, and cause all of this violence and destruction, and get out clean and unharmed.”

At the same time, at Resistance Corner on Routes 347 and 112 in Port Jefferson Station, a smaller, but just as loud group rallied against the president. 

A protester at a rally on Routes 347 and 112. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Organizers of the Friends for Justice group Holly Fils-Aime said the protesters chose to stand at the corner of Nesconset Highway because nearly 3,000 cars pass every hour.

“Obviously we were very upset when Trump claimed election fraud,” she said. 

With the riots down south, Fils-Aime said she and her group are calling for the president to be impeached. 

Holding signs of Trump’s face on a peach, the group voiced their hopes that Congress will vote to remove the president from power. 

“I can’t believe this is happening to our country,” Fils-Aime said. “He’s been talking about this for months. … We need to get him out of office, so he can’t do this again.”

Protesters at the North Country Peace Group rally. Photo by Julianne Mosher