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.