Bench Talks

Kate Wheeler Strong, by Margo Arceri

 

Kate Wheeler Strong: Setauket’s 20th century Long Island Historian     

Kate Wheeler Strong was born in Setauket on March 21, 1879. She was the youngest of three girls born to Selah Brewster Strong and Julia Davenport Wheeler. Their only son, Russell, was born after Kate. The  three girls, Cornelia, Elizabeth and Kate remained unmarried. Kate Strong was a descendant of Revolutionary War Spy Anna Smith Strong, as well as of Setauket settler William "Tangier" Smith. As Dr. Percy Bailey wrote in October, 1977, "As a historian, 'Miss Kate' has probably done more than any other in popularizing and humanizing the history of this beautiful Long Island which she loved." 

Kate Strong wrote local history articles for the Long Island Forum from 1939 through 1976. Most of these articles she had published in small booklets which she sold or gave away to friends over the years. These booklets, called "True Tales" have provided a special look into the past for many generations of Three Village residents. Kate Strong died at her home "The Cedars" on Strong's Neck on July 22, 1977. In 1992, William B. Minuse (1908-2002) wrote about Kate Strong in the 1992 Three Village Historian.

Kate Strong, A Remembrance

Kate Wheeler Strong was one of the most remarkable persons I have ever known. The Strong Family came to Northern Brookhaven in the late 1600s and were among the leading citizens of our area. Miss Kate spent most of her life on Strong’s Neck. Her father was a gentleman farmer and the Strongs were people of education and culture.

Kate loved young people. For many hears she told stories to groups of children at the Emma S, Clark Memorial Library. When the Stony Brook School for Boys (now the Stony Brook School) opened, she organized a stamp club there. One story illustrates her kindness and her attachment to the Stony Brook School. During World War II a young English boy was a student there, cut off from his family and friends. Sadly he sickened and died. It was impossible to send him home for burial. In her compassion Miss Kate arranged to have him buried in the Smith-Strong family graveyard on Strong’s Neck. To my knowledge he is the only person there not related to the Tangier Smiths or the Strongs by blood or marriage.
 

Kate Strong, May 1897
The “Cedars”, home of Kate Strong and her family. Photo 1899 by Elizabeth Strong
Strong family circa 1915 (clockwise from bottom center) Selah, Kate, Russell, Cornelia, Elizabeth, Julia
Kate and Fan - 1899
Kate in her sleigh at her home, circa 1950
Kate Strong & family weather station, circa 1950
Kate Strong, charcoal on paper, 1941 - Carol Davis Petty
Kate & Little Caesar 1964

Kate’s chief interest over the years was local and family history. This interest was also a framework for her youth activities. She wrote extensively; most of her articles being based on family papers and information gathered from older residents. Her writings were published in the Long Island Forum under the heading “True Tales from the Early Days of Long Island”. Even after she lost her sight she persisted. We will always be in her debt for the wonderful anecdotes and the invaluable accounts she left of Long Island communities and people.

My closest contacts with Miss Kate came after my return to East Setauket in 1947. I became deeply interested in the history of this locality as well as my own family. She was always ready to talk with me and help me. I visited her often at her home, “The Cedars”, which had been built by her father. The “Forum” published one volume of her “True Tales” each year, and she always sent me a copy at Christmas.

From time to time she gave me artifacts for the Three Village Historical Society. Among them were a pair of snow shoes her father had used during the blizzard of “88. On another occasion she had me take a spinning wheel that had been in the family for many years. When she died, her personal papers and the papers of her father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. This priceless collection of documents of the Three Villages’ most eminent historian, will provide future researchers with an invaluable source of local history material.

Toward the end of her life her neighbors celebrated each of her birthdays and I was always invited. I shall always remember her most fondly. 

William B. Minuse

After Kate Strong’s death her personal papers and her family papers going back to her 2nd great grandfather were donated to the Three Village Historical Society. The Strong collection contains over 3,000 papers of the Strong family of Setauket, dating from 1703 to 1977. Included in the collection are deeds, diaries, 224 handwritten pages of court cases by State Supreme Court Justice Selah Strong, letters about their daily lives, politics, travels, farm matters, business records, school records, payments, receipts, Setauket Presbyterian Church records and weather bureau records. There are approximately 2, 250 photographs of families, friends, relatives, places and scenes.

 

It is particularly gratifying to read some of Kate Strong’s “True Tales”, and then to find the information, photographs and artifacts that she used as a part of her local history in the collection of the Three Village Historical Society. There is nothing special about most of the papers and materials she used to tell her stories. There are no documents that are revered for their presence alone. However, these everyday letters, bills, deeds and other pieces of paper are a vital part of stories of the lives of ordinary people. These people were a part of the history of this community and the stories weave together an interesting tapestry of history and reflect our national and world history as well. 

“The Three Village Historian: Journal of the Three Village Historical Society,” issue of 1992, includes nine of Kate Wheeler Strong’s “True Tales,” and a complete listing of the 38 years of “True Tales” booklets she produced between 1940 and 1976. This 24-page publication is still available at the Three Village Historical Society History Center and Gift Shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, however the Gift Shop is currently closed. A copy of the 1992 “the Three Village Historian” is in the Long Island Collection of the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.  
 

Selah Strong to Robert Heaton, 1790 
TVHS Archive collection

Zachariah Greene, by Bev Tyler

 

Zachariah Green - Bench Back Story

At the Revolutionary War Battle of White March in Pennsylvania, December 5-7, 1777 a 17 year old Continental Army Private named Zachariah Greene took a rifle ball through the shoulder, an injury that eventually ending his military enlistment. Just over 100 days before, on August 22, 1777, Greene had been one of 150 Patriot troops who led an unsuccessful attack against a Loyalist fort built around the Setauket Presbyterian Church. 74 year later, 91 year old veteran, Reverend Zachariah Greene receives an invitation to be an honored guest at the Seventy fifth Anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence in New York City. His letter, sending his regrets, provides a window into the character and patriotism of a soldier, turned minister, who had served as pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church for 53 years. It was the same church that had been surrounded by a Loyalist fort in 1777.

Zachariah Greene was known as the fighting pastor for his service during the Revolutionary Ward. In August 1777 he took part in General Parson's attack on the Loyalist garrison. In November 1777, he marched with the army into Pennsylvania and at the battle of White Marsh he took a rifle ball through the shoulder that ended his military career.

In 1782 - 83 Zachariah studied at Dartmouth College and was licensed to preach in 1785. He preached in the church in Cutchogue in 1786 and was ordained there on June 28, 1787. He married his first wife Sarah, daughter of Simon and Ann Fleet of Huntington, on June 28, 1786. Sarah died December 2, 1791 and on September 14, 1793 he married Abigail Howard. By varying accounts Zachariah had between eight and twelve children by his two wives.

He was pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian Church from September 27, 1797 until 1850. In 1850 he moved to Hempstead and lived with his daughter until his death in 1858 at the age of ninety eight.

In July 1851 “Old Parson Greene,” as he was affectionately known, received a letter inviting him to attend the 75th anniversary celebration of Independence Day in New York City. His letter of reply, originally printed in the Hempstead Inquirer, detailed his feelings about the 4th of July.

"Hempstead July 3, 1851.

"Colonel D.E. Delevan,

"The letter from you and your associates inviting me to join you and the citizens of New York in the celebration of the 4th of July was handed to me last evening. I am a friend to the festival and return you my sincere thanks for your respectful invitation. It would give me double pleasure, as I was present when the Declaration was read in the old park in your city on the 4th of July 1776. I saw and participated in the birthday of the United States. Gentlemen, I must deny myself the great pleasure on account (of) age, heat, a lame ankle and previous engagement.

"It may perhaps be of some use for me to say I belonged to the revolutionary army when the Declaration of our Independence was read for the first time on the 4th of July, 1776 in the park which then lay very near the edge of the city. The army rejoiced and it was loudly proclaimed in every direction - united we stand divided we fall. The sons of the old patriots should never lose sight of this important sentiment.

"What sort of a man is he that can raise his finger against the union of these states? If such a poor, crawling, sneaking thing should be found - why let him and his companions - if he has any take their property (we don't want them or theirs) and go to Austria or Russia where they may wear the iron yoke to heir satisfaction. If I could stand on a mountain in the centre of the United States and extend my voice from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean I would say aloud, be careful of the union, do nothing to injure the union for it is the gift of the God of the bible - yes, the gift of the God of the armies of the United States of America - states cemented with the sweat, blood and property of the fathers of this nation. We live under the only God of this nation. We live under the only free, generous, wise and safe government that exists on the habitable earth.

"Suffer me to say, I was born on the 11th day of January, 1760. I joined the army in 1776 with a brother older than myself - aided in building the forts on Dorchester Heights by which the British were driven out of Boston - marched with the army to New York, helped erect the fort on Brooklyn Heights, was in the battle when the British landed at Throggs Point which lasted til darkness separated us. Soon after, (I took part) in the battle of White Plains. I was one of the party sent to drive the British from the neighborhood of White Marsh when they were robbing the people of their cattle and their family stores. There I was severely wounded. I had also a brother wounded. He had eleven ball holes in his outside garment - one only injured him. I was three years in the army, my brother four. He was in the battle of Monmouth, was with Wayne when they took Stony Point by storm. My father was a volunteer for two months when the British took New York. He also volunteered with 59 more from the County of Worcester Mass., who mounted their horses and aided in capturing Burgoyne with his army.

"Gentlemen, you can see why 1 am so strongly attached to the union and why I wish to leave my posterity and my fellow citizens in a pure unbroken union. That the celebration of this day may strengthen the union of these United States let us earnestly beseech our Father in Heaven to pour upon our nation the spirit of peace and love. I am your fellow citizen, friend and servant in the gospel of the Divine Saviour.

 

Zachariah Greene"

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