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Week 7 - Setauket in the Revolution
We have all heard of the Battle of Setauket Green, but only since I became the fortunate
possessor of Onderdonk’s “Revolutionary Incidents” have I realized how many exciting events occurred
at Setauket during those trouble days. It must be remembered that Onderdonk obtained much of his
material from British sources.
I was interested to learn that there were two battles on Setauket Green. The first according to
Thompson was on August 14, 1777. Col. Parsons embarked from Black Rock with 150 men in six
whaleboats and a sloop carrying one cannon. I have written of that before. Now for Onderdonk’s
“In 1777 Setauket was one of the British outposts. Col. Hewlett with three captains, Lester,
Hewlett and Allison, and 260 men, was stationed here. Of course, the Episcopal Church, as the Church of England, was sacred to them. The Presbyterian Church, a mere meeting house in their eyes, was
promptly turned into a fort.”
“Four swivils were mounted at the gallery windows and horses were stabled below. As a place of
resort in case of attack, it was enclosed at a distance of 30 feet with an earthern mound of 6 feet high
and 5 feet thick, laid with fascines, so as to be ball-proof.”
“On top were set pickets 6 feet high and 3 inches apart. Pickets also projected from the outer
side over the ditch. Two steps of earth were made inside the wall for the men to rise and fire their
muskets between the pickets. A heavy double gate was on the south side.”
“ON August 25, 1777, Gen. Parsons landed at Mt. Misery (now Belle Terre) with 500 men and
several pieces of brass cannon and summoned the fort to surrender. A picket warned Col. Hewlett who
was quartered at Col. Floyd’s. He rose from his bed and jumped out of the window, taking his clothes
with him and so reached the fort ahead of the enemy. History does not say but I imagine he dressed
after he got there. In answer to Gen. Parson’s demand that he surrender, Col. Hewlett, hoping for
reinforcements asked for half an hour, but he was only allowed ten minutes. His reply after consulting
with his men, was, he was determined to defend the fort to the last man. This was at five A. M.”
“The Americans then planted their artillery on a rock in full view of the church, 300 or 400 yards
distant, and commenced the attack with three pieces The church was perforated with balls and one
rafter was split its whole length, one man (Caleb Brewster?) was very active in elevating and firing his
piece. Charles Wilson said, ‘I will kill that red-breeched man’ and he was a mark for others. The principal
fire from the fort was from the swivels.”
“The battle lasted 2 or 3 hours, when learning of reinforcements the Americans withdrew. Six
months later the fort was abandoned. Stephen Kemble, deputy adjutant general, complimented Col.
Hewlett for having defended the fort when attacked by a large body of the enemy with cannon, which
“Dec. 1, Last Friday night, a few minutes after Col. Benj Floyd of Setauket had gone to bed,
George, son of Job Smith of Smithtown and Isaac, son of Epenetus Smith, with 12 others beset the
house, and George obliged a domestic to show him where the Col. Slept, who he surprised and led to
the thieves waiting at the door.”
“1780, Last Friday night a party of rebels surrendered the house of Dr. Punderson of Setauket,
took him prisoner and carried him to Connecticut; in that night the same party took Mr. Jayne Jr. The
rebels told Mrs. P. they had taken the doctor to exchange for John Smith and Mr. Jayne for Wm. Philips
who were seized at Smithtown, at Widow Blydenburg’s, on a trading expedition, July 17, 1780.”
“July 2, 1781. On Wednesday night last, a party of rebels from New England with 5 whaleboats
and about 50 men, landed at Crane Neck, Setauket and early the next morning went to the house of
Capt. Nathan Woodhull which, after they had plundered with three others adjoining, of considerable
value, carried Capt. W, and his son along with them; fortunately the boats were discovered by his two
brigs and a sloop lying in the Sound, who immediately gave them chase, which obliged the rebels to run their boats ashore and make their escape to the woods. The goods were returned to their owners and Capt. W. and son prevented from being carried off. One, Dan’l Jackson of Newark was commander of the party.”
“On June 20th three British ships discovered seven rebel boats off Setauket. Being no time to
escape they drove their boats ashore and lit out for the woods where they undoubtedly found friends.
Their boats, a twelve oared barge and six new whaleboats, were captured.”
“Among those that took part in the battles on the green was a boy, who afterwards as the Rev.
Zachariah Green, helped gather together the scattered flock of the Presbyterian church, and after their
patched-up chruch had been struck by lightning, encouraged them to build the present church building
Week 6 - Setauket Home of The Mount Family
(Author’s Note: The two cuts that illustrate this article are from pencil drawings William S. Mount made in my grandmother’s autograph album. Except the fact that Mount drew it I know nothing more about eh sketch of the two boys under the shed. The other, which Mount stated was in the west room of the old manor house, was drawn after the family had moved into the new manor house built near by. Mount had evidently moved in just the props he wanted for his picture. The older boy, sitting in the chair, was, so my grandmother said, her son, my uncle, Thomas S. Strong, and the little boy was my father Selah. Father said grandmother always told him that was his first portrait.)
I THINK very few people realize that the Mounts settled in Setauket before they went to Stony Brook. Their house stood near the road on the grounds now occupied by the Setauket Public School. Fortunately we have a very accurate description of the house in an auction notice lent me by the late Miss Julia Smith a number of years ago. She told me I could copy it and use it in any way I liked, and return the paper to her, which last I promptly did. Here is the notice: “To be Sold at Public Auction on the 7th of May next, at 12h o’clock noon, on the premises, the property of Thomas Mount, deceased.
“The well known stand for a store and Tavern, situated in the village of Setauket adjoining the public green where most of the public business is done & near the church. Consisting of about 12 acres of land in a high state of cultivation, with a variety of fruit trees of almost all kinds. There is on the premises a good house, barn, large horse shed, and granary all in good repair.
“The house is large and in every way convenient for entertainment & public business – two stories high, 40 ft. Front & 30 rear, with a store adjoining same. Also another lot of land near the premises, of 10 acres well manured in good order, convenient for building and improvement Terms of sale made easy and will be made known on said day, and an indisputable title will be given by Gilbert. S. Mount.
“Immediately after the above sale will commence the sale of the following articles of Household & Kitchen furniture. Viz, Beds, bedding, tables, looking glasses, crockery & glass ware & many other articles not enumerated.
Setauket April 2nd, 1816.”
After the sale of the house the Mounts moved to the home of Mrs. Mount’s family in Stony Brook, now known as the Hawkins-Mount house.
Mr. Nuns, of the firm of Nuns & Clark, piano manufacturers, bought the Mount house. He cut off a section an gave it to his friend Robert Dykes, who had come with him from England. Mr. Dykes used it as a kitchen for a house he was building on the upper road to Setauket Station. This house still stands.
On the site of the Mount house Mr. Nuns built a house of brick with deep double windows. The piano factor up on the hill was also of brick. This did well until the Civil War injured the business because they had many clients in the South. Later Mr. Ridgway bought the house, and it was known as te Ridgway house until it was torn down to make way for the present school building.
To return to the main part of the old Mount house, it belonged to the Ridgways and had many tenants. The house was two story with several fire-places, one of which was so huge it probably was in the tavern kitchen. There was also a wing which extended over the top of the horse sheds. I have been told the doorknobs were of brass which took a very fine polish.
There was a private school held in the big left hand upstairs room which went the width of the house and had windows on three sides. I went to school there for a couple of years. I remember one day standing at the East window to watch to see my father drive into the yard. I walked to school and generally rode home with my father the end of the morning when he came for the mail. There had been much excitement over the Presidential election, and my father was strongly for Grover Cleveland.
On seeing the carriage I cried out that Cleveland had won because, instead of the whip in the whip socket, was the United States flag. Father had been to Port Jefferson that morning and had taken the flag with him and waited until he was sure of the news before he displayed it. As my two companions at the window were on the other side I proclaimed it with extra joy.
In June, I think it was in the year 1945, the old house went up in a blaze of glory that illuminated the whole country side – a fiery end to the first home of the three famous Mount brothers.
Week 5 - When Washington Came in 1790
I think we have all of us wondered just what George Washington looked like. I know I did when I saw the many portraits of him in Washington, D. C., at the time of the Bicentennial. But there was one woman who had seen him as a very little girl, who always declared he looked exactly like Gilbert Stuart’s portrait.
It was back in 1790 when Washington made his famous visit to Long Island. How little people thought that the main reason for that trip, carefully concealed of course, was to visit his faithful spies on Long Island. In many places the houses at which he stopped were infamous as being the homes of Tories. Only recently has Mr. Pennypacker from old papers, some of them hidden behind secret panels, learned the truth.
Take the Youngs Homestead at Oyster Bay. Captain Daniel Youngs was said to be a Tory. Even his descendants, proud as they were of Washington spending the night at their home, did not understand it. When the gallant President left the next morning, he kissed Keziah, the eighteen-year old daughter on her left cheek. It was said that though she afterwards married Major William Jones even her well beloved husband was not permitted to kiss her on that cheek. All the things that Washington used during his stay including the bed and the bed curtains have been carefully preserved by the family, but of tales of his visit there has only come down to us through the years, that of Keziah’s kiss.
As for the little girl who remembered Washington, she was the daughter of a Mr. Sage of Brooklyn, a friend of Washington who had furnished supplies for the army. Stopping to call on him and finding him absent, Washington sat in his saddle while a messenger went to find him. The General noticing the little Sage girl, persuaded her to allow herself to be lifted into the saddle and holding her in his arms took her for a little ride, to her great delight. From that ride his face was firmly imprinted on her mind.
The General seems to have been always friendly to young people. In Patchogue some boys were roasting sweet potatoes in a fire by the roadside. One of the boys hearing his pleasant voice, pushed up to the side of his horse and offered the General a potato, which the General received and ate with pleasure. After thanking the boy whose last name was Hart, he presented him with an English shilling which was long preserved as a souvenir of General Washington.
I do not know when my great-great-grandfather joined the procession but I know he was with them when they passed through Coram where Washington was undoubtedly interested in the site of the burning of the forage at the time of the Revolution. From there it is said, that my ancestor rode at the head of the procession as they came down the winding road by the great rock into Setauket village.
As Washington puts it: “Thence to the house of Captain Roe which is tolerably decent with obliging people in it.” This house was built by Selah Strong in 1703 and though it had gone out of the Strong family in 1759, it was to the home of his ancestors that my great-great-grandfather guided General Washington.
I wonder if “Madame Nancy” was there to greet him? Captain Roe was a very important link in General Washington’s chain of spies. He was to have accompanied the party on their trip. Whether he spurred his horse not wisely but too well we do not know, but the fact remains that Roe's horse threw him and broke his leg, so he could not join the trip.
Of my ancestor’s ride with the General only one remark of Washington’s has come down to us. In planning the stops he said, “Gentlemen, I always believe in keeping to the old traditions.”
Many years have passed and as we look back at Washington’s visits to his Long Island helpers, we realize how true was the old saying that he was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Week 4 - Let's Go to Port Jefferson
When I was a youngster we always went to Port Jefferson shopping at least two times a week. I have the feeling I would like in memory to take that drive again.
It’s a fine summer Friday afternoon, the horses are at the door promptly at two. My mother and sister get into the back seat of the carriage and I climb up next to Father. Father clucks the horses and we start off at a steady trot. When we reach East Setauket we swing left to a little building (where Lyons’ store now stands) to mail some letters, as this is where the East Setauket Post Office is. (We had gotten our mail in Setauket early in the morning.)
Mrs. Lyons was most kind about reaching out the window to take letters. She once told me that when Parcel Post first started someone brought a bag of ripe tomatoes to mail thinking Uncle Sam would take care of everything. Uncle Sam, represented by Mrs. Lyons, did not take care of them. She packed them in a stout carton, marked them perishable and sent them on their way.
On we go, round corners, up GIldersleeve’s hill, down Port Jefferson hill and across the beach. We pass the Port Jefferson flour mill on our right and notice a team of white mules waiting to have their wagon loaded. Next, on the left, a ship is on the way – perhaps the bark Abeil Abbott back from a trip to New Zealand. Sailing one way and back the other thus going around the globe.
We pass the road to the steamboat dock and draw up in front of Darling’s Store. While the family is shopping I run across the street to the harness shop and leave a bridle to be mended. Some years later I went there with Father to pick out a harness for my very own use. The men were not used to it.
From there I go to George Smith’s tinshop and make my way through many stones to the back of the store. Here I drink the wonderful cool water which he pumps up from a well so deep it is said the water comes from under the Sound all the way from the Berkshire Hills. Now I must hurry back fro the family is ready to start on.
Next to Darling’s Store was Wilson’s Sail Loft with places for storing furniture below, and a long room above where the sails were cut and Mr. Wilson had his office. He was always glad to show you the plans for suits of sails for many ships. But we have no time to climb the stairs now as we are driving on.
Past Campbell’s boat loft, where tat a later date Father bought me a pair of light oars for my birthday. Memories play tricks sometimes and I cannot remember whether the blacksmith shop came before or after Campbell’s. At that time it no longer had the pyramid with the bell on top to ring for the men at the shipyard. Scriner’s Butcher Shop was on the corner. There we always bought a fine roast of beef, which we had hot on Saturday and cold on Sunday so the servants could go to church, according to my Mother’s New England tradition.
At the corner we turn around the block. The store at the corner later held an exhibition of William Davis’ paintings. Saxon’s boot and shoe shop came next. He had a most delightful pair of doll’s rubber boots for sale. I wanted those boots so badly when I was a little girl but I had to be content with a pair of doll’s rubbers, bought from the rubber factory in East Setauket.
Rich’s store was a brick building, just an ordinary dry goods store most of the year, but at Christmas the stairs at the back led down to a most delightful place where tables were full of all sorts of things, priced from five cents up. Ten cent stores were unknown in those days. I remember my sister bought a beautiful pocket knife for ten cents.
Near Rich’s a road ran down to a little shop where my older sisters had been able to purchase dolls’ wooden kitchen toys for a penny a piece. They were all gone by the time I was old enough to shop there but I was given a small wooden churn that had come from the shop and with which I actually churned a pat of butter the size of a pen.
Mrs. Davis’s store was much bigger before the road through cut off a piece of it. Somewhere along this part of the road at a later date I tied my mare to a tie post and went shopping. When I came back Lady (my horse) was tied to a different post further down the street. The mystery was solved when I met a friend later who told me she met Lady dragging the tie post down the street. She had untied the post which was rotted at the bottom, pushed it into the gutter, and tied the horse in a safer place.
At West’s barber shop, where I was taken to have my bangs trimmed, one wall had shelves covered with gorgeous individual shaving mugs. The names of the owners were printed in gold and the decorations on the mugs were all sorts of gay colors. We passed the Bank of Port Jefferson. Next was a music shop (Mother bought my mandolin there). Later for years it was Dare’s Drug Store.
A little further on a was a giant willow tree, so close to a butcher shop that the steps to the shop almost had to go around it. Port Jefferson National Bank was at the corner, then turn right into what was called Jones Street. At one time it was planned to have a trolley from Patchogue to Port Jefferson and the tracks were laid along Jones Street. When the project was abandoned, they were covered with dirt and the road was made to cover them. One day driving down the street I saw a white wooden tombstone. On it was the inscription “Here lies buried the tracks of the Suffolk Traction Company. Where are the bonds?” Now to return to our drive.
Randall’s store was on our right where the telephone central was. There was a rival telephone company for a while. Then came Bentley’s carriage shop where the cross street is now. That was where our carriage was built. Next came Liz Smith’s boarding house, famous for its fine food. In front stood a row of beautiful willow trees. When the town decided to put in sidewalks, they cut them down. Miss Smith fought to save them, but in vain.
As it was a sunny day we probably met John Billy Brown driving his horses from a seat high up on I think the biggest and highest road sprinkler that was ever made. Now we turn for home. Soon after we come down Gildersleeve’s Hill we turned square right towards the shore to buy a bottle of Setauket spring water. This water was well known even as far as the Philippine Islands. Then round corners up Brewster’s Hill, passing the Green, the churches and down to the bridge where the horses’ feet made a merry tattoo.
From there we knew it took exactly 12 minutes to get home. We often timed it when someone was coming from the train, so we knew what time to put supper on. When we reached the house, old Jenny Keirman, a Civil war vet, came out of the garden to take the horses. We picked up our purchases and went into the big, cool house – our shopping over for that week.
Week 3 - Thomas Hodgkins Gave a Library
IF A resident of Old Field, absent for more than half a century, should come back to his old haunts, he would hardy know where to find many of the landmarks. Houses dot the woods where there used to be such a tangle of roads that I have heard my father tell of a party of young people who wandered for hours in an attempt to reach West Meadows. Needless to say, it was a cloudy day.
The Mud Road, over which the early settlers carted mud to fertilize their fields, still winds its ancient way, though a bit wider at the latter end. Quaker Path has lost the curve which used to lead right to the house where Quaker meetings were held in the early days. As for Old Field Lane, who would think of calling the wide road that leads now to the lighthouse, a lane? It used to be so narrow that the only way to pass was to drive up into the nearest field opening. There were certain rules of the road. The heaviest load had the right of way, or if two equal loads met, the one nearest the opening had to back.
They tell the tale of two men who met in the Lane one long-ago day. Neither had a load, but one was not only nearer the opening but had only to back down hill to reach it. The other with a mean upgrade behind him, held to his rights. However, it was a case of neither side being willing to give in. There they sat and argued until the man with the right of way tied his horse to a tree and WENT HOME TO DINNER! When he came back, the road was clear. So, the right man won in the end.
Such was Old Field around 1860 when Mr. Thomas Hodgkins fell in love with the place and decided to make his home there. He was a wealthy candy manufacturer, and when he decided to retire, he told someone that no spot in the whole world (and he had travelled far) suited him as well as the farm he had bought, bounded by the Lane on one side and the Sound on the other. He called it Brambletye.
Hodgkins had begun life as a poor boy in England. As a young man, he and his wife came to New York and set up a small candy business in Greenwich Street. Wealth came to them, but his wife did not live long to enjoy it. Two nieces shared his Old Field home. As the years went on, one niece married and went away; death claimed the other. It was to her memory that he built the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library and presented it to the village of Setauket.
He was much interested in science. To the Royal Institute of Great Britain, he gave $100,000 to be used in scientific research. To the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, he gave $200,000 half without restrictions, the income from the other half to be used for “the diffusion of knowledge in the properties of air and its relation to the physical and intellectual welfare of mankind.” This was to be effected by the offering of premiums for discoveries and essays in world-wide competition.
Fresh air was his hobby. At Brambletye, he used special stoves made of soapstone. They were so heavy that it took four men to lift one. A pipe from the cellar fed air into the stove. The pipe to the chimney had an outer casing perforated to admit fresh air from outdoors into the room. The stove doors could be left open to show the coal fire burning brightly in the grate. SO important did this man consider these stoves to bodily health that before his niece attended a nearby private day school, he insisted on having one of these stoves installed there.
Brambletye was lighted mostly by candles but the reading lamps had pipes running from the tops of their chimneys to the stovepipe so they would not pollute the air.
He seldom went on the railroad but when he did, he wore a tube over his mouth and nose with the end protruding from the window so he could breathe fresh air. It is said that nothing from his farm was ever sold, everything extra, including livestock, being given away. He loved children and animals and gave large sums to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and to the S. P. C. A. Every winter for many years, he sent his teams to the Setauket public school to take the youngsters for a sleighride, ending at his house where each child was given a box of candy.
Mr. Hodgkins died on Thanksgiving Day 1892, but his memory will be kept green not only in the annals of the institutions here and abroad, which he aided so generously, but also by the people of Setauket and surrounding communities for the public library which means so much to us all.
Week 2 - Zopher Hawkins, Indian Captive
A GRAVEYARD seems hardly the place for an interesting tale, but in an old burying ground in South Setauket on a mossy stone, one finds the brief record of a life as exciting as that of many a western pioneer.
Zopher Hawkins was born in 1756 in an old house on the edge of the land now belonging to St. George’s Golf Links. In those days, the hillsides were dotted with the wigwams of the friendly Setauket Indians, and I imagine Zopher had many good times with them.
One day he was herding cattle near Lake Ronkonkoma when he was captured by hostile Indians. Tradition says they carried him far away, but where no one seems to know. Long and earnestly did he family search for him, helped no doubt by the Setaukets, but all in vain.
Three years Zopher dwelt among the Indians and they married him to an Indian squaw. At last his chance came. He escaped, guiding himself by the stars as his Indian friends had taught him. When morning was breaking, he crawled into a hollow log. The Indians traced him there. They beat on the log and kicked it but only to discover as the enemies of Bruce did long ago that a spider had spun its web across the opening. They then gave up the log in disgust and looked elsewhere.
After nightfall, Zopher very cramped and stiff, crawled and started on his way. After long traveling he reached home at last, to the joy of all his people.
It was after the beginning of the Revolutionary War, and I think after the Batle of Setauket Green, that word was brought to South Setauket that there were exciting doings down by Setauket pond. Zopher Hawkins who perhaps found life a bit quiet after his earlier excitements, and his friend Arthur Smith, decided to go down and see what was going on.
They found that a small party of British soldiers, after having landed from a whaleboat, had marched to Tyler’s Tavern in search of deserters. This tavern was not the present Community House, but one that used to stand near the road a little further on. The house was later moved up on the hill and still shows the bullet holes made on that occasion.
As the soldiers entered the building, Redfern, a schoolteacher, rushed upstairs and called to two girls who were sleeping there that they were safe in bed. He had only come four steps down the stairs when a stray bullet struck and killed him. Two other men were killed and a third escaped by climbing up the great chimney.
Zopher and Arthur were hanging around outside. The British catching sight of them, fired and killed Arthur as they thought, Zopher. But Zopher had dropped as they fired and lay for dead, an Indian trick. It is said that when the soldiers had gone, he jumped to his feet and ran so fast for home that “you couldn’t see his heels for dust.”
Zopher later fought in the Revolution and came through unwounded. It was years before he took a wife and then she was a young girl twenty-one uears his junior. Her foot stove, a nice big one decorated with her initials J. H. and a heart, evidently a wedding present, also the brass warming pan with which she warmed the beds on many a cold night, her flax and wool wheels, and the family chimes of sleigh bells, a different tone for each, are among our present treasures. Father bought them years ago at an auction at the old Hawkins home.
Zopher and his wife Julianner sleep side by side in the quiet graveyard, she having died in 1872. His tombstone reads:
Who died on Oct. 26, 1847 in
the 91st Year of His Age.
He served his country faithfully in the Revolution and
Was a captive among the Indians three years.
He lived a quiet and peacefull life, was happy and
resigned in death.