Early Rules for Baymen

Footnotes to Long Island History

Early Rules for Baymen


Thomas R. Bayles


       Before the Revolution, the trustees of Brookhaven town seem to have given but little attention to their claims upon the waters and shores over which their patent gave them jurisdiction. At the same time the South Bay proprietors had much difficulty in enforcing their claims to that water and its bottom. Under the agreements made in 1767 and 1790, the management of the south side bays fell to the trustees, and they have since continued to exercise that power.

         The business of oystering in the South bay had gained considerable importance, as shown by the order passed by the trustees on July 4, 1785, that not more than 200 cargoes of oysters should be carried from the bay between that time and the next town election.

         The boats carrying oysters out of the town were required by the same order to obtain permits, the price of which was fixed at 24 shillings. In November of the same year the order was amended to make the charge two pence for every tub of oysters taken. This price also applied to clams taken. Fishing with a net was also forbidden without a permit, and a fine of 40 shillings was ordered for the violation of either of these provisions.

         On April 7, 1788, the trustees passed a regulation requiring every vessel taking oysters from the south bay to be measured, and a fee of 1 shilling 6 pence for each ton of the vessel’s capacity charged, to be paid in advance. At this time it was ordered that no fishing with a net should be allowed and that no one except residents of the town should take oysters and clams.

         About this time the trustees adopted the practice of leasing or selling the privilege of fishing in the bays on an annual basis. On June 11, 1789, this right, covering all the bay west of Smith’s point, was sold to Elijah Chichester for 24 pounds. The rights of the inhabitants of the town to catch fish for their own use were reserved. The fine for taking oysters from the town without a permit was raised to five pounds in 1792.

         In 1794 the question of oystering and other bay privileges was a matter of considerable public discussion, and the trustees submitted it to the vote of the people in town meeting.

            The vote showed the people were opposed to hiring out the fishing or allowing oysters to be taken out of the town “by any person or persons whatsoever,” In the following October this arrangement had proven so unsatisfactory that a special town meeting was called and the matter was again placed in the hands of the trustees to handle. They have ever since continued to exercise this authority and regulations similar to those already mentioned were frequently enacted, confirmed or amended.

            In 1795 the trustees decided that their authority extended to the drawing of seines upon the ocean shore of the beach, and accordingly they placed restrictions upon that privilege the same as upon the bay fishery.

            The privilege of “fowling” on the bogs and marshes of the bay was also within the trustees’ authority, and that privilege was sold to some individual for the year. In 1799 this right was sold by the trustees to William Albeen for $42.50. This did not affect the right of the inhabitants from shooting for their own use. These claims of the trustees up­on the fowling privilege were exercised for many years and as late as 1852 the gunning privilege of the West bay was leased for three years to John Homan for $7.50 a year, for three years.

       The right of fishing for market was sold from year to year to individuals and in 1801 Elijah Chichester purchased this privilege for that year for $100. About this time horse fish were taken in quantifies for manure and it was forbidden by the trustees under a fine of $10. In 1852 the fishing right in the West bay was sold for $50, for a term of three years.

         Among the earliest records of leasing ground for laying down oysters is a grant dated January 3, 1800, in which the trustees gave to Daniel Smith of Setauket the right to lay down oysters on a tract of bottom in Drown Meadow bay.

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