Suffolk County's History Stats November 1, 1683

Suffolk County’s History Stats November 1, 1683

By Thomas R. Bayles


            Suffolk County, which was established by the Colonial government November 1, 1683, occupies the eastern two thirds of Long Island, and is about ninety miles in length.  It is composed of the towns of East Hampton, Southampton, Riverhead, Southold, Shelter Island, Brookhaven, Smithtown, Huntington, Babylon, and Islip.

            The courts of the county were established at Southold in 1683, and moved to Riverhead (called County Hall) in 1729.

            Negro slaves were kept during the early years, and on Dec. 13, 1677, John Thomas, of Setauket, bought from Isack Ranier, of Southampton, a negro named Samboe, and “the said Ranier doth engage to bring him safe and sound, wind and limb, and deliver him unto the said John Thomas at Setauket.”  The price was nineteen barrels of good whale oil.  Most of the slaves were not set free until shortly after 1800, and a list in 1788 shows about 200 slaves held by the residents of Brookhaven town.

            A school was established at Southampton a few years after the settlement of the town in 1640, with Richard Mills, the inn keeper, as the teacher.  In Huntington Jonas Holdsworth taught the school for twenty five pounds a year, which was paid in “trading wampum, butter, corn, wheat and cattle.”  Robert Ryder was engaged as the first teacher in Brookhaven town at Setauket in 1678, and his pay was thirty pounds, one third as a tax on the people, and two thirds by the parents of the pupils.

            Church bells were unknown on the island in the early years, and drums were beaten in the church doors on Sunday mornings to call the worshippers together.  James Herrick was employed in Southampton in 1665 to “beat ye drum on ye Lord’s Dayes” for twenty five shillings a year.  In 1668 at Setauket “Obed Seward is to beat the drum twice a Sabbath day on the Meeting House Hill.”

            The Puritan principles were strongest in the eastern towns, and in Southold church membership was necessary for admission to the privileges of freemen, and only such were allowed to have a vote in the civil government of the town.

            The sale of intoxicating drink was regulated by the towns and the amount of drink sold to one person within a certain time was specified by the court.  Inn keepers were forbidden to allow anyone to become intoxicated, and special regulations were imposed for dealing out strong drink to the Indians.

            In some of the towns the people were required to bring their guns with them to church on Sunday morning, so as to be ready for any attack that might be made by the Indians, although they were always friendly with them.  In East Hampton it was ordered by the town that “no Indian shall travel up or down, or carry any burden through our town on the Sabbath day.”

            The whipping post was a common method of punishment, and in East Hampton in 1727 R. Symes was employed as a “common whipper,” and paid three shillings for each person whipped.  Lying, slander, and drunkenness were subject to a fine, and a woman who used harsh words was to be stood up in court with a spilt stick on her tongue.

            The whaling business was carried on extensively from Sag Harbor for nearly a hundred years until it began to fall off about 1860, after kerosene oil came into use.  There were 61 vessels operating out of Sag Harbor in 1845, and over 800 men were employed.  In one year 23 ships brought in 31,000 barrels of whale oil and 236,000 pounds of whale bone.  Whales were also caught from the ocean shore by small boats.

            The first post route was established through the island in 1764, and was called the circuit.  The mail was carried on horseback once in two weeks eastward through the north side, and returned along the south side.

            According to Skinner’s New York twice a week for the east end villages to Orient on the north side, Riverhead on the middle line and Sag Harbor on the south side.  Rates of postage was ten cents for a letter of a single sheet (double that for two sheets) up to 80 miles, and for over 400 miles it was 25 cents a single sheet letter.  Most of the letters were sent with the postage to be collected on the delivery end.

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