Island's Early Settlers Passed Character Test

Footnotes to Long Island History

Island’s Early Settlers Passed Character Test

July 29, 1965


Thomas R. Bayles

          The first settlers came across the sound from the colonies of New England in companies of eight to fifteen families each, and made independent settlements on eastern Long Island.  The first towns settled were Southold and Southampton in 1640; East Hampton in 1648; Shelter Island in 1652; Huntington in 1653; Brookhaven in 1655, and Smithtown in 1663. 

          Each town was at first an independent government, and forts were built, militia organized for protection, and such laws as were needed enacted and enforced.  Committees were appointed to investigate the character of those men who wanted to join the early settlements, and they were placed on probation from three to six months.  If they proved satisfactory they were admitted to the privileges of freemen and given certain divisions of land with a share in the rights of the other settlers.  If they were not approved, they were ordered to leave the town within a certain time, and no individual was allowed to sell or lease any land to a stranger not approved by the town.

          The first white settler on eastern Long Island was Lion Gardiner, who came across from Saybrook, Conn., in 1639, and purchased Gardiner’s Island, where he and his family made their home.  His third child, Elizabeth, was born there, and was the first child of English parentage to be born within what is now New York State.  Lion Gardiner was a great friend of Wyandanch, the chief of the Montauk Indians, and it was no doubt due to this that the relations between the white settlers and the Indians on eastern Long Island were so friendly.  The Island has always remained in the possession of the Gardiner family since its original purchase in 1639.

          Public town meetings of the people were held annually and sometimes more often for the election of officers and the enactment of such laws and regulations as the times required.

          After managing their own affairs for a few years, the towns of eastern Long Island placed themselves under the protections of Connecticut for better protection of the settlements against any possible invasion by hostile Indians of the Dutch on the west end of the Island.  Connecticut was granted a more liberal charter by King Charles II of England in 1662, which included the “islands adjacent,” so Long Island was claimed by Connecticut, which met the approval of the eastern Long Island towns.  The English conquest of the Dutch in 1664 upset all these plans however, and left New York and all Long Island under control of the British crown.  Charles II made a grant of land to his brother James, Duke of York on March 12, 1664, which included the territory then occupied by the Dutch at New Amsterdam and all of Long Island.  Col. Robert Nicolls was appointed deputy governor and an expedition fitted out by the Duke, which arrived in New York in August, 1664.  The Dutch Governor Stuyvesant was ordered to surrender, which he did after some consultation with the people, who welcomed any new government that might give them more liberty.  Gov. Nicolls called a meeting of Long Island and Connecticut representatives in November, 1664, and decided that Long Island Sound should be the boundary between Connecticut and the Province of New York, so Long Island came under the control of British royalty.

          Gov. Nicolls called a meeting at Hempstead in March 1665, and each town was required to send two deputies who were furnished with a code of laws he had drawn up called the “Duke’s Laws.” ‘These contained many of the regulations regarding Sabbath breaking, drunkenness, profanity, slander, etc., that had been common in the towns before this.

The towns of Long Island, Staten Island and Westchester were organized into a division of the government called Yorkshire.  This was divided into three parts called “ridings,” of which Suffolk County was the east riding.  Each town had a justice of the peace appointed by the governor and at first eight, and later four overseers and a constable, elected by the people.  A court of sessions was established in each riding, composed of the justices of the peace, which was held twice a year, and could decide all criminal cases and civil cases of a minor nature.  It soon became apparent however, that the people were not to have a voice in the legislation of their settlements. 

Francis Lovelace was appointed governor in 1667 and ordered a tax on the towns of Long Island to repair the fort at New York, and some the towns agreed only on condition that they be allowed the right of representation in the legislature.  Here is shown some of that spirit of resistance against “taxation without representation,” which brought on the Revolution a little more than a hundred years later. 

While England was engaged in war with Holland in 1673, the Dutch set out to recapture their former possessions in New York and arrived there on July 30.  The fort and colony were surrendered without the firing of a single shot, and Anthony Colve was appointed governor.  He at once set out to get the people to submit to his authority, which was easy in the towns on the west end of the island that had been under the Dutch before, but the east end towns refused, so the Dutch sent an armed force down the Sound to subdue them.  They were driven off in every attack and finally left the east end of the Island.

   Peace was declared between mother countries in February, 1674, so Long Island was again restored to English royalty, and Edmond Andros was appointed governor by the Duke.  The eastern towns still wanted to be connected with Connecticut, but were obliged to submit to the Duke’s government.  Conditions finally got so bad that the matter was referred to the Duke, who appointed Col. Thomas Dongan as governor in August, 1683.  He called a general assembly in October and some of the worst of the Duke’s laws were repealed and others amended.  

The “Ridings” were abolished on November 1, 1683, and the counties of Kings, Queens, and Suffolk organized on Long Island.  Suffolk was made up of the towns of Southold, Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, Huntington, Brookhaven, and Smithtown.  Later, the towns of Islip, Riverhead, and Babylon were included.  Islip had its first town meeting in 1720:  Riverhead was formed from the western part of Southold in 1792, and Babylon was formed from the southern part of the town of Huntington in 1872. 

Henry Slaughter was appointed governor in March, 1691, and confirmed all grants, characters were patents that had been issued, and the colonial government was established on a more satisfactory basis than it had been before, and so continued up to the eve of the American Revolution.  The governors were changed frequently at the pleasure of the British Crown. 

William Tyron was the last of the colonial governors of New York, and he left on October 13, 1775, a date considered the close of royal authority.

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