The Colonization of Eastern Long Island
by Peter Venturini
          Although the Dutch had established New Amsterdam on the southern tip of Manhattan Island in 1624, with subsequent villages established in Brooklyn shortly thereafter, the colonization of the eastern end of the Long Island did not immediately follow. It was not until the late 1630’s that individual families began acquiring land and settling there and not until 1640 that a town was established. This town is now called Southold and those settlers were English Puritans.

            Through the good graces of his friend King Charles, Sir William Alexander, the Earl of Stearling obtained a Plymouth Colony patent for all of Long Island in 1636. Sterling appointed James Farrett as his American agent in 1637. This is when colonization by the English begins in earnest. Lionel Gardiner received his grant in 1639 and Shelter Island was sold by Farrett to Stephen Goodyear, a New Haven merchant the same year.

            A group of men from Lynn, Massachusetts attempted to settle in Matinecock, present day Oyster Bay, some 80 miles to the west but were turned away by the Dutch, Oyster Bay being the eastern limit of the Dutch sphere of influence. In December 1640, these settlers from Lynn obtained property on the south fork from the Shinnecock Indians. In April of the next year their first town meeting assembled. They were soon joined by other families from Lynn and the settlement of Southampton was established (Kronzek 1985, p.37).

            On the north fork of the island a settlement was established at Southold in October, 1640, by a group of Puritans from Southwold and Hingham, England, via New Haven, under the leadership of the Rev. John Youngs.

            Agustus Griffin, author of Southolds first history, Griffin’s Journal wrote in 1857: “A company consisting of 13 men, with their families left their mother country (old England) about the year 1638, for a newly discovered World, known as America. After a passage of some weeks, they arrived at New Haven, then a small village in the then colony of Connecticut. At this place they stopped until early in the autumn of 1640, having made their stay there about two years.” (in Hall 1975, p.14).

            While this settlement was the first organized community, the Puritans under Rev. Youngs were not the first English inhabitants of the area. “The first footholds were established by individual pioneers-by some indications as early as 1636. One of them, who had already built a home and made other improvements, sold his property four days after the Rev.Youngs had “gathered his church anew” on October 21, 1640.” (Hall 1975, p.16).

            Officials of the New Haven settlement helped pave the way for the Southold settlement helped negotiate the original 1640 land purchase and exercised political and legal dominance over the colony for almost 50 years (Kronzek 1985, p.37).

            The third settlement on the east end of Long Island, East Hampton, was settled in 1648. By 1655, English settlements were shifting westward. A group from Boston had established the village of Ashford, now Setauket. Old Field was purchased somewhere between 1655 and 1659, while Stony Brook was settled around 1660. Likewise were Eaton’s Neck (1646), Loyd’s Neck (1654), Northport (1656), and Babylon (1657-1659) (Kronzek 1985, p.40).

            Of the men who settled these areas, many were “yoeman and artisans, seeking religious freedom, agricultural prosperity, and local autonomy in the face of Tudor/Stewart centralization at home.... most early Long Islanders arrived from New England, bringing an intense religious preoccupation with them. A few hoped to find freedom of conscience and practice, while others sought to recreate the tiny puritan republics which defined Massachusetts and Connecticut Society...For these inhabitants, God was a palpable presence, acknowledged in public worship and incorporated into the fabric of daily life.” (Kronzek 1985, p.40).

            Along with the presence of God, these Puritans were also aware of the presence of the devil, and while no witchcraft hysteria on the order of that in Massachusetts broke out, there were isolated occurrences of arrests and trials of Long Islanders in New York and Hartford. Additionally, other religious groups were looked on with suspicion or treated with complete intolerance. Held especially low were the Quakers who “by denying the validity of puritan government, infant baptism, oath taking, and public support of religion...earned widespread enmity.” (Kronzek 1985, p.41). Quakers were arrested and tried for blasphemy and heresy with punishments including fines, whipping, branding on the hand and banishment. When Quakerism finally gained a foothold on Long Island, it was in the regions closer to the original boundary with New Amsterdam.

            Economically, the region was heavily dependent on small farming, with fishing along the coastal areas, and trade with New England. This pattern continued until the twentieth century, and although much of the land has been developed in the last twenty five years, there are still large tracks of land on the north fork devoted to potato farms, truck farming, and recently vineyards and wine making. Pollution has decimated the bass and shellfish industries all along he northern Atlantic seaboard, but sport fishing and charter fishing still prevail to this day.

            The Long Island colonies did not exist in isolation however and there was extensive trading with Connecticut, Boston, New York, Barbados, and the west Indies. Later developments in the nineteenth century contributed to the dominance of Sag Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor as two of the premiere ports of the Atlantic whaling trade.

            Partly as a result of the close proximity and cultural ties, and partly as a result of growing Anglo/Dutch tensions, the eastern Long Island settlements were politically and economically tied to New England rather than New York. This is especially true of the tie with Connecticut, where the desire to annex eastern Long Island was especially strong. Between 1644 and 1664 the settlements of Southampton, East Hampton, Brookhaven, Oyster Bay, Southold, Huntington, Hempstead, and Newtown all looked to New Haven for political and military support (Kronzek 1985, p.45).

            With the defeat of the Dutch in 1664, all of Long Island was annexed into the new English colony under the control of James, Duke of York, brother of the king, Charles II. The new situation included the imposition of new laws dictated by York. Although loosely based on English common law, these new dictates did not include a representative assembly and required all trade to flow through the port of New York. This imposition generated much resentment amongst the settlers of the eastern Long Island. Three east end towns went so far as to petition the king in 1672 for a return to Connecticut’s juristic ion.

            With the passage of time and the creation of the New York Assembly in 1691, communities on the western part of Long Island gradually lessened resistance to English rule and began to demonstrate a more tolerant attitude toward other religions. Not so for the communities on eastern Long Island. Welch (1983, p.4) quotes the colonial governor, Lord Cornbury, in 1703 as saying: “Indeed the people of the East End of Long Island are not very willing to be persuaded to believe that they belong to this province; they are full of New England principles.” Kronzek goes on to summarize the situation: “...populated by Massachusetts and Connecticut migrants searching for land and autonomy, they maintained strong ties of kinship, commerce, and religion with their ancestral communities.... They also attempted to enmesh themselves in virtue and piety, recreating the orthodox New England town, a closed community designed to protect their distinctive church and unique social vision. That they did not ultimately succeed was not for want of trying.” (Kronzek 1985, p.49).

            The close ties between Long Island and New England lasted into the eighteenth century. It should come as no surprise then that Long Islanders imported their tombstones from New England. This continued until the early years of the nineteenth century (Welch 1983, p.4). According to the Association for Gravestone Studies: “Long Island had no residing carvers until stone artisan Ithuel Hill set up shop in Sag Harbor in 1789. Additionally an overwhelming amount of the regions grave markers (85%) are of New England origin; the remaining were fashioned by either New York City, Lower Hudson, or New Jersey area carvers...” (Association for Gravestone Studies 1986, p.1).