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The Bullrider's Other "First"
Was Richard "Bull" Smith the first Quaker on Long Island??
John Shiel - 1966

    Richard Smith, the founder of Smithtown, appears to have been, not only the first Quaker on Long Island, but the first Quaker in what is now the United States and Canada. Quaker is a nickname for a Friend; a member of the Religious Society of Friends.
    Richard Smith, probably from Yorkshire, England, came to New England and bought land in Narragansett County in 1641. By 1643 he had come to Southampton. Here he was an important man. He was a full Proprietor and in 1647 was one of five men to lay out the land and in 1648 he was a member of the General Court. In 1648 and 1649 he was on a committee to lay out the "Great Playnes" "Mr." and "Gent" were used with his name.
    In the Records of Smithtown, we find that "probably the first breach of promise suit occurred in 1650" and that, Mr. Richard Smith was an arbitrator. In 1650 he was chosen Constable and given additional land.
    In 1654 he left Southampton to visit England. Here he met one of the "Publishers of Truth", the Quaker Wm. Dewsbury, and became a Friend.
Ann Austin and Mary Fisher arrived in Massachusetts Colony in July, 1656. The Colony leaders knew about Quakers from correspondance with Old England and from Puritan Immigrants, so when one of the women said "Thee" the authorities knew they were Quakers. As heretics and blasphemers they were arrested and promptly banished.
    On April 7, 1656, about 2 days after the women were banished from Boston, a ship with eight other Quakers and Richard Smith of Long Island arrived. This ship had picked up Smith at New York. The Boston Authorities hurried him back to N. Y. by ship "that he might not contaminate or infect anybody by a land journey."
    The arrival of this ship started six years of terror. Quakers were beaten, had their ears cut off and four suffered death. Charles the II, a friend of Wm. Penn, in 1661 ordered that "the laws against the Quakers be suspended." While it is possible there may have been Quakers in Salem or other parts of New England, there were none known to the Puritan Authorities. Of course Rhode Island was different.
    The Dutch Ministers, at New Amsterdam, in 1658 reported that "The raving Quakers have not settled down -- for altho our government has issued orders against these fanatics, nevertheless they do not fail to pour forth their venom. There is one place in New England where they are tolerated and that is Rhode Island, which is the caeca latrina (sewer) of New England."
    Our Long Island Meetings stem from the arrival of the ship Woodhouse at New Amsterdam on 1st day, 6th, month of 1657. This was about 25 years before William Penn's settlement of Pennsylvania and about 20 years before Burlington, N. J. was settled by Quakers. Robert Hogdson, who came in the Woodhouse, held a Meeting at Deborah Moody's in Gravesend in 1657. A few days later he preached at Jamaica, from his prison window, while his jailor was at church. These were the first public meetings on Long Island.
    James Bowden in the History of Friends says "except for Rhode Island and Shelter Island, there was in 1658, not a rock in the Colonies of North America on which a Quaker could stand without exposing himself to severe suffering." From Friends in the 17th Century we learn that "Capt. Sylvester became a Friend at the time of purchase of Shelter Island or soon thereafter." 1659 appears to be soon thereafter, for from Mallmans Shelter Island, "as early as the 3rd. Mo., 1659, he is referred to as one who has adopted our (Quaker) principles. This is the opinion of his descencents who live on the estate today." Incidentally, some say Shelter Island was so called because Quakers were sheltered there but it was called by this name before any Quakers were around.
    To return to Richard Smith as mentioned in the Smithtown Records. In 1656 he was expelled from Southampton because of "irrevend carriage toward the Magistrates." Perhaps he wouldn't take off his hat to the magistrate; this being an old, democratic, Quaker practice. No man is to be reverenced above another and the hat would be removed to God alone. For this reason, and to keep warm, men wore their hats at Meetings. If someone prayed aloud, men removed their hats during the prayer.
    "No monument marks Richard Smith's Grave", showing his sons were lacking in filial reverence." This was also Quaker Practice. There was not to be a large monument for a wealthy person and a field stone or a wooden peg for the usual grave, as all are equal in death. There were to be no markers but a burial place record was kept by the Meeting. However notice that when 0badiah, Richard Smiths son died "a substantial tomb was erected" by his father.
    Also from the Smithtown Records. "The son of Samuel Smith was known as Quaker Smith" and "Quaker (Richard) Smiths deed from Col.
Nichols bears the date March 7, 1665."  In the Southampton Records Richard Smith is called "an emissary of Sathan, a Quaker."
    Richard Smith probably had Meetings at home, with his family. There does not seem to be much information about the Quaker Meetings in Smithtown; but Setauket is occasionally mentioned.
    A travelling Quaker, John Burnyeat, in his journal tells of a "meeting at Richard Smiths in New England" (1671, L. I. ?)
    From the above we know that he was not only a Quaker but an active one. That he was the first Quaker on Long Island, was pointed out some years ago by Rufus Jones, a modern Quaker writer.

Patentee Richard Smith

    The article by John Shiel of Glen Head THE BULLRIDER'S OTHER FIRST, concerning the founder of Smithtown. Mr. Shiel's conclusion was that "Bull" Smith was also "Quaker" Smith.
    The article brought a prompt and vehement rebuttal from Rufus B. Langhans, Smithtown librarian and longtime student of Smith genealogy and lore. His initial reaction was completely negative. There followed an exchange of correspondence. A few members of the Smith family also contested Mr. Shiel's findings.
    Both the primary protagonists in the matter took the original article, paragraph by paragraph; Mr. Langhans first spelling out his objections, the author then defending his position and, finally Mr. Langhans commenting in a conclusion.
    Mr. Langhan's final comment: "I do not see that we can come to a historical fact based on shaky primary evidence and then go on to `prove out' these primary sources by the conclusions of others .... We may at some future date be able to prove that Richard Smith of Smithtown was indeed a Quaker but we are going to
have to uncover primary evidence in order to do it".
    Mr. Shiel does not seem to have altered his conclusion. However, we have the feeling that if he had the article to do over he might have presented the matter as documented speculation, rather than historical fact.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1966 No Copyright Information Data Found