Griffin's Unpublished Journals
Helen Wortis 1974

    In the archives of the Long Island Historical Society there are two manuscript volumes of the greatest interest to those concerned with the early history of the North Fork. Written in a clear and legible hand, they are the manuscript journals of Augustus Griffin, the author of the first published history of Southold. The first volume of the manuscript is composed of several different kinds of paper which have been bound together, and starts with an entry dated 1792 when Griffin was twenty five years old. The second volume was begun in 1840, when its author was sixty nine and the last entry, a note written in pencil in a shaky hand, says "my dear grandson Cha A Griffin visited Orient on the 5th of Octo 1865" Griffin was at that time 98 years old.    These manuscript journals have never been published although much of the material of Griffin's one published work was drawn from them. They comprise the record of the life of Augustus Griffin who was born in Oyster Ponds in 1767, before the Revolutionary War, and who lived until 1866 when the Civil War was in full swing. During most of his adult life Griffin kept a diary or, if he was too busy for daily entries, entered summaries of recent events. He recorded daily happenings: marriages, births, deaths. He wrote obituaries, described hangings, noted unusually large hauls of fish. He described church services, the temperance movement, the building of the railroad and the changes of village names from Oyster Ponds and Sterling to Orient and Greenport.    Griffin was also interested in broader events. He recorded the reports of Washington's death, the election of De Witt Clinton as Governor of New York and Andrew Jackson as President. While he was most interested in describing events in the lives of his neighbors, the Youngs, Tuthills, Terrys, and Vails, there seems no doubt that he recorded many events with a view to their historical interest.    Augustus Griffin (he spelled his name without the final g) was a direct descendant of Jaspar Griffin, a native of Wales who with his wife Hannah had come to Southold from Massachusetts some time after 1675. James Griffin, father of Augustus, was born in 1739 and held a commission in the Continental army. James lived to be 85 years old and was mentioned many times in his son's diary, always with veneration.    Although almost all of Augustus Griffin's long life was spent in Oyster Ponds, the manuscript starts when he was living in Orange County, N. Y., trying to establish himself as a teacher in a small country school, paid by the families of his pupils. This venture failed because of a small pox epidemic. He tried teaching elsewhere, and for a time served as a clerk in New York City. Still unsuccessful, he finally left New York in April 1797, "on the same day as John Young was hanged for murdering Robert Berwick, Deputy Sheriff." Thereafter, except for business or pleasure trips, he remained in Oyster Ponds. He built a house, taught school at home and at Sterling, went into the grocery business and finally became successful. He enlarged his home and maintained a hotel, added a, bar room, served as census taker, tax collector and post master. All these activities were duly entered in the journals.    Griffin's style was for: the most part simple and direct but now and then, especially in later years, he enjoyed a rhetorical flourish or a bit of verse. Here is an example of a more flowery entry: (The spelling is that of the diarist) .    "Wednesday 4th (July 1796). Independence, Forever. The morning opens with the roar of cannon from the adjacent towns, announcing in reverberating acclimations the return of that auspicious day, on which those sterling Patriots of the Revolution put their hands in bold relief to (the) Sacred Instrument drawn up by the Sage Jefferson, which forever severed the cord, which bound these united colonists to old Mother Britain.    This evening, myself, with several others, repaired to Pasture, or as some call it, Prospect Hill, on the top of which we raised a pole, not 30 feet high - on said pole we put a Tar barrel, with a quantity of pitch in it, to which we set fire, which made a famous slhew for many miles aroundWith a number of smart discharges from the musketry, of the young men, with us, around the pole, while it sent forth its brilliant contents we closed the conspicuous day."    In reading his manuscript, one is impressed with Griffin's optimism and talent for liking people, His erstwhile pupil, John Orville Terry, described him so: "Good nature on his jocund face/Sat with inimitable grace". In his early years, when the excitement of living in the victorious new republic charged the air, he was filled with confidence in his own future and that of his friends, some of whom he believed destined for great events. However, history never touched him, coming closest during the war of 1812 when British frigates were anchored in Long Island Sound and English officers came to his inn for refreshment. He appears to have remained an "Old Republican" in politics, a Jeffersonian Democrat who throughout his long life maintained the point of view of the revolutionary movement. This point of view is reflected in his attitude towards women and Negroes, both of whom he seems to have regarded as equal citizens in society at a time when this was not a universally shared attitude.    But although Griffin was anti-Federalist, at the same time he went along with the changes of his time. He welcomed every indication of expanding commerce and trade  in his village. He shared in the revival movement in the 1830's and in the subsequent temperance movement, even becoming conflicted about the fact that a good part of livelihood was made by selling rum.    In 1857, in his 91st year,  Griffin published the volume for which he is remembered.  Drawing from his manuscript notes, the book contained the histories and geneologies of his friends and neighbors, but omitted the details of daily life which make the unpublished material so interesting.    Nine years after the publication of his book, Griffin died and was buried in his native town. The inscription on his tombstone reads: "Augustus Griffin d Mar 10, 1866 AE 99 yrs 1 mo 8 days.  Author of Griffin's Journal, or History of Southold."  His old home, used also as general store and hotel, has been converted by the Oyster  Ponds Historical Society into the main building of their museum.    The North Fork of Griffin's time was sparsely settled, it's families bound together by the ties of relationship. Because of proximity of Oyster Ponds and Shelter Island,   the journals have many references to the latter place. Griffin's wife Lucretia was born a Tuthill,  and Mary Havens Tuthill, his mother-in-law, owned property on the West Neck of Shelter Island which she  sold to him in 1806. He often visited this property where  he raised cattle, cut wood, and gathered cherries and blackberries. His entries about the island start at the time that General Dering was still alive and maintaining a hospitable open house. They continue during the period, after Dering's death, when the island sank back into further rural obscurity. Most of the following excerpts from the unpublished journals were selected because they refer to Shelter Island, but other's are included because they reflect the way people lived on the North Fork in that time.

1798July 25 -This month I purchased me a building lot, near  the Harbour at Oyster Ponds,  of Captain Jeremiah Young's, for 50 dollars.

August - Bought, of Squire Thomas Youngs, Timber for building me a house on my land, which I purchased a short time since - my neighbors with their teams collected, and drawed the house for me, without fee or reward, for which I tended them my hearty thanks.


September 14 - A squally day with thunder and lightning. At home this evening. I went to Shelter Island and got home some wood.

October 19 - A.M. John C. Rudd, a school teacher on Shelter Island, visited us this day at my house - stopped with us the night.

Sabbath, October 20. - Some rain, wind S. Rudd leaves us this day for the Island. He appears to be determined to improve in education.

Sabbath, October 27 - Died, on Sabbath last, about 2 p.m. Jonathan N. Havens Esquire, a Representative in t h e Congress of these United States - said to be a very valuable member of that body and truly a man greatly beloved.

October 30 - Killed me a beef which I had off West Neck, Shelter Island, a bit of land owned by our mother Tuthill.

November 18 - High wind W went to Shelter Island with brother Warren and got 3 sheep, in a small boat - had a rough, and, I think, a rather dangerous time --howsomever we arrived home safe and much wearied.

Sabbath December 29 - visited at my school by Mr. John C. Rudd, Shelter Island teacher.


January 6 - had a letter from Mr. J. C. Rudd with verses on our little infant Clara.

January 7 - wrote to Mr. J. C. Rudd. He intends by dint of study and perseverance, he says to become well versed in every science and useful requirement for the orator, statesman, or preacher. (note in Griffins' hand, pencilled in margin) He was admitted and liscenced to preach as an Episcopalean under the tuition of Bishop Moore, 1805.

January 9 - Light NW wind. Died yesterday very suddenly Mrs.. Ziporah Brown, wife of Captn John Brown of Ram Island. She was an excellent woman, all such a one as Solomon says is a crown to her husband. She was about 40 years of age. Has been the affectionate mother of 10 children, nearly all of which are left to mourn her irreperable loss.

February 25 - Fair clear sky. This evening Joshua Rackett and myself visited Mr. Rudd at General Derings, Shelter Island, with him the night. Took breakfast at the General's.

1801April. The last of this month departed this life Doctor Jonathan Havens. He has left a handhome property, in personal and real estate to his eight surviving children; four sons and four daughters - a fertile farm of four hundred acres, within about two miles of the flourishing village of Sag Harbour. His age about 67. (Havens was brother of Griffin's mother in law)

1806    It was in the spring of this year I purchased of my wife's mother a piece of land on Shelter Island what has been called and yet is called "A West End Right". The said piece of land contains about 60 acres.    Built this summer a picket fence around my garden dooryard etc. Set out 6 handsome English cherry trees - Captain Jermiah Youngs and myself purchased each of us a wood clock for the sum of twenty dollars each. We believe they were the first of the kind ever known in this town and very likely in the county.

1811    In December went to New York with Capt. Jonathan Terry, his vessel, the Roman, a small sloop. After laying in a stock of winter goods we set sail for Oyster Ponds, on the 22 Dec 1811. On the 24th about 11 AM we met two sloops near Fortune's Island, opposite Old Guildford on their way to New York. One of the said vessels was a new and completely built sloop, owned in part, and commanded, by Davis Conkling of East Hampton. The other vessel was from Cutchogue, commanded by a Mr. Wells, E'er the next morning before the sun rose, this last vessel was lost with every person on board . . . We in the Roman arrived home and got on shore to our families just before midnight on the 25th.    Frederick Tabor on the sloop Seaflower of our place, came into our harbor about 20 minutes after us, but the storm was beginning. They cast out their anchors-the wind tore (them) away. The vessel drifted to Ram Island and Taber and his crew and passengers, much exhausted, and near perishing with cold reached the hospitable abode of Mr. Thomas Tuthill where they were kindly attended to and made comfortable.

1813    We are now in the midst of a bloody and unreasonable war, with what we have been taught to call our Mother Country. The British ships of war are now in Gardners Bay, the Sound, and off New London daily. Two or three 74's and Frigates, Commandores Hardy and Capel, with Captains Burdette and Coot etc. They often land and come to my house, are civil and respectful. Hardy's Lieuts with a barge crew came to my house a day or two after they had taken off Joshua Penny. Sound's being infested with Nova Scotia privateers I hired a 2 horse wagon to go by land to New York after goods..

1814In the summer of this year the British with their barges took a handsome sloop near Shelter Island belonging to Captain Tripe (? ) of New Bedford.

1820July 12 - Went to Shelter Island and gathered a quantity of English cherries of General Dering.

July 28 - got me home three cords of wood from Shelter Island. August 11 - Slaughtered my old cow, which was disagreeable, as she had been to us a useful, kind, docile, orderly animal, yielding us butter and milk.

July 24 - Went to Shelter Island - took dinner with Mr. Samuel B. Nicoll - on my return stopped a short time with Thomas Tuthill, at Ram Island.

July 27. Rain - received a letter f r o m Doctor Dering respecting the widow Abigail Sawyers needing assistance from her friends in this quarter.

1821    Sabbath 22 (April) Weather more mild. Mr. Richard Nicoll preached with us - I think him a gifted man, and well versed in the Scriptures. He is now about 35 years of age. Was born to a large estate on Shelter Island - say 3000 acres of land to be his after his father's decease. Whether he will ever possess it as yet we know not. His worthy father yet lives. He Richard has spent the first 25 years of his life, quite imprudently, and with much extravagence - About 8 or 9 years ago there appeared to be a great change wrought in him - The whole man appeared to be turned quite about. The world, and his friends saw the alteration for the better and rejoiced wondering, His desires became so strong to warn his fellow mortals to shun the course which had nearly ruined him, that he deemed it his bounded duty to step into the field of the gospel, and proclaim its alarming truths.

August 26 Maria Nicoll and Fanny Strong, both from Shelter island, stopped with us the night.

October 24 Visited Mr Nicoll on Shelter Island. Last year died Mr. Hill of Sag Harbor. Mr. Hill was an industrious accomodating truly upright and consistent man. He moved into Sag Harbor about 35 years ago--carried on the stone cutting and marble cutter business. Under his directions and superentendence the bones of Messers Sylvester and Dering and their wives were taken up from the family burying ground near the old Sylvester Mansion House, at the head of Dering Harbour, and reinterred at the meeting house on the Island. The tables neatly placed over them as before. Some of them had been buried 70 years or more.

1830In 1830 Greenport (to which a road had been laid out about 1827) began to have the appearance of doing something in Seawise and coastwise business. They now have two stores - a small wharf, and one or two sailing ships.

183431 July Honora went to Riverhead, to see the man who is to be hung this day far the murder of his wife.

Friday, 1st August. Wind light from the N. The man at Riverhead to be hung was respited for the present.

1836February. Continued severely frigid. People cross the harbor from Rocky Paint to Long Beach Point, from Greenport to Shelter Island with sleigh and horse.

1837June. Altered our Barr Room and put, or made a part of my stare room into a rum vending place - is it right to sell intoxicating drinks?

1838August 7 The steam boat Clinton came to our wharf this day, it being the first time a steamboat ever visited us to our landing.

1840March 8 A.M. Rain. P.M. Foggy. The traveling, amid the mud and splash, is a caution to the dandy in his silk stockings and corset vest.

June 11 - I have now kept my store about 40 years - I am winding up-those few who now trade with me, are many of the few, grandchildren to my first customers.

April 13 - It continued to snow from last evening, and through near all the day. It is probable has not been known in any April for 100 years past. It is said that it is on a level 2 feet or more, and the banks from 5 to 20 feet high.

May 23 - Our grandaughter Deziah Preston, left us this day for Shelter Island, where she is teaching school.

September 3 - Wilcox, Narcissa, and Harriet Wiggins visited Shelter Island, after blackberries. Returned with but few.

October 23 - Our grandaughter Deziah Preston's school on Shelter Island is out. She has taught about five months - and is now with us.


Saturday, Feb 26 A rain storm, wind E. There were 4 of our sloops, on our harbour, drove on shore, with the gale of the 19th and they have all been got off within these few days, with the help of 25 men, and not one drop of ardent spirit has been made use of in the business-Ten years ago it would have taken 20 gallons to do the work of such a sort.

Tuesday, March 22 The Washington Temperance Society of Orient ride and walk in a large procession to Greenport to attend an address.


January 3. Diana Williams died on Shelter Island in March 1837. She was born a slave in this place (Orient) obtained her freedom when about 25 years of age after which by indefatigable continued labor, united with the strictest economy and a wise use of her earnings, she got together property to the amount of perhaps a thousand or twelve hundred dollars. Diana's father was Crank, noted in this town as a manufacturer of salt from salt water by boiling it at Shelter Island in the revolutionary war. His wife Flora hardly had her equal.


John C. Rudd, a young talented accomplished and justly approved school teacher on Shelter Island in 1799 on Wednesday 22 November 1848 died at Utica. He had edited a paper in that city a doz or more year.  I believe it was called the Christian Herald . . .

    With this record of a friendship maintained for almost fifty years our account of Griffin's unpublished journals will end. In actuality he continued to make regular entries until 1851, and even after that noted visits by children and grandchildren.

Reading these tightly written pages is a little like descending into a mine and digging, to come up with an occasional nugget. But while the diarist did not probe or write critically, he did provide an unequalled stockpile of information about people and places on the North Fork. Just as we have done with Shelter Island, a reader especially interested in Southold, Greenport, East Marion and above all, Orient, could go down into the mine of unpublished material and come up with even richer gold.


Augustus Griffin, Journals 17921850. Mss. volumes in the collection of the L. 1. Historical Society, Brooklyn, N. Y.Augustus Griffin, Griffin's Journal First Settlers of Southold; the Names of the Heads of Families, Orient, Long Island 1857Edna Huntington, Inscriptions from cemeteries at Orient, L. I., Brooklyn, 1940, typescript.Clara J. Stone, Geneology of the Descendants of Jaspar Griffing, 1881 (no publisher's name)John Orville Terry, The Poems of J. O. T. consisting of songs, satire and pastoral descriptions New York 1850.

This Article First Appeared in September 1974 Long Island Forum - no copyright data posted