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Mosquito Cove Proprietors Book
Robert R. Coles

    There is an air of authenticity associated with original letters, diaries and records that is missing in photographs and transcribed copies. The marks of age, the quaint handwriting, often done with a quill pen, the feel of the paper, and the musty aroma acquired from centuries in dusty attics and cellars, convey a sense of antiquity to the reader.
    Such originals are scarce today, except in museums. But, years ago, the writer enjoyed the rare opportunity of having such a treasure in his possession. It was The Musquto Core Proprietors'  Book; probably the most ancient item of its kind pertaining to the earliest years of  that north shore settlement later named Glen Cove.
    This volume, with entries dating from 1668, the year Musquito Cove was settled, is bound in parchment and measures 141/2 x 191/2 inches. I acquired it upon the death of my father, in 1943, and some years later presented it to the Glen Cove Public Library, where it may be seen today in the Historical Room, with other exhibits pertaining to early Glen Cove and Long Island.
    Although never officially part of the Oyster Bay Town Records, much of its contents was considered of such importance to local historians and genealogists that it was transcribed in the appendix of vol. I of those records many years ago by the late George W. Cocks.
    Today it contains over forty entries, although there is evidence that several pages have been removed during the more than three centuries of its existence. The earliest of these is dated Nov. 30, 1668, and the latest, Feb. 22, 1803, covering a span of 135 years. While some of these are originals, most are so-called "true copies" of the originals. This is fortunate, because many of the original documents pertaining to old Musquito Cove were filed in the state capitol, at Albany, and destroyed by fire in 1911.
    There is little available today concerning the lives and activities of Musquito Coves early settlers. But a perusal of this book brings to light several interesting highlights that might be lost without it.
    While studying the original I discovered a few entries on the inside covers and spread over a few pages in the front and back of the book that Mr. Cocks apparently did not consider important enough to copy into the town records. These consist generally of merchants accounts and records kept by those who operated the first sawmill.
    That sawmill represented Musquito Coves first industry, and it appears that it was built before the settlers began work on their homes. If that was actually the case it could have served two important functions. In the first place it provided shelter for them while they cleared the land in preparation for erecting their dwellings. And it later provided a convenient means of fashioning the beams, planks and other lumber. Thus they could complete their homes much more rapidly than if they were required to do all of the work by hand.The merchants accounts reveal that rum was high on the list of products traded in those days. Indeed, in an address delivered during Glen Coves Bi-Centennial Celebration, in 1868, Henry Scudder stated that, "In 1699 one-third of the goods imported into New York are run into Southold, Setauket, Oyster Bay and Musquito Cove". And it is evident from these accounts that much of that commodity smuggled into Musquito Cove never reached its intended destnation. This is also indicated by another remark in Mr. Scudders talk, in which he stated that, "The consumption of this article at the period named was astonishing. The accounts of the merchants would persuade us that it constituted the chief subject of trade - it seems to have been their meat and drink".
    The original settlers of Musquito Cove, whose names appear in many entries in this book, were Joseph Carpenter (the leader), three Coles brothers (Daniel, Nathaniel and Robert), and Nicholas Simking. They came to Long Island from New England and some had lived for a time at Oyster Bay. And they are referred to as "the Proprietors of the Musquito Cove Plantations."
    It is clear from this book that these men raised livestock, cultivated the soil, operated mills, were tradesmen, and followed several other callings. While most, if not all of them, could write, they were too preoccupied with the building and operatiOn of the sawmill, laying out roads, clearing the land, erecting their homes and similar activities to have much time for academic pursuits. One who wrote very legibly was Robert Coles, the youngest, and many entries in the book are in his hand.
    As previously mentioned, the first entry, other than the accounts and family records, is dated Nov. 30, 1668. This is a true copy of articles of agreement, prepared by Joseph Carpenter and subscribed to by all the proprietors. These included, at that time, Joseph Carpenter, Nathaniel Coles, Robert Coles, Abiah Carpenter, and Thomas Townsend. But soon afterward Abiah Carpenters interests were transferred to Daniel Coles, and those of Thomas Townsend to Nicholas Simkins.
    These articles represented their first code of laws. They stated, among other things, that the copartners were to share equally in the land that Carpenter had purchased from the indians, and that each must pay his share of the cost. That none of them was to fell trees for pipe staves (barrel staves) unless agreed upon by majority. That before laying out highways, lots, or building fences, they must also receive approval by vote of the majority. And that if any mills were built, each of the proprietors was to share in the expense and enjoy the benefits.The item concerning the felling of trees for pipe staves reveals that the proprietors were more concerned with the natural resources than some who followed them - especially in this age of the bulldozer and powersaw.There is also a true copy of the famous Andros Patent to Musqiito Cove. The original of this important document was once in possession of the writer, and may be seen today alongside the Proprietors Book, in the Glen Cove Public Library.
    This is the grant from the Crown to the proprietors of the land at Musquito Cove that Joseph Carpenter had purchased from the Matinecock Indians in 1668. It is dated September 29, 1677, some nine years later. It names the proprietors, describes the boundaries, states the area, and specifies that the proprietors must pay to the Crown, as quit-rent, one bushel of good winter wheat each year. And it is signed by Edmund Andros, then governor of the province.
    Tucked away between the pages of the Proprietors Book I discovered a separate shape of paper with the following heading, and all written in longhand.

Musqueto Cove
November 11th 1786

"An Account of the Landholders with the number of Acres each possesses within the Patent: And also the Sums annexed that they are to pay as Quit-rent for fourteen Years past and fourteen years to come, which is to be a final payment Viz :"

    It contains a total of forty-six names, including forty-one living and five deceased, whose estates were also taxed. It is interesting to note that they recognized their debt to the Crown after more than a century, and after their victory in the American Revolution.
    At the time the list was made James Townsend was the largest individual landholder, with 279 acres. And the family with the greatest combined acreage was that of Coles, with holdings of over 900 acres.
    At about the time Hempstead was settled (1643 - 44) many Indians on the western end of Long Island were unusually hostile toward the Dutch and English. This was due largely to the inept handling of indian affairs by William Kieft, then Director-General of New Netherland. But by 1668 they had decreased greatly in number and were no longer to be feared. There are, however, two entries in the Proprietors Book revealing misunderstandings between them and the settlers concerning the location of boundaries and the sale of land.
    One of these, dated January 16, 1678, is a true copy of a document sent to Governor Andros. It states, in essence, that the Indians felt they had been wronged in the survey of the lands made by a Mr. Rider to determine the property lines described in the Andros Patent. And it tells further that Joseph Carpenter invited several of the Matinecock chiefs to his home, where he showed them the survey and read the description of the boundaries as given in the patent, after which they were satisfied that they had been mistaken. This document was signed with the marks of Arumpas, Suskaneman and Werough, of the Matinecock Chieftaincy, and the signatures of Joseph Carpenter, Thomas Townsend, Job Wright, and Isack Douty were appended, as witnesses.  Another is a true copy of a deed, dated January 14, 1681. It confirms the sale of land at Littleworth (now part of Sea Cliff) to Richard Kirby, Jacob Brookin, George Downing, and Robert Godfree, and is signed by the Musquito Cove Proprietors. That land had been included in Joseph Carpenters original purchase from the Indians, but they resold it to the men above mentioned, and when the rightful owners learned of the sale they demanded payment from the purchasers.
    It is too late now to know whether the Indians made the second sale through their ignorance of the original boundaries of the Musquito Cove purchase, or otherwise. But anyone who has read some of the descriptions in the old Indian deeds can readily understand how it may well have been an honest mistake on their part.
    Two of the most interesting and revealing items in the book are the first and second wills of Robert Coles. It is believed that he was about twenty years of age in 1668, the year Musquito Cove was settled, and unmarried. In 1670 he married Mercy Wright, of Oyster Bay, and they eventually had nine children.
    The first will is dated March 17, 1689/90, when he was about forty-two years of age. It is written in his own hand, and begins: "In the name of god amen I Robert Coles being in perfect memary doe Comit my body to the dust from when it was taken and my soule to god that gave it I also dispose of my esteat as follows: -"(sic)
    In the first will his handwriting is firm, as is his signature. He left most of his "land and meadows" to his sons. The phrase "land and meadows" is especially interesting here. It seems to imply that the meadows - generally used for grazing - may have been considered of less value than the land, which could possibly be built upon, or cultivated. And the fact that he bequeathed the meadows in his will indicates that they were his own property and not owned by the town which issued rights to its inhabitants for cutting salt hay, as was the case in many Long Island communities.
    To his wife he left the house and orchard, with the land and meadow adjoining. But she was to enjoy its use only during her widowhood and upon her remarriage or death they were to go to his sons. The house, built in 1668, stands today, being the oldest dwelling in Glen Cove. The original structure was very small and plain. It was very similar in architecture to the home built by Joseph Carpenter and probably those of the othei proprietors. But larger additions were built through the years so that they now dwarf the original home.
    In addition to the house and property his wife was also to have his "neger boye" during her widowhood, but he was to fall to the sons upon her death or remarriage. And he left all of his movable estate in her care to be distributed among their daughters at her discretion.  Robert Coles wife died in 1708 and four years later he made a second will, which begins as follows:
    "In the name of god amen the twenty fivth day of July 1712. I Robert Coles of Muskeeto cove in the bounds of oyster bay in Queens County in the Coloily of New york being very sick in body but of perfect mind and memory thanks be given unto god for it--." (sic)
    Unlike the first will, which he wrote himself, this is in another hand and his signature is very shaky. In this he left all of his real and personal estate to be divided among his children, with the exception of a trunk, containing his writings, that he bequeathed to his son Nathan, and a few pieces of furniture that his wife had left to certain of their daughters. There is no mention of his "neger bove" in this will.
    Although obviously in a very feeble condition when the second will was prepared, Robert Coles lived on for nearly three years. He died on April 16, 1715 and was buried beside his wife in a small family plot across the road from their home.  The material in this old record book provides us with a glimpse of how the early settlers at Musquito Cove lived some three centuries ago. I wonder what interesting information was lost on the several pages that are missing from the old volume.

First appearing in the LI Forum 1960 No Copyright Information Data Found