Early Years in Brookhaven

Footnotes to Long Island History

Early Years in Brookhaven

Thomas R. Bayles



The first settlement of Brookhaven town was made at Setauket in 1655, when six men came across the Sound from the colonies of New England and purchased from the Setalcott Indians (who had their headquarters at Setauket) a tract of land extending from Stony Brook to Port Jefferson and south to the middle of the Island. The price paid was "10 coats, 12 hoes, 12 hatchets, 50 small brad awls, 100 needles, 10 fathoms of wampum, 10 pounds of lead, 7 pipe bowls of powder, and one dozen knives." The first settlement was made around the "Green" at Setauket and the center of the town government was located here for over a hundred years.

 Those early settlers soon began to explore the south side of the island and in 1657 bought a tract of meadow land at Mastic from Tobaccus, the chief of the Unkechaug Indians, who occupied the territory on the south side from Patchogue to the Southampton town line and had their headquarters at Mastic. The territory west of Patchogue to Massapequa was occupied by the Secatogue Indians.

 On the 10th of June 1664 the town purchased from the Unkechaug Indians a tract of land from South Haven to the western part of what is Bellport, and extending north to the middle of the Island. This included the present villages of Bellport and Brookhaven. The same day chief Tobaccus sold to Gov. John Winthrop of Connecticut the whole tract of land west of this to Nampkee creek in the western part of Blue Point  are located on this tract of land. This was undeveloped for many years and was not annexed to the town of Brookhaven until 1773, by an act of the Colonial Legislature. After the Revolution this section grew rapidly. All these old Indian deeds are recorded in the town records at the town hall in Patchogue. Other purchases of land from the Indians were made at various times by the town and the land divided among the early fifty four proprietors of the town.

 When Long Island was settled by the white men it was occupied by 13 tribes or groups of Indians. On the south side from west to east were the Carnarsee tribe, the Rockaway tribe, the Merrick tribe, the Marsapeaque tribe, and then the Secatogue tribe, who occupied the land from Islip to Patchogue. Then came the Unkechauf's and east of them the Shinnecock tribe. Then came the Montauk tribe and Wyandanch was chief of this tribe, and also Grand Sachem of all the Long Island tribes, and his signature was required on the early Indian deeds given by the local tribes when purchases of land were made by the various towns.

 On the north side were the Matinecocks as fas east as Smithtown, then the Nesaquakes to Stony Brook, and then the Setalcotts to Wading River. East of this came the Corchaugs, who occupied all the land to Orient. The Manhassett tribe occupied Shelter Island. 

 Their language was the Algonquin, the highly descriptive language in which John Elliot wrote in the Indian Bible, and was the language that greeted the Pilgrims at Plymouth, but it is doubtful if anyone now living can speak this language.

 The Indians lived mostly along the shore on the south and north sides of the Island as they secured most of their living from fishing, oysters and clams. The middle of the Island was used mostly for hunting. They raised Indian corn which they made into meal by pounding the corn with stone pestles, which they baked into cakes. 

 The Indians were astonished when they first saw the wind mills of the white settlers in operation, and came in large numbers to watch the mills working. For a long time they believed the mills were driven by spirits who lived inside of them. They made their canoes by piling branches on top of a log and setting fire to them. The fire burned and charred the wood beneath it, while the sides of the log were kept wet to prevent them from being burned. This charred surface was frequently scraped out and another fire made. This was kept up until the log was hollowed out to form the inside. Scrapers made of flint or shells were used to do this work with.

The Long Island Indians did not use the cone shaped tepee which was used on the western plains, and when they wanted to build a home the family brought in the materials which consisted of long, straight poles, and many bundles of a certain kind of grass that grew on the meadows, called blue vent. The poles were bent and were tied in intersecting arches with their butts stuck into the ground until a dome shaped frame was made, When all the poles had been firmly bound together, horizontal strips were put in place and fastened in the same way, and bundles of grass were sewed fast to these like shingles until the dome was completely thatched, except for a hole for the smoke from the fire inside to escape through. These were plastered around with clay to keep the grass shingles from catching fire which often happened.

 From the first settlement of the white men, Wyandanch, the chief of the Montauk tribe, was the white man's unwavering friend, and always refused to conspire against his white neighbors. He always has the greatest confidence in Lyon Gardiner (owner of Gardiner's Island) and always kept him from informed of everything that concerned the Indians. At one time the Narragansett Indians from across the Sound invaded the wedding feast of the daughter of Wyandanch, killing the bridegroom and kidnapping the bride. Lyon Gardiner afterwards rescued her and in gratitude for this Wyandanch gave Lyon Gardiner a deed for a large part of the land that is now the town of Smithtown.

 Silas Wood, in his history of Long Island, says, the "The Indians of Long Island seem to have been less troublesome to the white settlers than those across the Sound, and always lived peaceably together. Both the Dutch and the English respected the rights of the Indians and no land was taken until it had been fairly purchased from the local tribe.

 The Poosepatuck group of Indians were a small group who lived in the eastern part of Mastic along the Forge river. When Col: William Smith purchased all the land from the Indians in 1691, a 175 acre tract was reserved for these Indians to live on forever, and this is still a government reservation, although no full blooded Indian live there anymore, as they are mostly negro now. The rent to be paid for this land by the Indians was "two ears of Indian corn forever. From before the coming of the white man the "June Meeting" ceremony of the Poosepatuck's has been an important event in their lives, and years ago Indians came from all over Long Island to the services which were always held in June during the "moon of flowers." This day is still observed by them to some extent. The tribe was badly reduced by the use of strong drink, mostly home made bitters. At one time one of them was seen to buy a pint of alcohol, a half pound of wintergreen candy, and a bottle of Sarsaparilla, which he said he was going to mix and have something fit to drink.

 Church services are still held on Sunday afternoons by visiting ministers from surrounding villages.

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