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Early Settlers Paid Indians to Spot Whales for Them

Footnotes to Long Island History

 EARLY SETTLERS PAID INDIANS TO SPOT WHALES FOR THEM

AUG 25 1966
by

Thomas R. Bayles


 

         (This is the second of a series of five articles on the early years in Brookhaven town )

      In addition to getting hay on the south side of the town the settlers went there at an early date to go whaling for the whale oil could be burned in their lamps and the whale bone put to a number of uses an agreement was made with the Unkechaug Indians in 1667 that they should be paid five pounds in wampum for every whale washed up on shore and six feet of wampum to the Indian who brought news of the location of whale Abraham Dayton and Thomas Bearley sold 18 barrels of whale oil in May 1675 lying on the south side of the island at a place commonly called Fireplace the name Fireplace was probably given to the tract of land lying west of the southern part of the Connecticut (Carmen’s) river which extended into the bay and was known as wood hull point. Fires were built here to guide whaling boats through the inlet at night from the ocean which was opposite here on the banks of the river. Here were landing places with such names as Indians landing Squassacks landing and Zachs landing where the boats brought the whales to be cut up and dried out for their oil and bone. The widow of Col. William Smith had a crew of Indians who brought in an average of 20 whales every winter and the oil and bone was shipped to England and sold. Those first settlers at Setauket were deeply religious and their church was the first public building to be built and around it went up the homes of those people to whom this was the center of their life the first minister was the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster who was employed by the town in 1665 and tradition says that he preached his first sermon standing on a boulder on the green at Setauket. A house of worship was ordered built in 1669 on one side of the green which was to be 28 feet square and which was also used as a town hall and school house. It was here the settlers held their town meetings and at first only church members in good standing were admitted to the entire privileges of freemen and allowed to vote in the town meetings which regulated the division of lands the cultivation of the common fields. The enactment of such laws as were necessary and here was also decided where the people were to sit in church the amount of the ministers salary and how it was to be raised. Before the erection of any mills in the town the settlers sent their grain across the sound to Connecticut to be ground into flour This was very unsatisfactory so a mill was built by Daniel Lane at Setauket some time before 1667 and he was to have 2 1/2 quarts of corn as pay for each bushel of corn ground later on mills were built in different parts of the town under grants from the town trustees. The town voted Nov 17, 1671 to establish a village of eight families a village at Wading River. Evidently the Indians were not satisfied with the deal they made when they sold their meadows at Mastic to the town in 1657 and at a town meeting in 1671 a committee was appointed to settle the dispute and to carry some lickers with them on the towns account. Church bells were unknown here in those early years so a drum was beaten to call the worshippers together on Sunday mornings. In 1668 Obed Seward is to beat the drum twice a Sabbath day on the Meeting House hill at Setauket.  Robert Ryder was engaged as the first school teacher in the town at Setauket in 1678 and in 1687 Francis Williamson was engaged as teacher at a salary of 300 pounds a year with one third as a tax on the people and two thirds to be paid by the parents of the children. Payments of all kinds in those days were usually made in produce of some kind in those days. School was held in the home of the teacher at first. In 1704 the town gave him the privilege of using the town meeting house at Setauket providing he had it cleaned every Saturday and made good any damage done by the scholars. As the settlement grew a separate school building was needed so in 1718 the town trustees ordered that a sum of 38 pounds be raised by tax and a school building built.

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