Early Long Island Industries

Footnotes to Long Island History

Early Long Island Industries


Thomas R. Bayles

            Agriculture was the principal occupation of the early settlers of Long Island, although many of the people were engaged in shipbuilding and whaling. Gradually other industries were introduced and about 1700 the manufacture of woolen clothing was begun.  This enterprise, small as it was, caused alarm to the English crown officials.

            Governor Cornbury was very much upset about it and in 1705 wrote as follows to the home government:

            “ I am well informed that upon Long Island and Connecticut they are setting up a woolen manufacture, and I myself have seen serge made upon Long Island that any man may wear.  Now if they begin to make serge, they will in time make coarse cloth and fine.  I hope I may be pardoned if I declare my opinion to be that all these colonies, which are but twigs belonging to the main tree (England) ought to be kept entirely dependent upon and subservient to England.  This can never be if they are suffered to go on in the notions they have, for the consequence will be that once they see they can cloth themselves not only comfortably but handsomely, too, without the help of England, they who are not very fond of submitting to government, who soon think of putting in execution designs they had long harbored in their breasts.”

            Three years later in 1708 Caleb Heathcote, a member of the council, wrote to England:

            “ They are already so far advanced in their manufactories that three quarters of ye linen and woolen they used is made amongst them, especially the coarser sort, and if some speedy means is not found to put a stop to it, they will carry it on a great deal further, and perhaps in time and very much to the prejudice of our manufactorys at home.”

            Governor Moor in 1767 wrote home as follows. “ The custom of making coarse cloths in private families prevails throughout the whole province, and in almost every house a sufficient quantity is manufactured for the use of the family, without the least design of sending any of it to market.  This I had an opportunity of seeing it late in the tour made, and had the same accounts given me by all those persons of whom I made inquiry.  Every house swarms with children, who are set to work as soon as they are able to spin and card, and as every family is furnished with a loom, the itinerant weavers who travel about the country, put finishing touches to the work.”

            In the latter part of the seventeenth century tanning came into vogue, but the product, as leather, was inferior.

            About 1715 beaver fur was used for hat making.  This industry became so important, being carried on in shops in many of the settlements, that Parliament enacted a law forbidding the exportation of hats.

            In 1715 the manufacture of linseed oil was begun.  Shortly after the Revolution paper mills were established, and in 1791 the first newspaper in the country was printed at Sag Harbor.  This was the Long Island Herald, published by David Frothingham.

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