County Had Paid. Cutthroat

Footnotes to Long Island History

County Had Paid Cutthroat


Thomas R. Bayles

Book 9

Justice in Suffolk County seems to have been of the rough and ready variety back in the eighteenth century, judging from some excerpts of proceedings of the County Board of Supervisors from that period. 

            One man was paid for “services against pirates,” another for administering a whipping, and a third man was paid “for cutting Frenchman’s throat.”

            The first record book of the Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, containing the proceedings of that body between the years 1746 and 1823, contains some interesting items, a few of which are given here.

            At the time the records were made the board was composed of members representing Southampton, East Hampton, Southold, Huntington, Smithtown, Brookhaven, Fisher’s Island, Shelter Island, Isle of Wight, (Gardiner’s Island) Islip, Moriches, Eatons Neck, Plum Island, Winnecomack and Smith Patent, 15 districts in all.

            The first record of the board having a clerk appears in 1749 when William Nicoll, Jr., then supervisor, acted also as clerk of the board.  His salary as clerk in 1765 seems to have been but 16 shillings.

            The pay of the supervisors in those days was very small, as one of the records shows that John Griffin, grandfather of Henry L. Griffin of the old Griffin house at Riverhead, received but 11 pounds 6 shillings for his year’s work and expenses.  At that time the supervisors found it necessary to hold only two meetings a year, one in June and one in October.

            Nathaniel Smith is shown to have been the county treasurer, with a salary of 5 pounds sterling a year. This was the salary of that official for about 40 years.

            Numerous bills were audited for the killing of wildcats.  The record states that in 1751 Abraham Halsey was paid six shillings each as bounty on seven wildcats, and William Nicoll was paid three shillings each for destroying a number of young wildcats.

            It is shown that in 1731, a master who had a Nero girl who had committed a capital offense was paid 25 pounds.  This sum was paid to Nathaniel Smith of Smithtown.  The justice and other officers connected with trying the case were paid three pounds. 

            All persons condemned to die were taken to Smithtown, where the executions were held.  Several items of money paid as shown by this item, “1784, paid to Thomas Weeks, sheriff, for execution. Abram Young, 5 pounds.”  The record also shows that in 1749 the undersheriff was allowed three shillings for rum and a cart at an execution.  Whether other methods than by hanging were used in those days does not appear, but the following item seems to have been allowed without question; “1762, paid Henry Hulse for cutting Frenchman’s throat and assistance, seven shillings.”

            Justice was also meted out in this fashion, “1769, paid Barnabas Terrell for prosecuting and whipping Spencer, a transcert person 18 shillings.”  Various items of the like were recorded in the old volume, and for services against the pirates Mordecai Homan was paid three pounds 16 shillings.

            For manual labor in those days a man received but very little, as is shown by an item that states Micah Wells and a boy received seven shillings for a day’s labor. 

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