Historic Long Island – Rufus Rockwell Wilson
Mr. Wilson’s account of the settlement of Long Island by the Dutch and English demands more description than we can give here. The author divides his subject into thirteen chapters, of which eight are devoted to the era of settlement and colonization, treating of the early Dutch pioneers and the Puritan contingent headed by Lyon Gardiner. No other part of this broad land has a more picturesque history than Long Island. In reading the same, one is struck by the thrilling tales, brought forward from the times when the Indians had possession until the present time. No one would think that but a short time back it was only small villages and the scene of battles that have brought it prominently into the history of this great country. All over the island are important landmarks that interest thoughtful students and all true patriotic citizens . Mr. Wilson has exerted himself to make his book read well and to fascinate the reader. Long Island is now the suburban residence of many New York millionaires, who recognize its great value and love its beautiful scenery and refreshing, health-giving breezes . All New York and many inland States have made it the greatest summer resort in the United States and to its beautiful shores hasten millions of people annually.
Historic Long Island.
Excerpt from the text:
THE Indians whom the first white men found dwelling on Long Island belonged to the Mohegan nation, but were split into a dozen tribes. The most numerous and powerful tribe in the westward reaches of the island were the Canarsies, who were also the first Americans to greet Henry Hudson and his men. The former tells us in his journal that when he came to anchor in Gravesend Bay on the 4th of September 1609, the Canarsies hastened to board his vessel and give him welcome. They were clad in deerskins, and brought with them green tobacco, which they exchanged for knives and beads. Hudson further records that when they visited him on the second day some wore “mantles of feathers,” and others “divers sorts of good furs”; and he adds that they had great store of maize or Indian corn, “whereof they make good bread,” and currants, some of which, dried, his men brought to him from the land, and which, he says, were “sweet and good.”
A party from Hudson’s ship landed on the second day in what is now the town of Gravesend, where they found “great store of men, women and children,” dwelling in a country full of tall oaks. “The lands were as pleasant with grass, and flowers, and goodly trees as ever they had seen, and very sweet smells came from them.” But another landing on the third day of some of Hudson’s crew had tragic issue. John Colman, an Englishman, in some manner gave mortal offense to the Indians, and in the fight that followed he was killed by an arrow shot in the throat, while two of his comrades were wounded. Colman was buried on Coney Island, and his fellows hastily sought the shelter of their ship, which next day weighed anchor and pushed northward into the Hudson.
Seventy years after Hudson’s landfall, the Labadist missionaries, Dankers and Sluyter, visited Long Island, and their journal, recently discovered, affords an interesting glimpse of the Canarsies, when the latter had been half a century in contact with white men. The Labadists with a friend named Gerrit were walking near what is now Fort Hamilton when they heard a noise of pounding, like threshing. “We went to the place whence it proceeded,” runs their journal, “and found there an old Indian woman busily employed beating beans out of the pods by means of a stick, which she did with astonishing force and dexterity. Gerrit inquired of her, in the Indian language, how old she was, and she answered eighty years; at which we were still more astonished that so old a woman should still have so much strength and courage to work as she did. We went thence to her habitation, where we found the whole troop together, consisting of seven or eight families, and twenty or twenty-two persons. Their house was low and long, about sixty feet long and fourteen or fifteen wide. The bottom was earth, the sides and roof were made of reeds and the bark of chestnut trees; the posts or columns were limbs of trees stuck in the ground and all fastened together. The ridge of the roof was open about half a foot wide from end to end, in order to let the smoke escape, in place of a chimney. On the sides of the house the roof was so low that you could hardly stand under it. The entrances, which were at both ends, were so small that they had to stoop down and squeeze themselves to get through them. The doors were made of reed or flat bark. In the whole building there was no iron, stone, lime or lead.
“They build their fires in the middle of the floor, according to the number of families, so that from one end to the other each boils its own pot and eats when it likes, not only the families by themselves, but each Indian alone when he is hungry, at all hours, morning, noon and night. By each fire are the cooking utensils, consisting of a pot. a bowl or calabash, and a spoon also made of a calabash. These are all that relate to cooking. They lie upon mats, with their feet towards the fire upon each side of it. They do not sit much upon anything raised up, but, for the most part, sit upon the ground, or squat on their ankles. Their other household articles consist of a calabash of water, out of which they drink, a small basket in which to carry their maize and beans, and a knife. The implements are, for tillage, merely a small sharp stone; for hunting, a gun and pouch for powder and lead; for fishing, a canoe without mast or sail, and not a nail in any part of it, fishhooks and lines, and a scoop to paddle with in place of oars.
“All who live in one house are generally of one stock, as father and mother with their offspring. Their bread is maize pounded in a block by a stone, but not fine; this is mixed with water and made into a cake, which they bake under the hot ashes. They gave us a small piece when we entered, and although the grains were not ripe, and it was half-baked and coarse grains, we nevertheless had to eat it, or at least not to throw it away before them, which they would have regarded as a great sin or a great affront. We chewed a little of it and managed to hide it. We had also to drink out of their calabashes the water, which was very good. . . . We gave them two jews-harps, whereat they were much pleased and at once began to play them, and fairly well. Some of their chiefs — who are their priests and medicine men and could speak good Dutch — were busy making shoes of deer-leather, which they render soft by long working it between their hands. They had dogs, besides fowls and hogs, which they are gradually learning from Europeans how to manage. Toward the last we asked them for some peaches, and their reply was, ‘Go and pick some,’ which shows their politeness! However, not wishing to offend them, we went out and pulled some. Although they are such a poor miserable people, they are licentious and proud, and much given to knavery and scoffing. When we inquired the age of an extremely old women (not less than a hundred one would think), some saucy young fellows jeeringly answered, ‘Twenty years.’ We observed the manner in which they travel with their children, a woman having one which she carried on her back. The little thing clung tight around her neck like a cat, and was held secure by a piece of duffels, their usual garment.”
One would have to search far for a more vivid and admirable description of aboriginal life. When it was written the Canarsies were already a dwindling people, and another century saw their complete extinction. Originally they held dominion over all the land now included within the limits of Kings County and a part of the town of Jamaica.” Eleven other tribes, at the time of the white man’s coming, were habited on Long Island. The Rockaways occupied the southern part of the town of Hempstead, a part of Jamaica and the whole of Newtown, the seat of the tribe being at Far Rockaway. The Merrikokes or Merries held what is now the northern part of the town of Hempstead. The Massapequas ranged from the eastern boundary of Hempstead to the western boundary of Islip and northward to the middle of the island. The Matinecocks claimed jurisdiction of the lands on the north side of the island east of Newtown as far as the Nesaquake River, while the Setaukets, one of the most powerful of the twelve tribes, held sway from Stony Brook to Wading River, and the Corchaugs, another numerous tribe, from Wading River to Orient Point. The Manhansets, who could bring into the field 500 fighting men, possessed Shelter, Ram and Hog Islands. The Secatogues were neighbors of the Massapequas on the west, and possessed the country as far east as Patchogue, whence the lands of the Poose-pah-tucks extended to Canoe Place. Eastward from the latter point to Easthampton was the land of the Shinnecocks. The Montauks had jurisdiction over all the remaining lands to Montauk Point and including Gardiner’s Island.
There now survive remnants of only two of these tribes. A short drive from the railway station at Mastic along a sand and shell road takes one to Mastic Neck and to the reservation of the Poose-pah-tucks, reduced in these latter days to less than two score souls. The reservation itself is a plot of 170 acres, partly under cultivation and owned by the Indians in absolute commonwealth. A church, a schoolhouse and several small cottages are scattered about over the fertile slopes, affording a sharp contrast to the mansions of the summer sojourners, whose turrets and gables are seen beyond the Forge River, reaching down to the sea. The reservation was conveyed to the forefathers of its present occupants by the lord of Smith’s Manor in the following deed:
“Whereas, Seachem Tobacuss, deceased, did in his Life Time, with the other Indians, natives and possessors of certaine tracts of Lande & Meadow on ye south side of ye Islande of Nasaw, given for valuable consideration in sayd deedes, Did Bargin, sell alinate & confirm unto mee and my assines to have hold and enjoye for ever all their right, titel & interest of; Bee it known unto all men that the intent sayd Indians, there children and posterryte may not want sufesient land to plant on forever, that I do hereby grant for mee, my Heires and assines for Ever, that Wisquosuck Jose, Wionconow, Pataquam, Steven Werampes, Penaws Tapshana, Wepshai Tacome and Jacob, Indian natives of Unquachock, there children & ye posterryteof there children for ever shall without any molestation from mee, my heires or assines, shall and may plant, sowe forever on the conditions hereafter expressed, one hundred seventie and five acres of Land, part of the Lande so solde mee ass is aforesayd; and to burn underwood, alwaes provided that ye said Indians, there children or posterryte have not any preveleg to sell, convaye, Alinate or let this planting right, or any part thereof, to any persun, or persuns whatsoever; but this Planting rite shall descende to them and there children forever; and that ye herbidg is reserved to me and my heirs and assines, when there croops are of & thaye yealding & paying, as an acknowledgement to mee and my heires for ever, Two yellow Eares of Indian corne, In testimony whereof I have to these present sett my hande and scale at my manner of St. George’s, this second daye of July, Anno Domey Don, 1700.
The two ears of yellow corn mentioned in the deed was annually carried to the manor house until about twenty-five years ago when the custom was allowed to lapse. The present chief of the Poose-pah-tucks, whose blood has become so mixed with that of negroes as to make it doubtful if any pure-blood Indians survive, is “Mesh,” otherwise known as “Deacon” Bradley, a lineal descendent of Tobacus, and a man of force of character and of influence with his people. Another leading member of the tribe is David Ward, son of Richard Ward, who for half a century, and until his death early in 1902 was its chief. “Our tribe in the old days,” said he to a recent visitor, “possessed riches both in lands and seawan — that is, Indian money — the wampum, or white, and the paque, or black currency of the tribes. The former was made from the stock or stem of the periwinkle, quantities of which are to be found about here, and the latter cut from the purple heart of the quohaug, or hard shelled clam. So rich was the island in this money that throughout the State it was known as Sea-wan-haka, or Island of Shells, and was the object of repeated invasions by the mainland tribes who coveted this wealth. Time was when the Indians on the reservation lived in wigwams, but with the coming of outsiders and the intermarriage of negroes and Indians the remnants of the tribe took to the white man’s mode of shelter. We are ruled by three trustees under the chief, who is first deacon of our church. Every June we have a reunion, for many of our people are scattered; and thus our tribal interest is kept up and our people held together.”
David Ward’s cottage on the reservation is in the center of a large tract of ground, which he cultivates in summer. He is known as the best hunter on the reserve. Deer, fox, rabbit, grouse, partridge, quail, raccoon, opossum, mink and muskrat abound in the neighborhood, and in the winter season the Indians exist on the fruits of rifle and trap. Poverty reigns, but none is too poor to own a rifle and a well-trained setter.
Three miles west of Southampton village the level moorland rises into the hills of Shinnecock, so named from the Indians who were the original owners. In 1703 the Shinnecock region was leased back to the Indians by the settlers who had previously purchased the lands from the tribe and was used as a reservation until 1859, when the hills were sold to a local corporation, and the remnant of the tribe took up their abode on the Shinnecock Neck, where they still live to the number of about two hundred. These are a mixture of Indian and negro, the last full-blooded member of the tribe having died several years ago. The women till the soil and find employment among the cottagers and villagers, but the men hug the shady side of the house or hill, smoke, watch the women at work, and say nothing. The government furnishes them with a school master and a preacher, but small influence have they to win the Indian from his contempt of labor, his pipe and his taciturnity. The only thing taught him by the white man for which he has a liking is a keen relish for strong drink, and when in his cups he is said to be an ugly customer. In the main, however, the Shinnecocks are a silent and inoffensive people, gradually fading off the face of the earth.
Yet life among them has not been without its moving tragedies. At the close of a summer’s day seventy odd years ago a small sloop coming from the northward anchored near the shore of Peconic Bay. The only persons on the sloop who could be seen by the Indians fishing close at hand were a white man and a negro. After darkness had settled over the bay a light flickered from the cabin windows of the sloop, and a voice, that of a woman, was raised in song. In the early morning hours a noise was heard in the direction of the boat, and a woman’s screams floated out over the water. Then the listeners on shore heard the sound of the hoisting of an anchor, and a little later in the early morning light the sloop was seen speeding out to sea. Just before it disappeared a man standing in the stern threw something white overboard. Among the watchers on shore was one Jim Turnbull, an Indian known as the Water Serpent. After a time, Turnbull swam out to the object still floating on the water. As he drew near, he saw it was the body of a woman lying face downward. When Turnbull turned the body over, he recognized the face at a glance. The woman’s throat had been cut and a dagger thrust into her heart. Then he conveyed the body to the beach, and, aided by his companions, buried it near the head of Peconic Bay. The following day the Water Serpent disappeared. He was absent for several weeks, and when he came back to the Shinnecock Hills gave no hint of his wanderings. Years later, however, when he was about to die, his lips opened and told a fearful story.
During a winter storm a few months before the murder in Peconic Bay the Water Serpent and several other members of his tribe had been wrecked on the Connecticut shore. The Water Serpent, alone escaping death in the waters, was found lying unconscious on the beach by a farmer named Turner, who carried him to his home nearby, where the farmer’s daughter, Edith, a beautiful girl, nursed him back to health. An Indian never forgets a kindness, and the Water Serpent was no exception to the rule. He did not see his young nurse again until he found her body floating in the waters of Peconic Bay. Following his discovery, he quickly made his way to the home of the girl and learned that she had eloped with an Englishman. Two of the girl’s brothers went with him to her grave, opened it at night, and carried the body away for burial beside that of her mother. The Indian, who had seen the Englishman and remembered his face, took up the search for the murderer, and finally traced him to a farmhouse near Stamford. One day the Englishman was missed from his usual haunts. Months afterwards his body was found in a piece of woodland — a dagger in his heart. It was the same dagger the Water Serpent had found in the heart of Edith.