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Sixty-Something: East End Indians’ History And Lore

T.J. Clemente

The Gardiner's Island windmill. (Photo: T.J. Clemente)

If you sail the bay waters around the East End that surround the Hamptons, eventually you wonder about the Indians. With Thanksgiving approaching, I decided to explore a connection and some history of the East End of Long Island and the American Indians.

Long Island historical writer Thomas Bayles claims there were 13 tribes or groups of Indians on Long Island when the first settlers arrived in the 1600s. The Indians were spread out along the shores. In his writings Mr. Bayles explains, "On the north side from west to east were the Matinecock, the Nissequog, the Setalcott, and the Corchaug (Cutchogue) tribes. On the south side in the same order were Canarsee, the Marsapeague, the Secatogue, the Unkechaug, the Shinnecock, and the Montauk tribes (Montauketts) or groups. The Manhassets occupied Shelter Island."

There is an important story known to most Montauk School children about Montaukett Chief Wyandanch, perhaps the grand sachem of Long Island. He was a friend of the settlers and resisted efforts of other tribe leaders to wipe out "the white man." This led to hostilities within the Indian tribes against the Montauketts around 1652 culminating in the capture of Wyandanch's daughter (during her wedding) by orders the Chief Ninicraft, the sachem of the Narragansett tribe in Connecticut. History tells us Lyon Gardiner (1599-1663) who already had purchased Gardiner's Island in 1639 from the Montaukett's doing business with Wyandanch, arranged for her safe return. Mr. Bayles writes, "In gratitude for this act, Wyandanch gave Gardiner a deed for a tract of land which now forms part of the Town of Smithtown."

In 1658 Wyandanch died of poisoning, perhaps trying to find a remedy potion for the disease that had already killed half his tribe. Others think he was murdered.

Orient Point, which is the most north point of the North Fork, was a landing place for Indians commuting between Connecticut and Long Island. The Indians that dwelled on that outer most section of the North Fork were called the Poquatuck. It was with this tribe that deals were made to buy many of the hamlets of the Town of Southold back in the mid 1600s. During those days Orient was actually called Oysterponds because of the large shellfish ponds that are still there to this day. The famous five families that received much of their land grant from the British throne were names such as King, Terry, Vail, Latham and Tuthill. Of course they also had to deal with the Poquatucks.

Southampton was established in 1640 with the first settlers arriving at what is now known as Conscience Point. By 1690 just fifty years after the first settlers came from Lynn, Massachusetts there were settlements in North Sea, Wickapoque, Water Mill, Cobb, Mecox, and Sagaponack. In 1701 Southampton created the first Indian reservation for the Shinnecock. In 1707 Sag Harbor became recognized as a settlement by documents in both Southampton and East Hampton. These brave pioneers created and maintained militias that battled attacks from the Pequot, Narragansett, and Mohawk Indians - not to mention the French and Dutch. At the same time they were building schools, churches, clearing farmlands all with the crudest of tools. By 1776 the census of the time had 1,434 people residing east of Water Mill and 1,358 residing west. In the Revolutionary War Suffolk County sent 760 officers and men into battle. Southampton men comprised 3 companies. Historian Henry Hedges sums up the occupation of the East End during the American Revolution best with his lines delivered in a speech in 1872, "Not until Evacuation day were the pent up patriot passions of this people released from the hydraulic pressure of British power. No town in the old thirteen states welcomed Independence with a louder shout than Southampton." He was referring to the barbarities of Major Cochrane of the British who tortured women to get information. By 1808 Southampton was taking on the appearance we now think of. The Hildreth's and Corwins were but forty years in the future, but as President Jefferson was completing his last year as President, horses pulled wagons, ox and other bovines pulled ploughs, children rode mules.

Mr. Bayles concludes in his writings, "The customs, habits and dispositions of the Indians of Long Island were similar to those of other tribes on the continent, but seemed to have been more friendly to the white settlers than those on the other side of the sound were. This was no doubt because the whites were careful to treat them with justice and fairness."

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