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Sixty-Something: Hamptons History Everywhere

T.J. Clemente

Clinton Academy was founded in 1784 by the famous Rev. Dr. Samuel Buell who was the pastor of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church. (Photo Courtesy of the Author)

The older I get the more I seem to appreciate history. When I moved to the Hamptons in 2003 I immersed myself in local history. I was so into it, the editor-in-chief of the largest printed weekly had me write weekly about the historical sites throughout the Hamptons. That was a dream assignment. What I learned was simply, there is Hamptons history everywhere.

The story of the original settlers landing at Conscience Point in Southampton in 1640 leaving Lynn, Massachusetts is taught in every Hamptons school. Students are also schooled how eight years later a few of those Southampton settlers headed east to form East Hampton in 1648. Then there is the complicated story of the Southampton Trustees purchasing what we now call Sag Harbor 1707, along with the East Hampton Trustee claiming ownership too! Not to mention Lion Gardiner purchasing the large island of what we now call Gardiner's Island from the Montauketts in 1639 for his help in Pequot War. Reportedly he paid "A large black dog, some powder and shot, and a few Dutch blankets." Many believe he was given the island by the King of England, but the actual story is after his deal with the Native Americans, he needed approval of an agent named James Farrett, who represented the Earl of Stirling William Alexander, who the King gave all of Long Island in 1636.

What I love about writing about history is after every article I usually get some nice emails from local historians or actual old family members of the founders correcting me. I enjoyed a Facebook comment not to long ago from Mellissa Osborne (original East Hampton founders) informing me it was her family that donated their land for what is now the East Hampton Library! They still own some of the lands of the original homestead near the Library.

Over the years, I have composed a few North Fork historical stories about the Native Americans and the settlers. My favorite North Fork stories are amazing. First, there is the cemetery that has the remains of the East Enders who lost their lives in the French and Indian War, fighting for the British! Clem Healy has composed a wonderful book titled North Fork Cemeteries that mentions this.

I also enjoyed discovering that Colonial General Benedict Arnold, after failing to sell the secrets of West Point to the British and then declared a traitor by General Washington during the American Revolution, somehow escaped the West Point fiasco and a traitor's hanging, and actually served as a British general operating out of Oysterponds (Orient). The Village Lane Tavern in Orient, the home of the founding Vail family, served as Benedict Arnold's British headquarters during the revolution!

The first U.S. Federal Government, with George Washington as President was located downtown in New York City in Federal Hall for one year - 1789. That year, Thomas Jefferson, the first Secretary of State, and his then aide James Madison reportedly shared a coach that stopped in Mattituck at the Historic Mattituck Tavern on their way to view Orient Point. There are reports that George Washington himself visited Mattituck and stayed at the inn, way back in 1751.

Just this weekend I found my car parked in front of the historic Clinton Academy, founded in 1784 by the famous Rev. Dr. Samuel Buell who was the pastor of the East Hampton Presbyterian Church. It was the first academy chartered by the N.Y. State Board of Regents as the sign says in front and it is still open for tours!

Yes, history pops up everywhere in the Hamptons!

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