Van R. Field

by Van and Mary Field

Van and Mary Field are residents of Center Moriches and perform research at the Moriches Bay Historical Society. The Illustrated History expands upon August Stout's Pictorial History of the Moriches using additional photographs from the Field's family collection as well as from other members of the community.

Early History

The earliest inhabitants of the Moriches area were the Native Americans who were called Indians. This land was all theirs before the Europeans arrived. Moriches was part of the area to become Brookhaven Town. According to historian, the north side was owned and controlled by the Seatalcott Tribe and the south side by the Patchougs, two of the thirteen families (tribes) of Long Island. The main village was located in Mastic, near the present Poosepatuck reservation. The Indians say that when Tangier Smith asked the name of their village, they thought he meant where they lived. They said Unkechaug which means "the land beyond the hill." As a result they are called Unkechaugs in history books.

Osborn Shaw, the noted Brookhaven Town historian said in an article in the Dec. 1938 issue of the L.I. Forum that he had been wrong in his previous writings and it appeared that there was no Patchog tribe and the Indians of the area were Unkechaugs. Place names ending in "ogue" are native American in origin.

English settlers first landed and settled in the Setauket area. They came from different parts of Long Island and New England and traded with the Sachem (Chief), later called John Mayhew of the Seatalcotts' for their land. Later Gy became Sachem and Mayhew moved onto the land on the west bank of the Paquatuck (Terrill's) River in East Moriches. The Indian Mertices lived on the bay near the east shore of the Paquatuck River. This area was called Mertices (Moriches) Neck after the Indian proprietor who lived there. This neck of land in East Moriches furnished the name for the entire area. On a 1797 map of Brookhaven, the area from Forge River eastward to the Southampton Town line is called Moricha.

Those Indians living in the Mastic-Moriches area were called Unkechaugs. During this time the Indian population was considered large. From Nassau to the Moriches area it was said that they were about 20,000 in number. In the earliest times the first settlers appeared to have a reasonably good relationship with the Indians, most likely because they were outnumbered and the local Indians were peaceable. Muskets, powder, and shot were amongst the items traded for the Indian's land.

The Indians probably thought that they were exchanging the use of their land for protection against their enemies from across the Devils Belt, as the Long Island Sound was called on early charts. Indian ways were such that they didn't recognize or understand private ownership of land.

In these early years there was an outbreak of smallpox, which was unknown to the Indian population. They had no immunity to it. Large numbers of Indians contracted the often fatal disease and were banned from the towns because of it.

In a town meeting on May 7, 1687 it was voted to disarm the Indians, their arms to be left at Capt. Woodhull's in Mastic. No hint was given as to what precipitated this event.

On May 25, 1691 Col. William "Tangier" Smith purchased from the Indian, John Mayhew the enormous acreage, later to be known as the Manor of St. George. He then set aside 175 acres of the land occupied by the Unkechaug Indians on the west side of the Mastic (Forge) River at Poosepatuck Creek to be theirs for the annual rent of two ears of corn. The Poosepatuck Indian Reservation is still in existence today, however it has shrunk to 55 acres due to unscrupulous land dealings by early officials.

The Indian, John Mayhew must have been a real entrepreneur. He seems to have taken an English name and proceeded to trade land with the settlers. Later, after observing the settlers buying and selling land, he obtained a grant for his land from Governor Dongan and permission to sell half of it. In 1755 some of this land at Warretta Neck became the Havens Estate and remained in the Havens family until recent times. In 1971 the Havens house was moved across Main Street at Chet Swezey Road and is presently the home of the Moriches Bay Historical Society. The land on Terrill's River has recently been acquired by Suffolk County
to preserve in the wild.

During the reign of Charles 11, in March of 1666, the appointed New York Governor confirmed all titles that settlers had obtained from the Indians.

In November of 1675 Richard Woodhull transferred his title to lands, from Yaphank south to the inhabitants of the area. In 1776 his descendant, General Nathaniel Woodhull was wounded by a British officer when he tried to surrender after the battle of Long Island. He later died of his wounds in a British prison and is buried in Mastic.

Governor Thomas Dongan was sent over to New York by the Duke of York to make peace with the colonists, who were ignoring his attempts to collect taxes. Gov. Dongan put together a Government council which formed Suffolk County in 1683. The boundaries it spelled out have changed little since. In 1655 the area was known as the East Riding of Yorkshire.

With the help and advice of Gov. Dongan, Col. William Smith began to acquire land in southeastern Brookhaven in 1688. In May of 1691 a tract of land eastward from the Connecticut (Carmen's) River to the Mastic (Forge) River was purchased from the Indian, John Mayhew. A patent for the is land was granted by Gov. Fletcher on Oct. 9 1693. This included the beachfront from Huntington East Gut (Old Inlet) to "Cuptwauge" (Cupsogue)at the Southampton Townline. This included the islands near the beach. This property ran north to what today is Middle Country Road (Rt. 25). These lands were confirmed under the title of St. George's Manor.

On May 14, 1691 Colonel William Smith bought from the Indian, John Mayhew, the land east of the Mastic river (Forge river) to the Southampton line (Eastport) except the two necks, "being Meritces (Moriches) and Mamanok Necks, lying together." This land was later covered by the Moriches patentship.

Colonel Smith received another patent from Gov. Fletcher in 1697 for the land east of his original patent to the Southampton Town line. This was called the Moriches Patentship. Col. Smith managed to hold but a small portion of this land against the claims of those settlers already living within this area, who had deeds from the Indians.

Reaffirming patents were sought when the English Throne changed hands.

Some of Colonel Smith's original land remains intact as the Manor of St. George, with its buildings and 127 acres. It is now a public museum and park. The Manorial house and grounds were given to the people of Brookhaven Town and the public at large in 1955 by Eugenie Annie Tangier Smith, the last lineal descendant of Col. William "Tangier" Smith. The grounds are accessible from the William Floyd Parkway in Shirley.

The early towns formed were of the New England type of a pure democracy, as well as a theocracy, with the Town Meeting as the sole method of government. No one could sell his land to a stranger and no outsider could become a resident of the Town until admitted by popular vote. Even the seating of the people in the meeting house was prescribed by law and acts were passed regulating the proper behavior of young people. As strict as the Puritan-presbyterians were, they were not against slavery or liquor. Town records show that a liquor license was granted in 1670 and in 1672 a slave was sold into the town. The first ministers were paid by the town and the people taxed for their support. By 1725 the Anglican Church gained a foothold and the tax for the minister's pay soon disappeared.

In 1659, Brookhaven Town, being free of any government except its own, placed itself under the protection of Connecticut. They feared the Dutch, who occupied western Long Island. By 1662 they became part of Connecticut colony. In 1664 the Dutch were defeated and al I of Long Island became part of New York colony.

Richard Floyd of Setauket in 1718 exchanged a piece of land and received a meadow at Pattersquash from Col. Smith's land. He gave the 4000 acres of land to his son Nicoll, who built the original house in 1724. He cleared and planted the lands and made it into a prosperous plantation. He and his wife had nine children and in 1755 both died of typhoid fever.

The large estate and responsibility for the younger children fell to the twenty year old eldest son, William, who became the famous signer of the Declaration of Independence. William was born on the estate in 1734, the first of the Floyds to be born there.

The Americans lost the battle of Long Island at Brooklyn in August of 1776. This forced most prominent Long Island families to flee to Connecticut as British troops moved in to occupy the Island. When William Floyd returned to Mastic after the Revolution, he had to restore the estate, repair and expand the house so that it was suitable to his national prominence. The house that his political allies, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (who was once engaged to Floyd's daughter, Kitty) visited in 1791 is visible in the portrait of William Floyd, painted by Ralph Earl in 1792. A copy of this painting can be seen by visiting the Floyd Estate in Mastic.

Cornelia Floyd Nichols arranged for the donation of the remaining thirty four acres of grounds and the twenty five room mansion to the National Park Service, who conduct guided tours through it.

Most of the estate is a wildlife preserve. The boating public know it as Forge Point on the western entrance to Forge River. Lons Creek on Forge River was named for one of the Floyd slaves named London, who had a cabin near its headwaters. The cabin was still standing in the 1890s.

Over one hundred years had passed from the early settlements until the Revolutionary War began. Many of the great grandsons of those original settlers were the participants.

The ties to England were weakened with the passage of time. The colonies were left to their own devices for many years until the English needed money and saw the colonies as a place to raise money by taxation. These burdensome taxes he I helped to precipitate the seven years of war that led to the formation of the United States of America.

During the British occupation many "commando" type raids were conducted from Connecticut. One of these, led by Major Benjamin Tallmadge, succeeded in capturing Fort St. George, as the British called the fortification they constructed at the Manor of St. George after having occupied it. The Fort was burned and British supply ships anchored nearby were sunk. On the way back to their boats at old Man's (Mt. Sinai), they stopped in Coram long enough to burn three hundred tons of British hay! The raiding party returned to Connecticut with prisoners and no loss of American lives.

One Sergeant Elijah Churchill, in recognition for his valiant efforts in the capture of Fort St. George and efforts at Fort Slongo (Salonga) was awarded the first Purple Heart medal ever authorized, by General George Washington. It was known as the badge of Military Merit. It was also the first military decoration ever issued to an enlisted man and was not an acknowledgment of wounds received in action as it is today. Tallmadge's trek across the island is marked by Brookhaven Town historic markers along the original route.

After the war was won, Long island and the Moriches area had another burden added. This time the new state of New York, which claimed that because of the British occupation, Suffolk residents were unable to contribute their fair share to the war effort, imposed on Suffolk a tax levy of 10,000 pounds to make up for it.

Soldiers and their families returning from exile in Connecticut found that the British had burned, destroyed or confiscated anything of value during the seven year occupation. They had the job of rebuilding their homes and farms. NOTE: Early accounts use many different spellings, sometimes in the same document, to mean the same thing. The settlers had a great deal of trouble trying to write the Indian words as they sounded to them. Indeed, they had trouble with some of the English words and names also. Most of the people were not educated as we think of education today. Only the well-to-do received much of an education. These early Puritans did attempt to educate their children so they could read the bible - and count money.

". . Certain necks of land in Suffolk County in the Island of Nassau Scituate Lying and Being bounded on the west By a River on the west side of Moritches neck called Paquatuck, on the north by a line from the head of said river to a white oake tree marked on the west of the neck called Watchogue By a pond and thence running East to Seatuck River, on the East by Seatuck River, aforesaid and on the South by the Sea."

The previous paragraph is a direct quotation from the original deed of sale, known as the Patentship of Moriches, for a tract of land covering about 3000 acres in which are now located East Moriches, and part of Eastport. (Moriches Tribune Aug. 18, 1950). The land passed from one land speculator to another. About 1740 Nathaniel Smith of Southampton settled on Watchogue neck (East Moriches), having bought the land from his father. Nassau Island was an old name for Long Island.

The name "Moriches" properly belongs to the neck just east of Terrill's river, but early in the history of this area it was applied to a very large district then known as East, Center and West Moriches. On March 7, 1788, through an act of the state legislature, the Moriches area became part of Brookhaven Township.

When the Long Island railroad extended its line beyond Patchogue in 1881, they named the station built at West Moriches simply Moriches so that it could serve all three of the villages under one name without having to erect stations at the other two population points.

The Center Moriches Free Public Library

When the "Village Improvement Society" first met in 1914, one of the 'improvements' discussed was the need for a library in Center Moriches. It took a long time to materialize, but on a Saturday afternoon in April, 1921, the library opened in a room over the 'Truck House'- the old fire house, on the corner of Main and Clinton St. Miss Margaret Havens had mastered the Dewey Decimal System, and with the help of a group of volunteers, had catalogued the 904 donated volumes. Membership was open to the public and 66 members paid a fee of one dollar. It has been a long haul from there but the history of the library's development is just another story of the determination and dedication of a few people.

In the years after its establishment, the library grew, and in 1923 moved into its second home, the second floor of the goldsmith store (417-421 Main St.) opposite the head of Canal Street.

In 1928, the Village Improvement Society, by now the Moriches Woman's Club, acquired the building at 9 Lake Ave, and the Library, installed in the club House, opened officially on February 14,1930. New books continued to be added to the collection, and by 1937, it was reported that the Library was open two days a week and that a rental shelf had been added. Miss Margaret Havens continued to be the equivalent of library director.

The Woman's Club continued to raise funds for the acquisition of books and to publicize the use of the library. In 1949 it met with the P.T.A. of the Center Moriches High School to discuss the advisability of securing aid from the Library Extension Division of the New York State Department of Education for funding of extended library service. Several obstacles stood in the way of this plan, and although the Woman's Club added a children's room it was not adequate to satisfy state qualifications.

It was then decided by the voters of the school district that it became a school district library. The first annual meeting of the library district was held on May 20, 1950 in the Center Moriches High School. The motion was made to establish a free public library "pursuant to Education Law Section 1 1 1 8". A motion was also made to appropriate $ 5000. for the current year's expenses. It was approved by a vote of 63 to 38. Miss Havens presented the keys of the Woman's Club Library to the new trustees.

The library continued to expand and in September, 1957, it moved to the house formerly belonging to Dr. Samuel Post at 529 Main Street. The building and grounds were owned by School District #33. By the 80s the library had outgrown their building on the school grounds. The voters authorized a new building be built at 235 Main St. This, the present library opened in 1988.

The Friends of the Library is the support organization that assists the library in its many programs.