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Whaling Once Popular in Town

Footnotes to Long Island History

Whaling once popular in Town

by

Thomas R. Bayles


     Brookhaven town settlers were interested at an early period in the whale fishery, though not to the extent that the towns on the ocean at the east end of the Island were.

     The custom of running out with small boats and striking whales as they came along the shore was practiced and its results seem to have been very profitable. On the 17th of June, 1667 the town instructed Daniel Lane to speke to his honor the governor  concerning the whales at the south that comes within our bounds to be at our disposing. The Indians had been in the habit of appropriating the whales that drifted upon the beach and the white settlers seeing the gain that might be derived from them were anxious to buy off the Indian claim and secure for themselves this profitable business. What ever was the result of Mr. Lanes interview with the Governor we find that on the 23rd of the following march settlers  of Brookhaven town bought of Tobacus the Sachem of the Unkechaug tribe of Indians who inhabited the south side of the town, the right to all whales hat should come within the bounds of their patent upon the beach. For this the Indians were to receive a royalty of five pounds of wampum or some other commodity for each whale they received. The inhabitants further agreed to give the Indians three fathoms of wampum for information of the coming of a whale upon the beach.

     On January 6th, 1687 the town trustees directed the assessors to raise a tax a part of which was to be  paid in whale oil at 20 shillings a barrel.

    In 1699 Colonel Smith admitted that he had in a single year cleared 500pounds for the whales taken along the beach claimed by him which gives some idea of the profit derived from this business.

     A company of men under the direction of Stephen Bayley at some time previous to 1693 were engaged in whale finishing from the shore and were stationed on the beach opposite Moriches, where they could see a whale some distance at sea. this stage or scaffold upon which the watchman stood gave the locality its name of "Bayley's Stage" which was in use many years afterward.

     An entry in the town records under the date of may 18, 1675 states that Abraham Dayton and Thomas Bearsly sold 18 barrels of whale oil "lying on the south side of the island at a place commonly called Fire Place." the name fire place probably given to that point of land jutting out into the bay west of Connecticut river (Carman's river). This point was known as Woodhull's point in those days but now as Long's Point. South of it was inlet from the ocean to the bay and fires were built on this point of land to guide the whaling boats through the inlet and across the bay to the mouth of Connecticut river along whose banks were the landing places with such names as "Indian Landing," "Sqaussucks Landing," and "Zach's Landing," at which the boats docked. One landmark on the beach still bears the name of "Whale House Point." Places were established also, where the whales which had been harpooned and towed in were cut up and "tried" in big kettles for the oil they contained. One such place was maintained by the widow of Col. William Smith to which her Whaleboat manned by a crew of Indians brought an average of 20 whales a winter to be "tried." The oil and whalebones were sent to England.

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