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Common Pastures of the Town

Footnotes to Long Island History

COMMON PASTURES OF THE TOWN

NOV 3 1949 

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       The following notes will show how the common pastures of Brookhaven town were managed in the early days.

      A town meeting held on august 22, 1671, voted that the "old fild and the little neck shall be fred of cattle and hogs six weeks after miklmes next and all fenses cept up as it is in somer and so to continue from yere to yere untell the towne se cause to breke this order."

       On June 10,1672, the settlers of the high street employed Richard Waring and Samuel Akerly to take their cows from home every morning, drive them to the common pasture look after them through the day and return them at night; their patrons being the people who lived between Goodman Jenner's and Robert Akerly's hollow. For this the cow ceepers were to be paid two shillings six pence a day, and a pound of butter for every cow. Payment was to be made in corn, wheat and peas.

       The common land about the Old Man's (Mt. Sinai) was set apart as a pasture, and a decree of August 6,1689, pronounced it a pasture in common forever.

       On May 5,1690, a Town meeting voted to enforce the act of assembly passed in 1683, forbidding hogs to range the woods. This regulation must have been disregarded a great deal, as we see frequent mention of orders to the same effect, prescribing fines for violations. As late as 1800, the practice of letting hogs run at large was such a nuisance that a Town meeting in that year forbade hogs running at large without yokes and rings and ear marks. The trustees confirmed the action and added a fine of 25 cents.

       The following old record is interesting as a curiosity. "Wheras swine are unruly creatures & not easily turned by fenceing, it is further Ordered that all Swine from halfe a yeare old and upward shall not run in the commons near any inclosiers with out yokes of a foot or nine inches above the neck, and a cross bar of two foot under the throat and all swine under halfe a yeare old shall be kept with in their owners inclosiers and not to run at random in the commons."

       In May,1696, the Town trustees fearing that the commons would be overstocked with cattle, ordered that no man should turn upon the commons more than 15 cattle, five horses and 20 sheep upon one right of commonage. On the same day it was ordered that any man was justified in killing any swine turned loose within a mile of the town plat with out being yoked.

       A Town meeting held May 4, 1697, directed that all the common land westward of the two swamps on the south side of the Old Man's path above the head of Drowned Meadow, extending southward to the edge of the Great Plains northward tot he Old Man's path, and west a mile beyond the south path, should lie in common for feed for cattle and sheep.

       In the early years, the clearing of underbrush on the commons so as to promote the growth of grass for pasture received general attention. In 1696, every man having a right of commonage was required to furnish two days work a year toward clearing the underbrush.

       Three sheep pastures were laid out in 1714 - one of 150 acres, near the Old Man's, another near Nassekeag, and another west of the town. About 1715, it was customary to sell the grass of the common pastures at South (the meadows on Great South Bay) at auction to the highest bidder.

       On April 13,1730, a large tract of land lying between the Old Man's cart path and the "path that leads to Nassekeag" to lie in common forever.

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