Suffolk in the Revolution

Footnotes to Long Island History


JULY 6,1950


Thomas R. Bayles

        Shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Impendence on July 4, 1776, the Independence  of the American colonies was proclaimed in the different towns and villages of Suffolk county, and resolutions of the Provincial Congress approving the action of the Continental Congress were read with enthusiastic demonstrations by the people. At Huntington, an effigy of George III, wearing a wooden crown stuck full of feathers, was hung upon a gallows, and having been partly filled with powder, was blown to pieces and burned.

       It was well perhaps, that the people of Suffolk did know the fate that waited them, for if they had they might not have been so decided in their expressions of patriotism, and if Suffolk had faltered in that critical moment, who can tell how disastrous might have been the result to the destinies of the country. Suffolk justly claims a leading role in the movements of that eventful period. Besides the influence of William Floyd among his 55 associates in the famous old hall at Philadelphia, the representatives of Suffolk stood in the front ranks of the Provincial Congress of New York. One of their number Gen. Nathaniel Woodhull, was president of that body all through the most trying days of its existence.

       The wave of enthusiasm which swept over the Island after the Declaration of Independence, was quickly silenced by the disastrous results of the Battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, which gave the British full possession of Long Island. All the towns and counties of the Island now at mercy of the invaders.

       On August 29, the English general .William Erskine, who was in charges of Eastern Long Island, issued a proclamation to the people ordering them to use their utmost efforts to preserve the peace of the county, directing all men acting under the authority of the "rebels" to cease at once, and requiring all men in arms to surrender. The people were further ordered to furnish his majesty's forces whatever cattle, wagons, horses, corn, oats, rye, hay and straw should be required of them and if these orders were not immediately complied with, the British would march into the county and "lay waste the property of the disobedient."

       Many of those who had been the most active in their expressions of loyalty to the American cause now had to flee with their families and whatever possessions they could take with them, and the lumber sloops and schooners we're filled with these refugees sailing across the sound to Connecticut. Their property and farms were appropriated by the red coats.

       Presbyterian churches were used for barracks and stables, while the cemeteries were shamefully desecrated, graves leveled and tombstones removed or broken to pieces. Some of the sympathizers who were not lucky enough to escape were seized and thrown into prison.

       An old dispatch reported that, the "wharves at Sag Harbor are crowded with emigrants." The number of refugees from eastern Long Island was great.

       In Brookhaven town, Col, Josiah Smith was one of the first who took his family to Connecticut, and on November 1, 1776, with a few possessions, they sailed to New London. This was the only safe thing they could do, as the leader of the rebel forces in Suffolk county was naturally sought by the British. During his absence from Moriches his estate was overrun by British soldiers who pilfered it. He must have gone back to his home at one time during his exile as the record states that he was captured while on this trip, and sent to prison, but later released.

       That same year, while he was at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, William Floyd heard that his family had gone to Connecticut for safety. Mrs. Floyd died in Middletown, Conn., five years later at the age of 41, possibly from the harrowing experience she and her children had undergone. A company of horsemen occupied the lovely estate of General Floyd at Mastic during the seven years of war. They uprooted his trees burned his fences, and destroyed his cattle in punishment for his taking so active a part in the Revolution. He never completely recovered from the shock and sadness he experienced when in 1783 he returned to his beloved state of 4,000 acres and saw it as a wilderness.

       The same year ,William Floyd's friend and neighbor, Judge William Smith became a refugee with his family because of his pronounced rebel activities. Before he fled, however, he buried the old patent to the Manor of St. George in the ground, which he dug up again after the war. He stayed at the Kingston home of his friend Judge Zephaniah Platt, whose daughter Hannah, became the second wife of his son, Gen. John Smith.

       It is difficult to imagine what hardships these refugees endured, Their incomes were cut off and they had little chance of earning a living in a land in which they were only refugees. Those, who by declaring their loyalty to the crown could remain at home unmolested often did so to protect aged parents who could not be moved or homes that meant everything to them. Friends were gone, there were no church services, and for seven long years life was bitter and hard. They lived continually under the threat of punishment by the soldiers if they showed any sympathy for the American cause.

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