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Early Town Government Here

Footnotes to Long Island History

EARLY TOWN GOVERNMENT HERE

JULY 27, 1950

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       At the early town meetings in Brookhaven town prompt attendance of all the members  of the colony was desired, and in order to enforce this a town meeting in December, 1659, order a fine of two shillings, six pence, for anyone who was late or failed to attend a town meeting without a very good excuse. The same desire to stimulate promptness in attendance seems to have taken hold of the town trustees in 1695, for they be ordered a fine of a pint of rum to be paid by any one their members who failed to appear at a meeting.

       An amendment was made in 1702, fixing the fine for being even an hour late at three shillings. This was reduced in 1704 to "one bitt" for being an hour late and "two bitts" for not attending at all. In 1710, the fine was raised to three shillings, but no doubt soon after became a dead letter.

       The character and behavior of the settlers was closely watched during the early years, and we fine that at a court held December 8, 1663, William Poole was fined 10 shillings for cursing, and William Fancy and Henry Rogers were each found guilty of lying and fined 10 shillings each.

       Actions for defamation  were frequent in the early courts, and were not confined to the male members of the settlement, as slander suits were frequently brought against the women as well. The following appears in the printed records of Brookhaven town for 1681.

       "Wheras, I Hannah Hulls, through inadvertence and passion, defamed Nathaniel Norton, of this towne, by saying he had stollen Indian corn out of my fatther Daiton's corn cribb. These may surtifie all whome it may concern, that I, the said Hannah Hulls, never had any cause so to say, and that I never knew that the sayd Nathanell had ever stoele any Indian corn form theare, and am hartely sorry for my defaming of him, nott knowing any cause soe to doe, as witness my hand, in Brookhaven, this 5th day of June,1681."    

       Corporal punishment was practiced here, although not so severely as in some of the other towns. In 1696, Jonathan Owen was employed to make a pair of stocks for the town, in Connection with work he was doing in repairing the meeting house. In 1716, the town meeting voted a pair of stocks for the use of Justice Brewster at fireplace.

       Wolves were common during the first years of the settlement here and at a town meeting in 1667, a premium of sixpence head was voted for every wolf killed, the head to be brought to the constable, who was to pay the premium.

       The use of cider seems to have been highly regarded, and in 1667 the regular fee for settling difference between neighbors was a "gallant of sider."

       The construction of wells was considered important in those days, and the town sometimes interested itself in the matter. In 1701, the trustees gave permission to David Edwards to dig a well in the highway near his house and to have the use of it himself for seven years but he was required to give security for any injuries that might be suffered by cattle falling into it. In 1722, the Trustees voted payment of 15 pounds to Nathaniel Brewster for "Repairing the well and the Town house." The fact that a frame ropes and buckets are spoken of suggests that the method of drawing water from these primitive wells was by the pulley. If so the old "crotch and pole" system may have come later, though that is supposed to have been an ancient custom.

       The most important tradesman in the early life of the town was the blacksmith and the settlers depended on him for a large part of their farming implements, their nails for building, and a great many other articles of every day use.

       In 1686, the people at town meeting voted that "Christopher Swaine be admitted and encourage as a smith for this town and that a shop shall be built for ye said Christopher about May next, He paying the workmen by work at his trade." In 1699, the town gave an old shop to David Edwards, to be his as long as he should do the town's work as a blacksmith.

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