Noted Historian Lived in Town

Footnotes to Long Island History


FEB 15,1951  


Thomas R. Bayles


     Another native son of Brookhaven town was Benjamin F Thompson, well known historian of Long Island, who was born in the old family homestead at Setauket, May 1784.

       His great- great- grandfather was John Thompson who came to Setauket in 1656 and his father was Dr. Samuel Thompson occupied the family home which was built about 1734 and is still standing.

       He devoted his early life to farming and later while engaged in the practice of medicine found time to supervise his extensive acres.

       His farm was practically self supporting and besides raising hay, grain, fruit and vegetables cattle, sheep and hogs for home use, was an extensive grower of flax for market.

       Setauket seems to have been a center for its cultivation and "Flax Pond," is a reminder of an industry now forgotten. It was to this pond that the farmers brought their flax stalks and steeped or "retted" them until the fibre was loosened from the core. The stalks were then laid out to dry and the fibre, which produced linen was completely separated from the core.

       Fresh water required for this process and in those days the pond had no connection with the sound, although in later years an inlet was cut through which made the water salt.

       Back of the Thompson homestead in South Setauket lies the family burying ground. Enclosed by a rustic fence and shadowed by large old trees it presents an appearance of peace and quiet.

       Dr. Thompson was active during the Revolution and was a member of the Long Island militia. During the early days of the war he was captain of the First Brookhaven company in the First Regiment of Suffolk County militia.

       Benjamin F. Thompson, the subject of our sketch began his education at an early age and his first schooling was with an old lady of the neighborhood, the wife of Timothy Tooker known as "Aunt Dinah." His mother died in 1793 and the following year at the age of 10 he entered the academy at East Hampton and boarded at the home of Judge Abraham Miller in that village. He remained there for a year and then returned home and attended the village school in Setauket. He later attended Yale college for a year but his father found he needed him to help run the farm so he came home.

       Later he studied medicine under Dr. Sage of Sag Harbor, and in the medical department of Columbia college. He practiced medicine for 10 years along with his farm work and public offices, but later gave up this work to practice law and was well known as a successful attorney, Justice of the peace, district attorney legislator and for many other services.

       On June 10,1810 he married Mary Howard, daughter of Zechariah Greene, the fighting parson, who was pastor of the Presbyterian church in Setauket for many years.

       For several years before the publication of his first "History of Long Island," Thompson visited all the town and county offices on the Island and spent long days in research work consulting the old records and talking with men of that day who could give him historical data.

       His first history was a single volume edition published in 1839, and was quickly sold out. In 1843 a second edition of two volumes was brought out and also was sold out within a year.

       The last years of his life were spent in rewriting his works and adding to them a great quantity do additional historical matter. The complete manuscript was ready to be published a short time before his death but it was not until 1918 that it was finally published in a three volume edition by Charles J. Werner.

       In 1824 he left Setauket and moved to Hempstead with his family where he spent the rest of his life until his death in 1849.

       His works are recognized as the  premier authority on the history of Long Island, and his name will grow brighter as passing generations learn to appreciate the service he did in preserving many of the fragments of early Long Island history.

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