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Cattle on Island by 1625

Footnotes to Long Island History

Cattle on Island by 1625

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       The early settlers of Long Island coming as they did from the New England colonies, naturally followed the same system of farming and crop rotation to which they were accustomed. Probably the first settlers found sufficient cleared land for their purpose, as according to early tradition there was much cleared land or land not covered with timber besides the great plains.

       The settlers soon found their success depended on the use of manure and as early as 1653 on the west ed of the Island, the terms of the patent from the Dutch governor for the lands they occupied required that they pay the government one tenth of the revenue received from the ground they manured.

       Cattle were imported as early as 1625, and a cow in New York was worth 30 pounds. The abundant grass on the great plains doubtless turned the attention of the early inhabitants to stock raising. But as yet there were no fences, so herdsmen were hired by the town to take care of the cattle from May until October when the Indian harvest would be completed.

       In 1667 the town of Hempstead hired Abraham Smith to keep the cattle from destroying the corn planted in the "plain" and he was to have one and one half bushels per acre paid him for this service. Shortly after sunrise every morning, at the blowing of a horn the owners of cattle drove them into one common herd which was under the care of the cow keeper and his dog, who drove them to the pasture on the plains. His job was to keep them from wandering away in the forests, or getting on cultivated land, and bring them home every night before sunset. For this service in 1658 he was paid 12 shillings sterling per week, in butter, corn and oats.

       The calves were cared for by another keeper, who was required to water them twice a day, drive them to the salt meadows once in two weeks and put them in an enclosure at nigh to protect them from wolves. After a while cow herds were dispensed and it was found necessary to fence the pasture lands. In 1669 Cow Neck was fenced from Hempstead harbor to Great Neck.

       Sheep were not introduced until a later date, and in 1643 there were only 16 in the whole colony of New York. In 1670, sheep were pastured on the plains in the care of a shepherd.. Each owner had an ear mark for his own sheep which was recorded in the town book. In 1737 the New York Gazette stated, "Vast losses have been sustained in this colony and Long Island by the death of cattle from the want of fodder and many persons have been almost ruined thereby. Five thousand head of cattle have been lost on Long Island this winter besides large numbers of sheep."

       Corn, wheat, rye, oats, flax, wood for fuel, fat cattle and sheep were the staple products of the Island and the chief source of income until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

       During the Revolutionary war a Tory, advised a British minister to land the forces for the suppression on the colonies on Long Island  for said he, "It is one hundred thirty miles long, very fertile, abounding in wheat and other kind of grain and has large numbers of cattle, sheep, hogs etc, so that on this fertile island the British army can subsist without any help from England."

       The suggestion was acted on, and for seven years the British army occupied Long Island, with New York city as its headquarters, and drew it supplies from the farmers on the Island, who were ordered to furnish whatever was required, with the threat of "laying waste the farms and homes of the disobedient."

       With the growth of New York and Brooklyn in later years grew the demand for fruits and vegetables and great quantities of them were raised on the west end of the Island and hauled to the city markets with the horse-drawn wagons. From the east end and beyond driving distance, produce and great quantities of cord wood were shipped by boat. 

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