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11 Drown Off Beach

Footnotes to Long Island History

11 Drown Off Beach

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       One of the early ministers of the South Haven and Middle Island Presbyterian churches was the Rev. Era King, who was engaged to preach on 1810 and was installed as pastor over both congregations on May 11, 1814. He continued as pastor of the South Haven church until 1839 and of the church at Middle Island until 1844 when he resigned on count to failing health and moved to Miller Place.

                One of his first tasks was to conduct funeral services for some of the victims of one of the most tragic disasters in the history of Brookhaven town. Eleven men, whose names were William Rose, Isaac Woodruff, Daniel and Lewis Parshall, Benjamin Brown, Nehemiah Hand, James and Henry Homan, Charles Ellison, James Prior and John Hulse went across to the South beach to fish. According to tradition the men landed on a sand bar several hundred yards off shore which at low tide was above water to shake the sea weed out of their nets. They hauled their boat upon the sand but the carelessly failed to anchor it and in the darkness failed to notice the rising tide wash it off the bar.

                When they made the discovery that their boat was gone and felt the tide rising around them, they began to shout for help so loudly that they were heard across the bay by people on the mainland at Fire Place (Now Brookhaven).

                It was a beautiful calm moonlight night and one woman went to her neighbor's and said she thought something was wrong at the beach as she was sure she had heard her husband's voice. It has always been a  mystery why a rival fishing crew who were in a house on the beach that night did not hear the cries of the stranded men and rescue them. One tradition has it that a man who heard the cries for help of the fishermen ran to the house of the other fishing crew and asked them to rescue them. They evidently been drinking for one man drunkenly replied " let em drown."

                All 11 were drowned and the next morning there were eight widows in the parish of South haven.

                Several victims of this tragedy lie buried in the South Haven church yard.

                One of the strong supporters of Priest King as he was called was Samuel Carman, Sr., who owned the famous tavern and mill just north of the meeting house. It was at his home that the first church trustees were elected in 1802 and where in the years following the annual congregational meetings were held.

                The Connecticut river - now known as Carman's river- was one reason for the importance of South Haven as a community in those days. This river named after an old local Indian name meaning "the long river" turned the wheels of perhaps more mills than any other river on long Island. Four dams were across it at various points furnishing water power for the fuling, grist and saw mills of those days. The one owned by Sam Carman's is still standing the water still pouring through its mill race. Inside are the large mill stones between which wheat and corn of the settlements was ground. The remains of the old machinery with which the logs from the nearby forests were sawed into timber may still be seen.    

                This mill which may have been built by Samuel Terrell in the previous century, and the land that had once been called "Yamphank Neck" had been purchased by Samuel Carman from Ebenezer Homan about 1789. Included in the purchase was the famous old tavern by the " goin over" of the Connecticut river, at which the weekly stage coach between Brooklyn and East Hampton made a stop. In the absence of public buildings in that day the tavern had a certain prestige as a place to gold political meetings and elections. It was there that some of the eminent men of the day lodged and the local men gathered to discuss the latest news brought in from the outside world.

                Samuel Carman must have conducted a general store as well and had a partner, according to an old account book found in the attic of the house, made of rag paper imported from England, which reads, "Book No.4 CARMAND and REED SEPT. 30th 1789." Here were sold all the articles used by the local people of those days including thimbles, needles, thread, powder, shot, clothing, shoes, paper, tobacco, molasses, (very popular because it was used to make rum), tea, knives, combs, cloth, spices, snuff, whips, rice, rum, etc. Of these items rum seems to have been the most popular.

                Boats sailed up the Connecticut river, anchored and sent row boats to the store for supplies.

                The river which furnished power for the mills was also famous for the trout it contained, and so great was the reputation of this stream among fishermen that a historian of that day states that trout fishing there was a superior to any other in this part of the country. It was in this stream below the mill that Daniel Webster caught his famous trout with the help of the congregation and minister from the church across the way.

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