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The Woodhull Story

Footnotes to Long Island History

The Woodhull Story

June 4, 1953

by

Thomas R. Bayles


       The first settlement in Brookhaven town at Setauket in 1655 had hardly been made when additional tracts of land were purchased from the Indians.  In 1657 a large tract at Mastic was purchased, and in 1664 the settlers purchased a large tract extending from the Great South bay to the middle of the Island, and they also secured practically all the land along the North Shore from Old Man’s harbor to Wading River.

          The consideration for this purchase was a coat, a knife, a pair of stockings, two hoes, two hatchets and two shirts. 

          In 1675 the purchase of all the land from Stony Brook to Wading River was confirmed by the Indian Sachem Gv, and bit by bit all the land included in the present bounds of the town was turned over to the white settlers by the Indians.  In these deals a variety of coats, stockings, knives, powder and the like were used to trade with the Indians.

          The principal negotiator in all these transactions was Richard Woodhull, the leading and most representative citizen of the young town.  His importance, in early affairs of the town, and as the first of the Woodhulls who have become distinguished in the state and nation through the years, gives him a significant place in Long Island history.

          Richard Woodhull was a man of varied accomplishments, a practical surveyor, and a man of undoubted personal courage, a born diplomat and an able executive, all the qualities which were reproduced in the most famous of his descendants, General Nathaniel Woodhull, the Long Island hero in the Revolution. 

          He was born in Northamptonshire, England, September 13, 1620, and is supposed to have come to this country as a young man.  His first appearance is at Southampton about 1644, and he may have come from Lynn, Mass., with the original company of settlers in 1640.

          He appears to have manifested there the same untiring energy and active interest in town affairs that made him afterward so conspicuous in the affairs of Brookhaven town.  He was frequently placed on juries, on committees, and on many important missions.  He appears in Brookhaven town 1657 when he purchased of Wyandanch two necks of meadow land at Mastic for the town.  He was appointed a magistrate for the town by the court at Hartford May 16, 1661, which position he held for many years.  He was one of the patentees of the town in 1666 and again in 1686. 

          He was appointed to many offices and acted on many important commissions, one of the most conspicuous of which was that masterly stroke of diplomacy by which the title of the town to the whole northern territory was forever freed from the complication of Indian claims under which it was liable to fall.

          His was a character which for principles of honor and justice, unselfish motives, far-seeing discretion, kindliness of manners, and constant zeal in public service has few superiors among the honored names that grace the first pages of American history.

          Richard Woodhull died October 17, 1690, and his tombstone in the Setauket cemetery carries the following inscription.

          “Richard Woodhull, born in Thenford, England, 1620; settled in Setauket 1656, died Oct. 17, 1690.  Every inch a nobleman.  Richard, 2nd. Born 1649.  Died 1699. A genuine son of his father.”

          “The tombs of these men destroyed by British soldiers in 1777, a reverent son restores in 1901.”

 

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