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Town Meeting Day Popular

Footnotes to Long Island History

Town Meeting Day Popular

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


       The voters of Brookhaven town held their annual spring elections in open “town meeting” at Coram on the first Tuesday of April for nearly 100 years until 1885. This was at the old Davis homestead, now the home of Justice of the Peace Lester H. Davis.

            Town Meeting day was the event of the year, and was looked forward to as much as was the county fair at Riverhead in more recent years. Every kind of horse-drawn vehicle was drafted into service to bring the voters to Coram. The old box wagon with boards for seats was the real thing, and the man who came in a buggy was looked on as an aristocrat.

            The wagons filled with voters came from every direction to the town capital at Coram, and arriving at the polling place a crowd would be found and each wagon surrounded by “workers.”

            During the early years the town government was located at Setauket, where the first settlement was made, but as the population increased and settlements were made, in other parts of the town, the capital was changed to Coram, which was more centrally located.

            The office of town clerk was at the home of the elected official from the time the town was first settled until 1901. For 42 years Mordecai Homan of Middle Island was town clerk and held the office in his home until 1848.

Benjamin Hutchinson and his son Henry held the office at their home in Middle Island from 1860 until 1890. In 1891 it went to Yaphank, and while there, the town trustees adopted the following resolution “Resolved that it is the opinion of the Board of Trustees that the town clerk’s office should be permanently located at Yaphank, as it is a central part of town.”

            George L. Chichester of Patchogue was elected in 1901 and took the office to Patchogue where it has been since located. Apparently the trustees did not abide by their resolution.

            Town meeting day in Coram was a sort of clearing house and debts matured on “town meeting day.” Horses were swapped, old acquaintances renewed, the condition of the crops and farm animals discussed, and a social good time enjoyed by all. In the road were the baker wagons, oyster stands, song and dance men, farming implement salesmen and the like. The Riverhead peanut man was always on hand with his: “here you go, your three legged, hump backed, double jointed peanuts, five a pint.” Dinner was served in the town house for 50 cents, but the thrifty farmers brought their lunch along.

            The west front room of the house was used for voting and the upper rooms for counting the votes. The justices of the peace acted as inspectors and also canvassers. The voting lasted until sundown, and on the justices would step on the porch and call out, “Hear ye; hear ye; these polls are now closed.” The ballot boxes were then taken upstairs and the work of canvassing commenced, which often lasted until the early hours of the morning before being completed. The shaded oil lamps threw a light over the table and the interested candidates stood looking over the shoulders of the workers.

            In the spring of 1884 a proposition to vote in election districts was carried, and this was the end of the “Town Meeting” days in Coram.

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