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Col. Smith Once Presided as Wealthy Manor Lord

Footnotes to Long Island History

Col. Smith Once Presided as Wealthy Manor Lord

February 14, 1957

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


 

            (Note: The material in this article has been taken from the history of the South Haven church, by

       the Rev. George Bothwick.)

           

            Undoubtedly, Col. William Smith was the most distinguished man to be admitted to the life of the early settlement at

            Setauket.  He was born in 1654 at Newton, England, and tradition says his mother was a maid-of-honor in attendance

             upon the English Queen.  As a result of her position, young William was made a page in the royal household, and received

            an education which could not be excelled in that day by any offered by the public schools.

            He made such an impression on King Charles II that when he became 20, the king commissioned him to be mayor of the

            royal city of Tangier, Africa, with a military rank of Colonel.  This city was to have been an important trading post for

            British goods, but failed to live up to the expectations of the colonizers.

            After 13 years’ service there, Col. Smith with his wife, Martha, the daughter of Henry Tunstall of Putney, England, and his

            three children, went back to England.  Three years later the family left for America, arriving in New York on August 6,

            1686.  At that time Thomas Dongan, a former Lieutenant-governor of Tangier, was the governor of the colony, so William

            Smith had the good will of the governor in his search for land on which to settle.  His eye fell on Little Neck

           (Strong’s Neck) in Setauket, and it was here he made his home.

            He soon began to make large purchases of land from the Indians and before long owned a tract extending from the

            Connecticut River to the Mastic River from the middle of the Island to the ocean, containing thousands of acres.

            In 1693, King William and Queen Mary of England issued letters-patent through Governor Fletcher to Col. Smith for his

            holdings here to be known as the “Manor of St. George.”  This patent is still preserved in the Manor house at Smith’s

            Point, which is now a museum for the people of Brookhaven Town as directed by the will of Miss Eugenia T. Smith, the

            last of this historic branch of the family to occupy the old Manor house.

            The sovereigns of England claimed to own Long Island, so their patent to Col. Smith gave him the supposedly extinct

            feudal right to control over the persons who lived on his property.  He dispensed the justice, made the laws and was in fact

            the “Lord of the Manor” and was exempt from the jurisdiction of Brookhaven Town, according to the patent.

            After Col. Smith received this patent he had it read at a meeting of the Brookhaven Town trustees a few weeks later.  The

            trustees consented to the limits it set for Smith’s land and the power it gave him.  However, many of the townspeople

            looked upon it as an infringement of their rights.  In particular, Samuel Terrel, who owned what was known as “Yamphank

            Neck,” a section between the Yaphank creek and the Connecticut River, in the center of which the South Haven church

            was later built, was displeased, for his land, according to the patent was included in the Manor of St. George.

           

 

 

Col. Smith Once Presided as wealthy Manor Lord (Cont.)

Written By: Thomas R. Bayles

February 14, 1957

 

In 1697, Governor Fletcher issued a second patent which added more lands lying eastward to the manor.  This included Halsey’s
            Manor and the Moriches patent ships, which extended the eastern boundary of the Manor of St. George to the towns of

            Southold and Southampton.  Most of this large area remained under the control of the Smith family until 1775, when a

            committee appointed by the town reported to the trustees that the freemen living on the manor wished to come under the

            jurisdiction of Brookhaven Town.

            Nothing was done about it until 1789, when the New York State legislature, in describing the boundaries of the various

            towns, described the eastern boundary of Brookhaven Town as the towns of Southampton and Southold.  So the old

            feudal privileges of the Tangier Smith family came to an end, and the Manor of St. George passed from an independent

            manor to a part of Brookhaven Town, answerable to its laws and regulations.

            Though Col. Smith as “Lord of the Manor,” was busy during these years overseeing his large estate and engaging in the

            offshore whaling industry, through his native Indian employees, he was active in the government of the colony.

            He was appointed to one of the judgeships when the Supreme Court was organized in 1691.  A year later, Governor

            Fletcher made him chief justice at a salary of 130 pounds a year.  In Setauket he was, of course, looked upon with a great

            deal of respect and esteem.  He was a loyal member of the old Town church.

            There had been “rude actions,” probably to the extent of a hand-to-hand scuffle, for the occupation of seats of honor in the

            meeting house, so it was ordered that everyone should be seated according to a prescribed plan.

            The president and clerk of the town trustees were to sit under the high pulpit, and the trustees in the front seat.  The

            justices and all who paid 40 shillings to the minister’s salary were assigned to the table up at the front.  Here sat Col.

            William as he was also called and his wife, a great distinction for her, for the ruling stated that “noe wimen are permitted to

            sett there, Except Col. Smith’s Lady, nor and women Kinde.”  “Lady Martha,” as she was called, was shown great

            deference.

            After the death of her distinguished husband, the congregation at church on Sunday mornings remained standing as she

            withdrew from the meeting house, out of respect for her. 

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