The Story of John R. Mather

Footnotes to Long Island History


NOV. 10, 1960


Thomas R. Bayles

       John R. Mather was born at Drowned Meadow (Port Jefferson) on November 20, 1814. He was the son of Richard and Irene Mather, and grandson of Capt. Alexander Mather and of  John Willse on his mother side .Before 1800 his grandfather, Capt. Alexander lived at old man's (Mt Sinai). When a boy John R. rode his father's horses to the blacksmith shop of Henry Hawkins in Old Man's to be shod as this was the nearest blacksmith to Drowned Meadow.

       Before 1800 John R's grandfather, John Willse, lived in the James Van Brunt house on the east side of Setauket Harbor, Mr. Willse, who was a ship carpenter obtained permission from the town trustees to build a wharf, which was later used by James M. Bayles. Mr. Willse is said to have built the first vessel ever constructed at Drowned Meadow, and followed the business until his death in 1815.

       John R. Mather was only two years old when his father Richard Mather, died. In the spring of 1831 he went to Bridgeport and worked as an apprentice with his uncle to learn the trade his father had followed and worked with him for six years. Before 1830 his step father, W. L. Jones bought what was known as the Point property and built a house that stood on what in recent years has been known as Jones street. Here he started a shipyard and the first vessel built was the "Pearll" in 1834. John R. Mather joined his step-father in the ship yard business which continued until 1844. They constructed a road across the marsh which was a part of Jones street and received a grant from the town to build a dock and made an agreement to build a road 18 feet wide with walls of stone and a bridge under which the water might flow with the tide. This causeway was built and reverted to the town and was to be maintained as a highway. The construction of a dock running 500 feet into the bay with an arm 50 feet into long in the shape of the letter L. was a great public improvement, but financially a failure. They next laid two sets of marine railways on the shore. which was so low that the whole property had to be filled in from three to four feet to raise it above high tide. This was completed in 1841.

       Mr. Mather remained at the old shipyard until 1873, when he moved his business to a location west of the dock where the schooner "Bessie Whitney" was built in that year. She was a ship of 700 tons burden. "Boss Mather" was actively connected with ship building in his native village for almost half a century and he and his ancestors were prominently identified with this industry, which built up and brought prosperity to Port Jefferson for so many years.

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