Of Courts and Corn (Part 5)

Footnotes to Long Island History

Of Courts and Corn

July 21, 1955


Thomas R. Bayles


       (This is the fifth in a series of articles by Advance historical writer Thomas R. Bayles in conjunction with the Setauket-Brookhaven town tercentenary celebration)

          Attendance at the town meetings was required of all town inhabitants in the early days, and to enforce this, it was ordered that a fine of two shillings six pence be paid by anyone who was late of failed to attend a town meeting without a very good excuse.  The same desire to stimulate promptness in attendance seems to have taken hold of the town trustees in 1695, for they ordered a fine of a pint of rum to be paid by anyone of their members who failed to attend a meeting.  An amendment was made in 1702, fixing the fine for being even an hour late at three shillings.  This was reduced in 1704 to “one bitt” for being an hour late and “two bitts” for not attending at all.

          The behavior of the settlers was closely watched during those early years, and the records show that at a court held December 8, 1663 William Poole was fined 10 shillings for cursing, and William Fancy and Henry Rogers were each found guilty of lying and fined 10 shillings each.

          Actions for defamation were frequent in the early courts, and were not confined to the male members of the settlement, as slander suits were frequently brought against the women as well.  The following appears in the printed records for Brookhaven town in 1681.

          “Whereas, I, Hannah Huls.  Through inadvertence and passion, defamed Nathaniel Norton, of this towne, by saying he had stollen Indian corn out of my fatther Dalton’s corn crib.  These may surifie all whom it may concern, that I the said Hanna Huls, never had any cause so to say, and that I never knew that the sayd Nathaniell had ever stoele any Indian corn from theare, and am hartely sory for defaming of him, nott knowing any cause soe to doe, as witness my hand, in Brookhaven, this 5th day of June, 1681.

          Corporal punishment was practiced here, although not so severely as in some of the other towns.  In 1696, Jonathan Owen was employed to make a pair of stocks for the town, in connection with work he was doing repairing the meeting house.  In 1716 the town voted a new pair of stocks for the use of Justice Brewster at Fireplace.

          Wolves were common during the first years of the settlement here and at a town meeting in 1667 a premium of six pence a head was voted for every wolf killed, the head to be brought to the constable, who was to pay the fine.

          The use of cider seems to have been highly regarded, and in 1667 the regular fee for settlig diferences between neighbors was a “gallant of sider.”

          Before any grist mills were built in the town the settlers had to send their grain by boat to Connecticut to be ground.  To end this undesirable condition, the town granted to Daniel Lane the right to establish a mill on the stream that ran down into the head of Setauket harbor.  The people built the dam and the mill was established some time before 1667.  Mr. Lane was to have absolute possession of the mill and dam, and for grinding to receive two quarts of every bushel of Indian corn.  Later on, mills were built in various parts of the town under grants from the trustees.

          The most important tradesman in the early life of the town was the blacksmith, and the settlers depended on him for a large part of their farming implements, their nails for building, and a great many other articles of everyday use.  In 1686 the people at a town meeting voted “that Christopher Swaine be admitted and encouraged as a smith for this town, and that a shop shall be built for ye said Christopher about May next, he paying the workmen by work at his trade.”  In 1699 the town gave an old shop to David Edwards, to be his as long as he should do the town’s work as a blacksmith.


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