First Settlers Led Hard Life

Footnotes to Long Island History

First Settlers Led Hard Life


October 18, 1956

Thomas R. Bayles


            Editors Note -- This article, provided this newspaper by historian Thomas R. Bayles, was written by Mr. Bayles’ father, Richard M. Bayles, in Munsell’s History of Suffolk County in 1882.

             The first settlers of Long Island came from a land of political, religious and social oppression far away beyond the sea, from the old England of Europe to the New England of America.  They came to find a home for themselves and their posterity, and after visiting some part of the mainland of New England, had sailed on until their eyes rested on the green hills of beautiful Long Island.

            Having gained the favor of the Indians and excited their curiosity by showing them various articles of convenience, the first founders of the little colony sought and found a desirable spot for their settlement, and negotiated with the Indians for its purchase.  The plot thus selected was at some distance from the Indian Village, as the white settlers thought it best not to be too close to the natives.

            The way thus prepared, the white settlers set to work preparing, as best they could, the wilderness for their occupancy.  At first a rude hovel made of sticks braced against a ridgepole and covered with boughs, grass and dirt served the purpose of a house until some of the land could be broken up and planted with corn.  Some place had been cleared by the Indians sufficiently to allow corn to be planted.  Then the seeds of other vegetables and grains were planted and cultivated.  In the meantime, as their crops grew, they set about making themselves more secure against the possible depredations of their savage neighbors, and the long cold winter which would soon be upon them.

            We may suppose that the settler during the long cold winter, when nothing could be done in the way of cultivation, cut down trees and prepared from them besides firewood, material for fences to be put up when spring returned.  As he is busy plying his axe through the cold winter days we wonder what musings fill his mind.  Perhaps the solitude and dreariness of his surroundings make him regret he has chosen this course for himself in a new land.  Does he reflect that the civilization of his fathers in his home land is as dead to him here as all the nature seems to be?  If such reflections cross his mind they are followed, no doubt, by the thought that brighter days will soon be here and time will bring new life to all things around him.

            Within his humble dwelling the domestic furniture and implements are scanty and simple.  A few conveniences brought from the mother country and a few more simple and rude pieces of furniture made from the materials at hand make up the equipment of a household.  The plain and homely fare which comes up on the settler’s board is in keeping with the plainness and rudeness of the table on which it is served.  However, he is a free man, and he rejoices in that liberty.

            With appetite sharpened by exercise and the thought that his own exertions helped by the genial influences of nature, have obtained the food before him, he partakes of that coarse fare with a relish that a king might envy.

            For the clothing worn by himself and his family, he had to depend at first upon the supply brought from afar, but before long he made from the products of his animals and his fields most of the garments worn by himself and members of his family.

            The hardships by which the settlers were surrounded were modified by the fact that the settlers were not far separated from each other in the locations of their homes.  A part of the land they had purchased from the Indians was divided into home lots, with a share to each settler, and other parts were enclosed in large common fields for cultivation or pasture for stock.  A large part of their stock was turned loose upon the open plains and hills to find pasturage where they could, and a man was employed to keep watch of them.

            As one season follows another the hand of improvements widens the area of culture and adds new features of attraction, beauty and convenience to the settler’s surroundings.  His stock is multiplied by annual increase, and his house and garden have been enclosed by a substantial fence.  The cottage itself has been improved by a solid roof of slabs instead of the one of thatch, and windows have glass in them.

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