Settlers Valued Whales

Footnotes to Long Island History


JULY 21, 1960


Thomas R. Bayles

       The first settlement in Brookhaven town was made at Setauket in 1665,a and it wasn't long before the early settlers explored the Island on the south side around Mastic, and in 1657 purchased a tract of meadow land from Unkechaug Indians. The hay from these meadows was valuable to them for feeding to their cattle.

       The oldest road in the town is the "Old Town Road," which ran across the Island from Setauket to Fireplace or Brookhaven, and down the Gerard's Road to South Haven.

       On June 10, 1664 the "Old Purchase" at South was made from Tobaccos, a chief of the Unchechaug Indians, which included the western part of South Haven, Brookhaven and Bellport. This was purchased from the Indians for four coats and about $16 in cash, and the deed is still among the town papers at Patchogue.

       In addition to getting hay in this part of the town, men came here from the north side settlements to go whaling at an early date, as the oil could be used in their lamps and whalebone was a versatile material. An agreement was made with the Indians to pay them five pounds of wampum for each whale washed up on the shore. The town record for May 18, 1675, contains an entry which states that Abraham Dayton and Thomas Bearsley sold 18 barrels of whale oil, "lying on the south side of the Island at a place called Fireplace."

        Fireplace was the name probably given to that tract of land on the west side of the Connecticut River near the bay known as Woodhull's point, where fires were built to guide the whaling boats at night through the inlet from the ocean, which was about opposite this point.

       The whales were towed to the landing place known as "Zach's landing," "Indian landing," and "Squassacks landing," along the river where they were cut up and worked for their oil and whalebone.

       One such place was maintained by the widow of Col. William Smith near the Manor of St. George where her whaleboat, manned by a crew of Indians, brought an average of 20 whales a winter to be tried out. The oil and whalebone was shipped to England.

       The following items were copied from an old notebook of the Tangier Smith family by Mr. Osborn Shaw, several years ago.

       "Jan. 24, 1706: I thank God my company killed a yearling whale, made 27 barrels oil."

       "Feb. 4, 1707, Indian Harry with his boat struck a stunt whale and could not kill it, called for my boat to help him. I had but a third which was four barrels."

       "March 17, 1707, I thank God my company killed two yearlings in one day, one of which made 27 barrels, and the other 14 barrels."

       As the little settlements on this side of the town grew, a need was felt for a church in this locality, as there was none between Southampton and Babylon, and it was a long trip across the Island to the old town church in Setauket. Services were probably held in the homes of the settlers for many years before the first church was built.

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