Weeks, William

from Yaphank As It Is and Was
Beecher Homan

Weeks, William


The subject of this sketch was born in the village of Oyster Bay, in the year 1821, and came, with his parents, in the Spring of 1828, to reside in Yaphank. From that date to the year 1833 he had such opportunities for education as the neighborhood afforded; which were chiefly at the district school-house.

The course of studies there pursued was not very extensive, nor were the text-books at that day of the most pleasing and instructive kind. He relates the following


Philosophy was not a part of the course of study, yet an amusing incident occurred one winter morning, which gave the pupils an inkling of that science.

The night previous had been sufficiently cold to freeze the ink in various ink-stands; in one, especially, made of lead, it was about solid, and the wooden stopple was frozen fast.

The owner placed it on the hearth, in front of the blazing fire, to thaw, and occasionally turned it, in order that every side might feel the heat, little dreaming that he was thereby evoking the latent power of steam ; when suddenly, with a loud report, out flew the stopple, accompanied by nearly the entire fluid contents, which projected upward in a diverging column, and put in deep mourning a, considerable space of the ceiling Overhead. This lesson was neither repeated nor forgotten."

The district school-notwithstanding its disadvantages and discomforts-was beneficial; he thinks that he there acquired an excellent knowledge of


One of the teachers, to excite the emulation of the spell-ing-class adopted the plan Of giving, daily, to the one who stood at the head of the class, a written certificate, testifying to that fact. These varied slightly in form, as his fancy dictated.

Young Weeks was the recipient of many of these honors, a package of which lie still retains. One of them reads as follows:


William J. Weeks is at the head of his class; he has not missed a word for a considerable length of time; he therefore stands this day at the head of his class.
Brookhaven, Jan. 7th, 1832.
J. OSBORN, Teacher."

On one occasion the teacher -was seized with a poetic frenzy, and indited the following:

"William J. Weeks, his mind has fixt
For the reception of orthography;
He also good improvement makes
IN arithmetic and geography."

In the Spring of 1833, when but thirteen years old, he was sent to Southampton to attend the academy. Here he was first introduced to the study of


This subject was both novel and abstruse to him. He had been pursuing it a few weeks, when one day he went with the class to recite to Peter H-, the assistant teacher, who presided in the upper room of the academy, and in his turn, was directed to parse a word. The word and the sentence are totally lost in oblivion; but he is under the impression that he must have handled the parts of speech in a most extraordinary manner, for lie had no sooner completed his-supposed-task, than Peter, who sat with his chair tilted back, and his heels balanced upon the table, turned upon him a severe look, and said: "Sir, did you mean to insult me?" No explanation was vouchsafed; and while Peter's instruction in grammar made no impression, that remark immortalized him.

After spending a year at Southampton, he pursued his studies for the next four years, successively, at the academies of Bellport and Miller's Place. These institutions were then in the zenith of their prosperity.

When he was about seventeen years of age, he remained at home for a year and a half, engaged in the labors of the farm and garden. He was at this time a


and was occasionally employed in running lines and measuring land.

Having decided to enter college, he returned to Miller's Place in 1839-40, to complete his preparation. He passed his examination, and entered the Freshman class of 'Yale College, in 1840. He completed the four years' course, and was graduated with honor, in 1844.

During his college course, believing that a sound mind could best be maintained by a sound body, he was careful, by daily exercise, to retain his physical health. This was easy, from his naturally active disposition. At that time the college was destitute of a gymnasium, and the students were left to provide for themselves the means of exercise. These were chiefly football, wicket and walking; in all of which he took an active part. - In January, 1842, was the ordinary Winter vacation of two weeks. Instead of a visit home, he determined to


The distance from New Haven was more than 140 miles. There was a considerable depth of snow. He set out with a single companion. Before reaching Hartford, his companion became discouraged, and abandoned the undertaking. Thence he continued the journey, alone. After several days of steady walking, he reached his destination; saw Boston, Charlestown, Bunker Hill Monument, &c. He returned by the way of Providence, accomplishing, on the last day's walk, thirty-five miles, in nine hours including a halt of twenty minutes. He was somewhat impeded by his valise, and its contents of twelve pounds.

In the Spring of 1843, he conceived the idea of introducing the exercise of rowing among the students. He, there-fore, purchased in New York a Whitehall boat, nineteen feet long, and took it with him on his return to New Haven. He induced six of his classmates to join him in forming a boat club.

This was the


owned by students of Yale College, and was the origin of the Yale Navy.

The boat was named the " Pioneer," and its crew the "Pioneers."
Many short and pleasant excursions were made in it about the harbor and adjacent waters. One morning, in the Summer of 1844, he, with four of the crew, rowed across the Sound to Long Island, and returned in the same way, the. next morning.

At this time, after thirty-one years of the changes and chances of human life, the entire seven fornflDg the crew of "Pioneers," are still living. Mr. Weeks early imbibed a taste for


and was ever interested in reading anything relating to the subject of animated nature. Subsequently, having received some instruction in taxidermy-the art of preserving the skins of birds, animals, &c. he became an adept in that art, and spent a portion of his college vacations in collecting and preparing birds and other objects-forming a small museum. He has since secured some fine specimens of the native wild animals of Suffolk County for the Long Island Historical Society.

Mr. Weeks is not a politician nor office-seeker. He has too much independence to intrigue for office. If he has held any public office, it has been the voluntary tribute of others. At the annual town meeting of his town -Brookhaven-in 1847, he was elected


The town is a large one, and embraced about forty districts and school-houses. He discharged the duties with ability and fidelity; was re-elected the following year, but declined serving, in order to attend to his private affairs. In 1850, we find him engaged in the


He embarked in this with his usual ardor and energy. Every treatise upon this subject he procured and perused. He thus combined the knowledge and practice of other apiarians with his own observation and experience.

He has facilities for observing the bees in their varied operations. In 1853, he discovered by what means the honey bee is enabled to construct its


of a uniform size and shape.

This mystery had elicited the admiration, excited the wonder and curiosity, baffled the researches of the most astute philosophers and mathematicians, from the time of Aristotle, more than two hundred years.

His elucidation of this was published in the Scientific American, of May, 1860, and some years after, in the Bee Keepers' Journal.
In 1853, he was elected a trustee of the School District here. In this position he had an opportunity to learn the conditions and needs of his district.

The school-house had been erected many years previously, by certain proprietors; some of whom still claimed their individual shares. The site had been granted to them solely for the purpose of a school-house, and was to revert to the grantor in case the house became " extinct."

It was erected upon the site of the highway, and had no tree nor convenience about it. The district owned neither the house nor the site, nor were the bounds defined. In this anomalous position, in February, 1854, lie wrote to the State Superintendent for instructions as to the powers of the residents. The following extract describes somewhat the condition of the house :

"Of course, sir, after the lapse of nearly forty-three years, exposed to the peltings of the pitiless storm, the fervid rays of the noonday sun, and the multifarious hack of little boys' jackknives, the marks of age-venerable, though not revered-are manifest, upon its shattered frame. And though not " extinct, the hour of its dissolution is evidently not far distant. The crisis has come, and the physicians-with low tones and solemn looks-are consulting together."

It was proposed to repair the old house. A majority of the voters decided to purchase a site and erect a new one.

There was strong opposition to this by some of the taxpayers, which neither argument nor persuasion could overcome. Opposition to building school-houses is not an unusual circumstance in the rural districts.

Mr. Weeks saw that the opportunity to secure a site of an acre, in the central part of the village, if then neglected, might never recur. Nothing remained but for the inhabitants to exercise their legal powers.

After two years, the bounds were duly defined and established. The site was purchased, and the house erected. During this period few are aware of his personal labor, and the extent of his writing.

He toiled for the public good! His efforts may have been misconstrued, but he never cherished any animosity toward those who caused him so much unnecessary trouble!

In 1859, he was appointed by Hons. D. R. Floyd,
Jones, and Chas. A. Floyd, then Supervisors of Oyster Bay and Huntington, to run the


between those towns.
This line is identical with the line between the counties of Queens and Suffolk. It is about twelve miles in length over the land. Portions of the line at each end were traditionally located; but the new straight line deviated from both, and led through forest and thicket, and across cleared fields. The survey was completed in July of that year, and the several monuments erected along the line in the Spring of 1860.

In May, 1862, occurred the


the most extensive and destructive that ever was known in the town of Brookhaven, or, in fact, on Long Island. It lasted two days, urged on by high winds, and devasted in its course his own and his father's woodland, and caused much loss. Soon after, he spent some time in traversing the burnt district, and preparing a map, which exhibited, in a clear manner, the location and extent of that disaster.
Several years previous to this, the


began to excite attention in Suffolk County.

Believing he had some land adapted to this culture, he undertook to prepare it for that purpose. It was a swamp; a soil of peat, hidden under a thicket of bushes and trees. After a series of years, with indomitable perseverance, and the expenditure of much personal labor and money, he brought a portion into a suitable condition for planting, and has since grown some of the finest cranberries ever exhibited in our county.

At a meeting held at Thompson Station, February 1st, 1865, to reorganize the Suffolk County Agricultural Society, he was elected


an office of trust, the duties of which he executed during four successive years with marked ability.

His financial reports are models of exactness in detail.
he took an. active part, also, in other respects, to promote the prosperity of the Society.

While still engaged in the duties of this position, lie was nominated by the Republican Party and elected


He aimed, during his three years' term of office, to discharge every requisite duty in a thorough manner, and to make as little expense as possible for his personal services.

In his third official year-1871-the County Alms House was completed, and he had the chief care of getting it in readiness for its future inmates. After the furniture and other articles were procured, he spent several nights alone in the house, to guard the public property from fire or other loss.

Seeing the importance, in the first year of its practical operation, of having this new institution managed with pru-dence and an accurate account of its expenses recorded, as a criterion for the future, he concluded to accept the charge of it, and, with his wife as matron, resided there during the ,year 1872.

No two persons could have been found who combined more intelligence, industry, fidelity and efficiency for the varied duties of the position, than Mr. and Mrs. Weeks. Nor will the house ever be managed for the interests of both the inmates and the public with more sedulous care than was exercised by them.

Besides the active duties of supervising the house, he conducted the correspondence, purchased the supplies, kept the accounts and register, and never hesitated to "put his shoulder to the wheel," whenever his skill and strength were required. He originated and began the system of interments in a uniform manner, and of registering the same for future identification.


He may justly be considered a temperance veteran; for when he was about two years old, he refused all drinks but pure water. What at first might have been a freak of obstinacy, became, in time, a settled principle, from which neither persuasion nor ridicule could move him.

Before the first temperance society was formed-in 1825 -he was a "cold water man," and for more than fifty years has quenched his thirst with nothing but water, to the exclusion of all spirituous liquors, tea and coffee. Nor has he ever used tobacco in any form. He feels neither the de-sire nor need of these articles. To his abstemiousness in this respect, and to his physical activity, he ascribes the long combined good health and strength with which he has been blest.

He would urge the youth of his country, for their health and independence, to adopt the same habits. And he would dissuade the young men of our land from the use of intoxicating drinks, and from the useless and pernicious practice of using tobacco.

To those addicted to this habit he likes occasionally to relate, that an ingenious citizen of Boston once devised


The chief recommendations of which were, that it was just as nasty, and a great deal cheaper


Mr. Weeks is about the medium height, compactly built, fully developed, active, and powerful. His countenance is dominant, but intellectual. He has; a pleasing address and is unpretending in his language and appearance. He walks with a hurried, eager gait, and, seen upon the street, would be taken for a mechanic, or some one with a job on hand, and a limited time to perform it in.

He is never at a loss for something to do. With his family cares, his bees, his garden, and work-shop, his attention and labors are ever employed and diversified.

He is skilled in the use of mechanics' tools, and his work-shop is replete with every one in ordinary use. With his books and the public journals his leisure time is beguiled. He always sees something ahead not yet accomplished.

Mr. Weeks was always fond of athletic sports, and is still a graceful skater. Although not an adept in all the variations of the modern art, yet he has never met an equal in delineating the capital letters of the alphabet, with his skates, on ice.

In 1848 he married Miss Mary Croswell, of Schoharie County, a most estimable and intelligent lady. Their union has been blest with twelve children-six sons and six daughters-nine of whom are now living.

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