Historical Document Collection
The ancient documents preserved within the Town Clerk’s Historic Division begin with the Disposall of the Vessell, a contract with Captain Daniel How, whose ship brought the first settlers and their households from Lynn, Massachusetts to the Southampton colony in 1639.
The minutes of their subsequent meetings, land swaps, and purchases from the Native Americans, highway construction and granting of rights to construct mills and other amenities for the fledgling colony - all of this and more is chronicled in the record books and manuscript material that make up the archives of Southampton Town.
Selection of the Collection
Selections from this extensive historical collection may be found here. Researchers are encouraged to contact the town historian for further inquiries.
The Disposall of the Vessell (1639)
The earliest document pertaining to the settlement of the Southampton colony or "Plantacon" is The Disposall of the Vessell, an agreement made between eight settlers from Lynn, Massachusetts and Daniel How, the captain of a ship who agreed to transport them and their families to Long Island. Prior to setting sail, the settlers or "undertakers" as they were known exchanged their investments in the boat with Howe, on condition that he would carry their possessions in three trips annually for two years. Articles of agreement spelling out the nature and purposes of the venture were signed by the settlers and dated March 10, 1639. It is on this basis that Southampton Town claims to be New York State's first English colony, although the distinction is disputed by Southold Town, many of whose earliest records have been lost.
The names of the original settlers are legendary in town history - Howell, Farrington, Stanborough and Sayre are among them - and the actual colony appears to have been established by June of 1640. It was not without its early mis-steps, however, as the Massachusetts emigrants first found their way to Cow Bay in Manhasset, which was then under Dutch rule. After a brief detention, the so-called "strollers and vagabonds" were permitted to leave the area, whereupon they ventured eastward on Long Island Sound until discovering a protected inlet at Conscience Point (North Sea). There they exercised their right to stake out a settlement of "eight miles square of land" which was granted by James Farret, the agent of William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, who received his patent to settle all of Long Island from Charles I of England in 1636. It is apparent that at this early date, the conflicting claims of the Dutch and English to settle Long Island remained unresolved, as evidenced by the Lynn settlers' ordeal in Manhasset (now Town of North Hempstead).
Deeds of James Farret & Lord Stirling’s Confirmation (1640)
Dated April 17, 1640, and preserved in the Southampton Town Records, the deed from James Farret to the Lynn, Massachusetts, settlers empowered “Daniell How, Job Sayre, George Willby and William Harker together with their associates to sit downe upon Long Island… and to possess improve and enjoy eight miles square of land.” Farret acted as an agent in this transaction for William Alexander, Earl of Stirling, who had received a patent to the Long Island territory in 1636 from Charles 1st , King of England. William Alexander or “Lord Stirling” (1570-1640) was a Scotsman better known for his colonization of Nova Scotia (New Scotland), to which he received a royal charter in 1621. Encompassing a large area including present day Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and portions of the northern United States, the settlement of this territory would in the end lead to his financial ruin when it was returned to France in 1632. Alexander died in London on September 12, 1640, just weeks after confirming his sale of the Southampton territory on August 20 of that year.
James Farret was richly rewarded for his service to Lord Stirling and acquired ownership of both Shelter Island and Robins Island. But his success was not without personal risk or sacrifice. Farret had traveled to Dutch-ruled New Amsterdam in 1636 to present Lord Stirling’s claim of English sovereignty over Long Island, and was promptly arrested and imprisoned in Holland from which he escaped in 1637. As evidenced by this episode, claims and counter-claims to territories in the New World were subject to ongoing disputes between nations in this early period, and were reinforced by actual settlements such as those in New Netherland and New England. To further confirm his deed of 1640 to the Lynn, Massachusetts, settlers James Farret secured the endorsement and signature of John Winthrop (1588-1649), then the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop’s confirmation of the Long Island settlement insured that no other English colonists would challenge their claim.
Of interest is Farret’s confirmation of the Southampton “plantacon” dated July 7, 1640, in which he describes its westerly boundary as “a place westward from Shinnecock entitled the name of the place where the Indians drawe over their cannoes out of the north bay over to the south side of the island.” Canoe Place was thus identified in one of the earliest documents of the Town’s settlement, although the Native Americans themselves were not a party to either Farret’s deeds or his confirmation of title to the English colonists.
The way that Native American claims to the same territory were handled is another matter, and is well illustrated by a series of “Indian deeds” to the Southampton territory that date from the second half of the 17th century.
The Indian Deeds (1640-1703)
A remarkable group of deeds or "indentures" from the Native Americans to the Southampton colonists provides a unique insight into the relationship between the two and the manner in which land was acquired for settlement. The earliest of these land conveyances in Southampton dates from December 13, 1640; with it, representatives of "the native Inhabitants and true owners of the eastern part of the Long Island" granted a large parcel of land to the "English" in consideration of sixteen coats and three score bushels of corn. The land was bounded west by the present-day Shinnecock Canal, north and south by the bays, and east by a creek on the "Shinecock plaine." The area corresponded roughly to the "eight miles square" of land that had been granted to the colonists by James Farret, Lord Stirling's agent on April 17, 1640. The Indian deed reconfirmed the English grant from the individuals who actually inhabited the land.
The extent to which the Native Americans regarded land as being "owned" or simply occupied as defined by their white colonial counterparts is subject to debate and interpretation. More important in this land transaction, however, was the protection that the new settlers could provide the Native Americans "from the unjust violence of whatever Indians shall illegally assaile us." The native Shinnecock were renowned for their wampum - shell beads strung on threads that served as both decoration and currency. Their supremacy in the manufacture of wampum appears to have subjected them to periodic raids by the Pequot and other war-like New England tribes. Thus, reference to some sort of protection from neighboring tribes is cited in many Indian deeds throughout Long Island in this early period.
Following the original Indian deed of 1640, the colonists negotiated several additional land conveyances that extended their territory both to the west and east (1659, 1662, 1666 and 1703). The resulting colony approximated the boundaries of present-day Southampton Town. The first of these deeds was the Quogue Purchase of 1659, which extended the territory to the west and stretched from the ocean to the Great Peconic Bay. Following that was Topping's Purchase of 1662, which further increased this westerly territory, and a deed of 1703 which expanded the colony to the east (terminating on the "Wainscott plaine"). Thus, by the early 18th century the Southampton colony had grown from its original grant of only "eight miles square" (sixty four square miles) to about three hundred, or nearly a five-fold increase, although slightly over half of the land was and remains to this day under water. Settlement of the coastal areas proceeded in the early to mid-18th century, while much of the inland territory wasn't subdivided for settlement until after the Revolutionary War.
1 The Shinnecock were members of the Algonquian language group, which included the Montaukett on eastern Long Island and the Niantic and Narragansett of southern New England. Their western neighbors on Long Island were of the Lenape or Delaware group which spoke a dialect of Munsee, and were centered in present-day New Jersey, adjacent areas of eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York State.
Andros Patent (1676)
Like the later Dongan Patent (1686), the Andros Patent confirmed the boundaries of Southampton Town to its “freeholders and inhabitants,” including the right to improve their land as well as to enjoy “hawking, hunting and fowling” as long as they did not impinge upon the rights of others. The patent contains some interesting provisions but is significant more for the man who signed it than for the impact that it made on the Southampton colonists.
Sir Edmund Andros (1637-1714) was an English-born governor of the American colonies whose authority often conflicted with the interests of colonial Puritan leaders. As such, he became a symbol of oppression and his tenure as governor was vilified by many under his rule. His father had served as a master of ceremonies in the king’s court and the sympathies of his royalist family predetermined Andros for a life that was rewarded for supporting the crown. After protecting the British West Indies against the Dutch in the 1660s, he was appointed governor of the Duke of York’s American possessions in New York and New Jersey.
Governor Andros ruled the colony from 1674 until 1681 and is credited with defending its Indian frontier and maintaining peaceful relations with the Iroquois. Internally, however, his tenure was marked by conflict with the New Jersey proprietors, Dutch resentment of British rule, and boundary problems with Connecticut. Despite being cleared of accusations of financial irregularities while issuing trading licenses, Andros was recalled to England in 1681. He nevertheless remained within the good graces of the royal family and was knighted and re-appointed governor of the Dominion of New England in 1686. Later, he also served as governor of the Virginia colony (1692-1698) and died in London in 1714. His career was marred by an imperious disposition that deepened the resentment of his subjects, and decisions such as enforcing toleration of the Anglican Church, imposing new taxes and restricting local government increased his lack of popularity.
The Andros Patent of 1676 failed to anticipate the governor’s tyrannical rule over the Dominion of New England that followed a decade later. It was, instead, a relatively straightforward document that describes the boundaries of Southampton Town and confirms title to the settlers’ land “in free and common socage and by fealty only.” The reference to socage - a feudal form of land ownership in which some form of service to a superior must be performed – was nonetheless the governor’s way of asserting that the colonists were still subjects of the English crown and that through the payment of an annual quitrent, stated as “one fat lamb,” their individual land claims would remain secure. Further, taking an oath of allegiance or “fealty” was made central to land titles.
Seen as largely ceremonial, these obligations may have been accepted as traditional, if not arcane, and of little imposition. It was not until Andros became governor of the Dominion of New England, when he exercised far more stringent control of local laws and customs, did his authoritarian mandate become apparent. It has been remarked by historians that his eviction from Boston in 1689 due to the overthrow of King James II foreshadowed the larger rebellion against the crown a century later. The independence of the English settlers and their strong inclination toward home rule was deeply rooted, long before the American Revolution that would prove decisive in throwing off British rule.
Dongan Patent (1686)
The Town of Southampton's Dongan Patent is one of several land grants issued by Thomas Dongan during his brief appointment as New York's Provincial Governor (1684-1688). These grants or patents were issued in part to settle unresolved claims and disputes among the settlers, adjoining colonists and their Native Americans neighbors which threatened the stability and management of the colony. On Long Island, the Towns of Southampton, East Hampton and Brookhaven were thus confirmed and their governance was delegated to a newly created board of elected trustees. This form of government was one of the unique features of Dongan's patents, and one that has been tested for centuries and upheld by the courts.
Thomas Dongan (1634-1715) was the second Earl of Limerick, a member of the Irish Parliament and a military officer whose family had fled to France because of religious persecution after the overthrow of England's Charles I. Having achieved the rank of colonel in 1674, Dongan returned to England in 1678 at the close of the French-Dutch War and was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Tangiers. Through his friendship with the king's brother James, the Duke of York and Lord Proprietor of the Province of New York, Dongan was made provincial governor in 1686 and granted an estate on Staten Island. Coincidentally, James was crowned King James II of England in 1685.
The significance of the 1686 patent to the Town of Southampton was its creation of a new form of governance in which an elected body of twelve trustees was empowered to manage the affairs of the colony, including ownership and distribution of common lands. These trustees were to be "Chosen by the Majority of voices of the freeholders and freemen of the towne" and:
assemble and meet together in the towne house of the said towne or in such other publique place as shall be from time to time appointed to make such acts and orders in writing for the more orderly Doeing of the premises as they the said Trustees of the freeholders and Comonalty of the towne of Southampton aforesaid and their Successors from time to time shall and may think convenient.
By the terms of Dongan's patent, the town was also required to pay an annual quit rent of forty shillings to the royal governor. After the Revolution, this became payable to the State of New York. By an act of legislature on April 1, 1786, it was ordered that all quit rents should be paid into the treasury, but that anyone holding lands by quit rent might terminate the obligation by paying 14 shillings for every shilling of the rent due. Accordingly, at a meeting of the Southampton Town trustees held on February 26, 1787, Dr. Silas Halsey was instructed to take enough of the proprietors' money to satisfy the quit rent. Despite the discharge of this annual fee, the trustees remained as the governing body of the "Proprietors of the Common and Undivided Lands of the Town of Southampton."