local history:
Shinnecock Canal Canoe Place
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“Colonizing Southampton, The Transformation of a Long Island Community  1870 - 1900”  by David Goddard,         excerpted pages 175-copied below

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CHAPTER 6 EARLY HISTORY OF THE SHINNECOCK HILLS I: MONTAUK AND THE SHINNECOCK HILLS Mecox Bay was a case of small-scale capitalism up against traditional small-town interests and a contested system of land ownership. The sale of Montauk in the town of Easthampton in 1879 and the Shinnecock Hills in Southampton two years later raised other issues. Montauk initially went to one man, Arthur W. Benson of Brooklyn, but eventually fell to a conglomerate of development interests beginning with Austin Corbin and the Long Island Railroad in the 1890s and concluding with Carl Fisher, the Miami-based resort tycoon, in 1925. After a brief but hectic few years of glamour and excitement, Montauk died as a development zone until the 1960s and even later, its revival becoming partially dependent on the integration of almost half of its land into the New York State parks system. The Shinnecock Hills were acquired byCorbin’s agents in 1881—John Bowman and others—and were never again owned by local interests. They were the object of one failed development scheme after another between then and 1925 when the remainder of the unsold Hills went on the auctioneer’s block. Like Montauk, the Hills languished between the Depression and the war until as late as the 1960s. After that they became gradually suburbanized, almost the last cheap oasis of middle-class real estate left to local Southampton. What, besides this, is the connection between Montauk and the Shinnecock Hills? Both were the last undivided and undeveloped tracts of land in either town, and both were sold to resort interests by groups of proprietors in each for major gains. Underlying these sales was the considerable fact that they were also the ancestral lands of two of the principal indigenous communities remaining on eastern Long Island, the Montaukett and the Shinnecock Indians. Both groups had been identified with them for millennia. The Sugar Loaf Hill burial site in Shinnecock, for example, dates back to about 1,000 B.C. 1 They had lived on Montauk and the Hills in distinctive villages, farmed the land, hunted and fished, buried their dead, and in general maintained a common culture and language. They also were interrelated by marriage as they were to other Algonquian groups in the area—notably the Corchaugs on the North Fork, the Unkechaugs to the west, and the Manhans et Indians of Shelter Island—as well as to larger and more powerful tribes across Long Island Sound in Connecticut. Exogamous marriage practices helped sustain and stabilize informal systems of alliance between these communities over long periods of time though, in the case of the Pequots in Connecticut, the relationship was asymmetric. Traditionally, the eastern Long Island tribes had been in a tributary relation with the Pequots, exchanging tribute—especially wampum—for protection. But the disintegration of the latter after the disastrous Pequot War of 1637 had a significant impact on Long Island. It was a leading factor in the Montaukett sachem Wyandanch’s decision to encourage English settlement. This was primarily to ward off a threat by the Niantic chief, Ninigret, to step into the power vacuum left by the Pequots and impose a new tributary status on the Montaukett, the Shinnecock, and others. The Niantics were a southern branch of the Narragansetts of Rhode Island. Wyandanch was to have continuing problems with the expansionist Narragansetts throughout the 1640s and 1650s. The Montaukett sachem’s new guarantor of security was Lyon were religious disagreements as well. 3 But they were primarily looking east to the broad attractive expanse of fertile plain, grazing lands, and deep woodland beyond Sagaponack that stretched as far as Amagansett. Beyond Amagansett lay Montauk. Governor Eaton had paid Wyandanch and other sachems thirty pounds in trade goods for Easthampton, a better deal by far than the Shinnecock had obtained for Southampton. Wyandanch was happy for other reasons besides. The new settlement furthered his goal of developing adequate security arrangements for the Montaukett. But the Shinnecock Hills and Montauk shared other significant characteristics in common that ultimately were to give them a similar ecology and hence value to both Indians and colonists alike. Both formations were products of the ice sheet when it finally began its retreat some twelve thousand years ago. It left a mass of debris strung out in a ridged moraine along the northern shore of Long Island from Brooklyn to Montauk. Much of this moraine land is quite narrow—a good example are the wooded hills from North Sea to Noyac—but at Shinnecock and Montauk the moraine extends to the south as i f the glacier at these points had shoved material below it before beginning its final retreat. The result of this glacial action Bay and its wooded valleys provided some necessary defense. To what extent the Shinnecock Hills were as wooded in the seventeenth century as they once were is not fully clear. The Hills lie three miles to the west of the village of Southampton, and from the description of the earliest division of land in the Great Plain situated between them, the evidence suggests that woodland extended much farther south than it did later. The same was true east of the village in Scuttle Hole, even in the eighteenth century, as descriptions of divisions there similarly indicate. Yet the Hills must have already contained extensive grasslands since by the latter part of the seventeenth century the settlers were routinely pasturing their cattle and sheep on them. However, a century and a half later they appeared virtually empty of any sort of timber, much of it probably cut or burned. Writing in 1845, Nathaniel Prime noted that the Hills were “now perfectly naked, except extensive patches of whortle-berry (or) bay-berry, and other small shrubs, not more than two or three feet high; with here and there an aged thorn-bush, which has acquired the form and stature of a tree.” 4 How much of the loss of woodland was due to natural processes and how much to felling trees for fencing and firewood cannot be known, the nineteenth century. But 150 years of fencing the Hills for pasturage and the fuel needs of the settlers and of those of the Shinnecock residing there must have contributed to denuding them. In 1861, for example, the new Southampton proprietors of the Hills purchased 2,000 chestnut rails, 150 chestnut posts, and 1,400 locust posts, all for fencing.

Much of Montauk, in comparison, was covered in dense woods in the seventeenth century. Cornelius van Tienhoven, secretary to the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam, reported in 1650 that it “is entirely covered with trees, without any flats.” 5 This must, however, have been an exaggeration since the inhabitants of Easthampton were already running their livestock on Montauk in large numbers by 1655. Easthampto n was fast becoming a cattle town at that time, and the main focus of its development interests between 1660 and 1687 was the acquisition of all of Montauk for its vast tracts of rich pastureland. Still, despite the long-term effects of deforestation through the mid-1800s, Montauk still contained much woodland and abounded in game of every description. Writing about 1808, Timothy Dwight noted The Shinnecock Hills and Montauk then shared much in common. They were both rolling upland, shaped by the same glacial forces, and covered with similar vegetation from grassland to low shrubs and woods. And historically each was colonized three times. First by the Indians millennia ago who found in them secure and sheltered habitation and all their possible needs for subsistence, whether in the ponds, bays, and woodland where fish and wildlife were in abundance or in the fields they cultivated in open areas. But their claim to the lands was much diminished and later dissolved by the coming of the English settlers in the 1640s. In a succession of were simply too valuable as pasturage to leave them in the hands of their original owners. Coexistence was possible but on English and later American legal terms only. Then finally, unable to resist the inviting prospect of a major sale, the Easthampton and Southampton proprietors sold out their respective shares in the lands they had acquired by one means or another from the Indians for in both cases a quite handsome sum. It was not perhaps such a large amount when divided among numerous individual shareholders but nor was it inconsiderable. Montauk, at almost twelve thousand acres and three times the size of the Hills, fetched $151,000 at auction in 1879, whereas the Hills were sold privately and not a little secretively for nearly $50,000 in 1881. There then began a third wave of colonization, local ownership although not local jurisdiction having been decisively though lucratively given up to distinctly un-local interests without much of a hue and cry. In Southampton, only George White complained. These outside interests, as is seen here, became intricately intertwined with one another even if they were not so at the outset.The question remains: What was so attractive about the Hills and Montauk to outside investors? They were remote, desolate, and windswept places, removed even from local civilization given the limited transportation of the time. The middle of Montauk was fully twenty miles from Easthampton, a distance to be traversed over a sandy track and across the mosquito-infested wastes of Napeague. The Shinnecock Hills, as the highest point on the south shore of Long Island before Montauk, were four miles in extent and divided the two parts of Southampton from one another: the small settlements to the west of Canoe Place, which had only begun to develop as distinct communities after the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Southampton village itself beginning a little east of the Hills. Communication between the two before the arrival of the railroad in 1870 was slow and arduous. A poor winding road guaranteed an hour’s journey at best to Canoe Place, and in the depth of winter few would have ventured it. Writing in 1873, Richard Bayles thought that these “huge piles of sand . . . formed an almost impassible barrier, which divided the intercourse of civilization upon one side from that upon the other.” Much earlier, Timothy Dwight had described them as “a succession of disagreeable sand hills [which] exhibit a desolate and of travel writers of the time, which contrasted sharply with the sunny advertisements for “charming villas” that were to come a decade later. Even the railroad, that emblem of modernity and progress, was not to be exempt from this romantic vision. The Hills, he wrote, are “now pierced by the iron band over which the locomotive trundles . . . shrieking and panting like a frightened living thing, straining every nerve in its frantic haste to evade the ghosts of dusky savages whose soil it has desecrated and whose peaceful slumber its unearthly yells have disturbed.” 8 But Bayles spoke truer than perhaps he knew. The Shinnecock had never been reimbursed by the Long Island Railroad in its purchase of a right-of-way through the Hills in 1869 and never would be. One cannot leave Richard Bayles without his recital of a legend of the Shinnecock Hills that, although obviously well known in the nineteenth century, has long been lost. To say the least, it has a chilling air about it— almost Transylvanian—and would not have made good advertising copy.

Here we are told that the dare-devil traveler who challenged all the grim spirits of the infernal regions to deter him from crossing these hills on a dark and stormy night, many years ago, was soon after found lying dead by the roadside, without a mark of violence upon him except that his tongue  whose vengeance the hapless traveler had defied. 9