Colonial Long Island: 1650-1783

Colonial Long Island: 1650-1783
An Overview

Source: Long Island Genealogy

"Three hundred years ago the stream that fed the pond, wider and deeper than it is today, rippled through timberland of Hick’s Neck down to a mud-walled channel among the cattails and reeds of the marshes. Ever widening as it progressed, it emptied into Baldwin Bay, a cove off Middle Bay. Thence by Garret Lead or East Channel the water sought East Rockaway Inlet, beyond which tossed the Atlantic. A few Indians roamed the Neck seeking deer, bear, partridges, or quail, fishing in the creeks, digging in the bay for clams that served a two-fold purpose: the meat for food and the shells as a medium of exchange. By 1650 there were perhaps a dozen white families in this little wilderness…

Early highways were not planned, but evolved from footpaths and forest trails. Hick’s Neck Road, now Milburn Avenue, was one of the earliest; another was the highway known as Grand Avenue, the route to Hempstead…

Life on Hick’s Neck must have been much the same as in other American colonies. Economically, it was a farming-pastoral, home-industry community; politically a part of Hempstead, it was governed by the Town Meeting wit the blessings of the Crown; socially, life centered in the church and the taverns.

Course clothing was made on the old spinning wheel and shoes were cut from crudely tanned hides of the farm cattle. Food was grown in the garden patch, hooked from the waters of Parsonage or Milburn Creek, dug from the shallows of the Bay, hunted against the fall skies above the marshes or along the woodland trails. Wood was the tableware of the common folk, supplemented by copper or iron cooking pots and pans. Evenings were short. Eight o’clock found everyone in bed – in winter, in the company of the warming pan!

Most farmers raised stock, the cattle being herded together in a common pasture. The keeper, appointed each year at Town Meeting, went from house to house in the morning to collect his charges, his horn sounding warning of his approach. Detailed ordinances were enacted for the care of cattle, construction of fences, earmarks, penalties for straying. It was the duty of the "hay-warden," and later of the "fence-viewer," to "keep y’e Jadges or Cattle or other Cretors from destroying any Corne…in the filed."

Politically, the town meetings were the life of the community. Neither Dutch or English rule interfered greatly with these local councils. They had the power to grant and lease land, grant mill rights, provide for the poor, make changes in the common land. Serious crimes were uncommon. Wrangles were usually over land boundaries; in one of these, the Smiths brought charges against the Pine family for cutting up and crippling some of their hogs.

Politics, education and religion were closely entwined in the colonial Long Island structure. Church attendance was compulsory; absence was punished by fine, or by banishment for the habitual offender...

For nearly a century after 1683 the Neck enjoyed rural peacefulness and prosperity; to our age of crowded living, the lifer seems to have idyllic. But imperceptibly Hicks Neck found itself involved in America's first mass upheaval as rebellion became a reality. Men gathered together in homes, in taverns, and in meeting houses to discuss the news. Imports from England were tabooed by an extra-legal Continental Congress; persons of "no family" and no business or public experience were assuming unwonted powers; news came of tar-and-featherings and riots and bloodshed. When the smoldering sparks burst into flames, the Neck population was hopelessly divided...."

Hick's Neck, the Story of Baldwin, Long Island

The Revolutionary War on Long Island was an extremely turbulent time, probably more than any other place in the Colonies because of the great number of Loyalists there. Boston was lost to the British early in the War and their attention was now turned to New York and it's harbor and resources. Even Loyalists from Connecticut and Massachusetts were fleeing to Long Island. The Continetal Congress knew this and measures were taken to identify and confiscate the guns of loyalists, exports were not permitted from Long Island except as approved by the Continental Congress, forced military service, or even "deportation" from Long Island and jail in neighboring Colonies and confiscation of personal property and estate.

After the disastrous "Battle of Long Island" the American troops were forced into retreat from the Island for the remainder of the War and many Long Island units simply ceased to be - and now retribution was on the "Whigs" by the British and Loyalists for their earlier indignties and perscecutions. New York City became the British headquarters and it was Long Island's fate to house, feed and maintain the army for the remainder of the war. To the Carman family, as all the families of the Island, it meant families would devide against themselves, much as it would happen 85 years later in the American Civil War.

The British did not depart Long Island until 1783, marking seven years of occupation. Long Island began a period of change it would never recover from. Not only families but entire communities were split. During the British occupation of Long Island virtually all churches, except the 'official' Church of England, were closed by the British order. Several cemeteries found their grave markers being pulled up and used cooking fire hearths for the British troops.n"> Many families of Long Island were effected by the Revolutionary War. It seems there were few fence sitters in those days.

"When smoldering sparks broke out into flame, the Neck population was hopelessly divided: even families split into opposing camps; The Smith, Townsends...Kissams and Cornwells...were all well represented on both sides. The Dodge, Onderdonck, Schenck and Sands families were overwhelmingly or entirely Whig, while the Hewletts, Motts, Pearsalls, Ludlows, Clowes and Dentons were largely Tory." - Hick's Neck, the Story of Baldwin, Long Island.

"To the Hempstead Loyalists the Continental Congress was a bunch of "lawless upstarts", and they refused to participate in the Provincial Congress called by that body. For this they paid dearly; they were in effect outlawed by the Congress and their thereafter harassed by economic sanctions. Their boats were seized by committees of Minute Men, their arms were taken from them to prevent their assisting the British; shore and ship patrols were established along the coast; many Loyalists were arrested, and others sought the woods, the cornfields, and the South Side swamps to hide from the Patriots, who pursued them relentlessly... After the defeat of the Americans in the Battle of Long Island, the tables were completely turned; the Rebel sympathizers were on the run. Among those who fled were John Smith Rock and William Tredwell.

The entrance of the British into Hempstead was greeted with huzzahs by the Tory population, but it was not long before resentment toward the King's men was as strong as the hate of the Rebels. Tories and Whigs alike were subject to compulsory billeting and levies of grain, cattle, and other farm products; their homes became the scenes of brawls; even winter fuel was stolen from their sheds. They suffered in common hardships of a military occupation... Perhaps the ravages of the Revolution were far less on the scattered farms and among the baymen of Hick's Neck than in the streets of Hempstead Village. But certainly the southside must have thrilled to the excitement of smuggling raids under cover of the night; the house-tops providing ring side seats for many a skirmish off the beach, and more than once a fleeing Tory or Whig must have been found hidden in a farmer's haystack." - Hicks Neck, the Story of Baldwin, Long Island.

"In Nov. 1775, 5 [different] Samuel Carmans, distinguished as "Capt", "Jr", and "3rd" (this designation appears twice) and "O" (Oyster Bay), voted to send no deputies to the Provincial Congress (REV.PAP. 1:183 ff). The 'Capt' in this list must have been No. 73 [this Samuel]. He was probably one of the four who apologized in Jan. 1776 for having worried their fellow- countrymen unduly and swore that they had surrendered all their arms (REV.PAP. 1:215 ff). In Oct. 1776, after the British had secured control again, 3 Samuels declared their loyalty to King George III. One of these was very likely No. 125 [son of Silas-5], the other two are not easily identified. (Onkerdonk, Rev. Inc. in Queens Co., LI). It should be explained in regards to the four Samuels who changed their minds, that shortly before the mass apology, a few hundred Continental "storm troopers" were sent to Hempstead and vicinity.

To those of us living in the country today and fearing nothing worse from the Government's ill temper than a visit from the income tax collector, the conduct of the Hempstead Tories does not sound very heroic. But it must be remembered that the opposition was organized, was able to secure further military supplies if necessary, and being far from home was not worried about the fate of the countryside during and after the battles. The Hempsteaders on the other hand were handicapped in these respects. But since they were doubtless aware that they could not count on help from the British for some time (in the usual manner of the British) they should have organized themselves and armed sufficiently and they would not have had to fear for their homes half so much as they had to, after they surrendered without a struggle (possibly some doughty souls resisted at their doorsteps but they were very few in number) and before the arrival of the British later in the year.

They did not lack for a leader, for in Richard Hewlett, the Tories possessed a forceful man with military experience. He was instrumental in keeping Hempstead loyal but he evidently did not succeed in putting in condition to fight. In the writer's opinion, The Hempsteaders were forced to sign that humiliating apology in great numbers because of the great reluctance of the conservative mind to resort to force."- John-1 Carman of Hempstead, Long Island and Some of his Descendants Thru His Son John-2, Henry Alanson Tredwell, Jr, August 1946, Collection of the NYGBS, New York City.

"Those who remained on the Island were compelled to swear allegiance to King George. Some did this with good grace, and some of necessity. To none was it so distasteful as we are disposed to imagine. The men of that day had all the inveterate respect and affection for the sovereign that British have today. The revolution began in protest against injustice, but with loyalty to the king unimpaired, and with no thought of ultimate separation. Washington, when he took command of the continental army, desired to right the wrongs of the colonies but "abhorred the idea of independence."

Thomas Jefferson was of the same mind. Reasonable concessions and conciliatory spirit on the part of the king would have ended the struggle before it was well begun. Loyal subjects who asked for nothing but redress of grievances were treated as rebels, stern and unjust oppression followed, and eventually the sovereign whom they loved was become the tyrant whom they hated. Before things had gone to such lengths the people of Long Island were forced to make their decision, for the British forces were in absolute possession. Some of the best and most honorable men of the Island were thoroughly loyal to the British Crown and were afterwards despised as Tories, and suffered the confiscation of their estates.

Some were on fire with colonial patriotism and could do nothing but flee to parts not occupied by British troops. Most were undecided, as most of the men of that time in any of the colonies would have been under similar circumstances, and let necessity shape their course. Their homes, their lands, their flocks and herds, all their wealth, present and prospective, were on the Island, and the Island was wholly in the hands of the army of King George. To flee was to leave all and go out empty-handed. For the aged, the sick, those encumbered with dependent families, flight was impossible.

The few who had ready money might flee with some hope, young men or unattached men might flee, but the majority had no choice but to remain and give up their arms and take the oath of allegiance. Many who had fought in the disastrous Battle of Long Island had nothing for it, when once the invaders were established in the Island, but to return to their homes and families and submit to the inevitable. There were no other people in all the bounds of the colonies so helpless as the Long Islanders, utterly cut off from their fellow Americans. And there were no people of the colonies who suffered more." - "A History of Mattituck, Long Island, N.Y."


This page was last updated August 28, 2000.