A History Not So Ordinary

By Natalie A. Naylor
Tom Twomey in 2014 Morgan McGivern

“Revealing the Past”

Edited by Tom Twomey
East End Press, $40

Did you know that the Wainscott railroad station had racially segregated waiting rooms in the 20th century? Or that the U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) was moored at Fort Pond Bay in Montauk in 1931? Or why the early anniversary celebrations of the founding of East Hampton were a year late? You can find this information in the East Hampton Library’s “Revealing the Past.”

This sixth book on East Hampton history edited by the late Tom Twomey is a worthy addition to a series that began with “Awakening the Past: The East Hampton 350th Anniversary Lecture Series, 1998.” Subsequent volumes reprinted writings by Henry Hedges and Jeannette Edwards Rattray, among others, with one book devoted to articles on Gardiner’s Island and Montauk. The six anthologies constitute an important part of Mr. Twomey’s significant legacy of preserving East Hampton history and making out-of-print accounts accessible.

“Revealing the Past” reprints a total of 118 pieces written in the last 25 years by four writers with deep roots in the area and considerable expertise in local history. In his introduction, Mr. Twomey provides biographical information on each of the authors. The late Sherrill Foster’s “Around the Green” articles and Hugh King’s “Past Presented” columns originally appeared in the local Independent newspaper. Ms. Foster’s contributions for this volume were edited by her daughter, Mary Foster Morgan, who appropriately combined her mother’s articles on the same topic and sometimes drew on her unpublished material.

Stories in newspapers, especially before digitization, can be ephemeral. Reprinting the historical newspaper columns makes them available in a more permanent form and for a new audience.

The nonagenarian Norton (Bucket) Daniels’s selections are from his two privately published books of personal reminiscences, “East Hampton Yesterdays” (2006) and “East Hampton Memories” (2007).

Mac Griswold’s single contribution, “Nathaniel Sylvester of Amsterdam and Shelter Island,” is the longest in the volume and has extensive endnotes. It is a previously unpublished 2011 conference paper that draws on the research for her widely known 2013 book, “The Manor.” Its inclusion is rather puzzling, since it does not deal with East Hampton history, but it does present a contrast, since the Sylvester experience is quite different from East Hampton’s, with Nathaniel’s Dutch connections and Sylvester Manor’s history as a provisioning plantation for holdings in the Barbados.

“Revealing the Past” is organized roughly chronologically in four parts by centuries. Some of the selections bridge the time periods or extend over several centuries. Inevitably, there is some overlap in the articles, and some of the entries in Part 1 more properly belong in Part 2 on the 1700s, including several on Montaukett Indians. Explicit cross-references to other articles in this book would have been helpful to readers.

With more than 600 pages, there is something here for everyone interested in East Hampton history. Readers will discover the origin of names of roads and places, including Sammy’s Beach, Stephen Hand’s Path, Lily Hill Road, Freetown, Russell’s Neck, Alewife Brook Neck, Amsterdam Beach, and Sandy Hook.

Several of the selections appropriately focus on windmills, since eastern Long Island has 11, the largest concentration surviving in the country. The Hook, Post, Amagansett, Gardiner, Wainscott, Gardiner’s Island, and Pantigo Mills are each the subject of different articles. The Dominy family and the furniture, clocks, and windmills they made are discussed, as is Clinton Academy. Other topics include families and genealogies, bunkers and fish factories, ministers and churches, the Civil War’s Sea Spray Guard and Camp Wikoff in the Spanish-American War, shipwrecks and rumrunning, Fireplace Lodge camps, the Devon Colony, and the Long Island Rail Road.

Among Hugh King’s many contributions are interesting items from town records (1639 to 1679) and trustee records (1926 to 1955), as well as several articles on women’s organizations. As might be expected from the director of the Home, Sweet Home museum, his account of John Howard Payne’s life is thorough and especially well done.

Sherrill Foster’s articles are particularly strong on architectural descriptions and genealogy. She indicates that some of East Hampton’s early precut box-frame houses may have been shipped from Massachusetts, which is an interesting hypothesis. Her “Slaves During the Revolution” includes not only statistics on those enslaved, but also the occupations of white men from 1776 and 1778 censuses, as well as other information on the war years and after. Ms. Foster’s description of farm work in the early 20th century and her family’s dairying in “Genesis of a Dairy” is especially valuable.

Both Mr. King and Ms. Foster confront a number of legends or myths, including Maidstone in England as the home of the first settlers, Lion Gardiner’s relations with the Indians, Captain Kidd, and Samuel (Fishhook) Mulford. In “Captain William Kidd Was Not a Pirate,” Mr. King maintains that he was a “substantial citizen,” but he does not sufficiently explore whether the letters of marque he received made Kidd a privateer. (Admittedly, the line between pirate and privateer was often quite indistinct.)

In one of his selections, Mr. King poses a number of intriguing questions about witches. Rather than referring in his final paragraph to the then upcoming 1998 lecture, however, it would have been better to cite his account of witchcraft written with his wife, Loretta Orion, and published in 1999. (That and the other 350th lectures are available on the East Hampton Library’s website.)

The selections by Norton Daniels focus on the middle third of the 20th century. His “On Shore Fishing,” “A Volunteer Fireman,” and “The Great Wind of 1938” are particularly good accounts of important aspects of East Hampton’s past. His descriptions of the landscape are perceptive, as is his explanation of “above-the-bridge [up-streeters] or below-the-bridge” as a “geographical and social boundary,” referring to the train trestle near the Hook Mill.

Ralph Carpentier’s 17 drawings enhance the text of “Revealing the Past.” His oil painting “The Barnyard, Springs” is reproduced in color on the attractive dust jacket.

Mr. Twomey in his introduction quotes an Oxford professor to the effect that local history “matters” because “it is the history of the ordinary, the everyday.” Readers will find much of the everyday in this anthology. In “revealing the past” this book achieves Mr. Twomey’s goal of its being “a portal to East Hampton’s past.”

This and other volumes in the series can be purchased at the East Hampton Library; all proceeds benefit the library’s excellent Long Island Collection.

 


 

Natalie A. Naylor is a professor emerita of history at Hofstra University and the author of “Women in Long Island’s Past.”