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Flag Misstates History

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 12:29

East Hampton Village has a new official flag depicting a windmill, the ocean, and a passing seagull overhead. It is attractive and it also contains an error.

At the risk of being pedantic, the phrase “Settled 1648,” though repeated again and again in accounts of the arrival of English colonists, misstates history. Sixteen forty-eight was only the year the colonial governors in Connecticut made a deal with the leaders of the Montaukett Indians for the use of some of the tribe’s vast lands. The arrangement, memorialized with a gift of goods to the native people, was to allow a small group of English families to live on and reap the benefits of about 31,000 acres on the South Fork, from Southampton to Hither Hills.

Of course, by 1648, native people had been in the region since the retreat of the last glacial ice pack, at least 10,000 years before the English — and Dutch on Manhattan — arrived. The East End was well and truly the home of human settlement milleniums before the newcomers got here, with indigenous people developing their own complex societies, fishing, hunting, growing crops, and from time to time waging war.

After the Europeans put down early roots, Wyandanch, a Montaukett sachem, coordinated an alliance with the English to help maintain the tribe’s independence in the face of a threat from the powerful Niantics of present-day Rhode Island. This was largely to protect the Montauketts’ rich clam beds, which provided raw material for the wampum that much of the colonists’ fur trade all but depended on.

The English, in turn, were eager to gain a foothold on Long Island to block Dutch expansion from New Amsterdam to the west and desperately needed the Indians’ support if their colony was to survive. Over the following decades, the colonists built a cluster of houses and fences for livestock, firmly setting up their own beachhead, a place they called East Hampton, even as smallpox and other diseases, as well as deliberate economic exclusion, took their toll on the original inhabitants.

What is meant by “settled” is at best unclear, if not offensive in the context of East Hampton Village, which was incorporated as a unique entity just 100 years ago. A more accurate choice of phrase would be to reflect clearly documented history and identify 1648  as the year of colonial establishment. It would be a small change, but one that recognizes the reality that the first men and women to settle this land arrived here thousands upon thousands of years ago.

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