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The Mast-Head: Essential Huntting History

Wed, 09/27/2023 - 18:13

East Hampton residents upset by a plan by the corporation that runs the Huntting Inn on Main Street have overwhelmingly expressed their opinion to village officials. A request to add an outdoor swimming pool to the inn grounds will be next taken up publicly in October by the zoning board of appeals, which has received more than 50 letters decrying the project. But what is the Huntting Inn, anyway?

Nathaniel Huntting was 21 and had just gotten his divinity degree from Harvard University in 1696 when he arrived in East Hampton. Huntting was to be the town's provisional minister, hardly a plum post. Of the roughly 500 colonists and enslaved people living in East Hampton at the time, Huntting arrived to find a congregation of just 28. The church itself was a one-room log building set amid the gravestones overlooking Town Pond.

The town trustees gave Huntting land for a house, the early-18th-century frame of which can be seen within the inn to this day. He was a meticulous note-taker, keeping in his leatherbound books detailed records of everything from a keg of nails to the "kindnesses done to me by the people of East Hampton."

Huntting remained in the East Hampton pulpit for nearly 50 years. During that time, the town fathers decided with him to erect a proper meeting house. And what a place of worship it was; it was said to be the largest and most expensive on English Long Island, a symbol and the product of the town's growing wealth. It was torn down in 1861 to make way for a new one, which stands to this day, the First Presbyterian Church.

The congregation grew rapidly, by Huntting's account, from 28 to more than 360 in total. Among the people who joined were 11 enslaved residents and one "indian maid." Black baptisms included Bristo, Sieme, Silas, Phillis, Betty, Mol and her children, Cuffee, Judah, Daniel, Peter, Abigail, and Chriss. It is likely that Huntting was an enslaver himself, though researchers have not dug deep enough into his copious papers to confirm that hunch.

More certain is that enslaved people worked for Huntting from time to time. His books include references to people who helped tend the corn on his grounds, among them "Capt. Hobarts negro." Two weeks later, "several neighbors weeded an acre and a half of corn for me," including, "Jon Talmages indian" and "Jos Strettons Negro."

Descendants of the Rev. Nathaniel Huntting are far flung. Some can be found here in East Hampton; others range across the United States. While not as well known a religious figure as the Rev. Samuel Buell, Huntting was influential. Researchers are only now beginning to understand the importance of the documents he left behind — nearly all of his sermons, lists of the mundane and the literary, even a hand-written compendium of early medicinal practices and cure-alls. One, for a "weakly child" was to blend soot scraped from the innards of a fireplace with milk.  

Huntting remained in the town, dying in 1753 at the age of 78. The home he had built remained in the Huntting family, becoming eventually "a common publik house" of some ill repute.

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