by Bradley Harris, Smithtown Town Historian
This is the first in a series of articles about the history of the Ft. Salonga area for the Ft. Salonga Association newsletter. I hope that you will enjoy the articles that appear and find them informative. I am going to start by writing about the early history of the area when there were only a few families living along Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, Sunken Meadow Road, and North Country Road. The village of Ft. Salonga didn’t exist.
The early history of the northwest quadrant of Smithtown, the area that became Ft. Salonga….
Early maps of the northwest quadrant of Smithtown, the area we identify as Ft. Salonga today, show that this part of Smithtown had a variety of names in the past, and at one time or another was known as Fresh Pond, Tredwell’s Neck, Meadow Glen, Middleville and Ft. Slongo before it became Ft. Salonga. The name change to Ft. Salonga came sometime in the mid-1880’s when the Fresh Pond Post Office was moved from Middleville, the area where Sunken Meadow Road and Bread and Cheese Hollow Road intersect. The Post Office was moved to the crossroads of North Country Road and Bread and Cheese Hollow Road and opened in Lewis Smith’s store. But apparantly there was another Fresh Pond somewhere on the west end of Long Island that was causing a mix-up in the mail, and to end the confusion, the Post Office asked that the name be changed. It was decided to name the postal district after the Revolutionary War Ft. Slongo, and the name became Ft. Salonga. How that happened is anybody’s guess. However, the name Ft. Salonga stuck and has been applied to the geographical area in the northwest quadrant of Smithtown ever since. Then just to confuse things, the Post Office changed the name of the postal district to East Northport and people living in Ft. Salonga began to question their sanity.
Settlement in the northwest quadrant of Smithtown started very early. In 1695, Sarah Smith, the wife of Richard Smith, deeded to her son Daniel Smith some 100 acres of land in the western part of Smithtown at a place called “Bread and Cheese Hollow, and ye Fresh Pond called Unshemomuck, together with ye swamp and meadow near the pond, to be taken up in about the said hollow and pond where it may be most suitable for him.” What makes this deed interesting is that Sarah was deeding land on the west bank of the Nissequogue River to her son Daniel. When Richard Smythe received his first patent from Governor Nicolls in 1665, the ownership of the west bank was in question. The Town of Huntington claimed it was their land which they had purchased from Asharoken, the sachem of the Matinecock Indians. Richard Smythe claimed the land was his and he said he bought the land from Lyon Gardiner, who had been given the land by Wyandanch, the Chief of all the Long Island Indians, who had been given the land by the Nesaquake Indians. To further buttress his claim to the west bank, Richard Smythe had purchased the Nesaquake lands, including the west bank, directly from the Nesaquake sachem Nesatesconsett and he had the deed to prove it. These rival claims proceeded through colonial courts for 12 years and Richard Smythe showed just how stubborn and bull-headed he could be in his assertion that the west bank belonged to him. He maintained that Asharoken did not own the Nesaquake lands and had no right to sell them. In the end, Smythe prevailed with British Colonial Governor Andros and received a new patent for the Nesaquake lands in 1677.
The Andros Patent stated that the Nesaquake lands included the west side of the river and extended westward to the westernmost part of Whitman’s Hollow (Commack corners) and extended northward along the west side of Leading Hollow to the fresh water pond Unshemamuck, along the west side of that pond at its high water mark until it reached the Sound. What a coup. Smythe now owned the west bank and the east bank of the Nissequogue river and the 55 square miles of land around the river. The best part of the deal was the rent that Smythe had to pay to the Crown for his patent: “One good fat lamb yearly.” You talk about a land deal!
So by 1677, Symthe had firmly established his legal right and claim to the west bank of the Nissequogue River, and all he had to do was pay his annual rent and settle ten families upon the land in ten years. To secure his hold upon the land, Smythe deeded 100 acres of land on the west bank to his son Obadiah who built a farm there. Unfortunately, Obadiah drowned in the Nissequogue River in 1680. Undaunted Richard Smythe continued to parcel out acreage on the west bank of the river. In 1684, he deeded 500 acres of land on the west bank to William Lawrence (his son-in-law who married his daughter Deborah). This property was located at the western end of the “going over” or the common passage over the Nissequogue River. The deed notes that this acreage took in all the land formerly improved by a Benjamin Jones. Also in 1684, Smythe sold land to John Jones for 43 pounds and 5 shillings. This deed conveyed 150 acres of land on the west side of the river, bounded on the east by the river, on the north with the land of Edward Ketcham, and on the south by a hollow that was adjacent to a small piece of land improved by William Brotherton. Who are these people?
When Smythe acquired the lands of the west bank of the Nissequogue River in 1677, there were a number of people already on the land. They were Huntington residents who had received grants of land from the Huntington magistrates and homesteaded on the disputed lands. With the court decision in Smythe’s favor, the “squatters” had several options. They could give up their lands and return to Huntington where they were given new lots to homestead, or they could stay on the land and work out the purchase of their property from Richard Smythe. This explains why Smythe sold land to John Jones. It also explains why, in 1684, Richard and Sarah Smythe deeded the home lot that had formerly been Thomas Scudder’s 14 acres of land, along with 7 1/2 acres of Sunk Meadow, and 5 acres of Creek thatch on the Nissequogue River, to Robert Arthur. Robert Arthur was also granted the right to hunt and fish on the west side of the river. These lands must have been in the Fresh Pond area because Richard Smythe reserved 2 acres of property at the “brick kills” for himself, although he did give Robert Arthur “free liberty to make bricks for building.” Interestingly, the Smiths drew up yet another agreement with Robert Arthur just three years later in 1687 whereby they agreed to convey 100 acres on the east side of the fresh pond Unshemomuck. The agreement stipulated that Richard Smith was to build a house 20’ long, 18’ broad, and 11’ high, to be framed, garnished, clapboarded, shingled, and built with two door cases. The house was to be built wherever Robert Arthur wanted it built on his 100 acres, and this would be done within a year of signing the agreement. This house was probably the first to be constructed in the Ft. Salonga area and was erected in 1688 – at least it’s the first house that was built with Richard Smythe’s approval. Obviously Richard Smythe was trying to appease Robert Arthur and resolve a problem that had arisen with Robert’s initial purchase of land on the west side of the fresh pond. I suspect that Richard Smythe sold Robert Arthur land on the west side of the pond, land that was actually in the Town of Huntington, and that Robert Arthur was evicted by Huntington. The border between Smithtown and Huntington wasn’t resolved until almost 100 years later when the towns finally agreed that the middle of the stream from the pond to the Sound would be their boundary.
When Richard Smythe died in 1692, he specified in his will that his six sons were to have an equal share in the unapportioned lands of Smithtown, and the sons, then grandsons, squabbled over their inheritance. It wasn’t until 1735, when Richard Smythe’s descendants appointed three commissioners to survey and determine how to divide all the unapprotioned lands of Smithtown, that agreements were reached that determined who was to get what property in the town of Smithtown. Only then did the commissioners decide how to divide the land in the Fresh Pond area. By then all the sons of the Patentee were dead and the land passed to the grandsons of Richard Smythe.
If all of this has left you confused about who owned what in the Fresh Pond area, you will understand why I am puzzled as to why in 1695, gave her son Daniel 100 acres of land in a place called “Bread and Cheese Hollow and ye Fresh Pond Unshemomuck together with the ye swamp and meadow near the pond” with the directive that he could have the 100 acres where it was most suitable to him. It would seem that Daniel had some ulterior motive for claiming these lands for himself and got his mother to go along with it. I suspect he was after the “brick kills” and the fresh water pond Unshemomuck. The Algonquin word Unshemomuck translates into “the eel fishing place” and apparently it was a great spot to catch eels at spawning time since the eels would enter the fresh water pond and could be trapped by closing off the inlet. After spawning, the gates would be opened and the eels would leave the pond and could be taken by the wagon load. I think Daniel saw an opportunity to gain some income by owning the pond. Anyway, it is very hard to determine who owned what lands in the Fresh Pond and Middleville area in the early eighteenth century, but you can rest assured that the bull rider’s descendants controlled most of the real estate.
One thing that makes the history of Ft. Salonga fascinating is that there are so many surviving homes in the area that date from the earliest period of settlement. In Middleville (see the accompanying map) where Bread and Cheese Hollow Road and Sunken Meadow Road come together, there are a number of old houses that have been recorded in Smithtown’s historic inventory. There is the McCartney House located at 273 Bread and Cheese Hollow Road which was built around 1730. There is the Milemore House not far up the road at 317 Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, a house that was built in 1725 and has been identified as one of Smithtown’s earliest homes. There is the Ketcham/Norman House at 355 Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, built in 1800, and a little further north at 393 Bread and Cheese Hollow Road, is the Jennings House, site of the Longbotham Farm thought to have been built around 1780. And just east up Sunken Meadow Road is the Van Deinse House which dates from 1750, and according to the historic inventory, is one of Smithtown’s few remaining original homes. It is truly incredible that these homes and many of their original outbuildings are still standing.
More about the early settlement of the area that became Ft. Salonga in the next issue of your Ft. Salonga Association newsletter….