Henry Onderdonk.

An historical sketch, of ancient agriculture, stock breeding and manufactures, in Hempstead, [Queens Co., N.Y.] online

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Online LibraryHenry OnderdonkAn historical sketch, of ancient agriculture, stock breeding and manufactures, in Hempstead, [Queens Co., N.Y.] → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Queens County Age^cutu^al Society,


Hempstead was settled in 1G43, by emigrants from New England,
who first bought the land from the Indians, and then obtained a
patent for it from the Dutch Governor, the terms of which were :
(hat after ten years from that time, they were to pay the Govern-
ment a tenth of the revenue arising from the ground manured (i. e. f
worked) by plow or hoe ; or, if they should improve their stock by
grazing or breeding of cattle, then to make such reasonable satisfac-
tion in butter and cheese as the other towns on Long Island.

This tax in 1657, that is, fourteen years after the settlement of
the town, amounted to 100 schepels or Dutch bushels (three pecks
each) of wheat. Under the English government this tax was con-
tinued by the name of quit-rent at £1 per annum.

The emigrants appear to have settled at first compactly in the vil-
lage for greater security against Indian hostilities, a fort furnished
with commodities for the Indian trade subsequently being built in 1656
at the church, and their flocks and herds driven out in the summer on
the great plains to pasture.

The first volume of the town records embracing a period of fifteen
years, is unfortunately lost, so that we must ever remain ignorant of
much of its earlier history. Though often alarmed with apprehen-
sions of danger, we hear of only one hostile encounter with the
natives, and that was caused by stealing pigs. The Indians, though
in general inoffensive, would sometimes steal or maim domestic ani-
mals, or set their dogs upon th^m. In this way horses, cows, and
hogs were sometimes destroyed. In 1660 the town voted, that no
one should sell or give a dog to an Indian under penalty of fifty


In 1G43 there were thirty houses and two hundred or three hun-
dred Indian warriors at. Rockaway. In 1671 these had been reduced
to ten families, and had forty acres reserved to them for corn. The
town, however, forbid anyone to plow or break up any planting land
for them, and strange Indians were ordered off. In 1671 the " old
Indian wig-wams at Jerusalem" are spoken of.

Though the Indians sold the land, they yet claimed certain rights,
such as fishing, hunting, planting corn and cutting basket-wood
wherever they could find a suitable tree ; the wood was dyed of vari-
ous colors and the baskets peddled about the country by squaws.

The first settlers probably found sufficient cleared ground for their
purpose. We find in 1708 the barking or girdling of trees on the
undivided lands was prohibited under a penalty of six shillings. The
"Island of Trees'* is first mentioned in 1658. Their houses were
constructed of logs, thatched with straw or sedge, and the chimneys
built of wooden slats laid in clay. Hence Hempstead, more than
once in its early days was endangered by fire, and rewards were
given to those who helped to quench it. In 1669 every householder
was required to have a sufficient ladder to stand by his chimney un-
der penalty of five shillings ; chimneys were swept and not burnt.
(In East Hampton in 1730, the price of sweeping the house chimney
was one shilling and six pence ; that of the kitchen nine pence.)
On the erection of saw-mills, boards and shingles must have super-
seded logs and thatch ; the clay-pits furnished brick for chimneys.

Long Island has been called the garden of New York and the
crown of the Province ; its fruit fulness has ever been acknowledged.
In the Revolutionary war a Tory writer advised the British Minister
to land the forces destined fur the subjugation of the colonies on Long-
Island; ''for/' said he, "it is 130 miles long and is very fertile,
abounding in wheat and every other kind of grain, and has innume-
rable black cattle, sheep, hogs, &c\, so that in this fertile island
the army can subsist without any succor from Engl ami. It has a
fertile plain twenty-four miles long, with a fertile country about it
and is twenty miles from New York, and from an encampment on
this plain the British army can in five or six days invade any of the
colonies at pleasure. The spot I advise you to land at is Cow Bay."

The English did, indeed, land on Long Island, and after the cap-
ture of New York, male that city the head-quarters of the army of


invasion, and for nearly seven years drew their supplies of fresh and
salt hay, oats, straw, wheat, rye, indian-corn, buckwheat and fire-
wood from our island, and for an encouragement to farmers to raise
plentiful supplies of fresh provisions, vegetables and forage for lh
army, the British commandant forbid all persons from trespassing
or breaking down or destroying fences or carrying away produce
from the owners. In 1780 the requisition on Queens County was fcr
4 500 cords of wood ; in 1782 North Hempstead alone furnished
1,000 cords to the British forces in New York.


Cattle were imported for breeding as early as 1625, and a cow
was worth in New York c£30. The abundant grass on the plains
doubtless turned the attention of the early settlers to the raising of
stock, but as yet there were few or no fences ; so a herdsman was
hired by the town to take care of the cattle from the 11th of May
till the 23d of October, when the Indian harvest would be wholly
taken in and housed. In 16G7 the town hired Abm. Smith to
keep the cattle from destroying the corn planted or sowed in the
plain called the field, and he is to have one and a half bushels per
acre paid him for this service. Even at this time complaint is made
of birds and worms destroying the corn ; so important was this office
(cow-herd) deemed, that the conditions of agreement were entered at
large on the town book. At the blowing of a horn, the sun being
now half an hour high, the owners of the cattle drove them from their
several pens into one common herd, when they were taken under the
acre of the cow-keeper and his dog and driven on the plains ; he was
to keep them from going astray or wandering in the woods or getting
on the tilled land ; to water them at some pond at reasonable hours :
to drive them weekly to the south meadows ; and then bring them
•home a half an hour before sunset that they might be milked. For
this service (in 165S) the hire was twelve shillings sterling p^r
week in butter, corn and oats.

The number of cattle in Hempstead fifteen years after its first
settlement may be inferred from the fact, that seven bulls were kept
fer the town's use, and that there were then ninety calves that had
been weaned and intended to be kept over ; these also at the sound
of the horn went out to grass under another keeper on the 2d of
June, just a fortnight after their dams had been at pasture. These


were to be watered twice a clay and taken to the salt meadows once
in two weeks and brought home at night and put in an enclosure to
protect them from the wolves.

After a while cow-herds were dispensed with, and it was found
that fences were necessary for the pasture grounds. Hence we hear
(1658) of the East and the West ox pastures. These were enclosed
by fences ; some of two rails, others of five. Thus Cow Neck
(1669) was fenced (as the turn-pike now runs) from Hempstead Har-
bor to Great Neck, and Rockaway (sometimes called Rockaway
Cow Neck) had in 1690 a fence running from the landing across to
Jamaica bay. Each proprietor had the right of putting cattle in
these pasture grounds in proportion to the length of fence he had
made. By degrees the town required the hollows already granted
and other cultivated tracts (bevel, tilsome or toilsome and folly —
whatever these words mean) to be enclosed against cattle. When
clay-pits were imperfectly fenced in cattle sometimes fell in and
were drowned.

In 1756 to secure animals grazing on the commons a sure supply
of water, highways were laid out to and about several watering
places on the plains. In the village there were three ponds, one at
the meeting house (Burly pond), one on the east and another on the
w r est end.

After some years a pound for the detention cf stray animals was
established. In 1708 John Tredwell, Jr., was chosen keeper for the
term of seven years, if he behaves as a pounder ought to do and
make a good aud sufficient pound at his own cost. In 1670 the fine
for trespassing on the burial-ground was, for horses and cows, twelve-
pence; hogs, six-pence; sheep, four-pence. In 1683 no swine were
allowed to go at large after February 1st, unless yoked and ringed.
Tame geese were not to run at large (though yoked) on the common
after November 5th.

As an instance of the great attention paid to raising cattle, we
quote from the inventory of John Smith, Jr., deceased, in 1684.
Among the articles enumerated of household goods, are two candle-
sticks, seven wooden dishes, ten trenchers, six spoons, and no forks ;
from the simplicity of his furniture one might reasonably suppose he
was in humble circumstances; yet, he was a sturdy, well-to-do
farmer, the breeder and owner of at least fourteen oxen, seventeen
cows and calves, six steers, two horses and sixteen sheep.


Cattle were sold to the butchers for the New York market, and
also exported alive to the West Indies. In 1658 cattle were bought
on the great plains of Hempstead, in order to be shipped to the col-
ony of Delaware. In 1678, what is now the city of New York, con-
sumed only four hundred beeves ; in 1694 the number arose to near
four thousand. In 1682 two oxen were sold in Hempstead at two-
pence per pound, and warranted to come to fourteen pound at New
York, by weight.

In 1721 a distemper spread among neat cattle, horses, and hogs;
and in 1737 Hempstead lost during the winter 850 head of cattle,
besides sheep and lambs, for want of fodder.


Sheep were not introduced in the town so early as cattle. In
1643 there were not over sixteen sheep in the whole colony of New
York ; they were fed on the great plains (1670) under the care of a
shepherd, who had directions not to let them go over half a mile in the
woods, for fear of their being lost or destroyed by wolves j no one was
allowed to take any even of his own sheep from the common flock or
kill it, but in presence of two witnesses ; their manure was consider-
ed so valuable, that they were folded or penned at night for the sake
of their droppings. Cunning farmers sometimes drove by stealth the
public sheep and neat cattle into their own private grounds, in order
to profit by the droppings ; this abuse so increased, that it was deemed
necessary by the town in 1726 and again in 1732 to prohibit the folding
of sheep or driving them into a close by day or night. As late as
1755, there was a public sheep-pen in the town-spot of Hempstead.

Every proprietor had an ear-mark for his own sheep, which was
recorded in the town book ; these marks were bought and sold ; inge-
nuity was exhausted in devising new ones. They are described as
cropt, slit, nicked, half-penny, slashed, three half-pennies, &c, &c.
There were sheep -stealers who altered these marks.

In May, the sheep were parted for washing and shearing. In 1710
the pen was at Isaac Smith's, Herricks ; at another time at Success,
perhaps for the convenience of having water at hand. After the sheep
had fed on the plains during summer, on an appointed day in October
or November, the owners, severally, arose early in the morning and
commenced chiving in the sheep from the outskirts of the plains to a


large central pen, then each selected his own by the ear-mark and put
them in the smaller pens adjoining. This process was continued till
all the sheep were taken out; but if some yet remained without a
claimant, they were sold at outcry to the highest bidder and the pro-
ceeds went toward paying incidental expenses. The sheep-parting
in the fall is of historical interest ; it was the great holiday of the
times. Here rogues, thieves, and bullies congregated ; creditors came
in quest of debtors ; dealers and traders of all sorts made bargains ;
horses were swapped, and constables were on the look-out for fugitives
from justice ; scrub-races, betting, gambling, drinking and fighting,
were the order of the day. To counteract these numerous evils, the
town enacted a law, that there should be no tavern or selling of
liquor at the pens.


The settlers seemed to consider the horse as a beast of drudgery
rather than of elegance and speed. True, most of their travelling
was of necessity performed on horse-back (sometimes double) through
" bridle-ways f for in a new country wagon paths were not yet laid
out. So little regard had they for the comeliness of this animal, that
he was subjected to the ignominy of being branded with his owners
name on the buttock and having his ears cropt and slit. Need we
wonder then that in 1668 Governor Nichols appointed a horse-race
to take place in Hempstead, " not so much/ 7 he says, " for the diver-
tisement of youth, as for encouraging the bettering of the breed of
horses, which through great neglect has been impaired."

The first course we hear of was on Salisbury plain (so called after
Capt. Salisbury) near the Wind-mill pond, now Hyde Park station.
This wind-mill was built near the pond, (about 1726) by George
Clarke, some time Governor of our State. He called his residence
(now Mr. Kelsey's) Hyde Park, after the maiden name of his wife, Hyde.
Thence it was removed to the east of the Court House, where it bore
the name of New Market till it was removed to the west of Jamaica,
and became (1821) the Union Course, where in 1823 an Oyster Bay
horse, Eclipse, established his reputation for speed.


In order to illustrate the difficulty of traveling on Long Island in
early times before much attention was given to the improvement of


roads, we give some " observations' 7 made by Ecv. N. Huntting, on
his journey from East Hampton to Newtown, at the beginning of the
last century. They were noted down in a guide-book that he might
not miss his way in traveling.

u Beyond Southampton, about sixteen miles, being about three or
four miles from a mill, going over a little brook, just beyond a little
wooden causey, and then two paths ; leave the right path which goes
away to the marsh, and take the left hand path.

'• Just over the river by Parker's Fulling-mill leave the right hand
beaten road (which goes to Southold) and take a little and blind foot
on the left hand.

"A little beyond Coram house leave the right hand path which goes to
Setauket, and take a left hand small path by the comer of the field.

" A mile beyond Huntington take the left hand path ; about two
miles further you come to a new built house and an old one on the
left hand, and a mile further take the left hand path.

" Going on to Hempstead plain take the right hand of the two first
paths if you would go the back-way and leave Hempstead town j but
if you would go through Hempstead, then take the right of the two
next paths.

" Going the back-side of Hempstead plain towards Jamaica, being
got past Hope Williams' about four miles, entering on another part of
the plain, and being come at one house in the comer of a fence with a
well before the door, take the left hand path though it be but blind,
leaving the plainest path going to houses on the right,

" Going from Jamaica to Newtown, being a little past the last
house in Jamaica, take the left hand.

" Going from Newtown to Jamaica, about two miles from New-
town by field, take the right hand path.

" When you come to the first plain past Jamaica houses, if you
would go through Hempstead, take Smith Plain path, but if you
would go the back-way, take the left hand path.

" Going toward East Hampton, about five miles beyond Hunting-
ton by-houses, keep the plain right hand road.


" Going from Lewis's to Coram, just over the river by a field, take
the right hand path, the left hand goes to Setaucket.

" Going from Coram toward Parker's mill, take the left hand by the
fields, the right hand beaten path goes to the South side of the

Our ancestors, doubtless, undervalued the utility of good roads.
In 1675 the town voted ten shillings to clear the way between Hemp-
stead and Little Plains. In 1702 the highway from Jamaica to. New
York was so bad as to become the subject of general complaint. In
1808 when a turnpike was projected on this line, the farmers were So
opposed to it as to hold an indignation meeting.


Bee-hives are spoken of in 1691, and probably bees were kept long
before, as honey supplied the want of sugar. Metheglin and mead
with home-brewed beer, cider and domestic wine, gladdened the hearts
of our ancestors,


Slaves were not so abundant in Queens County as in Kings, where
a negro with his wife and children occupied the kitchen, which they
claimed as their domain ; and thus often formed an imperium in bu-
yer io. They were sometimes lazy and insubordinate. The New
Englanders in speaking of a coward fellow, would say : " He is as
saucy as a Long Island negro." Being kept from rum, well fed and
clad, they were healthy and multiplied exceedingly ; so that from 200
blacks in Queens County in 1698, they had grown in 1738, to the
number of 1,311. In 1756 the blacks constituted nearly a fourth of
the population. In Hempstead eighty-two householders reported a
total of 222 slaves, being on an average not quite three to each family ;
but slavery was not adapted to this part of the Union and was found
unprofitable. Emancipation was a boon to the white rather than to
the black. The expense of food and clothing often exceeded the value
of their labor. It was sportively, but truly said of a farmer who had
no corn to sell, " that the hogs had eaten up his corn, and the negroes
had eaten up the hogs f and thus nothing was left at the year's end.
After the Revolution, slaves were gradually manumitted, and in 1826
the institution was no more. Jupiter Hammon, a negro slave of Mr.


Lloyd, Queens village, Was the author of three publications. Their
titles were : 1st. A Winter Piece ; 2nd. An Address to the Negroes
of the State of New York, 1787 j 3d. A second edition of the same,
1806. The horse-rake is said to be the invention of a Hempstead ne<ro.
The negroes (bond and free) had a habit of roving from house
to house on holidays and Sundays. A mug of cider was accorded
them with which they were content ■ but a dram pleased them more.

In 1683 Thomas Higham sells a slave who has lost the fingers of
the right hand and thumb of the left; and in 1687, Christopher
Dean sells an Indian boy, slave to Nathaniel Pine. Old newspapers
abound in advertisements for runaway slaves. In 1722 Ezekiel
Baldwin offers d3 reward for a runaway Indian slave.


Tobacco must have been extensively cultivated in Hempstead in
early times, as we may infer from the frequent occurrence of such
expressions as "weeding tobacco," "stripping off tobacco," "a smoking
of it," "planting tobacco on halves," "the old tobacco land," (1676)
" a hogshead of tobacco," &c. In 1646 it sold at forty cents per
pound in New York. In 1678 John Kissam bought ninety -nine acres
of land on Great Neck for c£90, to be paid in good merchantable
blade tobacco in casks, to be delivered at the weight-house in New
York. The culture of tobacco for merchandize gradually fell away ;
but a little was raised for home consumption, for our frugal ancestors
bought nothing from abroad that they could produce at home. The
farmers well understood the process of caring of it. After the leaf was
stripped off, it was suspended from the rafters of the house to dry. When
needed for smoking, it was cut with a knife on a tobacco-board and
kept moist in a pouch made of hog's bladder. Chewing-tobacco re-
quiring more skill in preparation, was bought of the manufacturer.
In 1737 the farmers got three-pence per pound for their leaf-tobacco.

Raising tobacco has been successful as late as 1833; for the editor
of a Brooklyn paper said : " A few days ago we saw two large bales
of tobacco on their way to New York. It appeared equal to that of
the South, and was raised a little below Hempstead, by an enterpris-
ing farmer, from Spanish seed, and was of the 2nd year's planting."


Potatoes were not mentioned in the early records of Hempstead,
and could not have been cultivated till long after the first settlement.
A large sort called Bermudian was imported as early as 1636. Our
potatoes in olden times were poor, small and watery and quite un-
palatable, compared with those now raised. They did not form an
important item of diet and were not an article of daily consumption
on a dinner table. Perhaps they were as little used as beets, parsnips,
or carrots at the present day. Indeed a story is told of a farmer at
Flatbush, just before the Revolution, who found his crop amounted
to a wagon load j such an excess puzzled his brain. At last he be-
thought himself to send word to his neighbors to come and carry oif
as many as they wanted.


Turnips were under cultivation before potatoes j but their culture
received a great impulse from the zeal and example of Wm. Oobbett,
Who came to this country in 1817 and took up his residence at Hyde
Park, where he raised ruta-bagas in ridge-rows with great success.


The first settlers did not find the artificial grasses of the old country
here, but abundant natural grass on the plains, which made up by its
quantity what it lacked in nutrition. The old people say, that the
plain grass grew so rank and tall that the dew on it would wet a
man's knees as he was taking a morning ride through it on horseback.
Poor and coarse as this grass was, it required strict regulations
(1697) to preserve its use for the inhabitants. Thus in 1726 an act
was passed to prevent firing the grass on the plains, and in 1748
another act forbid the mowing of grass upon the plains before the
28th day of August. It seems that some of the more greedy towns-
folk anticipated their neighbors in cutting the grass before it came to
full growth. Clover, timothy, lucerne and other grasses have been
successively introduced. The advocates of lucerne (1788) claimed
that it could be mowed five times in a season and cut eight loads per
acre, increased the mess of cow's milk and the quality of the butter,
and that it sustained horses as well as oats did, in their hardest labor.



Flax must have been raised from the beginning. Its cultivation
involved a vast deal of painful labor, in which the women had their
full share. It was pulled by men or boys (not frequently by young
women.) In busy times women often lent a helpiug hand, and usually
did the milking at all times) and bound in small sheaves. After har-
vest a sturdy laborer seizing a sheaf by the butt-end, beat out the
seed by striking it on a stone. The seed commanded good prices and
was exported to Ireland. The flax-stalk was spread in rows on the
grass. When the upper side was sufficiently " rotted," it was turned
over with a long pole in order to expose the under side to the action
of sun and rain. It was next stowed away in the barn till the leisure
hours of winter, when it was set out in the sun and wind, that it
might become dry and brittle in order to its being " crackled." After
the seed ends had been hatcheled out, it was dressed on a swingle
board with a hickory swingle knife. It was then carried into the
garret of the dwelling house to be again hatcheled by the women who
were kept busy the winter long in spinning the yarn on a foot-wheel.
So urgent was this work, that women when invited out to tea some-
times took their wheels with them. Few now remember the little
round tea-table in use over fifty years ago, around which about half a
dozen ladies sat at a foot's distance, with handkerchief on lap and a
tiny tea cup in hand. On the table were a plate of thin-sliced bread
thickly buttered, a plate of cake and of smoke-beef, with a saucer of
sweet meats, into which each guest dipped her spoon. This yarn
was woven (in the family loom frequently) into sheetings, diapers and


Online LibraryHenry OnderdonkAn historical sketch, of ancient agriculture, stock breeding and manufactures, in Hempstead, [Queens Co., N.Y.] → online text (page 1 of 2)