1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Long Island

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LONG ISLAND, an island, 118 m. long and 12 to 23 m. wide, with its axis E.N.E. and W.S.W., roughly parallel with the S. shore of Connecticut, U.S.A., from which it is separated by Long Island Sound (115 m. long and 20-25 m. wide) and lying S.E. of the mainland of New York state, of which it is a part, and immediately E. of Manhattan Island. Area, 1682 sq. m. The east end is divided into two narrow peninsulas (the northern culminating in Orient Point about 25 m. long, the southern ending in Montauk Point, the eastern extremity of the island, about 40 m. long) by the three bays, Great Peconic, Little Peconic (in which lies Shelter Island) and Gardiners (in which lies Gardiners Island). The N. shore is broken in its western half by the fjords of Flushing Bay, Little Neck Bay, Manhasset Bay, Cold Spring Harbor; Huntington Bay (nearly landlocked), Smithtown Bay and Port Jefferson Harbor, which also is nearly landlocked. East of Port Jefferson the N. shore is comparatively unbroken. The S. shore has two bays, Jamaica Bay with many low islands and nearly cut off from the ocean by the narrow spur of Rockaway Beach; and the ill-defined Great South Bay, which is separated from the Atlantic by the narrow Long Beach, Jones Beach and Oak Island Beach, and by the long peninsula (35 or 40 m.), called Fire Island or Great South Beach. Still farther E. and immediately S. of Great Peconic Bay is Shinnecock Bay, about 10 m. long and cut off from the ocean by a narrow beach.

The N. side of the island was largely built by deposits along the front of the continental glacier, and its peculiar surface is due to such deposits. At Astoria the dark gneiss bed rock is visible. The S. half of the island is mostly built of a light sandy or loamy soil and is low, except for the hills (140-195 ft.) of Montauk peninsula, which are a part of the “back-bone” of the island elsewhere running through the centre from E. to W. and reaching its highest point in its western extremity, Oakley’s High Hill (384 ft.) and Hempstead Harbor Hill, W. of which are the flat and fertile Hempstead Plains. North of the back-bone or central ridge the country is hilly with glacial drift and many boulders along the coast and with soil stonier and more fertile than that of the “South Side.” There is good clay at Whitestone and at Lloyd’s Point on the north side. This north shore is comparatively well wooded; the middle of the island is covered with stunted oaks and scrubby pines; the south side is a floral mean between the other divisions. It is cut in its middle part by a few creeks and tidal rivers[1] flowing into the Great South Bay. Another “river,” the Peconic, about 15 m. long, runs E. into Peconic Bay. On the north side there are few waterways save Nissequoge river, partly tidal, which runs N. into Smithtown Bay. Near the centre of the island is Lake Ronkonkoma, which is well below the level of the surrounding country, and whose deep cold waters with their unexplained ebb and flow are said to have been so feared by the Indians that they would not fish there. There are salt marshes (probably 100 sq. m. in all) on the shore of the Sound and of the Great South Bay.

As regards its fauna Long Island is a meeting-place for equatorial and arctic species of birds and fish; in winter it is visited occasionally by the auk and in summer sometimes by the turkey buzzard. James E. DeKay in his botanical and zoological survey (1842–1849) of New York state estimated that on Long Island there were representatives of two-thirds of the species of land birds of the United States and seven-eighths of the water birds—probably an exaggerated estimate for the time and certainly not true now. There is snipe and duck shooting, especially on the shores of the Great South Bay; there is good deer hunting, especially in Islip town; and there are several private preserves, some stocked with English game birds, within 50 m. of New York City. There are many excellent trout streams and the island was known in aboriginal times for its fresh and salt water fish. Indian names referring to fishing places are discussed in Wm. W. Tooker’s Some Indian Fishing Stations upon Long Island. Long Island wampum was singularly good—the Indian name, Seawanhacky (Seawanhaka, &c.), of the island has been interpreted to mean “shell treasury”—and black wampum was made from the purple part of the shell of the quahaug. Soft clams are dug on the north shore at low tide and hard clams are found along the southern shore, where (at Islip) they were first successfully canned; scallops and other small shell fish are taken, especially at the E. end of the island. But the most important shell fishery is that of oysters. The famous Blue Points grow in the Great South Bay, particularly at Sayville and Bellport, where seed oysters planted from Long Island Sound develop into the Blue Points with characteristics of no other variety of oyster. Farther west, on the S. shore are grown the well-known Rockaway oysters. The New York State Fish Commission has a hatchery at Cold Spring Harbor on the N. shore. The largest commercial fisheries are on the south side, in the ocean off Fire Island Beach, where there are great “pounds” in which captured fish are kept alive before shipment to market. Sag Harbor and East Hampton on the E. end of the island were important whaling ports in the 18th century and the first part of the 19th, and they and other fishing villages afterward did a large business in the capture of menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus), a small shad-like fish, which, following the custom of the Indians, they manufactured into fertilizer. At Glen Cove there are now great starch factories.

The west end of the island has been called New York’s market garden. On the Hempstead Plains and immediately E. of them along the north shore great quantities of cabbage and cucumbers are grown and manufactured into sauerkraut and pickles. There are large cranberry fields near the village of Calverton, immediately W. of Riverhead.

There are a few large farms on Long Island, mostly on the north side, but it is becoming more and more a place of suburban residence. This change is due in part to cool summer and warm winter winds from the ocean, which makes the July mean temperature 68° to 70° F. at the east end and the south side, and 72° on the north shore, as contrasted with 74° for the west end and New York City. The range of temperature is said to be less than in any other place in the United States with the exception of Corpus Christi (Tex.), Eureka (California), Galveston (Texas), and Key West (Florida). Even on the south shore the humidity for August and September is less than that of any location on the Atlantic coast, or Los Angeles and San Diego on the Pacific, according to Dr Le Grand N. Denslow in a paper, “The Climate of Long Island” (1901). Surf-bathing on the south shore, yachting and boating on the Sound, the Great South Bay and the Ocean, and hunting and fishing are attractions. At Garden City, Nassau (Glen Cove), Great River and Shinnecock Hills are well-known golf links; there are several hunt clubs; and at Southampton are some of the best turf tennis-courts in the United States. Few parts of the island are summer resorts in the ordinary use of the word; there are large hotels hardly anywhere save on Coney Island, at Far Rockaway, on Long Beach and on Shelter Island; and a large part of the summer population lives in private mansions. Some Long Island “country places” are huge estates with game and fish preserves and luxurious “châteaux.” The roads are good. The course of the Vanderbilt automobile races is along the roads of the Hempstead Plains. Also on the Hempstead Plains are the Creedmoor Rifle Range, where, in an Interstate Park, E. of Jamaica, annual international rifle shooting tournaments for the championship of America were held until 1909; Garden City, which was founded by A. T. Stewart for the purpose of providing comfortable homes at low cost to his employés and others, and where are the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, St Paul’s School for Boys and St Mary’s School for Girls; and, near Hempstead, the grounds of the Meadowbrook (hunt and polo) Club and those of the Farm Kennel Club. The only railway is the Long Island Railroad (owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad) with western termini on Manhattan and in Long Island City and Brooklyn, whence lines meet at Jamaica, and thence three principal lines branch, the north shore to Wading River, the main line to Greenport, and the south side to Montauk.

Long Island is a part of New York State, its western third forming Brooklyn and Queens boroughs of New York City—these boroughs were formed respectively from Kings county and from the w. half of Queens county upon the erection of Greater New York, what was formerly the E. half of Queens county then became Nassau county (area 252 sq. m.; pop., in 1900, 55,448, in 1905, 69,477), whose county-seat is Mineola. The eastern and the larger part of the island is the less thickly settled Suffolk county with an area of 918 sq. m. and a population in 1900 of 77,582 and in 1905 of 81,653. The county-seat of Suffolk county is Riverhead, so named from its position at the head of the Peconic river on the W. end of Great Peconic Bay. The ten townships of Suffolk county are large governmental units, showing, by their similarity to the towns of New England, the relation of the early settlers to New England. The largest in area is Brookhaven, which reaches all the way across the island near its central part. The townships of Suffolk county with their population in 1905 were: Huntington (10,236). Babylon (7919), Smithtown (3325), Islip (13,721), Brookhaven (16,050), Riverhead (4950), Shelter Island (1105), Easthampton (4303), Southold (8989) and Southampton (11,024). The total population of Long Island was 1,452,611 in 1900, and 1,718,056 in 1905 (state census), the population of the borough of Brooklyn alone for these years being 1,166,582 and 1,358,686.

History.—The principal Indian tribes on Long Island at the time of the first settlement by the whites were the Montauk, on the eastern end of the island, where they gave their name to the “point” and where their last “king,” David Pharoah, died in 1785; the Shinnecock, who, much admixed with negro blood, now live on the reservation between Canoe Place and Shinnecock Hills; the Manhasset, on what is now Shelter Island; the Patchogue, near the present village of that name; the Massapequa, between the Hempstead Plains and what is now Islip, who were defeated and practically exterminated in 1653 by John Underhill; the Canarsie, who lived near the present Jamaica; and on the north side the Nessaquague or Nissequoge (in the present town of Smithtown), and the Sealtocot who gave their name to Setauket in Brookhaven town. The first pastor of the church (Presbyterian-Congregational) at Easthampton, Thomas James (c. 1620–1696), is supposed to have translated a catechism and parts of the Bible into the dialect of the Montauk, among whom Samson Occum had a school between 1755 and 1765.

The territory of Long Island was included in the grant of 1620 by James I. to the Plymouth Company and in 1635 was conveyed to William Alexander, earl of Stirling. The conflicting claims of English and Dutch were the subject of the treaty concluded at Hartford, Connecticut, in 1650, by which the Dutch were to hold everything west of Oyster Bay, the English everything east—a provision which accomplished no agreement, since Oyster Bay itself was the matter of contention, and English settlers on what the Dutch called the west side of Oyster Bay refused to remove. Long Island was included in the territory assigned to the duke of York in 1663–1664, when the New England towns on the island objected to separation from Connecticut. On the recovery of New York by the Dutch in 1673 the eastern towns refused to submit to the Dutch governor. In 1674 by the treaty of Westminster Long Island became a part of the British colony of New York. The Dutch settlements were more important ethnically than historically; on the west end of the Island the Dutch Reformed Church is still strong and there are many Dutch names; at West Sayville, on the “south side,” about 50 m. from New York, in a settlement made about 1786 by Gustav Tukker, who did much to develop the oyster fisheries, Holland Dutch was the common speech until the last quarter of the 19th century. The “Five Dutch Towns” were: Nieuw Amersfoord (after 1801 officially called Flatlands), on Jamaica Bay, where the first settlement was made about 1623 and the first grant in 1636; Midwout (later Vlackte-Bosch and Flatbush), settled between 1645 and 1650 and having in 1654 the first Dutch church; Nieuw Utrecht, settled soon after 1650 and incorporated in 1660; Breuckelen (now Brooklyn), which was settled a little before its organization as a town in 1646; and Boswijck (Bushwick), first settled by Swedes and Norwegians and incorporated in 1660. These five towns became one administrative district in 1661.

Apparently the earliest English settlement was at Hempstead in 1640 by colonists from Lynn, Massachusetts, who based their claim on the patent (1621) of Nova Scotia to Lord Stirling, but were almost immediately driven out by the Dutch. In 1643 another English settlement was made at Hempstead by men from Stamford, Connecticut, who in 1644 secured a patent from Governor Kieft of New Netherland. In 1645 Kieft granted land at Gravesend to Lady Deborah Moody, who had settled there about 1643, when she had left Lynn and the Salem church because of her anti-pedobaptist views. At Gravesend in 1664 Colonel Richard Nicolls first landed the English troops which occupied the island; and in 1693 it became one of its three ports of entry. The Connecticut towns on Long Island were as follows: Southampton was settled in 1640 by the Lynn men driven out of Hempstead by the Dutch, and in 1644–1664 was in the Connecticut jurisdiction. Southold (the “South Hold of New Haven”), called from 1640 until 1644 by the Indian name Yennicock, had a church in 1640, and a court based on the Levitical law, which was abolished in 1643 upon the remonstrance of the authorities of New Haven. The Southold settlers were from Hingham, Norfolk and New Haven, and the colony joined New Haven in 1648, in which year the colony of Forrett’s (now Shelter) Island also submitted to New Haven. Easthampton was settled in 1648 from Lynn. Oyster Bay was also settled by Lynn men in 1640 and contested by the Dutch and English. Newtown, officially called Middleburgh, was settled in 1652, purchased from the Indians in 1656, “annexed to the other side of the Sound” in 1662, in the same year took the name of Hastings, in 1706 was the scene of the arrest of the Presbyterian itinerants Francis Mackemie and John Hampton, and in 1766 was the site of the Methodist Episcopal Society at Middle Village, the second oldest of that denomination in America. Huntington was settled in 1653 from New Haven, Hempstead, Southold and Southampton. Other early settlements were: Jamaica, about 1657; Brookhaven, first settled at Ashford (now Setauket) from Boston in 1655, and Smithtown, patented in 1677 to Richard Smith of Setauket, who was said to be a soldier of Cromwell, and of whom there is a story that having bargained with the Indians for as much land as a bull could cover in a day he rode his trained bull in a great circuit about the land he coveted and was thereafter known as “Bull” Smith. Almost all these English settlements were made by Presbyterians and from Jamaica east this was the prevailing denomination. During the war of Independence the battle of Long Island (see below) was fought within what is now the borough of Brooklyn.

Authorities.—Benj. F. Thompson, The History of Long Island (New York, 2nd ed. 1843); Nathaniel S. Prime, History of Long Island (New York, 1845), especially valuable for ecclesiastical history, particularly of the Presbyterian church; Martha B. Flint, Early Long Island (New York, 1896); Gabriel Furman, Antiquities of Long Island (New York, 1875), edited by Frank Moore; and the publications of the Long Island Historical Society (of Brooklyn) and of the Suffolk County Historical Society (of Riverhead).  (R. We.) 

Battle of Long Island, 1776.—The interest of this battle lies in the fact that it was the first engagement in the campaign of 1776 (see American War of Independence) and was expected in England to be decisive of the contest in the colonies. After the evacuation of Boston (March 1776), Lord Howe moved against New York City, which he thought would afford a better base of operations for the future. The Americans undertook its defence although recognizing the difficulties in the case, as the bay and rivers adjoining would enable the British fleet to co-operate effectively with the army. To protect his left flank Washington was forced to throw a portion of his troops over to the Long Island side of the East river; they fortified themselves there on the site of the present Borough of Brooklyn. Lord Howe, who had encamped on Staten Island at the entrance to the harbour, determined to attack this isolated left wing, and on the 22nd of August landed at Gravesend Bay, Long Island, with about 20,000 men. The Americans maintained strong outposts in the wooded hills in advance of their fortified lines. On the morning of the 27th Howe, after four days’ reconnaissance, attacked these posts with three columns, the left and centre delivering the holding attack, and the right and strongest column turning the enemy’s left by a détour. Howe himself, accompanied by Generals (Sir H.) Clinton and Lord Cornwallis, led the turning movement, which came upon the rear of the enemy at the moment when they were engaged with the two other columns. By noon the Americans had been driven back into the Brooklyn lines in considerable confusion, and with the loss of about half their number. This constituted the battle. The completeness of the English victory was due to the neglect of the Americans in guarding the left of their outposts. Howe has been criticized for not immediately assaulting the American works which he might have carried on the evening of the battle. In view of the fact that he had only defeated a small portion of the American forces, and that the works were of considerable strength, he decided to make a formal siege, and Washington took advantage of the delay in operations to retreat across the river to New York on the night of the 29th. This successful movement repaired to some extent the bad moral effect of the defeat of the 27th in the American camp. In the engagement of Long Island Washington lost about 1200 prisoners and 30 guns, and 400 killed and wounded; of the latter the British lost nearly the same number.  (C. F. A.) 

  1. G. K. Gilbert, in an article, “The Deflection of Streams” in the American Journal of Science (xxvii. 427-432), points out that each of these streams is “bounded on the west or right side by a bluff 10 to 20 ft. high.”