Years ago New York Yankee/New York Mets manager Casey Stengel used to say after making an obscure point, “You can look it up.” And now in the town of Southampton when it comes to the town's long litany of historical documents and records, you can in fact go to the town of Southampton website and look it up. So I decided to give it a try.
First thing I did was locate www.town.southampton.ny.us, the town’s home page. In the search bar I typed in “historical records,” and on the screen was a table of content of seven of the town's eight historical books reportedly meticulously electronically reproduced under the supervision of Southampton Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer.
It was done so that everyone can access the town history online. It took 18 months to accomplish what is done and reports are that some of the documents were as fragile as a 400-year-old document can be. Now they look just as ancient in their type but are Steve Jobs/Bill Gates-modern right on your computer screen. (I wince when I think of someone scribbling down all the comments of a town meeting in the 1600s with a quill pen, home made ink, in the winter chill before central heating, great insulation, and waterproof shoes).
Now with the mouse and a click here and there the voices of the past, through their words go right into your mind, in easily readable computer screen text. So I decided at random to look up Shinnecock facts since they and their perhaps now three proposed casinos are in the news.
Going into Volume one, I loved the presentation page which gave me the feel I once had viewing documents at the Library of Congress, while interning for Congressman Mario Biaggi, D-NY, circa 1973.
In book #1, I found this note thus getting the feel for my voyage through history via my laptop. It read, “To the memory of Henry Pierson, Town Clerk, (1653-1669,) to whose faithful pen we are indebted for a large part or our knowledge of the early history of the town, but who, while giving usmuch information about other men, has left us very little concerning himself; and as no tombstone marks his last resting place, may this humble notice be his Memorial and Epitaph."
How could I leave that out of this article? The table of content of book one was a treasure of phrases such as,” sachem’s house, Whaling squadron, or how about- price of wheat! I was in Town of Southampton Historical heaven.
A while back in a random conversation I had heard Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst mention to someone at a meeting I was covering that this was being done, but I didn’t grasp the potential level of fun I was having skipping through history I encountered doing this piece.
As for some Shinnecock trivia, how’s this? In a chapter titled, “Confirmation of the sale of Indian Deed. November 24th, I686,” this line sounds rather to the point does it not? “Within Written Deed, with ye full consent of the Rest of the Indians of Shinccock (actual spelling) & did according to this Deed as within written sell and alienate the said lands to the Englishmen therein named.”
I am only touching the tip of this one, but it is fun peeking at how it all came about so many years ago.
Now the final book of town records, #8 is yet to be posted online but the first seven are up for you to “surf through” as they say these days. It is so worth the time so get a look through documents how the town evolved.
The goal of this project is to have it completed before the 370th anniversary of the landing of the original settlers at Conscience Point. After preparing to write this piece I went back to Conscience Point after learning the whole area was where the Shinnecocks actually lived for hundreds of years. As I looked at the banks of the ponds there I imagined smoking fires, wigwams, and canoes and if you do ever stand there it is not hard to do that, I went back in time. What a place to put the proposed Casino! (Joking)
One last thing about visiting the website, the home page reads, Town of Southampton Historical Records Books. This is a front door to the back pages of a past rich with history of poor people who came to these waters to thrive, and lead the forming of a new nation based on at the time radical ideas. I like to think, they didn’t come to vacation, they came on vocation, inspiration and with perspiration with a touch of desperation. What a mix.