Patchogue is a small village located on the southern shore of Long Island that has a long and rich history. The town was founded in the 1700’s and is situated along the Great South Bay opposite the Fire Island barrier beach which protects it from the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The town has deep roots in its maritime past. Oystering, ship building fishing and summer tourism were important parts of Patchogue's fabric. In fact, at one time the town was one of the most popular tourist destinations for the people of New York City. Through the early 20th century seaside resorts and family owned hotels populated the area and attracted throngs of visitors. Tourism began to boom after the extension of the Long Island Railroad through Patchogue in the early 1860’s. The railroad opened up this beautiful village to many who previously had no way of reaching it. Visitors were lured by the chance to escape the crowded city and enjoying the "country life", ocean, beautiful lakes, hunting, boating, fishing and plain relaxation. At the same time, Patchogue began to develop a busy down town business area that attracted development from manufacturers, mills, banks and an assortment of small businesses.
Over the years however Patchogue suffered the same fate as many of Long Islands other towns and villages. Modern travel and changing tastes made other destinations more accessible and attractive dooming the tourism business and the old resorts. Mega stores, shopping malls and Outlet factories saturated the area forcing the once prosperous stores of the downtown area out of business and leaving it resembling a ghost town. Decay crept into the village, and looked like it was there to stay.
Fortunately, Patchogue is a success story. Creative government leadership and the efforts of a dedicated community have persevered and the town is now in a period of renewal. Boutique shops, trendy restaurants a beautifully restored local theater and an innovative new "artists community" have transformed the down town business area into a popular destination to shop and visit.
Because of its long and varied history Patchogue is full of interesting stories and people from its past. Some stories involve well known people who lived or visited here. Some concern events such as the sinking of the Louis V. Place that gained national attention. But many involve people who lived their life in relative obscurity known only to the people of the town. In this section, I share a variety of the short, sometimes strange but always interesting tales of people and events that helped make this town a fascinating place.
The Curious Case of Captain Jonathan Baker
The Baker family was among the original settlers of Brookhaven Township and Patchogue. With roots in Suffolk County dating back to the 1600’s, they were well respected and active in both the social and political fabric of the area. Today in Patchogue you can find a number of streets named for the Baker family, and a perusal of old maps of the area reflect wide parcels of land with the Baker name prominently featured.
With this in mind, the case of Captain Jonathan Baker is all the more curious. Captain Baker was born in East Hampton in 1734 (4) and moved to Patchogue in the 1700’s. His father, also named Jonathan, was a prominent member of the Brookhaven community and held the title of “Lieutenant Jonathan Baker”. During my early research I confused the two. Jonathan “senior” was born in 1703.In addition, in April of 1760 he was elected by his fellow citizens as a Captain of a 95-man company of the Suffolk County Militia (1) and at one point held the rank of Second Major of the Minute Men formed during the Revolutionary period (1).
That all changed in 1776 when he was arrested as a Tory sympathizer by the Patriot members of the community and sent to Litchfield penitently in Connecticut (2). The Litchfield Jail in northwestern Connecticut was an overflow location for Tory prisoners (2).
So how did one of the most respected members of the Brookhaven community come to be arrested and labeled a traitor and collaborator? Well this is a story that was played out all over the 13 colonies as citizens tried to come to grips with either supporting the British government that had ruled over them for years or to support many of their friends and neighbors who were revolting against what they perceived as a cruel and unjust repressor that cared little for their subjects beyond the taxes they could collect from them.
It was the decision of Captain Jonathan Baker to remain among his neighbors but secretly support the British and the Tory members of the community who were among them.
In a meeting held by the Committee of Safety at Coram on June 4th, 1776, a Who’s Who of the community appeared to give testament to the traitorous activities of Captain Johnathan Baker and another local resident, Stephan Fountain (3&4). These witnesses included names well known in the community such as Hannah Hawkins, Robert Homan, Benjamin Woodull, Garret Degroat, Francois Bartoe, Josiah Saturly, Samuel Saturly, Annanias Smith, Mathew Beal, Humphry Avery, Philup Ackerly, and Alexander Smith. The evidence was damning and the conclusion was clear. Both defendants had actively supported the British cause and had worked secretly against their neighbors and friends to advance the objectives of the opposition.
following is an example of the testimony given by one of Captain Bakers
neighbors, Ananias Smith.
This was a stunning outcome for many people of the community who had always viewed Captain Jonathan Baker as a friend and upstanding Patriot and supporter of the American cause.
On June 8th, 1776 Captain Baker was brought before the Continental Congress, arrested and sent to prison in Litchfield Connecticut, the place where the young American government sent Tory sympathizers that they perceived were undermining the “cause” of freedom (2).
This in itself makes for an interesting and “curious” story. How could such an upstanding member of the Patriot cause who was well respected and rewarded with high military commissions end up being a secret Tory organizer and sympathizer?
But it is what apparently happened in the upcoming years that makes this story even stranger. That is, once the Revolution ended Jonathan Baker returned to Brookhaven and resumed his position in the community.
To continue the story, Captain Baker’s imprisonment in Litchfield was a short one (3). After General Howe’s victory in the Battle of Long Island in 1776 the British consolidated their control of Long Island and the Patriot leadership capitulated, at least in a public manner, as witnessed by the passage below.
On October 24, 1776, the Committee of the County of Suffolk met at Brookhaven and decided to "dissolve ourselves" and revoke "all our proceedings under the (Continental) Congress (Revolutionary Incidents, p. 60).
It was during this period that Jonathan Baker returned to Brookhaven and resumed his position of leadership in the community apparently under the protection of the Crown and in peace with many “closet Patriots”.
In fact, records indicate that Mr. Baker, perhaps seeking revenge for Ananias Smiths part in his treason trial, took control of a large part of Ananias Smiths land and his home in Patchogue and lived there until the end of the war (3).
Ananias Smith had indeed provided much of the specific evidence against Jonathan Baker in his trial for treason (3). Mr. Baker did suffer consequences for these actions after the war ended and the Patriots retook control of the area, but he was apparently accepted back into the community.
Though there is little information I was able to find on Jonathan Bakers life between the year he returned to Brookhaven from prison and the end of the Revolutionary War, we do know that after the war ended he faced some challenging times.
The aforementioned Ananias Smith filed a civil lawsuit in 1786 against Captain Baker and his son Terry, claiming that they occupied his house illegally from March 1777 until March 1783(3). These dates correspond with the time frame Jonathan Baker returned from prison on the treason charges until the end of the hostilities with England. It leads me to believe that upon the return of Tory Jonathan Baker he assumed ownership of Patriot Ananias Smith’s property and home under the protection of the British.
A final note on the matter is found in Suffolk County Mortgages (5) and Suffolk County Land Records (6) with a statement from Jonathan Baker in Brookhaven saying that on 24 June 1784;
“I have mortgaged all my lands, meadows and buildings which I now own and possess, situate lying & being in South Haven above said (Patchogue area of Brookhaven)" for one thousand pounds, New York money as security to Humphrey Avery and Ananias Smith regarding an action at law”.
I presume this is related to the 1786 lawsuit previously mentioned. I have not been able to find any official record of the outcome of this lawsuit but clearly Jonathan Baker was being taken to task for the illegal occupation of his neighbor, Ananias Smith, property.
Curiously to me is the fact that his family, despite Captain Jonathan Bakers tainted past as a Tory sympathizer and supporter as well as one who confiscated the land of a Patriot, was able to regain their position in the Brookhaven and Patchogue communities after the war. This is attested to by maps of the early 1800’s showing large tracts of land with the Baker name on it as well as streets named after the Baker family. Clearly we cannot indict and entire family on the actions of one individual, and in fact we have no evidence to support any other member of the family worked on the side of the British. But one would assume that at least the suspicion was there and that there would be some ill feelings by those who supported the Patriot cause.
Perhaps some explanation can be found from a quote from Henry Onddrdon’s Preface to “Revolutionary Incidents” that attempts to reconcile the fact the Jonathan Baker was a Tory yet returned to Brookhaven after the war (2)
"Although the people of Long Island had taken an oath of fealty to the British crown in 1776, they were never deemed bona fide British subjects, and on the return of peace, in 1783 (with the exception of a few who were attainted of treason), they quietly slipped off their oath with their loyalty, and without the formality of abjuring their allegiance, took their places among the citizens of these free and Independent States”(2).
It is clear that Captain Jonathan Baker was not “forced out” of Brookhaven by the Patriots or “closet Patriots”, but remained and continued on with his life. He died in 1789, just six years after the end of the war (7&8). With the exception of the lawsuit brought by Ananias Smith (which was certainly not a minor thing and whose conclusion is unknown) he seems to have lived out his life in relative quiet. Census records, maps and land documents show the Baker family remained in Patchogue and apparently continued as an important part of the cultural and political fabric of the community (8). The Tory past of one of their most prominent family members long forgotten and apparently forgiven. A curious case indeed.
My research on “The Curious Case of Captain Jonathan Baker” is a perfect example of the importance of actually finding and studying the source documents of the subject you are researching. I had always read about Tory’s and our Patriot forefathers and had a general “feel” for this history surrounding the subject. But to actually find the transcripts of the meetings expressing the actual words and feelings of those who had lived through this period brought it alive to me in a way no history book could. These were real people, not just passages in a book. To find and actual record of a Patriots home being taken away by a Tory sympathizer, and right in my home town, was to me quite amazing. It brought cold, factual history to life for me. Those of you who are familiar with this site will also recognize in this story two characters who are featured in other areas of this site. One is our old friend Ananias Smith, a strange character with the nick name of “Old Rooster-Skin Narse” who is featured in the “Patchogue Stories” section of this site and the other is Lieutenant Jonathan Baker, Captain Jonathan Bakers father, who is featured in the “Traveling Dead of Patchogue” section of the site. You can imagine my surprise when I stumbled across both of them here. Very cool indeed.
for “The Curious Case of Captain Jonathan Baker”
Note about the references used for this article: In my research into this story I was lucky enough to visit ancestry.com and find the comments referenced above in number 7. Comments is the incorrect word. The undisclosed author of this entry into the ancestry site wrote one of the best documented analysis of the subject of Jonathan Baker and his family that you could imagine. Many of the resources listed above come from that entry. Without it, I would not have been able to piece together much of this story. To whomever is responsible for reference point 7; thank you and well done!
"Senator" Edward Ross
Edward Ross lived a short, colorful and fascinating life. He is one of those long forgotten individuals who was never famous or well known to those outside his town, but whose story is part of the very fabric of old Long Island. His life can be considered to some to be insignificant and not worthy of notice some 100 years after his death. But I found him digging through old newspapers and records and thought his story was worth telling.
Despite those good traits, "Senator" Ross spent most of his life in out of the town or county jails having been arrested for offenses ranging from petty theft, vagrancy and horse theft. He seldom was employed and was most often arrested for vagrancy. His most serious offense sent him to the infamous prison on Blackwells Island. Though the exact offense is not given for his banishment there, it may have been for his repeated run ins with the law. The horse theft charge resulted from Edward stealing the horse of a respected town doctor and hiding it in a barn in nearby Sayville. After a tip, the local deputies tracked him down to a bar in Sayville where he readily admitted to stealing the horse, claiming he was put up to it by " a certain young lady" who he would not identify. This created a scandal in Patchogue as everyone was trying to guess who the young lady was that would take up with the infamous Edward Ross.
But apparently the "Senators" quirky fun loing side endeared him to many of the towns people. On one occasion, when the circus came to town none other then Edward Ross was found riding on top of the main wagon waving and smiling. He had apparently joined the troupes rounds on Long Island. On another occasion he challenged a young "dandy" from Patchogue to a "wheelmans" race. The article gave no indication who won the race, but obviously despite his run ins with the law, he was still and active participant in the town. But from what I have been able to find, his most endearing trait was his colorful dress and outgoing personality that allowed Senator Ross to overcome his reputation as a petty thief and scoundaral and be considered a harmless character who brought some color and interest to town..
Sadly, a newspaper article notes that Edward somehow became paralyzed and was sent to the Yaphank Almshouse as he was unable to care for himself any longer. The Almshouse was and infamous institution where the poor, elderly and incapacitated of Long Island were sent to live out the remainder of there lives. In 1918, two years after being sent there, "Senator" Edward Ross died and was buried in the Potters Field adjacent to the Almshouse. No name or indication of who is buried there is found on his "headstone". Just a number. There "Senator" Ross rests along side hundreds of other forgotten and abandoned individuals that lived many years ago and whose stories are lost to time. That is...... until I stumbled upon a small article in and old newspaper that told of the colorful life of a man they fondly called "the Senator"
Sources for "Senator" Edward Ross
Port Jefferson Echo - "Senator Dies at Almshouse" - 6/29/1918
South Side Signal - "The Patchogue Argus Says" - 1/12/1907
Suffolk County News - "Patchogue Notes" - 8/4/1911
Suffolk County News - Island News Notes" - 6/28/1918
The Pastor Solves the Mystery
And article in the October 26th, 1961 issue of the Long Islander tells the story of and incident that occurred in Patchogue in 1792. The article relates that the Parishioners in the town of Patchogue had just finished building the first church located on Waverly Avenue, on the corner where Lakeview Cemetery sits today. One evening after a function at the church a number of parishioners swore they saw a red robed, cloven foot beast with horns on his head wandering the woods behind the church. For three nights afterwards the people of the church swore they saw the same beast roaming the woods. People began to spread the word that it was the devil himself. The pastor of the church, determined to put these rumors to bed, waited up the next night. Finally he spotted the strange beast out in the woods and raced out the door towards it. At church the next day he informed the congregation of his findings. The "devil beast" they had all seen was nothing more than a billy goat that had the habit of standing on his back feet in and upright position as he tried to eat leaves off of low lying trees. The mystery was solved.
The Story Of "Old Joe" and Captain Frank Smith Of Patchogue
This true life story was recounted in the September 1st, 1900 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle under the title "A Negro's Daring Deed" (1). Frank Smith was a well known sea captain in the mid-19th century hailing from Patchogue. At the outbreak of the Civil War he took the command of a sailing ship named the S.J. Waring and was commissioned by the Union to use the ship as a transport of men and supplies. Often he was called on to evade Confederate blockades and war ships who patrolled the waters between New York and the South, and he quickly gained a reputation as one of the most effective Captains in the North in doing so. That was until sometime in 1864 when he was caught unaware by the Confederate Privateer "Florida", whose crew boarded the S.J. Waring off of the southern coast of Long Island and took its crew prisoners. Captain Smith and his men were put in irons and transported to the Florida to be taken to a prison camp in the South. Left behind in the S.J. Waring was their negro cook, Joe. The Confederate crew felt he was too old to worry about, and he was left on the Waring to cook for 5 Confederate crew members who remained on the captured ship with orders to sail her back to a port in the South. No sooner had the Florida disappeared from view on the horizon, than the crew broke into some whiskey which had been left behind. Joe went about his business pouring the increasingly intoxicated crew drinks and serving them food. Within hours one by one the Confederate crew began to pass out. Joe waited and watched. When the last crew member fell fast asleep, Joe crept down stairs to the kitchen and came back to the deck of the ship with one of his knives. One by one, he crept up on the sleeping crew, stabbed them to death and threw them over the side of the boat. Within minutes, Joe had killed all 5 Confederate crew members.
As Joe had been to sea all of his life he was able to point his ship back North and make a run for safety. Soon, he came across a Union ship that took him on board and heard his incredible story. After confirming his tale by boarding the S.J. Waring and seeing its blood drenched floors, he was taken along with the Waring back to New York and celebrated as a hero for the rest of his life. While the newspaper article does not tell us how long Joe lived, it does tell us he was known for years as "Old Joe the Union Hero". It goes on to say that one insurance company even agreed to pay Joe $1.00 a day for the rest of his life, which they faithfully did.
The S.J. Waring was built in Stony Brook Long Island by a William Bacon and was originally used to run cargo between New York and Charleston. It was only 499 tons but was known to be a fast and agile ship. Three years after Joe and the ship were returned to New York, it ran aground as it tried to enter Stony Brook harbor and began to break apart. The ship could not be salvaged. The Brooklyn Eagle article notes the wreck of the ship was visible in the harbor for many years and that people would venture out to its resting place to obtain parts of it. Many people came back after seeing the wreck swearing the decks of the ship still were stained with the blood of the unfortunate Confederate crew. Some claimed to have recovered some of the blood stained planks of the deck and brought them home as a souvenir.
It was said that Captain Frank Smith returned to Patchogue after the war and resumed his career as a successful sea captain. As to the fate of Joe, he seems to have disappeared into the haze of history, only to be brought back to life here. Some newspaper articles report "Old Joe's" real name was William Tillman. Somewhere below the waters of Stony Brook Harbor may lie what is left of the S.J. Waring.
Authors Note - after originally writing this article I did come across another account of this incident that differs from this one. An 1861 copy of Harpers Weekly states that two Confederate soldiers were left alive by Joe and left in chains below. In addition, one "Yankee" was on board (left there when the ship was captured). This version has "Old Joe"(or William Tillman in this article) as allowing the two Confederates to come up to the deck to help him sail the ship back North with the warning they would meet the same fate as their friends should they try anything. Which version is accurate, I do not know.
(1) Brooklyn Eagle - 9/1/1900 - "A Negros Daring Deed"
(2) Picture Credit - the engraving that appears in this section was published in the 1861 Harpers Weekly
How “The Devil” Came to Patchogue during the War Of 1812 Updated
To me, some of the most fascinating stories I come across appear as simple footnotes in the accounts I find. This little story is a great example of that. In doing research at the ever reliable Patchogue-Medford Library I came across an article written by an A.J. Smith entitled “Patchogue Village in 1812”.1 One of the stories in this article mentions that a British ship moored outside of Sag Harbor during the war had sent a barge ashore with six men. Their mission was to obtain water and return. Apparently three of the men were not so happy serving in the Royal Navy and took this opportunity to run away.
According to the article all three made their way to Patchogue where they decided they would stay and make a new life for themselves. The name of only one man is given to us, that being a “Devuril”. The names and final fates of the other two run away’s is not given, but Mr. Smith goes on to say that “Devuril” stayed in Patchogue and soon became the “village pedagogue”, meaning the village school teacher. This little story finishes by saying that, playing on the pronunciation of his name, the people of Patchogue simply referred to Devuril as the “Devil”.
To me, this is a fascinating little story. A run away British solider comes to Patchogue during the War of 1812, is nicknamed the Devil and settles in as the village teacher. And how interesting is it that three of our earliest Patchogue residents were deserters of the British navy? It’s these little real life nuggets that make our local history so interesting.
Of course I now wanted to know what had happened to “The Devil”. Could I find any trace of this man besides this account? The story did say he had become the “village pedagogue” so I assumed a teacher would be well known in a small town. Although I did not find any additional mention of a “Devuril” in Patchogue, I did find a Thomas J. Deverill. In "The History of Patchogue” by H.W. Wellington2 a Thomas J. Deverill is listed in 1843 as a respected member of Patchogue’s Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church. It goes on to show him being elected as Saint Paul’s first “Church Warden”2.
I than found another mention of Thomas in an 1936 article in the Patchogue Advance(3). Under the heading “St Paul’s P.E. Church Founding, Growth, Outlined”, the author Milton Wiggins gives the backgrounds of some of the more prominent founders of the church. Listed in this article is one Thomas J. DeVerell, local schoolmaster. A school master just as the "Devil" had been described after arriving in 1812.
On the face of it, three different people with very similar spellings of this uncommon name would be highly unlikely in a small town like Patchogue. The individual with the spelling of "Deverill" is noted as a respected member of the community (consistent with how a teacher would be perceived) and a member of a church whose origins are in England (Episcopal). The Episcopal Church would be a natural place of worship for a British solider. Finally, the individual with the spelling "DeVerell" was also noted in the article as a respected member of St. Pauls Church and the "local school master". The same profession as the 'Devil".
I would submit that Devuril, Deverill and DeVerell are all the same man. The same man who was one of the early settlers of Patchogue. The man who escaped from the British Navy during the War of 1812 and made a life for himself as a respected member of Patchogue. And oh yes .... we now know how “The Devil” came to Patchogue during the War of 1812!
(1) "Patchogue Village In 1812" - A.J. Smith (1900) - Patchogue-Medford Library
(2) "History of Patchogue" - H.Wellington Gordon (1925) - Patchogue-Medfore Library
(3) "St. Paul's P.E. Church Founding, Growth, Outlined, October 16, 1936 Patchogue Advance Page 46, Milton Wiggins author
For some reason the story of Ralph Brown touched me deeply. Most of the stories told here involve individuals that lived long ago. Ralph Brown is different. Ralph Brown was born around 1909 and died in 1980. He attended Bellport grade school and graduated from Patchogue High School. He was never a famous or very well-known man outside of the Bellport/ Patchogue area. Today, he is mostly forgotten even in his home town. To me, Ralph was brought back to life by a picture I discovered while researching the town of Bellport. It’s a haunting picture of a man standing outside of his store staring into the the camera. The picture was taken in 1972.
Ralph owned a Hardware store in Bellport for many years. His store was located at number 12 Bell Street in Bellport. It is still there today, though it is no longer a store. It is in front of this building that Ralph’s picture was taken. The picture taken in 1972 that haunts me. The building itself is a historic structure. Built in the late 1800’s, it originally housed the offices of Robinson and Watkins. Robinson and Watkins was a building firm that was responsible for the construction of many of the houses and public buildings built in Bellport from the late 1800’s through the early part of the 1900’s. Many of these houses and buildings still exist today in this historic town. Ralph bought the building and made it his hardware store.
Ralphs Hardware Store is now owned by the Bellport-Brookhaven Historic Society. It was donated to them by Ralph Brown upon his death in 1980. A death that is explained in two simple sentences in the caption below the picture I found. The sentences that caught my eye and made me ask why?
At the end of this story is the picture. You can look at it later. Below the picture is a caption. The end of the caption contains the two sentences. I saw the picture first. Ralph….an everyday man…stands on the wooden porch of the store looking into the camera. Hands in pockets. Old looking store behind him. Nothing special. And the caption. And then, almost as an afterthought, the last two sentences of the caption. The ones telling us that Ralph was robbed and murdered in the store in 1980. And that he left the building to the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society on his death. Nothing more……
For some reason I had to know more. This could not be it. This simple man standing on the porch of his simple store had to be more than what this caption told us. His life could not come down to being murdered and robbed in this little store. So I dug.
Ralph was so much more. I found an article in the Patchogue Advance dated 8/22/1944. It told how Ralph Brown of Bellport Long Island had been badly wounded in France fighting the Germans in World War II. He was a 35 year old Private. He had written a letter home to his parents the article said stating “I was hit in the shoulder by a Jerry!”. He had been moved to a hospital in England. I found another article in the Patchogue Advance dated 12/6/1945. The article said Ralph Brown of Bellport was being discharged after being wounded in France. It goes on to say he served for 15 months in France during the war and another three months in a hospital in England.
Other small snippets I found about Ralph told me he never married. He was a dedicated member of his church. He was on the board of the local cemetery committee. Not really important facts but every day nuggets of a man's life.
More research uncovered Ralph mentioned in the book “Bellport Revisited”. The book has the same picture and a similar caption. But a small passage in the book gives us a little more information about Ralph. It tells us he was known as being eccentric and loved joking with his customers. It tells us he had a collection of coins that he prized. It tells us that he kept these coins in his store. It was these coins that were stolen from him when he was murdered in 1980.
And oh yes. I forgot to mention that the Patchogue Advance article of 8/22/1944 mentions that Ralph Brown was a hero. The article says Ralph Brown was awarded the Purple Heart. I don't know many Purple Heart recipients.
Now take a look below at the picture. I think I know why it haunts me. Ralphs caption deserves more.
Sources For Ralph Brown
Patchogue Advance – 8/24/1944 – “Ralph Brown Wounded In France”
Patchogue Advance – 12/6/1945 – PFC Brown Discharged, Wounded in France
Bellport Revisited – 2008 – Victor Principe
Picture Credit - Images of America: Bellport Revisited
Patchogue's Marine Monster of 1899 (Brooklyn Eagle - June 21, 1899)
Know one was quite sure what this strange serpent was, but everyone was sure they had never seen anything like it. Captain Smith, seeing an opportunity to make some money off of his find, charged 10 cents to see his catch and there were lines of people willing to pay so they could say they had seen the Patchogue Marine Monster.
In June of 1899 Captain John A. Smith captured a strange sea creature in the Atlantic Ocean off of Patchogue. When his ship docked and he brought it on shore it created a hysteria in town. As reported in the June 21st, 1899 edition of the Brooklyn Eagle the strange sea creature was about 9 feet long and 9 and a half feet around. Its head was 2 and a a half feet around and the mouth was almost a foot along. Running along its jaw was two rows of razor sharp saw like teeth which pointed inward. Strangest of all was the fact that the creature had a hard shelled back, with the shell beginning 10 inches below its head and continuing to its tail. The shell was not even and round like a turtles, but instead was uneven with six ridges of pointed edges which ran lengthwise from its head to its tail. It had two back "flappers" for feet which were each close to 2 feet long.
After a day or two Undertaker Ruland embalmed the body and sent it to the "Central Park Museum of Natural History" so it could hopefully be identified and put on display for all to see. So what was this strange beast that Captain Smith captured? Was it what it was rumored to be by the people of Patchogue, a hold over from the prehistoric ages that had been hidden from view in the depths of the ocean? Regretfully this will be left to our imagination as there are no further reports telling us if the beast was ever identified.
Gilson Ruland – A Fascinating Story Of An Old Resident Of Patchogue Updated December 2016
This was one of the first pieces that I wrote for Long Island Stories after finding a small article in the August 10th, 1911 issue of the New York Times titled “Silent To Wife For 40 Years” (1). I stumbled across it while researching Patchogue and for some reason it fascinated me. It was the exact type of small forgotten story I had been looking for that was interesting and brought the old town “to life”. The article detailed Patchogue resident Gilson Ruland’s reaction after returning from the Civil War to a reportedly unfaithful wife. The first piece I wrote was quite small containing a copy of the New York Times article and some commentary by me. But as the years went on I was able to obtain more information on Gilson Ruland and was actually able to “flesh” out the story.
Here is the New York Times article that started it all. The quotes in italics are taken exactly as they appear in the article:
"Gilson Ruland was born in Patchogue and lived there his entire life. Shortly before the Civil War Gilson married a young woman from the town and settled down. Like many young men on Long Island he enlisted to fight for the Union at the first call for volunteers, leaving his young wife at home. He returned in 1865 at the conclusion of the war and was greeted by gossiping residents linking his wife with those of younger men who had not fought in the war. Without a word, Gilson took all of his possessions and left his house and his wife, building a small home next store to his old house. He never spoke to his wife again, despite the fact that they could clearly see each other through the windows of the adjoining houses. If they passed in the street he would icily stare ahead and proceed as if she was a total stranger. The wife made many fruitless attempts to reconcile but was always greeted with a blank stare and a cold shoulder. His wife died in her seventies, never having remarried. Some said she died of a broken heart".
"Gilson lived until he was 91 years old and also never remarried. When he died, he had not a friend or relative in the world to grieve for him. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the old Waverly Avenue cemetery. Ruland was known by generations of Patchogue children as Santa Claus because of the long white beard he sported in his later life".
This story really stayed in my mind. Who was this Gilson Ruland? What happened to him? What happened to his wife? So I dug a little deeper and found a lot more.
There is a monument to those from Patchogue who fought in the Civil War. On it is inscribed the names of the individuals from the town who fought in the War. It is located in front of Village Hall. Although there is no Gilson Ruland listed on the monument, there is a Gelston Ruland listed there. I felt that this had to be the Gilson Ruland of the New York Times article, with his name perhaps misspelled. Digging further I found listed in the "Record of Suffolk County Volunteers Who Served In The Civil War” (2) a "Gilson W. Ruland" of Patchogue who fought with the 13th New York Calvary Regiment. A search of the Official Roster of the 13th Calvary also shows a Gilson W. Ruland of Patchogue who on 2/23/1864 at the age of 38 enlisted as a Private in Company L. The record shows he signed on for three years and transferred on 8/17/1865 to the 3rd New York Provisional Calvary from which he was discharged. Bingo. It would seem that this is the same Gilson Ruland who returned to Patchogue after the end of the Civil War and encountered the rumors of an unfaithful wife. The same Gelston Ruland whose name is inscribed on the Patchogue Civil War monument. Digging further, I found listed on the 1910 Census (9) a Gilson W. Ruland living in Patchogue and listed as “widowed". I was then also able to find in the 1904 edition of the “Argus Business Directory of Patchogue”(4) a Gelson Ruland residing at 75 River Avenue. This had to be our Gilson and so I recorded it.
The story continued to fascinated me however. Now that I knew Gilson was a real man I wanted to see if I could find out more about him and also what happened to him? After more digging I found an article in the 1912 issue of a paper named the Daily Star entitled “Did Threatening Note Cause Old Mans Death” (3). The article retells the tale of Gilson Ruland returning from the Civil War and turning his back on his reportedly unfaithful wife. It than goes on to tell how a year after his death executors of his estate visited his house to establish its worth. The article describes the home as an “old ramshackle dwelling” that was referred to in town as the “Hermitage”. The article goes on to describe the executors finding what is referred to by them as a “white cap letter” hidden in a crevice of the house. It was a threatening letter that told the old man if he did not clean up his hedges outside his house there would be consequences. The article speculates that perhaps it was the fear of these threats and not ill health that lead to the old man’s death. Fascinating!
The Daily Star article also provided me with a great deal more information on Gilson. Not only was he called Santa Claus by the children of the town, but he is described as being a “lovable old recluse” who had fat cheeks, laughing blue eyes and a long white beard just like Santa Claus. It also tells how every Christmas the recluse would walk the streets of Patchogue giving out “toys, candy and coppers” to the children who followed him. It goes on to note that Gilson’s hobby was collecting door knobs, that he survived on his Civil War pension and that he had an old ships bell on his front lawn which he rung once in the morning to welcome the day and once at night to close it.
Having felt I went as far as I could with Gilson Ruland, I began to research other stories and quite a few followed. But I was always curious about Gilson Ruland’s wife. Who was she? What happened to her? All I knew from the original article is that she never remarried and died in her seventies. I did some more research but never was able to come up with any additional information. That is until recently.
Thanks to the help of an avid researcher of old head stones that visited Long Island Stories and contacted me, I was able to flesh out more of the story. Going under the title “aislin”, he like me works to bring to life the stories of those who may otherwise be forgotten. You can find much of his work on “Find A Grave” where he provides research on individuals buried in local cemeteries
What did “aislin” uncover for me? Gilson
Ruland’s infamous wife was one Mary Fordham. She had previously been married to
a Lorenzo Rowley, who died in the 1850's leaving her a widow (8). Gilson was her second husband having
married him sometime around 1860 before he went off to war (8). Mary was born around 1818 and was 7 years older
than Gilson (6). She
died in 1906 and is buried with her first husband Lorenzo Rowley
in the old section of Waverly Cemetery in Patchogue (8). Despite her problems with Gilson, Mary
was apparently very well-liked by her neighbors on River Avenue where she lived
next store to Gilson. She was affectionately known by her neighbors as
the "Widow Rowley" or "Granny Rowley"(8).
According to her Obituary “the neighbors on the street always stood by
"Granny" Rowley in her troubles, and even to the last did not want to
have the general public know of her relationship with the old man in the next
We also discovered that Gilson was not buried in Lakeview Cemetery in an unmarked grave as related in the newspaper article. He was instead buried in Union Cemetery in Sayville New York, the town next door to Patchogue (7). He has a handsome headstone but alas, was indeed buried alone.
A final interesting note to this rather sad but very interesting story. To the very end Gilson retained his bitterness towards Mary. It was noted that on the day of her funeral "the old man hitched up his horse to the farm wagon and drove out of town until the funeral was over" (8).
On a cold blustery day I went to Patchogue and found what is now number 75 River Avenue. I wanted to see if there was anything that remained of the old house that Gilson lived in. Any clue of the man who lived there. I am fairly certain this would be the same location as number 75 was in 1904, as I was able to located the house number in approximately the same place on an 1870's street map of Patchogue I found in the Patchogue library (5).
Alas, the “old ramshackle house” was no longer there, replaced by a very small building that houses a business. Interestingly enough though, inscribed to the left of the front of the building is the date “1914”. This building was put up only a few years after Gilson's death in 1911 and it would seem reasonable that it replaced the "old ramshackle" house that he lived in. I looked to see if I could find any trace of the old ships bell, but I found none. I looked to see if there was an old home next to or behind number 75 that could have been Gilson’s wives. No luck. Only a more modern home was there. So I had to imagine. I stood outside number 75 and realized this was the place where Gilson's home once stood, sitting next to his wife’s whom he never spoke to. The house of a Civil War veteran. The house of Patchogue’s very own Santa Claus.
Sources for "Gilson Ruland"
(1) New York Times – August 10th, 1911 – “Silent To Wife for 40 Years - Ruland Never Forgave Wife When He Returned From War”
(2) Record of Suffolk County Volunteers Who Served in the Civil War" - W.W. Munsell and Company – 1882
(3) Daily Star – 1/22/ 1912 – Did Threatening Note Cause Old Man’s Death”
(4) Argus Business Directory Of Patchogue - 1904
(5) Carol Hastings History Room - Patchogue Public Library
(6) 1870 Federal Census - Town of Brookhaven
(7) Find A Grave - Gilson W. Ruland
(8) "AISLIN" = Who provided information on Mary Fordham on Find A Grave - Mary Fordham in Waverly Cemetery Patchogue
(9) 1910 Federal Census – Town of Brookhaven
The Strange Will of Mrs. Weeks
Mrs. Augusta J. Weeks was one of the wealthiest people in town. She was well known for her philanthropy, and upon her death in 1901left money and land to the town to build and maintain a park named after her and her three sisters (Four Sisters Park) for use by all. Her Will also left money to be used to create a memorial to her and her other three well known sisters and for a fund to clean up Lakeview Cemetery and maintain the family plot that resided in it.
Her will also contained a very peculiar provision as reflected in her own words below.
" I desire and direct that after my death my body be kept in a warm room and that my cloths be not removed until the day following my death; that my body remain un-buried for five or more days after the day of my death, and that no ice preparation be applied to my face or body, either externally or internally".
Mrs. Weeks you see was obsessed with the fear that she would be buried alive. The activities that Mrs. Weeks forbade in her will were common embalming practices when preparing the dead for burial. Stories of people who would awake in their coffins after being buried were common at the time, and Mrs. Weeks wanted to ensure this did not happen to her.
Augusta J. Weeks was buried as her will directed, six days after her death. As far as we know, she was truly dead when she was put in the ground. She rests in Lakeview Cemetery in the family plot.
Annanias Smith- "Old Rooster-Skin Narse of Early Patchogue"
One of the most interesting individuals I ran across while researching Patchogue was one Annanias Smith. He lived on the outskirts of the town in the early 1800's and was described as a "rough and tumble" character who was a prolific hunter. His nick name among the people of the village was "Old Rooster-Skin Narse". He was given this name after his beloved pet rooster died and he skinned it and turned it into a hat which he proudly wore at all times. In fact, it was told that he kept the skins of every animal he had ever killed. He than turned the skins into outfits which he wore throughout his life. These outfits were often complete with animal heads, paws and tails.
You can imagine the scary and peculiar site Annanias made when he appeared in town. These were times of great superstition and a man walking around dressed in animal skins with a hat made of a dead rooster was someone to fear. Many people considered him an agent of the devil and avoided him at all costs. Children universally feared him and were swept off the streets by parents when he would walk by.
In reality however, Annanias was extremely odd but religious. He was present in church every Sunday where he would sit only with the woman in one of the front pews. He often became disruptive in church however and on more than one occasion the pastor would have to ask some of the male members of the congregation to have him forceably removed from the church. In his later years, Annanias got around with the help of a long walking stick. While at church he would often react to sermons which were condemning some type of bad behavior by using his stick to tap and individual and point out "that means you"! On other occasions, he would tap himself on the head with his stick and proclaim "That one I will take on myself"!
For years after his death, people of Patchogue would swear that they would see the ghost of Annanias walking through the woods outside of town in his animal outfits, trying to scare people away from his beloved hunting grounds.
Sailors Snug Harbor Tavern - "The Old Haunted Tavern of Patchogue"
The tavern still exists in Patchogue on South Ocean Avenue. It stands opposite where the old Laurel Hotel use to sit. It does not exist however as it did in the 19th century. Today, what was once a tavern that catered to the local fisherman and sailors visiting Patchogue is now a private residence. In fact it exists as three separate residences, as the original house was divided at some point into three separate sections which all exist today as separate houses. According to a November 18th, 1930 article in the Patchogue Advance entitled "Old Resident Writes About Private Schools Long Ago", an old resident of Patchogue relates the house was originally a tavern owned by a Edward Horton. Edward than met and married Betsey Newey Horton, who converted part of the house into a school.
In another article dated March 31st, 1931and entitled "Jottings About Local History", the author states that Mrs. Betsey Newey Horton was married twice with her second husband being Edward Horton. The author relates that the tavern turned house was notoriously haunted. She relates "this place, I distinctly remember as a young child, was said to be haunted". She claimed many families moved in and out of the house over the years as a result of the ghostly apparitions that appeared on a regular basis. The article goes on that it was rumored that the house had often been the site of wild parties that often got out of control and that a gruesome murder had taken place in the tavern in the early days.
Are the houses still haunted today? Who knows.
Betsey Horton was a very interesting person. She was highly regarded in the area and was a member of the well to do Newey family of Patchogue. She was reported to be a very intelligent woman who was educated beyond her day and generation. She was one of the very few woman educators that could teach navigation, and she was said to have taught it to many of the old-time captains of the day.
Interestingly, a small note in the Long Island Traveler (January 22nd, 1874) notes that Edward Horton was granted a divorce from Betsey Newey Horton as a result of Betsey's 3 year affair with another man.
The Mystery of 1813
In the Fall of 1813 eleven men from the Brookhaven area set off in a small boat to fish in the ocean opposite Patchogue. None of the eleven returned alive and how they died has been the source of speculation to this very day. The bodies of eight of the eleven men who set out that day washed up on shore the day after their disappearance along with the broken remains of the boat. The bodies of the others were never found. Most speculated that the fisherman had been stranded when their boat floated away after they had left it on a sandbar to cast their nets in the sea. Others felt this unlikely as these men were experienced fisherman and would never make such a mistake. They theorized it may have been the work of the devil or perhaps sabotage from a rival fishing crew. Still others thought it was the work of the British who were still smarting from the War of 1812 with the Americans and whose ships could still be seen sailing the waters of the east coast and the Long Island area.
Below is a version of the most widely accepted theory of the tragedy, taken exactly as it was written by Osborn Shaw(1).