Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"BY TWIG & TURF" -family roots in Oyster Bay


OYSTER BAY, on Long Island, New York was founded  in 1653 and settled soon thereafter by what would be the union of several notable families that link to the present Glover/Smith generation through my maternal grandfather, Leon Vern Smith.  The direct ancestry of these families is revealed through the marriage of URIAH TOWNSEND and MARY WRIGHT, as 3rd/4th generations of English immigrants.   

Peter Wright (Mary's great grandfather) emigrated from England in 1635.  Eighteen years later, he became one of the purchasers of Oyster Bay. 
“Anno Domini sixteen hundred and fifty-three.  This writing witnesseth that Assiapum, alias Mohanes, have sold unto Peter Wright, Samuel Mayo, and William Leverich, their heirs, administrators, and assigns, all his land lying and situate upon Oyster Bay, and bounded by Oyster River to the east side, Papaquatunk River on the west side, with all woods, rivers, meadows, uplands, ponds, and all other appurtenances lying between the bounds aforesaid, with all the Islands lying to the seaward, excepting one island, commonly called Hog Island, and bounded near the southward by a point of trees, called Cantiague.  In consideration of which bargain sold, he is to receive, as full satisfaction, six Indian coats, six kettles, six fathom of wampum, six hoes, five hatchets, three pair stockings, thirty awl-blades, or axes, twenty knives, three shirts, and as much Peague as will amount to four pounds sterling." (highlighted excerpts from “A Memorial of John, Henry, and Richard Townsend, and their descendants” W.A. Townsend, Publisher, 1865)
"The first intention was that there should be no private property but the home lots, the first of which were six acres.  Subsequent lots were to be five acres for purchase, but few were that large with most being only half an acre, leading to difficulties with heirs of the original purchasers.  Every home lot was entitled to certain privileges such as shares in the common meadows, pastures, and woodlands." 

THE TOWNSEND FAMILY: Henry & John   Prior to the mill Henry Townsend built at Mill Stream, people had to carry their grain across to Norwalk to be ground.  This property was still in the possession of Townsends two hundred years later. (George Townsend, 4th great grandson of Henry)"
The town grant read as follows: “Oyster Bay, September 16th, 1861. Be it known unto all en by these present that we, the inhabiters of the Town of Oyster Bay, on Long Island, in America, whose names are underwritten –we do by these present firmly covenant and engage unto Henry Townsend, now in the said town, upon condition the said Henry Townsend do build such a mill, as at Norwalk on the Main, or an English mill on our stream, called by us, the Mill River, at the west end of our Town, then we do give and confirm such lands to him, his heirs, and assigns forever, without molestation or condition as, namely, all the mill lot, ..." The document goes on to describe the land's boundaries and geographical features, giving Henry "the miller" possession of land to be used for the benefit of all, reflecting the care given to creating a sound community where property was allotted -literally and figuratively- "by twig and turf."
There was, however, one caveat:  "And we do hereby give unto Henry Townsend the said mill stream to build a mill or mills on it, as he shall see cause, and so to remain firm to him, his heirs, and assigns, so long as he or they do keep a mill on it, as aforesaid.  But if the mill cease to be for half a year after it is built, and no preparation is made to repair the mill again, that then the Town may lawfully enter on the River again, as their own, and improve it as the Town shall see necessary." 
Henry must have had some status within the community.  At a 1672 town meeting, a complaint was presented regarding a customer's dissatisfaction with Henry’s mill work.  After serious consideration, the group ordered (with Henry Townsend’s consent) future recourse.  “…that if any person or persons do not like their usage at the mill, they are to give notice of it to the miller and attend himself, or his wife if he have one, and see their corn ground, if they will, but if they will not attend the grinding, and do cast blemishes, notwithstanding, on the miller, they are at liberty to grind in another place, and the miller at his liberty, whether he will grind again for any such person or persons until him or them do tender such reasonable satisfaction, as may be adjudged just by the Town.”
Henry Townsend also built a saw-mill in 1673 along with the receipt of another grant -of timber land.  Although existing records did not pinpoint where this mill was located, Henry Townsend, Jr., Robert, and two of the Birdsalls put up a saw-mill at Mill Neck in 1694.  Brother, John Townsend was also an important member of the community, serving as town surveyor for nineteen years. 

American Townsend's "Raynham Hall", Oyster Bay
To better understand the Townsend family that settled in America, we need to go back to 1637 or thereabouts.  Henry and John were two of three sons that emigrated from Norfolk, England to Massachusetts with their father, Thomas, a recent widower.  [See their lineage in the story posted on 1/24/13.]  Upon arrival, Thomas was one of  a large group of  'settlers' to be given land granted by the Crown (with 800 acres going to the Right Honourable Lord Brook who would suffer fatal battle wounds while storming the English cathedral at Litchfield during the civil war of 1642). Within a year, Thomas was established on 60 acres in the fledgling town of Lynn, Massachusetts with his sons and soon, a new wife.  In 1641, son John married Elizabeth Coles Montgomerie, a 21-year old widow whose parents emigrated from Norfolk, too.
 [NOTE: another ancestor from our Dort branch, Gerrard/Garrett Spencer was among the settlers.  His name is found listed four above the name Townsend on the original list of inhabitants of Lynn.  G. Spencer was only granted 30 acres, which probably indicated his unmarried status at the time. He would marry within the year and would be granted the 'ferry at Linn' in 1639. Sometime before 1660 he left and helped to found the town of Haddam, Connecticut.  See related post in this blog.]
About this time, John, Henry, and their brother Richard (of whom we know very little) moved to New Amsterdam (New York was then under Dutch control), settling in Flushing.  Flushing was the home of Elizabeth Winthrop Feake's daughter, Hannah and her husband, John Bowne, whose Quaker sympathies and beliefs would spur Henry and John to sign the Flushing Remonstrance -an act for which both would be punished by the Dutch authorities.  Huge fines and imprisonment, along with other oppressive restrictions spurred the Townsends to move with many others in the colony to Providence Plantation at Warwick, Rhode Island where all -including Quakers- were welcome. According to Thompson's "History of Long Island," all three brothers not only held municipal offices at Warwick, but were also members of the Provincial Assembly there. By the 1660's, after unsuccessfully attempting a settlement at Rusdorp (Jamaica), Long Island, the Townsends sought final refuge from Dutch control in territory under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Colony, a new town called Oyster Bay.
After years of upheaval, the brothers Townsend (John, Henry, and Richard) finally settled at Oyster Bay in the spring of 1661.  And the rest, as they say, is history... where generations of our family were born, raised, and died. 
~Henry's son Henry, Jr. would marry the daughter of Captain John Underhill and Elizabeth Feake, (daughter of the Winthrop Woman and sister of Quaker Hannah Bowne of Flushing.)
~As the  grandson of Henry AND great-grandson of Henry's brother, John Townsend -URIAH TOWNSEND married into the family of Oyster Bay founder, Peter WRIGHT.
~Peter's great-great grandson EZRA TOWNSEND linked our diverse Oyster Bay line with that of his wife, JENET TRUMBULL, whose family history may include no less than eight lines of English ancestors who braved the ocean for their own "twig & turf" in colonial America. [Jenet's lineage is still under review.]


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you, Ian! Our family's history is part of the American experience ...right from its very beginnings!