Skip to main content


A Series of Local Articles, on Past and Present.

No. 37.

Ties between Brooklyn and the East end of the island.—Notes of a voyage out of Greenport.—The start—the company.—Gardiner's Island—its history.

SINCE we have roamed down the island, in the last two papers, and since there are such ties of connection between the eastern counties and this city of ours, we think it not at all amiss that our Brooklyniana sketches should extend themselves a little further on this occasion, and give some points of interest relating to the other extremity of Long Island; especially as there is no chance of their being chronicled by any body on the continental regions. We will therefore give some notes of an exploration journey, made by us last autumn, from Greenport out into the lands and waters thereunto adjoining. We suppose most of our readers are aware that Greenport is the terminus of the Long Island Railroad. It is a fine, half-rural, half-marine village, quite a summer and fall resort for sportsmen and fishermen. But to the account of my adventures (for it is now necessary to drop the editorial "we,") last fall, out of Greenport.

The black-fish were biting famously, and I stood at the end of the dock, quite proud of a big fellow I had just hauled up; and baited my hook again with "fiddlers," while the fish floundered at a great rate around my feet.

Just then a party of lively girls, conveyed by a clerical looking personage, and one or two younger fellows, came down the wharf, and betook themselves on board a taught [taut] and tidy sloop fastened there. Some large baskets also made their appearance. It was evidently a party off for a pleasure sail.

"Ease away your lines for a moment," said the young sailor who was working the sloop, to me and my companions, "till we shove along the pier."

I obeyed, and asked him where he was bound [for].

"To Montauk Point," he answered—adding, with sailor-like frankness, "Won't you go along?"

Upon the word, accoutred as I was, I plunged—the fish—into an old tin kettle, and gave them, with sixpence and my direction, to a young sea-dog who was in the predicament of the celebrated Dicky Doubt,1 and jumped aboard, the sailor good-naturedly holding fast to the wharf with a boat-hook, and offering his shoulder for me to step on—though, as he was about half my size, I thought it prudential to decline.

As we pushed our sloop off from the pier's sheltering bulwarks, the wind struck her, bellying out her sails and tilting her down on one side in a decided and beautiful style, quite to the water. I expected a few little screams, at least, from the young ladies, but these East Long Island girls are terraqueous, like the men; long before our jaunt was over, I discovered that they could give me head-start and beat me all hollow in matters connected with sailing.

It was a very pleasant and sensible party; the girls were unaffected and knew a hawk from a hernshaw,2 and the minister laughed and told stories and ate luncheons, just like a common man, which is quite remarkable for a country clergyman. I found him one of the pleasantest acquaintances I had yet made on the island.

We sailed along at a stiff rate—told anecdotes and riddles, and chatted and joked, and made merry. As for me, I blessed my lucky stars; for merely to sail—to bend over and look at the ripples as the prow divided the water—to lie on my back and gaze by the half-hour at the passing clouds overhead—merely to breathe and live in that sweet air and clear sunlight—to hear the musical chatter of the girls, as they pursued their own glee—was happiness enough for one day. You may laugh at me, if you like, but there is an ecstatic satisfaction in such lazy philosophy, such passive yielding up of one's self to the pure emanations of Nature, better than the most exciting pleasures.

Rounding and leaving to the south "Hay-Beach" and "Ram Head," two little capes of Shelter Island, we continued on our way rejoicing. The wind was stiff, while the day was a warm one, which brought the temperature to just the right point.

Some miles ahead of us lay Gardiner's Island,3 like a big heart, with a bit of one of its edges sliced out. This fertile and "retired" little place, (the Indian name, Monchonock) contains about 3000 acres, mostly excellent land, and was originally purchased at the following price, according to the records:

One large black dog, one gun, a quantity (?) of powder and shot, some rum, and a few Dutch blankets.

This was in 1630; it is now worth seventy thousand dollars.

Gardiner's Island is historical in its association, to a more important pitch than is generally known, even on Long Island. It was the first English settlement ever made in the present limits of the state of New York. At first (1640, and forty years afterwards,) it remained an independent little sovereignty of itself. Lion Gardiner, the purchaser and settler, seems to have been one of those massive old characters of the English commonwealth—belonging to the republican party of the early portion of the 17th century, with Hampden, Cromwell, and other hearts of oak. He was a civil engineer, and was sent over in "a small Norsey-Barque of 25 tons," to begin a fort at the mouth of the Connecticut river, (Saybrook, I suppose, of course). He was an independent, God-worshipping man, and exercised great influence for good over both whites and Indians. The latter seem to have had unbounded confidence in him. Tradition relates that Wyandance, the great chief of East Long Island, loved and obeyed Mr. Gardiner in a remarkable manner, and, when he died, left to the honest Englishman the guardianship of his son, and desired him to be the advisor of his widow. By Mr. Gardiner, also, the daughter of Wyandance, and thirteen other females who had been captured by Ninicraft, Chief of a hostile tribe, and kept for a long time in durance, were restored to their parents and friends.

Imagination loves to trace (mine does, any how,) the settlement and patriarchal happiness of this fine old English gentleman on his island there all by himself, with his large farm-house, his servants and family, his crops on a great scale, his sheep, horses, and cows. His wife was a Dutch woman—for thus it is written by his own hand in the old family Bible, which the Gardiners yet possess:

In the year of our Lord 1635, July the 10, came I, Lion Gardiner, and Mary my wife, from Woreden, a town in Holland, where my wife was born, being the daughter of one Derike Williamson, derocant,4 &c., &c.

Imagine the Arcadian simplicity and plenty of the situation, and of those times. Doubtless, among his work-people, Mr. Gardiner had Indians, both men and women. Imagine the picturesqueness of the groups, at night in the large hall, or the kitchen—the mighty fire, the supper, the dignity and yet good humor of the heads of the family, and the stalwart health of the brownfaced crowd around them. Imagine their simple pleasures, their interests, their occupations—how different from ours! And yet in all the deeper features of humanity—love, work, and death—they were the same.

We passed Gardiner's Island far to our left, and sped onward, hugging the shore of the peninsula of Montauk,5 and keeping a sharp lookout for shallow places, where we might risk the running on a sand bar. The long peninsula contains many thousands acres, lying comparatively waste. And it makes one think better of humanity when he doth discover such a fact as I did in my travels, that this valuable tract of land is kept thus unseized and unsold by the town of Easthampton, principally because the few remaining Indians hold in it a usufructuary interest, or right of enjoying and using it, though without any property in its soil.

The Peninsula is nearly altogether used for pasturage, in shares, and is thus occupied by thousands of horses, sheep, &c., turned out to graze and grow fat. There is quite a peculiar race of fellows here, who live in huts by themselves, at large distances from each other, and act as horse-herds. You may be surprised, perhaps, to hear that occasionally these horses have a regular stampede, forming in solid bodies, charging along the open grounds at a tremendous rate, shaking the earth like thunder. The horse-herds have curious instruments, exactly on the principle of the toys vulgarly called "horse-fiddles"—and when these stampedes get under way, they rush out, and try to break the integrity of the enemy by whirling said instruments in a manner fast and furious.

Nigh one of the coves where our vessel passed, they showed me the cave of an old Indian hermit, who lived there. He was probably absent from home, as we saw nothing of him; though a young man, who formed one of our party, knew him very well, and on sporting expeditions had sometimes cooked a meal in his cave. From the young man's description, the old fellow must have been a pretty fair counterpart of Chingachgook, one of Cooper's Indian characters.6

Montauk contains historical ground. It was the sacred burial place of the East Long Island Indians—their Mecca, and also their political centre. Wyandance lived there. The remains of the rude citadel occupied by this Chieftain are yet to be seen, surrounded by innumerable Indian grave hollows. It was called Duan-no-to-wouk.


1. Whitman alludes here to a folk rhyme: "Dicky, Dicky Dout / Your shirt hangs out, / Four yards in and five yards out." See Iona and Peter Opie, The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), 47. [back]

2. A hernshaw is a heron. Whitman is playing here on Hamlet's line in Act 2, Scene 2 of Hamlet: "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." [back]

3. Gardiner's Island was the first English settlement within New York State's present borders. Lion Gardiner purchased the island from the Montauk Indians in 1639. [back]

4. "Derocant" (or, in Dutch, "Deurcant") is actually the last name of Derike Williamson Derocant. [back]

5. Whitman continues his discussion of Montauk Point in his next piece in the series, "Brooklyniana No. 38" (October 25, 1862). [back]

6. Chingachgook is a character in several of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales: The Pioneers (1823), The Last of the Mohicans (1826), The Pathfinder (1840), and The Deerslayer (1841). [back]

Back to top