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Early Preacher Busy Man

Footnotes to Long Island History

Early Preacher Busy Man

by

Thomas R. Bayles


                The first settlement in Brookhaven town  was made at Setauket in 1655, and it was not until about 1730 that a few hardy pioneers began to make their homes through the middle of the island. A trail that is now Middle Country road was broken through shortly after 1700, and it was adjoining this that the first settlers located and built their homes, cleared land for farming and began the settlement of Middle Island. Before this, the Indians were the only inhabitants of this vast wilderness and may have had their settlements located around Artist Lake as numerous arrow heads have been found there

        The original house adjoining Pfeiffer's store in Middle Island was occupied in 1739 by one of the Brewster family as was the old Hutchinson homestead in 1750, which stood at the foot of the hill where Horton's cement block factory is now located. These men were grandsons of the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster, the first minister of the old Town church at Setauket in 1665.

                As the little settlement grew, the need for a church became an important matter for these people and in 1766 a piece of ground was purchased where the present church is located. Here was erected the first 'meeting house,' and a Presbyterian church was organized in charge of the Rev. David Rose who was pastor of the South Haven church, which had been organized a few years previously. "Priest Rose" as he was called, served both churches until his death in 1799 and combined the three most prized functions of that day, preacher, doctor and teacher. He must have been  a busy man as he rode over his immense parishes on horseback with his saddle bags full of medicine, books and a bible.

                The first church built here in 1766 was a plain boxlike structure about 26  feet square. Logs from nearby forests were hauled to the saw mill at Yaphank to be sawed into boards and timber and labor was furnished by those earnest men who wanted a church built. Heating facilities were not provided and the women brought "foot stoves" to warm their feet.

                This is the story of a resolute group of men and women who for nearly two centuries have kept alive a church because they loved and needed it in spite of at times almost insurmountable odds. They were not rich people, for farmers rarely became wealthy on Long Island in Colonial times. The Revolutionary war impoverished them as a depression could not, and for seven long years their farms were uncared for or furnished provender for the British soldiers. Yet when peace was declared and their home repaired and occupied their first desire was to re-open their church and resume services.

                Remarkable too, was the influence of this church and the one at South Haven which sent into the political world of that colonial day distinguished men who have been recognized and remembered as leaders in the early life of our nation. More important was the joy and hope and courage which the churches inspired through years in these communities.   

                During the Revolution the Rev. Mr. Rose enlisted in the army and after the British took possession of Long Island, fled to Connecticut with his family to escape them. What happened to the church is a mystery. Whether it was used by the British soldiers during their occupation as were the churches at Setauket and South Haven is unknown. After the war, Priest Rose returned and services were resumed in his churches.

                Whatever records existed of the activities of the Middle Island church up to 1800 have been forever lost, and the first record we have is that of June 1, 1800, which reads as follows: "About this time, Appollus Wetmore was appointed clerk to keep record for the church." this further states, "In the spring and summer of 1800, God was pleased in a most wonderful manner to pour out his spirit on the people in this place. Prayer meetings were kept up two to five nights a week, and God was pleased to follow the word preached with the power to the salvation of many." There were only 19 members of the church in January of 1800 and 22 more were added in June of that year.             

                Middle Island has the distinction of having the oldest post office in Brookhaven town and Appollus Wetmore was the first postmaster in 1796. This locality was first known as Middletown then the name of the post office was changed to Brookhaven and in 1821 was again changed to its present name Middle Island.

                The church building erected in 1766 served the community until 1837 when the present church was built on the same site but just to the rear of the old one.

 

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