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South Haven Church Dates to Pre-Revolutionary Times

Footnotes to Long Island History

South Haven Church Dates to Pre-Revolutionary Days

 

November 22, 1956

Thomas R. Bayles

 


           The Presbyterian Church at South Haven is part of the oldest parish, west of Southampton, on the south side of Long Island.

            The parish in the early days extended from Quogue to Bellport, and included what are now Westhampton, Remsenburg, Moriches, South Haven and Bellport.  The first regular pastor of this 20-mile parish was the Rev. Nehemiah Greenman, a graduate of Yale who was licensed by the Presbytery of Suffolk County on October 20, 1748.  His health failed and he was released from his appointment in 1750.

            The next pastor was the Rev. Abner Reeve, who was ordained by the Presbytery on November 6, 1755 and continued until 1763.  Following him was the Rev. David Rose, who was ordained by the Presbytery December 4, 1765.

            In 1767 a Presbyterian Church was organized at Middle Town, now Middle Island, which united with the South Haven Church and so continued for 73 years, until 1839.

            The Rev. David Rose, or “Priest Rose” as he was called by members of his congregation, was a busy man and must have been an interesting figure as he covered his enormous parishes of Middle Island and the South Haven on horseback, his saddle bags filled with medicine, books and a Bible.  He combined the three most prized functions of those early days, preacher, doctor and teacher.  He also operated a farm at his home in South Haven, and the cattle marks of his herd are to be found among the old records at the town hall in Patchogue.

            Previous to the time the South Haven Church was established there was no church on the south side of Brookhaven town, and it was a long trip to the old “Town” church at Setauket.

            Just when the South Haven Church was built is not clear, but the first reference in the town records to a church in the southern part of the town is contained in a deed dated April 10, 1745, in which Richard Floyd, Nicoll Floyd and Mordecai Homan, Jr., sold to John Havens of Shelter Island a tract of land called “Yamphank Neck.”  This deed contained the following reservation.  “Always Reserving and Excepting out of this present Indenture of sale two acres of land or thereabouts granted for the use of a Presbyterian meeting house, whereon the said house now standeth.”

            This is proof that in 1745 the South Haven Church was in existence and possessed two acres of land and a meeting house.

            The small group of men and women, who organized this first church on the south side of the town, was not rich people, as farmers and whalers and fisherman rarely became wealthy in those early days.  Yet the lack of money did not daunt them and through the seven long years of the Revolution, their farms were taken and used by the British soldiers, and when peace was declared and their homes rebuilt, one of the first objects was the rebuilding of their meeting house.  Tradition states this has been used by the enemy troops as a horse stable and burned.

            During the Revolution, “Priest Rose” was very active in the cause for American independence, and served in the army after taking his family to Connecticut for safety.  His wife died there as a result of the hardships of exile.  After the war he returned with his family and began the difficult task of rebuilding the meeting house at South Haven, and restoring his congregations at South Haven and at Middle Island.  The church at Middle Island was not damaged by the British soldiers.

            Remarkable was the influence of this small country church, for it set out 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.  Among these were General William Floyd, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence; General Nathanial Woodhull, who became one of the first notable martyrs to the American cause and several others.

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