Port Jefferson, L.I
December 29 – One of the most careful and indefatigable collectors
of Indian remains on the island is probably Frederick M. Wilson of
this place. Although Mr. Wilson has been in active business all his
life, he has found time to gather the large and valuable Wilson
collection of Indian relics from Port Jefferson and vicinity now in
the museum of the Long Island Historical Society, besides a valuable
contribution to the museum of Natural History and a large private
collection of his own. Mr. Wilson is also an authority on the
weapons tools and implements of the Long Island Indians, and on the
sites of former Indian villages in this vicinity.
“The coastline from
Smithtown Bay eastward to Miller’s Place was once thickly dotted
with Indian villages.” Said Mr. Wilson recently in conversation with
an Eagle representative. “The distance may be twenty miles in a
straight line, and it is doubtless three times that if the windings
of the shore lines are followed. It would be difficult to find a
coast of equal extent showing greater sinuosities. Stony Brook
Harbor, with its tributaries. Conscience Bay and Setauket Bay, and
Mount Sinai Harbor are all wide and deep indentations in the bold
coast line of the north shore, each with a water front of from ten
to fifteen miles.
On the shores of
these sheltered bays the red men loved to build their villages, both
because of the beautiful outlook, as I like to think, and because of
the ease with which they could gather their food from the waters
before them. All kinds of fish, oysters, clams, scallops, mussels
and even the periwinkle were food for the Indian. While their shells
made his money and their bones his arrow and spear heads. And most
of the year ducks, geese and all sorts of water fowl swarmed in the
“It is quite easy
now to determine the sites of many of these villages by the shell
mounds in their vicinity or by the arrows, spear heads, domestic
implements and chips from the workshops of the arrow makers found
near them. Every village had its heap of refuse near by, composed
principally of shells and of the bones of animals killed and eaten,
and when I find one I know I am on the site of an Indian village or
encampment. When the shells have lain for centuries, the lime has
washed away, leaving a black earthy material rich in fertilizing
qualities. Some of these shell mounds were carted on to their lands
by the earlier settlers for fertilizers and are lost to us. I have
located Indian villages at Head of the River in Smithtown, at Stony
Brook. On Old Field, near the present lighthouse at the head of
Conscience Bay and Setauket bay on the site now occupied by the
houses of Setauket Village on Strong’s Neck.
Over to the old
man’.’ Everyone knew who was meant by it, and so in time it came to
be the only name of the settlement.”
Half way to the
harbor two roads intersected with two or three dwellings in sight.
This was the old place.” Said Mr. Wilson where the first school
house in this part of the country was built because it would serve
both Old Man’s and Drowned Meadow.” Shortly after he turned into a
footpath leading through a young forest of oak and chestnuts on a
smooth level platform.
indications of an Indian village here.” He said “this land has never
been ploughed. If it should ever be, there ought to be some rich
the land fell abruptly two hundred feet or more to the level of the
Mount Sinai Harbor. A corn field with the brown stalks rustling in
the wind lay before the travelers: beyond that in a dense forest
Crystal Brook Pond, and washing the base of the dam the reedy
channels of the harbor. On the left covering the entire west side of
the harbor lay the great Strong estate. Oakwood with its fine old
manor house plainly visible a quarter of a mile above.
The bay must have
fairly swarmed with red men in their day.” Said Mr. Wilson. “You see
that great promontory a short distance above the manor. There was
the largest shell mound I have found in my researches. Loads upon
loads of shells were carted from it by the first settlers and spread
over their fields. You can see the deep chasm in the hill now. I
found a few arrowheads only there, but have never had the
opportunity to dig. From that point all around the sweep of the bay
to Hopkins on the east were Indian villages, or perhaps summer camps
of families from the interior as is indicated by the shell heaps
found along the shores. In this corn field before us I found
numerous arrow and spear heads and a beautiful specimen of
of the cornfield discovered many chips of quartz and one arrowhead
of red sandstone.
“This is a rare
find.” Said Mr. Wilson, referring to the latter, “and is very old.
It represents the primitive stage of Indian art. When they improved
in handcraft they used the quartz pebbles picked up on the beach.
Innumerable chips of which you can find in this field showing that
it was a favorite workshop of the arrow makers.
….. He led the way
along the pretty woodsy road forest on one side, and tangled swamp
hiding pretty Crystal Brook Pond on the other. Soon he came to
Crystal Brook Hollow, a deep ravine running down to the sea from
near Middle Island. Eight miles distant is the center of the island.
Its bed is now dry as a bone and yet, said Mr. Wilson. “Captain
Dayton, who would be about 100 years old if living, told me that in
his boyhood a considerable stream flowed here and that there were
stepping stones across it for the convenience of foot passengers. I
am confident that a stream once flowed here large enough to float
Indian canoes. I will tell you why. Follow the ravine to its head at
Floyd Edward’s house, near Middle Island and you will find two ponds
one on either side of the house. Between the two in the old days an
Indian path from Miller’s Place to Middle Island used to run and Mr.
Edwards said he had heard his Grandmother tell of seeing Indians
going back and forth on it with packs on their backs. I once dug
down four feet in the banks of those ponds and found deposits of
shells of unknown depth.. As it is seven miles from the sound. It is
evident that the red men did not carry them there on their backs and
the only reasonable explanation is that a creek once flowed from the
ponds down this hollow to the ground, up which the Indians paddled
their canoes laden with shell fish.