Suffolk County, New York

A Brief Overview


  • Suffolk is the easternmost county in New York with a population of about 1,500,000.
  • The Townships of Long Island are:
    • Babylon
    • Islip
    • Brookhaven
    • Huntington
    • East Hampton
    • Riverhead
    • Shelter Island
    • Smithtown
    • Southampton
    • Southold
  • Suffolk County seat is at Riverhead (where the north/south fork separate)
  • Suffolk is eighty-six (86) miles long and twenty-six (26) miles at its widest.
  • Suffolk County is:
    • 52% Catholic Christian
    • 8%    Protestant Christian
    • 7%    Jewish
    • 21%  Not Affiliated
    • 11%  Not Reporting
  • Suffolk County is part of the 10th Judicial District of New York State Court System
  • Suffolk County Community College has campuses in Riverhead, Selden, and Brentwood.
A Brief History Lesson:

The first people to dwell on Long Island were Algonquins… At the time of contact between the European and Indian cultures there were somewhere between sixteen and thirteen groups of Indians, each occupying its own loosely defined area of the Island. These groups included the Montauk, Shinnecock, Manhanset, Nissequogue, Setalcot, Matinecock, Massapequa, Merrick, Corchaug, Uncachogue, Secamans, togue, Rockaway, Canarsie and
Nesaquake…Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian explorer sailing under the flag of a French king, was the first European of record to sight Suffolk…The first white settler was Lion Gardiner, a soldier engineer who came to this area from Connecticut in 1639 to start a plantation on land he had purchased from the “ancient inhabitants” and the Earl of Stirling. Lion Gardiner settled on the Isle of Wight between the North and South Forks with his wife, two children, and some of his men. That island bears his family name today and Gardiner ‘s Island and is still owned by his descendants…  By 1650 the Dutch recognized the weakened position they were in and agreed to divide Long Island. By agreement, the English took control of the East End with the remainder left to the Dutch. The dividing line for the boundary is almost the same line as the one now dividing Nassau and Suffolk Counties. The agreement of 1650 lasted until 1664 when Peter Stuyvesant, the Dutch
governor, surrendered New Amsterdam to Colonel Nicolls in a bloodless coup. James, Duke of York, and brother to the King, now owned New York and all Long Island…With the passage of time more towns spun off the original settlements. Southolders, for example, settled Setauket (Brookhaven) and in turn Smithtown…  Southampton people founded Watermill, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Springs in the 1650’s. East Hampton, settled in 1648, extended its influence to Montauk by 1657. Shelter Island was settled in 1652. The island was first granted town privileges in 1666 but it was not designated a town until 1683. The Town of Huntington dates its founding from 1653 when land was purchased from the Indians. Subsequent purchases during the next fifty years expanded the town area from the Sound to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1872 the southern portion split off to become the Town of Babylon.
The Town of Brookhaven was established in 1655 along the north shore from Stony Brook to Port Jefferson. Additional land acquisitions in succeeding years rounded out the present town. Patchogue and its environs became a part of the town in 1773.
Smithtown dates back to 1663 when Richard “Bull” Smith received the land as a bequest from Lion Gardiner, to whom it had been given by Wyandanch, the Indian sachem. In 1665 a town patent was granted. The Town of Islip was founded in 1710 following a series of large land grants, the first to
William Nicoll in 1684 covering the eastern part of the town. Riverhead Town was formed from the westerly part of Southold Town in 1792. As early as 1727 it was recognized as the County Seat when the County courthouse and jail were located there… By the 1670’s political unrest was growing from the continued refusal by the Duke of York to permit the colonists a legislative assembly and greater self rule One result was that collection of taxes had dwindled; people were openly refusing to pay them. The colony was in a hostile mood and the Duke of York had to face a painful decision: whether to continue ruling with an iron hand and face continued losses, or give away some rights for greater self rule in the hope of greater profit from the colony. William Penn, who was visiting England fresh from a trip to North America, counseled the Duke to give in and make some concessions to the colonists. The Duke was finally persuaded to do this and from that persuasion this county it is known today developed .
The Duke of York sent a young Irish Catholic gentleman named Thomas Dongan to govern. Governor Dongan convened the first assembly that head ever been gathered to represent the colonists soon after arriving. The group sat in AIbany for nearly three weeks from the middle of October until the first day of November, and out of those deliberations came a document entitled: The Charter of Liberties and Privileges Granted by His Royal Highness to the Inhabitants of New York and Its Dependencies… Suffolk was English for just over one hundred years from its founding as a county on November 1, 1683 until the last occupation troops of the British Army left this area late in November of 1783…  In this time there was a succession of royal governors representing the English Crown who tried to govern, impose taxes, and collect them with limited success…Smuggling and privateering were common in everyday life along the coast…  One governor, the Earl of Bellamont, decided to stop smuggling and other acts against this authority on the sea. He commissioned a respected merchant, William Kidd – in 1696 to sail out of New York to rid the coast of piracy. It didn’t work out as intended. Within a year the name of Captain Kidd was feared, for he had turned buccaneer…Although there are disputes on several points, historians generally agree that Captain Kidd was sailing from the West Indies to Boston when he stopped at Gardiner’s Island off Suffolk’s East End. Here he landed and buried a chest of pirate loot consisting of gold, silver, and jewels. Kidd then sailed to Boston in July 1699 where he was seized and put in irons by order of the very man who had commissioned him…Kidd was sent to England where he was Imprisoned, then given a shoddy trial, found guilty, and executed in May 1701…Though times were generally peaceful a militia was organized in Suffolk that had 614 men by the year 1700.This would grow in size and expertise during the French and Indian War which began in 1754…The two most easterly counties of the Island were truly the “bread basket” of New York…Lord Howe, commander of British forces…He said of Long Island that it was “the only spot in America for carrying on a war with efficacy…And New York was a key location not only because of its fine harbor but because it separated the colonies of New England and the Middle Atlantic…A postal route was setup in 1764 by which a rider carrying mail would set out every two weeks along the north shore returning to New York along the south shore. It was not until 1793 that Suffolk had its first post office. The system of justice was equally simple a Court of Sessions holding forth in selected Suffolk towns only twice a year…No one knows for sure when the first Revolutionary thoughts began to surface in the minds of local colonists but the French and Indian War certainly played a part in creating such thoughts…   In the early days of April 1775 people here elected Colonel William Floyd, a gentleman farmer of Mastic, to again represent this area at the Continental Congress to be held in May at Philadelphia. (He had attended the 1st Continental Congress previously) But events outside Boston in the little towns of Concord and Lexington soon changed his plans. The “shot heard round the world” when British Redcoats and local militia clashed at Concord Bridge quickly mobilized Suffolk people to action and rebellion…When William Floyd left his beloved 2000 acre farm to make the long journey to Philadelphia he little realized he would not see home again for seven years. He and his colleagues from the other colonies would draft and sign a document on July 4th of 1776 that closed the door on compromise with Britain. Signing The Declaration of Independence made William Floyd a marked man. His home and property were seized and vandalized just after his wife and family fled to safety in Connecticut… On Aug. 22, 1776-just a matter of days after Washington’s troops had heard the Declaration of Independence Lord Howe struck the Long Island fortifications of Washington moving 15,000 British and 5,000 German (Hessian) mercenaries across The Narrows to Brooklyn from Staten Island. The Battle of Long Island was a stunning victory for the British…For Long Islanders – and Suffolk residents in particular – the Revolution was over. For the next seven years they lived sunder the heel of an occupation army. But if they could no longer fight openly, they soon developed ways to aid the Patriot cause by hit and run guerilla tactics, harassment and spying.Perhaps best known are the exploits of Washington’s “secret service”the famed Culper Ring.
Based in New York, Setauket, and Connecticut this ingenious group of men and women kept the American commander informed about British troop movements, strength, fortifications, and plans from 1778 until 1782 and on at least one occasion, they pinned down a large English force by deception.The key spy was Robert Townsend, who gathered the intelligence in New York City while he made his rounds of the coffee houses frequented by British officers. His “cover” was a store in the City that delivered merchandise around town.  Townsend’s sister Sally also provided information that she gathered at their family home, Raynham Hall in Oyster Bay, which was then occupied by Colonel John Simcoe of the loyalist Queen’s Rangers. The Hall was a meeting place of British officers including the celebrated Major Andre whose capture saved West Point.Townsend called himself by the code name of Culper Jr.Culper Sr.. was Abraham Woodhull, a Setauket farmer who gathered information on troop movements and plans on Long Island based units.
Messages carrying the secret information were transported with supplies, written on paper with invisible ink, using a code of numbers and names. These messages were carried by Austin Roe who rode a relay of horses to cover the 50 mile distance from New York to Setauket as quickly as possible. He left the messages on the Woodhull farm. These trips were sunder the guise of delivering supplies ordered from Townsend.
Another important person was Anna Strong who used a prearranged signal system of clothes on her wash line to let others know what was happening and where. For example, the number of white handkerchiefs on the wash line told where the whale boat courier from Connecticut was hidden among the bays and inlets of the Long Island shore.
Caleb Brewster was responsible for three whaleboats that kept crossing the Long Island Sound between Setauket and Connecticut. There Washington’s riders were waiting for the intelligence reports; they delivered them to Major Benjamin Tallmadge who took them to Washington’s head-quarters for decoding.  The Culper Ring operated successfully throughout the war without being detected. Indeed their secret code was so secure that even today one of the women agents who gathered information in New York is known only by her number; Agent 355… Civil government had been dissolved and many good people were seized and placed in dreaded prison ships for no reason. “Rebel” property and stock was taken without compensation or wantonly destroyed by lawless bands of soldiers and “cowboys.”…Fences, churches, buildings, wood lots were removed to meet the endless need for camp cooking fires, grains were taken, and innocent people forced under penalty of death to give up family heirlooms and possessions…With no power to oppose the enemy openly and in spite of all the privation, people fought back. Individually and in small groups they harassed the enemy, spied, burned stores, and helped stage whale boat raids on the Sound. This was not without heavy sacrifice by farms and homes destroyed, families broken and lives lost. They acted knowing the consequences and they paid the price.   Peace was finally negotiated after Cornwallis surrendered and on November 25, 1783 the last British left Long Island…

…Suffolk began its second century in an atmosphere of bitterness…The scars of war could be seen in neglected farmlands, burned buildings, and other destruction left by the departing redcoats…Actions taken by patriot assemblies against Tories bred more hatred as family after family was ordered to leave their lands and homes behind because of their allegiance to the Crown…  The Tory exodus, some 100,000 people in all – had begun locally in 1780 when the larger units of British troops were pulled out of Suffolk for action in Southern states. Some 14,000 Tories, native New Yorkers, left their ancestral homes to journey to England, the West Indies or Canada to escape persecution…It was years after the Tory exodus before all property claims and counterclaims were settled…  In 1790 an unparalleled excitement came to western Suffolk as word of George Washington’s tour of Long Island reached people here. Washington was in the second year of his Presidency and a man of enormous popularity and respect. His purpose was to meet and talk to citizens along the route.” He was interested in their views on the government just constituted. Also, as a gentleman farmer, he was curious about Long Island crops, agriculture, and soils.
Traveling with some of his officers, Washington used a cream colored coach drawn by four gray horses with riders. It was an informal tour with no parades or ceremonies. Veterans flocked to see him, and the President greeted and talked with these men and their families. A real politician, he kissed the babies and older women as well.
Washington crossed into Suffolk on April 21, 1790 stopping to sleep at Squire Thompson’s, now known as Sagrikos Manor. From here he headed east in the morning stopping at Sayville having lunch in Patchogue. Next, his party headed north through Coramto Setauket where he spent the night at the home of Captain Roe. On the last morning he paused at the Blydenburg home in Smithtown continuing on to the Widow Platt’s tavern on the Huntington village green for supper. Washington and his companions drank toasts and dined on native oysters, striped bass, turkey, a round of beef, stuffed veal, and chicken pie. A meal fit for a President
Two other men who would occupy the presidency also visited Suffolk during this period: Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. They were guests of the William Floyds of Mastic in June of 1791 and while there Jefferson studied the language and vocabulary of the Unquachog or Puspatuck Indians…  Concern for navigation and safety also led the Federal government to erect Montauk Point lighthouse in 1796. This was to become Suffolk County’s most enduring landmark. In time other lighthouses were added to aid coastal shipping: Eaton’s Neck off Huntington in 1798; Little Gull off Fisher’s Island in 1806; Old Fields outside Port Jefferson; Cedar Island at the entrance to Sag Harbor; Ponquogue Beach in 1857 and the light at Fire Island in 1858.
By the beginning of the 19th Century steady progress in rebuilding the Suffolk area was in evidence. That progress was to be slowed by the three year War of 1812 and the “Year Without Summer” in 1816.
While the War of 1812 involved virtually no land action on Long Island, the presence of warships of the British Navy – in the Sound and off Gardiner’s Island – posed a threat of sufficient concern to keep privateers and several militia companies occupied.
Sag Harbor bore the brunt of the action. British naval patrols did impede Sag Harbor whalers who then used Connecticut ports to escape harassment. And in 1813 there was a threatened assault from the sea at Sag Harbor. Fortunately people in Sag Harbor were prepared with an arsenal and artillery battery.
The threat was met by militia units, one foot artillery, one infantry and one horse artillery augmented by other troops. No attacks materialized and after the Treaty of Ghent in February 1815 the troops were demobilized and gun installations dismantled by 1816…There were a half dozen Suffolk newspapers by the 1830’s to bring word of outside events but farm families here led rather isolated lives except for stories brought in by seamen and traveling tradesmen. Education and social life were limited to the home, church, and one room schoolhouse where the fundamentals of the 3 R’s were taught…By 1840 the off shore whaling begun by Indians and the earliest colonists, was a well established part of the Suffolk towns facing the Atlantic Ocean.
Whaleboats were kept in readiness and lookouts posted to spot whales. Mastic Beach had three boats equipped for Instant action; Shinnecock had two boats; six were at Southampton and others were at Bridgehampton, East Hampton, and Amagansett. This offshore whaling effort produced anywhere from one to six whales a year…The principal whaling towns in Suffolk were Cold Spring Harbor, a small town of 600 people which had five vessels claiming it as home port; Greenport with seven vessels, and Sag Harbor. Of the three, Sag Harbor was acknowledged as the leader in whaling. By 1847 eighty eight whaling vessels called Sag Harbor their home port…Gold was discovered in California in 1849. The lure of that precious metal attracted young adventurers, whale men and others interested in getting rich quick. No less than 800 whale men abandoned Sag Harbor alone for California. Many whale ships were refitted to carry these “Forty-Niners” to Panama or around the Horn to the West Coast…  And not so far away in Pennsylvania, a retired railroad conductor, “Colonel” Drake, was to bring in the first rock oil or petroleum well in 1859. This cheap source of energy greatly reduced the demand for whale oil but not before this seafaring industry had added its tales and legends to Suffolk’s rich heritage.
The death blows to the whaling fleet came at the hands of Confederate raiders during the Civil War and in Arctic ice which caught and crushed thirty three whaling ships. The last whaler sailed from Sag Harbor in 1871.
The Civil War touched far more people than whaling had. Almost every home in Suffolk was affected as a romantic war of 1861 ground on and became a nightmare of death and destruction before it ended in 1865…Suffolk men served In every department of the Army and In most every kind of naval and military unit…When the war ended there were celebrations for the returning hometown boys, memorial services for the thousands who had fallen, and usually a drive to erect a statue in their honor. Civil War statuary now graces many village greens around Suffolk to honor those who paid the supreme price in
defense of the Union.
The pressures of war had affected agriculture and stimulated the growth of local industry. Mills powered by tide, wind, water, or steam were operating in all parts of the County. Riverhead had an iron foundry in the 1860’s using large nodules of pure iron that formed in the sediments of the Peconic River. The chunks of metal were located by poking around with long poles and lifted up by long tongs. Workers crushed this iron and placed it in the furnace with crushed
oyster shells and charcoal. The iron that was freed of some impurities was then formed into ingots to be shaped later at the forge.
Paper mills, woolen processing plants, ice cutting plants, shipment of cordwood, brick yards, potteries, and shipyards gave Suffolk a diversity of industry in its towns.
Agriculture during the latter part of the 19th Century tended toward the crops for which Long Island would be famous: potatoes, cauliflower, and ducks…

In 1852 Stephen Andrews and Josiah Warren purchased 750 acres near what Is now called Brentwood. Their Intention was to build a utopian community to be ca!led “Modern Times.” It was to have wide streets, trees, no competition, gardens, a communal factory, a hall for cultural events, a library, and a quality school system. In less than two years 100 idealistic people were living in Modern Times, trying to fashion a utopian way of life for themselves and their families. Work was organized according to a system of values and priorities…The financial panic of the late 1850’s and the coming of the Civil War led to the end for this group of idealists as many leaders left. By 1862 without enough industry or agriculture, Modern Times ceased to be a community. With the name changed to Brentwood, all that remains of this idealistic dream are tall pines that the founders planted.

***The above history is from                                                              Please visit their site for more information.