|Table of Contents||Introduction|
|David's A.M.E. Zion Church|
Eastville in Sag Harbor is a contemporary community, formed largely the descendants of Freed Native and black slaves, black and Native whalers, and European settlers. The neighborhood was first established in the early twentieth century by free people of color, who then increased in size as whites.
Eastville, being located at a major whaling port, was the destination for many Montauketts seeking economic opportunities during the nineteenth century. Later in the twentieth century, community members worked in the local industrialized factories.1
The heart of Eastville – the St. David A.M.E. Zion Church (seen in first photo), was built in 1840.
- Allison Manfra McGovern, Termination and Survivance Among the Montauketts, pp. 226 ↩
Allison Mcgovern describes Eastville1;
The historical record of Eastville is quite sparse, as both the local press and historical writers have overlooked the free blacks, immigrants and Native Americans that built the community. In an effort to understand the development of this distinct enclave and to establish a story of the families that called Eastville home, this investigation of Eastville focuses mainly on primary source documents, including U.S. Census records (1840-1880), period maps, house deeds, city directories, and the few local newspapers articles concerning the area. This is a very different research process than that used for the other historic contexts, as most of that material could be drawn from secondary sources.
The area known locally as Eastville consists of Hampton Street (County Route 114), Hempstead and Liberty Streets, and Eastville Avenue. Hempstead Street is a portion of the original 18th century road between Sag Harbor and East Hampton and, therefore, the oldest street in Eastville. At the turn of the 19th century, a new inland road to East Hampton was laid, Hampton Street, replacing this ancient shoreline route. [1, Zaykowski , manuscript, ch. 11] Inc. 1836-37 another new street was laid out by Hezekiah Jennings, which ran between Hempstead Street and Hampton street and continued to the southwest . The street was called New Street but was later renamed Eastville Avenue2. It is not known when Liberty Street was laid out. This area lay well outside the developing village of Sag Harbor.
The 1854 Wall and Forrest map and the 1873 Beers map both show large parcels of undeveloped land to the northwest and undeveloped lots plotted by Eleazar Latham to the west. Not until the industrial development of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when houses for factory and resort workers were built on the outskirts of the village, does the Eastville area become part of the fabric of Sag Harbor village .
Before Eastville – The Snooks Family
The history of the Eastville area dates to the first decades of the 19th century when the area was known as Snooksville. The Snooks family, immigrants from England, settled in the area, though the exact date of their arrival has not yet been determined . Samuel Snooks, 67 years of age and English by birth, is listed on the 1840 Census and may have been one of the first to settle in the area with his wife and two children.
By 1840 Samuel’s oldest son George, 32 years old, his Irish wife Margaret, and two children also reside in the Eastville area. George Snooks’ house contains mid-18th century timbers, though as it is located on Hempstead Street, a known 18th century route, the house could predate-date the Snooks family.
A lean-to addition was added by Snooks inc. in 1840, and is an indication of the growing or evolving nature of the houses in Eastville. Samuel’s other son, Charles, also born in England, was 22 years old and living at home in 1840. The Snooks family was not wealthy, as they are all listed as common laborers, yet they must have reached some prominence within the village as the area bears the name Snooksville in several early 19th century deeds.
Arrival of Freed Slaves
Free blacks came to the Snooksville/Eastville area in the opening decades of the 19th century as well, though it is not yet clear from where they may have come. A likely spot known to have had a large number of both free blacks and slaves c. 1800 was nearby Shelter Island (possibly Sylvester Manor). Between 1800 and 1810 the free black population on Shelter Island decreased from 31 to 21, indicating that blacks were leaving the island3.
Sag Harbor was a common destination, because of its close proximity and ample maritime job opportunities was a likely destination not only for free blacks from Shelter Island but other towns with free black populations.
A connection with the blacks of Shelter Island may be David Hempstead. A David Hempstead is listed as a free black householder on Shelter Island in the years 1810 and 1820. A David Hempstead of Eastville, born in 1808, could have been born on Shelter Island to the man of the same name. 4 Eastville’s David Hempstead is known to have worked on a whaling ship and it is likely he came to Sag Harbor in his youth because of the possibilities for employment. Crew lists from the first quarter of the 19th century indicate that from 20 to 30 percent of seamen in the holds of Sag Harbor whalers were either Negro or Indian5. There can be no doubt, with so large a percentage, that a major role in whaling was played by these non-white Long Islanders.
Recent scholarship has substantiated the role played by blacks during the whaling era of the 19th century. Their contribution in sheer numbers is quite incredible;
“before the civil War there were as many as 3000 Africans, West Indians and American blacks manning the American whaling fleet.”6
The status of blacks and Indians on Sag Harbor whaling ships is unknown, yet “as early as 1822 black captains oversaw whaling ships out of Nantucket and New Bedford, Mass.”7 Because the structure of whaling differed very little between these ports, one can be sure that blacks and Indians played a vital role in developing the whale fishery of eastern Long Island . Other non-white family names that are associated with both Eastville and crew lists for whaling ships include Cuffee, Ward, Pharoah and Jupiter (or Jubiter) .
1850s – Multicultural Community
During the mid-1850s, the ethnic mix of Eastville, already including blacks, Indians and white English, expanded to include other immigrant groups. Patrick McMahan and his wife Margaret, both Irish, bought “the old house” from George Snooks in the early 1850s. Patrick worked as a day laborer. Another white working class family, the Shaws, came to the area in the mid-1860s. George Shaw was 60 years old in 1870 and still worked as a farm laborer. He and his wife Minerva were the parents of eight children, from age 24 to 6. Their house was small and conditions, with so many children, must have been cramped. Three of the older children worked in the local cotton mill, adding income to the family.
By 1840 David Hempstead had ceased to work on the sea, and worked in agriculture. Charles Plato, too, worked as a day laborer in 1840, but he resumed working at sea in the 1870s and 1880s. William Prime continued to whale, and is on the crew list of t he SILAS RICHARD as a steward in 1841. Lewis Cuffee, a free colored person, was engaged in manufacturing or trade and heading a family of four children. The Cuffee clan was a noted whaling family and, doubtless, Lewis Cuffee spent part of his working life at sea. These changes in occupation are likely reflective of the changing industries and economics of Sag Harbor village, with which Eastville’s history is inextricably entwined.
During the 1860s, the women of Eastville are listed on the Census as part of the work force. The majority of these women took jobs as domestic servants in the homes of Sag Harbor’s wealthier residents. Yet many also earned extra money as dressmakers, laundresses or tailoresses. In 1860 a local newspaper describing St. David’s congregation, states that “the majority of this Society are nearly all servants and pursuing their humble avocation with diligence and industry.” (Sag Harbor Express. 19 January 1860) In the last quarter of the 19th century, many of Eastville’s residents found employment in the tourist industry of Sag Harbor. Men and women were employed as cooks and waitresses in local hotels; many worked on the steamships running between eastern Long Island and New York City; and many continued to be servants and gardeners to the wealthy of Sag Harbor. By the last decade of the 19th century, the majority of women in Eastville were widows. (1889-90 East Long Island Directory, A.A. Bensel, Compiler) These women continued to work and were the heads of extended families, often including married children and boarders .
As a result of these demographics , the small houses of Eastville, many built during the more prosperous years of the 1840s , were enlarged by the addition of dormers, rear ells and front porches – as the family grew, so did the house . These types of additions are more common than the addition of new structures to the community. The 1854 Wall and Forrest, 1858 Chase and 1873 Beers maps all show about thirty dwellings in Eastville. However, the growth seems to have stalled after 1850; the Hyde Atlases of 1902 and 1916 show 36 and 35 dwellings respectively. Ownership opportunities for Eastville residents also changed after 1850. The 1854 map shows many of the lots and houses as owned by Eleazer Latham, a local real estate speculator; P.R. Jennings, a local attorney; Williams. Havens, a corn merchant and later a steamship captain; and Arnold Vanscoy. The 1858 map continues ownership by Jennings and Latham. By 1873 not one of these men own land in Eastville .
St. David’s Church grew in much the same way as the houses. By the late 1880s St. David’s had fallen into disrepair. Church members and generous Sag Harbor townspeople rallied together and supported the remodeling. In 1891 “the old building was enlarged with the addition of a wing in the rear, 11 x 14 feet, and by a vestibule in front, with a handsome belfry surmounting the main building.” (Sag Harbor Express, 19 November 1891) The interior was also greatly improved, with frescoed walls and ceiling, new pulpit furniture, aisle carpeting, bell and a chancel rail surrounding the raised pulpit in the new rear wing. The church, with the aid of auxiliary societies and other church members, also purchased six handsome stained glass windows from the Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor. Two memorial marble tablets were purchased, one recognizing the founders of St . David ‘s in 1840 and the other commemorating the remodeling of 1891 .
There were several houses built in Eastville near 1900. In the 1890s Patrick McMahan’s son, Edward, built his house on the corner of Hempstead and Liberty Streets. This front gable house is similar to many of the workers’ houses built in the closing decades of the 19th century in Sag Harbor , though somewhat smaller. Other houses were built on Hampton Street c . 1900, including a modest dwelling with almost no decorative treatment. Hampton Street continued to be developed into the 20th century; two small cottages built c .1930 on the same lot represent the continuity of small residences in Eastville.
Unfortunately, due to the small size of Eastville buildings in general, most have been greatly altered or modernized for suitable living conditions. Additional research would be required to determine the extent of older or original materials masked by later treatments. The significance of Eastville lies in the preservation of the homes of a distinctive integrated, working class community, and the importance of St. David’s Church as a religious community committed to the black and Native American population.
- A Brief history from the Survey of Sag Harbor Village, prepared by Alison Cornish in 1991, pp 85-89; ↩
- Book u, p. 35-36, County Record Office, Riverhead ↩
- “Long Island Forum,” August 1973, p. 151 ↩
- “Long Island Forum,” August 1973, p. 151 and Sag Harbor Express, 7 October 1886 ↩
- Palmer, p . 87 ↩
- New York Times, 15 August 1982, p. 23 ↩
- New York Times, 15 Au9ust 1982, p. 23 ↩
David's A.M.E. Zion Church
The institution that brought stability and a sense of community to Eastville was st. David’s A.M.E. Zion Church, founded in 1840 . By 1839 the African Methodist Society, part of the Sag Harbor Methodist Church, had “increased to such an extent that it was thought expedient for them to separate and form distinct communion.”1 A building committee was appointed: David Hempstead of Eastville; Lewis Cuffee and Charles Plato of East Hampton; and William Prime of Southampton. The committee was charged with procuring a lot and erecting the church. The African Methodist Society must have drawn members from the surrounding areas, but the committee chose a lot in “a small hamlet, in the Eastern part of the village, then called Snooksville at a cost of $700.2 The move seemed to mark Snooksville/Eastville as the center of the black and Indian community.
The church, when erected, was a “plain frame building,” modest in scale. The membership, too, was small, having sixteen members upon its founding, though more were present who had not yet officially withdrawn from the Methodist Church. As Sag Harbor experienced phenomenal growth from the whaling industry throughout the 1840’s, not surprisingly, the Eastville area also grew. St. David’s membership grew quite rapidly – by 1843 there were 83 members and a Sunday School providing religious instruction to Eastville’s youth3.
However, when Sag Harbor’s industries suffered, Eastville also suffered. An example of this economic burden is seen through the financial troubles at St. David’s.
“In 1851 their members having decreased with the decline of the commercial prosperity of the village, were unable to pay a stationed preacher an adequate sum for the support of a family.”2
The community responded with an arrangement in which housing for the minister was provided by church members, while his income was to be derived from traveling the circuit, reaching in local churches. As David Hempstead was a leading supporter of the church, it is not surprising to find ministers living in his house in the 1870s and 1880s.5