The Early Years
The earliest residents of today's Huntington were Matinecock Indians. The native population settled near the waterfront in Cold Spring Harbor, Huntington, Centerport and Crab Meadow. Seventeenth century European explorers and traders unwittingly introduced diseases for which the natives had no immunity. By the time Europeans arrived to settle in the Huntington area in the middle of the 17th century, the native population had been decimated.
The formal European history of Huntington dates to April 2, 1653 when three English settlers from Oyster Bay—Richard Holbrook, Robert Williams and Daniel Whitehead—secured a deed from Raseokan, Sachem (i.e. leader) of the Matinecocks for six square miles of land stretching from Cold Spring Harbor to Northport Harbor and from the Long Island Sound to what is now Old Country Road. The consideration consisted of “six coats, six howes, six kettles, six hatchets, six shirts, ten knives, six fathoms of wampum, three muxes and thirty needles.”
The Oyster Bay men immediately turned the land over to a group of Englishmen and their families who had already settled here. Subsequent purchases—most notably the Eastern Purchase in 1656—extended the Town’s territory to the Ocean on the south shore and as far east as the Nissequogue River. The eastern boundary specified in the Second Purchase overlapped with the western boundary in deed secured by Richard Smith for Smithtown. This dispute was settled in the courts and the border between the Towns was set at Fresh Pond. A similar dispute concerning Lloyd Neck was not settled until 1885 when jurisdiction of that peninsula was transferred from Oyster Bay to Huntington.
Most of the early settlers were English. They arrived in Huntington by way of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Home lots were established around Huntington harbor and the Village Green. From time to time allocations of common lands in outlying areas were made based on the share each contributed to the expense of securing the land. The name “Huntington” was probably chosen in honor of the birthplace of Oliver Cromwell, who was Lord Protector of England, Scotland and Ireland at the time the town was established.
Following the custom of New England, the earliest form of government in Huntington was the Town Meeting. Called as the need arose, free men of the town gathered to distribute town-held land, resolve disputes, regulate the pasturing of cattle on town land, engage schoolmasters, appoint someone to keep the ordinary (public house) and maintain the roads, as well as resolve any other matters that concerned the town as a whole. For example, the people of Huntington showed their interest in education very soon after the founding of the town. The Town Meeting voted on February 11, 1657 to hire Jonas Houldsworth as the first schoolmaster. In 1660 the town voted to build a schoolhouse.
These early settlers were Congregationalists. They established a church in 1658, but did not construct a meetinghouse until 1665.
While the Dutch settled Manhattan and western Long Island and the English controlled New England, the first settlers in Huntington were largely outside the jurisdiction of any European authority. However, in 1660 residents voted to place the town under the jurisdiction of Connecticut to gain some protection from the Dutch.
In 1664, the English gained control of the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The Duke of York became proprietor of the area and the colony was renamed New York. The Duke’s representative, Governor Richard Nicholls, asserted control over all of Long Island and summoned representatives of each town on Long Island to meet in Hempstead early in 1665. The representatives were required to bring with them evidence of title to their land and to receive a patent from the crown affirming that title. The Hempstead Convention also adopted the “Duke’s Laws,” which regulated virtually every area of life.
Seventeenth century English politics was tumultuous. A king was beheaded, a civil war was fought, another king was restored to the throne and the Glorious Revolution saw the invitation to a Dutch regent to take the English throne. Each change of leadership led to a reaffirmation of the settlers’ claim to land. Accordingly, in 1688, following James II ascension to the throne, his governor, Thomas Dongan, issued a patent that confirmed the earlier Nicholls Patent. In addition, it mandated the creation of “Trustees” to manage and distribute town-owned land. The Trustees, like other town officials, were chosen at a Town Meeting. The Dongan Patent also authorized the creation and use of a seal, which is still in use today. A third patent was issued in 1694 after William and Mary assumed the throne.
During the colonial period, Huntington became an established community. Consisting mostly of farms, the community also included a school, a church, flour mills, saw mills, brickyards, tanneries, a town dock and a fort. Shipping was also an important part of the economy with vessels traveling not only to and from other ports along the Sound but also as far as the West Indies.
Slavery existed in Huntington until the beginning of the nineteenth century. Farmers relied on slave labor for help in the fields and it was a mark of status to have black slaves as domestic servants, but rarely did a person own more than a few slaves. For example, according to a 1755 census, there were 81 slaves belonging to 35 families in Huntington. Unlike the South, the economy was not heavily dependent on slave labor. The New York State Legislature passed an act in 1799 providing for the gradual abolition of slavery.