The early days of Manorville

Long Island History

Ray Larsen

In the early 18th century, the vast expanse of woodland that would come to be known as St. George’s Manor was acquired by Benjamin Young from William Smith, marking the beginning of a complex narrative that would intertwine the lives of many families in Southold and beyond. This purchase in 1721 for 80 pounds set the stage for a communal legacy, with the land being sold to prominent Southold families such as the Reeves, Terrys, Tuthills, and others. This large tract of commonage, however, did not immediately contribute to the wealth or prominence of Southold, offering neither harbors nor commerce to its early settlers.

The Early Struggles of the Settlers

Despite its potential, the territory known as St. George’s Manor remained largely undeveloped and undivided for years, with small, sparse settlements dotting the landscape. The inhabitants, described as very poor, had little to mark their presence in the broader community, rarely making appearances in town meetings. The land’s challenging terrain made travel and communication difficult, further isolating these early settlers from neighboring communities.

Transition to Brookhaven

The integration of this tract into Brookhaven Town did little to stir excitement among its inhabitants. Over time, the commonage was divided, and lots were drawn for shares of the land, now referred to as the “Manor” land. The community’s spiritual needs were occasionally met by ministers from Mattituck, who would visit homes to preach, baptize children, and officiate marriages, reflecting the modest beginnings of community life in the area.

Encroaching Boundaries and Expanding Communities

Boundary disputes were common in these times, with patents often overlapping. The Brookfield Tract, as it was later known, was no exception, with its boundaries encroaching upon neighboring lands. William Smith, a significant landowner, continued to sell off parts of his domain, including a substantial tract to Isaac Halsey, which would become known as Halsey Manor. This land, too, was slowly settled by families from Southampton, indicating the gradual expansion and settlement of the region.

The Mills of Moriches

The sale of land in Moriches by Smith to Thomas Conkling marked the beginnings of settlement in this area as well. John Haven, a pioneer in the Moriches area, would build a mill on this land, highlighting the slow but steady development of infrastructure and industry in these parts.

The Revolutionary War and Its Heroes

As the American Revolutionary War unfolded, the residents of these tracts, despite their poverty, demonstrated their patriotism and valor. Many served under Col. Josiah Smith, engaging in critical operations such as the attempt to secure Long Island’s livestock to prevent them from falling into British hands. The failure of these missions, and the capture and eventual imprisonment of Col. Smith, underscored the hardships and sacrifices faced by the inhabitants of this region during the tumultuous war years.

The Legacy of Col. Josiah Smith

Col. Josiah Smith, a central figure in this narrative, is remembered not only for his military service but also for his extensive estate and family lineage. His home and farm, passed down through generations since 1697, remain a testament to the enduring legacy of the families who settled these lands.

The story of St. George’s Manor and the adjacent tracts of land is a microcosm of the broader American experience during the 18th century. From the humble beginnings of scattered settlements through the trials of the Revolutionary War, the resilience, and determination of these early Americans forged a community that, despite its initial insignificance, would leave a lasting imprint on the history of Long Island. The legacy of the land and its people, from the commonage of St. George’s Manor to the plantation of Col. Josiah Smith, remains a vivid chapter in the narrative of American perseverance and spirit.