Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

1859 Town of Huntington Record Reflecting Dispute with City Island Oystermen

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog continues the recent series that collects research regarding the oystering industry in the waters off City Island when it was part of the Town of Pelham in the 19th century.  In 1859, the Board of Trustees of the Town of Huntington on Long Island enacted a resolution directing various City Island oystermen from "staking out" for oyster harvesting off the shores of Huntington.  The dispute seems to have evolved into a nasty, long-running battle.  I previously have written about the long-running feud.  See Thu., July 26, 2007:  Pelham's City Island Oystermen Feud with Long Islanders in 1869.

Below is an excerpt from the Town Records of the Town of Huntington reflecting the Board of Trustees' resolution enacted on Feb. 28, 1859.

[1859, Feb. 28.]

'At a meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Town of Huntington, held at the Town poor house the 28th day of February, 1859, present, Gilbert Carll, President; Brewster Conklin, Elbert Carll, Zebulon Buffett, Israel Carll, John D. Hewlett and Andrew Ketcham, Trustees.

Resolved, that a notice be served on Samuel Pell, Wilson W. Billar, Isaac VanAlen, John Lowndes, William Billar, Theodore Lowndes and Joshua Leviness, non-residents of said Town, do desist from staking out any of the land under water within the bounds of this Town as and for oyster beds within the bays, harbours or waters of said Town.

Resolved, that a notice be printed and published.

On application from Michael W. Devine to have his dock lease renewed.

Resolved, that the dock lease be renewed for 12 years at $3.00 per year.

Resolved, that the next Annual Town Meeting be held at the house of Elias Smith and that the Clerk give the usual notice.

Resolved, that Tobias Dillon and Warren Lewis be appointed to serve notices on the oyster planters.  [Page 441 / Page 442]

Resolved, that the meeting adjourn to meet on Saturday, the 12th day of March next, at the house of Stephen C. Rogers, at one o'clock P.M.

Notice served to Samuel Pell, Wilson W. Billar, Isaac VanAlen, William Billar, Theodore Lowndes, John Lowndes, Joshua Leviness and all other non-residents.

The Trustees of the freeholders and commonalty of the Town of Huntington, hereby give you notice that you and each of you do desist from staking out any of the lands under water within the borders of said Town, as and for oyster beds or for the purpose of planting oysters thereon, and that you desist from planting any oysters within the bays, harbors or waters of said Town, and from raking, taking up or carrying away oysters now growing or being within the bounds of said Town; you, the said persons hereby notified, not being inhabitants of or residents within the said Town of Huntington, and we further notify you that we have a standing By-Law of the said Town, that no person, other than a resident thereof, shall take or catch any oysters within the bounds of said Town under the penalty of twelve dollars and fifty cents for each and every offence, which penalty will be strictly enforced.

By order of the Board of Trustees,


Huntington, Feb. 28, 1859.
Recorded by Josiah Smith,

(Trustees' Proceedings, Vol. I, pp. 132-33.)


[1859, March 16.]

Meeting of Trustees, held on the 16th day of March, 1859.  [Page 442 / Page 443]

'Whereas, certain persons, non-residents of this Town, have staked off certain portions of Northport and Centreport harbors and the bays adjacent thereto, and claim the exclusive right of taking oysters on the territory included within said stakes, now therefore, it is

Resolved, That the Trustees will employ counsel to institute such action or actions as shall be deemed advisable and necessary to protect the rights of the inhabitants of the Town against assumption of claim on the part of such persons, and to bring the matter in controversy to as speedy a determination as possible before the legal tribunals of the State.'*

Recorded by Josiah Smith, Clerk.
(Trustees' Proceedings, Vol. I, pp. 134-35)
[*Non-residents of the Town had for many years dredged and carried away more or less oysters from the natural oyster beds in Northport Bay, much to the annoyance of the inhabitants of the Town, who claimed that the premises belonged to the Town, and that such non-residents were trespassers. The Trustees of the Town took active steps against the intruders and there were some rough encounters on the Bay, growing out of these controversies.  Finally the non-residents, who were chiefly from Connecticut and City Island, began planting oysters in this Bay and assumed the right to exclusive possession and exclusion of all others from the grounds.  The people held Town Meetings and passed stringent enactments against such invasion of their rights, and it was to test the legal right of the invaders to hold such grounds, that the Trustees at this time directed the institution of suits in the courts.  An issue was, however, first reached in consequence of a resident of the Town, Dickerson, going upon the oyster beds of Lowndes and taking oysters, upon which suit was brought by Lowndes against Dickerson.  The latter's defense rested on his claim that Lowndes held without right; that the premises belonged to the town, and that as one of its citizens he had a right to take any shellfish he might find thereon.  The Trustees employed as counsel in the case, J. Lawrence Smith and William McCoun.  Henry J. Scudder was counsel for the Lowndes party.  From the somewhat voluminous correspondence which has come under my observation, it would appear that Lowndes, through his [Page 443 / Page 444] counsel, asked that he might remove his oysters from Huntington waters as a means of terminating the dispute.  Whatever answer the Trustees may have made, the oysters were not removed, and the suit went to trial at a Circuit Court in Riverhead, before Judge Brown, the father of the present Justice Brown of the Supreme Court in this district.  The cause was not well managed for the Town, important evidence having been omitted, and the case was decided in favor of Lowndes.  Emboldened by the result of this suit, the non-residents continued for some time to plant and hold oyster grounds in Northport Bay, and it took the Town several years to recover its former prestige.  In 1871 an exhaustive examination of the whole subject of Huntington's title to lands under water was made by counsel employed for the purpose, followed soon after by a determined effort to maintain the Town's title.  The result, as is well known, justified the effort, and the Court of Appeals has decided that the lands under water in Northport Bay belong to this Town under its Colonial grants, and the non-residents have all taken leases from the Town, of their grounds in Northport harbor and bay.--C.R.S.]"

Source:  Huntington Town Records Including Babylon, Long Island, N.Y. 1776 - - - 1873 With Introduction, Notes and Index by Charles R. Street, Vol. III, pp. 442-44 (The Towns of Huntington and Babylon, New York:  1889).

For other examples of postings in the series on 19th century oystering in the waters off the shores of City Island in the Town of Pelham, see:

Wed., March 17, 2010:  Report of September 13, 1884 Tour of Oyster Beds by Captain Joshua Leviness of City Island.

Tue., Mar. 16, 2010:  More on 19th Century Oystering in Pelham - Descriptions of Oyster Beds Off Hart Island, City Island and in Pelham Bay Published in 1887.

Mon., Mar. 15, 2010:  More on 19th Century City Island Oyster Industry - City Island Oystermen Complaint of Pollution.

Fri., March 12, 2010:  Early History of Oystering in the Waters Off City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., March 11, 2010:  The "Great Oyster War" Between City Island and Tarrytown in 1877 and 1878.

Mon., July 30, 2007:  1885 Report Notes Decline of Oyster Industry Near City Island in the Town of Pelham.

Thu., July 26, 2007:  Pelham's City Island Oystermen Feud with Long Islanders in 1869.

Fri., July 27, 2007:  Possible Origins of the Oyster Feud Between City Islanders and Huntington, Long Island.

Fri., April 13, 2007:  Oystermen of City Island (When It Was Part of the Town of Pelham) Pioneered Oyster Cultivation.

Mon., September 18, 2006:  A Brief Description of Oystering in Eastchester Bay and at Pelham Published in 1881.

Fri., January 26, 2007:  A History of the Early Years of City Island When it Was Part of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1927.

Thu., December 3, 2009:  Pelham News on May 30, 1884 Including Allegations of Oyster Larceny and Meeting of the Pelhamville Improvement Association.

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