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, June 25, 2015

The 1895 Oyster War Involving City Island Oystermen - Part II

This is the second of a two-part series.  For both parts, see:

Wed., Jun. 24, 2015:  The 1895 Oyster War Involving City Island Oystermen - Part I.

Thu., Jun. 25, 2015:  The 1895 Oyster War Involving City Island Oystermen - Part II.

Two days after Captain Augustus D. Merritt of City Island quieted the angry mob of City Island oystermen as he was hauled off to jail, on April 22, 1895, lawyers for the oystermen and for the Matinecock Oyster Company appeared in a local court where a judge issued an injunction retraining all parties from dredging or taking oysters from the bed claimed by the company. 

Apr. 21, 1895, p. 5, cols. 2-3.

Additionally, the State Fish Commission had a survey of the Matinecock Oyster Company’s underwater lands performed. The survey concluded that the Matinecock Oyster Company had not encroached outside the grounds defined in its lease ratified by the State Legislature. 

Immediately thereafter, on April 30, 1895, the charges against Captain Merritt were settled with the captain agreeing to reimburse the company for oysters he removed from its oyster bed. However, claims against other alleged oyster pirates from City Island and Bayville, Long Island continued until mid-May when a settlement was reached. All but one of the oystermen agreed to admit to trespass, to pay the company a total of $1,100 in damages, and to agree to an injunction restraining them from harvesting oysters from the bed claimed by the company. The last remaining oysterman, Sidney Weeks of Bayville, “was selected to stand trial on the charge of piracy for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the law” permitting the State Legislature to ratify leases like the company’s. 

Although there was a seeming consensus that the Matinecock Oyster Company had had enough and would relinquish its bed at the end of its brief lease, the City Island oystermen vowed to raise a fund of $2,500 to fund a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the authority of the State Legislature to ratify leases such as that awarded to Matinecock Oyster Company. It seems, however, that no such lawsuit was ever filed. On May 21, 1895, the test case of Sydney Weeks of Bayville, Long Island made it to trial. The company put on a strong case and, according to one account, used leases, grants, testimony, and more and “proved the loss of a lot of oysters” taken by Weeks. Despite a judge who allegedly was biased against Weeks, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. It was considered a “severe setback” for the company and a major victory for all oystermen. 

The Matinecock Oyster Company was no longer the threat feared by the oystermen. Pelham’s last great oyster war was over.

[End of Part II -- Articles Constituting the Research for this Posting Appear Below.]

*          *          *          *          *

Sheriff Doht Sends Deputies to Guard the Beds and to Resist Raids.

The officials of the Mattinecock [sic] Oyster Company fear that the alleged oyster pirates of City Island are going to make a raid on the beds of the company.  

The officers of the company yesterday expected a raid would be made last evening, but the alleged pirates did not go near the disputed beds.

However, fourteen deputies were sent by Sheriff Doht, of Queens county, to the scene of the expected trouble.

Lawyer William J. Youngs, of Oyster Bay, counsel of the oyster company, called upon Sheriff Doht this morning and asked for more deputies.  Twelve more were sent.

The trouble between the oyster company and the oyster 'pirates' started when the company secured a lease from the State of 200 acres of land in the Sound to plant oysters.  Before this the oyster pirates, who are really baymen of City Island, depended on the dredging of oysters for a living, were free to dredge in the waters of the Sound.  

As soon as the company secured the lease of the ground the City Island oystermen did not go in the ground claimed by the company.  They say that a short time ago they were surprised on seeing the company staking off 900 acres of land and claimed it.

The City Island men continued to dredge in the 700 acres of land which they claimed the company did not have a lease for.  They threatened violence if they were not allowed to dredge for oysters, and when the officials of the company tried to drive them away they resisted and then Lawyer Youngs appealed to the authorities for protection.  An injunction was obtained by the Mattinecock company forgidding the alleged pirates from dredging.

Lawyer Youngs said to-day the report that the company claimed more than the 200 acres they leased was false.  He said the southeast end of their bed is the Government buoy and this was used as a starting point from which the 200 acres were marked off.

He said the engineer of the Mattinecock company did not do the surveying, but it was done by Edward P. Doyle, engineer of the State Fish Commission, from which the company leased the beds  Lawyer Youngs stated that every bushel that had been carried off was taken from the beds of the company.

On the other hand the City Island oyster men claim that they never went within the two hundred acres which the company leased, to dredge oysters.  The men say they are going to dredge and that they will not allow their families to starve."

Source:  READY TO MEET OYSTER PIRATES -- Sheriff Doht Sends Deputies to guard the Beds and to Resist Raids, The Evening Telegraph [NY, NY], Apr. 23, 1895, p. 6, col. 2.


The City Island oystermen, advised by Henry Clay Henderson, of New York City, their counsel, decided last night to make another descent upon the oyster beds this morning in twenty-five sloops.  President George M. Fletcher, of the Matinecock Oyster Company, and William J. Youngs, his lawyer, secured from Justice Barnard, in Long Island City, yesterday, an injunction restraining all fishermen from encroaching upon the grounds leased by the Fish Commission to the company.  Sheriff Dohl, with Deputy Sheriff Billings and fifteen other deputy sheriffs and policemen, were sent out on the tug Golden Rule to guard the oyster beds against the expected raid

The lease of the Matinecock Company covers 200 acres of the 2,000 acres of natural oyster beds.  The oystermen deny that they encroach upon the 200 acres preserved to the company, and they insist upon their right to work on the area outside of that 200 acres.  Both sides are determined, and the oystermen show a disposition to fight for their rights.  Lawyer Henderson has prepared to sue President Fletcher, of the Matinecock Company; Deputy Sheriff Samuel P. Billings, of Queens County, and Sergeant John Egan, of the Long Island Railroad police, for $50,000 damages for false arrest and imprisonment.

Deputy Sheriffs Billings and Lewis arrested, late last night, Capt. Weeks, of the Bayville fleet, on a charge of poaching on the Matinecock oyster beds."

Source:  WAR OVER THE OYSTER BEDS, The Daily Standard Union [Brooklyn, NY], Apr. 23, 1895, p. 3, col. 3.  

An Injunction Restraining Them from Dredging in the Matinecock Beds.

There was a lull yesterday in the strife between the oystermen of City Island and the Matinecock Oyster Company, which claims an exclusive right to 200 acres of the bed about Matinecock Point, L. I.  William J. Young, counsel for the company, appeared before Judge Barnard in Long Island City, and asked for an injunction restraining the oystermen from dredging on the grounds leased by his clients.  After listening to the argument Judge Barnard issued an injunction restraining all hands from dredging or taking oysters on the disputed beds, and later in the day the papers were served on a number of the alleged poachers in and about City Island.  

As soon as the news of the injunction spread among the oystermen they got together and decided to make no further attempt to take oysters until the matter is finally settled in court.  A committee consisting of Capt. Merrett [sic], Capt. Edgar Van Allen, Capt. Mulligan, Capt. Curren [sic], and Capt. Price, together with Lawyer H. C. Henderson, attorney for the oystermen, had a conference  with the Fish Commission yesterday afternoon.  Lawyer Henderson set forth the grievance of his clients, and the Commissioners promised to go to the oyster bed on Thursday and designate the territory to which the Matinecock company is entitled by its lease.  The committee returned to City Island last night, and made its report at a meeting of the oystermen, held in the Town Hall.  The men consented to stop all hostilities for the time, and they decided to accompany the Commissioners in a body to the beds on Thursday.

Capt. Merrett, who was arrested on Saturday by Deputy Sheriff S. T. Billings of Queens county, showed a summons for Billings and George M. Fletcher, President of the Matinecock Company, calling them to answer to a suit in the Supreme Court within twenty days.  He refused to speak of the nature of the action, but he said that his arrest, which took place in Westchester county,, was illegal, because the warrant was issued in Queens county.  He also hinted at kidnapping and talked about having both Billings and Fletcher arrested.

The oystermen on the Long Island side of the Sound also took a hand in the legal end of the business yesterday.  William Weeks Smith and David Hall applied to Judge Billings for a warrant for the arrest of Capt. Daniel Velsor of the steamer Angus for dredging on natural growth ground.  The application was denied, and the lawyers then applied to Justice White, who took the matter under advisement."

Source:  THE ALLEGED OYSTER PIRATES, The Sun [NY, NY], Apr. 23, 1895, p. 3, col. 5.

"The Oyster War Situation.

Oyster Bay, L. I., April 25--This will be a lively day at Matinnecock Point, the scene of the oyster war, as the survey is to be made by the fish commissioner, E. P. Doyle, to determine whether the Matinnecock Oyster company is occupying the grounds leased by it and no more.  It is a matter of grave importance to the oystermen, some of whom claim that the company is trying to hold 900 acres, when their lease only calls for 200 acres.  No injunctions were served yesterday, as no opportunity offered.  The sloop Louise J. Evans, one of the defendants named in the injunction issued by Judge Barnard, came on the ground long enough to warn the steamer c. H. Hoyt of Bridgeport, which was dredging for the purpose of loading a sloop for the oyster company, that if another dredge was thrown overboard the steamer would be libeled for dredging on natural growth ground.  The steamer at once headed for the shore and whistled for the officers of the company who were there.  A short conference resulted in the officers assuming the responsibility and the steamer returned to her work.  This was thought a good opportunity to serve the Evans with the papers and the officers boarded the steamer on her return, thinking to thus come up with the sloop.  But she was not to be caught napping.  Fearing that the prolonged whistling of the steamer when she went ashore was a signal she immediately went about, and when the officers on the steamer arrived where she was supposed to be she was not to be found.

The company expected to have the work of dredging with a steamer interfered with, and also expected arrests would be made.  Captain Daniel Velsor, with the steamer Argus, has also been engaged.  An effort was made to secure a warrant for his arrest, but the effort failed, as neither Justice Billings of Glen Cove nor White of Oyster Bay would issue one.  Nevertheless, Captain Velsor declined to repeat the act and the company were forced to go to Bridgeport for another steamer.  The G. H. Hoyt was secured and she took up 325 bushes of oysters in three hours, which were put aboard sloop Saxton, consigned to Bay Shore parties.

The oystermen have numerous specimens of the stuff to be found on the disputed ground, among which are oysters of immense size, which they will place in evidence as proof that the ground was natural growth ground and was so at the time the lease was made.

At 2 o'clock this afternoon a telegram was received from the secretary saying that the survey would have to be postponed until Monday on account of the appointment of a new commissioner.

Edward Thompson of Northport is the new fish and game commissioner, and news has reached here that his appointment was confirmed by the senate this afternoon.  He will be here to conduct the survey on Monday."

Source:  The Oyster War Situation, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Apr. 25, 1895, p. 7, col. 4.

The Alleged Pirates Will Raise a Fund of $2,500 to Fight With. 

GLEN COVE, L.I., April 30.--A fund of $2,500 is to be raised by oystermen who dredge in the Long Island Sound to test the right of the Legislature to ratify leases of natural-growth ground of oyster beds made by the Fish Commissioners. This decision is the outcome of the recent oyster war waged by oystermen from City Island and other points on the oyster beds of the Matinnecock Oyster Company of Oyster Bay and was arrived at yesterday when one of the alleged oyster pirates, Augustus D. Merritt of City Island, was arraigned before Justice Henderson, in this village, on a charge of poaching on the oyster beds of the Matinnecock Company. Merritt admitted the charge, but set up the claim that the beds are what is known as free ground. He was willing, however, to reimburse the company for the oysters taken and the case was adjourned and will be settled outside of the court. 

A meeting of the oystermen was held, and it was decided to take steps to carry the dispute to the United States courts if necessary, although the general feeling is that the Matinnecock Company will relinquish its holdings at the expiration of its present lease. 

It was shown on the survey made by Engineer Ford of the State Commissioners that the company had not encroached outside the grounds defined in the lease. The company asserts its deterimination to defend its claim." 

Source: Oystermen to Appeal to Law, N.Y. Times, May 1, 1895, p. 3.


The oystermen who dredge in Long Island Sound, and have recently been driven from the oyster beds by law officers, under the authority of the courts and in defense of the alleged rights of a corporation, have held a meeting in Glen Cove and decided to make their fight in the courts.  A fund of $2,500 is to be raised to test the right of the Legislature to ratify leases of natural-growth ground of oyster beds made by the Fish Commissioners."

Source:  OYSTER WAR TRANSFERRED -- THE SO-CALLED PIRATES WILL FIGHT IN THE COURTS, The Standard Union [Brooklyn, NY], May 1, 1895, Vol. XXXI, No. 256, p. 3, col. 3.  

The So-Called Pirates Threaten Another Descent on the Matinecock Company's Beds.
They Claim the Company Grabbed Hundreds of Acres and Are Forcing Thousands of People to Starvation.

The little village of City Island, the home of the Sound oystermen whose encounter on Saturday with deputy sheriffs and policemen employed by the Matinnecock [sic] Oyster Company was told exclusively in the Sunday World, was turned topsy-turvy yesterday with indignation.  Weather-beaten men who had spent years dredging oysters stood about the docks discussing and condemning the wrong they believed had been done them.

The young men of the village talked war, but the patriarchs counselled peace.  Wives, sweethearts and mothers hovered about, some indulging in bitter vituperation of the rich company and the police, others weeping for the days when the waters of the Sound were free to the humblest fisherman and the rich stores of the oyster-beds belonged to all who cared to go after them.

At anchor tossed the numerous fleet of oyster-boats.

'There,' said a venerable captain, pointing to the 500 sloops, 'is the means of our livelihood.  Take away our oyster beds and what good are our sloops to us?  If the courts do not come to our rescue we might as well pile those boats upon the beach and make a fire of them.  Five thousand men, women and children at City Island, Port Washington, Bayville, Oyster Bay and the other little ports about here will be robbed of the necessities of life.  All their heritage are the boats you see there and the God-given right to sell them on the free sea.'


This is the feeling that runs high in City Island, and is transforming a peaceful, quiet town into a turbulent community, where threats of violence and transgression of law are openly made.

The arrest on Saturday night of Augustus Merritt, captain of the sloop Katie G., intensified the feeling.  A number of young men proposed taking their fleet over to Glen Cove and rescuing the prisoner, but the leaders counselled moderation, and the plan was abandoned when a telegram was received announcing that he had been released on bail.  

Thereupon a big meeting of the Oystermen's Association of City Island, of which Judge John M. Bell is President and Capt. Frederick Glazier Secretary, was called in the town hall.

There were many turbulent speeches, but it was finally decided to employ counsel, and with Merritt's case as a basis to contest the legality of the Matinnecock [sic] Oyster Company's lease in the courts.  

A communication was sent to Lawer [sic] Henry Clay Henderson, of Westchester County, who has an office at No. 66 Broad street.  He agreed to take the case, and gave it as his opinion that the oystermen have an excellent case and a bright prospect of regaining possession of the Matinnecock [sic] oyster beds.

The leading men of the village met yesterday afternoon at the home of Augustus Merritt, the unfortunate captain who had fallen into the hands of the law officers the day before.  A representative of The World was invited to be present, as it was desired that an authoritative statement of the oystermen's side of the controversy should be given to the public through the columns of this newspaper.


Capt. Stephen Leviness, one of the oldest oystermen in the village, and Capt. John Price, jr., who is a leading spirit in the colony, gave out this statement:  

'The oyster industry on the Sound was founded about seventy years ago by Capt. Price, who fought aboard Commodore Perry's flagship during the war of 1812, and who, together with a number of other naval men, established a colony from which the present one has grown.  So you see we are pretty good Americans, and not from heritage, at least, the bloodthirsty pirates the Matinnecock [sic] Oyster Company would have the public believe.

'The oyster beds had not at that time attracted the greed of rich monopolists, and the shoal water along both shores of the Sound abounded in rich beds of natural-growth oysters.  these were exhausted one by one, replantings were made and the industry went on for years.


'Capts. Thomas Jennings, Benjamin Totten, Josiah [sic] Leviness and other old pioneers made fortunes out of their boats and dredges.  

'Over fifty years ago the Matinnecock oyster-beds were disappeared.  They were richer and more productive than any beds along the Sound.'

'I took oysters there forty-five years ago,' said Capt. Leviness.

'I have taken them there for twenty-five years,' added young Capt. Price.

'That's true!' cried the company in chorus.  Then Capt. Leviness resumed the narrative, Capt. Price interjecting corrections or admonitions.  

'We took oysters there unmolested until two years ago.  Connecticut in the mean time had attempted to usurp, for private owners, the beds along her shores.  We ignored her pretensions to ownership of the beds.  In 1878 the State authorities planted a cannon on Ship Ann Point, which commands a famous old oyster bed, and warned us that if a dredge was dropped they would sink our fleet.


'We appealed to Collector Calhoun, of New York.  He despatched a revenue cutter to the spot, and the State authorities were warned that if a shot was fired the cutter would bombard the battery.  Collector Calhoun took the ground that the Sound was a public highway in the jurisdiction of the United States, and that it was not within the province of the State to interfere with navigation, or any of the industries dependent upon it.  The State authorities conceded this point tacitly by not again claiming any jurisdiction beyond the low-water mark of their shore.

'The question was never decided by the courts, as the issue was never made.  To the amazement of the oystermen, however, the New York Legislature two years ago passed a bill authorizing the Fish Commission to lease those oyster beds along the Sound for planting purposes which had been unproductive for five years.  To our further astonishment the commission advertised the Matinecock oyster-bed for lease.


'Seventy-five City Island men went before the commission prepared to swear that they were daily gathering seed oysters there, but a hearing was not given as Commissioner Huntington decided that the commission must be guided by the official survey of the bed, which included it among those that had been unproductive.  

'The Matinecock Oyster Company secured the lease at $4.50 an acre a year, but were given only 200 acres.  On July 13 and after they planted many thousand bushels of seed oysters, but not until September was the lease signed.  In the mean time their seed oysters had set and the company had a gold mine.

'Then we went to the Legislature with our grievance and the law was repealed, but the Commissioners decided that the lease made under the law must stand.


'We still continued to dredge in that portion of the bed not included in the company's lease of 200 acres until recently, when to our astonishment, we found that the company had buoyed off the whole bed of 900 acres.  Then it was that we resolved to dredge upon the remaining 700 acres and resist with force any attempt to drive us away.  The attack upon us by an armed steam tug placed our sail craft at too great a disadvantage, and for the time being we were forced to submit to what we believe to be a great wrong and injustice.

'Capt. Merritt will to-morrow make a formal appeal for protection to Collector Kilbreth.  At the same time we have determined to fight the matter in the courts.  We will carry our cause to the highest court in the land, and we are confident that the law under which the lease was made will be proved inoperative on account of the State's lack of jurisdiction.  We therefore appeal to The World, knowing it to be the enemy of monopoly and the champion of the people, to present our position and claims in this controversy to the public.'


President Fletcher, of the Matinecock Oyster Company, defined the company's position to a reporter as follows:

'The Fish Commissioners of the State of New York, acting under full warrant of the law, leased 200 acres of the Matinecock oyster bed to this company.  That lease is valid.  It represents to us an investment of from $20,000 to $25,000.  We have made this investment on the authority of the State and under its pledge to protect us in the full enjoyment and profit of our purchase.  While we have no enmity or bitterness towards the oystermen, we are determined that the State shall protect us in our rights from it derived.  We propose to make a test case of these arrests in this way -- that we intend to establish the legality of our holdings and the right of protection thereof, which we may demand of the State, or, if they are not legal, to force the State to reimburse us for our expenditure and time and money.  


While the wise counsels of the old men of City Island have prevailed upon the young oystermen to declare a truce of twenty-four hours, it was openly boasted upon the streets of City Island last night that another descent upon the Matinecock bed will be made on Tuesday morning bright and early.  

'We are only waiting to hear Collector Kilbreth's decision,' said one man.  'If he's with us we'll go up there with a revenue cutter, and if the State authorities resist there'll be fun, too, for there's many a man in our fleet that can run like 'Lobster Pete,' and if they ain't careful send their boat on the rocks, or, we might give 'em a stand-up fight that would surprise 'em.  Don't forget, young man, our ancestors sailed with Commodore Perry and won many a sea battle for Uncle Sam.'

Capt. 'Lobster Pete' Curran's brilliant escape from the officers on Saturday made a hero of him in the eyes of his townsmen.  When he slipped into the harbor late Saturday night they gave him a grand ovation."

Source: OYSTERMEN TALK FIGHT -- The So-Called Pirates Threaten Another Descent on the Matinecock Company's Beds, The World [NY, NY], Apr. 22, 1895, p. 14, cols. 5-6.

"Dispute Over Oyster Grounds.

The contest between the Matinecock Oyster Company and the parties from City Island who robbed their beds, has been temporarily settled by the payment on the part of the defendants of all damages and losses that have occurred by their raid upon the beds.  The Matinnecock [sic] Oyster Company which was incorporated in 1893, has a capital stock of $20,000.  The directors are Geo. M. Fletcher, Wm. J. Youngs, Jacob Smith, Samuel Y. Baylis, Wm. E. Townsend, Stephen Bailey and Thomas Youngs.  They secured the tract of 263 acres of land under water in Long Island Sound off Matinnecock Point, which they had surveyed and the land examined in September, 1893, and according to the decision of the Fish Commissioners it was free from natural growth at that time.  In all questions of this kind the decision of the commission is declared to be final.  The lease was put up at public sale and was bid in by this company.  The City Island people last winter got a law passed repealing the law permitting the Fish Commissioners to lease lands.  The Matinnecock Compoany were, however, instrumental in having a provision inserted to the effect that all leases granted subsequently to Jan. 1, 1893, and up to the time of the passage of this act, be declared valid and the lessees holding under these leases were ratified and confirmed in their franchises by this same amendment.  The company have been very particular not to take an inch beyond their lines and in fact have not planted any beyond a line quite inside of their outer boundary.

In the complaint covering the ground of action which was taken by the Matinnecock Company against the defendants, it was stated that on or about the 12th day of September, 1893, Wm. J. Youngs leased of the State of New York this tract of land in Long Island Sound for a term of fifteen years; that thereafter the said Youngs for a good and valuable consideration transferred the aforesaid lease to the oyster company; that the plaintiff had expended large sums of money in planting and cultivating the said lands under water and that there were now many thousands of bushels of oysters upon said beds which are of great value; that the defendants have entered into an unlawful combination or conspiracy to enter upon the oyster beds of the plaintiff, and to take, steal and carry away said oysters, and that on the 18th, 19th and 20th days of April, 1895, they unlawfully entered upon these beds and stole and carried away large quantities of oysters; that they had threatened to make another raid upon these oyster beds.  It also stated that they had entered into a combination and conspiracy and were fully armed and defied the officers of the law, including the sheriff, who attempted to arrest them, and threatened to kill any person or persons who attempted to board their boats to make an arrest; that they have refused to submit to arrest upon warrants duly issued, and after an arrest in one instance had been effected and on the 20th day of April, 1895, the said defendants or some of them, acting in combination or conspiracy, assisted by a howling mob of desperate characters to the number of at least one hundred and fifty and headed by defendant Jerome Bell, who is a Justice of the Peace of Westchester County, demanded the immediate release of the defendant so arrested, otherwise they threatened the public rescue of the said defendant.  The complaint further declares that the condition of affairs now existing has arrived at such a point that the plaintiff believes and charges that the criminal process of the law is incapable of preventing riot and crime on the part of said defendants.  In conclusion, the plaintiff demands judgment and that the defendants be enjoined, restrained and prohibited from entering upon the oyster beds of the plaintiff.

In answer to this request Judge Barnard granted an injunction against further disturbance of these oyster beds on the 22nd day of April, 1895.

The parties complained of in this suit were:  Augustus D. Merritt and two others, the crew of the sloop Katie D. [sic]; Peter Curran, alias 'Lobster Pete,' and two others, the crew of the sloop Westchester; Jerome Bell, the captain and crew of the sloops Thomas Collins, Kentie, Emogene, Andrew W. Jackson, J. W. Earle, Abe & Will.

It is said the defendants propose to contest in the courts the right of the commissioners to lease any natural growth lands."

Source:  Dispute Over Oyster Grounds, The Long-Islander [Huntington, Long Island], May 4, 1895, Vol. LVIII, No. 39, p. 2, col. 3.

Accused of Piracy Off Oyster Bay Agree to Pay the Matinecock Company.


GLEN COVE, L. I., May 15, 1895.--A part settlement was reached yesterday between the Matinecock Oyster Company and the alleged oyster pirates of this vicinity and City Island who are accused of poaching on the grounds of the Matinecock Company off Oyster Bay.  

Through their lawyers the alleged poachers made admission of trespass and agreed to pay the Matinecock Company $1,100 damages and also to allow an injunction to be taken restraining free oystermen from poaching on the leased grounds of the company.  Sidney Weeks, of Bayville, was selected to stand trial on the charge of piracy for the purpose of testing the constitutionality of the law."

Source:  OYSTERMEN COMPROMISE, N.Y. Herald, May 16, 1895, p. 6, col. 2.

"GLEN COVE. . . . 

The oystermen of Port Washington and City Island express a determination to contest in the courts the right of the Matinecock Oyster Company to plant oysters upon the ground for which they have a grant from the State commissioners.  Should the courts decide that the granting of the right to plant was oysters on the disputed ground illegal the question will come up whether other people have a right to go and take the oysters that the company have planted on the grounds.  A person may have no authority to leave goods or property on the public highway but does that justify another person or persons in taking possession of his property?  We think it is probable that there will be long and expensive litigation over the question of the right of the company to plant oysters on the 200 acres that they occupy off Matinecock Point. . . . 

The trial of the oystermen who were arrested for taking oysters from the beds of the Matinecock Oyster Company was held before Justice Chas. W. Billings in the town hall in this village on last Wednesday.  Three of the men pleaded guilty and were fined $1 each.  The other one, Capt. Stephens, pleaded not guilty and was fined $15.  The baymen were well pleased with the result.  The cases will be taken to a higher court on appeal."  

Source:  GLEN COVE, The Long Islander [Huntington, Long Island], Jun. 1, 1895, Vol. LVIII, No. 43, p. 4, cols. 2-3.  

The Fish, Game, and Forest Commission Dismisses Eighteen Employees.

ALBANY, Dec. 7.--The Fish, Game, and Forest Commission has had so many men on its pay roll that its funds have run short, and to-day it dismissed Mark C. Finlay of Wayne county, the special agent for the detection of fraud, whose duties were so vague that it took weeks of explanation before the Civil Service Commission would consent to his appointment on the non-competitive examination basis.  John Ferguson, an oyster protector of Suffolk county, and John Liberty, a clerk in the office here, who has been with the Fish Commission ever since its organization, were also dropped, together with fifteen of the thirty-three game and fish proectors, who get $500 a year and $450 for expenses.  These victims are J. L. Ackerly of Yates, Thomas Donnelly of Warsaw, Ira Elmendorf of Ulster, A. B. Klock of Herkimer, J. H. Lamphere of Cayuga, James D. Lawrence of Delaware, B. S. Morrill of Clinton, C. M. Prouty of Washington, Riley M. Rush of Oneida, William A. Ten Eyck of Saratoga, George B. Smith of Chemung, T. J. Brooks of Monroe, D. G. Holmes of Hamilton and O. S. Potter of Oswego.  Several special game protectors, whose services are paid for by clubs, were appointed.

The Attorney-General was requested to designate some lawyer to act as special counsel for the Commission in its attempt to get possession of the books, papers, and accounts of Secretary E. P. Doyle and the old Fish Commission.  It was also decided that nothing but a special act of the Legislature could help ex-Assemblyman Billy Youngs and the Matinnecock [sic] Oyster Company out of the hole the old Fish Commission left them in when it accepted their bid of $4.40 per acre for an oyster bed they had spent $11,000 on.  The old Fish Commission and its secretary, according to Mr. Youngs, promised to let them have the bed at the usual price, but delayed giving them a lease till a season's work had been done, when they permitted a lot of 'straw bidders' to force them to bid the franchise up to $4.40 per acre.  They afterward promised to throw out the forced bids and let them pay the usual price of 25 cents per acre.  The old Fish Commission went out of office leaving no record except that requiring the $4.40 per acre payment, which means $2,100.  The present Commissioners are satisfied that Mr. Youngs's claim is correct, but that they have no power to release him.

The investigation into the alleged discrepancies in the financial accounts of Secretary Doyle is going on, and he has turned in over $7,000 in checks to square irregularities that it was said did not exist; has paid bills against the old Fish Commission amount to several hundred dollars, and handed in $1,800 on the oyster bed franchise account that was not turned over when he went out of office.  As Commissioner Lyman expresses it:  'We have none of the books, and are constantly told that there are no discrepancies, but Mr. Doyle is as frequently handing over his checks for various amounts.'"

Source:  THEIR FUNDS RUNNING SHORT, The Sun [NY, NY], Dec. 8, 1895, p. 5, col. 4.

"Old Long Island
Boss Youngs' Oyster Company Lost Prestige When Court Cleared Man of Stealing Shellfish

By Harry Weinberg

A trial that aroused the interest of many people on Long Island, not only because of the importance of the case itself, but because of the people involved, is recorded in The Long Island Farmer of May 24, 1895.  It was the trial of Sidney Weeks of Bayville, who was accused of unlawfully taking oysters from the oyster beds of the Matinecock Oyster Company in which County Republican Leader William J. Youngs of Queens held a large interest.

The company was said to hold a monopoly on some of the richest oyster beds on the Long Island coast.  Independent oystermen were fighting this alleged monopoly and the trial was considered to be a test case.

The Farmer was vitally interested because it was politically opposed to Youngs.

The story bore the headline 'Oyster Monopolists Beaten' with a subheadline reading 'Boss Youngs' Land Grabbing Company Gets a Severe Upset.' The article read:

'The trial of Sidney Weeks of Bayville, which took place before Justice Billings and a jury at Glen Cove on Tuesday, resulted in the acquittal of the defendant on the charge of unlawfully taking oysters from the beds of Boss Billy Youngs' Matinecock Oyster Company off Matinecock Point.  

'This is a most important feature in the oyster war at present waging between the oyster men and the Matinecock Company, in that the verdict of the jury did not sustain the claim of the company for protection for the oysters placed on their regularly leased land under water.

'Mr. Weeks is one of the oystermen arrested recently in a raid by the company on the alleged encroachers on their beds and is the first one to face a criminal charge of oyster piracy.

'On the opening of the court, Counselor Stoddard, who is associated with Boss Youngs as counsel for the company, filed the leases and grants with the court and after the drawing of the jury called George M. Fletcher, president of the company, and Samuel T. Baylis, treasurer of the company, to testify as to the raid and the presence of buoys.

'The company proved the loss of a lot of oysters and appeared to make out a fair case, but the defense knocked it sky high, notwithstanding the apparent bias of the court, and the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

'Boss Youngs was the organizer of the oyster monopoly and is the largest stockholder.  The company leases 200 acres of bay bottom, but the oyster gatherers who are opposed to the monopoly claim that the company is working over 500 acres.  

'The verdict gives Boss Youngs a severe setback.' . . . "

Source:  Weinberg, Harry, Old Long Island -- Boss Youngs' Oyster Company Lost Prestige When Court Cleared Man of Stealing Shellfish, Long Island Daily Press, May 25, 1934, p. 24, cols. 6-7.

Merritt's Case Settled -- The Fight to Be Taken to U.S. Courts.

OYSTER BAY, April 30.--The Matinecock oyster war has collapsed.  The case of Augustus D. Merritt, one of the pirates, who was arrested while dredging for oysters, was settled out of court.  When the case was called this morning, the lawyers asked for an adjournment, and then talked the matter over.  As a result, Counsellor Staddart announced to the court that he desired to put the case over one week.  Lawyer Henderson stated that he was willing to reimburse the company for the oysters stolen, providing his client was released.  This was agreed to.

The grounds operated upon by the oyster company were surveyed yesterday, and it was found that it did not operate more territory than its lease calls for.  The oystermen will now take the case to the United States courts, upon the grounds that the company is working natural beds.  The oystermen met and subscribed to a fund for the purpose.  The oyster company will accept the issue gladly, and make a test case of the suit."

Source:  THE OYSTER WAR OVER -- Merritt's Case Settled -- The Fight to Be Taken to U.S. Courts, The World [NY, NY], May 1, 1895, p. 9, col. 3.

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Below are links to more stories about Pelham's rich oystering traditions.

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