HISTORY OF THE OLD HOUSE JOHN SMITH, AND JOHN JETT 1850-1900
By John Bogack
This is not a history I intended to write. However while writing a history of the early period of the formation of Cherry Grove from the years 1878-1895 I began to see the potential for a second historical narrative of roughly the same period of time that might be written as a companion history.
In the Reformed History of Cherry Grove 1878-1895 my approach to that work was to first address the legend of Jeremiah Smith and his alleged house in Cherry Grove. Since the story of his supposed house in Cherry Grove was very much bound up in Jeremiah’s Smith history the focus was on deconstructing all the accounts of that house to better understand what if any true connection between it and Jeremiah Smith did exist.
The end conclusion was that there was some reason to believe he might have had a house on Fire Island it wasn’t in Cherry Grove. Therefore there was no connection between him and Cherry Grove that could be proven.
While researching back ground for that narrative another one emerged about another Smith, another house, another tale that seemed over looked but worth recording. That person was not Jeremiah Kirkland Smith but John Brewster Smith. That house not a legendary pirate’s haven in Cherry Grove but the real Old House that had been in modern day Davis Park. Not a tale with an end conclusion of fiction but a tale instead with an end conclusion of fact.
The Jeremiah Smith tale has all the attributes of interesting folk lore. It was said he was a somewhat lone wolf land pirate on the Fire Island beach. He was the first to build a house on Fire Island and it was made of driftwood. The house became a pirate’s nest hidden in the cherry trees of Cherry Grove. It was the headquarters
of a gang of shadowy confederates helping to loot wrecked ship cargoes amassing a fortune in the process then all disappearing scot free of punishment with their booty.
That this is might be exaggeration really didn’t matter. Imaginative, seductive, it proved itself as a folk tale that people wanted to believe and to this day still do because whether true or not on some level people wanted to and still want to believe it. And that of course is always the first element of a successful fable: susceptibility to the mysterious when a suspension of disbelief can be stirred even in the face of facts to the contrary.
But writing true history can at times also possess the power to engage the imagination too for the simple reason that the real is often more interesting to know because facts do matter in the end far more than fictions.
True gold is always more valuable than fool’s gold.
The John Brewster Smith story is also a story of first time houses on Fire Island made of driftwood.
It’s also a story of salvagers on the beach who found treasures from the ocean washed up on the ocean beach of Fire island.
It is also a story of self-made men and at least one young woman who carved out kingdoms by the sea during their lifetimes as residents within the pristine wilderness of Fire Island in the mid to late 1800s. They all didn’t rise from rags to riches but they all had adventurous lives.
They were impacted by history, they were part of history, they shaped history and unlike the Jeremiah Smith tale their tale is more fact than fable.
SCOPE AND TIME PERIOD
In approaching the telling of their story this is the basic format that will be used.
The time period is roughly 1850-1878
The catchment area for this survey is an area including Long Cove at the furthest east point. Then west in a straight line across the bay coast through modern day Watch Hill, Davis Park, Water Island, Fire Island Pines and lastly Cherry Grove.
In the time period of roughly 1850-1878 those geographical areas would have been identified with some different place names. For example modern day Fire Island Pines known more commonly as Head and Horns, and modern day Cherry Grove known as Raccoon Woods.
Completing the physical shape of this catchment area: from the bay coast of Cherry Grove , use the modern day Cherry Grove hotel as a directional point, head in a straight line south to the Atlantic Ocean to the modern day called Fire Island Beach then known as either Raccoon beach and/ or the Great South Beach.
Then head back east again along the beach to modern day Fire Pines to Lone Hill. Look north from that point for the area encompassing all the land between Lone Hill back up to the then meadows of Long Cove sometimes called the Hulse meadows in the time period of this study.
It’s a roughly rectangular area that for the purposes of this narrative is identified throughout this narrative as Central Fire Island.
THE PEOPLE INCLUDED
In this time period, the time period before the rise of communities like Cherry Grove and Water Island these persons will be discussed: John Brewster Smith, John Davenport Jett, John and Daniel Homan and their various family members.
Along with them there will be references to farmers, cattle men, life saving crews, fisherman and the like who also lived and walked in the Fire Island wilderness of this period who belonged as well to the history of that time and place.
Because more is known about John Brewster Smith and a bit more about John Davenport Jett their life stories will form the back bone of the narrative.
But much like as was done in the Reformed History of Cherry Grove a house history will be used to unfold their related histories. This time the house that will be used is the history of the Old House now gone, but when it was present it served as a lynch pin for the lives of many and will do so again in a different way by helping to give a direction to this narrative.
Since this is an online work it does allow for future editing of the content as needed and additions too.
The bottom line about this work is that it is a thesis. It is not holy writ. It is very much subject to the discovery of new information or other views and will be conformed as necessary in the future.
Constructive criticism and new information is welcome in the pursuit of forming what I set out to do from the beginning that is to create an accurate and true of this place and time and the people who belonged to both.
A good place to begin is to get some general information about two of the principals of this time period. After the page guide that information begins.
PAGE GUIDE OLD HOUSE HISTORY
Introduction pp. 1-4
Page Guide 4-5
John Brewster Smith initial biography p 6
John Davenport Jett initial biography p 7
Untangling the John Smith “Beach House “Puzzle p 7
Old House history introduced: Shaw account p 8
East Hampton Star account pp. 8-9
Patchogue Advance account p.-9
Hawkins court testimony p 10
John and Daniel Homan (map series) pp. 10-13
Shaw account redux pp. 13-14
Whale House Point p-15
Structure of Old House/Horton article p 16
Brookhaven Town Minutes 1870 p 17
Smith and Jett Post 1870 map series pp. 17-19
Research Conclusions/Puzzle solved pp 20-21
Agrarian life of Central Fire Island pp 21-24
When the cattle roamed pp. 24
Life saving stations bring on changes of different kinds p 25
How the Smiths and Jetts lived pp 26-29
Changes of 1878 p 29-30
Epitaphs p 30-31
Acknowledgements p 32
John Brewster Smith
To begin with some basic information about John Brewster Smith:
“John Brewster Smith was the son of Andrew Smith (1784-1840) and Charity Rowland (1800-1860).
John Smith was married three times and the father of 12 children during his life time.
Husband of Rebecca Harlow (1820-1852), whom he married in 1842.
Husband of Mary Louisa Thompson (b.1835), whom he married about 1852.
Husband of Adaline (b. 1840, no date of death available to report) whom he married about 1872’
John Smith was married three times and the father of at least 12 children during his life time.(editor’s note: there are disputed accounts about just how many children he fathered with some reporters claiming he fathered 9 daughter and 9 sons). In this account the children identified below, 12 in number, can actually be documented.)
Father of: Franklin Augustus Smith (1844–1921), Edward A. Smith (1846–1923), Alice Smith Gordon (1853–1880), John Ackman Smith (1857–1935), Emily Jane Smith Paine (1857–1937). Adgienora Smith Jett (1861–1913), Ernest Waldo Smith (1863–1936), William Flint Smith (1865–1950). Charles Ruford Smith (1866–1939), Lilian Martha Smith Satterly (1870–1955), George Winfield Smith (1873–1936), Fannie Adaline Smith Furman (1875–1939)
John Smith had a substantial beach home, built with his own hands entirely of lumber and material salvaged from wrecked ships.
Here he raised a large family, all of whom helped in raking, spreading, drying and baling the ribbon seaweed that grew on the bay flats.
Besides harvesting seaweed, he, members of his family, and others living nearby salvaged a lot of useful material along the ocean shore. No wreckage was ever sanded so deep that these men and their children couldn't dig it out, if it was worth the labor".
“Find a Grave” https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/151550971/john-brewster-smith:
Original source for that site is LI Surnames: https://longislandsurnames.com/descend.php?personID=I02137&tree=SmithBull
John Davenport Jett
John Davenport Jett was born in 1849 and died in 1924 at the age of 71.
The beginning point for documenting John Davenport Jett’s association with John Brewster Smith begins with John Davenport Jett’s marriage to John Brewster Smith’s daughter Adjienora Smith (1862-1913) in 1874. An alternate and often substituted spelling for her first name is: Adgienora.
They became the parents of four children: Charles, and Phoebe Louise (dates of birth and death not available), Anna “Annie” Elnore (born about 1882, date of death unknown), and lastly Robert Alfred (1888-1970).
John and Adjienora lived their entire lives as a married couple until first Adjienora passed away followed by her husband ten years later.
Source: Find a Grave search under Adgienora Smith Jett: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/94717047/adgienora-jett
And source, search under John Brewster Smith, LI Surnames: https://longislandsurnames.com/descend.php?personID=I02137&tree=SmithBull
Untangling the John Smith Beach House Puzzle
Those are the basic statistics about both men. Inside that information however is a puzzle that needs to be untangled. It begins with the beach home reference.
The LI Surnames biography stated:
“John Smith had a substantial beach home, built with his own hands entirely of lumber and material salvaged from wrecked ships”
Of the accounts that do exist about John B Smith that is a frequently referred to aspect of his life story included in accounts about him.
The comment referring to a hand built home from found shipwrecked lumber fits into the folklore of the Fire Island from this and earlier periods of time. Jeremiah Smith, no known relation, has been claimed as having built such a house somewhere on western Fire Island in a similar fashion and from the same source: lumber from wrecked ships on the ocean beach.
A NECESSARY QUESTION TO ANSWER
There is however an inconsistency about John Smith’s driftwood house that has to be reconciled with another narrative about him namely that he took possession of the Old House built by another person not him.
It turns out that determining whether there was any driftwood house let alone one or two of them allows for a good way to tell the history of Old House and those who lived in it.
OLD HOUSE IDENTIFIED AND CONNECTION TO JOHN SMITH THE SHAW ACCOUNT
The alternative narrative about John Smith’s driftwood house can be found from three good sources, one a new recently discovered during the course of the historical investigation undertaken to help form this narrative.
The first source to be considered is this past reporting from former Brookhaven Town historian Osborne Shaw.
To get a better sense of orientation this useful but not always reader friendly concise summary of the history of the Old House from one time Brookhaven Town Historian Osbourne Shaw:
“Old House – A small section of the South Beach, directly south of Old House or northeast Middle Ground (q.v.) in the Bay.
North East Middle Ground – A part of the South Bay and the same as the never name Old House Middle Ground, q.v.
It got its name from the fact that one John Homan had his house and lived there with his wife, three daughters and son, Samuel.
Later Daniel Homan, who had a large family, and lived there during the Civil War period, occupied it.
The house was occupied later by John Smith who married three times and had nine sons and nine daughters, one of whom married Baldwin Gordon and who, with his family, were probably the last to live in the ancient house.”
Source: Brookhaven Town historian’s office Barbara Russell Town Historian
The Shaw account lays out a history of Old House beginning with John Homan not John Smith.
EAST HAMPTON STAR ACCCOUNT OF OLD HOUSE AND JOHN SMITH
There is another account of the Old House that is relevant to this examination.
This is the first earliest report this writer has found placing John B. Smith on Fire Island. He is referenced in an article that appeared in the East Hampton Star dated 4-17-1969 titled “Looking Them Over”. The writer is also the author of “Ship Ashore!” (1955 Jeannette Edwards Rattray).
Here is the text of the short account in full:
“Fall of 1862: the brig Adgienora, on the beach southeast of Old House. Cargo. molasses and sugar. No lives lost. Old House was where John Smith, a beachcomber, brought up nine sons and nine daughters.
He had an old sloop, and used to cure seaweed and sell it in bales. One of his daughters was named after the wreck, Adgienora.
East Long Island used a tremendous amount of molasses, 100 to 50 years ago, No breakfast was complete without griddlecakes liberally doused with molasses and sausage”
This news account does not mention a driftwood house but does mention Old House and based on the earlier Shaw account this means that John Smith and his family had by this point in time become a resident or full occupant of the pre-existing Old House erected by John Homan.
Note Adgienora was born on 2-14-1862 placing the wreck of the brig of the same name in the winter of 1862.
There is another newspaper account that helps provide a time line for the Old House and its first owner.
PATCHOGUE ADVANCE REFERENCES TO OLD HOUSE HISTORY
On 2/24/1883 an article was reprinted in that paper titled “In Great South Bay” a reprint of an article published earlier in the New Haven Register that same year. Among the subjects recounted in that article this observation looking back to a time period twenty years prior to the original publication in the New Haven Register. It surveys hotels and houses on Fire Island in that time period.
“Twenty years ago they were but a few houses upon it with the exception of the hotels on Fire Island. Here were located the surf house, the Dominy House, and the Ketcham House. They were all well patronized during the summer.
About four miles east of Fire Island was a house occupied by a watchman, who was employed to keep marauders off from the beds of oysters planted there.
Eight miles further east, and nearly opposite Patchogue, was a house occupied by Daniel Homan and his family. These were the only houses on the beach at that time.”
Source: microform records of the Patchogue Advance.
This account does not refer to a driftwood house. It can establish the Homan family as the first builders of the Old House.
In addition to these three newspaper accounts there is also a more contemporary account of the Old House and its origins that fits into this narrative.
THE HAWKINS COURT TESTIMONY
That view comes out of actual court testimony that occurred in 1921. It provides a better description of the early Old House history.
In 1878 the “Great Partition” of Fire Island occurred. In the court case Green v. Sammis land claims that dated back to the late 1700s were determined by court decision. This area would include all of the area already identified as the area of Fire Island being surveyed in this narrative (i.e. from Long Cove in the east to Fire Inlet on the west).
In the years following that decision some persons went to court to press purported land claims they alleged were excluded from that decision. One such case was Valentin et.al. v. Fire Island Beach Development Company which in 1921 began hearing testimony about some of those purported land claims. Among the witnesses in that case was 86 year old Capt. Henry Hawkins who recounted his memories as a very young man from the time period of 1850-1870.
In those years he helped his father and his uncle herd cattle on Fire Island.
As per his court testimony a young Capt. Henry Hawkins regularly helped his father and his uncle with their herd of a hundred cattle graze on Fire Island. He described the grazing area as stretching some 12 to 14 miles from Long Cove to the Fire Island Inlet.
He said that cattle were landed “west of Lone Hill” located today in modern day Fire Island Pines.
During his questioning he was asked how the cattle were controlled from roaming particularly since he told the court that there was no fence to keep them moving east of Long Cove.
He told the court: “The owners of the beach they had a house built, called the Old House, a man lived there that kept them from going to the east, a man lived there by the name of Dan Homan after than John Smith went there and lived there for several years”
Source (use search box left hand side of page term Hawkins): https://books.google.com/books?id=9F83DK6I-aoC&pg=PA277&lpg=PA277&dq=meadows+of+long+cove+fire+island+ny&source=bl&ots=1v4Dk6-NW-&sig=ACfU3U1ni7NRZXQ-uIlY_ownaqbqE42vWw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj8wP7pl5_pAhXjlnIEHTS8ApUQ6AEwCHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=meadows%20of%20long%20cove%20fire%20island%20ny&f=false
The Hawkins testimony provides first-hand evidence that there was an Old House. It explains a purpose of its location. It confirms the heritage of the building as associated with Dan Homan as claimed by Osborne Shaw and it confirms as well a transfer of occupancy to John Smith as either claimed or inferred by the other historical sources that have already been described. It does not mention a driftwood house though.
That bring us to look at any information about its origins outside of what has already been chronicled.
JOHN AND DANIEL HOMAN
To begin with there is reliable information to set a date for a Homan house on Fire Island.
It’s map time.
There are a series of maps from the early 1800s that taken altogether provide snap shots of the development of Fire Island with particular reference to structures that were erected during this time period. They were not a lot of them but some of the maps directly relate to the Old House and John Homan and by inference John Smith.
The map history strongly suggests that Old House began its existence in the modern day Davis Park area of Fire Island an area just to the east of modern day Water Island.
There are three maps included in this survey. Their time span is from 1840 to 1858. There are online links for any reader to examine them independently.
1840 Blunt map
In this map the area from Fire Island Inlet to Watch Hill is mapped. There appears to be a reference to a “Smiths” house in the modern day Saltaire area. From “Raccoon Woods” (original place name for modern day Cherry Grove) to Watch Hill no other building structure or any structure of any kind is mapped.
Therefore there is no documentation of a Homan house prior to or circa this period.
“The Harbor of New York with the Coasts of Long Island and New Jersey from Fire Islands to Barrigat Inlet (1840)”.
The next mapping period occurs in 1851
F.R. Hassler and A.D. Bache published 1851
“Survey of the western part of the southern coast of Long Island”
The map shows one possible house located in the modern day Saltaire area but without any designation as to who owns it. To the east no houses are shown. In the future Water Island area there is a representation that is important in terms of assessing information provided by the next map in this series.
To the east of Watch Hill a lifesaving station is mapped and identified as the Blue Point Life Saving Station. The 1858 map will show the same information but without an identification of the lifesaving station pictured. This 1851 map does document that in that map it is the Blue Pt. Life Saving station that is being referenced.
No Homan house (Old House) or building attributed to John Smith or John Jett appears in this time period or any building attributed to anyone else appears in this map.
Link to: https://historicalcharts.noaa.gov/
Search box enter “Long Island”, NY, time span 1850-1851 map should appear for preview in the search results.
The next mapping period occurs in 1858.
It’s in the John Chase Jr 1858 Map of Suffolk County “from actual surveys” that significant information begins to show up. The biggest find: mapped is the “J. Homan” house in the map (Old House). This provides a base line for its existence as beginning in some year no earlier than in some year after 1851 but no later than 1858.
The house is located west of Watch Hill and east of the Blue Pt. Life saving station east of modern day Water Island
Link to Chase map: https://www.loc.gov/item/2013593235/
The Chase map does not say John Homan. And so far no independent source of substantiation for example a newspaper account placing John Homan on Fire Island or his brother Daniel has been discovered.
Therefore, judge as may be judged, the best and actually only source of information that links the Old House to John and Daniel Homan is Osborne Shaw who presumably did have some source upon which he did rely.
It is possible to look at what he did claim though to assess its veracity and continue researching both their history and that of the Old House.
THE SHAW ACCOUNT REDUX
Shaw wrote with reference to the Old House:
“It got its name from the fact that one John Homan had his house and lived there with his wife, three daughters and son, Samuel.
Later Daniel Homan, who had a large family, and lived there during the Civil War period, occupied it”
Shaw does not describe the relationship between John and Daniel Homan but there are fact two such persons whose lives can be documented as having existed in the time period that Shaw reports.
Their life history, particularly their family constellations are different from what Shaw reported and a necessary correction must be made that ironically ends up validating Shaw’s account over all.
John Homan is Daniel’s brother. It is true that he has a family and he was married but he had only one child. Daniel Homan was also married and did have a large family but the family members that Shaw attributes to John Homan are actually those of Daniel.
In the time period in question his large family included three daughters and a son names Samuel. John had no daughters and one son named Charles.
It’s the identification of Samuel that does confirm that the adults in focus on the two brothers John and Daniel Homan about whom there is some biographical information that can be reported.
This edited obituary information about John Homan:
Obituary - John Homan, one of the few surviving old-time whale men of Sag Harbor, and the oldest male inhabitant of the village, died suddenly on Thursday afternoon, at his home. Had he lived until February 16, he would have been 96 years of age.
(South Side Signal., February 14, 1903, Page 2)
This edited obituary information about Daniel Homan:
Obituary November 15, 1896, Page 10; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn,
Daniel Homan, the oldest and longest resident of Patchogue, who died at the home of Mr. and Mrs. George Peck on West Avenue, early Tuesday morning, was buried today, the funeral being held at the First Baptist Church.
The deceased was born a few rods from where he died on March 8, 1815, and had never moved from this village. He was a bay man in his early days, and was one of the town's leading and most progressive citizens when in his prime. He lived in the old home where he died for over sixty years. His brother, John Homan, died at Sag Harbor last week, and his only remaining brother is Lewis Homan of Greenport.
The deceased was one of the old time deer hunters of the south shore of Long Island, and up to within a few years of his final sickness never missed a shooting season, and had a record of having bagged more of this big game than any other man in this section.
(Long Island Surnames; South Side Signal, July 17, 1897, Page 4; 1865 New York State Census; 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900 US Federal Census; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, November 15, 1896, Page 10; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), 19 February 1903, Page 3; The Suffolk County news., February 20, 1903, Page 2; The Long-Islander., February 20, 1903, Page 4; South Side Signal., February 14, 1903, Page 2)
It should be noted that neither of these two obituaries link either John or Daniel Homan to Fire Island specifically or reference any connection to Old House on Fire Island.
However it is clear that Daniel Homan was a bay man on the Great South Bay in Patchogue opposite exactly where the Old House was located so his occupation places him within the orbit of Fire Island.
John Homan’s history places him far away from the Great South Bay and more in line with a sea faring history out of Sag Harbor far removed from Fire Island. But there is, like his brother, a connection to the sea.
At this point in time while there is certainly more than enough substantiation that there was an Old House and it was initially associated with John and Daniel Homan there is a missing piece and that is why did John Homan build a house on Fire Island in the first place that eventually came into the hands of his brother and from there to John Smith?
If there is a path to understanding John Homan’s intentions there are two factors that do exist to help figure out what the what and why of his plans for himself.
The first is his apparent lifelong connection to whaling.
The second is to go back even further into the history of central Fire Island to understand why its history could have been connected to his whaling ambitions.
Among the many long lost facts about central Fire Island is that it was there that colonial economic development of Fire Island began.
And the engine of that development was whaling.
WHAT WHALE HOUSE POINT HAS TO DO WITH THE OLD HOUSE?
Going back further into the history of this area it turns out that the Old House location is not far from Whale House point in the present day Watch Hill vicinity. It’s the first documented location from which whaling in the Great South Bay occurred.
This bit of history about the early whaling history of Fire Island:
“As early as 1653 Isaac Stratford of Babylon established a whaling station on Fire Island. Shaw (1895:41-42) describes the whaling operations of the early 1700s: a whaling crew, half Indians, had their hut east of Quanch.
They used to land and come off at the point there, where the water is deep, called Whale House Point till this day. From the days of the earliest settlement, whaling crews used to go on the Beach. They would live there during the season and watch the sea day by day, ready to launch their boats and push off whenever they saw a whale blow.” Pp31-32
Source: HISTORIC RESOURCE STUDY FIRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE LONG ISLAND, N.Y. Prepared by Laraine Fletcher and Ellen Kintz pp 31-32.
There wasn’t a house there but there was a whaling station. But by John Homan’s time whaling in the Great South Bay was coming to a historical end. Either due to over fishing, and or other causes, whaling operations had switched to such areas as Sag Harbor to allow whalers to strike deeper into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean to find whales in sufficient numbers to be captured for their oil.
There is one sighting of three sixty foot mammoth sized whales off Fire Island in 1880 but on the ocean side not the Bay side:
”Thursday of last week, H. D. Smith while on the beach near Cherry Grove House saw close to shore, three right whales, each measuring at least 60 feet” (Patchogue Advance microform record 1/1880)
Whales were around FI but just not where they used to be.
It’s possible that a young John Homan might have decided to try his luck anyway. It does look more than coincidental that he chose to build a house so close to an historical area associated with whaling. It seems more like a deliberate choice.
Assuming that his plans did not pan out for that area to whale, or perhaps he found better opportunities by going to Sag Harbor to whale it left him free to transfer to his brother the home he had built on Fire Island. And since his brother was a bay man a house located on the Great South Bay on the Fire Island bay shore would seem to have an ideal opportunity for Daniel Homan.
Daniel Homan may have had other duties too like keeping cattle herds within their bounds. It would not have been a job that would have precluded keeping to his bay man occupation.
Bottom line however what the reasons there is good evidence to substantiate the claim that it was John Homan who built the original structure that would in time be called Old House.
Again absent the discovery of some definitive hard evidence in the form of a diary, newspaper account, or some other form of written proof the scant factual history available can only be compensated for by making some intuitive guesses based on the few facts that are available. It’s in that light that this theory is presented about the early history of the Old House itself relative to the Homan family.
OLD HOUSE: WHAT KIND OF HOUSE?
While there does appear to be some credible evidence to establish that there was in fact a building that in time would be called Old House whether it was constructed of driftwood and either built from scratch by John Smith is still not clear.
There are other sources to help separate possible hearsay from fact.
HORTON LI FORUM ARTICLE
H.P. Horton penned an article for the Suffolk County Forum in September 1958 titled: “Patchogue Romance of Long Ago”: It’s a tale about Anne "Annie” Elnore Jett married grandchild of John B. Smith.
The account provides some detail explaining the connection between John Davenport Jett and John B. Smith. One essential part of that connection John Davenport Jett’s marriage to Adgienora Smith daughter of John B. Smith. This portion of is excerpted from a larger tale.
Horton describes her early life: “Annie Jett lived with her parents, sister Phoebe, brothers Charles and Robert in a home built from driftwood at Old House Landing (now Leiga Beach) across Great South Bay from Patchogue”
Horton’s source for his article about Annie Jett was not her. It was instead Capt. William A. Corbin, who served at the Lone Hill Life Saving Station, within the vicinity where the Jetts lived making him a contemporary source for the information related in the article adding authenticity as to the facts claimed within it.
The account can be read two ways. It infers the existence of Old House where the Jetts lived with John Smith and his family and that it was made of driftwood. Or it suggests that the Jetts lived in a driftwood house at Old House landing which would infer a second house at that location occupied by the Smith family alone.
That brings this narrative to look at the previously unreported events of1870 involving the Smith and Jett families: fire.
BROOKHAVEN TOWN MINUTES
Brookhaven Town records have been discovered that provide at least one reliable point for the John B. Smith timeline; a fire at the Old House. Brookhaven Town Council Trustee records for 11-1-1870 contain this reference to John B. Smith
“Ordered that John Roe Smith, trustee, furnish needed clothing to the family of John Smith who was recently burnt out of home on the Great South Beach.
These minutes from the Trustee meeting document a previously unknown aspect of the John B. Smith history and the fate of the Old House: a burn out or some level of destruction of the original building erected pre-Civil War by John Homan.
The minutes are a reliable source of information that documents either the total destruction of the Old House first erected in whatever form circa 1858 or severe damage to it. Town officials observe that the Smith family was “burnt out” and that seems a pretty persuasive description of a home that no longer was habitable.
And in that event it presented John Smith with a dilemma. Rebuild or move a dilemma that documentary history he resolved by not moving away. This leads to the conclusion he rebuilt and when he did so built two houses. Recalling Capt. Horton’s narrative if one house was of driftwood that is pretty good evidence that the second was built the same way.
Smith and Jett post 1870
There is good evidence that John Smith rebuilt exactly where the Old House had first stood whether repaired but now with driftwood or all driftwood and added a second house at the same time.
It’s map time again for these reasons. The next series of maps will document that post 1870 the date of the fire at the first Old House building that by 1873 the building mapped at its previously mapped location is now attributed to John Smith and later maps will show two houses in this same location also attributed to him.
The next map to be considered is the Beers map of 1873.
In this map the J. Homan designation that appeared in the Chase map of 1858 has disappeared but not the house. The house icon is now identified with the term “John Smith” and it sits right between a lifesaving station to the east (Blue Pt. Life Saving Station), and Watch Hill to the west. This is a consistent siting as appeared in the Chase map for the J. Homan house.
Hosner and DeWolf 1874
The second map in this series is from 1874. It’s a United States Coastal map titled “Fire Island Beach” surveyed in that same year by Charles Hosmer and John DeWolf. Again in the same area between the Blue Pt. Life Saving Station and Watch Hill there is a house designation. This time the designation is “J. Smith’s house”.
But unlike the previous dot icons used in prior maps the dimensions of two houses, not one is outlined. A rather large house appears with a possible subdivision of the structure. And nearby to the west of it the dimensions of a smaller house appear.
This is the first documentation that John Davenport and his family could have lived in the smaller of the two houses while presumably John B. Smith and his much larger family lived in the larger of the two buildings.
Several possibilities arise explaining these two buildings.
They are a repaired Old House with a smaller second house also constructed from a nearby found source i.e. driftwood.
Or these are both two entirely new structures that have been constructed to allow both the Smith and Jett families to continue their lives and their livelihoods on Fire Island the 1870 fire notwithstanding.
This is not information conveyed by reading the 1874 but it’s an external fact that might help provide a reason for building a second house. It’s in 1874 that John Davenport Jett marries into the Smith family. The second house as a practical measure allowed for Jett and his wife to remain proximate to the Smith family and provide room in time for a family of five children too.
Jonathan Sammis 1878
The last map in this series is the Jonathan Sammis map of1878 (recopied 1883 version). Of all the maps in this series it is the most comprehensive map of buildings surveyed in existence in all of Fire Island from the Fire Inland Inlet to Long Cove that exists for this period of time.
It also provides land ownership information too by mapping the dimensions and any buildings within 78 property lots.
In the map for Lot 39a small arrow icon points to the house icon “John Smith” and nearby to the west, like the 1874 map already cited an icon for a smaller building appears.
To the east from these structures to Horsefoot Creek all the way to Long Cove and the end of the mapping for this map no other houses are indicated to be in existence.
The 1878 map has many messages to communicate. It confirms the 1874 map that shows two structures associated with John Smith although not exactly as represented in that 1874 map. The location of the second smaller house is flipped from west to east of the main building in what is a small compound of two homes.
The 1878 Sammis map is on line. It is part of the larger 1979 history HISTORIC RESOURCE STUDY FIRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE LONG ISLAND, N.Y. Prepared by Laraine Fletcher and Ellen Kintz and it can be found within the pages of that study. In that study the Sammis map is reproduced in ten sections. Section 8 contains the map of Water Island and Section 9 contains information about the Smith home.
Based on all the preceding information that has been presented the conclusions that can be reached are these.
The Old House originates with John Homan at least by 1858 and has a probable existence at least to 1870 when it may have been burned down in an accidental fire.
There are no facts one way or the other that can distinguish whether it was a driftwood house during this period. It may have been. It may not have been. If it was it may have been built at such by John Homan who preceded Daniel Homan, John Smith and John Jett occupying the house before any of them.
After being damaged by fire in 1870 it was either repaired or a new house was built to replace it. Whether driftwood was used to repair or replace the structure by John Smith cannot be definitely known but may be inferred by post 1888 facts. The building may have been continued to have been referred to as the Old House, or it may have been known as “John Smith’s” house.
The John Jett home most probably mapped but not so identified in 1874 does appear to have been of driftwood design.
John Jett’s daughter Annie was born in 1882. Her life became the subject of public attention during her time on Fire Island which ended circa 1900.
During that period there is comment from a contemporary figure who worked in the area of her house at the very least that she was known to live in a driftwood house occupied by her family the Jetts. This is the best evidence that has been found that indeed there was such a structure.
It seems most probable that both the Smith and Jett homes were built during the same period and of the same material (i.e. driftwood) and existed in that form circa 1874.
The journey to determine whether John Smith did or did not live in a driftwood house has concluded. The time has been spent to assess this question because in doing so the history of the Homan, Smith and Jett families has also unfolded.
Now that there is some basis to understand that the legend of the driftwood home has some real basis in fact attention can be turned to look at just what the Smiths and Jetts were doing when they were in their houses.
The Old House, John Brewster Smith and John Davenport Jett have gotten a lot of attention. They have because now that the presence of Old House and/ or subsequent houses and those persons have been established it’s now time to look at what they were doing and what was going on around them by others.
THE AGRARIAN LIFE OF CENTRAL FIRE ISLAND
The Smiths and Jetts lived and worked in multiple environments. On the bay side of Fire Island they concentrated on sea weed harvesting but the main organic product being harvested was salt hay for its worth and it’s equally important use as cattle fodder.
From the previous reports already documented here this area was being visited by Brookhaven farmers who were harvesting salt hay from its bay coastal areas. One of the great attractions of this area is the apparent large meadow lands particularly in the area of Long Cove. Deed records for this period use as a reference for land descriptions the term “Hulse Meadows” from which can be deduced a place name gained by its size and not just its owner’s name.
Salt hay is not in this present age a familiar term but in past times on Fire Island its harvesting was an important industry.
The present bay coast line of Fire Island is far different than the coast line of Fire Island in era of the Smith and Jett families.
Modern development has led to the bulk heading of the once salt marshes that dominated the bay coast for one.
Secondly salt hay does not originate from the “beach grass” that is now more commonly found on the Fire Island bay coast. That is an invasive grass known as a phragmite.
A good link with photos:
Back in time the salt marshes of Fire Island’s bay coast that also reached in land as well belonged to another species of grass altogether.
It’s the spartina grass that dominated until pushed aside later in time.
Another good link with photos:
The environmental importance of that grass, “salt hay” was that it produced a salt marsh area with these results:
“A healthy salt marsh depends on the presence of plants such as salt hay grass and smooth cordgrass. These grasses provide rich habitat for crustaceans, mollusks, and birds, and serve as a major source of organic nutrients for the entire estuary. Mats of salt hay grass are inhabited by many small animals and are an important food source for ducks and seaside sparrows.”
These marshes in spring gave the Fire Island bay coast line an apron of purple flowers later turning brown. It must have been quite a sight actually.
In these links a better idea of the industrial purposes of salt hay, there were quite a few.
Staten Island an example of Fire Island too:
It was mucky, and mosquito infested but in the summer months when the salt hay was ready for harvest conditions improved for harvesting.
This late 1800s account of a salt hay harvest on Fire Island where the grass was scythed by hand provides good detail about salt hay harvesting:
“The sun next morning was not more than an hour high, when these mowers had embarked in the hay-boat for the Beach…” see the rest of this account in the chapter “the Mower’s Phantom” from “Legends of Fire Island Beach and the South Side” by Edward Shaw (great drawings too bringing this whole process to life): http://www.gutenberg.org/files/56576/56576-h/56576-h.htm
In the world of the Smiths and Jetts the importance of salt hay was its use for cattle fodder. It’s been documented that from sometime in the early 1860s to sometime around 1878 they were at the Old House with a specific job: keeping the cattle grazing on Fire Island in hand and preventing them from wandering east of the meadows of Long Cove into private property where they did not belong.
More importantly this environment supported a bird habitat and a habitat for crabs, and shell and fin fish too.
In addition to supporting a salt hay industry the salt marshes also supported “gunning” as an activity on Fire Island. Gunner defined as hunters who came just for the sport of shooting birds, others shooting them for food for themselves or for sale.
The great habitat for birds also supported a trade in robbing bird nests for their eggs an in demand delicacy for the restaurant trade particularly in New York City.
And these marshes also were a prime habitat for horseshoe crabs in such number that they were captured for their value as fertilizer for Long Island farmers.
Some period newspaper observations
One million wild geese off Fire Island
1876: Page 2 comment: Deafening sound on Great South Bay. Flock of one million wild geese:
LI gunners seemed to have the motto “if I can see it I can shoot it” and blasted away they did. Add in the removal of bird eggs from their nests and the inevitable result occurred: savaged by humans from both below and above the balance of nature was tipped against the millions of birds. By the very late 1800s the devastation was undeniable and efforts were made to stop the slaughter.
It’s arguable that the bird population of Fire Island and the Great South Bay were spared the same fate as the buffalo of the American West. That decimation is much more well-known, this one far less but just as there are no vast herds of buffalo roaming America anymore the huge bird flights of a million or so are now the stuff of dusty newspaper files.
1886: “Protection of Birds”: The extermination of LI birds , a catalogue of decimated birds populations and habitats including piping plover https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83030960/1886-04-10/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=01%2F01%2F1886&sort=relevance&date2=12%2F31%2F1886&words=Fire+Island&to_year2=1886&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&index=3&from_year2=1886&proxdistance=5&p
The Smiths and the Jetts would have crossed paths with gunners and horseshoe crabbers and fisherman who would have had a presence.
WHEN THE CATTLE ROAMED
They also more frequently would have had contact with the cattle wranglers of Fire Island too.
In the world of the Smiths and Jetts the importance of salt hay was its use for cattle fodder. It’s been documented that from sometime in the early 1860s to sometime around 1878 they were at the Old House with a specific job: keeping the cattle grazing on Fire Island in hand and preventing them from wandering east of the meadows of Long Cove into private property where they did not belong.
From Long Cove to the Fire Island Inlet were grazing multiple herds of cattle during the summer month before they were returned to Long Island for sale or other use. In fact it appears to be the central area for landing cattle from Long Island onto Fire Island for grazing 12 to 14 miles to the east as far Fire Island a distance that would have stretched to the Fire Island inlet.
It’s been a big transition for this part of Fire Island in the time since the days the cattle roamed over present day Fire Island Pines where residential development now covers the once open ground that served as grazing routes for cattle herds.
LIFE SAVING CREWS BRING LAW AND ORDER AND ATTRACT SQUATTERS AND FISHERMAN
The map chronicles also revealed the arrival of the lifesaving crews who during this period were present in the life saving stations generally all year but for the summer months. Beach patrols from the station were regularly scheduled at least once a day adding a benign official presence monitoring the nearby ocean beach.
Dominating the area of the Smiths and Jetts would have been the life saving stations at Lone Hill and Blue Point.
And as per John Jett, great grandson of John Davenport he reports that John Davenport was a member of the Blue Point Life Saving station in the late 1800s. Such an association certainly would have tied the Smiths and the Jetts to the world of the life saving crews.
Some basic history of the life saving service: https://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2010/12/history-milestones-of-the-u-s-life-saving-service/
FISHERMAN HUT ENCAMPMENT
There is also some evidence that the Lone Hill life saving station attracted a steady stream of visitors for fishing and nearby there may have been a semi-permanent encampment of beach huts again in the area of present day Fire Island Pines.
In1875 the Vicksburg sinks at nearby Lone Hill. In one account of the rescue there is a reference to multiple “poor fisherman” who lived on the beach probably in temporary beach huts in the area whose owners helped with the rescue of the crew.
See the article “Another Wreck off Fire Island”: https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83031119/1875-03-05/ed-1/seq-2/#fbclid=IwAR1WMXZvVXO1n9JCDfzfGA5ddpYdj7Q0tODvljIAYOnegakTOxbMz2CeP5A
STATIONS WERE TOURISM SITES
Wrecks nearby and sand flats proximate to the Lone Hill station appear to have been a welcome fish habitat plus the location of the station itself added a bit of social contact too for visitors who arrived to fish or picnic nearby as various newspapers articles document.
1891 late season account of a visit to the Lone Hill life saving station, a tourist attraction in its own right:
HOW THE SMITHS AND JETTS LIVED
It’s in this mix of, salt hay harvesters, cattle grazers; lifesaving crews, gunners (bird egg harvesters and shooters) oyster and eel harvesters and fisherman that John Smith and John Jett held sway.
First the Homans who give way to John Smith whose tenure on Fire Island does appear to have outlasted theirs. Then John Jett arrives and forges a relationship with John Smith by marrying his daughter Adgienora in 1874.
The 1874 map documentation does strongly argue that John Smith and John Jett built a small two house compound with each family living side by side joined in mutual work to get by. That event may be related to the marriage with foresight arguing in favor of building housing for John Jett’s new family to come.
By all accounts the two families led a hard scrabble life but it should be said they made a somewhat impressive adaption to their limited financial resources. Between the two families almost two dozen and a half children put to work to help the two fathers keep a roof over the heads of all.
And from their hands and hard work from all a network of business ventures radiating out reaching from their home base at a time when there was no electricity, and no municipal water source. Their home or homes built from found driftwood and probably insulated from harvested seaweed.
This is a model of off the grid survival and adaptation in what many would have seen as harsh circumstances.
The Smith-Jett enterprise despite a lack of capital had many other assets.
Between their two houses they had a permanent presence on Fire Island allowing for a year round operation.
They had a large pool of family members most young to provide labor at little or no cost.
John Smith owned an essential asset needed for any successful FI based business: a ship. With a ship travel to the Long Island mainland always possible to ship supplies and for shipment of work product for example baled sea week to be off loaded for the NYC city market.
He was not the only one to ply the waters of the Great South Bay. An 1878 news account confirms that John Jett owned a cat boat. This is a small craft usually owned by oystermen and fishers and that suggests among his other duties he took on the duty of harvesting the bounty of the Great South Bay for food and profit. It’s true in this account his boat has sunk in a storm off Bellport but knowing the can do spirit of John Jett no doubt back in service soon enough
See far left column then down to storm story: https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83031119/1878-12-20/ed-1/seq-3/#date1=01%2F01%2F1878&index=16&date2=12%2F31%2F1878&words=Fire+Island&to_year2=1878&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&from_year2=1878&proxdistance=5&page=1&county=Suffolk&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=fire+island&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&SearchType2=prox5
John Smith owned two oxen and a cart. As per an account not previously discussed from the 1986 book “Water Island: it’s history, land and people” by Hewlet Bishop and Fred Jones those oxen and that cart were used by John Smith to carry his sea weed harvest from the coasts back to his home for drying, baling and eventual transshipment off island.
On FI having oxen and a cart, in the absence of any powered vehicles of any sort in that day, provided Smith and Jett with the most effective tools for moving freight anywhere within their reach.
Additionally oxen were often used to move heavy objects (no tractors in those days) for example ship wrecked cargo from wrecked ships, or perhaps even coal to the various nearby life saving stations.
They needed coal for their stoves for cooking and staying warm. It had to be brought over by boat across the Great South Bay. Once on the bay coast that kind of cargo would have to be moved and no better means of transport might have been around other than John Smith and his cart and oxen.
John Jett, current great grandson of John Davenport Jett has provided some additional detail about what the cart was used for: hauling found fire wood to heat the stoves of the houses the families lived in
John Jett also advises that to the best of his recollection his great grandfather also had a horse too another extremely valuable asset for travel within the confines of Fire Island.
The two men and their family members were involved in a somewhat unique business which today would be considered quite eco-friendly: seaweed.
The driftwood homes were actually connected to the NYC market as a wholesale source of an in demand organic material.
From the waters it was harvested, dried in the open air under the sun, baled and then sold to a NYC market looking for packing material, mattress stuffing, and home insulation.
It also may have been that those drying racks were put to another purpose as well: dry curing of tobacco.
This news account documents that John Smith sold cigars on the mainland. He also might have found a market for them too as in later years about to rise resort buildings such as the Water Island Pavilion specifically advertised cigar smoking as an attraction.
Riverhead news 1888: John Smith sells cigars and tobacco at the Riverhead County Fair: https://nyshistoricnewspapers.org/lccn/sn83030960/1888-08-18/ed-1/seq-4/#date1=01%2F01%2F1888&sort=relevance&date2=12%2F31%2F1888&words=Fire+Island&to_year2=1888&searchType=advanced&sequence=0&index=4&from_year2=1888&proxdistance=5&page=2&county=Suffolk&rows=20&ortext=&proxtext=fire+island&phrasetext=&andtext=&dateFilterType=range&SearchType2=prox5
Certainly an area for future study if John Smith could grow potatoes on Island did he also grow native tobacco?
What should not be left out of all this business activity is salvage. FI was notorious for being a wrecking ground for ocean going ships and from the 1861 newspaper account already discussed, looks like wrecks from the Great South Bay could also occur.
Ship cargoes even wrecked ones were still private property but there is no doubt that the rule of “finders keepers” did apply all across the Great South Beach. Wrecked cargoes could often be “salvaged” by those arriving first on the scene particularly during the more storms prone winter months before “wreck masters” could arrive to take control over any wrecked cargo on the beach.
Cargoes could include anything: liquor, fine clothing, produce like oranges, furniture the list is endless. Once salvaged those goods could be repurposed for personal use or sold off. At this point in time only the Smiths and Jetts know what they actually found and that is a secret that has a permanent life time at this point barring the surfacing of a diary that might have inventoried their discoveries.
An alternate description for their salvaging activities might allow for something more legal. With a ready work crew at hand, oxen and cart at the ready and a ship it’s also quite possible that Smith and Jett contracted out to their services to wreck masters who would have had the always difficult job of protecting beach wrecked cargoes from being looted by the one practical solution to do so: collect and ship out to the mainland as soon as possible.
And being present on the ground right then and there, with the resources they had, what was leftover and not carried off perhaps some of it first buried by waves might be around for later recovery after digging after the easy work was done and the wrecked cargoes truly abandoned.
Lastly with such a large number of people to feed, in a stroke of eco-friendly adaptation, John Smith turns out to have been a master gardener using that sea weed for another purpose: fertilizer growing enough vegetables not just for his family but apparently having enough to go around for export.
And nearby always the waters of the Great South Bay and the Atlantic ocean filled with shell and fin fish in great number and oysters too for either in home consumption or harvesting for sale to the other NYC and actually European market that existed at that time for oysters from the Great South Bay.
Again the driftwood houses connected to yet another important domestic market perhaps even an international one. Proof once again that outside appearance can be deceiving.
So what we have here is not families cocooned in their houses by the bay but a bustling Smith family with John Jett and his family part of an extended constellation running a bee hive of economic actions that connected them with NYC markets of different kinds.
The nearby bay and ocean coasts provided food sustenance and salvage. And they had in hand a beach friendly transport-freight system that would have allowed them to be connected to both of the nearby life saving stations also points of contact with the outside world.
They were pioneers in a now past age of pioneer times on Fire Island.
Nothing stands still for long and the FI world of John Smith and John Jett by 1878 began to radically alter. It’s not that they disappeared. It’s more like their hidden Eden began to be radically impacted by long simmering changes that finally enveloped FI east of the Surf Hotel near Fire Island Inlet already impacted by sweeping change.
In 1871 the court case of Green v. Sammis was finally decided and the “Great Partition of FI” occurred. The somewhat fluid land ownership framework that had sorted out property rights and other communal privileges that allowed owners of all stripes to use any part of western FI for cattle grazing and salt hay harvesting for example came to an end.
78 property lots were determined. Prior to the law suit there were more than a hundred claims of property ownership. Quite a few people lost their rights and the privileges they had enjoyed in the past disappeared. Property was defined, owners specifically identified. A more traditional organization of property was arrived at.
Some immediate results: the cattle no longer roamed the range. Free ranging cattle that were once a matter of communal privilege now had become a matter of trespass on individual property. This is how old ways pass into history.
And with ownership rights settled an acceleration of two developmental forces that had been building for decades was now poised to open up a near deserted area of FI to an influx of thousands of tourists a process where Water Island would lead the way.
For decades hotel and eatery development had been occurring along the Long Island coast. It had reached western Fire Island near the Inlet in the form of the opening of the Surf Hotel by around 1856 and then came into full swing after the end of the Civil War and just accelerated from then on.
The hotel could service hundreds of guests at any one time and it beckoned thousands of visitors from NYC in a season arriving by the other developmental force working hand in hand to promote the development of first the southern shoreline of Long Island and ultimately FI too.
And that was the railroad. By 1869 the railroad had reached Sayville and Patchogue. With access to those stops the large tourist flow from NYC now had more options to visit and both those communities began to see a rise in hotels and inns to house and entertain them.
Once in Sayville and Patchogue it was to be expected that people would see the Great South Bay and begin to look at what it offered to extend their vacation trips. FI now beckoned a welcoming visage to them.
With land ownership settled on FI in short order a string of hotels and restaurants began to open drawing those tourists across the Great South Bay to FI.
By 1878 in the newly emerging Cherry Grove the Ocean Grove Pavilion opened its doors as a bay side restaurant under the proprietorship of Isaac C. Bedell. By 1880 it was open but now under the name of Cherry Grove House.
In 1878 the Patchogue Advance reported on what it described as a “resort” at Water Island open under the management of Richard Silsbe that was attracting hundreds of visitors at one time.
By 1882 John Ferguson would open the Watch Hill Pavilion in Watch Hill opening the flood gates for even more tourists.
In this time period Water Island will dominate as the major tourist attraction for the next several decades becoming a premier tourist destination.
Where once there had been nothing in a short time there was a solid nucleus of places to eat, and drink, and dance and the masses were on their way to do so.
The previous agrarian and maritime economy of central FI is now about to be subordinated to a new economy based on tourism and the doors opened to thousands of visitors to FI beaches both bay side and ocean side that in times past had been the province of cattle, and relatively low numbers of fishermen, hunters, and beachcombers John Smith and Jett John included in their number.
There is some information from grave histories about the end points of all the people surveyed so far in this narrative although to be fair within the pages of this historical account there is often more to be found about their lives than ever appeared in their newspaper obituaries.
That said those obituaries do provide some additional details not reported for conciseness or relevance here so here and there can be found more details about this group of pioneering individuals.
John Homan: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14898351/_
Daniel Homan: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/129491738/daniel-homan
And just as a note about the two brothers they both died within one month of each other.
John Brewster Smith:
By 1894 John Smith long and advent filled life finally ended with his death.
Two issues were left somewhat unresolved historically afterwards.
The first relates to the question of did he own the land upon which his home the Old House as originally built, or renovated or rebuilt after the fire of 1870?
It’s not clear. In 1878 when the Great Partition of Fire Island occurred with the settlement of the Green v. Sammis case that court decision allocated 78 property lots from Long Cove to Fire Island Inlet. Lot 39 of the 78 lots mapped the two building structures where John Smith lived. But interestingly the court has a problem when deciding who owned Lot 39.
Prior to reaching a decision about land ownership with respect to all the claims that were to be made about land in western Fire Island the court had canvassed all owners to come forward and make their claims so that they could be validated.
In the case of the lot 39 no one came forward: neither the Homan heirs, nor John Brewster Smith either.
The court resolved this issue by creating a unique solution. It assigned fictitious owners to Lot 39 in the form of two owners named names John Foe and Richard Roe. It also left it to whomever those persons were to move forward in the future to claim the property by this form of proof: proven capital improvement upon the land this despite the fact that such improvement had already been mapped by Jonathan Sammis (i.e. the two building structures attributed to John Smith in that map). A bit of a mystery as to what the court was thinking.
It would be some time before this issue was resolved. In the 1915 Hyde map the two houses are again mapped and attributed to John Smith but this time the land they are mapped on is attributed to “B. Hamilton of the est. of J.B. Smith”.
And that too is a bit of a mystery too. Who B. Hamilton is and that person’s relationship to John Smith remains unknown at the time this narrative is written but the Hyde map does indicate that in the end the land that John Smith had lived on for decades had fallen into the possession of his estate.
The fate of Old House is however unknown again at this writing. It is probably no longer standing. There certainly is no historical museum in existence or marker to refer to. It’s a matter of continuing investigation.
John Jett a very concise obituary that underrepresents his life: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/94717086/john-davenport-jett
This narrative is a long overdue recognition of these otherwise unheralded pioneers.
This writer lucky to have a living relative of John Brewster Smith to consult with from time to time: John Jett great grandson of J.B. Smith.
And for those looking for the companion history to this history the Reformed History of Cherry Grove can be found at this link: http://www.fireislandstar.com/cherry-grove-history.html
Original date of publication Fire Island Star 11/14/20
John Bogack author