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Shelter Island History

Shelter Island HistoryShelter Island is a town at the eastern end of Long Island in the U.S. state of New York. It forms the tip of Suffolk County and is separated from the rest of the county by water. The population was 2,228 at the 2000 census.

Shelter Island HistoryShelter Island was part of the original Plymouth Company land grant made by James I of England in 1620 to the Earl of Stirling. In 1651 it was sold to a group of Barbados sugar merchants for 1,600 pounds of sugar. Nathaniel Sylvester (1610-1680), one of the merchants, was the island’s first white settler. On March 23, 1652, he made the purchase official by agreement with “Yoki” (called “Pogatticut”) who was the sachem of the Manhanset tribe. The other owners, Sylvester’s brother, Constant, and Thomas Middleton, never came to Long Island. In 1673 Nathaniel Sylvester claimed ownership of Shelter Island, Fishers Island, and other parts of Long Island.

In 1652 Sylvester constructed a house on the island for his 16-year-old bride, Grissel Brinley. The manor house was rebuilt by his descendants about 1733. Sylvester Manor exists today, just off New York State Route 114. The Sylvesters gave shelter to many persecuted Quakers.

Following the death in 1680 of Nathaniel Sylvester, Shelter Island was divided among his two sons, Giles and Nathaniel II. In 1695, William Nicoll, a resident of Islip, bought from Giles the area now called Mashomack Nature Preserve. Three years later, in 1698, another newcomer, George Havens, bought 1,000 acres (4.0 km2) from Nathaniel II. This parcel comprises what today is the Center and stretched south to South Ferry and west to West Neck Creek. Over time these estates and parcels were split and divided by marriage and purchase so that by the early 1700s there were 20 families living on Shelter Island. By order of the Provincial Government, the town of Shelter Island was established in 1730. The community developed from there.

James Nicoll Havens, a member of the New York Provincial Congress, built a home on the island in 1743. He was the first town supervisor on the island. His home is still on the island and is owned by the local historical society.

Jonathan Nicoll Havens (1757-1799), born on Shelter Island, was a member of the First Continental Congress in 1774. He also served in New York’s delegation that approved the federal constitution in 1788. Mashomack Forest (today Mashomack Nature Preserve) was owned by the Nicolls family for 230 years. A few Native Americans still lived in the wooded Sachem’s Neck area up until the 1790s. Nicolls Creek carries the family name.

Shelter Island had brushes with early Colonial military activity:

* The British shipped hay from Hay Beach during the American Revolution.
* The schooner Paragon was built on the island at Lord’s Shipyard, located on West Neck Creek. In 1804 it successfully ran a blockade during the Napoleonic Wars under Capt. Sam Lord.
* During the War of 1812, the British ransacked numerous homes on the island.

The first ferryboat to serve the island was run by the Boisseau family at Stearns Point, nearby Crescent Beach. The North Ferry began service to Greenport in 1868.