From Mowsley to Southold: A Portrait of Barnabas Horton
By Elaine Federici Long Island’s eastern regions, at times dismissed as homogenous clusters of beach towns and clam bars, are pearls of historic diversity unlike any others south or west of Long Island Sound. Imbued with charming character more New England than New York, and awash with tales, tall and true, of puritans and persecutions, provincial settlements and pirate hideaways, the east is richly endowed with hamlets, coves, bays and beaches; wineries, farms, manors and cottages. Founded by sons ofEnglandwhile the Plymouth Colony was still independent and the Dutch still claimed the island’s west, the coastal settlements were free expansions of the nascent New Haven Colony; separated fromNew Englandonly by the waters of Long Island Sound, and from Old England by torrential religious strife.
In 1640, English roots were firmly planted in what would later becomeNew Yorkby Separatists of New Haven. These were not disenchanted nomads or banned miscreants from northern colonies but Englishmen of considerable property, commerce expertise, and Puritan absolutism. Unlike the indentured servants of impoverishedPlymouth, or the tenant farmers and tradesmen recruited for colonizing stringentMassachusetts, theNew Havenmen had planned their enterprise fromLondonwith one eye humbly on God, the other boldly on trade. Lacking charter or land grant they’d abandon destiny toProvidencebut never to chance, and were from the outset well organized, recognizing in their affairs “no human authority foreign to themselves.” With such confidence did Rev. John Youngs and his flock purchase from the Corchaug Indians the north fork region of Yennicott unhindered by covenant pacts or provisional poverty. Crossing the squally, cold October waters of Long Island Sound, they disembarked inland at the river’s head at a place thereafter named Hallock’s Landing, choosing Hashamamock, bridging waters of sound and bay, as their settlement site. A solemn prayer of thanksgiving upon their knees; perhaps a stirring speech by the good minister invoking the Almighty to bless their holy communion; a retitling of Hashamamock to Southold and town, colony, and heritage were born.
Among the dowdy band of Puritans was a family not previously among theNew Havenémigrés but lately arrived fromEngland. Mister Barnabas Horton, wife Mary, two sons and three daughters. That Barnabas was among these first settlers without setting foot inNew Haven, yet also an esteemed member of the Southold congregation, is intriguing. That he received a large tract of acreage for tillage, meadow, and pasture (a sheep man, after all) spanning the town square to the shore cliffs (site of Horton’s Point Lighthouse) is telling. What has been written of him stirs questioning.
When did he first arrive inNew England? Was theLong Islandventure a change of plans necessitated by unforeseen events? What prompted him to abandon a long inhabited family hamlet inEngland, leaving king and country for a world still perilously fragile? Who was Barnabas Horton; broker, baker, mutton chop maker? To draw out a man otherwise eclipsed by dubious legend and spotty data, one must sift through research, curious records, unsupported claims, mysterious omissions, and hints between lines.
Tradition places Barnabas aboard the phantom ship ‘The Swallow’ and inMassachusettsabout 1636. Yet these claims have no supportive records and are contradicted by facts. His gilded reputation as champion of civil and religious tolerance is belied by his professed Congregationalist beliefs which are marked as much by extreme intolerance as excessive piety. Though Quakers would yet find a home on Long Island (and in Barnabas’s family), it’d not be before being cruelly admonished by Puritan overlords and subjected to heretics’ flogging, and no man in Southold, Southampton, or Easthampton held office or respect without membership in each town’s community of saints. Barnabas could not be a pillar of his Puritan community and an advocate of tolerance, religious or otherwise. Southold would yet be swept by waves of violent intrigues and vexations. From Dutch threats to disruptive charter grants, Indian uprisings to colony encroachments; crown interests challenging regional loyalties; witches, warrants, and pitchfork wars – this was Barnabas’s theocratic world where push often came to shove. Of brotherly love there was little in a harsh age of sectarian hostility. We rightfully view our Southold fathers with respect and admiration, but we are prudent to recognize their saint and sinner complexities.