Humans always leave their mark, both literally and figuratively. In this case, I am referring to actually markings and carvings. Since the early days when humans could chisel or scrape, they have left images or words in stone or wood. Sometimes these markings are deliberate or methodical; for headstones or place names. Sometimes, they’re graffiti or are created simply out of boredom. Whatever the reason for their existence, these carvings can tell a story. Whether it is Stonehenge or a soldier’s initials on a Gettysburg rock, it connects us to the past.
I have been visiting Old Bethpage Village Restoration for my entire life (36 years), and I have volunteered there as an interpreter and reenactor for almost 15 years. Throughout that time, I’ve learned a lot about the Village, as well as Long Island history. I am still learning, and still discovering new things every time I visit OBVR.
Not too long ago, I was walking on the road between the cemetery and the Hewlett House. As I passed the Cider Mill, and was approaching the Hewlett House (one of my favorite structures at OBVR), I noticed an inconspicuous stone in the weeds on the right side of the road. As I got closer, I saw that the year “1807” was carved into the rock. I was immediately excited upon discovering this! Why had I never seen this before? Had this always been there?
I know that this was not native to Old Bethpage Village, and that it had to have been moved there from another Long Island location, as were 99% of the structures and artifacts at OBVR. I started doing some research, and had a few conversations both with current and retired OBVR/Nassau County staff, and I learned that this stone was a nineteenth century mile-marker. It was erected by a Mr. Walter Jones, who placed 13 stones between his properties in present-day Massapequa and Cold Spring Harbor. The stones bore a year, his initials, as well as the distance from his home. This stone was originally placed on South Oyster Bay Road in Hicksville, and is marked with a “VII” indicating 7 miles from his home in present-day Massapequa. Nassau County apparently acquired the stone in the 1960s, and it was displayed at Eisenhower Park, before being moved to OBVR in the 1980s.
After “discovering” the stone, and then learning about its origins and purpose, it got me thinking further about the date on the stone, 1807. What other events occurred during that year? Doing some brief research, I’ve uncovered the following history lesson. Strap yourself in folks:
1. In 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte was marching about Europe, attacking and conquering. To counter French threats economically and militarily, the British government officially declared the “Orders in Council” which banned all trade between Great Britain and France (as well as France’s allies). This is commonly connected to one of the causes of the War of 1812 (between Great Britain and the young United States). Later that year, the British warship HMS Leopard also attacked the frigate USS Chesapeake off of the coast of the United States. This further flamed tension between the British and the U.S., and later resulted in President Thomas Jefferson government passing the Embargo Act, which banned trade between the United States and all outside nations. Besides hurting the U.S. economy, it only further fueled tension between the two nations, of which war ensued in 1812.
2. In 1807, Vice President Aaron Burr (and the duelist who killed Alexander Hamilton), was tried and acquitted of treason against the United States. Essentially, Burr planned and was involved in a land conspiracy to conquer lands in the Louisiana Territory. He was acquitted of treason, because two witnesses to the act could not be found to testify (as is stated in the US Constitution). The event is still considered controversial, and inconclusive, but he was a former Vice President who was tried of treason! If you thought things couldn’t have gotten worse for Aaron Burr after the whole Hamilton thing, I recommend researching the remainder of his life. It is fascinating, albeit tragic.
3. In 1807, President Jefferson signed an Act for surveying the coastline of the United States. This is commonly referred to as the U.S. Coast Survey. This act led to the forming of one of the earliest scientific agencies in the United States, with the intention of mapping the harbors and coastlines of the United States (they do a lot more too, which my non-STEM mind can’t fathom). Being that Long Island is an island, this organization (today a part of NOAA), would be important to the maritime life and culture of our area.
4. In 1807, the British Parliament passed the “Slave Trade Act”, which prohibited the slave trade within the British empire. Although it did not entirely abolish slavery, it began a British policy of combating slavery. That year the United States passed the “Act Prohibiting Importation Slaves.” This law called for the abolition of the slave trade, but did not change any domestic trade within the U.S. or along its coastlines. The smuggling of enslaved people persisted though, and slavery would not be officially abolished until the conclusion of the American Civil War.
5. In 1807, a pre-existing law in the State of New Jersey was amended so that only white men could vote within the State. According to a previous 1790s law, all property owners in the State could vote. This originally included women and people of color.
6. In 1807, Robert Fulton’s first steamboat, The North River Steamboat (also called “Clermont”), left New York City and traveled to Albany on the Hudson River. The ship was built by Robert Fulton, and financially backed by Robert Livingston (a signer of the Declaration of Independence, minister to France, and wealthy New Yorker). They made the trip upriver in about 60 hours. The times were definitely changing for a young America! (Coincidentally, Robert Fulton is buried near Alexander Hamilton in NYC.)
7. In 1807, the author Washington Irving created the literary magazine “Salmagundi”. This satirical magazine was discontinued a year later, but Irving would go on to write the “Knickerbocker Tales”, “Rip Van Winkle”, the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, as well as many “histories”. He is credited with creating American mythology and legend (especially regarding the Dutch origins of New York). He also encouraged transcendentalist writers and nineteenth century poets, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (who was born in 1807!).
8. In 1807, Martin Van Buren, the future president of the United States, was married to Hannah Hoes. Like many of the residents of New York, both Martin and Hannah, had Dutch origins, and both spoke Dutch and English (see the Schenk House at OBVR for more on Dutch Long Island). Sadly, after only a short marriage, Hannah died of tuberculosis. Apparently, Martin was extremely devoted to her, and he never remarried (Interestingly enough, one of Martin Van Buren’s sons later married the niece of Washington Irving). As a devoted Democrat, and Andrew Jackson loyalist (who also was a widower), Martin was elected president in 1836. After serving one term, Van Buren made several attempts to regain the presidency, including a run for the “Free Soil Party” in 1848 (We’ve reenacted this election at OBVR in the past!). Although he won no electoral votes that year, the campaign opened a further discussion regarding the expansion of slavery, and eventually led to the forming of the Republican Party.
9. Who was born in 1807? Well, the list is actually quite long, but some famous folks include:
- Poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and John Greenleaf Whittier. Both would have been popular among the mid-nineteenth century, of which OBVR depicts. Don’t you quote the “Village Blacksmith” when walking past the Bach Shop? I know I do.
- The politician Charles Francis Adams. He was the grandson of John Adams, and the son of John Quincy Adams. He was the Vice-Presidential running mate to Martin van Buren in 1848 (wow the connections keep coming). He also served as an American diplomat for much of the Civil War. His own son, Henry Adams, became an influential author and journalist.
- Many future Civil War generals, such as Napoleon Buford (USA), Robert E. Lee (CSA), Joseph Johnston (CSA), Lysander Cutler (USA), Charles Ferguson Smith (USA), John Magruder (CSA), Silas Casey (USA), and James Wadsworth (USA). It is interesting to point out the Lysander Cutler and James Wadsworth commanded a brigade and a division respectively during the Battle of Gettysburg, in which the 14th Brooklyn Regiment served. The recreated 14th Brooklyn is one of the regular reenacting groups who drill at OBVR.
- The famed revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi. His life was fascinating and colorful, and he could wear a redshirt better than anyone! Check out his biography. Apart from contributing to the unification of Italy during the mid-nineteenth century, he traveled around the world. He was one of the celebrities of the nineteenth century, both abroad, and in the United States. He even spent some time on Staten Island. His name was heralded by many Italian-American organizations, and during the Civil War the 39th New York Regiment adopted the nickname “The Garibaldi Guard” in his honor.
- The artist and musician William Sydney Mount. Mount was a native of Setauket, Long Island. Mount spent most of his life painting the local communities of Long Island, as well as its residents. His paintings are an amazing primary source into nineteenth century rural Long Island life, and played a role in the research for OBVR. Mount was also a fiddle player and collector of music. Many of the fiddle tunes performed at OBVR over the years, would have been performed by Mount during his lifetime. A number of his paintings are on display at the Long Island Museum in Stonybrook.
Well, Alice, that’s definitely a rabbit hole we journeyed down (for more “Mad” Hatter references, visit the Ritch Hat Shop). It’s amazing that so many historical events can take place in one year. We’re also not considering what took place in the lives of our own ancestors or other Long Island residents in 1807. In addition, some of the structures of Old Bethpage Village (in one form or another) may have been standing in 1807 as well. It is believed that elements of the Powell Farm, Lawrence House, Schenk Farm, Cooper House, Cider Mill, and Hewlett House stood in 1807.
When Walter Jones carved a year into a mile-marker 214 years ago, he more than likely was not thinking about other historic events. He was simply marking the distance from his properties, so that he and other travels knew their position on the road. Frankly, it’s amazing that all these years later we can look at a carving on a boulder, and know that there are still connections between the past and us today.
*(A special thanks to Tim Van Wickler (current Village manager), Jim McKenna (former Museum Site Director and Curator) and Gary Hammond (former Museums Collections Registrar and historian) for providing me further insight on the Jones mile-marker stone.)*