Town Meetings - Excerpted from the Longwood's Journey
As you read earlier, Brookhaven Town held its annual meetings at the house from 1790 to 1884. During town meetings horses were traded, relatives talked, stories were told, and dinner was served for fifty cents. Also during town meetings there were baker wagons, oyster stands, farm implement salesmen, and others all outside the house. This was a great opportunity for peddlers to show their wares for anyone who wanted to vote had to show up at the Davis house. The west front room was the area for voting and the upper rooms were for counting votes. The Justices of Peace served as inspectors and the voting lasted until sundown.
View Looking West: Town Meeting in 1880 at the Davis Home
(Photo by Howard S. Conklin, Davis-Erhardt Collection)
The following news article was first published on April 10, 1880 and describes the election held in Coram that day:
Patchogue, L.I. Saturday, April 10, 1880
Large Vote Polled
Scenes and Events of the Day
Election morning opened bright and sunny, the lowering skies and threatening rains and winds of the day before had all passed away; the air was just cool enough to be pleasant, and the citizen of New York, of the Town of Brookhaven, &, & donned his holiday clothes, going to the extravagance of putting on, in many instances, a brand new paper collar. The patriotism of the average voter knew no bounds. He received the ticket put into his hands, and his instructions to vote it as a boy would a Christmas present, with a "thank you" and a smile.
At daybreak all the livery stable men and owners of wagons around Patchogue were up "hitching to" while the roosters crowed in the adjoining sheds to herald the great day's advance. Groups of "statesmen" assembled at the corner of the main thoroughfare, and before seven o'clock around Jenning's building and Mill's corner there were gathered many hundred voters. Teams of very varied descriptions waited the pleasure of the men whose decisions were to decide how this old town should be governed for the next year or two, to convey them to Coram - where the conflict was to be held. And very early many teams loaded with citizens were on the way to Coram to be present at the opening of the polls. The opposing factions meant "fight" seemingly, events have showed they did fight earnestly.
Strange as it may sound there was hardly a perceptible ripple on the sea of difference as between the Republicans and the Democrats, although the names on both tickets were, of course different. But this may be in part accounted for from the fact that one of the principal officers to be voted, namely: Supervisor, was tacitly the choice of both parties inasmuch as John S. Havens the present holder of that office had been renominated by the Democrats, while the Republicans made no nomination whatever for the office of Supervisor. The great contest seemed to be between the Cold Water Brigade, and the Rum and Beer Avengers. The minor offices, and there were quite a number to be filled, and the names of those seeking election to them were made subordinate to this license, or no license movement. The parties on both sides evidently felt like work. Ellis Smith with several of his Lieutenants was on hand talking to those deluded people, and stuffing tickets into their hands bearing the name of the temperance standard bearer as they filled wagon after wagon with them. Truth was widely departed from in the endeavors of those over zealous men, and we overheard even Commissioner Ellis Smith, in the frenzy of what passes current for zeal make positive misrepresentation as to the amount of money collected through fines during the past two years. Lawyer Smith looked on benignly, and chuckled as he thought of the certain victory of the cold water people's ticket. "Hack" Bishop had steered for Coram with the early dawn and not a prominent rum dealer sought to counteract the "big licks" Ellis Smith and his men were getting in. "Charley" Rose drew the best crowd, and as he made known his determined purpose to vote for the nominee of the pro-license men not a little satisfaction was expressed by those in favor of granting licenses, while Brother Ellis Smith, Dominie Harding, and a few lesser lights seemed shocked. As wagon after wagon rolled away to the polls eight miles beyond, the passengers did present a queer sight. The majority of them we had seen gave resemblance to those who attend Camp Meetings, kick up "old harry" after they "had got religion and whiskey too", for a few miserable looking flags were carried in hand and faint cheers were echoed as the country wagon in motion shook them up and down with every motion of its wheel - and all this without any very reasonable cause. The general appearance of the streets throughout the day gave ample prove of the fact that all the voters were out, and that the election was being desperately fought at Coram.
A regular Donnybrook Fair barring the shilalah, was presented at Coram. The peripatetic peddler of everything from a lemon to a boiled clam was on hand. Tents, stands, refreshment booths of many makes, and decidedly uninviting looks surrounded the polling place.
Weighing machines and the shooting tent drew hundreds of the country folks to witness how the proportions of their comrades were recorded, and their weight reached; while any number of fellows tried the aims as marksmen at the shooting tent. Cider was the strongest liquid dispensed, and although many, doubtless, carried a private "canteen" like Pat's description of the wake:" Divil a mother's son of them was drunk at all, at all". We record this fact with undisclosed delight and it was the best evidence of the right feeling rising in men that though enjoyment and use of drink in a moderate way is sensible and commendable, drunkenness is abominable. The excitement throughout the day was extensive enough, but it never assumed any serious shape, or resulted in fights, or angry discussions.
The temperance people, and those in favor of licenses, worked in their respective spheres with a devotion worthy of a far better cause on both sides. The various tickets were scattered around with the profusion of water when a pond bursts. Evidently there was no juggling in this branch as almost al the tickets used were printed at the office of the Advance and ergo were "square". The office seekers were as bland as expected heir to the odd fellow who keeps him out of his patrimony by living so long.
In the afternoon, the excitement of the election reached a climax when the propriety of passing resolutions in favor of a bill at present before the Legislature for the abolition of the present mode of holding the town Meeting of Brookhaven, and of substituting voting in the ???? districts as at the general elections. Speeches were delivered ?????? ?????? in favor of it, but when put to a viva voce vote it stood about evenly balanced, which is a fair indication that the people of our town favor the election by districts over the old system.
Supervisor John S. Havens called on the people to vote money for Contingent Expenses, and in answer to his appeal $1,500 were voted. He also asked for out door relief of the poor, and $3,000 was appropriated. It was then by motion directed that the Dog Tax on hand be paid toward the expenses of repairs of the bridges; and that the resources of the town, from all sources, be paid to the Supervisor, and held by him subject to the order of the next Town Meeting. The Honorable George F. Carman, and Honorable Charles S. Havens delivered effective speeches on both of these questions.
It would take two or three little boys half a day to count the number of wagons scattered around; and it would keep all the stenographers in the United States busy, had they been present, to jot down all the oaths uttered. As most of our readers are aware the road to Coram is anything but good - it is narrow, sandy, and it is almost impossible along portions of it for vehicles to pass one another. If you are sitting behind a stepper surely you will feel the least wee bit put out when you discover that you are compelled to walk as at a funeral, owing to half a dozen country wagons being ahead, and you cannot pass them? We do not for a moment assume that good Deacon Edward as he sat in his sulky would grow so violent in his impatience as to swear, as he held back with all his force the horse so famed for speed, anxious to dash past the slow old jades ahead. No, no; but it was enough to make even so just a man to do so. We almost weep to recall several profane expressions falling from the lips of dear, good very pious church members as they were brought to brook such an experience. We hope they will never do so anymore, in fact we had almost set about the composition of a prayer that they may not - like good Christian souls, thus transgress again.
It began to get chilly in the afternoon, and some of the "Statesmen" did feel just the least like fighting, but excepting "chin music" and some violent - as it were -demonstrations, not a bone was broken. At the close of the polls, a great stampede began, and east, west, north and south the horses heads were turned, and the ground so lately deluged with wagons was a barren plain, save the equippages of those whose duties, or interests compelled them to remain all night to watch the counting of the votes. It is too late, and it would be "stale and flat and unprofitable" to write even a line now about the foreshadowings, the prophesies, and the foolish dreams of some of the assembled multitude as to the results. Let our readers feast their eyes upon the official details elsewhere given.
Summed up it was an eventful day for the town of Brookhaven, and a few closer, more bitterly contested elections have taken place within it's border lines. For the first time in the history of the township a straight Republican ticket was elected, save with one exception, and that was against our young friend Hutchinson, who ran for Town Clerk. John R. Davis came so near to the winning post that we almost lament his failure after a fight against such overwhelming odds. As will be seen from the list of successful candidates, our worthy and efficient Supervisor John S. Havens received a vote so flattering that we almost fear the addition of our congratulations will prove overpowering. The gentlemen elected will no doubt be acceptable and efficient officers, and discharge their duties with an eye single to the best interests of their constituents. In writing this we cannot withhold perhaps a sigh in condolence with several excellent gentlemen defeated.
Thus, passed into history the election of the Town of Brookhaven for the year 1880. To many it will bring pleasant reflections, and it's results to us all, let us hope, blessings. The following is the ticket as elected:
John S. Havens
For Town Clerk,
Henry P. Hutchinson
Charles J. Randall
For Justices of the Peace,
John B. Mount, to fill vacancy
Thomas H. Saxton, full term
George E. Hancock, to fill vacancy and full term
Jacob DeBaum, to fill vacancy
For President of Board of Trustees,
Henry W. Carman
Israel B. Tyler
Joseph C. Valentine
Henry W. Carman
Gideon F. Smith
Charles W. Baker
For Overseers of the Poor
Charles W. Baker
Israel B. Tyler
George B. Gerard
Samuel F. Norton
For Commissioners of Highways,
Henry T. Osborn, to fill vacancy
Oakley A. Overton, to fill vacancy
George S. Dykes
George W. Hastings
Amos B. Laws
David H. Raynor
Henry B. Bennet
Elbert S. Hawkins
For Game Constable,
John F. Hawkins
For Bay Constable,
View Looking East: Town Meeting in 1880 at the Davis Home
(Photo by Howard S. Conklin, Davis-Erhardt Collection)
The following is a letter from Richard M. Bayles to Mrs. George West concerning town meetings at the Davis home. The letter was written in 1920:
Dear Mrs. West. In answer to your inquiry about town meetings. The first town meetings were held is Setauket. I cannot find in the records of the town the exact date when they were changed to Coram, but should think it was about the year 1790. The first place used for town meetings was probably the old Baptist meeting house, which stood where the present Methodist Church stands. In 1792 the trustees provided for an election sermon to be preached by Rev. David Rose at the town meeting to be held there in April of that year. About the year 1800 the town meetings were held at the tavern of Goldsmith Davis, which was the house at present owned by Daniel R. Davis in Coram. It is quite clear that they were held at this house until about 1836, the house passing into possession of Daniel Davis about 1816, and from him to his son Lester H. Davis about 1840. Town meetings were held in 1841 at this house but for six years following they were held at the tavern of Richard W. Smith, which stood on the corner east of the town pump. In 1848 town meeting was again held at the Lester H. Davis house where it was continuously held until 1884, the date of the last town meeting in Brookhaven Town being April of that year. The town elections were subsequently held in election districts. This house was continued as the polling place for this election district which then comprised the entire central part of the Town from Ronkonkoma and Lake Grove on the west to the Ridge section on the east the eastern part of Middle Island. The last election in which the house was the polling place was in the spring of 1886. The election district was divided that year and the polling place was moved to the house of Miss Cynthia Hutchinson at Middle Island, the western section of the old election district being made a new district with its polling place at Lake Grove.
The Davis Town Meeting House Society is a NYS non-profit corporation recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.