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Town meeting Days at Coram, 1880, at the Homestead of Lester H. Davis

Footnotes to Long Island History

Town Meeting Days at Coram, 1880,

At the Homestead of Lester H. Davis

by

Thomas R. Bayles


 Town meeting Days at Coram, 1880, at the Homestead of Lester H. Davis
View Looking West: Town Meeting in 1880 at the Davis Home, Photo by Howard S. Conklin, Davis-Erhardt Collection

            Brookhaven town was settled in 1655 at Setauket, and it wasn’t long before those early settlers began to explore the south side of the town around South Haven and Mastic.  In 1657 they purchased a tract of meadow land at Mastic from Tobaccus, chief of the Unkechaug Indians, who had their headquarters at Mastic, and occupied all the territory on the south side of the town from Blue Point to Eastport and north to the middle of the Island.

            Around 1700 settlement began to be made in the Mastic and South Haven area, and as this section of the town grew it was found to be a hardship to make the long trip on horseback to the town headquarters at Setauket.  About 1750 settlements were made through the middles of the Island and a few years later Coram was chosen as the town headquarters as a more central place, and for over a hundred years, until 1885, the old homestead of Lester H. Davis was used in which to hold the annual spring town meetings, and for other town purposes.

            The great population growth in recent years west, south, north and east of Coram, together with the many roads coming together here, again makes Coram the center of the town, as it was in the early years.  The Port Jefferson-Patchogue road crosses the Middle Country road here, the old “Town Road” from Setauket comes in at this place and continues on to Yaphank and Mastic as the Mill Road and Gerard Rd.  The “Mooney Pond” rd. and the Mt. Sinai rd. come into Coram, making convenient roads from all parts of the town.

“Town Meeting” day was a big event in the lives of those early settlers, and in addition to electing their town office, gave the men assembled here a day of social get together.  The horse drawn box wagon with boards for seats was the common means of transportation, and the man who rode to Coram in a buggy was considered an aristocrat.  As the wagons filled with voters came to the town capital from all parts of the town they were met along the roads by poll workers, each with a ticket of the candidates for whom he was working.

            The old Davis homestead (built in the mid 1700’s) was a scene of great activity and outside in the road were baker wagons, oyster stands, farming implement sales men and others.  The Riverhead peanut man was always on hand with his “her you go, your three legged, humped back, double jointed peanuts, five cents a pint.”

There was no liquor sold at town meeting, but there was however, a mecca to the east and long lines of men would be seen making their way down to “Uncle Oscar’s”, where the obstinate voter was given something more soothing than words about the candidates he was asked to vote for.

Town meeting was a sort of clearing house and horses were swapped, relatives inquired about and the crop prospects discussed, with a social good time enjoyed by all.  Dinner was served at the town house for fifty cents but the thrifty farmers brought their lunch along.  The west front room of the house was used for voting and the upper rooms for counting the votes where a long table with tall glass oil lamps was located.  The Justices of the Peace acted as inspectors and the voting lasted until sundown, when one of the Justices stepped out on the front porch and called out, “Hear ye; Hear ye; these polls are now closed.”  The ballot boxes were then taken upstairs and the work of counting the votes for each candidate begun.  It was slow work as there were no voting machines in those days and sometimes lasted through the night into the early morning hours.  The shaded oil lamps threw a dim light on the table and the interested candidates stood looking over the shoulders of the workers.

In the spring of 1884 a proposition to divide the town into election districts was carried by a large majority, and the old voters were broken hearted.  No more meeting of old friends from all parts of the town, and this was the end of “Town Meeting” days at Coram.

Now with all the talk of a new town hall for Brookhaven town, history may repeat itself and make the location of Coram the most central and convenient for that purpose.

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