Photo of the Week


“How shall we know it is us without our past?”
– John Steinbeck 


Chace Map of Shelter Island, 1858

by Wendy Polhemus-Annibell, Head Librarian


Shelter Island on the Chace Map of Suffolk County, 1858.(Image from the Collection of the Suffolk County Historical Society. Copyright Suffolk County Historical Society. All rights reserved.)

Early in the seventeenth century the island known as Manhansack-aha-quash-awamock – “an island sheltered by islands” – was the home of the Manhanset Indians. The first European to visit the island was James Farrett, who came in 1638 as an agent for Sir William Alexander, Earl of Sterling, who had received grants of land from King James I of England. Farrett chose Shelter Island as his reward for his services to the Earl, which then became known as Mr. Farrett’s Island.

In 1641 Farrett sold his island to Stephen Goodyear of New Haven, and for the next ten years the island was known as Mr. Goodyear’s Island. Then, in 1651, Goodyear sold the island to four merchants active in the Barbados sugar trade: Thomas Middleton, Thomas Rouse, Constant Sylvester, and Nathaniel Sylvester. We know from a deed dated 1652 that the island’s name had by that time been changed to Shelter Island.

By 1673 Nathaniel Sylvester became the sole proprietor of Shelter Island, his partners having died or had their estates confiscated for political reasons. When Nathaniel died in 1680, by his will, Shelter Island was bequeathed to his five sons in equal parts, but by 1695 Giles Sylvester, the eldest son, owned four-fifths of the island after the deaths of his brothers. Giles sold one-quarter of the island, including a section known as Sachem’s Neck, to William Nicoll. Thus were introduced the early European families of Shelter Island, many of whom went on to assume prominent roles in the island’s affairs.

Suggested Readings: The History of Shelter Island, by Ralph G. Duvall, 1932; and An Island Sheltered, by Priscilla Dunhill, 2002. 



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