Happy Dutch Colonists: The Great South Bay

An Almost Perfect Settlement on the Great South Bay

On the shore of the Great South Bay, Long island, just fifty miles from New York, is a community which, viewed from both economic and moral standpoints, is about as near perfection as any community can ever hope to be. It has less than 500 inhabitants, yet it has two flourishing churches, and not a barroom or other place where intoxicating beverages can be procured. It does not have policemen, sheriff, or magistrate, because nobody ever breaks the law there, or is noisy, disorderly, unreasonable, or quarrelsome. It has no street cleaning department, because every man keeps the street in front of his own place in order, and every street and highway is as neat and clean as brick and stone and earth can be made. it is a pretty place, because, notwithstanding that there is not an ordinarily expensive house within its limits, every fence and building is kept well painted and in perfect condition, every dwelling, however small, is always in the best repair, and lawns and gardens are neat and thrifty in appearance. it is a flourishing place, because every family man in it owns his own house, free and unencumbered, is out of debt, and has money ahead. It is healthful and with a low death rate, because it is situated by the sea, and because everybody works industriously all day long in the open air, spends his evenings at home, and goes to bed early. it is eminently a Godly community, as almost every inhabitant is a member of one of the two churches, a worker in the interests of religion, and a stickler for his sect.

The First Settler's Home

The name of this very remarkable place is Greenville, it is frequently called Tuckertown locally, but Greenville is the correct name, although neither name can be found in the railroad guide, Post office directory, or gazetteer. It is about two miles to the westward of Sayville. Its inhabitants are the descendants of Americans who settled there many years ago and a large and prosperous colony of Hollanders. The Hollanders are sturdy, energetic people, of great earnestness of purpose and strength of will. They came to this country poor, because they were told wages were high here, and today every one of them is prosperous and a property owner. The business to which the Hollanders applied themselves is oystering. it is an unknown occupation in their own land. Each man of family owns his own oyster boat as well as his own house and lot, and carries on oyster planting with intelligence and profit. The young men and the latest arrivals from Holland who have not accumulated enough to become independent property owners work as dredgers or pickers for the older men at $1.50 or $2 a day. The young men hoard their earnings carefully in the hope of being able soon to buy a trim sharple and begin life for themselves. The Hollanders run five oyster packing houses altogether, one of which does the largest European trade in the country. This is owned by Jacob Ockerse, who is accounted a wealthy man.

The Hollanders are clannish. They have large families, and the young folks marry young. They generally select mates of their own nationality. Occasionally some red-cheek young Dutchman with a good education, a steady job, and $500 in bank will woo and wed the daughter of an American farmer in the neighborhood, but that is rare. Occasionally one of them will take an Irish or German girl to wife, but that is rarer.

This interesting colony was started about 1685. The first Hollander there was William Tuskes. He had been in the country a year or two and had been following the bay, as the phrase goes, several miles to the west of Greenville. To follow the bay, in the local meaning is to make a living in any possible way out of the bay. At Greenville this means to fish in the summer and oyster in the fall. Tucker bought a piece of property near the water and prospered. Other Hollanders heard of Tucker's success and settled near him. At the end of ten years there were about a dozen families in the little settlement that was called Tuckertown, after the first settler. Subsequently, the people named the place Greenville, in honor of Samuel Green, who owned all the land in that neighborhood, whose confidence and consideration in selling lots to the settlers had made the town possible. Before long whole families of Hollanders arrived from over the ocean, their Tuckertown friends having written glowing accounts of the money to be made in oystering in the Great South Bay. The newcomers saved money right away, and plenty of it. They improved their places, built comfortable barns, attached little farms to their lots, bought commodious sloops in time, and opened bank accounts in neighboring towns. Meantime there was talk of building a church. The community had not existed long without religious observances, however. The people were strict church folk in the old country, and their religion was one of the first things they looked after when they came to the new world. They held church services after the form of the Reformed Dutch Church in the houses of the inhabitants by turn. They established a church organization, appointed deacons, and the deacons conducted the services. While they were becoming Americanized very fast on practical affairs, they remained exceedingly Dutch in their worship. There was never a word of English spoken at any service. Neither was any music permitted except the chanting of the Psalms. All were extremely austere in devotional affairs. Finally a church was built on the main street in Greenville. It was called the Holland Reformed Church of Greenville, and was admitted into the Dutch Reformed Classis of Suffolk county. A pastor was called and every man, woman and child in Greenville went to church.

There was a split in the church a few years ago. The place has been growing fast. The young men and women educated in American schools had become more liberal than their parents, and there were two parties in the church. The liberal party came out ahead and the old-fashioned people withdrew. The process of liberalizing the forms of worship in the church was at once undertaken, but the chief change was the substitution of the English language for the Dutch at the Sunday evening service. The morning service was conducted in Dutch. The real straitlaced folk built a church of their own, and named it the Christian Reformed Church. In the new church the services are as austere and cheerless as the strictest traditions of old Holland prescribed. Both churches are flourishing, and between them there are very few sinners left in the Dutch part of Greenville.

The social life of the colony is simple in the extreme. Informal gatherings in their homes and once in a while a more pretentious party in a hall at Sayville about sums up the social life of the community. The streets are bordered by small, inexpensive houses that are absolutely clean and in the finest of order. Each house, no matter how small and plain, looks as if it had just been painted, with snowy curtains. The children are rosy and plump. They are also surprisingly clean. The women look contented and happy. They are dressed comfortably, with some simple adornment.

At the shore of the bay is a fleet of about sixty sailboats, all oyster boats. To the left are three series of long one-story frame buildings, painted brown. In front of each a platform or landing pier runs some distance out into the water, at the end of which are a lot of big floats supported by empty barrels. The buildings are the packing houses of the oyster shippers. Packers and shippers do not dredge oysters themselves. They purchase them. The oysters are left in the float for a day or two to “drink.” The fresher water near the shore removes some of the saltness of the oyster. The Hollanders explain very carefully that they do not “float” or “drink” their oysters in really fresh water, as most oyster dredgers do, and consequently their oysters are not so white and plump, but are distinctly salt and of a much finer flavor than those floated in fresh water.

From the floats the oysters are wheeled into the sheds and packed. The packers are either boys just out of school or the late arrivals from the other side, who have not yet saved capital enough to buy boats.

A mile in the westward is another similar packing place. It is commonly called Oakdale, to distinguish it from the cluster of packing houses at Greenville, but it is much nearer Greenville than Oakdale, and is really a part of Greenville. Two Dutch shipping houses are there, Jacob Ockerse, the most successful of all the Dutch colony, has made a specialty of packing for transportation to Europe, and is today the biggest European shipper of oysters in the country. The piers and packing houses swarm all day with busy Hollanders. Some of the men hum Dutch airs as they work, and they laugh and talk in musical Dutch.

There has never been an arrest in the Dutch colony, nor, so far as is known to the American folks in the neighborhood, a quarrel.

Washing and Measuring

There have been several suits at law instituted by the Hollanders during the twenty-five years that the colony has existed, but they have been friendly suits to establish precedents in the business relations of the colonists. There has never been a theft in the town. Once in a while a few of the young men go to Sayville and drink a glass of beer apiece, but they never loaf in the barroom. They go back home as soon as their business is over. To drink a single glass of beer, however, is a grave offence in Greenville, and the young Hollanders who do it are not regarded by the town generally in as high repute as their fathers.

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Happy Dutch Colonists: The Great South Bay
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


 The Sun November 30, 1890
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