In many history books and online sources about the early days of Long Island, the Secatogue Indians are named as the first settlers of West Islip. But a mystery remains as to who bought the land from the Secatogues.
On the West Islip Chamber of Commerce's website, the land is listed as purchased by Thomas and William Willetts in 1692. In "The First History of West Islip," written by Gerald and Judith Wilcox, Thomas and Richard Willetts are listed as the purchasers on September 19, 1692. According to the book, this information was confirmed by colonial Governor Fletcher, in a patent granted October 10, 1695.
"The First History of West Islip" also holds the following account: "In the early part of the 1700's, Richard Willetts sold all rights in the original purchase to his brother Thomas. Richard was paid 300 pounds sterling and the deed was signed April 1, 1702. In April 1710, Thomas Willetts gave his son, Thomas, land bounded on the east by the Sequatogue River, extending west to a creek known as "Soquams."
According to the Beacon Newspaper, it was father and son Thomas and Richard Willetts who bought patents to the land in 1695. The Beacon also sites Richard Willetts as the one who sold what would become Conklin's Point to Colonel Platt Conklin. It is the location where the two Captree Bridges link West Islip to Captree Island. It is also where two old whaling ships sunk sometime in the late 1700s or the early 1800s.
With Thomas Willetts as the common thread in the story, his role in the early history of West Islip is clear. His last name has had many spelling variations throughout the years, but from all available history online and in some books on Long Island history, the West Islip Willetts trace back to Thomas's father, Thomas Willett.
The elder Willetts was born in England in 1611. He was a merchant who came to America in 1630 where he continued his trade in Plymouth colony, despite making his residence in New Amsterdam, which later became New York City. By 1651 he was a magistrate of the colony and in June 1665, he was appointed as the first mayor of New York City. However, he retired to New England after he lost his New York property to the Dutch when they seized the colony in 1673.
His son, Thomas, was born in 1646 in Massachusetts. He became a major in charge of the militia in Queens. He stayed in Queens and New York even after his father moved to New England. In 1692, he bought the land in West Islip with either William or Richard.
Plenty of other reminders of the Willetts family remain on Long Island: Old Willetts Path in Hauppauge, Willets Pond Path in Roslyn, I.U. Willetts Road which runs from Albertson, Queens through Westbury. Queens is also home to Willets Point. Incidentally, I.U. Willets Road was named for Isaac Underhill Willets, who was born in Westbury in 1843.
The answer to last week's trivia question is: The bridge that crossed Hawley Lake and burned down on Halloween in 1954 was named the George Street Bridge.
This week's trivia question: What were the names of the two ships that sunk at Conklin's Point? The answer in next week's column.