Brooklyn Eagle
January 19. 1901

Reminiscences of the Family That Furnished Its Postmasters for a Century.

Office Established in 1800 When the Small Mail Was Carried by Post Riders on Horseback.

(Special to the Eagle)

Middle Island, L. I., January 19—The change in the post office at this place, which is causing a ripple in the local society unlike any that has occurred within the last half a century at least, calls to mind some reminiscences of the post office and the family which for the better part of a century has held the office. The date of its establishment is not at hand, but papers have been shown to the Eagle representative proving that it was in operation in the year 1800. The daily record shows that in that year the mail was being received with more or less regularity once a week, though there were times when it came twice or possibly three times in a week. The mail was then carried through the island by post riders on horseback. The business was very light then, generally not more than half a dozen letters being sent out in any mail. It is noticeable that most of the postage was to be paid at the delivery end of the route. The transcript shows, for instance, that on July 21, a letter was sent to Rhinebeck with 17 cents postage charged on it; one to Smithtown, 16 cents. On the 21st, one to New York, 10 cents; to Huntington, 8 cents, and during that year the price of letters appears as follows, taken from the record: Dix Hills, 16 cents; Plattsburg, 20 cents; Herkimer, 40 cents; Southampton, 27 cents: Suffolk C. H. (Riverhead), 8 cents; Geneva, 20 cents; Brooklyn, 10 cents, and so on. Many letters appear to have gone free, as was the case with all letters to or from postmasters.

It appears that for short periods in the first years of the century the office was held in turn by Jehial Woodruff and Mordecai Homan. It was then called Brookhaven; being centrally located and one of the earliest offices, and near the seat of the town clerk’s office, the post office took the town name. This was retained until 1820, when the present name of Middle Island was adopted.

The balance sheet of the post office account for each quarter from 1811 to 1830 shows that the receipts ranged generally from $3 to $8 per quarter, in only two instances falling below the former and in but few instances exceeding the latter. In the quarter ending July 1, 1815, they reached the maximum of $12.12. Altogether during the nineteen years mentioned the receipts amounted to $459.46.

Benjamin Hutchinson became postmaster in 1811, and from that time to the present, with a single break of about two years, the office has been held by him and his descendants, the period of ninety years being covered by three postmasters, representing three generations of the Hutchinson family. About the year 1835 Benjamin was succeeded by his son, Benjamin L. and he in turn was succeeded at this death by his daughter Cynthia. Her appointment bears date October 9, 1877, and has continued until now. Her resignation on account of the pressure of domestic cares and physical weakness is presented, to take effect on the 1st of February.

Cynthia Hutchinson

The Hutchinson family of Long Island has descended from Thomas Hutchinson, who came from Lynn, Mass., and settled in Southold Town in 1662. The family gradually drifted westward, and we find Benjamin, a representative of the fourth generation, living in the central part of what is now Riverhead Town, then known as the Occobank Division. He moved from Middle road, the local name, in 1792, taking up his abode for a time on Plum Island. In 1799 he located at Baiting Hollow, and in April, 1804, moved to Middle Island, where he spent the remainder of his days. Here he purchased a farm of Benjamin Brewster, of the sixth generation from the oft named Elder William Brewster of the Mayflower Company.

Mr. Hutchinson was known as a genial, social and hospitable man, and his house was the rendezvous of a large circle of friends from different parts of the Island, who, in the way of their travels, found it convenient to stop for a dinner or a night’s lodging at his open house. His wife was Betsey Tuthill, a member of that honorable and numerous Southold family whose blood has spread throughout the Island and to other parts of the nation as well, and has been honored in the loyal lives of two Presidents--the Harrison’s. Benjamin and Betsey Hutchinson had six children, as follows: Deborah, born January 15, 1792, married John Jerome and settled at East Marion, where the family still occupy the homestead of their fathers; Cynthia, born October 24, 1793, married Dr. Samuel F. Norton, a resident who spent most of the years of his active life as a practicing physician; Henry Parsons, born November 7, 1795, a farmer, who succeeded his father on the home farm and died unmarried in 1867; Minerva, born February 18, 1798, taught school at East Marion and other places about twenty years, but never married; Alma, born April 21, 1806, married James Reid of Babylon, L. I., and become the mother of John R. Reid of that place, one of the foremost lawyers of the Suffolk County bar and one of the most fluent and captivating popular speakers on the rostrum of America; Benjamin Tuthill, born March 2, 1808, died September 25, 1877. He spent the first few years of his manhood in the grocery and ship chandlery business, in New York City; then, for a few years, taught school in the schools of Brookhaven Town.


In 1834 he bought the farm adjoining that of his father on the east, and set up a store in the old house which stood upon it. This old house, shown in the accompanying illustration, was built about 1750, by Daniel Brewster, jr., of the fifth generation from the elder William of Mayflower fame. In 1835 Mr. Hutchinson received the appointment as postmaster, and established the post office in this house, where it has virtually remained ever since. In 1840 he opened a tavern in connection with this store. At that time the railroad had been completed as far east as Suffolk Station (near Central Islip), and from that point mails and passengers were conveyed to the east end villages by stages passing along the country road. Mr. Hutchinson’s tavern was a recognized breakfasting station for these stages. He used, in later years, to tell of one of the drivers of that period, who came in one bitter cold morning, and, as he warmed himself by the glowing fire, delivered by himself in this wise: “St. Paul tells us that he thanked God and took courage when he came in sight of the sign of the Three Taverns, but I tell you I thanked God and took courage this morning when I saw the sign of the two taverns."” The tavern sign of Bryant Davis swung out within plain sight of Mr. Hutchinson’s as the same time. On the completion of the railroad, in 1844, these old taverns fell into “desuetude.” Besides serving the purposes of store, post office and tavern, this house was for thirty years preceding 1880, the town clerk’s office of the great Town of Brookhaven. Mr. B. T. Hutchinson was elected town clerk in 1848, and in the fall of 1849 was elected county clerk. It was during this term as county clerk –1850-53 –that the post office was for a time in the hands of Dr. Brown and the Rev. Winthrop Bailey, but in 1853 it was reinstated in the house which it has so long occupied. The town clerk’s office returned to Mr. Hutchinson and this house in 1860, and was so held until his death, when it was given to his son. Henry P. Hutchinson, who held it until 1889. The removal of the post office will retire this old house to private life, after being occupied for three-quarters of a century in some form or other of public service. Mrs. Hutchinson, the widow of Benjamin T., now passing in the 80s, has been at home in the house for sixty years, but the closing of its doors to the public will be a new experience to her.


This article is from the Brooklyn Eagle Archive

Date: January 19, 1901



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