The William Floyd Estate : Celebrating 300 years
A 300-year celebration doesn’t come around often.
But it’s exactly what the team at the William Floyd Estate has been gearing up for — to commemorate the tricentennial of the purchase of the property by Richard Floyd Jr. from William Smith Jr. in 1718.
Late last week, a dedicated team of rangers was working to meticulously clean and dust the 25-room Old Mastic House, which showcases the continuous occupancy of the Floyd family from their earliest days in Mastic through 1976, when Cornelia Floyd Nichols and her children donated the property to the National Park Service.
A celebration of the 300th anniversary of the purchase of the original property is planned for Saturday, July 7, at the Estate, located at 245 Park Drive in Mastic Beach. The celebration kicks off at 11 a.m. and will include music and revolutionary songs by Sampawans Creek, the unveiling of a first-ever historic marker procured by the Narrow Bay Historical Society, and Revolutionary War re-enactors from the 3rd NY Regiment are also expected to attend. Light refreshments and cake will be served at noon. The Estate is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and house tours will be offered throughout the day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Narrow Bay Historical Society will unveil the historic marker chartered through the Pomeroy Foundation. “Anytime you come across a historical site, there’s usually that dark-blue-and-yellow sign marking its historical significance,” explained Jim “Zak” Szakmary, vice president of the historical society and volunteer at the estate. “We thought it was only right that the oldest house in the neighborhood, so to speak, should have a historical marker.”
Procuring the sign proved to be a lengthy process, Szakmary said, noting that he had help from the town historian in gathering primary source documents to apply for the marker. The Pomeroy Foundation granted their request as well as $1,500 to cover the cost of the sign, which reads, “Old Mastic House. Floyd family home 1718-1976. William Floyd signed [The Declaration of Independence] in 1776. Estate donated to National Park Service by Floyd descendents.”
Park ranger MaryLaura Lamont, who has been at the estate for over 20 years, spent all winter researching, writing and curating a special exhibit to coincide with the tricentennial. Three centuries’ worth of artifacts and stories are shared in the new exhibit, which will be displayed through Veterans Day in November. “There’s 300 years of everything, down to textiles, documents and dishes,” Lamont said on a recent walk-through of the home.
Her research led her to delve into even the most ordinary objects, like a water jug circa 1890 bearing the name Buffalo Lithia Water Co., of Virginia. According to Lamont, the mineral water was marketed to cure ailments and was found in the back of a kitchen cabinet. “We knew it was here. It was catalogued,” Lamont said. “But we never knew the story behind it.”
Such is the case with other found bottles — William Floyd’s own personal liquor bottle from 1790, and plenty of Prohibition-era bottles plucked off the shore by various Floyd/Nichols family members.
In another part of the exhibit, three centuries of chairs are arranged, showcasing a variety of craftsmanship and style as it evolved. A book on divinity — Lamont said William Floyd purchased it in Philadelphia in 1776 — sits atop his chair, accompanied by a traveling writing set he most likely used on trips to Congress.
But the most interesting items included in the exhibit are those that have never been on display to the public before.
Among them is Richard Floyd’s 1701 bible, which hid a handwritten record of births in the family and ledger sheets that document interactions with Native American Unkechaug people in the area. In it, Floyd, refers to men named Pomantup, Pomshan and Jory. “It’s an incredible document since it has their names in it,” Lamont said of the recently found ledger. “Unfortunately, there aren’t many accounts like that.”
Continuing through the stately home, you find yourself in the oldest part of the home, a parlor, which likely greeted dozens of prominent visitors through the centuries, such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the Marquis de Lafayette. “Those men would have been entertained in this room,” Lamont explained. The use of the room, she pointed out, has evolved over three centuries. In a corner cabinet, board games and puzzles from the home’s most recent inhabitants in the 1970s still sit stacked on a shelf.
Often, through retelling the history, Lamont points out that the focus is largely on the Floyd males. In planning for the 300th-year celebration, Lamont sought to tell other historical points of view that are overlooked, especially in local history accounts. “The [Floyd] women were really movers and shakers for their time,” she said, speaking about women like Helen Floyd and Susan Nichols, who served as nurses during WWI. “This will make you cry,” Lamont said, clutching a diary accounting Helen’s day-to-day life serving as a nurse behind the frontlines in France in 1918.
She’s also referencing women like Katherine Floyd, whose original artworks can be found in a room dedicated to her and her brother, who fought as a soldier in the Civil War. Katherine’s poetry and novels, which were written under a pseudonym — in those days, it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to be behind a pen — are also on display.
Standing on the second floor facing south, an expansive view of their once-farmland stretches out to the Moriches Bay. In a main room just up the staircase, Lamont curated the room to honor the workers at the Floyd estate: both free and indentured Native Americans as well as enslaved African-American labor. “The Estate history runs the gamut of America,” Lamont said, and that includes enslaved workers, who once lived and worked on the Floyd Estate.
From photos of women like Martha Mains and her daughter, Abby Carl, who both were Unchechaug/Poospatuck people, to lace and linens created by Mastic slaves, the room serves as a sobering reminder of our country’s history. “I wanted to talk about [women and workers] because not too many places explain their lives,” Lamont said quietly, “It’s their history, too.”
During tours, this is the moment where docents are asked this FAQ: Were the slaves mistreated?
“It appears they were taken care of,” Lamont said, pointing to documents that show clothing and shoe orders and records of doctors appointments. “But they still weren’t free.”
Lamont stayed mindful of all the workers throughout the curating process, and on Saturday will honor the longtime last caretakers of the property, the Hulse family: Roy and Rosemary Hulse raised three boys on the estate. In her spare time, Rosemary took up oil painting and her sons donated back a few of her paintings after her passing. One of those images is being recreated on a sheet cake for the celebration this weekend — a way to honor the Hulse family and three centuries worth of people who worked on the Estate.
As she looked out at the vista of farmland and salt spray, Lamont reflected on the preservation effort put forth by Cornelia Floyd Nichols. “It says a lot about their legacy. This property is a microcosm of American history. They had slaves early on. They went whaling with Native Americans, they fought as soldiers for the abolition of slavery. So this isn’t just about the Floyds,” Lamont said. “It’s about all their workers, too. It’s a celebration of all of them.”
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