Address of Robert A. Ficalora
To the Membership and Friends of the MFOP - 8/21/96
Good evening and thank you for coming tonight to this meeting of Montauk Friends of Olmsted Parks, the newly reestablished trustee corporation for Montauk. My name is Bob Ficalora, and I come before you as the acting president the MFOP, a position which I will hold until our trustees are elected and our assembly established. I am honored that history has brought me before you tonight, and I hope that I can give you the understanding required to cause us to join together in common resolve to make the fullest enjoyment of our liberties and bring good government to Montauk.
I will be covering a lot of material tonight, and I will attempt to keep my presentation brief and on point. First, I will review the history of Montauk governance beginning with the settlement of East Hampton in 1648 through to our political status today. This will include the history surrounding the Dongan Pattent of 1686, the language of that document, the court order which split Montauk from the Town of East Hampton, Montauk's subsequent "quasi-incorporation" by the Assembly of the State of New York by statute at Chapter 139 of the laws of 1852, and the history of our sovereignty under this law. We have the lawful right to assume democratic control over the lands at Montauk in a manner which our forefathers held dear, and which they established through example, experience and valor. This is a fascinating too-long hidden history which touches the most important elements of the founding of this nation.
Second, I will talk briefly about the scope of our rights here, including the Benson Reservations, the Indian deeds, the Hither Woods, Indian Field, the Culloden property at North Neck, and the importance of Shadmoor. I will list our grievances with the Town of East Hampton in allowing the overburdenment of our fresh water supplies, and the subdivision of our commons. I will give you my opinion of the benefits to our community of establishing such a corporation in addressing these grievances, and explain the difference between this incorporation and type which we resoundingly rejected earlier this year.
Finally, I will present to you the manner in which I propose that we proceed. This will include a quick review of the assembly process of governance, the proposed relationship between the MFOP and the Township of Montauk in administering our lands, and our relationship with the Town of East Hampton and the State of New York. I will ask for volunteers to form a committee to study the Charter, Constitution and Bylaws of both the municipal corporation and of the MFOP and finalize these fundamental documents. This accomplished, we must notice public hearings and hold elections for our trustees.
I see little risk and much good that will come from this, and hope to get you to share my enthusiasm. I believe that we have a duty to our forefathers to stand up to injurious and arbitrary government, demonstrate that we can assemble and establish good government, and uphold our responsibility to our children, our community, and the people of the State of New York to protect this wonderful and beautiful place for ourselves and for posterity.
A Summary Political History of Montauk.
The history of Montauk, and of our rights of governance over the lands here, goes back to the original settlers who established their colonies among the Indians, and can only be told through an understanding of the history of the establishing of the Township of East Hampton.
Gardiner's Island had been purchased in 1639, Southhold and Southampton were settled in 1640. The land comprising East Hampton was purchased from the Indians up to the Montauk line at Napeague in 1648 by Theophilus Eaton, Governor of the Colony of New Haven, and Edward Hopkins, Governor of the Colony of Connecticut in 1648, for the benefit of the settlers. These Governors assigned the lands of East Hampton to the settlers by deed dated April 16th, 1651.
In September of 1654, the proprietors of Easthampton passed a resolve to review the "Connecticut Combination" of the Colony of Connecticut for their own adoption. The document produced through this review stated that:
"... to maintain Peace and Union of such a people there should be an Orderly and Decent Government established according to God -- to Order and Dispose as Occasion shall require: We Do therefore associate and conjoin ourselves to be one Town or Corporation... in our civil affairs to be guided and Governed by such Laws and Orders as shall be made according to God, and which by vote of the Major Part shall be in force among us. Furthermore we do engage ourselves that in all votes for choosing Officers or making Orders, that it be according to Conscience and our best Light. And also we do engage ourselves by this combination to stand to and maintain the authority of the several Officers of the Town in their Determination and actions according to their Orders that either are or shall be made, not swerving therefrom." H.P. Hedges, p. 21
And so it was that, on October 24th, 1654, the original democratic constitution founding the Town of Easthampton was adopted.
Easthampton remained an independent settlement or plantation from 1648 until 1657, when it united with the Colony of Connecticut for the purpose of counsel and defense. Southampton joined the same confederacy. The Connecticut Colony, unlike that at New Haven, admitted all their citizens to equal rights and privileges.
When the Dutch, in 1664, surrendered their colony of New Netherlands to the English, the whole of Long Island was claimed by the Duke of York as included in his grant and under his jurisdiction. The powers of the Duke of York were exercised by his deputized Governors with absolute and arbitrary power. The Colonial Governors often excluded the people altogether from choosing Representatives of their own to pass laws in a General Assembly. Sometimes, after yielding to popular demand, the Governors disobeyed the Assembly which they had chosen of their own arbitrary will. For these reasons, the proprietors appealed in 1664 to continue under the government and jurisdiction of the Colony of Connecticut, and, in the same year, made known their determination not to pay taxes to the Colony of New York. The lands of East-Hampton, however, were pattented as part of the Colony of New York in 1666, under Colonel Richard Nicholls as governor.
The Town chafed under the interference with their assemblies and arbitrary law until in June, 1682, at a General Training of the Militia, a petition was prepared and delivered to Governor Anthony Brockholst. This petition, delivered by the inhabitants of the Towne of East-Hampton, describes how the Town of East Hampton was established under the laws of the colony of New York through the pattent of Richard Nicholls in 1666 with understandings of guarantees of liberty and goes on to state:
"But may it Please your honor to understand, that since that time we are deprived and prohibited our Birthright, Freedoms and Privileges, to which both we and our ancestors were borne: Although we have neither forfeited them by any misdemeanor of ours, nor have we been forbidden the due use or excercise of them, by command of our Gratious King, that wee know of; and as yet neither wee, nor the rest of his Majestie's subjects upon this island, have been at any time since then, to enjoy a General and Free Assembly of our Representatives..."
These same assertions and complaints were contained in the Declaration of Independence almost ninety years later. It is believed by historian Henry P. Hedges that no people in this country saw farther, or earlier, the correct principles of a Free Representative Government than our predecessors here. None placed these principles upon record before them.
In 1683 a new Governor of the King, Thomas Dongan, landed on the east end of Long Island, and it is recorded that here he heard the language of discontent and dissatisfaction. The petitions of the people procured some relief and the General Assembly of the Representatives met in 1683, 1684 and 1685. It was in this atmosphere of contention of that the Town Pattent of 1686 was issued confirming the Nicholls pattent and under which the Town Trustees were established. This Pattent included within it all of the lands at Montauk. What is notable about this document is that its sets forth a process of democratic government through an annually elected body of twelve trustees, two constables, and two assessors.
The Dongan Pattent establishes the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton and provides broad powers to them to make laws and enforce them "so always as the said acts and orders be in no ways repugnant to laws of England and of this province..." and ends with the following clause:
Wherefore by virtue of the power and authority aforesaid [the King], I do, will and command, for and on behalfe of his said Majesty, his heirs and successors, that the aforesaid Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of East Hampton and their successors, have, hold, use and enjoy, all the libertyes, authorityes, customs, orders, ordinances, franchizes, acquittances, lands, tenements and hereditaments, goods and chattels aforesaid, according to the tennure and effect of these presents, without let or hindrance of any person or persons whatsoever.
The language of the Dongan Pattent was written in such a way as to run with the land, and be enforceable under successor governments. It has generally been historically acknowledged that the rights established under this charter are preserved under the Constitution of the State of New York and the Constitution of the United States of America. The Town of East Hampton was governed according to its tenants well into this century, and I have not yet discovered how it could be supplanted by the governments which now exist over this land.
As mentioned earlier, Montauk was included in the Dongan Pattent of 1686. It had been acquired over the years from the Montauk tribe of Indians. The various interests among the different owners were grouped into one shareholder corporation in 1748 based upon the amount invested in the purchases of the lands from the Indians. The shareholders exercised their rights as tenants in common. Until 1851, the usage of the lands by the shareholders was administered by the Town Trustees in accordance to the conditions set forth in the deeds and agreements with the Indians and the equitable rules which they had established.
In the year 1851, however, in the case of Henry P. Hedges, et al., the proprietors of Montauk, vs. the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of East Hampton, it was ordered that the Town give up all claim into or over the lands at Montauk to the proprietors. This deed was issued March 9th, 1852 and is found at Liber 63 of deeds, page 171.
Less than one month later, on April 2nd, 1852, the New York State Assembly at Albany issued a law incorporating the proprietors found at Chapter 139 of the laws of that year. As I read through subsequent cases which have considered this law I find the review of it uncertain. It has been referred to as a "quasi incorporation" (A.B. Blackmar, Pharoah vs. Benson, 1909) and was not found to vest any interest over the lands to the proprietors if they sold their shares (J.O. Dyckman, J.S.P., Grinnell, Robert and Sophie, his wife vs. Edward Baker, et al., 1879).
I agree with this judicial review of Chapter 139 of the laws of 1852. Although the timing, language, and its very existence affirm our rights under the Dongan Pattent, it only partially does so. In 1851 the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of Easthampton, the defendants, were the government of the Town of East Hampton with their charter in law being the Dongan Pattent of 1686. The Trustees, in losing the lawsuit with the proprietors of Montauk, caused the lands covered by the Dongan Pattent to be split, with both having equal claim to the provisions within it. At that point Montauk was no longer a part of the Town of East Hampton, could not be considered a subdivision of it, and must be accorded the rights of a Township under a colonial charter which is attached to and runs with this land.
I see no other way in which this history can be construed at law, and I believe this to be a fundamental right procured for us by our predecessors, and a right which is protected under our state and national constitutions.
In the years of Benson ownership between 1879 and 1918, these facts must have been well understood here. They and the men they sold land to were the Government, beholden only to State law. I think that it is significant that Teddy Roosevelt, a native of Oyster Bay Long Island, came here with his Rough Riders in 1898 as a guest of the proprietors and set his men down upon our commons at Indian Field. He also announced his candidacy for the Governorship of New York while in Montauk.
It is also significant that Frederic Law Olmsted and his sons prepared plans for subdivision of the lands here which established reservations for the common use of the proprietors in perpetuity. One of these plans, of Hither Hills, contains upon it what is arguably an assembly site connected by road to a school house. This plan was completed during the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt only two years after Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., had completed his plans for a comprehensive redesign of the grounds of the United States government at Washington, D.C., for the MacMillan commission of the United States Senate. The Frederick Law Olmsted landscaped other monuments to democracy in this county including the United States Capitol and White House grounds and the New York State Capitol grounds at Albany. It is clear that during this period the Town of East Hampton had no control over the lands at Montauk, and some activity in the deeds appears to support that the proprietors were active in administering their rights.
Since World War I two things happened. First, at some point around 1910 the current government of East Hampton replaced the historic Trustee government which had been established by the Dongan Pattent, and in doing so also claimed the right to administer and govern Montauk. I do not know how this happened or on what legal basis it made this claim. Second, the developer Carl Fischer arrived here in the 1920s and engaged in a full scale assault upon the rights of the proprietors of Montauk over the lands here. As a result, some of the lands which I believe will be adjudged to have been our commonage will now be lost to adverse possession. Other lands over which we have rights in common, which I believe to be very sizeable in acreage and importance to Montauk, we will be able to recover, preserve, and administer as municipal parkland or for other uses.
It is only through the reestablished corporation of the proprietors of Montauk, through open and lawful assembly, and the election of Trustees, that we can make this claim, and for the reasons which I will soon provide you, I believe that we should make it.