Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete

Page: 50


The maids of Staten Island wrought havoc among the royal troops who were quartered among them during the Revolution. Near quarantine, in an old house,—the Austen mansion,—a soldier of King George hanged himself because a Yankee maid who lived there would not have him for a husband, nor any gentleman whose coat was of his color; and, until ghosts went out of fashion, his spirit, in somewhat heavy boots, with jingling spurs, often disturbed the nightly quiet of the place.

The conduct of a damsel in the old town of Richmond was even more stern. She was the granddaughter, and a pretty one, of a farmer named Britton; but though Britton by descent and name, she was no friend of Britons, albeit she might have had half the officers in the neighboring camp at her feet, if she had wished them there. Once, while mulling a cup of cider for her grandfather, she was interrupted by a self-invited myrmidon, who undertook, in a fashion rude and unexpected, to show the love in which he held her. Before he could kiss her, the girl drew the hot poker from the mug of drink and jabbed at the vitals of her amorous foe, burning a hole through his scarlet uniform and printing on his burly person a lasting memento of the adventure. With a howl of pain the fellow rushed away, and the privacy of the Britton family was never again invaded, at least whilst cider was being mulled.


When the devil set a claim to the fair lands at the north of Long Island Sound, his claim was disputed by the Indians, who prepared to fight for their homes should he attempt to serve his writ of ejectment. Parley resulted in nothing, so the bad one tried force, but he was routed in open fight and found it desirable to get away from the scene of action as soon as possible. He retreated across the Sound near the head of East River. The tide was out, so he stepped from island to island, without trouble, and those reefs and islands are to this day the Devil's Stepping-Stones. On reaching Throgg's Neck he sat down in a despairing attitude and brooded on his defeat, until, roused to a frenzy at the thought of it, he resolved to renew the war on terms advantageous entirely to himself. In that day Connecticut was free from rocks, but Long Island was covered with them; so he gathered all he could lay his hands on and tossed them at the Indians that he could see across the Sound near Cold Spring until the supply had given out. The red men who last inhabited Connecticut used to show white men where the missiles landed and where the devil struck his heel into the ground as he sprang from the shore in his haste to reach Long Island. At Cold Spring other footprints and one of his toes are shown. Establishing himself at Coram, he troubled the people of the country for many years, so that between the devil on the west and the Montauks on the east they were plagued indeed; for though their guard at Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and other places often apprised them of the coming of the Montauks, they never knew which way to look for the devil.


A great drought had fallen on Long Island, and the red men prayed for water. It is true that they could get it at Lake Ronkonkoma, but some of them were many miles from there, and, beside, they feared the spirits at that place: the girl who plied its waters in a phosphor-shining birch, seeking her recreant lover; and the powerful guardians that the Great Spirit had put in charge to keep the fish from being caught, for these fish were the souls of men, awaiting deliverance into another form. The people gathered about their villages in bands and besought the Great Spirit to give them drink. His voice was heard at last, bidding their chief to shoot an arrow into the air and to watch where it fell, for there would water gush out. The chief obeyed the deity, and as the arrow touched the earth a spring of sweet water spouted into the air. Running forward with glad cries the red men drank eagerly of the liquor, laved their faces in it, and were made strong again; and in memory of that event they called the place the Hill of God, or Manitou Hill, and Manet or Manetta Hill it is to this day. Hereabouts the Indians settled and lived in peace, thriving under the smile of their deity, making wampum for the inland tribes and waxing rich with gains from it. They made the canal from bay to sea at Canoe Place, that they might reach open water without dragging their boats across the sand-bars, and in other ways they proved themselves ingenious and strong.

When the English landed on the island they saw that the Indians were not a people to be trifled with, and in order to properly impress them with their superiority, they told them that John Bull desired a treaty with them. The officers got them to sit in line in front of a cannon, the nature of which instrument was unknown to them, and during the talk the gun was fired, mowing down so many of the red people that the survivors took to flight, leaving the English masters at the north shore, for this heartless and needless massacre took place at Whale's Neck. So angry was the Great Spirit at this act of cruelty and treachery that he caused blood to ooze from the soil, as he had made water leap for his thirsting children, and never again would grass grow on the spot where the murder had been done.


There is a clay bank on Little Neck, Long Island, where metallic nodules are now and then exposed by rain. Rustics declare them to be silver, and account for their crumbling on the theory that the metal is under a curse. A century ago the Montauks mined it, digging over enough soil to unearth these pellets now and again, and exchanging them at the nearest settlements for tobacco and rum. The seeming abundance of these lumps of silver aroused the cupidity of one Gardiner, a dweller in the central wilderness of the island, but none of the Indians would reveal the source of their treasure. One day Gardiner succeeded in getting an old chief so tipsy that, without realizing what he was doing, he led the white man to the clay bed and showed him the metallic spots glittering in the sun. With a cry of delight Gardiner sprang forward and tore at the earth with his fingers, while the Indian stood by laughing at his eagerness.