About ten years ago was the first I remember observing that our forefathers repeatedly acquired marsh or swamp land and, in some cases, placed themselves close to it. Among other examples found are “daitons swamp at nue towne,” “Samuel Dayton’s Swamp” in modern-day Lattingtown and Ralph Dayton’s “swamp near the towne.”
I had imagined that the wetlands were properties “left-over,” after the desirable lots were distributed, and that their only value might be in oysters or small fish. But it wasn’t until I began to delve more deeply, I was informed of the immense value of salt hay that regularly grew in many of those areas.
Salt hay was also referred to as “thatch” in town records and it had many important uses. In the early days, the Puritans used thatch as a cover for their primitive shelters and wove it together as roofing for their homes. As it was in great and regular demand, we find records ordering each male to take his turn at the harvest, as this 1651 East Hampton entry relates, “it is orderd that Raphe Daiton Thomas Chatfild and Thomas Osbourne Senior shal fetch the thatch in the order before menconed vpon two dayes warninge vpon the fine fore menconed.”
To get an idea of what the primitive harvest might have looked like, refer to John Deitz’s website http://brookhavensouthhaven.org/history/kost.htm for photos by Frederick Kost (1861-1923) and then visit http://www.postmorrow.org/ to view the beautiful video entitled Morning in Brookhaven that faithfully depicts the land characteristics of the area called South, some of the same land that was to become Dayton’s Neck.