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The ‘Father of the New York Bar’

The members of the Massapequa Historical Society had a busy year during 2009. The society had repairs to the stained glass windows in the Old Grace Church, held a holiday open house in December, apple and strawberry festivals during the summer. They erected a New York State Historical Marker at Kilian Road and Sunrise Highway where the famous Kilian Hotel stood until 1906. Plans are under way to place a familiar blue and yellow NYS historic marker on Grand Avenue in front of the Massapequa Water District office, the site of Massapequa’s first firehouse, later in 2010. The placement of the marker will occur during the fire department’s 100th year anniversary celebration.

The new year has begun and plans are already in full swing to spearhead a thorough cleanup and resetting of the headstones in the Jones Family Cemetery at Merrick Road near to Massapequa Avenue. My childhood friend and society trustee, Gil Kicherer, would like to see the trees that are uprooting headstones and making it hard to mow the grass replaced and the old headstones that have been damaged by vandals reset. He has also suggested a wrought iron fence be installed to remind everyone of the cemetery’s age.

I recall a Port Jefferson man going to the Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn to find he couldn’t read the names because of mildew. That’s not the case at the Jones Family Cemetery. The headstones there are very old and need to be reset and power washed. I just found in my files a bit of information about Bob Hall’s visit. He wrote an e-mail to federal bureaucrats about his concerns but he never heard back. Later in the month Hall went back to Pinelawn with his camera and e-mailed the photos of the stones to the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. One week later workers were cleaning every headstone in the cemetery – thanks to Hall’s efforts.

The Jones Family Cemetery wouldn’t get that kind of quick attention but many of Massapequa’s founding families are buried there and it’s disrespectful that the names can’t be read and the stones are in disarray, especially when the cemetery is overseen by the Town of Oyster Bay.

An American Jurist

Samuel Jones was born in what was then called Fort Neck, now Massapequa, on July 26, 1734. His father, William Jones, inherited from his father, Major Thomas Jones the land called West Neck, which was the southwestern part of Massapequa. This is where the Jones family cemetery is situated, hard by Merrick Road.

Samuel’s grandfather and grandmother, Freelove Townsend Jones were the first European settlers in this area. They had one of the first houses built with bricks on the South Shore of Long Island in 1696-7. Jones owned 6,000 acres of land when he died in 1819. The Historical Society placed a historic marker on the bank of the Massapequa Lake opposite to where the house is said to have been located on the south side of the busy road.

Young Samuel was educated in Hempstead and then made a number of voyages as a sailor in the Merchant Marine. Then he decided to settle down and study law with a respected judge, William Smith. At the age of 34, he married his second wife, Cornelia Haring, a wealthy lady from Manhattan. They had five sons together.

Jones seemed to be in favor of the separation of the colonies from England. Jones was elected to a committee of 100 men that was formed to support the actions of the Continental Congress. Being a little old for the military service, he spent the war years in West Neck. Sometime during 1782, he and Richard Varick revised the laws to govern New York State. It was generally acknowledged that Jones did most of the work. He represented Queens County in the state Assembly from 1786 to 1790, and in the state Senate from 1791 to 1797. He was also the first New York State Comptroller.

Following the end of the Revolutionary War, the Tory lawyers had to flee, and there was a tremendous amount of work for the remaining attorneys. Devoting so much time to government work meant that Jones had less time to devote to his private practice. He and his wife donated the parcel of land that is now called Great Jones Street in New York City. He was a successful mediator for the Indians and was given an Indian name by the Iroquois that meant “Untier of Knots.” If time could be turned back, Samuel Jones would most likely be negotiating the Shinnecock Indians’ legal actions in Southampton.

But by far the biggest contribution that Jones made to this country was at the Constitutional Convention in Poughkeepsie in 1788. Jones went off to Poughkeepsie as a delegate firmly committed to Governor George Clinton who was against ratifying the Constitution.

Clinton had many reasons to be against ratification. New York was one of the largest and most important states. Clinton believed that New York should be equal with a state like Delaware, which understandably was the first state to ratify. But it was futile for New York to hold out since enough states had already ratified to make the Constitution the law of the land. Jones came to see the problem and made a suggestion that saved the day. One of the most important objections was that in 1788 there was no Bill of Rights. Jones gladdened the hearts of the Constitution supporters such as Alexander Hamilton, when he said New York should ratify in “full confidence” that a Bill of Rights would be quickly forthcoming. The delegation agreed. A nice coincidence was the fact that the vote came on Jones’ 54th birthday.

He lived to the age of 85 and died, with full honors at West Neck. Jones was described, and I quote, as “one of the most profound and enlightened jurists of this or any other country,” and was called “the father of the New York Bar.” Let us hope he is never forgotten along with the entire Massapequa founding family members of the Jones and Floyd-Jones.

During 1770, Judge David Jones, son of Major Thomas Jones, had a three-and-a-half story mansion built on the north side of Merrick Road and Park Boulevard. The mansion was known as Tryon Hall. The building designed to Georgian architecture, was named in honor of Governor General William Tryon of New York, who visited there. It had a history of skirmishes between Indians and white settlers in colonial days. On Oct. 16, 1940 the unoccupied 30-room mansion, despite efforts of local volunteer firemen, was destroyed by fire. George Stanton Floyd-Jones, whose home was located where the Massapequa High School now stands was one of the last members of the Floyd-Jones family and died at age 88.