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October 1999


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Ed & Mary Yonan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
A LISTSERV list for discussions pertaining to New York State history." <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 17 Oct 1999 13:16:48 -0500
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I am a new member of this mailing list and I have a question.   What
were the differences between "freemen" and "commoners" in Southold
during the 1700s?

Another researcher who is also interested in finding the answer to this
question sent me the following information:
<Vol III (Liber D) of Southold Town Records includes a report written
in 1848 by a committee appointed to investigate the "rights and
privileges of the Town."  I have read the report three times and come
away confused each time.  There certainly seems to be a difference
between freeholders and commoners and it appears that the commoners
took it upon themselves to use and dispose of common lands without the
consent of all the inhabitants.  It's hard to tell from the report who
the commoners were.  In one place they are identified as not being
freeholders, but in another it is implied that they were some of the
original patentees of the town in 1676 who were attempting to freeze
out of land ownership anyone who was not an inhabitant at the time of
the patent.  Yet freeholders had the right of commonage, that is the
right to use common lands.  In his will made in 1765, Richard3 Brown
left to Richard4 Brown "the privilege to drive cattle upon the Right
of Commonage as usual."  Richard3 was a freeholder with land in Oyster
Ponds and Acquebogue.>

I also received a letter from the Southold Town Historian who said that
all of the original patentees of Southold had rights to use the common
lands, such as pasture land for the animals,  and she said that the
common lands could be passed on to succeeding generations in wills.  The
people who had the right to use the common lands were the commoners.

Does the term "commoners" simply mean those who had rights to use the
common lands in Southold or does it imply that they were "common people"
and had a lower status in the community than the Freemen?

Any insight that anyone can shed on this question will be greatly


Mary Yonan