“Looking Them Over”
a weekly column by Jeannette Rattray (writing as “One of Our Own”)
East Hampton Star, December 3, 1964
Mr. and Mrs. Cook are spending their first winter at Fireplace, in the beautiful house which they have created out of the old barn and carriage house on the grounds of Mrs. Cook’s long established and highly successful Fire Place Lodge. I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon there a week or so ago, and of seeing a great many family treasures.
Mrs. Cook’s grandmother, Mary Talmage of Bound Brook, N. J., was a sister of the Rev. Dr. T. De Witt Talmage who was pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, known as the Brooklyn Tabernacle, for 26 years; this church held 6,000 people.
Late in life he became pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C. His sermons were published regularly in American newspapers, including the East Hampton Star, and were translated into many languages. He wrote 30 books. When he died, the London Times closed its obituary notice with: “If Wesley could feel that the world was his parish, Talmage might have said with equal truth that the world was his congregation, for he had as an audience practically the civilized globe,”
Dr. Talmage and his sister, who married the Rev. Stephen L. Mershon, were of the eighth generation of East Hampton Talmages; the famous Dr. Talmage preached his first sermon here, in the little old Town House, now restored to its original (1731) character as a school house and standing next door to Clinton Academy. The Rev. Stephen L. Mershon built the Presbyterian Church in 1860, which 100 years later was drastically altered.
Mrs. Cook’s parents, Stephen Lyon Mershon Jr. of East Hampton and Addie J. Hawkins of Moriches, met as students at Clinton Academy (http://www.easthampton.com/history/clinton.html). Mrs. Cook cherishes a very early, shy letter written by her father, at 18, to her mother who had gone back to Moriches, asking permission to address her and giving some idea of his prospects.
The Cooks’ new home — they have sold the house in Montclair, N. J. — is full of history and charming. Every room has a view. The house is only a stone’s throw away from the high bluff overlooking the Gardiner’s Bay beach where the old Miller house used to stand. That house burned down in 1925. The old well now covered over is still there, and a thicket of lilacs.
Mrs. Cook says that the Miller family had the best water anywhere around, from that well, and when a whaleship was leaving Sag Harbor it would invariably anchor off Fireplace and send a boat ashore to bring back barrels of water.
Of course Fireplace got its name from the fact that a signal fire used to be built when a ferry boat from Gardiner’s Island was needed. The same was done over on the Island.
Who lived at Fireplace before the Millers, nobody knows; but there were buildings on the place when Daniel Miller of Apaquogue, East Hampton (born 1680, died 1769) bought the 40 acre farm for his “dearly beloved and dutiful son” Timothy. The story goes that Daniel and his sons and his slaves took a whale and sold enough oil to buy the farm “between Old and New Fireplace.” Where the other fireplaces were, no one knows now.
Mr. Cook has done considerable research and excavating around the property there, trying to find out who first lived in that vicinity, and when. Near the western boundary of the Fire Place Lodge property, some very ancient bricks have been found — one brick, of clay and quite different from the early colonial-made ones, is used in the Cook home as a doorstop.
It is doubtless of European origin, Mr. Cook says probably Dutch. The King’s Point Road near Fireplace is named for the King family, which settled there in very early days.
Dr. Talmage, and the Rev. Stephen L. Mershon after he left East Hampton in 1866, were summer residents here for many years. So were many other notable divines; East Hampton village has virtually no hills, but one section of our summer colony was called “Divinity Hill” for generations because so many ministers lived there.
Mrs. Cook showed me a small table which her great uncle, Dr. Talmage, had for years in his summer home. He wrote on the back of the table top: “The Ship ‘Abbott’ was wrecked at Wainscott, Long Island, the summer of 1886. The top of this table was taken from the wreck, and put in this shape in memory of the scene.”
That was the 200 ton brigantine James T. Abbott of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, bound from Turks Island to Vineyard Haven, Mass. She went ashore June 24, 1886. Her crew of nine were saved; the vessel was a total loss.
Two of Mrs. Cook’s most cherished antiques are a small pitcher and handle-less cup which have a Revolutionary history. The Rev. Stephen L. Mershon, her grandfather, wrote a note which is kept rolled up in the pitcher: “This milk cup was taken from a table at the Battle of Long Island, from which some of the British officers had gone hastily, by one of Captain Goyn McCoy’s regiment. He drank the milk that was in it, pocketed the cup and gave it to Captain McCoy’s daughter, Rachel.”
Rachel McCoy’s sister Mary married Major Thomas Talmage, Mrs. Cook’s great-great-grandmother. He was New Jersey’s Paul Revere. In 1777, when Tories and Indians menaced the people at Minisink, N. J. he made a famous ride spreading the alarm over the countryside, while ill with typhus (or typhoid).
The cup and pitcher, souvenirs of the Battle of Long Island, were given to the Rev. Stephen L. Mershon by Capt. Goyn McCoy’s granddaughter of Morristown, N. J.
Thomas Talmage’s ride was immortalized in a poem, which I have read. He was at the time serving in Captain Abram Ten Eyck’s regiment, but with his fellow soldiers was allowed to return home because “some of the early harvesting on the flatts was begun.”
Harvest and hay time on his father’s farm was important, and he also felt it necessary to remove his wife, who was expecting a child, out of the danger zone to her parents’ home at Basking Ridge. Then he fell ill, but delivered most of the messages in one night just the same.
–Jeannette Rattray (writing as “One of Our Own”)