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The Land of the Massapequan

A look at the history of Levittown from historian Paul Manton.

 

Currently on exhibit at the Hicksville Gregory Museum is a Mesopotamian cuneiform tablet from about 2350 B.C. Before Athens was a city-state of marble columns and philosophizing sages, before a single toga-clad Roman general bestrode his mount surveyed his conquest, some ancient accountant carved an inventory on a clay slab.

At the same time, on Long Island, at what would become Glen Cove and Orient Point, a Stone Age people left behind artifacts of their encampment. We, of course, can no more say that these people were the ancestors of the Matinecock and Montauket than that the descendants of that cuneiform record's maker currently lives in Iraq. People do move about. The forerunners of the Kent and East Anglian settlers who would one day come amongst the Indians were, after all, the posterity of restless Jute, Saxon, and Norman warriors who came from away as well.

Indeed, Capt. John Seaman, whose 1664 Jerusalem Purchase from Takapausha of the Massapequan encompassed Wantagh, Seaford, and south Levittown, traced his ancestors back to the Vikings who raided the coast of England at the time of Alfred the Great and - later - to a knight who fought in the crusades in Jerusalem in 1192.     

It is from this wanderlust, however, that we find a surviving legend; perhaps the oldest in this vicinity.  Drought and brush fires, like the historic fire of 1995, are nothing novel and long before Dutch and English sails appeared on the horizon, people on Long Island suffered to endure. One sires the yarn of a desperate people seeking divine intervention from the Great Spirit or Manatou and of a patriarch thusly inspired to fire an arrow into the air whereupon the lost tribe might find respite form its thirst. The arrow, carried aloft in the arid wind, landed upon a rise by the edge of the sea of windswept grass and was thereupon called the Mannetto Hill and there, flowing nearby, was a gushing rill the kindred called Massatayan.

Their many moccasined feet followed the creek to the bay and finding a beached whale upon which to feast and an abundance of drinking water and fish, they called this locale "the place of good water" and they became thusly the Massapequan. In the generations that followed, their villages popped up along adjoining streams including the Jerusalem Creek west of Wantagh Avenue and it was in one of these villages that Takapausha was born sometime around 1620 and near where, in 1664, he would sell vast tracts of land to Capt. John Seaman that included acreage within the boundaries of present-day Levittown.  

Today the Massatayan is mostly underground except at Massapequa Preserve where it flows into several ponds before reaching the Great South Bay and thence to the unending sea. Its poetic name is all-but-forgotten and the aquifer system that feeds it is now part of the repository of the infamous "Bethpage Plume" which compromises the drinking water of many of the communities along the Town of Hempstead/Town of Oyster Bay boundary. And yet, in olden times it played an important role in the settlement of our area as historian Alonzo Gibbs described in the November 1955 issue of The Long Island Forum; flowing past the homesteads of the area's old Quaker settlers.    

The suburban age submerged the Massatayan the way ferns, jewelweed, and cattail reeds engulf a tangled bank and the promised land of the Massapequan is now a circuit-board of housing tracts, shopping centers, and multi-lane thoroughfares. But no creation of humanity last forever and no human societal arrangement has ever proven to be the be-all-to-end-all. So it is possible that, in some distant epoch, a people will again stand upon the Mannetto Hill where the Massastayan flows to the bay and thence to the unending sea.   

Want to learn more about the history of Levittown and the surrounding communities? Visit www.levittownhistoricalsociety.org

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