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Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
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The Lake Success Horror VII: Circles Within Circles

The state legislature passed the automobile speed regulation bill and it was signed into law on March 28, 1902. It was huge. In fact, it was sometimes referred to as “the famous Cocks Automobile Law,” named for State Senator William Willets Cocks. In 1901, Member of Assembly G. Wilbur Doughty had sponsored a version that passed the Assembly, but Senator Cocks was seen as the prime mover who personally rounded up influential citizens and officials to go to Albany and ask for relief. In one swoop he became a legislative star. In 1904, he was elected to Congress, where he also achieved some fame as “the Quaker Congressman” and, in particular, as President Roosevelt’s own representative. Years later, Doughty was the mastermind and moving force behind the Republican organization that finally overtook Nassau Democrats in 1917 and destroyed them as a threat within two years. Some of the ruthless legislative maneuvers were challenged in court, and successfully defended by the county’s special legal counsel, M. Linn Bruce. So we have a kind of circle. There were other circles.

Consider Senate Codes’ Committee hearing at the State Capitol in February 1902, when Mr. Bruce made the presentation that helped propel him to statewide office. In that room was the man many considered to be Nassau County’s First Citizen, Benjamin Doughty Hicks, for years called the “Father of Nassau County.” He was also the founding president of the first large business that had opened in the new county, the Bank of Nassau County. The board of directors included two men each named Hicks, Willets and Albertson. There was also an Underhill, the name of Edwin’s grandmother. Supervisor August Denton had been a director; in 1900 he made a deathbed request that Edwin, his best friend and cousin, be appointed to succeed him.

The automobile law got off the ground when a mass meeting at Mineola in early 1901 drafted three men to go to Albany and ask for help. One of those men was Silas Albertson, whose grandmother was Sarah Hicks and whose neighbor and son-in-law, Edwin Willets, was at the Albany hearing as North Hempstead Supervisor.

Senator William Willets Cocks’ brother was also a director of that bank, and was also in Albany. He was Frederick Cocks Hicks, himself a future congressman. He was born Frederick Hicks Cocks, but his name was changed when he was formally adopted by Benjamin Doughty Hicks, so that a respected family line could continue with a male heir. Senator Cocks and his wife, Catherine née Hicks (of the Locust Valley Hicks), gave one of their sons the surname Hicks for the same reason.

The men in that one hearing room were a little part of a large puzzle. Many of Long Island’s oldest families, particularly those of the Quaker faith, married within their large extended clans because it was both practical and traditional. We will never know just how many connections there were between the Hicks, Willets, Albertson, Valentine, Mott, Underhill, Woolley, Titus, Willis, Powell, Pearsall, Townsend, Cornell, Rushmore, Seaman and Smith families, and others. New York had no formal birth registrations until 1880. For many years some Quaker families did not file wills, deeds and other documents anywhere out of religious conviction. A bunch of the earliest published genealogies contain phrases like “Some accounts say…” and “is believed to be…” and “perhaps.”

Once banned outright from colonial Queens County, forced to pay a Toleration Tax to live here, members of the Society of Friends stuck it out and flourished, winning over neighbors through the public spiritedness that was taught at their meetings. Some of the Dutch Reformed and Episcopalian families married sons and daughters into Quaker families, and some converted to the Friends.

In the immediate area around Success Pond were farms, orchards and old homes owned by people with those last names. Addie Hicks, the local school teacher for decades, lived just off the pond. Seeman Williams had his 40 acres just to the south. Henry Cornell still owned that big farmhouse. And the road up the hill bisected Abby Ann Woolley’s place, so she owned land along the east edge of the pond.

Right along its edge.


Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: