Written by Lillian Rumfield Bryson Saturday, 14 September 2013 00:00
There will be a celebration in honor of the tercentennial passing of a pirate! Yo ho ho, say I, for he was Massapequa’s own! “From distant land to this wild waste he came,” the epitaph (written by Major Thomas Jones for himself) goes on to read “this seat he chose and here he fixed his name.”
T’was around 1665 in Ireland that Thomas entered into life. ‘Tho facts of his youth are vague, he grew to swashbuckling fame o’er land and sea, and stepped onto Long Island’s shores in the last of the 17th century. The journey proved to be most rewarding and with bountiful verve Thomas became betrothed to Freelove Townsend, the daughter of his wealthy Rhode Island maritime trading partner who had recently “bargained” with Massapequa’s Native Americans for their land. The time was right for Thomas to parlay previous “profiteering” into the life of a country gentleman.
In 1696 Thomas and Freelove built a fine brick house alongside a creek in this “great water land” (Indian translation: Massapequa) — the house was the first of its kind on Long Island. In time, giving a good start to the name Jones, 7 children graced their marriage. Like his father-in-law, who gave them the afore mentioned land as a wedding gift, the major also sought and bought additional land from Indian tribes who’d inhabited it for thousands of years; he eventually owned 6,000 acres.
In addition to other worthy positions, Thomas received a commission as Major and became Ranger General of the island of Nassau (Long Island), responsible for access to ocean beaches and overseeing the whaling industry. Known as “The Squire of Fort Neck”(so named in commemoration of a Dutch-built remnant of an earlier settlement) it is said that the Squire could be most persuasive with a hospitable decanter of brandy and his trusty pistol in view.
When, in 1713, our Thomas left this mortal cause and was first buried close to Brick House Creek, it is reputed that there were those who (in reference to his pirating days) used a clam shell to scratch these words upon his marker: “Here lies the bones of pirate Jones, this briny well contains the shell that rests in hell” and, in hope of finding buried treasure, they dug for his remains! No bounty there, but legend claims that the confiscated skeletal head was held for ransom. In the mid-1800’s, head intact, the remains were reinterred in the family burial ground behind the newly founded Grace Episcopal Church.
For 140 years, Brick House stood alongside what was to become Merrick Road in Massapequa. In time, as a landmark known to be haunted by a crow, it is documented to have been so. In 1929, though no evidence of his 1700’s whaling station remained, a nearby barrier reef fulfilled the wording on Major Thomas Jones’s epitaph when it became a part of Jones Beach State Park — “and here he fixed his name.”
The Historical Society of the Massapequas invites you to share in the tercentennial celebration of the passing of Major Thomas Jones on Saturday November 2, 2013. Crows and parrots are welcome.