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Michele Schimel, clerk for the Town of North Hempstead, recently gave an informative talk about the town's history to the League of Women Voters of Port Washington-Manhasset.

Town Clerk Michelle Schimel regaled the members of the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset with highlights from North Hempstead's rich history. She said that very often in going through the basic records maintained in the clerk's office one finds historical records. "These are the real treasures," said Schimel, a history buff, an avid collector of antiques and memorabilia, and vice president of the North Hempstead Historical Society. Among the interesting items she found was a hand-signed letter from President Gerald Ford congratulating the town on the occasion of the country's bicentennial.

The Town of North Hempstead, she told us, was the first town to declare independence from the "mother country." The town's history began in 1642, when the Rev. Robert Fordham and John Carman sailed across Long Island Sound and purchased land from four Indian tribes. Schimel said that she has in her office records that date back to the 1600s documenting the granting of colonization rights to the English by the Dutch. "The Dutch were not that interested in governing," she said. "They were primarily interested in making money. On the other hand, the English colonists wanted property rights, power and authority. They wanted to build churches and to attain a significant degree of self-government." Schimel went on to report that in 1664 a British naval fleet captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch and Nassau (Long) Island came under British control. New Amsterdam was renamed New York.

"Jumping way ahead," Schimel said, "North Hempstead [originally part of the Town of Hempstead] seceded from the Southern part because the majority of its residents sympathized with the forces for independence." Schimel quipped, "Politically, they never have been together." The Declaration of Secession was made on September 23, 1775. Subsequently, in 1784, the Town of North Hempstead was officially created by a special act of the New York State Legislature. Schimel related how the British "punished" the North Hempstead residents by quartering British soldiers in their homes. "Their life was a living hell," she said.

Last year, Schimel initiated a re-enactment of the Town's Declaration of Independence, which had originally taken place at Allen's Tavern in Port Washington. (In that era town meetings typically took place at taverns.) Schimel showed slides of the re-enactment, saying, "I even got the town board to dress up in costume." She reported that the debate got quite heated, with the British on one side and the patriots on the other. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," she commented. "Instead of off-street parking, they argued about cows." On a more serious note, she commented, "The decision to secede from the mother country was not an easy one - it took a lot of courage. People had to make a lot of sacrifices."

The second slide presentation was of the history of the black community in North Hempstead. Schimel said, "The Dutch were only interested in trading, so they turned to slave importation as a means for solving labor problems. The first recorded sale was in 1783." She went on to say that in 1799 the New York State Legislature passed the Manumission Act, which essentially provided for the gradual abolition of slavery, and in 1827 slavery was entirely abolished. Schimel said that in North Hempstead, the Quakers led the way in pressing for the abolition of slavery. She added that the freed slaves stayed in this area, and showed pictures of black residential communities and businesses of the time. She said, "The blacks have long, deep roots in the town." She pointed out the landmarked Lakeville A.M.E. Zion Church and the Valley Road Historic district as two areas of particular interest.

Segregation reigned supreme, however, until the days of the civil rights movement. The TONH passed a resolution prohibiting discrimination in housing in 1969, and, of course, the federal government enforced school de-segregation and voting rights. Things move slowly, however: It wasn't until 2004 that the Town of North Hempstead elected the first African-American - Robert Troiano -- to the town board.

A lively discussion ensued as to what extent de facto segregation still exists in our area. Schimel said that the Town Clerk's office does not keep specific demographic records regarding race or ethnicity, but that, in her opinion, North Hempstead has a lot of ethnic and income diversity. "It is not all Gold Coast," she said. Although they do not address North Hempstead specifically, ERASE Racism's Long Island Fair Housing Report states, "The majority of African-American residents on Long Island are forced to live in segregated communities, irrespective of income.... The segregation index for African-Americans on Long Island is 74, while total apartheid is at 100." (http://www.eraseracismny.org/)

Schimel also informed the assembly about the role of the town clerk. As Records Management Officer, the clerk is custodian of all the town's records. This includes maintaining current files and deciding on the disposition of inactive ones. As Registrar of Vital Statistics, the clerk issues and maintains all birth and death certificates in the town. The clerk's office is the "go-to" place for information; all Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests are administered by this office. As secretary to the town board, the clerk is responsible for preparing and maintaining the minutes of town board meetings. (However, she reminded the group that she has no role in setting the agenda for board meetings.) The clerk issues state licenses such as marriage, hunting, fishing and dog licenses, among others. One of the activities which Schimel, who clearly has great enthusiasm for all aspects of her work, enjoys most is performing marriages. As a designated Marriage Officer, she has performed well over 600 marriages. ("I stopped counting after 600," she states on her web site.) Schimel, who has received New York State Town Clerk accreditation, has made major improvements to the office's record management procedures, and has completely renovated the physical plant at no additional expense to the taxpayer. She was featured as Town Clerk of the Month, in May 2002, on the Municipal Clerks Honor Roll and was elected a District Director of the New York State Town Clerk's Association. You can reach the Town Clerk's office through the TONH website-www.northhempstead.com-or by telephone at 869-7646.


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