Return to The Massapequa Connection
Return to Historic Massapequa
For over one hundred and fifty years there was an old brick house that stood on a large tract of land known as Fort Neck in Massapequa. People today would know the area as Merrick Road, just across the street from the Massapequa Preserve. But back in the early nineteenth century, it was known as the haunted house sitting just west of the pirate's grave.
In Denton's History of New York, written at the turn of the century, the house was described as "an ancient dwelling on Fort Neck, which a century ago or more was known as the haunted house, and had many strange and wonderful stories connected with it, and a lonely grave marked by an old tombstone some little distance from the house, on the banks of a small stream; a most solitary spot."
And the New York Mirror once wrote that "this venerable edifice is still standing though much dilapidated, and is an object of awe to all the people in the neighborhood. The traveler cannot fail to be struck with its crumbling ruins as his eye first falls upon it from the turnpike." Furman's Antiquities of Long Island (1827) described the legacy of the house's owner. "Tradition says that at the time of his death a large black crow hovered over his bed, and when his life was extinct the crow made its exit through the west end of the house... The hole through which the crow made its departure cannot be stopped, and as soon as it's closed, it is opened by some unknown means." The "Pirate's Grave" that Denton described and Furman named, belongs to the "haunted house's" builder, Major Thomas Jones and his loving wife Freelove, the first Europeans to settle Massapequa. A couple whom if there was a motion picture made to chronicle their lives, the drama and excitement might be enough to sink Titanic .
There's not much of Jones' early life that can be accounted for, other than the fact that he was probably born about 1665 in a town called Strabane, located in Tyrone County within the current borders of Northern Ireland. His family had strong roots in England, but historical accounts say that they were of Welsh decent.
In Europe Jones was loyal to his monarch, King James II, and to his religion, the Episcopal Church.
Under James' direction, Jones acted as a privateer, looting the ships of nations that weren't at peace with his ruler. Without this royal command, it would be said that Jones worked as a pirate.
So loyal was he, that in 1690 Jones joined in defending the sovereignty of his royal master at the Battle of the Boyne during the Revolution of 1688, the historic struggle for the English Crown which ended the Stuart reign of power.
But, unfortunately for Jones, it was this loyalty to a dethroned monarch which caused the exile from his place of birth.
When the war ended in 1691, King James II handed his crown over to William and Mary. The new monarchy granted many civil and religious liberties to the British subjects, and, fortunately for Jones, treated James' supporters with a great deal of leniency. William and Mary permitted the defeated soldiers to leave Ireland for any other county other then England or Scotland. As a result, tens of thousands of people migrated to France.
However Jones had his sights on another horizon. That year he left Ireland and landed at Port Royal at the island of Jamaca. While there Jones' made an earning for a short while in the privateering business.
Several months later he left Jamaca and landed in Rhode Island where he received a commission as captain from New York's Governor, Col. Fletcher. With this military position, Jones continued in the privateering business halting Spanish ships in the water and stealing their valuables. It's undoubtedly because of this occupation that Jones received a reputation as a pirate for generations.
Also through this occupation Jones met up with Captain Thomas Townsend, a major Long Island land owner. Years earlier, Townsend, a Quaker, received a license from the governor to purchase lands from the Indians -- and purchase land he did. Over thirty years, the Townsend family bought and sold large tracts of land from Oyster Bay down to the south shore.
Townsend was uniquely fond of Captain Thomas Jones, of whom he wrote that he had a "a natural love and affection for."
While staying with Captain Townsend at his home in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Jones was introduced to Townsend's daughter, Freelove.
Thomas and Freelove married soon after and moved to Oyster Bay in 1696. They lived for a short time in a house built by Townsend in 1660, not far from Oyster Bay Harbor.
In June of that year, Captain Townsend gave to his daughter and son-in-law some 300 acres of land in South Oyster Bay as a gift. Townsend had purchased the land known as Fort Neck on January 21, 1679 from Sachem Tackapausa on behalf of the Massapequa Indians in two separate transactions.
When Freelove and Thomas Jones moved to Fort Neck, they located to an area known as the Massapequa Meadows where they decided to build their home. Jones new property bordered to the north by a vast woodland extending untouched and undeveloped, and to the south by the Great South Bay.
They built their two-story brick house right along the bank of Massapequa River and an old Indian path which was known as the Turnpike (today motorists refer to it as Merrick Road).
In Jones' time, Massapequa River ran south from the Massapequa Meadows along what was later carved out to be Alhambra Shore, and north along what is now part of the Massapequa Preserve. His land, Fort Neck, is the current site of Biltmore Shores. To the west of Fort Neck was West Neck (Massapequa Shores) and to the east was Unqua Neck (Nassau Shores).
For the next 20 years Thomas and Freelove lived and established the first settlement family in Massapequa, raising seven children, three boys and four girls.
Jones was active and influential in the early history of the Town of Oyster Bay, then within the jurisdiction of Queens County. In 1702 Jones was appointed Captain of the Queens County Militia, High Sheriff of Queens County in 1704, and Major of the Queens County Regiment just two years later.
In 1710 Jones was commissioned Ranger General of the island of Nassau, the name granted to Long Island. The office gave Jones the right to monopolize the entire whale and fish industry on Long Island. And after years of land acquisitions with the Indians and from other lands granted to him by his father-in-law, he oversaw six thousand acres of land at the time of his death.
And when the time came, on December 13, 1713, he was buried not far from his brick house behind what is known today as Old Grace Church. Freelove outlived Thomas by about a decade, and his oldest son was just 14 years old at the time of his father's death.
But the legacy that Major Thomas Jones carved out for his family continued throughout the centuries. A strong-faithed Episcopal, the Jones family continued to adhere to the faith and his wife, a Quaker, was baptized Episcopal after their marriage.
And long after Thomas' death, the old brick house that later generations would fable as haunted and recite ghost stories of, would continue to be loved and memorialized by his descendants. So much so that it was considered a major loss to the Jones' families heritage when it was destroyed in 1837.
In his poem, On the Destruction of the Brick House at Massapequa, David Floyd-Jones wrote:
His Sons for many generations here Have Lived nor ever felt misfortune's tide Dash its stern waves against them-sorrow's tear Hath seldom dimmed their eye-aged they did Within thy walls no longer shall their children dwell Thou hallowed pile; loven een in ruins, fare thee well.