An acquaintance is making some pilgrimages to the town we both grew up in, and emailed my brother and me to see if we wanted him to take pictures of anything in particular. We did a little reminiscing back and forth, and my brother referred to the town by the nickname we’ve called it for a number of years – Willy Park – but none of us could remember where that originated, which inspired me to do some digging into the history of Williston Park.
All it says on the official village website, as well as Wikipedia and a few real estate offices, is that Williston Park is named for Samuel Willis, “…who came to the area in the late 17th century….” (I assume they mean the late 1700’s, since his father’s family emigrated from England to New York in the late 17th century after suffering “…the abuse of the rude rabble…” for being Quakers – Samuel Willis wasn’t born until 1704.)
Who was Samuel Willis?
The Internet is somewhat helpful, but there are an awful lot of Samuel Willises out there! I’ve had to narrow down the search somewhat, by adding modifiers like “Long Island,” but there still seems to be a web of possible connections.
Samuel Willis was apparently a Quaker, and may have attended both the Jericho and Westbury Friends meetings. In 1702, his father, William Willis, sold the Society of Friends 3 ½ acres of land (for 4£) upon which the current Westbury meeting house was built.
The younger Willis was a prominent and industrious member of the Society of Friends. From the Friends Intelligencer, 1757: “…Benjamin Smith is to be reasonably paid for his trouble in helping Samuel Willis to record Friends sufferings….”
Curious preoccupation, that – recording Friends sufferings. He must’ve been suffering for some time himself, because according to the Friends Intelligencer in 1762, “…it being very tedious to write on Monthly Meeting days in the winter season and the house being cold Samuel Willis is to get a good stove.”
I imagine that the cold was not a problem for him at home, though, since it appears that Samuel Willis was rather wealthy, definitely in land, possibly in more liquid assets. The Records of the towns of North and South Hempstead, Long island, New York [1654-1880] contain quite a few listings with his name, and all run like this:
“…Appear by Certain Deed or Deeds under the hand and Seal of the Said Samuel Willis bearing equal date with these presents the Recipt of Said Deed or Deeds for Certain Salt Meadow Last Mentioned they the Said Nathaniel Seaman Jacob Seaman Thomas Seaman & Samuel Seaman doth Each of them Acknowledge and themselves therewith fully satisfied Contented & fully paid and thereof and of every part and parcell thereof they and each & every of them forever by these presents have granted bargained Sold Conveyed and Confirmed and by these presents do fully freely Clearly and absolutely grant Bargain Sell Convey and Confirm unto him the Said Samuel Willis his heirs and assigns forever the Cited Lott of Meadow and a small peice of upland Lying on the Said Neck of Newbridge…”
Aside from the creative spelling and befuddling language, notice that there is not one single punctuation mark of any kind! The whole volume seems to be constructed this way… and I thought legal papers of today were hard to decipher!
I guess this didn’t bother Mr Willis very much, as not only was he a man of means, but he was better educated than most of his neighbors and was much consulted and looked up to. He was esteemed as a surveyor and mapmaker. Below is a copy of his signature, from a 1770 map prepared by him.
Although Samuel seems to have lived most of his adult life in the environs of Westbury, he (or a close relative) invested in property elsewhere, even outside the state. The town of Williston, Vermont, was chartered on June 7, 1763, when “…Gov. Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire granted 20,000 acres of land to Samuel Willis, a wealthy Quaker from Long Island…” for whom the town is named. (These days, that Williston has the distinction of leading the state in retail sales (2007), being home to a large number of big-box stores, including Wal-Mart; Home Depot; Bed, Bath and Beyond; Petsmart; Staples and Best Buy. I wonder if Mr. Willis would approve.)
Samuel Willis also made some influential personal alliances, the most notable being the marriage of three of his ten children to three children of Adam and Phebe (Willets) Mott. His great-grandson James Mott married Lucretia Coffin, who as Lucretia Mott, was recognized as a preeminent abolitionist and tireless crusader for women’s rights in the 1800’s.
To be continued….