Around the Island

History sleuths work on solving a mystery: Where did Jonathan Nicoll Havens live?

BY KAREN KIAER

In preparation for the second Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) self-guided July 4th tour of the historic Presbyterian Cemetery, DAR members Honorary Regent Joy Bowditch-Bausman and I, Karen Kiaer as historian, are researching the locations of our patriots and early Island families’ homesteads. 

The bulk of the historic burying ground headstones and tabletops at the cemetery were restored and identified by the DAR in a 2015 preservation project with a grant provided by the DAR’s National Society and generous contributions from the community. However, finding the 18th Century houses, or remnants of them, has been challenging.

On a bright May morning, we successfully matched most headstone patriot names with their respective houses. However, Jonathan Nicoll Havens (1747-1799), who was the grandson of the first Havens settler, George Havens, didn’t have an accurately listed homestead. 

That challenged me to drive to Congdon Road the following day to look for what was simply called the “old house.”

I started walking and peering up all the driveways. Suddenly my eye caught a glimpse of an 18th century house at the end of an unpaved driveway, hidden by talk oak trees. I proceeded hesitantly up the driveway. Even before hearing the voice of the owner who was planting in her garden, I knew — this was Jonathan’s house.

After I introduced myself as harmless DAR interloper, the homeowner, Kerry Kinney, confirmed this was Jonathan’s house, albeit restored and renovated. She explained that after the original house suffered a fire, a new house was built with material salvaged from the fire. “Would you like to see the inside of Jonathan’ s house?” she asked

Looking at the original beams in the attic and beautifully retrofitted beams on the first floor of the house was mesmerizing — and a privilege. 

When I notified the Shelter Island Historical Society about locating the Jonathan Nicoll Havens homestead, Edward Shillingburg, a research historian, called and told me that he considered Jonathan Nicoll Havens to be the “historic rock star of Shelter Island.”

In addition to serving 10 years in the New York State Assembly and four years in Congress, Jonathan served as town clerk, supervisor, and justice of the peace.

The Shelter Island DAR invites everyone to attend the Second DAR July 4th self-guided tour located in the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church Colonial Burying Ground. Handouts will be provided showing where the Patriots and European settler families are buried, as well as information noting the locations of their respective Island homes, including our recent confirmation of the rock star’s home on Congdon Road.

The final resting place and ‘table-top’ monument of Jonathan Nicoll Havens in the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church cemetery. (Credit: Courtesy photo)