Many of the first settlers on Long Island were Indians, especially in the Great South Bay vicinity. That is not the case with Sayville, as the Indians disappeared after succumbing to disease. The first settlers in Sayville were the Edwards family, and the head of that family was John Edwards.
His ancestors were originally from England but left there to come to America and ended up in Easthampton, which is where Edwards was born in 1738. By trade he was a tailor, but in 1760 he enlisted in the war. When he returned home after that, he saw the Great South Bay for the first time and became enchanted by its beauty, so he decided to make Sayville his home.
The first house he and his wife, Sarah, had built in Sayville in 1761 was on what is today the corner of Foster Avenue and Edwards Street. But in 1776, Edwards escaped to Connecticut because of the British occupation of Long Island during the Revolutionary War. Once he returned to Long Island, Edwards purchased additional parcels of land from the Nicholl estate trustees for $3 per acre in 1786. Most of that land is what today is the eastern side of Sayville, from Candee Avenue to Green Avenue to Tariff Street.
John and Sarah Edwards raised six children: Sarah, Matthew, Stephen, Catherine, John Jr. and Mary. When the two older sons were grown, Edwards divided his land into three parcels so he could give one parcel to Matthew, one to Stephen and one to keep for himself and his youngest son, John Jr.
When Edwards died at the age of 88 in 1826, he was buried in the family cemetery which is located between Colton Avenue and Foster Avenue. His family then sold his farm and land to Baldwin C. Gordon, who opened a pathway to the Bay which was originally named for him, Gordon Lane, but is today Foster Avenue.
The original Edwards home burned down in 1913. However, his son, Matthew, built a home in 1785 on the land that is now the intersection of Edwards Street and Gillette Avenue. In 1838 Matthew's son, James, moved the home to the intersection of Collins Avenue and Edwards Street where it still remains. The last Edwards family member to live there was Clarissa Edwards, who taught in the Sayville School District. She died in 1948 and left the home and the land to the Sayville Historical Society, along with money to cover the required renovations. Today, the building that is still home to the historical society and the street it is located on, Edwards Street, are two constant reminders of the first family of Sayville. The building also holds the distinction as the oldest one in Sayville.
This is the first in a series on the history of Sayville. In the next edition, we focus on the Greene family.