I thought I would share some of the research I’ve conducted about Sag Harbor over the last twenty years. There are many versions of its history, often based on documents that contradict each other. Firstly, when Southampton (founded in 1640) and East Hampton (founded in 1648) were established, Sag Harbor was still an Indian village named Wegwagonock.
On its website, the Town of Southampton has a recorded document of purchasing Wegwagonock from the Indians back in 1664, often referring to it as “the Harbor at Sagg.” The first official mention of “Sag Harbor” as an entity was found in a 1707 document of the Town of East Hampton. Therefore, the accepted date of the founding of Sag Harbor is 1707, making 2023 the 316th anniversary of Sag Harbor. This weekend, many splendid events are planned for HarborFest, including the Whaling Competition.
The whaling tradition of Sag Harbor dates back to the first granting of whaling permits to the original three families of Sag Harbor: James Howell, James Foster, and Nathaniel Fordham. They were given the right to build the first whaling dock right on the wharf in Sag Harbor. The second whaling wharf wouldn’t be built until 1770 and was granted to immigrants from other areas.
According to SH Town documents, James Howell and Nathaniel Fordham Jr. were granted the first legal permission to construct the first “Try House” in 1761, which was used to process whales right in the harbor. From there, the town began to grow. In the early 1800s, the three homes of 1710 had grown to over 100 buildings in town. Additionally, in 1800, there were four working windmills in operation in Sag Harbor. Due to the whaling trade, Sag Harbor eventually became one of the busiest harbors in the world, reaching its peak in the 1840s.
One of my favorite destinations when sailing in Gardiner’s Bay is passing by the Cedar Point lighthouse building. While the lighthouse is no longer functional, it was built at the height of Sag Harbor’s importance in 1839 on what was then Cedar Island. It was constructed on an island between Gardiners Bay, Northwest Harbor, and the Barcelona Banks. The incredible Hurricane of 1938 filled in the space between the island and the mainland. The structure is now known as Cedar Point Lighthouse. It is beautiful to sail by, but it can also be a wonderful Fall hike.
I genuinely hope that everyone takes the time to appreciate the many ways in which the entire east end can transport one back in time. Strolls past historic homes, parks, and bays can ignite the imagination and soothe the soul. There was a time when I delivered newspapers up and down the streets of Sag Harbor just before daylight. No traffic, no people, no crowds. Just peace. I swear, at that time, you can feel the presence of the native Indians. Try it someday.