By Joe DeBragga

The historic intertwining of the Church of England, the Nicoll family, the Village of Islip in Northamptonshire, England, and the Town of Islip, New York is a fitting prelude to this account of Saint Mark’s Parish but first it is appropriate to acknowledge the following sources from which I have drawn extensively;

“Historic Sketch of St. Mark’s” by the Reverend William H. Garth, Sixth Rector of our Parish

“Fire Island – 1650’s – 1980’s” by Madeleine C. Johnson

“Along the Great South Bay” by our friend and neighbor, Harry W. Havemeyer

Papers of and interviews with the Venerable Jerome J. Nedelka, Eleventh Rector of our Parish

Interviews with members of Saint Mark’s Parish, including William Morris, Wilma Skidmore, William Cook, and Frederic Atwood

 

Long before Islip/New York became a political entity as a minute part of the British Empire in 1683 there was an established community also known as Islip in Northamptonshire/England and its origin can be traced as far back as the 16th Century. At Westminster Abbey in London, where English kings and queens have been crowned since the Middle Ages, there is a sacred section known as the Islip Chapel. This Chapel was constructed under the direction of John of Islip while he was the Abbot of the Abbey from 1500 to 1532. In addition to the Islip Chapel, Abbot John also

completed the Nave of Westminster Abbey and constructed its King Henry VIIth Chapel, its Oak Gallery Pew, and also its Chantry Chapel where he is buried. Abbot John came from the village in Northamptonshire known as Islip. Interestingly enough, in the Islip Chapel of Westminster Abbey you will find curious little drawings in two forms which represent John Islip’s name.

 

This sketch depicts the frieze that runs along the inner and outer walls of the Islip Chapel. One is an eye with a hand holding a branch or a slip: I slip. The other is an eye with a man slipping from a tree branch: I slip.

 

The 17th Century was a troubled time for England as well as for the Church of England. More than a few Englishmen thought the Church of England had become onerous, oppressive, and demanding. Roman Catholic rites and practices which had been abolished by Queen Elizabeth I were once again imposed with no little harshness. By 1633 dissenters – and they were many – started fleeing England. They settled temporarily in The Netherlands from whence they embarked for the New World where in 1635 they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Before long they spread into what is now Rhode Island and Connecticut. Soon after that they crossed Long Island Sound to establish settlements in Sag Harbor, Southold, and East Hampton.

At this same time turmoil abounded in England. Civil war broke out between the Roundheads and the Cavaliers. King Charles I was

beheaded in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell ruled England until his death in 1658. Two years later the English crown was restored to Charles II and – quoting Harry Havemeyer – “. . . a new age of prosperity and overseas settlement began . . .”

 

But not without difficulty . . . Quoting again from Harry Havemeyer, “ . . .early in his reign Charles II had aggravated the worsening relations between England and Holland by granting to his brother James, the Duke of York, the Dutch colony at the mouth of the Hudson River called New Netherland. The grant was accompanied by 4,000 English pounds for its conquest. War erupted at sea and it went badly for the British at first. James, however, was made head of the English Navy and showed himself extraordinarily able at developing English sea power . . . James also decided to secure possession of his newly granted territory in the New World and in 1664 he commissioned an expedition to do so.”

 

James, the Duke of York, appointed Matthias Nicoll II to serve as secretary of that expedition. Matthias’ father, a clergyman in the Church of England lived in that Islip village of Northamptonshire as had seven previous generations of the Nicoll family. This was the same Islip where John, the Abbot of Westminster, had been reared. Matthias II’s son, William Nicoll, was also born in Islip/Northamptonshire in 1657 and it was he – William Nicoll – who was to acquire the land now known as Islip/New York. The historic intertwining of the Nicoll family, the Church of England, and the Northamptonshire village of Islip is a fitting prelude to this account of the Village of Islip/New York and our Parish of Saint Mark’s.


In his comprehensive history of this area, “Along the Great South Bay,” Harry Havemeyer relates that Matthias Nicoll II and his family departed for New England in 1664. Religious refugees they definitely were not. The Nicoll family came here as privileged members of the English establishment to further the interests of the British Crown. William Nicoll did return to England to prepare for a legal career. He also served in the English army and almost died in Flanders. After recovering he returned to America and began his career in law and public service.

 

By 1683 William Nicoll began accumulating land from the Secatogue Indians along the Great South Bay. He received his first patent in 1684. Two more patents followed which increased his holdings to 50,000 acres – approximately 10 square miles – along the bay from what is now Bayport to East Islip as well as all the islands in the bay between Fire Island Inlet and the Connetquot River. William Nicoll is rightly recognized as the ‘father of Islip’, the last of eight English towns settled on Long Island.  It was only natural that he would bestow the name of Islip, his ancestral home in England, upon his extensive holdings along the Great South Bay. And so he did . . . .

 

A Short History of St Mark’s

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