Press Release: July 17, 2003
SOUTHOLD, NY. “It is not every day that you come across an artifact like this one,” stated Geoffrey Fleming, Director of the Southold Historical Society. Fleming was referring to a rare Revolutionary War era document recently purchased by the Society.
The document is what is commonly referred to as an “Assignment of Loyalty” that was issued after the conclusion of hostilities in 1783 between Great Britain and the newly formed United States. “It basically acted as a receipt that proved that the family whose name was contained therein had always supported the efforts to establish the United States and therefore did not support the British cause,” stated Fleming.
This was an extremely important document to have, especially if you or your family had been accused of supporting the British during their occupation of Long Island (1776-1783). A person could easily be named a loyalist and become “attainted,” losing all of their civil rights. Most families that supported the British found themselves facing the forfeiture of their property in this manner.
In fact, New York State quickly began to realize the potential for funding the continued American resistance by seizing properties. In 1780 a law was passed that authorized the sale of forfeited land and the State was divided into four districts, each with its own “Commission of Forfeiture.” The law passed in 1780 was followed by a further proclamation in 1784, and in 1799 a special commission was appointed by the State to extinguish all claims made by the heirs of attainted persons.
The document recently purchased by the Society hints at speculation that the family it was issued to, the Conklings, may have been suspected of being loyalists. “This document would have helped to put local fears to rest,” stated Fleming. The document reads as follows:
“These may certify that John Conkling late of Southold deceased was uniformly Attached to the Independence of the United States, And that David Conkling his Son and Administrator always was and still is sincerely and uniformly attached to the Independence of the same since the establishment thereof dated this 7 day of October 1785.”
The document is signed by County Judge William Smith (1720-1799) and by Ezra L’Hommedieu (1734-1811), Freeholder of the Town of Southold. Smith was a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, a Senator, and a Delegate to the 3rd & 4th Provincial Congresses. L’Hommedieu’s signature is notable as he was Southold’s most prominent citizen, a man who served in a number of positions, including as a member of the N. Y. State Assembly, State Senate, and as Regent of the State University. At the time this document was issued L’Hommedieu was also serving as the first clerk of Suffolk County, a position he held from 1784 until 1810.
Little is known about the particular branch of the Conkling family that John and David were members of. What is known is that unlike many residents, they did not flee Long Island after the British Took control in 1776. It appears that they remained in Southold for the duration of the War.
John Conkling was born in Southold in 1688 and died there in February of 1777, in the midst of the War and the British occupation. He married a woman named Desire and had six children, at least five of whom lived to adulthood, including son David. David was born around 1745 and was married to Lydia Moore, also of Southold, on September 20, 1772. David was living in Southold at the time the Assignment of Loyalty was issued, but it is unclear what happened to him after 1785. There is no known gravesite located in Southold associated with him or his wife.
Why David is mentioned in the document is an important insight to the potential gravity of the family’s situation. He is likely mentioned because of his position as the administrator of his father’s estate. Should his father be named a British collaborator it would be extremely likely that he and the other heirs would lose their right to inherit. So, it was vitally important to have both he and his father cleared of any wrongdoing. The Assignment of Loyalty would have helped achieve that.
This rare historical artifact will be available for viewing at the Society’s Archive & Office, located in the Prince Building on Main Road opposite Rothman’s Department Store. The Prince Building is open M-F, 9–3 and by appointment.