It is always interesting, at least to this history buff, how there are people in our past that were very popular, very well known, respected, and written about often, but who then seemingly disappear. Perhaps their descendents still revere them and speak of them. Or perhaps there are none. Or they may not know what their ancestors achieved in their lifetime. Whichever the case, today’s hero seems to fit that scenario.
Nathan D. Petty was a well revered attorney in Riverhead. He may or may not have attended Columbia University – but maybe just Princeton, accounts vary – served as a state legislator, Suffolk County DA, and was Surrogate of Courts at Riverhead for twelve years. It was said that not one of his decisions was ever reversed, which most of us cannot even manage in a restaurant. He was appointed as Assistant Assessor at Internal Revenue by President Grant, a title he retained till it was dissolved four years later. During his time in the Assembly, it was noteworthy that he voted against the dissolution of the Narrowsburgh Home Association, an act which failed in the Senate. Stand up if you have any vague clue what that is even about.
One of the best things to Mr. Petty’s credit? He hailed from Good Ground!
Born on his father’s farm in 1842, he was the son of Harriet Dickerson and Charles Petty. With his parents being from Red Creek and Moriches respectively, he had very long roots in our area.
He attended Good Ground School, then attended the select schools at Cutchogue and Riverhead. For those unfamiliar with the term, this would be a private school – and quite possibly a boarding school, given the challenges of travel in the mid 1800s. On his route to becoming a “man of scholarly attainments,” he went from there to a variety of places: a “seminary” in New Hampshire, an “institute” in New Jersey, Eastman’s Commercial College in Poughkeepsie, then Princeton – or Columbia – and last but not least, Albany School of Law.
To some, all of this education seems to be a bit in excess. On the other hand, those of us who came of age during the 1960s might suspect that someone coming of age in the 1860s might have been looking for ways to avoid a very bloody civil war that was going on at the time. That is not necessarily the case, but if Petty does have any descendants still living around here, that comment should flush them out.
It was during his time at Princeton that he took a break from his education, heading to the political stump to campaign for presidential hopeful Abraham Lincoln.
After graduating, he returned to Good Ground and opened a law office. A few years later he moved his office to Riverhead, where the legal field was probably busier given the courts there.
He married Cornelia Raimon of Newtown (not our Newtown, Elmhurst) in 1865. The couple had three sons Charles W., Nathan O., and Raimon. Nathan O. followed in his father’s (legal? judicial?) footsteps. Raimon became a dentist in Riverhead. The best that we could scrape up on Charles W. was that he lived in Brooklyn, but his obit has more about his father and brothers than him. The family is buried in Riverhead Cemetery.
Mrs. Petty was no slouch. Well, given women’s clothing at the time, she couldn’t slouch, but it seems she was a pretty good bowler, even at the age of 72! Who knew bowling had even been around that long?
It is a bit of a challenge to realize that it was common for local people to “vacation” in the next town over, but apparently the Pettys did. The towns have not moved, so why would one need to vacation in a place we could drive to repeatedly in one day and still have time left over.
Petty died on the last day of 1917, just a little bit beyond living memory. Perhaps there are some around here who, just barely, remember the sons. But here is a man of learning and political success who actually has a Wikipedia entry and lived in this town, yet we who are charged with maintaining our history only stumbled upon him by accident. This is probably the fate of most of us, with a headstone and some obscure records someplace to mark our existence. After those who knew us pass on themselves, we become lost in the historical fog.