Missing historic gravestone returned to Jamesport Cemetery

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | George Penny replaces the footstone of his ancestor Nathan Penny to its rightful location at Jamesport Cemetery Monday as Mattituck historian Norman Wamback watches.

It has been nearly thirty years since the 18th century footstone from Nathan Penny’s grave mysteriously appeared on a back doorstep at the Mattituck-Laurel Historical Society’s Main Road campus. But what was called “the footloose footstone” finally returned to its proper place on Monday with Mr. Penny’s great-great-great-great-great grandson George working the shovel and patting down the soil surrounding it.

“It’s amazing to see it back here after all these years,” said Mr. Penny, a former Southold Town Board member, looking down a now-uninterrupted line of footstones in the Jamesport Cemetery. “I assume that mischievous kids dug it up, but that makes no sense because it’s, pardon the expression, in the dead center of the cemetery.”

Mr. Penny, who has spent years researching his family’s genealogy, called Norman Wamback, the historical society’s curator and historian, to ask for the stone shortly after the Suffolk Times ran an article about it in 2003. But close to a decade passed before Nathan Penny’s headstone was discovered in Jamesport.

“I had no idea where he was buried but found references that said he both lived and was buried in Jamesport,” Mr. Penny said. “My friend Dana Davis knew where the spot was because he had seen it around the time of the article, but we failed to pick up the footstone when we were looking for the spot last week. Once you see the distinguished shape of the footstone, you know to look for a headstone that’s similar, but we didn’t do that. It took us an hour and a half to do it the dumb, old-fashioned way – looking and scratching and scraping.”

The oldest recorded ancestor in Mr. Penny’s genealogy is Nathan Penny’s great-grandfather, John, one of Southold’s original pioneers.

Nathan Penny, George Penny said, is the first of his oldest ancestors that he’s come to know anything about. Mr. Penny has a copy of Nathan Penny’s will, written near his death on May 16, 1768. At that time, what’s now Riverhead was still part of Southold, which extended all the way to Wading River.

In the will, Nathan Penny described himself as being “sick and weak.” He bequeathed his 15 acres of land and buildings, purchased from Ezekiel Petty Jr., to his wife, Mary, and son, Joseph, who became Captain Joseph Penny and had 13 children.

“He basically populated Aquebogue,” Mr. Penny said. “Half of the children went to Hampton Bays, known then as Good Ground. So half of them went to the South Fork and then some of them came over here and settled on the North Fork. That’s when Captain Joseph Jr. went to Greenport and married his cousin, Harmony Squires. George Gilbert, Joseph Jr.’s direct descendent, lived on Shelter Island and married Esther Cheryl Havens, so there’s a whole Havens connection with the Havens House on Shelter Island. That’s my next stop.”

Nathan Penny also had five daughters: Mary, Katharine, Hannah, Esther and Pergis.

“I’ve just got to find out more about him now,” Mr. Penny said after replacing the footstone. “It’s all part of a continuing saga of research. I’ve got to count on people like Norm here to give me more information.”

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