The Mast-Head: Scuttle Hell

The frontier between the two “plantations,”

Long-ago Bridgehampton was wild. And by wild I don’t mean the wolves, slander lawsuits, and dispossessing the native people that kept the English colonists elsewhere busy. What set Bridgehampton apart from the more staid village centers in East Hampton and Southampton was its remoteness.

Set away from the sharp eye of the magistrates by half a day’s ride on the frontier between the two “plantations,” as they were known, standards of behavior might have been, shall we say, loose.

Exhibit A has to be John Wick, who settled in Bridgehampton by about 1695 and ran the tavern and inn. Wick was said perhaps to be a murderer; peddlers might check in for the night but never check out. He also was among the leading men of the time, which might or might not be related to his homicidal tendencies.

His Bull’s Head Inn had a bar in its front room where rum was dealt out, a “short horn” two fingers deep, a “long horn” four fingers deep, and for a “good stiff horn” they put on the thumb. They used to say there had been rum enough in that room to float a 74-ton sloop. The rum, from Boston, would be landed at Northwest, and carted; Sag Harbor was still a salt meadow, years away from becoming a port.

Sometime later, legend is that Scuttle Hole, a glacial swampy pond, got its name when a peddler reported having to scuttle like a crab off his wagon as its wheel sank in the muck. One thing led to another, and the bog’s person-grabbing nature was memorialized in verse, which I share below.

The Curse of Scuttle Hole

Beware all strangers where you roam
Or leave the tranquil bliss of home;
Ne’er at the peril of your soul,
Plant foot in cursed Scuttle Hole.
May Scuttle Hole not a blessing know,
While water runs or grass shall grow;
But evils fall as fast they can
On ground accursed by God and man.
The judgment day is rolling ’round,
And Scuttle Hole shall hear the sound
Of demons, who shall ring the knell.
And Scuttle Hole go down to Hell.