Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Portrait of William Smith Pelletreau (ca. 1922)
For Southampton historians, William Smith Pelletreau (1840-1918) is revered for preserving town records (his tombstone read “He rescued from destruction the records of his native town and preserved its history for future generations”). William, of the Pelletreau silversmith family, was born in Southampton on July 19, 1840. A graduate of the Southampton Academy, he was elected town clerk in 1861. It was during his time as town clerk that he recognized the need to preserve the hand-written official documents of the town. The patient work of Pelletreau (and his colleagues) resulted in the eight-volume Records of the Town of Southhampton, (the first volume published in 1874 ) and Early Long Island Wills of Suffolk County, 1691-1703 (published in 1897). William’s other works include Records of the Town of Smithtown (1898) and Early New York Houses (1900).
William’s interest in historical documents also had a personal financial aspect. Although not one of the original settlers of Southampton, the Pelletreau family (arriving in Southampton in 1717) became one of the town’s elite land owners (known as proprietors). In his position as a proprietor, William played a complicated and sometimes controversial role in balancing the property rights of the proprietors, the town and the wealthy newcomers from New York City.