Real Estate has always played a significant and sometimes controversial role in Southampton’s history. Recently, prosperity and demand has put significant pressure on land values, pitting the need for more intense development with the desire to maintain the historical character of the Village. Fortunately, Captain Pierson’s home has been preserved.
The history of the Pierson House goes back to the founding of Southampton. After the first English settlers arrived in 1640, they divided the land that originally comprised the Southampton land grant. One of the largest property owners was Edward Howell, considered to be the father of Southampton colony. Other early settlers with significant property included Thomas Sayre, William Rogers and Henry Pierson. Edward Howell’s property included land located at the south east corner of the intersection of what eventually became South Main Street and Jobs Lane. It was here that Howell built his second house in 1648, although Edward apparently never moved in. Edward died in 1655 and his widow, Eleanor, remained in another house on the property with her son Edmund. Another interesting aspect of Southampton’s history is the close connection between the founding families. After Edward’s death, Eleanor may have married her neighbor, Thomas Sayre.
Around 1700, Howell‘s property was subdivided, with the South portion going to Edward‘s grandson Mathew. The property remained in Mathew Howell’s family until 1748 when Stephen Reeves bought the 8-acre family lot for ￡165 (roughly the equivalent of 36,800 today or approximately $51,000). Although Stephen’s father, Thomas, was not an original settler (arriving in Southampton around 1670), the Reeves family arrived in Southold about 1640. Stephen’s son, also named Stephen, married Mary Howell, a descendent of Edward Howell, in 1759. Stephen and Mary elected to remain in Southampton during the British occupation in 1776 and he may have helped British soldiers. Whether they were not welcome when the evacuated Southampton patriots returned after the war or perhaps were looking for new adventure, Stephen and Mary moved West in the early 1790’s to the area that became Palmyra, New York, with several other families from Southampton. The property remained in the Reeves family until 1836, when Elizabeth Reeves married Captain Philetus Pierson (a descendent of Southampton settler, Henry Pierson).
As befitting a successful whaling captain, Philetus and Elizabeth tore down the original Howell house in 1840 and built a new Greek Revival house at 49 South Main Street. In 1854 the Pierson’s daughter, Harriet, married Captain Jetur Rogers, a Southampton whaling captain like her father. Jetur was a descendent of William Rogers, another founder of Southampton. Jetur’s family home was the Rogers Mansion, a property now managed by the Southampton History Museum. When Jetur and Philetus were at sea for long voyages, Harriet would stay with her mother at 49 South Main Street rather than with her mother-in-law at the Rogers Mansion. After Philetus and Elizabeth Pierson passed away, Harriet’s brother, James, inherited 49 South Main Street. James had no family of his own, so Harriet moved in full time with her brother. Eventually, Jetur and Harriet made 49 South Main Street their home too.
More recently, Captain Pierson’s house was the residence of the artist Fairfield Porter and his wife, Anne Elizabeth Porter. In 1949, the Porters moved to Southampton and their new home became the inspiration for many of Porter's landscape and family portrait paintings. Fairfield Porter died in Southampton on September 15, 1975 at age 68.
Anne Porter often posed for her husband’s paintings, using their kitchen, living room or backyard as the setting. After Fairfield’s death, Anne moved to Hampton Bays, where she focused on her childhood passion of writing poetry. One collection of her poems, An Altogether Different Language: Poems 1934-1994, (published when she was 83) was named a finalist for the National Book Award. She continued to write until her death at age 99.