• Laurie Collins

The Story of Sterry Stone

Updated: Aug 18

Robert Sterry – born (1783?) Providence RI, Graduate of Brown University 1801, US Army 1808


Major Robert Sterry had nothing to do with the history of Southampton until he died aboard the Ship Helen when it was wrecked off the coast of Southampton in 1820. That is when he became a permanent part of Southampton’s history. In 2009 we were told that the Sterry stone was not worth saving. This story is a tribute to all the volunteers who have been working hard to restore the old cemeteries in Southampton Town.


June 16, 1815 – A committee of prominent NY men sent a letter to President James Madison recommending Major Robert Sterry, age 32, of the United States Army, for appointment of consul to the Island of Madeira. He was educated for the bar and had served in the army for seven years. So began the career of Maj. Robert Sterry as a US diplomat.


January 17, 1820 – The “Helen”, a merchant ship bound for NY from France, ran into a fierce gale and was wrecked off of Southampton, NY. The six crewmen at the forecastle end of the vessel were saved. Eight officers and passengers were lost. Including the captain, Capt. Huguet, and a passenger Maj. Robert Sterry a US diplomat.


The story of the “Helen” has been written about in several local history books over the years. Books on board the Helen bound for the West Point Library eventually washed ashore and were found by a woman from Sag Harbor and reached their destination exactly one year later.


Pre 2006 – Clement M. Healy spent several days at the Southampton History Museum doing research. His book “South Fork Cemeteries” was published in 2006. In 1820 Maj. Robert Sterry was buried in the North End Cemetery in Southampton. In Mr. Healy’s book there is a picture of the Sterry Stone standing upright. The inscription clearly reads, “Sacred to the Memory of Major Robert Sterry, who was wrecked and lost with the Ship Helen, Jan. 17, 1820, aged 37 years.”


August 22, 2009 – An email was sent to the Southampton Museum from Jason Vorderstrasse, Global Affairs Officer, US Dept. of State. Mr. Vorderstrasse was inquiring about the Sterry stone. He was in the process of researching the lives of various US diplomats who had died in the line of duty. I went to the North End Cemetery in search of the stone with the help of Clement Healy’s picture. I found the stone pushed over. The inscription was barely visible. Mr. Vorderstrasse was distressed when he heard about the condition of the stone. He began looking into the possibility of getting government funding to have the stone restored. I contacted John Griffin who was involved in the restoration of the North Sea Cemetery at the time. I asked him to use his resources to find out how much it would cost to restore the stone. In the meantime Mr. Griffin propped the stone up and marked it to prevent further damage.


June 2012 – Mr. Vorderstrasse notified me that the government had denied his request for money to fund the restoration of the stone. For two more years the stone’s future was in limbo.


August 2014 – John Griffin notified me that Dennis Delaney had restored the stone to its upright position and it would soon be cleaned. Mr. Delaney, a volunteer, has spent many, many, many hours repairing stones in the North End Cemetery.


For 200 years the body of Maj. Robert Sterry has laid to rest on a small piece of Southampton real estate. All alone with no family nearby, he is resting among the early settlers of Southampton.


Elizabeth Sterry (b. 1812 d. 1885), daughter of Maj. Robert Sterry married Jeremiah Halsey Pierson who is connected to the founding families of Southampton.

The Sterry Stone is located in the North End Burying Ground right where North Sea Road and North Main Street meet in Southampton Village

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