Willets Customs House Records
The Willets Customs House Records consist of materials generated by and related to the Port of Delivery in Cold Spring Harbor, New York between 1848-1874. These records illustrate the growth of the coastwise shipping industry on Long Island and is primarily made up of licenses and enrollments for vessels registered in the port of Cold Spring Harbor. In addition to documents related to licensing the vessels, the collection also contains material related to marine insurance and the internal administration of the Cold Spring Harbor Custom House.
Cold Spring Harbor was registered as a port of delivery for the United States Customs Service in 1799 and operated first in the general store/post office, then in a separate building until the Cold Spring Harbor Customs House was dissolved when the Customs Services were reorganized in 1901.
The custom house was responsible for enrolling and licensing ships, at the time primarily for fishing and trading, and for clearing ships sailing from the port. The port supported a variety of related trades in Cold Spring including a lumber yard, coopery, and two wharves.
Jacob Cole Hewlett (1800-1879) was the son of Judge Divine Hewlett and Anne Coles. He married Elizabeth Hewlett Jones (1798-1869) in 1828 and they had four children.
Hewlett held several public offices during his lifetime, most notably Surveyor of the Cold Spring Harbor Customs House from ca. 1848-1878. As was the practice at the time, Hewlett brought many of the records that he worked on as Surveyor home when he retired.
The Customs House burned down shortly after Hewlett’s retirement, in the 1880’s, and the records in the Whaling Museum’s archives appear to be the only surviving records from the Cold Spring Harbor Customs House.
These papers were passed on through the Hewlett family to Mrs. Phoebe Elizabeth Hewlett Willets, who donated the material to the Whaling Museum as the Willets Custom House Records.
Phoebe Elizabeth Hewlett Willets (born 1871) was the daughter of Walter Restored Hewlett (1839-1904) and Henrietta Muhl (1866-1844). She married Joseph Hewlett Willetts in 1906 and was a dedicated historian of Cold Spring Harbor. Willets was a founding member of the Preservation Society of Cold Spring Harbor and she collected and preserved the Willets Custom House Records, the Willets Collection, and the Hewlett Collection before these collections were donated to the Whaling Museum.
Willets was one of Jacob C. Hewlett’s granddaughters, much of the material in the Willets & Hewlett collections are related to this branch of the Hewlett family.
Note: Although the Cold Spring Post Office added “Harbor” to the town’s name in 1826 to avoid confusion with the upstate New York town of Cold Spring, the residents of Cold Spring Harbor referred to the town as “Cold Spring” for the majority of the nineteenth century.
Scope of Collection
The Willets Customs House Records are primarily made up of licenses and enrollments for vessels registered in the port of Cold Spring Harbor. In addition to documents related to licensing the vessels, the collection also contains material related to marine insurance and the internal administration of the Cold Spring Harbor Custom House.
The Willets Customs House Records are arranged in 4 series:
Oversize Material - Licenses and Enrollments: Oversized Licenses and Enrollments for various vessels registered at the Port of Cold Spring Harbor. These documents are arranged by document type then chronologically by vessel.
Individual Vessel Records: Records and correspondence for various vessels registered at the Port of Cold Spring Harbor. These documents are arranged alphabetically by vessel then chronologically.
Blank Documents: Oversized blank documents printed for the Cold Spring Harbor Custom House, arranged by function.
Bound Volume of Custom House Records: Custom House Records from 1848-1860, bound in a single volume
Scope and Content Source:
Jones, John H. The Jones Family of Long Island. Tobias A. Wright, NY, 1907.
Schmitt, Frederick P. Mark Well the Whale! Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1971.