Two centuries ago in January 1821, Henry C. Sleight, a Sag Harbor resident who had served in the War of 1812, founded the Long Island Farmer in Jamaica, Queens, kicking off a long and proud legacy that has evolved into the publication you’re reading today.
The paper Sleight launched changed names, owners, and locations a few times over the years as it went on to chronicle the Island’s historic moments, becoming part of the fabric of the region along the way. Some descendants of Sleight still live on Long Island today — one even delivered the paper when it was a daily in the 1960s and ’70s, unaware of his own ties until this reporter contacted the family.
“I think it’s just unbelievably ironic that I used to deliver that paper,” says Jimmy Pooley, a realtor from Merrick. “My father used to make me read it every day, but I’m sure he didn’t know about this connection either, or he would have mentioned it.”
The Sleight family traces their arrival from the Netherlands to the U.S. during the colonial period, settling in the Hudson Valley, Manhattan, and later Sag Harbor, where they sought to escape the British.
“They were attacked by the British in the War of 1812 and our ancestors…fought off the British and saved their harbor,” says Thom Pooley, Sleight’s great-great-great-grandson, a retired telecommunications and solar energy professional from New Jersey who has extensively researched the family tree. “Very interesting history of the Sleight family and proud to be part of it.”
Born in 1792 and orphaned when he was an infant, Sleight moved to Sag Harbor to live with his widowed grandmother, where he learned the craft of printing before the war.
“On leaving school he entered the printing office of Mr. Alden Spooner, who was then publisher of the Suffolk Gazette, a weekly paper, in Sag Harbor,” but he then was called to fight, his daughter Mary B. Sleight wrote, according to Sleights of Sag Harbor: A Biographical, Genealogical and Historical Record of 17th, 18th, and 19th Century Settlers of Eastern Long Island and the Hudson Valley in the State of New York. “In 1817, after publishing for a time [in Kentucky], in connection with a bookstore, a weekly paper entitled The Messenger he went into the mercantile business with a long-established house, but the next year, owing heavy losses by fire, the firm was obliged to dissolve and he returned to New York. The following year he started the Long Island Farmer.”
Sleight’s forays into journalism did not begin and end with the Farmer. He had also founded what historical accounts describe as the first newspaper in Rochester.
“When his health failed in 1826 he took a trip to the west and, passing through Rochester, was so impressed with the business facilities it offered in its almost unlimited water supply, its central local on the Erie Canal, then just completed, and in the finest of agricultural advantages, that he remarked, ‘All Rochester needs to make it a great manufacturing center is a daily paper to bring it notice to the world,’” Morton Pennypacker wrote in a letter to the editor of The East Hampton Star in 1944. “And it was thus these Long Islanders started at Rochester, N.Y., the first daily newspaper published between Albany and the Pacific Ocean.”
This took some in Rochester by surprise. An attorney named Louis Sibley told Sleight that he had his doubts, according to Sleights of Sag Harbor.
“Why Mr. Sleight, when you talked with us last fall and stated your intention to start a daily paper here, we thought you were rather visionary and doubted your ever carrying it into effect,” Sibley said, according to the book. “Had you then bought real estate here you might have made a fortune by the great rise there has been in prosperity since the starting of your paper.”
He wasn’t the only one in the family to find a calling in journalism. Hon. B.D. Sleight, who owned a newspaper in Sag Harbor called the Corrector, published the first daily newspaper in Suffolk County in 1865, “but the field was too small at the time for its successful continuance,” according to Sleights of Sag Harbor. The book added: His son, H.D. Sleight, “followed in the footsteps of his father in the field of newspaper work.” In addition, Sleights of Sag Harbor was written by Harry Dering Sleight, another journalist in the family, who died in 1933.
And so, the Press continues that proud tradition to this day.
Got a story?
As we continue our We Are Long Island series to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our founding, we ask you, dear readers, to send us your stories and memories of the Press over the years. We look forward to celebrating with you. Email us at [email protected].