Freelove Townsend Jones was the wife of Thomas Jones, and together they were the first European settlers of the Massapequas. Much has been written about Thomas, but Freelove deserves to be highlighted because Thomas would not have received his unique wedding present if he had not married her.
The Townsend family was not the first European family in Oyster Bay, which included all lands from Long Island Sound to the Atlantic Ocean, in what is today eastern Nassau County. The northern part was settled in 1653 by British subjects, following the purchase of most of the land that became the township of Oyster Bay from the Sachem Assiapum. Three Townsend brothers, John, Henry and Richard settled in Oyster Bay in 1661, having moved from Flushing and Jamaica after disagreements with Dutch governors. They may have become Quakers and supported other Quaker settlers. Both the Dutch and later the British hated the recently-formed Quakers because of their scorn for Protestant beliefs and practices. The Townsend brothers doubtless felt more welcome in Oyster Bay because of the presence of other Quakers and the more relaxed attitudes of the British settlers residing there.
John Townsend had several sons, among them Thomas, who had advised his mother Elizabeth to draw up a will to provide for her younger children after John’s death in 1668. The children received property in or near Oyster Bay, while Thomas received money and influence as the holder of several titles: Captain of the Militia, Constable, Surveyor, Recorder and Justice, significant posts in a town that was growing in all directions. Thomas bought a large tract on the southern part of Oyster Bay from Sachem Tackapausha in 1679 and held it for several years. In 1692, he met Thomas Jones in Rhode Island. They became friendly and Jones moved to Oyster Bay in 1695, perhaps to distance himself from his reputation as a pirate or a privateer.
In 1695 Thomas Jones married Thomas Townsend’s eldest daughter Freelove, who was born in 1674. Thomas had wanted his oldest son John to take the southern portion of his land, but he declined, asking “Does my father want me to go out of the world?” Oyster Bay had dozens of houses by this time, on well laid out streets with easy access to Long Island Sound. While there were settlers in neighboring Seaford (from 1643) and Amityville (from 1658), the Massapequas were unsettled. Even the few Native Americans who had lived there were moving away by the late 1600s, aware that they no longer had free access to their land and that they would be replaced by white settlers, by force and bloodshed if necessary, as was happening throughout Long Island.
In this context, Townsend offered the land “out of the world” to Thomas Jones, who was not employed in any easily identifiable occupation at that time. Jones was already the recipient of a house Thomas Townsend had built in Oyster Bay, and Freelove and he settled there after their marriage. There is also a map of the “Town Spot” of Oyster Bay, drawn up around 1700, that shows Freelove’s name on two parcels of land on South Street. In addition to these properties, then, Thomas Jones would become the owner of most of the southern portion of Oyster Bay.
Jones accepted this generous wedding gift, moving south to what was then called Fort Neck and building a brick house on the west side of the Massapequa River, near today’s Merrick Road (then called Kings Highway). Freelove and he settled there and had eight children, six of whom survived to adulthood. We don’t have much information about the way they lived and how difficult it may have been for Freelove, other than the common condition that childbirth was very traumatic, with many children and their mothers dying from the experience. It seems likely that Freelove traveled to Oyster Bay when ready to give birth, because of her extensive family and access to midwives and other helpers. It’s notable that her first child Sarah died in 1696 and was buried in the Clifton Burial Ground in Newport, Rhode Island. The likely connection is that her father Thomas was at that time living in Rhode Island as Newport’s Sheriff.
Thomas Jones prospered in South Oyster Bay, taking on a remarkable number of responsibilities as granted by the English Governor. He also was allowed to conduct whaling operations along the entire south shore, according to a 1710 license granted by Governor Hunter. He and Freelove obviously lived well and were accepted as full members of the community. Freelove, in fact, converted in 1702 from Quakerism to the Episcopal religion, practiced by most English settlers living in Queens County at that time. She remained committed to her new faith and raised her children as practicing Episcopalians.
We know that Freelove and Thomas traveled regularly between their home at Fort Neck and Oyster Bay, and very likely to Newport to visit her father. In one instance, Freelove expressed her thirst as they were traveling from Fort Neck to Cold Spring. Thomas identified a spring with fresh water and collected some from his hat, providing water for Freelove, as well as some for himself and his horse!
Freelove and Thomas made several land purchases in the early 1700s in Oyster Bay hamlet. Thomas Jones died in December 1713, leaving the lion’s share of his property to his wife. She divided her time between Oyster Bay and Fort Neck raising her six children, none of whom were adults. Her oldest, David, was fourteen and her youngest, Elizabeth, was three at the time of their father’s death. In 1715 she married Major Timothy Bagley, an Irishman sent with other British soldiers to defend the colonies against the French. He subsequently became Ranger General and took over Thomas Jones’s whaling operations, securing a license to make oil from captured whales “driven on shore on the south coast of Long Island Sound” (John Henry Jones, The Jones Family of Long Island).
Freelove continued to live well and saw most of her children grow to adulthood. She died in 1726, by which date her youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was sixteen. Thomas had died at 48, Freelove at 52, common life spans in the early 1700s and for people living in a challenging and difficult frontier environment. She was buried next to Thomas, first behind their brick house above Massapequa River (then called Brick House Creek), and later reinterred in 1892 in her current resting place in the Floyd-Jones Cemetery behind Old Grace Church. Her tombstone reads:
Here Lyes Interd The Body of Freelove Bagley Daughter of Captn. Thomas Townsend of Rhode Island First Married to Maj Thomas Jones After His Death To Major Timothy Bagley She Died July 1726