The Town of Southold is one of ten towns in Suffolk County, New York, United States. It is located in the northeastern tip of the county, on the North Fork of Long Island. The population was 21,968 at the 2010 census. The town also contains a hamlet named Southold, which was settled in 1640.
Southold was settled in 1640 and in most histories is reported as the first English settlement on Long Island in the future New York State. Lion Gardiner established a manor on Gardiners Island in East Hampton a year earlier in 1639. The Dutch colonists, who had arrived earlier, had settled Fort Orange (later renamed Albany] by the English) in 1615 and at New Amsterdam (later renamed Manhattan) in 1625.
English Puritans from New Haven Colony in Connecticut settled in Southold on October 21, 1640. Under the leadership of the Reverend John Youngs, with Peter Hallock, the settlement consisted of the families of Barnabas Horton, John Budd, John Conklin, William Wells, John Tuthill, Thomas Mapes, Richard Terry, Matthias Corwin, Robert Akerly, Zachariah Corey, Isaac Arnold, and James Haines. They had purchased the land in the summer of 1640 from the group of Indians related to the Pequot of New England, who lived in the territory they called Corchaug (now Cutchogue). Settlers spelled the Indian name of what became Southold as Yennicott.
New Haven supervised Southold until 1662, and it was under the Connecticut Colony until 1674. Both colonies sought to establish the town as a theocracy. New Haven did not permit other churches to operate at all, while Connecticut allowed freedom of religion.
When the Dutch took control of the colony of New York in 1673, the eastern towns, including Southold, East Hampton and Southampton, refused to submit; the Dutch attempted to force the matter by arms, and the colonists of the towns repelled them, with assistance from Connecticut. When New York was retaken by the English in 1674, these eastern towns preferred to stay part of Connecticut. Although Connecticut agreed, the government of James, Duke of York forced the matter for them to be part of the Province of New York. Governor Sir Edmund Andros threatened to eliminate the residents' rights to land if they did not yield, which they did by 1676. The Duke of York had a grudge against Connecticut. New Haven had hidden three of the judges who sentenced his father King Charles I to death in 1649.
The town called as its second minister a Harvard graduate from Hingham, Massachusetts, Rev. Joshua Hobart, son of Rev. Peter Hobart. The latter was the founding minister of Old Ship Church, the nation's oldest church in continuous use. Rev. Joshua Hobart was installed in 1674 and served until his death in 1717, when he was 88 years old. Rev. Hobart's brother Josiah was one of the earliest settlers and initial trustees of East Hampton, Long Island, as well as High Sheriff of Suffolk County.
The name Southold is believed to be an elision of Southwold, a coastal town in the corresponding English county of Suffolk. John Youngs, the minister who was one of the founders of the Town, was born and brought up in Southwold, Suffolk, England. Youngs was a member of St. Margaret's Church in nearby Reydon. Within the Town's limits is an area known as Reydon Shores, perhaps a reference to the Reydon, England known by Youngs. The Town's name also may refer to a "holding" to the south [of New Haven]), from whence the original settlers hailed.
In 1650, the population of Southold was about 180, growing to 880 by 1698. The harbor at Greenport was important in trade, fishing, and whaling, because it rarely froze over. Settlers developed the interior land for agricultural purposes.
In the late 19th century, the Long Island Railroad extended its line on the North Shore to Greenport, and summer vacationers would travel to the destination by train. Due to the light on the North Fork from water on both sides, the area attracted many artists, including William Merritt Chase.
Long used for potato farming, in the late 20th century, large areas of the North Fork were redeveloped as vineyards. This area of Long Island has developed a respectable wine industry. In November 1994, the village of Greenport voted to abolish its police department and turn responsibility for law and order over to the Southold Town Police.