You see, a visit to Tod’s Point is also a return to the very origins of Greenwich itself, since it was at this spot that the first settlers landed and purchased the land from the Sinoway Indians which would eventually be known as Sound Beach, or Old Greenwich. They bought it for what in hindsight turned out to be a steal: 25 coats. The Indians, as usual, got the short-end of the deal, but they wouldn’t realize that until later when it was too late.
The agreement was settled by Daniel Patrick, Robert Feake and Elizabeth Fones Feake. They are considered to be the founders of the town. Instead of a majestic moment of burying a flag in the sand in the name of king and country by a crew of courageous explorers, it appears the arrival at Greenwich was carried out rather unceremoniously by small group of misfits in search of freedom from the restraints of the puritanical New Haven Colony. In other words, they were social outcasts.
Elizabeth Fones Feake’s story is particularly interesting. She was the former daughter-in-law of John Winthrop. According to the story, his son Henry, her husband, knocked her up in the backyard of her home in England and then was sent off to Massachusetts to get his act together, leaving her behind in England due to her pregnancy. When she finally crossed the ocean to join him she discovered that he had drowned in a river.
Not long after that, John Winthrop arranged for a marriage between her and Robert Feake, a man who owned a lot of land in New England but who was also considered by many to be off his rocker. He was often stricken by fits in the middle of the night and had a feeble character. A real oddball. Winthrop had never been very fond of Elizabeth to begin with, so maybe this was his way of getting even.
The couple had been living in the New Haven Colony until they were pushed out not only because he was a lunatic, but also because their servant was suspected of witchcraft, which was certainly a handicap in the household in early Colonial America. So, they picked up and went down the Long Island Sound until they moored on the shores of Greenwich and started a new life there.
The Dutch were also in those parts and a few years later claimed the territory of Old Greenwich to be theirs; this was all right with the settlers as they felt more at ease under Dutch rule, since the colony of New Netherlands had a reputation for being laid back morally. Even back then, they were known for having all the fun. In fact, it is quite possible that the Dutch had explored there previously.
Elizabeth was a strong-willed woman and led a hard-fought life. She had plenty of children and worked diligently. She owned land, fended off Indians, built a new life until Robert finally took the big plunge off the deep end and abandoned his family. She marries again without getting divorced and nearly is hanged for it. The couple moved to New Netherlands to avert trouble. There they start up a new life only to have their house burned down by the Indians. They start yet anew in an area what is now Flushing, New York, where she eventually died. Has all the makings of a good romantic historical novel, right? Well it is. In 1958, the life of this extraordinary and determined woman was turned into a book called The Winthrop Woman, by Anne Seyton. It was very successful.
Elizabeth’s legacy lasted a long time in town. For many years, Greenwich Point was known as Elizabeth’s Neck. And the house where her first daughter lived, the Thomas Lyon House, still stands and is claimed to be the oldest in town.
But Tod’s Point was where it all began. The first sand castle, the first sunburn, the first fishing, the first meals, the first music, the first bonfire, the first drinking and probably the first sexual act took place there. Many of the foundations of modern beach life, if you think about it. I wonder if the Greenwich Historical Society has this on record somewhere. In 1730 the point was sold to the Ferris family, not of the wheel fame I understand, and it stayed that way until 1883, when it was purchase again by a man named J. Kennedy Tod, not of the political fame as I understand, but rather a banker from New York. The Tod family took the property and turned it into an estate called Innis Arden in honor of the family’s Scottish roots. Though the main mansion itself unfortunately burned down many years ago, much of what we see today is thanks to him. Other structures, like the old stone buildings, a number of the sheds and even a chime tower still stand as relics of that past.
The property was then transferred to the Presbyterian Hospital of New York, of all places, in 1940 and then sold to the town for $550,000 in 1944, on the promise it would take good care of it, which it did. It turned it into the municipal beach for Greenwich residents. Only for residents.
It was this last decision that would bring Greenwich and its beach, once again, to the national forefront, and once again, for all the wrong reasons.