East Hampton's library board chairman and former historian is helping to expand its online Long Island history collection containing many one-of-a-kind documents -- by donating all proceeds from his new book.
About $60,000 expected from sales of Tom Twomey's "Origins of the Past" -- a retelling of the founding of Montauk and Gardiner's Island that fills in gaps about the early American Indian presence -- will go toward putting more of the extensive collection online using rigorous Library of Congress cataloging standards, he said.
The book may even figure in settling a century-old legal battle over whether the Montaukett tribe still exists, he said.
Most histories of the Hamptons usually start at Conscience Point, where nine Puritan families from Massachusetts seeking religious freedom landed after crossing Long Island Sound in 1640 and moving to what is now East Hampton, Twomey said. But some accounts leave out the Indians who were there first, he said.
"I had no idea how stressful and violent the early years were," he said. In studying the past, "you get a greater appreciation of how our histories don't get to what actually occurred."
Twomey, 67, an attorney, said he learned his book about the two Southfork communities is what Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) has been looking for to help resolve the Montaukett tribe's legal dispute. He is working on a bill to reverse a 1910 state court ruling that declared the tribe extinct, blocking it from recovering its lands.
"This is great," Thiele said of the book. "It's just what I need . . . there's nothing else like it."
On the library website, there already are about 2,000 items from the history collection. Putting the rest of the extensive collection online will be expensive, an estimated $10 million, and take years, Twomey said, because the East Hampton library catalogs each using the Library of Congress standard.
That has 21 basic classes and thousands of subclasses and categories, and is a much more thorough way of indexing particular documents and their links to other documents and subject categories. But it takes much longer.
All 25,000 items, from etchings and whaling logs to inventories and maps, in the online history collection are indexed that way. That includes a copy of an official inventory, which details all of Captain Kidd's pirate treasure discovered on Gardiner's Island.
"We found it years ago, in the archives of the Royal Navy," Twomey said.
That was the most fun, he said.
Twomey scanned records, gradually discovering where the real history of the two East End hamlets began. He also found unexpected backroom deals, betrayals, trumped-up trials and -- eventually -- a story that has been made so tidy and neat that it has lost most of its meaning, he said.
Twomey hopes the library will help change that.
"That's one of the missions of the East Hampton [library] historical collection . . . to provide the context of our history."
What's in store
The items in the digital collection of the East Hampton library includea wide variety of documents.
* There are logs, most incomplete, of whaling ships that left Sag Harbor and Cold Spring Harbor for waters around the globe, and a letter written on April 3, 1813, to Nathaniel Huntting from Joseph H. Hand, telling him about four ships that had sailed around Montauk Point.
* There is a photograph of Wickham Cuffee, a whaler and the last member of the Shinnecock and Montaukett tribes who was credited with being able to speak in all the dialects of both tribes. * One of the earliest maps of Gardiner's Island, drawn in 1722 when it was still called the Isle of Wight.