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Elias Pelletreau: Southampton Silversmith and American Patriot

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Elias Pelletreau of Southampton was the most important silversmith ever on Long Island. Not only was he an exceptional craftsman whose work is as eagerly sought today as it was in his own time, he lived a very interesting life in colonial and Revolutionary America.

Pelletreau (1726-1810) was the son of a Huguenot (French Protestant) who settled in New York at the end of the seventeenth century. The elder Pelletreau dealt in whalebone and to that end, moved to Southampton, where Elias was born. Elias was apprenticed to a New York silversmith when he was 15; after his indenture was over, Pelletreau got married and set up on his own. In 1750 he and his wife moved to Southampton where Pelletreau opened the Pelletreau silver shop, which is still in existence and still is a working smithery.

Pelletreau was influenced by the various styles of the 18th and 19th centuries, including baroque, rococo and then neoclassical. His work includes flatware, porringers, tankards, teapots and even rattles for babies. Pelletreau kept careful accounts so that we can trace the provenance of many pieces today, and he was patronized by the wealthy from Long Island and New York City. Or even the temporarily financially embarrassed, such as when Pelletreau lent William Floyd the money to travel to Philadelphia where Floyd signed the Declaration of Independence.

A patriot, Pelletreau was a captain in the Suffolk County militia. While he was too old to serve in the Continental Army, Pelletreau organized a home guard to protect Southampton from British invasion. Of course, the British occupied the East End after the Battle of Long Island in 1776; in response, Pelletreau escaped to Connecticut rather than live under British rule.