Courtesy East Hampton Library Long Island Collection
WILLIAM WALLACE TOOKER
Algonquist, Author, Artist, Archivist and Photographer
William Wallace Tooker (1848-1917) spent his entire life in Sag Harbor, Long Island. At the age of 5 he began collecting Indian relics, which, by 1895 consisted of nearly 15,000 pieces, one of the largest collections in the United States at that time. As a youth he had inspirations to study at Yale but a serious fall damaged his back and continuing ailments prevented him from attending. Immediately following his 18th birthday on Jan 14, 1865 he joined the William Buch pharmacy as an apprentice. He remained dutifully employed there until 1869 when, apparently interested in art he began as assistant to his grandfather, the established portrait painter, Hubbard L. Fordham. Doubting art as a profession, he once again returned to the pharmacy. This time he was taken in as a full painter. One May 21, 1872 Tooker married Lillia Byram Cartwright and within three years he became the sole owner of the drugstore.
For over twenty years he studied and wrote about Indian tribes that inhabited the Atlantic Coast and was a friend of Stephen Talkhouse, the charismatic Indian from Montauk who contributed to Tookers collection. By 1888 he had become a well-known authority on the Algonquin tribe and their languages. His most involved work was creating an Indian dictionary based on John Elliots Indian Bible of the 1600s. This work became the focal point of his famous and renowned book, Indian Place Names on Long Island. To this day it is considered the foundation for Algonkian etymology. His extensive knowledge of the Indian culture was respected in the highest intellectual communities.
Tooker House on Hampton Street
Sometime in the early 1880s he discovered the camera as a means of documentation. Photographing mostly landscapes and historic buildings he accumulated some 88 photographs by 1898. Eighty of his original glass plate collection are still in existence and are in the private collection of Kevin J. McCann of Healdsburg, California, formerly a long-time resident of Montauk, New York. The other eight were destroyed in a fire on July 27, 1977 at the Peter Beard Windmill residence in Montauk. Included in this collection are 15 images of the windmills of eastern Long Island, a rare collection in itself. These photographic glass plates, many in very good condition, are considered some of the earliest known records of eastern Long Island.
The Metaphysical Man
Tooker was a metaphysical man. Herman Melville, in the first chapter of Moby Dick, Loomings eloquently philosophizes about the meaning of life offering rationale that mans subconscious attraction to the meditative magic of water lures people to where their can see their own image in the waters reflection. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all. Melville states and invites the reader to take any path for it will always lead to water and to prove his point he suggests Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. He describes the metaphysical professor But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. And here is Tooker the metaphysical professor of Paumanack (See below). An instinctively inquisitive character that pondered about his existence from an early age and spent much of his life searching for explanations. Many times and for many years with horse and buggy, and always with friends, explored the surrounding landscape seeking answers to better understand himself in his worldview. As evidenced by his photography, Indian artifact collections, manuscripts, books, explorations, drawings and poetry he had an uncanny and seemingly predictive sense of what history was and proceeded to record it for posterity.
Paumanack is an Indian place name interpreted by Tooker meaning land of tribute. With Sag Harbor centrally located it is the last portion of Long Island east of Shinnecock and the area where he photographed.
Maragret Oliva Sage, A Savior Appears in the Desert
In December 1909, William Wallace Tooker at age 64, a respected authority on the Algonquin language and place names, writer, artist, archivist, businessman and community member was apparently in dire financial straits. Because of a chronic illness he sold his pharmacy business, then he sold his extensive Indian artifact collection in 1901 for $3000. Still working on a number of voluminous manuscripts he was doing what he could to do to financially survive. He struggled to complete his life long work on Indian place names and other related manuscripts when tragedy struck with the death of his cherished wife Lillian at the age of 49. Married 34 years the couple had no children. Fortunately, Tooker enjoyed the benefit of concerned friends and associates.
To Tooker, Maragret Olivia Sage, must of seemed like a savior in the desert wasteland of life. Mrs. Sage, the widow of industrialist, financier, business magnate and railroad baron Russell Sage was 81 and ill herself. In 1906 after Russell Sage's death she inherited an estimated $50-$65 million making her one of the richest women in America. Her mission was to make society a better place and donated millions of dollars to universities, colleges, high schools, and libraries and was a champion of women and social causes. She was a world-class philanthropist whose generosity and vision continues to this day.
Among her many residences she lived in Sag Harbor, New York in what is now the Whaling Museum. As referenced in The East Hampton Star, 12/17/1909 Mrs. Sage who had known Tooker and employed his services as an agent, was encouraged by her brother Colonel Joseph Jermain Slocum to help fund Tooker so that he could finally publish his life's work. She set up a small foundation to pay for stenographers and nursing aids to assist Tooker in finishing his book. Indian Places Names on Long Island was published in 1911 and dedicated to Margaret Olivia Sage. Tooker died in 1917 and Mrs. Sage in 1918.
This website only introduces Oliva Sage because of her relationship and funding of Tooker to complete his book. However, the funding had nothing to do with Tooker's photography collection. The story of the photography collection is referenced in The Collection page of this website.
Margaret Olivia Sage (1828-1918) was a fascinating woman who lived an extraordinary life. She was a descendent of Myles Standish, the military commander of Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony and signer of the Mayflower Compact. She was born into privileged life as daughter of Joseph Jermain Slocum and granddaughter the Major John Jermain who fought in the American Revolution. She married Russell Sage in 1869 who was considered one of the wealthiest men in America.
There are a number of books about Margaret Olivia Sage and Russell Sage.