A 1700s House Hides A Scandal

Edie Lester

Every home has history hiding in its rafters. But some more than others. In this case, there are many stories to tell, for the Lester house has been around 250 years.

But there is more: a heinous secret, an unsolved horror that has been heretofore hidden in these walls. Until now: Edie Lester’s new book, “Only Told in Whispers” unravels a century-old mystery.

Lester has mined the rich veins of the family household once before, with her debut book, “A Gift From the Attic,” (2015). In it, she dissected a collection of letters written by her grandmother Elsie Miller during World War II to her daughter and Elsie’s mother, Dottie, who had gone off to war.

Her grandmother, Elsie Miller, who was born in 1890, married Elmer Wood. Their union ended far too soon. “Grandpa died and she died 21 days later,” Lester said matter-of-factly.

“Something kept calling to me, so I went back to that box and started reading. That’s when I fell in love with my grandmother,” Edie said. That’s also when she became exposed to a treasure trove of family dynamics, local yore, and insight into a way of life some in East Hampton still stubbornly try to hang onto.

Her family house stands today on Pantigo Road in a compound of several inhabited by the Lesters. The East Hampton Historical Farm Museum on the corner of North Main and Cedar Streets is another Lester homestead, which Jonathan Bennett built, to become Edie’s house around 1770. It was situated down the road from Ms. Amelia’s cottage, near where the Burberry Nursery is now. Selah Lester bought it when it was 100 years old and moved it west to its current location in 1870.

Selah Lester was the son of Nathan W. Lester from the Round Swamp farm Lesters.

Nathan M. and Catherine Bennett Lester eventually moved into Selah’s house — they were cousins. Soon another cousin, Catherine Sophronia, who had been farmed out to work for George Miller, moved into the homestead.

That’s when the scandal occurred. Catherine had a baby out of wedlock.

“The year was 1861. It changed the lives of everyone involved,” Edie related. “There was no going back.”

“That bastard son was my grandfather,” Edie learned. “The story is about her life leading up to this trial and what happened to her after giving birth,” Edie said of her grandmother.

Still there is much conjecture included in her telling. She had to rely on old newspaper clippings for some of the information and extrapolated the story as needed. But Edie thinks she has accomplished what the courts couldn’t — she’s identified the real father, and surmises Catherine’s rape story may or may not be plausible, but notes that another more intense crime, incest, could have been at play. But that’s for the reader to decide.

Edie will host a book signing at the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum on Saturday, July 13, from 2 to 4 PM. The book will be for sale at the Pantigo Farm Stand, Wittendale’s, and One Stop Market. Her original period artwork will also be available for purchase.

The best way to get a copy of the book if you miss the book signing is by emailing the author at [email protected].

[email protected]

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