Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Former Supervisor, Town Historian, and Local School Principal John M. Shinn, Pelham Icon, Died in 1936

For an entire week in 1936, the flags on all local civic buildings flew at half staff.  Pelham was in mourning.  It had lost one of its most notable residents, John M. Shinn.  He had served as Town Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, Receiver of Taxes of the Town of Pelham, and as Town Historian of the Town of Pelham.  He chaired the Westchester County Board of Legislators for a number of years and was considered an expert on assessment and equalization issues.  He was the last living Charter Member of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church founded in 1876.  He had founded and served as editor of one of the earliest newspapers established in Pelham, the Republican Record.  He was a Mason who served as Treasurer Emeritus of Winyah Lodge, No. 866, F. & A. M.  He served as principal and schoolmaster of the little one-room schoolhouse that served Pelham Manor and once stood on Split Rock Road.  He was a formally-trained and accomplished artist.  He also was a practicing lawyer.  In short, John M. Shinn was a whirlwind of energy and accomplishment beloved by the entire Town at the time of his death on October 15, 1936. 

I have written about John M. Shinn and his accomplishments on numerous occasions.  For a few examples, see:

Fri., Oct. 10, 2014:  Brief Biography of John M. Shinn, Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, Published in 1903.

Thu., Oct. 29, 2009:  Books of Town Supervisor "Honest John Shinn" Turned Up Short in 1906.  

Mon., February 16, 2009:  Outgoing Town of Pelham Supervisor Embroiled in Dispute Over Town Accounts in 1906

Thurs., October 4, 2007:  Biography of John M. Shinn, Pelham Town Supervisor in Late 19th Century.

Wed., Apr. 20, 2005:  Pelham's First Town Historian?

Photograph Published in 1903. Source: Beach, George O.,
ed., The Daily Eagle's Illustrated History of Mt. Vernon
Embracing a Descriptive History of its Local Government,
Religious, Social and Commercial Institutions, With
Biographical Sketches, p. 89 (Mt. Vernon, NY: Daily Eagle, 1903).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog collects a few of the many obituaries and articles that appeared at the time of the death of John M. Shinn.  Each is followed by a citation and a link to its source.

Artist - Lawyer, Former Official of Pelham, Passes in City

A heart attack yesterday brought to a sudden close the life of John M. Shinn, former supervisor of Pelham, a post he held for 15 years.  He was eighty-seven.

Stricken in the morning at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leslie Brewster Smith, of 259 East Fourth Street, this city, he died at about 5:30 P.M.

Funeral services will be held in Huguenot Memorial Church, Pelham Manor, at 3 P. M. Sunday.  

Mr. Shinn was born in Dubuque, Iowa.  He received elementary education at Waterloo, Iowa, and secondary learning at Hannibal, Mo.  The desire to be an artist drove him into St. Louis in 1872, where he attended the School of Fine Arts of the Polytechnic Institute and the American Academy of Design, both in New York City.

Turned to Law

His artistic education ended with his enrollment in New York Law School.  He was admitted to the bar and opened an office in this city.  

In 1876 he married Isabell King and settled in Pelham Manor.  There he filled the position of principal of public schools for five years, after which he accepted a position at Washington, D.C. tabulating statistics of the Roman Catholic Churches for the eighth census.  At the end of a year he resigned and returned to Pelham Manor.  

There began his career as an active member of the Republican Party.  He served, successively, terms as Pelham Receiver of Taxes, Supervisor, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Supervisors for two terms, chairman of the Republican Town Committee, delegate-at-large and Chairman of the Equalization Committee for Westchester County.  He was considered an expert on assessment equalization.  

Also Town Historian

At the same time he held the posts of editor of the Pelham Republican-Record, and town historian of Pelham.  

As historian, he wrote a full account of the history of Pelham, which as reprinted in the Daily Argus.

Mr. Shinn was a member of the Huguenot Memorial Presbyterian Church, the Manor Club and was a member of the Men's Club of Pelham and Winyah Lodge 866, Free and Accepted Masons.  He served as treasurer of the lodge for several years and recently was elected treasurer emeritus.

Surviving Mr. Shinn are two daughters, Mrs. Smith of Mount Vernon, and Grace A. Shinn of New York City, and a son, J. M. Clayton Shinn of New Rochelle."

Source: JOHN SHINN DEAD AT 87The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Oct. 16, 1936, p. 10, col. 4

Educator, Editor, Artist, And Historian, 87; Was Active In Growth of Town
Principal of 'Little Red Schoolhouse' Became Chairman of County Board of Supervisors; Town Will Pay Tribute at Funeral Service at Huguenot Church on Sunday.

John M. Shinn, 87, former Supervisor and Town Historian, died yesterday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. L. Brewster Smith, of No. 259 East Fourth street after an illness of several hours.  Death was caused by heart failure.  Mr. Shinn was stricken with a heart attack on Wednesday night and slowly relapsed until the end came at 4:30 o'clock yesterday afternoon.  His son J.M. Clayton Shinn was also at his bedside when the end came.

Mr. Shinn had been a resident of Pelham since 1876 and his life was closely tied up with the growth of the town.  His energetic interest in local affairs continued until his last days when although making his home in Mount Vernon he spent most of his time in Pelham and his presence was felt in the many activities in which he was interested.  On Oct. 5 he was honored as the only living charter member of the Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor and he took an active part in the program in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the church.

The Rev. Lewis Gaston Leary, former pastor of the church, who was the speaker, said this in tribute to Mr. Shinn and Mr. Alfred L. Hammett, who has been [a] member of the church for 54 years:

'Their brows are unfurrowed by the cares and strife of life, because they have lived with Him for whom we built this church.'

Mr. Shinn was born Oct. 25, 1849, in Dubuque, Iowa, the son of Asa and Azariah Morgan Shinn.  He was educated in the public school at Waterloo, Ia., and at the high school at Hannibal, Mo., where he was familiar with the scenes made immortal in the stories of Mark Twain.  His artistic traits developed early and he studied art in the Polytechnic Institute of St. Louis.  He studied for two years in the life class of Cooper Institute in New York and Antique Art at Academy of Design.

In 1876 he married Isabel King and settled in Pelham Manor.  His artistic and cultural accomplishments prompted the local citizens to offer him the post of principal of the little red schoolhouse on Prospect Hill.  He taught in the school for five years, and then accepted a position in the Census Bureau at Washington.  At the end of a year he resigned and returned to Pelham Manor.

While he was teaching school he

(Continued from Page One) [sic]

Former Supervisor John M. Shinn, Died
(Continued on Page Four.) [sic]

studied law at the New York Law school and was admitted to the bar.  He started practicing law in Mount Vernon.

His personality made him a popular figure in Pelham, and in 1894 the Republicans urged that the 'schoolmaster' accept the nomination for the office of Supervisor.  He conducted a campaign and was elected, continuing in office until 1904.

In White Plains he was a fearless legislator and was instrumental in enacting much progressive legislation.  He was chairman of the equalization committee of the board of supervisors and in 1902 became chairman of the board, a post he held until he retired in 1904.

In 1908 he became the editor and publisher of the Republican Record, and he published a brilliant little weekly newspaper.  It was purchased by The Pelham Sun Publishing Co. in 1919.

Mr. Shinn returned to his first art, painting, and in his studio on Highland avenue, Pelham Manor, he devoted considerable time to painting a group of historical scenes, which are now on display at the Town Hall.

In 1925 when the late Mrs. James F. Secor retired as town historian, Mr. Shinn, who was recognized as the local authority on Pelham history, was prevailed on to accept the appointment.  He was invited to be the chairmanof the committee for the first Memorial Day program in Pelham in 1926.

His was the inspiration for the Sesquicentennial celebration of the Battle of Pell's Point and the pageant which was staged for this observance on Oct. 16, 1926.  The program depicted picturesque incidents in Pelham's history, and attracted thousands of spectators.

He retired as town historian in 1931, when he took up his residence with his daughter in Mount Vernon.  Mr. Shinn was a member of Winyah Lodge No. 866 F. & A. M., and served as treasurer of the lodge for several years.  He was recently elected treasurer emeritus.  He was deeply interested in Masonic work.  

Surviving are two daughters, Mrs. L. Brewster Smith and Miss Grace A. Shinn of Mount Vernon, and his son, Clayton M. Shinn who lives in New Rochelle.

Funeral services will be held at the Huguenot Memorial Church on Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock.  Masonic services will be conducted by Winyah Lodge.  Interment will be private."

Source:  FORMER SUPERVISOR JOHN M. SHINN DEAD -- Educator, Editor, Artist, And Historian, 87; Was Active In Growth of Town, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 16, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 28, p. 1, cols. 1-8 & p. 4, cols. 5-6.   

"Deaths Of A Day

MOUNT VERNON.  Oct. 16.--John M. Shinn, former chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and a representative of Pelham in that body for 15 years, died here yesterday at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Leslie Brewster Smith of 259 E. 4th Street.  He was eighty-seven years old.

Mr. Shinn was chairman of the board from 1894 to 1906.  He was a former town historian of Pelham and was an expert on assessment and equalization matters.  He served at various times in Pelham as school principal, receiver of taxes, supervisor and Republican town chairman."

Source:  Deaths Of A Day, The Daily News [Tarrytown, NY], Oct. 16, 1936, p. 15, col. 5.  

Many at Funeral Service For John M. Shinn, Held at Huguenot Memorial Church.

Funeral services for John M. Shinn, former Town Supervisor and Historian, were held at the Huguenot Memorial Church in Pelham Manor on Sunday afternoon.  Town and village officials and many of the older residents of the village attended.  The Rev. Willard P. Soper, Pastor of the church, of which Mr. Shinn was a charter member, conducted the religious services.  Harry F. Mela, Master of Winyah of Winyah Lodge, No. 866 F. & A. M., of which Mr. Shinn was treasurer emeritus, conducted the Masonic services with the assistance of Robert M. Montgomery, present Town Historian.  There were 40 members of the Masonic Fraternity in attendance.  

Mr. Shinn, who was at one time principal of the Little Red Schoolhouse on Prospect Hill. died on October 15th at the home of his daughter Mrs. L. Brewster Smith in Mount Vernon.  Interment was private.  

Among those who paid last tribute to Mr. Shinn were former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, former Supervisor David Lyon, Alfred Hammett of Clay avenue, who with Mr. Shinn was honored at a recent reception to the old members of the Huguenot Memorial Church; Mayor Dominic Amato of North Pelham, Village Clerk Walter H. McIlroy of North Pelham, Village Clerk Gervas H. Kerr of Pelham Manor.

During the service Dr. Soper read the scripture passages which Mr. Shinn had recently read at the observance of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the Huguenot Memorial Church.  

The flags on local civic buildings have been at half staff during the week."

Source:  OFFICIALS ATTEND RITES FOR FORMER TOWN SUPERVISOR -- Many at Funeral Service For John M. Shinn, Held at Huguenot Memorial Church, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 23, 1936, Vol. 27, No. 29, Section 2, p. 9, col. 3.  

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
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Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Unveiling of Bronze Tablet Commemorating Old Boston Post Road in Pelham on October 26, 1930

There stands today at the southwest corner of Ingalls Field (once known as Roosevelt Field) near the intersection of Wolfs Lane and Colonial Avenue a boulder with a bronze tablet affixed.  The tablet commemorates the Old Boston Post Road, the section of which that runs through Pelham is known today as Colonial Avenue.  The tablet further commemorates the British encampment along Old Boston Post Road following the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.

The bronze tablet is inscribed as follows:


Bronze Tablet Commemorating the Old Boston
Post Road and the Site of the British Encampment
Following the Battle of Pelham on October 18, 1776.
Photograph by the Author, 2003.  NOTE:  Click Image to Enlarge.

The Knapp Chapter, D.A.R., unveiled the tablet on Sunday, October 26, 1930.  The chapter was newly-organized and the unveiling of the tablet was its first such official function.  That day, the members of the Knapp Chapter gathered with members of the School Board, United States Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild, and Town Historian John M. Shinn gathered as the Knapp Chapter presented the tablet to the School Board through its unveiling.  Congressman Fairchild and Town Historian Shinn delivered remarks regarding the history of Old Boston Post Road.

"Unveiling Tablet Consecrating Historic Highway.
Mrs. Nathan Vidaver, regent of Knapp Chapter,
D.A.R., presenting bronze tablet to School District
at patriotic ceremony on Sunday.  The picture shows
Mrs. Vidaver, Mrs. Samuel Jackson Kramer, curator
general of the D.A.R.; Mrs. William Cummings Storey,
honorary president general; Mrs. W. W. Warner,
historian of Knapp Chapter, and Ben L. Fairchild who
was the principal speaker at the ceremony."
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge. 

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Below is the transcribed text of two articles that appeared at the time the tablet was unveiled.  The first appeared in The Pelham Sun a few days before the unveiling announcing that the ceremonies would take place.  The second appeared in The Pelham Sun it the next edition after the unveiling of the tablet.  That article recounted important remarks made by Congressman Fairchild and Town Historian Shinn.  The text of those two articles appears immediately below, followed by citations and links to the sources.


The 154th anniversary of the Battle of Pelham will be celebrated on Sunday by the unveiling of a memorial tablet on Roosevelt field, then the site of the British encampment, now the athletic field of Memorial High School.

The newly instituted Knapp Chapter of the D. A. R. must be congratulated on the success of its first undertaking.  The services on Sunday afternoon will be fitting to the occasion, conducted with a quiet dignity.  The battleground will be effectively and permanently marked, for present and future generations to, observe and reminisce upon.

How great have been the changes wrought in the passage of a century and a half.  The Hutchinson River, where Bolton tells us in his history of Pelham, Indians built canoes on its banks in order to make the crossing, is now a limpid stream bordering a delightful parkway.  The sand dunes of Pelham and the forests of Westchester were wild, almost uninhabited districts; toay concrete highways wander through the woodlands, electric lights illumine the darkness, pleasant villas and peaceful families populate its hillsides.  None of this would have been possible, however, had it not been possible, however, had it not been for the courage of those ancestors of one hundred and fifty years ago, who saw it was good and fought to retain it for themselves and their succeeding generations.

Lest we forget the scene of thie sacrifices will be marked and the tablet marking it fittingly inscribed."

Source:  THE BATTLE OF PELHAM, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 24, 1930, Vol. 21, No. 30, p. 2, col. 2.  

Patriotic Organizations Assist In Inspiring Ceremony at High School and Roosevelt Field on Sunday.  Ben L. Fairchild Urges Citizens to Cherish Historical Mementoes.  Town Historian Urges That Former Name of Historic Thoroughfare Be Resumed.

Inspiring patriotic services were conducted on Sunday when Knapp Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, consecrated the old Boston Post road in the Pelhams and unveiled a handsome bronze tablet on Roosevelt Field overlooking Colonial avenue, as the historic highway is now known.  National officers of the D.A.R., former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild and officials of the town and school district participated in the ceremonies which were conducted before an audience composed of members of patriotic organizations and civic spirited citizens of the Pelhams.

Mrs. Nathan Vidaver, Regent of Knapp Chapter, presented the tablet to the school district.  Henry B. Nevins, president of the board of education, accepted the tablet.  Town Historian John M. Shinn read an inspiring historical account of the establishment of the Post road.  Mrs. Samuel Jackson Kramer, of Pelhamwood, Curator General of the D.A.R., and Mrs. William Cummings Storey, Honorary National president expressed the greetings of the national society of the D.A.R.  Mrs. Clarence Connor sang the Star Spangled Banner.

Mr. Fairchild delivered a splendid address urging the citizens of the Pelhams to cherish their historic heritage in the Constitution of the United States, and the many colorful landmarks in their nation-state and community.  Joseph Clifton Brown, superintendent of schools was chairman of the meeting at the invitation of Knapp Chapter.

The members of Pelham Post, No. 50, American Legion, the boy and girl scout organizations formed a colorful background for the patriotic display.

The tablet is affixed to a huge boulder at the southerly end of the high school athletic field, which also marks the site on which the British troops encamped before the Battle of Pell's Point which was fought on October 18, 1776.  It will stand as a marker of two of Pelham's most cherished historical incidents.  

The first part of the program was conducted  in the auditorium of the high school.  Later the meeting adjourned to the athletic field.

In his address Mr. Fairchild likened the changes in the nation to the changes in the historic highway alongside of which the tablet was erected.

'As the old Indian trail was changed into a busy highway,' said Mr. Fairchild, 'did this nation advance into a thriving world power.  The constitution of the United States is the pavement of this national highway.  Repair it if you want to, but keep it so that it will be passable for all who want to keep within its bounds.  Keep a safe highway for those who follow you.

'There are too many persons trying to rip up this good pavement and take away the rights of the various states that make up this great nation.  Learn what you are doing before you make too many repairs.  It is these traditions, disintegrating forces that are destroying the foundation of this nation.  They would establish a bureaucracy that would destroy the fundamentals of this union of self governing states.  Therefore just as you cherish your landmarks in your local communities it is necessary that you cherish the fundamentals of your constitution.'

Mr. Fairchild complimented the Knapp Chapter on their forethought in erecting a permanent memento to one of Pelham's most cherished landmarks.  

In accepting the tablet President Nevins expressed his gratitude to the D.A.R. for presenting the school district with a memorial that will remind the children of the Pelhams daily of their historic heritage and of the sacrifices of those who went before them.

The Rev. William P. Soper, pastor of the Huguenot Memorial church, offered the invocation and the Rev. J. McVickar Haight, pastor of Christ's Church pronounced the benediction.  Music for the program was furnished by the Pelham Memorial high school band under the leadership of A. J. Fregans.

Little Meral Smith and Rosemary Aceola pulled the red, white and blue ribbon to remove the veil from the tablet.  Scout bugler George Scott sounded a salute.  The program closed with the singing of 'America.'

Mrs. Lois Townsley Brown accompanied Mrs. Connor on the piano.

Colonial avenue was formerly known as the Boston Post road.  The post riders followed the old Indian trail and the route was continued as the first stage coach line.  Early in the 19th century the highway that is now known as the Boston Post road was opened to traffic as a toll road.  In his reading, Mr. Shinn told of this story.

'The first settlement in New Netherland, -- as the Dutch colony was named -- was made on Manhattan Island in 1611 or 12, when a few cabins were erected to shelter the fur traders who came to traffic with the Indians,' said Mr. Shinn.  'The Dutch were a trading nation -- not a colonizer in the first place, nor like the English in search of a place of free worship, nor were they like the French, who settled Canada, nor the Spanish who settled the southern parts of North America, Central and South America because of the gold found there, and secondly that they might spread the Christian religion among the Indians.

'The Dutch held New Netherland for over 50 years, when it was captured by the English in 1664, in the war between England and Holland.  The name of the town. New Amsterdam and the colony of New Netherland was changed to New York in memory of the Shire of York in England and also in honor of the King's brother, the Duke of York, to whom he had presented the colony.

(Continued on Page 12.)

(Continued from Page 9)

'Colonel Thomas Dongan was appointed first governor.  It was this Thomas Dongan who confirmed, in the name of his King, the title of Thomas Pell to the Town of Pelham and erected it into the Manor of Pelham.

'Pell was an English gentleman living in Fairfield, Connecticut, who bought this territory of the Indians in 1654 while it was under Dutch control.  Pell's land, or the Manor of Pelham, originally included the present town of Pelham, the city of New Rochelle, Hunter's Island, Pelham Bay Park and City Island.  Pelham Bay Park and City Island and Hunter's Island were annexed to the City of New York in 1895 by an act of the Legislature.  New Rochelle was sold to Jacob Leisler for the use of the Huguenots who were driven out of La Rochelle in France, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

'Colonel Dongan served as governor for three years when he asked to be relieved of his job and sailed for England.  Colonel Lovelace was appointed to fill the vacancy.  Lovelace was a progressive governor and one of his first acts was to buy Staten Island of the Indians for 400 fathoms of wampum, a few kettles, some knives and blankets, probably worth between $25 and $30, about the same amount for which Peter Minuet -- the old Dutch governor -- bought Manhattan Island from the Indians.

'The next item of interest to us today is that he visited Governor Winthrop to confer about matters of mutual interest.  The result being that it was decided to establish a sort of pony postal service between New York and Boston Town.

'Governor Winthrop was both the judge and prosecutor of Ann Hutchinson, the founder of the first woman's club in America and the greatest exponent of the right of free speech and religious freedom this country has known.

'The early settlers honored her by naming the river on which she settled after her, Pelham has done the same by giving her name to one of its splendid schools, and Westchester County has given her name to the magnificent parkway that follows the shore of that same river.

'Browning's line, 'No work begun shall ever pause for death', is particularly applicable to the labors of Mrs. Hutchinson.  

'At the time of her murder in 1643 her fame as a defiant champion of freedom against bigotry began.  Suppose she had won in her trial and continued her life among her neighbors in Boston, speaking once or twice a week to a woman's club on religious and governmental matters according to her custom, would her fame have spread over the world?  Would memorial bronzes have been placed on spots made famous by her presence; would statues have been erected in her honor and her name become a household word to millions of her countrymen as it is now?  We cannot say, we leave it to you [to] think upon.

'Now to resume about the Old Boston Road.  The result of the conference between Lovelace and Winthrop was that Lovelace on the 12th day of January, 1673, dispatched a horseman whose saddle bags were filled with mail from the old Fort, now the Battery, up the entire length of Manhattan Island to Spuyten Duvyil ferry on his way to Boston.

'Here he stated over night, and the next day, January the 13th, he passed the boulder upon which we now to -- in a manner -- do him honor while we dedicate a tablet to the Old Boston Post Road.

'The early settlers of New England and New Netherland were slow, deliberate people; Massachusetts had been settled 52 years and New York for over 60 years before this first trip of the postman between the two towns, and nearly 100 years more were to elapse before a stage line was to be established.

'We shall not follow this intrepid man in his journey over the Indian trails then hard to follow because of the snow -- and over crude wagon roads, sometimes laid out by the settlers; most of the streams must have been frozen, if not, he had to wade them through the icy waters.  It is enough to say that within two weeks he rode into Boston Town and delivered his mail.  He must have tarried there but a day or two as his instructions were to return to New York within a month; so that about a month from that 13th of January, 1673, he must once more have passed this spot over the trail which he had blazed as the future Boston Post Road and which we so fittingly dedicate today in enduring bronze.

'But this part of the Old Boston Post Road was fated not to remain the main traveled road from New York.  The route from the Battery to Westchester County line by the way of Spuyten Duyvil ferry was too long by about four miles to those bound  along the shore of the Sound and the ferry at Spuyten Duyvil was a toll ferry at Spuyten Duyvil was a toll ferry, owned by the Phillips of Phillips' Manor, now Yonkers, who had so much political influence in Colonial affairs that no one dared oppose them in proposing any change that would deprive the Phillips of their income from the ferry; however, the dissatisfaction became so great that the Provincial Assembly passed an act in 1774 (over a hundred years, you notice, after the establishment of the mail route) to enable Louis Morris and John Sickles to build a bridge across the Harlem at what is now Third Avenue, New York, 'To shorten the distance from the City of New York to any part of this or the neighboring Colonies.'  This was to be a free bridge.  The American Revolution began the following year and nothing but the preliminary survey was done, and the franchise expired.  But in 1790, Morris obtained another franchise to build a bridge as before.

'John B. Cole purchased the franchise from Morris and built the bridge.  He also built a road from the bridge to the New Rochelle line in 1798.  This road was a toll road and followed practically the present line of the Boston Post Road, running through Pelham Manor and was known as the Boston Turnpike, a term derived from the name of Turnstile, and afterwards bestowed upon the road.  The last toll gate was near Drake avenue in New Rochelle, and I've often heard one of the old settlers of Pelham Manor say that he was going up to the toll gates, though I have not heard that expression since 1876.  The toll on this road expired by charter in 1858.  Since that time the road has been free to all.

'I cannot resist expressing my thanks, as Town Historian, to the Daughters of the American Revolution for their patriotic act in placing this bronze in memory of the Old Boston Road in such a prominent and guarded situation.

'I also want to express my regret that some man or body of men should have, not so long ago, decided to abolish such a historical name as the Old Boston Post Road for one of its streets and substitute the far less distinctive name of Colonial Avenue.

'I think that the association responsible for this demonstration should petition the Board of Trustees of the Village of Pelham to restore its proper name and I promise them my co-operation."

Source:  D.A.R. UNVEILS TABLET CONSECRATING THE HISTORIC OLD BOSTON POST ROAD, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 31, 1930, Vol. 21, No. 31, Section Two, p. 9, cols. 2-6p. 12, cols. 2-4.

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Monday, August 31, 2015

Seyseychkimus, The Native American "Chief" and Signer of 1649 Indian Deed Encompassing Pelham

The earliest so-called "Indian Deed" yet discovered conveying lands that later became Pelham was a deed signed on July 14, 1649.  See Wed., Aug. 12, 2015:  Significant Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham.  That deed conveyed to the Director General and Council of New Netherland lands identified as "Wiequaes Keck" on the east bank of the Hudson River between the Byram and Mianus Rivers along Long Island Sound.  These lands encompassed all of today's Town of Pelham.  The deed was signed by several Native Americans including one named Seyseychkimus who was designated as "the chief" and who signed the deed as "witness."

Who was Seyseychkimus?

Seyseychkimus was a Munsee who, specialists believe, first appeared in colonial records in 1637 with his name spelled as "Heyseys."  He appeared as "one of two Mareychkewikingh (Marechkawieck) sachems in the July 16, 1637 sale of two islands in the Hell Gate between Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx (Book GG:28-29).  The Marechkawieck inhabited the downtown Brooklyn area."  Grumet, Robert Steven, "ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCK" in The Bulletin and Journal of Archaeology for New York State, No. 83, p. 4 (Spring 1982).  

Seyseychkimus was considered a "lower River Indian leader" who spoke the Munsee dialect, not the Mahican language.  Grumet, Robert S., The Munsee Indians:  A History, p. 296 - Notes to Page 14, n.16 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).  According to Grumet, the Marechkawieck sachem who resided on Long Island in the Brooklyn area in about the mid-1630s sold all of his remaining Brooklyn lands to the Dutch in two separate deeds dated September 10, 1645 (a deed that later was canceled) and November 1, 1650.  See supra, Grumet, ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCK, p. 4.  

Clearly Seyseychkimus was an important Munsee leader in the lower Hudson River area.  He appears to have departed Brooklyn at about the time of the sale of his Brooklyn lands and next was located, apparently, in the Wiechquaeskeck region on the mainland northeast of Manhattan -- an area that included today's Town of Pelham.  On July 14, 1649, he witnessed the Indian Deed that conveyed lands including today's Pelham and Northeast Bronx to the Dutch.  (For a full transcription of a translation of that deed, see below.)

As further evidence of the prominence of Seyseychkimus as a Munsee leader in the region, only five days after witnessing the July 14, 1649 Indian Deed, Seyseychkimus "participated as Seysegeckkimus in the treaty that ended hostilities between the Dutch and unreconciled elements of the Wiechquaeskeck and Raritan groups who did not sign the August 30, 1645 treaty ending the Governor Kieft War."   See supra, Grumet, ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCKp. 4 (citing "NYHM(4):607-609)").  Seyseychkimus was among the only representatives not assigned to a specific group at the time the treaty was executed.  Although we will never know why, we can speculate that his recent move from the Marechkawieck section in Brooklyn to the Wiechquaeskeck region on the mainland northeast of Manhattan left his designation -- but not regional prominence -- somewhat in question.

By 1651 (three years before English settler Thomas Pell acquired much of the same lands conveyed to the Dutch on July 14, 1649), Seyseychkimus seems to have moved northward to, or to have asserted his influence as far north as, northwestern Connecticut.  He "signed a deed to land in northwestern Connecticut as Sasskum on February 15, 1651 (Bolton 1848(1):392) and was mentioned as Sasse in an incomplete manuscript dated March 25, 1652 (NYCM(5):32)."  See supra, Grumet, ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCKp. 4.  

After analyzing the various deeds, the treaty, and the incomplete manuscript mentioning Seyseychkimus, Robert S. Grumet summarizes as follows:

"The collective weight of this documentation supports the identification of this man as a Marechkawieeck chief from Brooklyn who moved to the mainland east of the Hudson River following the sale of his land holdings on Long Island.  These data would thus place both Sesekimu and Seyseychkimus in Westchester and Fairfield Counties."  See supra, Grumet, ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCKp. 4. 

The colonial documentation seems to provide a partial glimpse of the life of the Munsee leader of the lower Hudson River region known as Seyseychkimus.  Seyseychkimus, a Marechkawieck sachem who resided on Long Island in the Brooklyn area in about the mid-1630s, apparently exercised influence over or served as a Munsee sachem representative in connection with lands extending from Brooklyn through today's Westchester and Fairfield Counties.  For about a sixteen-year period from 1637 until 1652, Seyseychkimus participated in successive sales of lands located successively northeastward as local Native Americans slowly deeded their lands to Dutch and, later, English settlers.  In at least one such instance he was designated as "chief" and also participated in an important treaty with the Dutch by which "unreconciled elements of the Wiechquaeskeck and Raritan groups who did not sign the August 30, 1645 treaty ending the Governor Kieft War" ended their hostilities with the Dutch. 

View of Fort Amsterdam in New Netherland, 1651.  Note
The Native Americans in a Variety of Canoes.  Source:
Hartger, Joost, Befchrijvinghe Van Virginia, Nieuw Nederlandt,
En d’Eylanden Bermudes, Berbados, en S. Christossel
(Amsterdam, 1651) (Original in The Lenox Library, The
New York Historical Society, The Andrews Collection).
NOTE:  Click on Image To Enlarge.

Below are transcriptions of a wide variety of research items relating to the identity of, and the life of, Seyseychkimus.  Each is followed by a citation to its source.  Given that some materials are available only in print format, links are provided only when available.  Research so far has revealed a variety of spellings of the name "Seyseychkimus."  Those are listed immediately below, followed by some of the research on which this brief article is based.  



*          *          *          *          *

Seyseychkimus was considered a "lower River Indian leader" who spoke the Munsee dialect, not the Mahican language.  Grumet, Robert S., The Munsee Indians:  A History, p. 296 - Notes to Page 14, n.16 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

"Originally from Long Island, Seyseychkimus moved to Wiecquaesgeck and later farther upriver to Wappinger country after selling his lands in Brooklyn."  Id.

"This brings us to the primary Haverstraw sachem and the problem of the identification of the Rechgawawanck sachem Sesekemu.  A man named Sessikout was identified as the sachem of Haverstroo and the brother of an Esopus leader in a document dated March 15, 1664 (NYCD (13):363-364).  If saccis was Sessikout, then he signed the January 30, 1658 sale of the Bayonne Peninsula as Saghkaw (Liber 1:34) and the May 19, 1671 conveyance of the Palisades to the south of Haverstraw, New York as Saghtow (Liber 1:115-116).  He was far more recognizable as Sessikout when he appeared as the signatory Seskiguoy in the June 8, 1677 sale of land to the west of the Palisades (Liber 1:254(85-253)86).  Next listed as Sakaghkemeck, 'Sachem of Averstraw' in the July 13, ,1683 conveyance of land directly south of the Hudson Highlands and the Catskill Mountains as Sackewagzein, 'Sachem of Heardstroo' (Liber N:  folio 86-88:23).  These documents strongly support the assertion that Sessikout was the most important Haverstraw sachem of the period.  They themselves do not, however, establish that Sesekemu was Sessikout.

The most likely candidate for that role is a man name[d] Seyseychkimus.  He first appeared as Heyseys, one of two Mareychkewikingh (Marechkawieck) sachems in the July 16, 1637 sale of two islands in the Hell Gate between Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx (Book GG:28-29).  The Marechkawieck inhabited the downtown Brooklyn area.  He was next mentioned as Sassian in a document dated September 11, 1642 (NYHM(3):325-326).  He subsequently sold his remaining land holdings in Brooklyn as the chief Seysey on September 10, 1645 (Book GG:60) and as Sasham on November 1, 1650 (MacLeod 1941).  He evidently moved to the mainland to the east of the Hudson River sometime before 1649.  On July 14th of that year he appeared as Seyseychkimus, a chief who witnessed the sale of land identified as Wiequaes Keck on the east bank of the Hudson River between the Byram and Mianus Rivers along Long Island Sound (Book GG:323-324).  Five days later, on July 19, 1649, he participated as Seysegeckkimus in the treaty that ended hostilities between the Dutch and unreconciled elements of the Wiechquaeskeck and Raritan groups who did not sign the August 30, 1645 treaty ending the Governor Kieft War (NYHM(4):607-609).  Although not listed as such, it can be inferred that he represented the Remahenonck at these proceedings, as both he and the latter group were the only individuals or groups not assigned leaders or corporate identities in the document.  He subsequently signed a deed to land in northwestern Connecticut as Sasskum on February 15, 1651 (Bolton 1848(1):392) and was mentioned as Sasse in an incomplete manuscript dated March 25, 1652 (NYCM(5):32).  The collective weight of this documentation supports the identification of this man as a Marechkawieeck chief from Brooklyn who moved to the mainland east of the Hudson River following the sale of his land holdings on Long Island.  These data would thus place both Sesekimu and Seyseychkimus in Westchester and Fairfield Counties.  They would also support the possible location of the Remahenonck in the same area.  Together by themselves they would seem to validate Ruttenber's assertion that the Rechgawawanck lived along the east banks of the Hudson River.  Data contained within the May 15, 1664 treaty ending the Esopus Wars seriously challenges this assertion."

Source:  Grumet, Robert Steven, "ON THE IDENTITY OF THE RECHGAWAWANCK" in The Bulletin and Journal of Archaeology for New York State, No. 83, p. 4 (Spring 1982).

Seyseychkimus was consanguineal or blood kin of Mamanuchqua, the prominent female Esopus leader who appeared among sachems representing the Mahicans, Catskills, and Esopus in July 1682 in Albany to hear complaints against them, to renew the famed "Covenant Chain bonds," and to present a beaver pelt "in token of a promise to travel farther westward beyond Maryland and Virginia when again 'going out a hunting beaver.'"  

Source:  Grumet, Robert S., First Manhattans:  A History of the Indians of Greater New York, pp. 128-30p. 130 Figure 4 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2011).

"Mattano tried to manipulate suspicions that divided rival Dutch and English claimants to Indian lands in Brooklyn.  His first efforts to exploit this rivalry in Brooklyn met with limited success.  The Dutch claimed what amounted to nearly all his people's lands on Long Island under the terms of both Tackapousha's broad conveyance of November 13, 1643, and Seyseychkimus's later cancelled September 10, 1645, deed to the most westerly portion of lands within the bounds covered by the 1643 deed.  A small patch in this latter area was also claimed by yet another group of New England exiles led by Lady Deborarh Moody, who settled at Gravesend with Dutch permission during Kieft's War.  After the war, English settlers there secured their claim in a sale, again arranged with Dutch approval, concluded with Seyseychkimus and Mattano's father, Emerus, on November 1, 1650. 31  [Footnote "31" states in part as follows:  "Emerus signed the first state of the November 1, 1650, deed in the GTR Patent Book 1:15 as Arremathanus, perhaps the fullest transcription of his name; later states of the same deed (in GTR Patent Book 1:43, 45, and 47) spell the name as Arremackanus; Seyseychkimus's name is the last in the list of sachems, appearing in the form of Sasham, a variant of Sassian, Seiseis, and other forms documented in transactions concluded on Long Island."].

Source:  Grumet, Robert S., The Munsee Indians:  A History, p. 100 & p. 338 n.31 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

"Two deeds came out of these get-togethers.  The first, bearing a date of April 13, 1671, gave Bedloe and De Harte title to all land between the Hudson River and Overpeck Creek 'on the north side of the Sir Governor Philip Carteret's' from Hespatingh in present-day Jersey City to Tappan.  The second, finalized on May 19, 1671, gave De Harte a still larger tract taking in all lands north of the April purchase line from Tappan to Haverstraw between the Hudson and Hackensack Rivers.  Together, these deeds turned the whole of the Palisades into the property of buyers from New York, who promptly registered their new purchases, written in Dutch, in Manhattan. [Footnote omitted]

As they had in Staten Island a year earlier, New Yorkers had purchased land coyly referred to in both deeds as 'under the jurisdiction of the province of New Jersey,' but not necessarily within its charter borders.  With patience and perhaps some well-placed payoffs, De Harte and Bedloe might use these deeds to help Lovelace extend New York's sovereignty over the desired land.  They certainly seemed to have the support of the Indians.  The list of sachems who signed the deeds for the New Yorkers included leaders from every major Indian community between the lower Hudson and upper Delaware rivers below the Highlands.  The primary signatory was Aroohikan, who identified himself in both documents as a Tappan sachem.  Like Seyseychkimus, whose interest in land at Haverstraw was represented in the May 19, 1671, deed, Aroorhikan was another expatriate from Brooklyn.  New York's faithful ally Pierwim also signed both deeds.  Tomachkapay put his mark on the April 13 conveyance as sachem of Minisink.  Among other signatories were Memshe, Waerhinnis Couwee, and a man  new to colonial records, who had a talent for languages named Towakhachi (Munsee for 'Mudpuppy'). [Footnote omitted]"

Source:  Grumet, Robert S., The Munsee Indians:  A History, p. 126 (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).


On this day, the date underwritten, appeared before us, the Honorable Lords, the Director-General and Council, Megtegichkama, Oteyochque, and Wegtakochken, the rightful owners of the land located on the east bank of the North River of New Netherland called Wiequaes Keck; extending in breadth through the woods until a stream called Seweyruc [Byram River], with a boundary line running north and south from Greenwich on the East River to a stream called Kechkawes [Mianus River].  This same land is located between the two streams, dissecting the woods between the North and East River, so that the western half remains with the aforesaid owners; while the other eastern half, which is divided by a north-south line through the woods, the aforesaid owners acknowledge in the presence of the chief Seyseykimus and all the remaining friends and blood relatives to have sold the aforesaid parcel of land to the honorable Petrus Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, for a certain amount of merchandise, which they acknowledge to have received  and accepted before approval of this document, namely 6 fathoms of duffels, 6 fathoms of seawant; 6 kettles, 6 axes; 6 adzes, 10 knives, 10 awls, 10 corals, 10 bells, 1 gun, 2 staves of lead, 2 lbs. of powder; 2 cloth coats.  

Therefore, the aforesaid owners transfer, cede and convey the aforesaid land to the Lord-General or his successors in true and lawful ownership, renouncing for themselves and their descendants now and forever all claims thereon, and resigning herewith all rights and jurisdiction, transferring it to the aforesaid Lord-General and his successors, to do with as they please, without being molested by them, the conveyors, or anyone of them, whether it be person or property.  It is further agreed that the western most half may be purchased for the same amount as above whenever the Director-General desires to pay for it; and they, the grantors, promise to sell the part still in their possession on the North River for that price and not to sell it to anyone without informing the Director-General.  They further promise to maintain and uphold this conveyance firmly and inviolably under the penalty prescribed by law.  Thus was this signed in the presence of the witnesses below on 14 July 1649 at New Amsterdam in New Netherland.

This is the mark


of Pomipahan, made himself.

This is the mark


of Meytehickhama.
This is the mark


of Wegtakachkey.

This is the mark made by


the chief, Seyseychkimus, as witness."

Source:  Gehring, Charles T., ed. & trans., New York Historical Manuscripts:  Dutch Volumes GG, HH & II Land Papers, pp. 62-63 (Baltimore, MD:  Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1980) (Published under the direction of The Holland Society of New York).

For another earlier translation of the same record, see:   

O'Callaghan, E. B., ed., History of New Netherland; Or, New York Under the Dutch, Vol. II, pp. 96-97, n. 1 (NY, NY:  D. Appleton and Company, 1848) (citing "Book of Patents, G. G. 507.").

"What with its hills and dales, once covered with dense woodlands, time was when Ward's Island, on the hither side of Hell Gate, was one of the loveliest spots in America, and it is yet so beautiful as to compel  the praise of all visitors.  It was called Tenkenas when Wouter Van Twiller bought it from the Indian chiefs Heyseys and Numers, and giving it the name of Great Barent's Island, convereted its two hundred and forty acres into a pasturage for his cattle."

Source:  Wilson, Rufus Rockwell, New York:  Old & New - Its Story, Streets, and Landmarks, Vol. II, pp. 354-55 (2d Edition - Philadelphia & London:  J. B. Lippincott Co., 1903).  

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