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.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Glover's Rock on Orchard Beach Road Does Not Mark the Site of the Battle of Pelham

I receive about four or five e-mails and/or letters each week with questions about the history of Pelham and surrounding areas. I try my best to respond to each one. Yesterday I received an e-mail from a resident of the Bronx with a question that I have been asked numerous times during the last several years. He wrote: "I have a question about Glover's Rock that I hope maybe you can answer. Where exactly was the battle fought? Was it behind the rock or across from it?"

The answer, oddly, is that the battle was fought nowhere near the boulder called Glover's Rock despite what the plaque affixed to the boulder says. The story about this mistake is quite interesting in its own right.

Little scholarly attention was given to the battle until 1901 when William Abbatt published a book about the battle. A citation to the book appears below:

Abbatt, William, The Battle of Pell's Point (or Pelham) October 18, 1776. Being the Story of a Stubborn Fight. With a Map, and Illustrations from Original Photographs and Family Portraits. (NY: William Abbatt, 281 Fourth Ave. 1901) (Library of Congress Control Number 01027896, Library of Congress Call Number E241.P3A2).

The contents of the book have entered the public domain and I have transcribed much of its text and posted it on the HistoricPelham.com Web site. Click here to read that transcription.

Although this wonderful book, published in 1901, contains a wealth of historically accurate information as well as interesting photographs, some of the conclusions regarding the location of the battle and the progress of the battle have been shown to be erroneous based on Abbatt's misplaced reliance on the so-called "Sauthier Map" published in London in 1777.

The map, by Claude J. Sauthier, is entitled "A plan of the operations of the King's army under the command of General Sir William Howe, K.B. in New York and east New Jersey, against the American forces commanded by General Washington from the 12th of October to the 28th of November 1776, wherein is particularly distinguished the engagement on the White Plains the 28th of October. By C. J. Sauthier." High resolution images of the map together with a MrSID file to permit offline analysis (see my postings dated Feb. 14, 15 &16, 2005) are available from the Library of Congress American Memory Collection by clicking here.

Today it is widely believed by scholars of the battle that the Sauthier map inaccurately shows a large body of British troops landing at the tip of Pell's Point on October 18, 1776 rather than higher on the point at the location where Shore Road ended at the time. In addition, as others have pointed out, the map is not a particularly accurate depiction of the area and seems to have been intended to serve as a general depiction crafted more to show general troop movements during the relevant period rather than the true lay of the land. As Barbara Bartlett, Pelham resident and local historian has said many times, the Sauthier Map might best be viewed as though it were like a New York City Subway map that intentionally shows some distortions of geography in an effort to simplify the presentation of the truly important data compiled as part of the map: the various subway lines that traverse the City beneath the surface of the land. Below is an image detail taken from the Sauthier Map.

When he wrote his book, Abbatt apparently was unaware of the existence in the collections of The Library of Congress of a map known as the "Blaskowitz Map". The Blaskowitz map was created in 1776 by Charles Blaskowitz. It is entitled "A survey of Frog's Neck and the rout[e] of the British Army to the 24th of October 1776, under the command of His Excellency the Honorable William Howe, General and Commander in Chief of His Majesty's forces, &ca, &ca, &ca." High resolution images of the map together with a MrSID file to permit offline analysis (see my postings dated Feb. 14, 15 & 16, 2005) are available from the Library of Congress American Memory by clicking here. The Blaskowitz Map is widely believed to be a surprisingly accurate depiction of the area in which the Battle occurred.

In his book published in 1901, Abbatt analyzed the letter about the battle written by Col. John Glover who led American troops during the battle. (The complete text of the letter is available by clicking here and scrolling down the page.) Col. Glover provided estimates of the distances that the British and German troops traveled on known roadways before they reached the oncoming American troops and began fighting.

Abbatt attempted to use those estimates to place the site where the battle began. In so doing, however, he measured from the very tip of Pell's Point where he thought the bulk of the British and German troops had landed.

Abbatt's assumption that the bulk of the British and German troops landed at the tip of Pell's Point, however, seems to have been inaccurate. It now seems well-established that the bulk of the troops landed along the side of Pell's Point at that place where Shore Road then ended when it reached the Bay.

In his defense, William Abbatt was not the first to make such a mistake. Earlier efforts to place the commencement and progress of the battle by Henry B. Dawson in his book Westchester County During the Revolution, pp. 233-46 (Morrisania, NY: 1886), made a similar error.

By measuring 1-1/2 miles from the tip of Pell's Point (as suggested by a distance estimated by Col. Glover in his letter), William Abbatt came to the conclusion that the battle began near a spot marked by a large glacial boulder located along what we know today as Orchard Beach Road. He placed a photograph of the boulder in his book (Illustration 1 between pages 4 and 5) and labeled it "Glover's Rock". The name stuck. Below is a recent image of Glover's Rock.

Not long after Abbatt published his book, patriotic citizens placed a plaque on the boulder that adopted Abbatt's conclusions and commemorated the battle that, it said, began "nearby". (That plaque later was vandalized and, in 1960, was replaced by the plaque that remains affixed to the boulder today.)

In 1926, local historian Otto Hufeland released a wonderful book concerning Revolutionary War events in Westchester County. A citation to the book appears below.

Hufeland, Otto, Westchester County During the American Revolution 1775 ~ 1783 (Privately Printed 1926).

Once again, the book has now entered the public domain. I have transcribed the text of Chapter V entitled "Fighting Begins in the County 1776" and placed it on the HistoricPelham.com Web site. Click here to read the chapter. Hufeland noted that Abbatt, Dawson and others had relied on the Sauthier Map but had ignored the Blaskowitz Map. He criticized their scholarship and traced the progress of the troops by comparing Col. John Glover's letter to the Blaskowitz Map. He wrote, in part, as follows (pages 118-19):

"For the details of the development of the battle there is practically but one contemporary authority and that is the letter of the commanding officer on the American side, Col. Glover, dated Mile Square October 22, 1776, to an unknown correspondent which was published in a number of newspapers of the day. This, together with some memoranda in the diary of President Stiles, afterward president of Yale College, who was a chaplain in the army, the dispatch of General Howe, already quoted and the Blaskowitz map is substantially all the contemporary information available. Nearly all the historians treat the matter very briefly with the exception of H.B. Dawson in his Westchester County, New York, During the Revolution, originally written for Scharf's History of Westchester County, and William Abbatt in The Battle of Pell's Point."

"Both writers base the location of the battle on Sauthier's incorrect map. Mr. Abbatt in locating the first clash, intimates that the estimate of distances made by Colonel Glover was faulty. Accepting the landing place shown on the above map would compel the British column to pass through tide marshes that still exist and are shown on the map accompanying Mr. Abbatt's book. Stone walls, which played so important a part in the battle are not generally built on marshes or salt-meadows where there are no stones to build them with. Even today the salt-meadows extend over the whole of this territory except where the roads have been raised above them and the first upland begins several hundred feet west of the Harlem River Branch Road on the Split Rock Road. The maps of the United States Geological Survey show the topography with great accuracy and detail and a comparison of the ground with these maps today, will show that the original topography, except the filled-in highways, still exists."

Hufeland went on to conclude that the Battle was fought nowhere near Glover's Rock. In effect, the place where the battle began is today a rise near about the second tee of the Split Rock Golf Course. The Battle then progressed across the remainder of today's Split Rock Golf Course toward today's New England Thruway, crossing that Thruway where the troops proceeded in the areas along today's Split Rock Road in the Village of Pelham Manor, along Wolf's Lane to today's Colonial Avenue where it essentially ended at the grounds of today's Pelham Memorial High School where the British and German troops camped along the old Boston Post Road known today as Colonial Avenue in Pelham.

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