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.

Friday, March 04, 2005

In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony

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On September 20, 1689, John Pell, and his wife, Rachel, sold to Jacob Leisler of New York City 6,000 acres of Manor of Pelham land. At the same time they gifted to Leisler another 100 acres for use as church grounds. Leisler reportedly had been commissioned to acquire the land on behalf of French Huguenots seeking to relocate to North America, many of whom fled from La Rochelle in France. The land became today’s New Rochelle, named in honor of La Rochelle from which many of the Huguenots fled religious persecution by the French Catholics.

A condition of the sale in 1689 was that Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns should deliver to “John Pell his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham . . as an Acknowledgment to the said Manor one fatt calfe on every fouer and twentieth day of June Yearly and Every Year forever (if demanded).” Every few generations, it seems, there is a "rediscovery" of that ancient provision in the deed by which John Pell transferred the lands to Jacob Leisler. With each such "rediscovery," members of the Pell family approach the City of New Rochelle and "demand" delivery of a "fatt calfe" -- typically as part of an anniversary or family reunion celebration.

In 1909, George H. Pell joined the long line of Pell family members who "rediscovered" the provision contained in the ancient deed. He demanded delivery of the "fatt calfe" and New Rochelle officials agreed to participate. In perhaps one of the oddest instances in the history of the famed "fatt calfe" ceremony, however, the ceremony was canceled at the last minute after more than 500 invitations had been issued due to a fear of "sharp lawyers". Today's posting will detail these odd circumstances.

George H. Pell was a resident of Bronxville and called himself the "seventh Lord of the Manor of Pelham" in honor of the Pell family tradition of naming the eldest son of the eldest son "Lord of the Manor" in a line extending from John Pell, traditionally referenced as the second Lord of the Manor of Pelham. George Pell "rediscovered" the provision in the ancient deed and proposed "by way of pleasantry" a garden party at his home on June 24, 1909 during which the mayor and others would present a "fatt calfe" and three peppercorns in homage to the ancient tradition. Mr. Pell issued 500 invitations to the garden party.

The day before the event, Mr. Pell received a letter from New Rochelle Mayor George G. Raymond dated June 22. The letter stated that the Mayor would be "obliged to give up the pleasure" of attending the event. Mr. Pell dashed off a letter to the Mayor in which he agreed "to withdraw any and all demands . . . and to regretfully excuse you from our garden party on Thursday, June 24." It seems that a fear of "sharp lawyers" was to blame.

On June 23, 1924, The New York Times reported that the presentation of the "fatt calfe" was canceled because "it was feared that if the Mayor in his official capacity presented the calf in behalf of New Rochelle people in payment for rent, it might be binding in the future, and titles on hundreds of estates could be attacked or technicalities raised by sharp lawyers. Hence the whole affair was called off." The Times further published the exchange of letters between Mr. Pell and Mayor Raymond in their entirety:

"At Office of the Mayor of the City of New Rochelle, N. Y."
June 22, 1909.

My Dear Pell: Your kind invitation to assist at a garden party on June 24 is respectfully declined. You have proposed at that time, by way of pleasantry, to make a demand for the fulfillment of a specific provision contained in a certain ancient deed. You understand, therefore, that in view of the possibility of establishing a serious legal precedent by receiving such a demand, I am regretfully obliged to give up the pleasure of being with you on that occasion. Yours very truly,

"Bronx Manor House, Bronxville, N. Y.,
June 23, 1909.

My Dear Mr. Mayor: Your letter of June 22 is at hand. In view of possible legal complications of the kind you suggest, I am glad to withdraw any and all demands for the kind mentioned, and to regretfully excuse you from our garden party on Thursday, June 24. Very sincerely yours,

Source: No Fatted Calf For Mr. Pell -- Ancient Ceremony Would Affect Property Titles -- Invitations Are Recalled, N.Y. Times, Jun. 24, 1909, p. 1.

The "fatt calfe" ceremony, of course, has been held on a number of occasions since 1909. Can it be that "sharp lawyers" are waiting in the wings ready to attack the titles of thousands of estates throughout New Rochelle?

To learn more about the "Fatt Calfe" ceremony, see Bell, Blake A., Tradition of Demanding a New Rochelle "Fatt Calfe", The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 16, Apr. 16, 2004, p. 8, col. 2.

Please visit the Historic Pelham Web site
Located at http://www.historicpelham.com/


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