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, June 08, 2005

Lloyd Ultan's Book: The Bronx In The Frontier Era From the Beginning to 1696

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In 1993, Professor Lloyd Ultan, in collaboration with The Bronx Historical Society, published a book entitled The Bronx In The Frontier Era From the Beginning to 1696 (Dubuque, IA: Kendall / Hunt Publishing Company). The book is easily available from online booksellers. Copies available for purchase may be located, for example, by clicking here for a list of sellers from Bookfinder.com.

The entire book should be of interest to students of Pelham history. There are, however, two chapters of particular interest because they address Thomas Pell who often is portrayed as the founder of Pelham. Chapter V ("The Rise of the First Village, 1654 to 1664") addresses Pell's acquisition of lands from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654 and traces his efforts to create what became the town of Westchester during the 17th Century. Chapter VI ("The Great Land Grab, 1664 to 1673") addresses, among other things, Pell's efforts to reaffirm his acquisition and his sometimes unsuccessful efforts to expand his land holdings before his death.

The richly detailed narrative is well-footnoted with endnotes for each chapter that provide spectacular insight into Professor Ultan's resources. There is also an important bibliography providing further such insight. The two chapters that deal with Pell are among the best I have read for pulling together a host of information from many disparate sources into a single, coherent narrative to shed light on what Pell was trying to do when he acquired the lands that later became Pelham and surrounding areas.

As a professional historian, Professor Ultan goes well beyond simply telling a story. He provides historical context and suggests reasons why the principal actors in the drama did what they did. A brief example is quoted below:

"It was at this point [1653/1654] that Thomas Pell gathered fifteen men to enter Dutch territory to begin a new village. There are several reasons why he did so. War had broken out in Europe between the Netherlands and England, spurred by the English Navigation Acts. Pell's effort could be seen as a blow struck for the English in America. On the other hand, while in New Haven, Pell, a former gentleman of the bedchamber, had refused to take an oath of loyalty to Oliver Cromwell's Puritan republic, saying that he had already done so while in England. If he were suspected of being a royalist because of his actions, this venture could dispel their doubt. Nevertheless, his settlement on Dutch territory and his raising of troops to drill in case of a confrontation with the Dutch was interpreted by some Connecticut officials as an attempt to build a refuge for royalists."

Source: Ultan, Lloyd, The Bronx In The Frontier Era From the Beginning to 1696, p. 53 (Dubuque, IA: Kendall / Hunt Publishing Co. 1993) (236 pp. with Bibliography and Endnotes).

Lloyd Ultan is Professor of History at the Edward Williams College of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack, New Jersey. He received his B.A. from Hunter College and his M.A. from Columbia University. He has served as a Centennial Historian of New York City and as president of The Bronx County Historical Society (1971-1976). He is the author of many articles and books on Bronx and American history. He is founding editor of The Bronx County Historical Society Journal.

I previously have "blogged" on such issues as "Building a Basic Library on the History of Pelham, NY". For those who are doing just that, I would strongly recommend Professor Ultan's wonderful book on The Bronx In The Frontier Era.

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