New Information About John Hunter's Acquisition of Hunter's Island in the Manor of Pelham
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Recently I have uncovered some new information about John Hunter's acquisition of Hunter's Island located in the Manor of Pelham before New York City annexed the island and later connected it to the mainland with landfill. John Hunter built a showplace mansion on the island that was considered Westchester County's showplace throughout the early 19th century. It housed one of the nation's finest private art collections and hosted illustrious guests including President Martin Van Buren. Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting will provide a little information about John Hunter's acquisition of the island.
In his popular book on the history of Pelham published in 1946, Lockwood Barr traced much of the ownership history of Hunter's Island. In one passage, he wrote:
"Since no deed for Hunter's Island to John Hunter, has been found, it is not known exactly when Hunter acquired the Island, but obviously it was after 1804 and before 1812. . . . Proof that John Hunter purchased the Island from William Henderson is contained in the deed to Ambrose C. Kingsland, dated 1866, from John Hunter 3rd, Executor of the estate of his grandfather, John, which reads in part: '. . . tracts of land heretofore conveyed to John Hunter, senior, now deceased, by William Henderson . . . and known by the name of Hunter's Island, formerly known by the name of Henderson's or Appleby's Island, and the two small islands contiguous thereto, commonly called The Twins. . . containing as estimated, 250 acres more or less . . . being the same premises conveyed by Thomas Hunt to John Blagge and by him to Alexander Henderson. . .'
The title to the Island, from Henderson, was not satisfactory, for soon after the death of William Henderson in 1812, John Hunter took legal steps to clear the title. Peter Jay Munro, one of the leading lawyers of that day: 'levied a fine and recovery in behalf of John Hunter, Esq. for the entire Island. . .'--according to a footnote in Bolton, Vol. II, p. 89." Barr, pp. 93-94.
Review of copies of The New-York Evening Post published in 1818 has revealed notice of an action in fine that may be the "fine and recovery in behalf of John Hunter" to which Mr. Barr referred.
Regular readers of the Historic Pelham Blog may recall that I described the archaic legal concept of an "action in fine" in a posting published December 9, 2005 entitled "Conveyance of Le Roy Lands in Pelham Between Pelham Bridge and New Rochelle in 1818". There I noted that before about 1833, the fine was a fictitious personal action that the parties "settled" and presented to the court for approval of the settlement. The defendant in such an action was called the "Deforciant" because the fictitious action was premised around the fiction that the defendant seller of land was unjustifiably using force to prevent the buyers from possessing the land -- deforcing them from the land. The land purchasers brought an action begun by writ of covenant against fictitious deforciant. The parties then applied to the court for approval of a compromise of the action. The terms of the settlement were recorded in court records and public notice of the settlement was provided typically by publication in local newspapers.
According to the eighth edition of Black's Law Dictionary (2004), "[t]he fine owed its popularity as a means of conveyancing to two factors, neither of which was present in the standard method of conveyance by means of feoffment. First, the enrolling in the court records provided evidence of the transaction which was both permanent and free from the danger of forgery. Secondly, the effect of the fine was to set running a short period of limitation at the expiration of which all claims to the land were barred. It was this second aspect which made the device attractive as a means of 'barring' fees tail." (quoting Butt, Petter, Land Law, pp. 102-03 (2d ed. 1988).
In 1811, John Hunter used the fine in an apparent effort to clear title to Hunter's Island. A notice related to that effort appeared in the November 23, 1818 issue of The New-York Evening Post. It read:
John Hunter, plaintiff.
Robert R. Hunter, deforciant.
PUBLIC notice is hereby given pursuant to the statute in such case made and provided that in the supreme Court of Judicature of the people of the state of New-York, held at the city of New-York, on the first Monday of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, before Smith Thompson, Ambrose Spencer, William W. Van Ness, Joseph C. Yates, and Jonas Platt, Esquires, justices of the said supreme court, a fine with proclamations of the lands and tenements hereinafter mentioned was levied and acknowledged between the parties aforesaid, which fine is to the effect following to wit : West Chester County, to wit : This is the final agreement made in the supreme court of judicature of the people of the state of New-York, at the city of New-York, on the first Monday in May, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighteen, before Smith Thompson, Ambrose Spencer, William W. Van Ness, Joseph C. Yates, and Jonas Platt, Esquires, justices of the said supreme court, and others then and there present, between John Hunter, Esquire, plaintiff, and Robert R. Hunter of the city and state of New York, Esquire, deforciant, of two messuages and two hundred and fifty acres of land, meadow, pasture, wood, salt-meadow, sedge, marsh, and land covered with water, with the appurtenances, situate at Pelham, in the county of Westchester ; being a certain farm, consisting of three islands or parcels of land, lying in the East River or Long Island Sound, at Pelham, aforesaid ; one called 'Hunter's Island,' alias 'Henderson's Island,' alias 'Appleby's Island,' and the other two called 'The Twins;' which said three islands being situated near each other, are surrounded by the water of the said river or sound, and at high water form three separate and distinct islands, and at low water are connected together by sedge and marsh, and which said farm, or islands, parcels of land and premises, are butted and bounded as follows, viz : Beginning at the easterly side of the bridge, connected the first mentioned island with the main land, at low water mark, being the middle of the channel of the water dividing the said first mentioned island from the main land; thence running along the shores of the said farm, islands, parcels of land and premises, at low water mark aforesaid, until the said line comes to the westerly side of the said bridge; and thence running under the said bridge to the place of beginning ; comprehending and including within the said line or boundary, the whole, and each and every part of the said Farm, Islands, parcels of land and premises lying or being above low water mark aforesaid, and containing in all two hundred and fifty acres, be the same more or less ; and also of the aforesaid bridge, connecting the first mentioned island with the said main land at Pelham aforesaid as the same bridge now stands over and across the water separating the first mentioned island from the said main land ; and also the right easement or privilege of a road four rods wide leading from the northerly end or butment of the said bridge where it joins the said main land to the public highway in Pelham aforesaid, and running and being as the said road now runs or extends from the said butment to the said public highway ; and also of ninety-eight acres and two perches of land, meadow, pasture, and wood, with the appurtenances situate at Pelham aforesaid, in the said county, being a certain other farm, tract or parcel of land at Pelham aforesaid, (formerly in the tenure or occupation of Augustin James Frederick Prevost,) bounded as follows, viz : Beginning at the southerly corner thereof near a school house where a farm now or late of William and George Crawford joins the highway leading from the Westchester turnpike road in Pelham to Rodman's Neck, (so called) ; thence running northerly with the said highway to land now or late of Caleb Pell ; thence running eastwardly with the last mentioned land to land now or late of the heirs or devisees of William Bailey, deceased, commonly called the 'William Bailey farm' ; thence running southwesterly with the last mentioned land, to the aforesaid farm now or late of William and George Crawford ; and thence running westerly with the last mentioned farm to the place of beginning ; containing ninety eight acres and two perches of land, be the same more or less -- Whereupon a plea of covenant was summoned between them in the same court, that is to say, that the said Robert R. Hunter hath acknowledged the said tenements, with the appurtenances, to be the right of him the said John Hunter, as those which the said John Hunter hath of the gift of the said Robert H. Hunter, and those the said Robert R. Hunter hath remised and quit claimed from him the said Robert R. Hunter and his heirs, to the aforesaid John Hunter and his heirs forever -- And moreover the said Robert R. Hunter hath granted for himself and his heirs, that he will warrant to the aforesaid John Hunter and his heirs, the aforesaid tenements with the appurtenances, against all persons forever ; and for this acknowledgement, remise, quit-claim, warranty, fine, and agreement, the said John Hunter hath given to the said Robert R. Hunter forty thousand dollars ; and that the said fine was proclaimed the first time in the said supreme court on the seventh day of May, in the year first above mentioned. Dated this fourteenth day of November, one thousand eight hundred and eighteen.
ROBERT R. HUNTER.
Towt, Atty. Nov. 19 law5w"
Supreme Court, The New-York Evening Post, Nov. 23, 1818, p. 4.
In addition to the significance of this notice to the history of Hunter's Island, there are two very significant references included in the notice. First, the notice contains one of the earliest references -- though not the earliest reference -- to a school located in Pelham. Significantly, however, this early reference gives the location of the school and places it near the location where the old one-room-schoolhouse on Split Rock Road once stood (that building has been incorporated into the home located at 982 Split Rock Road).
Another significant reference within the notice is the ancient roadway that led from John Hunter's causeway that connected Hunter's Island to the mainland all the way to today's Boston Post Road. I have written about that roadway, remnants of which are still visible within Pelham Bay Park in an area just south of the Beech Tree Lane section of the Village of Pelham Manor. See Tuesday, November 1, 2005: The Mystery of The Ancient Boulder-Lined Road Near Beech Tree Lane.
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