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.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rumors in 1657 That Thomas Pell Manipulated Local Native Americans To Protect His Land Acquisition From Incursions by the Dutch

Thomas Pell of Fairfield in the colony of Connecticut acquired the lands that later became Pelham, New York and surrounding areas on June 27, 1654. The "treaty" by which Pell acquired the lands was enlightened in one respect. It constituted more than a mere sale of the lands. It also required future cooperation and interaction between representatives of the Native Americans and the English settlers to protect the acquired lands against incursions.

In addition to the provisions that dealt with the Native Americans' transfer of land to Thomas Pell, there was a separate section at the foot of the treaty entitled "Articles of Agreement". That section affirmatively obligated both the English settlers and the Native Americans to choose two representatives one day in the Spring of "every yeare" to inspect the boundaries of the land that was the subject of the sale agreement so that "Right Knowledge may be kept wh out [without] injury to Either side yt Mutuall peace & love may be mayntayned."

The objective sounds noble. There are indications, however, that Thomas Pell expected more of the local Native Americans than merely inspecting the boundaries of the land he acquired once each spring. Rumors circulated in 1656 and 1657 that Pell "daily" told local Native Americans either to "return his money" or to protect the land he had acquired from them against incursions by the Dutch.

These rumors are reflected in an English translation of a fascinating Dutch report prepared in 1657. The report details a trip by a group of Dutch emissaries appointed by Director General Peter Stuyvesant that departed from Fort Amersterdam near the tip of today's Manhattan Island on December 29, 1656. The group traveled to Oostdorp (later the town of West Chester, located in Westchester County, until it was annexed by New York City and became part of today's Bronx).

The men who made the trip were: Brian Nuton, "Captn Lieutenant"; Cornelis Van Ruyven, "Secretary"; and Carel van Brugge, "Commissary". They traveled to Oostdorp to lodge objections, for the second time, to the English settlers' claims on the land. Those settlers reportedly had acquired the land from Thomas Pell.

According to the report, the object of the mission was to communicate that of the six individuals that the little settlement had nominated as possible Magistrates for Oostdorp, Director General Peter Stuyvesant had selected three to serve: "Mr. Newman, Mr. Lord and John Smith". The drum used to call the inhabitants together was beaten and the Dutch read to the assembled group the commission granted to the Magistrates. The Dutch representatives took oaths from a number of the inhabitants swearing allegiance to the Director General and his appointed Magistrates and laws "so far as these harmonized with the laws of God".

The group then presented a number of complaints to the Dutch that they asked the representatives to deliver on their behalf to the Director General and the Council at Fort Amsterdam. Among those complaints was one founded on the rumors surrounding Thomas Pell and his dealings with local Native Americans. The report stated, in pertinent part, as follows:

"The preceding being accomplished, divers of the Inhabitants made the following complaints which they requested us to present to the Hr General & Council, in order that a timely remedy may be applied: -

Firstly, regarding the insolence of the Indians; that they daily threaten to destroy them if they repair under the Dutch which some told us proceeded from Mr. Pel [sic] who purchased that piece of land from the Indians on this condition, as they said, that the Indians should deliver it to him unembarrassed, and maintain him in it against all who may have claims to it, and that the said Pel now daily importuned the Indians to return his money, or otherwise that the Indians according to Deed of Sale, should free him from the Dutch nation who claim it as their property. . . . "

Source: Papers Relating to Westchester County, Vol. XIII, pp. 924-25 (Ward Parsons 1849).

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