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, September 29, 2006

Intriguing Evidence of the Amount Thomas Pell Paid Native Americans for the Manor of Pelham

Historians long have believed that there exists no record of the amount Thomas Pell paid Native Americans when he acquired the lands that became the Manor of Pelham and surrounding areas on June 27, 1654. I have located an obscure 17th century document published in a journal released in 1869 that says that Thomas Pell paid "£500 starlinge" for the lands he acquired. Moreover, the source is very intriguing because it suggests something long suspected by historians who have studied the matter -- Thomas Pell acted at the behest of English authorities when he bought the land in an effort to block the Dutch from asserting dominion over the lands.

The text of the treaty by which Pell acquired the lands sheds little light on the mystery of how much he paid. Pell's copy of the treaty says only that the sellers received “trou valew & just Satisfaction” for the land.

Westchester Historian Thomas Scharf reported in 1886, without citation to authority, that the “Indians received, it is said, as an equivalent for their deed of the land, sundry hogshead of Jamaica rum.” Scharf, Thomas, ed., History of Westchester County, New York, Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge and West Farms, Which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol. I, p. 707 (Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co. 1886).

There is evidence from Thomas Pell's own mouth, however, that he paid "large sums of money" -- and did not barter goods -- in exchange for the land. This evidence is from a court proceeding in which Pell was involved in 1665. At that time he testified briefly regarding his original land purchase. He testified before a court of assize “that he had obtained a license to make the purchase, from the authorities of Connecticut, and had paid large sums of money for the same.” See Bolton, Jr., Robert, A History of the County of Westchester From Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. I, p. 516 & n.b (NY: Alexander S. Gould 1848).

The newly uncovered evidence supports Pell's testimony that he paid "large sums of money" for the land. In 1869, the Massachusetts Historical Society released its periodic publication documenting its proceedings for the years 1867 - 1869. Included in the publication were papers presented to the Society during its December 1868 meeting. The papers were described as "Colonial Papers copied from the Public Archives in London". They included "Original Notes relating to New England, Written about 1663" by Sir Joseph Williamson. At that time Williamson was Under-Secretary of State in England. He later became Secretary of State and Keeper of His Majesty's State Papers.

Williamson's notes reference an incident in which Dutch authorities entered the Village of Westchester and arrested Enlish settlers who had settled the area later known as the Town of Westchester shortly after Pell's purchase of the lands. Williamson wrote, in pertinent part:

"they entred forcebly upon a towne purchased by one Pell (an English gentleman) of the native Prince, at the charge of £500 starlinge, who had peopled the same with English at his & their very great charge, many of which people were imprisoned by the said Dutch for refusinge the Oath imposed by them, & others wounded yt opposed the Dutch usurpation, and many have been since fined considerable somes, soe that our Countrymen being overawed and inslaved by them are constrayned to stand still & see this high dishonor done to his Maj tie & the trade wrested out of the hands of the Merchants of England, as may be seen by this briefe account of the returne made by the Dutch the last yeare, 1662, from thence into Holland viz : the shipp Otter, this being the miserable estate of the English interest & affairs in that part of the world its humbly conceived it calls aloud upon us for remedy that we may noe longer sustaine the intolerable disgrace done to his Maj ty (as far as his Ma tie is culpable of suffringe by the intrusion of such monsters and the exceedinge dammage to his subjects by these bold usurpers."

Source: Sir Joseph Williamson's Papers, 1663. Colonial Papers. No. 45 in Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 1867 - 1869, pp. 386-87 (Boston, MA: 1869, Privately Printed for the Society).

It is fascinating to consider that a high government official in England responsible, in part, for English relations with the Dutch, was aware not only of the circumstances surrounding Pell's efforts to populate the area with English settlers but also of the amount Pell paid for the land.


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