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, October 06, 2006

Additional Evidence That Thomas Pell Acquired His Lands At the Behest of English Authorities

For years scholars have pondered whether Thomas Pell acted at the behest of government authorities when he purchased lands from local Native Americans over which the Dutch claimed dominion. The evidence for or against any such hypothesis is scant. It seems most likely that while government authorities did not prompt Pell to act, he acted with their consent – either explicit or implicit. I have located additional evidence in support of this hypothesis which is laid out at the close of this Historic Pelham Blog posting.

Pell Testified He Had a "License" from Connecticut Authorities to Make the Purchase

Perhaps the best evidence regarding Pell's motives in acquiring the lands are the records of 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.” 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) (citing Assize Rec. Albany, 1665 to 1672).

The Dutch Perceived England as Somehow Behind Pell's Purchase

It seems that the Dutch, on the other hand, perceived England as somehow behind Pell’s purchase. The protest issued by Cornelius van Thienhoven on April 19, 1655 directs “Thomas Pel, or whomsoever else it may concern” to remove from the lands in question “every article of property you and your nation have brought thither.” (Emphasis added).

Various Historians Have Concluded that English Colonial Authorities Instigated the Purchase

One author, writing in Pelliana, has hypothesized that Thomas Pell was “instigated” to buy the land as an irritant to the Dutch. Under this theory, citizens of the colony of Connecticut hoped to oust the Dutch from their foothold in New Amsterdam. Consequently, the land purchase was an effort to extend the Connecticut “boundary to the westward into Dutch territory and thus to establish a casus belli with the Dutch when political conditions should warrant a war which was much desired by the citizens of Connecticut.” Pell, Robert T., Pelliana: Pell of Pelham ~ Thomas Pell First Lord of the Manor of Pelham Westchester Co., New York, New Series Vol. I, No. 1, p. 47 (Privately Printed, Sept. 1962).

Lockwood Barr, author of a popular history of the Ancient Town of Pelham published in 1946, believed that “[t]he Connecticut Colony, was instrumental in having ‘Mr. Thomas Pell, Esq. Of Fairfield’ make the Treaty with the Indians . . . for it blocked the Dutch.” However, he cites no authority for the proposition. Barr, Lockwood, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of The Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Mannour of Pelham Also the Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams, p. 12 (Richmond, VA: The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946).

Another author, writing in 1799, asserted that at one point the legislature of Connecticut authorized Thomas Pell to purchase from Native American proprietors additional lands between Westchester and the Hudson River, resolving that such lands should be added to Westchester. An additional author claimed in 1848 that no record now remains of any such legislative authorization. See Trumbull, Benjamin, History of Connecticut, p. 272 (1799). Bolton notes in the first edition of his History of the County of Westchester published in 1848 that “no record now remains of the transaction.” Bolton, A History of the County of Westchester, supra, Vol. I, p. 522 & n.e. It turns out that Bolton was wrong. Such a record does exist, although it was not easily available to researchers until it was published in a multi-volume work two years following the publication of Bolton’s first edition. See The Public Records of the County of Connecticut, Prior to the Union with New Haven Colony, May, 1655; Transcribed and Published, (In Accordance With a Resolution of the General Assembly,) Under the Supervision of the Secretary of State, With Occasional Notes, and an Appendix; by J. Hammond Trumbull, Vol. I, p. 418 (Hartford: Brown & Parsons 1850) (At a Session of the General Assembly at Hartford, March 10, 1663: “This Court doth grant liberty to Mr. Thomas Pell to buy all that land of the Indian proprietors between West Chester and Hudsons Riuer, (that makes Manhatoes an Island,) and lay it to West Chester, prouided that it be not purchased by any before, nor in their possession.”).

Thomas Pell Certainly Had the Opportunity to Receive Instructions Regarding His Land Purchase

Certainly Thomas Pell was sufficiently connected to the British and Colonial authorities to have had the opportunity to receive instructions regarding his land purchase. By 1654, Thomas Pell was a wealthy gentleman of solid reputation unlikely to have escaped the notice of virtually any of the colonial authorities in Connecticut.

He had lived in Fort Saybrook, New Haven and Fairfield. As early as March, 1646 he is recorded as attending general court at New Haven seated in “cross seats” near the governor and deputy governor of the colony. See, e.g., Bolton, A History of the County of Westchester, supra, n.2, Vol. I, p. 521 & n.b (citing New Haven Col. Rec. vol. I 280). He may have been one of the few physicians/surgeons in the area at the time. See Gevitz, Norman, “The Devil Hath Laughed at the Physicians”: Witchcraft and Medical Practice in Seventeenth-Century New England, 55 Journal of the History of Medicine, pp. 5, 7 n.5 (Jan. 2002); Thoms, Herbert, The Beginnings of Medical Practice in New Haven Colony (visited Oct. 6, 2006; paper is part of the collection of the Yale-New Haven Medical Center entitled “Historical New Haven Health Documents”). He seems to have had close ties to Roger Ludlow, a colonial official. And, Pell even seems to have played some quasi-governmental role that has been referred to as a “specialist in Indian affairs”. Pelliana: Pell of Pelham, New Series Vol. I, No. 1, supra, p. 46.

In short, Thomas Pell was a prominent and wealthy citizen well known to colonial officials in Fairfield and New Haven. He was known as a specialist in Indian affairs while residing in Fairfield. It is not a stretch to imagine that the authorities encouraged Pell – even if only indirectly – to purchase the lands that later became Pelham and surrounding areas.

Additional Evidence that Pell Bought the Land at the Behest of English Authorities

In 1664, inhabitants of the land then called Westchester prepared and submitted to colonial authorities a petition. The very first paragraph of that petition, transcribed in its entirety below, contained a declaration that ten years before Thomas Pell purchased his large tract "for large summes, under the title of England" (emphasis supplied). Bolton quoted the petition in its entirety. He wrote:

"In 1664, the inhabitants of Westchester addressed the following petition to the honorable his majesty's commissioners for the affairs of New England, which,

'Humbly showeth

1st. That the said tract of land called Westchester, was purchased for large summes, under the title of England, by Mr. Thomas Pell of the known ancient proprietors, in the year 1654.

2d. The pretended power of the Manhatoes, did therefore continue protesting against and threatening of the said plantation, keeping the inhabitants at continual watch and ward, until at length the persons of twenty-three inhabitants of Westchester aforesaid, were seized under commission from the said powers, and committed prisoners into the hould of a vessel, where they continued in restraint from all friends, for the space of thirteen days, fed with rotten provisions creeping with worms, whereby some of them remained diseased to this day, after which, they were carried away in chains and laid in their dungeon at Manhatoes.

3d. That the said inhabitants had perished with famine in the said imprisonment, but for the relief obtained at other hands.

4th. That all this suffering was inflicted on them, under noe other pretence, but that they were opposers to the Dutch title to the lands aforesaid.

5th. That when the said pretended powers had freed the said prisoners, and [Page 285 / Page 286] introduced their own government over the said plantation, they drove away such as would not submit to their pretended authority, to their great endangerment, and the enslaving of such as remained.

6th. That when in May, 1663, the said plantation was reduced to the king's authority, by virtue of his letters patent to Connecticut, the pretended powers aforesaid, sent in hostile manner for certain inhabitants of Westchester, whom they confined in Manhatoes, and the next day sent for one Mr. Richard Mills, whom they cast into their dungeon, and afterwards so used him for thirty dayes space, as there are yet strong and crying presumptions they caused his death which followed soone after.

7th. That the unreasonable damage of the purchaser, and the low estate of the plantation occasioned by the premises, hath had no other recompense to this day, but new threatenings, and thereby an utter obstruction from the peopling and improveing of a hopeful country, all which is an insuperable abuse to his royal majestie's, and our English nation, is humbly offered to the consideration of the hon. commissioners.'"

Source: Bolton, Jr., Robert, The History of the Several Towns, Manors and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time Carefully Revised by Its Author, Vol. II, p. 286 (C.W. Bolton, ed., NY, NY: Chas. F. Roper pub. 1881) (citing "Alb. Rec. Gen. Entries, p. 11. Als Alb. Rec. vol. 1. 120, 121.").

Please Visit the Historic Pelham Web Site
Located at
Please Click Here for Index to All Blog Postings.


Post a Comment

<< Home