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, February 02, 2007

1670 Letter from John Winthrop, Jr. to William Lord Brereton, Describing the Arrival of John Pell in America to Receive Thomas Pell's Estate

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A privately printed book published in 1858 transcribed records in the English archives relating to the history of Maine. Among the papers transcribed in that book was a letter from John Winthrop, Jr. sent to William Lord Brereton, on October 11, 1670.

The letter is fascinating. In it the author describes a wondrous and inexplicable event that occurred in June or July of 1670 near the Kennebunk River in Maine. Though I profess no expertise in the analysis, it seems apparent that the letter describes the aftermath of a meteorite that crashed into the top of a hill blowing the hilltop over the tops of nearby trees and into the river, blocking the river's waters for a time. The clay of the hill was hardened into many small "bullets" and fossilized shellfish shells were exposed though -- as the letter noted in a puzzled fashion -- the sea "floweth" nowhere near the hill.

Though fascinating in its own right, the letter is all the more interesting to students of Pelham history because it describes the arrival of John Pell, nephew of Thomas Pell, in America to receive the estate of his deceased uncle, Thomas Pell. The letter is transcribed in its entirety below.


Right Honble, - I was at Boston in the Massachusetts Colony when Mr John Pell arrived there, by whom I had the great favour of your Lordships letter. He came into that Harbour very opportunely for the expedition of his business. For one Mr John Bankes, a neighbour of Mr Thomas Pell, deceased and one of those whom he had intrusted with the estate, was in a vessel of Fairfield [the place where Mr Pell had lived] returning thither and met the ship coming in and came back with Mr John Pell to Boston. Where I spake with them both and upon the reading of your Lordships letter informed Mr Bankes that I had full assurance from your Lordship and divers others that the person there present was Mr John Pell and he to whom Mr Thomas Pell deceased had given his Estate. And that very day, Mr John Pell imbarqued with Mr Bankes, and sailed towards Fairfield carrying also with him my letters to the magistrate and others there, certifying the same to them concerning him with desires of all good loving respects to him and their helpfulnesse as his occasions should require, and that order might be taken forthwith for his quiet possession of that estate. I have heard since of [Page 94 / Page 95] his safe arrival and welcome there and that he hath accordingly the possession of the lands and houses and goods to which he had right both at Fairfield and Westchester, which is a place neere New York, where his uncle had also a considerable plantation, with good accommodations belonging to it.

My Lord, the relation which I am now presenting to your Lordship is of a very strange and prodigious wonder this last summer in this part of the world, that the like hath been knowen for the whole manner of it I doe not remember that I have read or heard.

There was an hill neere Kenebunke River in the province of Maine (the eastern part of New England) which is removed out of its place and the bottom turned upward. The time is not certaine when it was done, but that it is so is very certaine. And it is concluded by those who live neerest to it, that it was removed eyther the later end of June or the beginning of July last. The relation which I have from credible persons concerning the manner of it is this, viz. that the hill being about eyght rodds from Kenebunke River side on the west side of the River, about foure miles from the sea, was removed over the drye land about eyght rods or perches, and over the tops of the trees also which grew between the hill and that river, leaping as it were over them into the River, where it was placed (the upper part being downward) and dammed up the river till the water did work itself a passage thorow it. The length of the hill was about two hundred and fifty foote, the breadth of it about fourscore foot, the depty of it about twenty foot. The situation of the hill as to the length of it was norwest and south east. The earth of it is a blue clay without stones. Many round bullets were within it which seem to be of the same clay hardened. I have not yet seene the place my selfe, but sent purposely to inquire into the truth of what had beene reported concerning it. And had this relation from Major William Phillips who dwelleth not farr from the place and Mr. Herlakenden Symons, who went to the place and took very good notice and brought me the same report of the truth and manner of it, which I had before received by a letter from Major Philips in answer to my letter of enquiry and told me that the earth of the hill did not lie between the former place of the hill and river, but was caried together over the tops of the trees into the river, which seemes to be as if it were blowne up by such a force as caried the whole body of it so farr together. I had fro' them some few of those rounds bullets, I think there were but two or three, and some pieces of the earh in other formes which were found upon that now-upper part, which was before the [Page 95 / Page 96] lower or the inward bowells of that hill. As also a small shell or two of a kinde of shell fish, like some shell fishe commonly founde where the sea floweth, but how they should be within that hill is strange to consider. I have sent all that I had thence with other things to the Royall society for their repository. I understand also from some of those parts, that there was no notice taken of any earthquake about that time, nor did I hear of any in other parts of the country. I give your Lordship the relation only of this prodigie as I had it upon the best inquiry I could make, leaving the discussion of the natural causes which might concurre a matter too hard for man to comprehend, but the power of his Almighty arm is herein manifest to all who weigheth the hills in a balance and at whose presence the heavens drop, the hills are melted like wax. Sinai it selfe is moved. I hope to have opportunity to see the place and if any other matter considerable upon my observation or further inquiry shall appeare, I shall be obliged to give your Lordship further account thereof and for present am bold humbly to subscribe my selfe.

Right Hon ble Your Lordships most obliged humble servant

Boston, Oct. 11. 1670. JOHN WINTHROP."

Source: Massachusetts Historical Society, Letters of John Winthrop, Jr. in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. VIII, 5th Series, pp. 138-40 (Boston, MA: Published by Massachusetts Historical Society, 1882) (transcribing text of letter from John Winthrop, Jr. to William Lord Brereton dated October 10, 1670). See also A Catalogue of Original Documents in The English Archives Relating to the Early History of the State of Maine, pp. 94-96 (NY, NY: Privately Printed 1858) (transcribing same letter but misattributing it as a "Letter to JOHN WINTHROP, Governor of Connecticut").

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