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.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Amorous Exploits of Captain Samuel Tredwell Pell of the Manor of Pelham in 1778

A book published in 1850 that detailed the lives of New York trappers Nicholas Stoner and Nathaniel Foster included a coy narrative about the amorous exploits of Samuel Tredwell Pell of the Manor of Pelham in 1778. Stoner served under Pell who was Captain of a company of which Stoner was a member during the Revolutionary War. I previously have written about Samuel Tredwell Pell of the Manor of Pelham. See, e.g., Thursday, October 12, 2006: Biographical and Genealogical Information Regarding Revolutionary War Office Samuel Tredwell Pell of the Manor of Pelham.

The account details an incident in which Stoner and Pell slipped away from the American garrison and picked their way through Tory country simply to visit two teenage girls who lived with their mother in a small cottage near the home of Jeremiah Mason near Johnstown. The account appears immediately below, followed by a citation to its source.

"In the fall of 1778, the several regiments of New York state troops having become much reduced, a new organization took place, their number being lessened, at which time Nicholas Stoner joined the company of Capt. Samuel T. Pell, attached to Col. Cortlandt's regiment, which marched to Schenectada. The state troops were sent, during the winter months, to different frontier stations, and Capt. Pell proceeded to Johnstown for winter quarters. [Page 67 / Page 68]

Small parties of the enemy kept the inhabitants along the frontier of New York, in a state of almost constant alarm. While stationed at Johnstown Nicholas Stoner often went hunting and fishing with other lads, to provide a dainty morsel for some officer, who thought more of his palate than of his purse; and consequently paid liberally for their success. . . . .

[Page 72] I have remarked elsewhere, that young Stoner, when on duty at Johnstown, went hunting in the proper season. His pigeon hunting often gave him an interview with the young ladies named, and not infrequently did Anna, as the hunter was about to proceed farther from the garrison, with some anxiety and a reproving look, cast a caution in his path from her father's door, such as 'Nicholas, you'll be surprised yet at that tory house and taken off to Canada: you had better not got there.' . . . He was also quite partial to Anna, as he admits, and we think he must have promised her to limit his future excursions to a nearer range, else why the caution observed in another visit.

As the young musician [Stoner] usually hunted in the same [Page 72 / Page 73] direction, it was suspected by more than one at the station that he went sky-larking, and James Dunn, who was possibly in the secret of his destination, one day told Capt. Pell that 'if he did not look out he would lose his fifer, as he not only went upon dangerous grounds, but hunted two kinds of pigeons.' The captain, whose inclinations led him to follow all the fortunes of war, took occasion secretly to catechise the young hunter; and the latter, with his usual candor, owned up. The consequence was, the commander of the garrison concluded the hunting of pigeons must be rare sport, especially if they were not too lean, and soon obtained a promise from young Nimrod to take him where he could find one nestled.

Arrangements having been made for a hunt, secretly of course, a garment was thrown over the back of an old white mare belonging to the widow Shutting, which sought its living around the fort; and selecting a propitious evening, the hunter and his pupil -- under cover of a cluster of trees a little distance from the garrison, mounted their Rozinante and set off. The reader may be surprised that they started on a pigeon hunt in the evening, and . . . that they left their shooting [equipment behind]; since this is all owing to his ignorance of the policy of war, for he should know that game is easier taken on the roost than on the wing.

It was the wish of the master hunter to avoid passing on their way the house of Jeremiah Mason, and [Page 73 / Page 74] why, possibly the reader may infer; he says himself, however, it was from fear a watch-dog might betray the nature of their errand and thus startle the best game: consequently a blind and circuitous route was chosen, some distance from the public highway.

Whether the animal was too heavily loaded or not, we can not judge any better than the reader (sin is said to be weighty), but sure it is that in threading an intricate footpath carpeted by a web of briars and underbrush along a ravine, the mare stumbled and went heels over head, sending her riders far from her, if not pell-mell, certainly Pell and Nich. Bestowing some harsh epithets upon the poor beast, which probably had the worst of the bargain, they did not attempt to remount; but leaving the old mare to her fate, they proceeded on foot.

On arriving near the hunting-grounds, Stoner went forward to reconnoitre, and finding the coast clear, returned and conducted his captain into a neat little cottage, with two rooms below, and possibly as many above. The ceremony of an introduction once passed, the captain soon found himself quite at home. The time for retiring to rest at length arrived, and as the old hen roosted in the room they were in, it became necessary for the hunters to leave it: consequently the hunter most familiar with the premises followed the pullet in its flight to a chamber. The other bird soon after fluttered past the captain into an adjoining room, whither he pursued possibly to capture it. [Page 74 / Page 75]

I do not consider it important to the present narrative to stop and inquire of an ornithologist,

'If birds confabulate or no;
'This clear that they were always able
To hold discourse, at least in fable;'

and that the genus columba,

Soon are cooing when together
If they meet in coolish weather,

is a fact so well established, it must be obvious to the reader that pigeon hunting may be rare sport. Some time after the beautiful birds under consideration had flown to separate rooms, into which we can not think of introducing the reader, as the cooing was done agreeably to the most approved style then in vogue in western New York, the loud barking of Mason's dog fell upon the ears of the hunter closeted above. His apprehension was in a moment on tiptoe; for to be surprised by a party of the enemy and either slain or captured with his captain in such a place and at such an hour, without their having the least means of defence, he readily saw must bring scandal if not dishonor upon the American arms; and he descended (although his bird attempted with a delicate little claw to prevent) to take a midnight observation.

It turned out that Mason's sentinel was barking at the old mare the hunters had abandoned. Having collected her scattered limbs, she too had concluded to go browsing, and was, as the reader will perceive, on the right track. On the return of his pioneer, the [Page 75 / Page 76] captain was gratified to learn that there was no real cause of alarm, and pigeon hunting soon prospered again. Towards the dawn of day the sportsmen returned to the garrison; Capt. Pell exacting from his musician the most solemn assurances of secresy respecting his successful and only attempt at fowling among the Browse, until he should meet with me."

Source: Simms, Jeptha R., Trappers of New York, Or a Biography of Nicholas Stoner & Nathaniel Foster; Together with Anecdotes of Other Celebrated Hunters, and Some Account of Sir William Johnson, and His Style of Living, pp. 67-76 (Albany, NY: J. Munsell 1850).

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