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, October 16, 2007

Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1912

Periodically I have published to the Historic Pelham Blog postings about the legend of Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak. Indeed, I have written extensively about the legends surrounding the tree beneath which Pell supposedly signed the agreement by which Pell acquired from local Native Americans the lands that became Pelham and surrounding areas. Such writings include:

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004).

Bell, Blake, Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 73-81 (The Westchester County Historical Society, Summer 2002).

Tuesday, July 24, 2007: Article About the Pell Treaty Oak Published in 1909

Monday, July 23, 2007: 1906 Article in The Sun Regarding Fire that Destroyed the Pell Treaty Oak

Wednesday, May 2, 2007: Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1922

Friday, July 29, 2005: Has Another Piece of the Treaty Oak Surfaced?

Tuesday, June 14, 2005: Ceremony in 1915 to Open Bartow-Pell Mansion as Headquarters of International Garden Club Marred by Tragedy

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes information about the Pelham Treaty Oak and the old "Manor of Pelham" that appeared in a book published in 1922. A citation to the source follows the excerpt.

"Pelham Treaty Oak and Pelham Manor.

In the summer of 1911 a generous member of the Pell family, residing in New York City, offered to defray the expenses of erecting a tablet in Pelham Bay Park to mark the site of the Pell Treaty Oak, under which, tradition asserts, Thomas Pell purchased the surrounding lands from the Indians in 1654. Our Committee on Sites and Inscriptions thereupon prosecuted researches with a view to identifying the site, but with unsatisfactory results, as stated hereafter. The donor then offered to erect a more elaborate memorial to commemorate the creation of Pelham Manor, and the Society now has the project in hand. In connection with this subject, the Committee prepared the following tentative memoranda in regard to Pelham Manor, the Manor House, Treaty Oak, etc.

Pelham Manor, the area of which will be more definitely indicated hereafter, was originally a part of the territory belonging to a clan of the Mohegan Indians known as the Siwanoys, and in a more restricted way to the Wickquaeskeek Indians. In the early Dutch period these Indians appear to have ranged from Norwalk to the Hudson river, their winter quarters being near Hell Gate. Pelham Neck appears to have been one of their favorite haunts and one of their important burial places.

The Dutch claimed this territory by the same right by which they claimed all of New Netherland, but they reinforced their title to all the land between Norwalk and the Hudson River by a [Page 163 / Page 164] special proclamation in 1640. This title was confirmed on July 14, 1649, when Director General Stuyvesant, in behalf of the Dutch West India Company, purchased 'Wechquaesqueeck' from the Indians.

Between these dates, in the summer of 1642, Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, to avoid prosecution in New England on account of her religious views, fled here with her family and commenced a plantation. In that year the Indian War broke out and in 1643 Mrs. Hutchinson, with most of her household, was massacred by the red men. Her name is perpetuated in that of Hutchinson river, which later formed one of the bounds of Pelham Manor, and also in the name of Anne Hooke's Neck, an early name for the neck of land between Pelham Bay and Eastchester Bay afterwards called Pelham Neck and Rodman's Neck.

The site of Mrs. Hutchinson's residence is not definitely known; but tradition asserts that it was located on the property late of George A. Prevost of Pelham, near the road leading to the Neck on the 'old Indian Path.' Color is given to this tradition by the fact that thirty years ago the ruins of an old house could still be seen on the Prevost estate near the Hutchinson river, a little southwest of the Split Rock. Some ancient apple trees and a fine spring of water near by are also associated with the memoy of this woman. The Split rock is located on the west side of the Split Rock Road, just within the bounds of Pelham Bay Park, a little more than a mile from the Pelham Bridge Road. The rock is thirty-six feet long and twenty-one and one'half feet in its greatest horizontal diameter. It is so completely cleft in twain that an ordinary person can walk between the two halves on the ground level. The cleft is four feet wide at the top, and ten feet from top to bottom [See plate 28. In 1911 a tablet bearing the following inscription was placed on the rock:

Banished from the Massachusetts Colony
in 1638
Because of her devotion to religious liberty
This courageous woman
Sought freedom from persecution
In New Netherland
Near this rock in 1643 she and her household
were massacred by the Indians.
This tablet is placed here by the
Colonial Dames of the state of New York
Anno Domini MCMXI
Virutes majorum filiae conservant.

[Page 165 / Page 166]

The next proprietor of that neighborhood was Thomas Pell of Onkway, or Fairfield, Conn. Proceeding upon the theory that that territory was within the English jurisdiction, Pell, on November 14, 1654 [sic], obtained from the Indians a grant of all that tract of land called Westchester bounded on the east by a brook called Cedar Tree Brook or Gravelly Brook (later the boundary between the towns of Pelham [sic] and Mamaroneck); on the west by the river Aquehung or Bronx River, on the south by the Sound, and extending eight English miles inland. The grant was signed by the Indian Sachems Annhoock alias Wampage (who is supposed to have taken his name either from Anne Hutchinson or the neck named after her), Maminepoe [sic], and five others, under a venerable white oak tree long known as the Treaty Oak.

On October 6, 1666, in the reign of Charles II., Governor Nicolls patented to Pell all that portion of the before described tract lying between Hutchinson's River (called by the Indians Aquaconounck) on the west side and Cedar Tree Brook or Gravelly Brook on the east side, as an enfranchised township or Manor, as if he had held the same immediately from His Majesty the King of England, etc., etc., his successors, as of the Manor of East Greenwich in the county of Kent, etc.

On October 25, 1687, in the reign of James II., Governor Dongan, in response to the request of John Pell, nephew and heir of Thomas Pell, deceased, for 'a more full and firme grant and confirmation of the above lands and premises,' confirmed the grant in a patent which declared that 'the same shall from henceforth be called the lordshipp and manner of Pelham.'

The name Pelham Manor is preserved in the name of the Village of Pelham Manor, which was incorporated in 1891, and which lies adjacent to but just outside the boundary of the City of New York.

Especial interest attaches to the site of the Treaty Oak and the old Manor House, as being associated with the origin of Pelham Manor. In order that these may better be understood, mention may first be made of certain modern landmarks.

Hutchinson's river, sometimes called Eastchester river, the western boundary of the original Pelham Manor, empties into a bay called Hutchinson's Bay, Eastchester Bay, or Pelham [Page 165 / Page 166] Bay*. [Footnote * reads as follows: "* Some maps give the name Pelham Bay to the bay on the southwest side of Pelham Neck into which Hutchinson's river empties, and some give the name to the bay on the northeast side of the neck."] This bay is crossed by a bridge long known as Pelham Bridge. The road crossing this bridge and running near the shore from Westchester to New Rochelle is variously called the Pelham Bridge Road, the Boston Post Road and the Shore Road. At a point about 3,700 feet northeastward from the Bridge, the Pelham Bridge Road is joined by the Split Rock road coming in from the northward from the village of Pelham Manor. Opposite the end of the Split Rock Road and on the south side of the Pelham Bridge Road, is the entrance to a semi-circular drive leading to the so-called Bartow Mansion, and joining the Pelham Bridge Road again about 600 feet farther to the north-eastward.

The Bartow Mansion is a large stone house standing on the south side of the Pelham Bridge Road about 3,000 feet from the entrance first mentioned. As this building has erroneously been claimed to be the original Manor House, and it serves as a convenient landmark by which to locate other sites, the following data is given in regard to it.

The property forms a part of Pelham Bay Park and came into possession of the City of New York in December, 1888. Bolton's History of Westchester County says that in March, 1790, Thomas Pell conveyed this portion of the property to 'John Bartow and Ann Pell, his wife, grandparents of the late Robert Bartow, Esq.' Upon this property, Bartow erected the residence. The date of its erection is uncertain, but can be approximated. A careful examination of the house has thus far failed to reveal any date stone. It was erected prior to 1848, because it is mentioned in the first edition of Bolton's History of Westchester County which was published that year and which says: 'The dwelling house, which is constructed of native stone, presents a fine Grecian front to the road, with winds on the east and west.' Miss Fannie Schuyler, who lives at No. 380 Pelham Road in New Rochelle, and who is familiar with local history, says the building is over fifty years old, but does not know how much older. A man named Martin, caretaker of the Bartow Mansion for the Park Depart- [Page 166 / Page 167] ment of New York, says that about ten years ago there was an Irishman named Foley, ab0ut thirty years old, employed on the place by the Park Department; that when Foley told Foley's father where he was working, the father said that when he first came to this country he helped quarry stone to build the house. Martin gave the opinion that the house was about ninety years old. Mr. W. D. Morgan, of Broadway and One Hundred and Forty seventh street, says: 'My mother was the daughter of Robert Bartow who built the present house.' He is trying to learn about the date for us.

The house has been occupied in the months of July and August for the last few years, by permission of the Park Department, by the Hay Home and School for Crippled Children, whose headquarters are at 2111 Madison avenue, New York. About forty children are entertained here by this worthy charity.

We have only the most meagre indications of the site of the ancient Pell Manor House, owing to the destruction of the archives of the Pell family by fire.

Bolton's History of Westchester County (edition of 1848), says, with reference to the present Bartow house and the old Manor House:

'The dwelling house which is constructed of native stone, presents a fine Grecian front to the road with wings on the east and west. The old Manor House was pulled down many years since. It stood southwest of the present residence.'

In the edition of 1881, this passage is revised to read as follows:

'The dwelling house, which is constructed of native stone, presents a fine Grecian front to the road with wings on the east and west. The old Manor House, which was pulled down not many years ago, stood near the summer house in the garden a little southwest of the present stone mansion.'

About 175 feet south of the Pelham Bridge Road, near the eastern driveway entrance to the Bartow house grounds, and about fifty-five feet west of that driveway, stands a circular iron fence which surrounds the almost obliterated stump of an oak tree. As this tree, prior to its destruction, was the largest oak tree in the vicinity of the Bartow house, a lively but uncritical imagination [Page 167 / Page 168] fastened upon it the tradition that it was the Treaty Oak under which Thomas Pell purchased the land from the Indians in 1654. This erroneous tradition is perpetuated in the following quotation from the Report of the Department of Parks for 1902:

'Thomas Pell, in the year 1654, became one of the first permanent settlers. His purchase from the Indians included all of the present (Pelham Bay) park lands, and the tree is still standing on a portion of this park under which it is recorded that Lord Pell signed the first treaty of peace with the Indians in 1654, after their endeavor to drive the settlers from their homes. This tree stands in front of what is now known as the Bartow Mansion in this Park and has been broken in two by severe storms; but the lower half of the tree is still in a good state of preservation.'

Mr. Randall Comfort, an authority on the history of Bronx Borough, in the Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society for 1910, is more guarded in his reference to the tree, not declaring authoritatively that it was the Treaty Oak, but that it was pointed out as such. He says:

'The grizzled veteran of the forest which up to a year ago stood on the immense grassy lawn in front of the Bartow Mansion was pointed out as the great tree under whose branches Lord Pell signed the celebrated treaty with the Indian sachems on November 14, 1654 -- the noted Pell Treaty Oak.'

Before proceeding to consider the site of the real Treaty Oak, it may be said with reference to the tree above indicated that prior to 1902, the tree had been broken off about midway, in a storm. It continued to thrive, however, and for a number of years continued to bear luxuriant foliage. But there was a hollow in the trunk in which boys built fires and thus killed the tree, so that now, only the stumps of the roots in the ground are to be seen.

As to the actual Treaty Oak, the original edition of Bolton's History of Westchester County, published in 1848, says:

'On the estate is one of the finest oak trees in the country, interesting as the very tree beneath which the Indian sachems ceded these lands to Thomas Pell on the 14th of November, 1654.'

In the revised edition published in 1881, this passage was changed to read as follows:

[Page 168 / Page 169]

'Not very far west of the site of the old Manor House stood, a few years ago, one of the largest and finest oak trees in the country, interesting as the very tree beneath which the Indian sachems ceded these lands to Thomas Pell on the 14th of November, 1654.'

The foregoing would indicate that between the publication of the first edition and the revised edition, the Treaty Oak was destroyed. This conclusion is confirmed by Miss Anne J. Bolton, who lives at No. 220 Pelham Road, New Rochelle, who remembers the Treaty Oak as pointed out to her by her father, the Rev. Robert Bolton. She says that it stood beside the Post Road between Pelham Bridge and the entrance to the Bartow place and that every trace of it has disappeared. She says that while it stood, travelers on the Post Road were accustomed to stop their horses under its branches to enjoy its refreshing shade.

It is apparent therefore that the iron fence in the Bartow House grounds does not indicate the site of the Treaty Oak.

About 350 feet southeast of the Bartow House is a little burying ground enclosed by a low iron railing. On the stone posts at the corners are carved pelicans, from the Pell family crest. In this enclosure may be seen stones bearing the following inscriptions:

'Her lyes Isec Pell, D. Dec. 14, anno 1748.'
'Is her the body of Joseph Pell, eged 31, D. 1752.'
'In Memory of Phoebe Pell, the widow of Joseph Pell. She departed this life on the 22d day of March, 1790, in the 70th year of her age.'
'Here lyes the body of Saloma Pell, born Jan. ye 13th, 1759, and departed this life Octr. ye 10th, 1760. Aged 1 year, 8 months & 27 days.'
'In Memory of Sussannah, wife of Benjn. Drake, who died March 4th, 1763; Aged 22 years.'
'In Memory of John , son of James and Phoebe Bennett, who died Augt. 6, 1765, aged 2 months.'

In 1862, the late James K. Pell of New York erected a marble slab bearing the following inscription: [Page 169 / Page 170]

'This stone is placed here in token of respect for the memory of, and to mark the spot where lie buried the mortal remains of several of the descendants of John Pell, who was born in the year 1643, and died in the year 1700. The son of the Rev. John Pell, D. D., of Essex, in England, and nephew of Thomas Pell, the first proprietor of the Lordship and Manor of Pelham, born in the year 1603 and died in the year 1669. 1862.'

Vandals have made at least two attempts to despoil this sacred enclosure . In the summer of 1910 they dug a hole with the evident purpose of robbing the graves, but abandoned the attempt upon striking stone or concrete. In July, 1911, another attempt was made at night by men who are said to have been Italians, and who landed at the little dock about 150 feet away. A mounted policeman who, when off duty, was visiting some friends who were camping in a tent on the shore near the dock, saw a light in the grave yard as he was riding by on way to his post. At the same time the vandals discovered the policeman and escaped in their boat, notwithstanding the attempt of the officer to stop them by firing his revolver. The excavation which the vandals had begun was adjacent to the site of the excavation made the year before."

Source: American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, Seventeenth Annual Report, 1912, of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, pp. 163-70 (Albany, NY: The Argus Company, Printers, 1912).

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