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.

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Account of the Great Election of 1733 Held on the Village Green At St. Paul's Church in Eastchester

Recently I posted an item summarizing the early history of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester. In that posting I included links to a number of earlier postings regarding the history of the church which, in the 18th and early 19th centuries, was one of the two principal churches available to Pelham residents for worship. See Thursday, November 8, 2007: Brief History of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester Published in 1886.

One of the most notable events ever to occur on the Village Green in front of St. Paul's Church was the "Great Election of 1733" where the people's candidate, Lewis Morris, was elected to the provincial Assembly. A newspaper account of the election published by John Peter Zenger led to a trial in which he was acquitted of printing and publishing seditious libels. The trial is considered one of the most important early victories for freedom of speech in America and an important precursor to inclusion of the First Amendment among those of the Bill of Rights accepted during the early years of the United States of America. Below is an account of the election. Last April 9 I provided a transcription of an October 29, 1733 newspaper article containing Zenger's account of the election. See Monday, April 9, 2007: An Account of the Election Victory of Lewis Morris in the So-Called "Great Election".

"Driven from office by his foes, [Lewis] Morris was now [in 1733] the favorite champion of the people. He had retired to his estate at Morrisania. But here he was not permitted to rest; perhaps he was incapable of it. He threw himself at once into the politics of the time, and, although old (for he was now over sixty), became a candidate for the assembly. The story of his election, despite all the efforts of De Lancey and the court party, is preserved for us in Zenger's journal, almost with the minuteness of a modern reporter. I shall abridge if for the reader, since it tells us much of the manners of our ancestors. When Lewis Morris, in the autumn of 1733, appeared as the candidate of the people for Westchester, a very remarkable election took place. Few modern politicians would care to undergo the fatigues and the dangers that awaited the patriotic voters in 1733. There was fear that the court party might practise some fraud; fifty electors kept watch all night at East Chester, where the polling was to take place, until the morning of the election day. The other electors of Morris's party began to move on Sunday afternoon so as to be at New Rochelle by midnight; on their way they were entertained at plentifully covered tables in each house as they passed; at midnight they met at the home of an active partizan whose house could not contain them all. A large fire was made in the street, and here they sat till daylight came, in the damp air of a Westchester morning. At daylight they were joined by seventy mounted voters from the lower part of the county, and then the whole body moved to the polling place at East Chester in the following order: first rode 'two trumpeters and two violins,' the representatives of a modern band; then came four freeholders, one of whom carried a banner, on one side of which was inscribed, in golden capitals, 'King George,' on the other, 'Liberty and Law.' Next came the candidate, Lewis Morris, Esq., late chief justice, then two colors, and at sunrise they entered the common of East Chester. Three hundred of the principal freeholders of the county followed Morris on horseback, the largest number ever known to be assembled since the settlement of the town. Three times they rode around the green, and then went to the houses of their friends. About eleven o'clock, perhaps with still more state and show, appeared the candidate of the opposing party. It was William Forster, Esq., once a schoolmaster sent over by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, but now clerk of the peace and justice of the Common Pleas by the appointment of Governor Cosby. It is suggested that he paid a hundred [Page 233 / Page 234] pistoles for his office. Next him in the procession were two ensigns borne by two freeholders, and then came James De Lancey, chief justice, and Frederick Philipse, second judge, baron, etc. They were followed by one hundred and seventy mounted freeholders, the magnates of Westchester County. They entered the green on the east side, rode around it, and as he passed it was notice that De Lancey bowed to Morris and that the civility was returned. But now one of the Morris party called out, 'No Pretender,' and "Forster said angrily, 'I will take notice of you.' It was reported that he was no friend to the Hanoverian family. An hour after came the high sheriff, finely mounted, with housings and trappings of scarlet richly laced with silver. The electors gathered on the green; the great majority was evidently for Morris, but the other side demaned a poll, and the voting began. It was rudely interrupted when the high sheriff refused to receive the vote of a Friend or Quaker of large estate who would not take the usual oath. A fierce wrangle began. Morris and his friends insisted that an affirmation was sufficient; the sheriff, a stranger in the county, one of Cosby's instruments, persisted in his refusal. De Lancey and his friends sustained him, and thirty-seven Quakers, who were ready to vote for Morris, were excluded by this unjust decision. Even in England they would have been allowed to vote. Fierce, no doubt, was the rage of the popular party. One of them called out that Forster was a Jacobite; Forster denied it. At last the 'late Chief Justice' was returned by a large majority. He rebuked Forster and the sheriff for their attempt upon the liberties of the people, and threatened them with deserved punishment; but when all his followers answered with loud cheers, he restrained them from violence. De Lancey and his faction, we may fancy, rode sullenly away. But soon after Morris entered New-York in triumph, amidst salutes from all the vessels in the harbor. He was met by a party of the chief merchants and gentlemen of the town. The people followed him with 'loud acclamations.' He was conducted to the Black Horse Tavern, where a fine entertainment had been prepared, and where, [Page 234 / Page 235] amidst the flow of fiery Madeira and steaming punch, it is not likely that the governor and his followers were spared in the usual speeches."

Source: Wilson, James Grant, ed., The Memorial History of the City of New-York From its First Settlement to the Year 1892, Vol. II, pp. 233-35 (NY, NY: New-York History Co., 1892).

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