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, January 02, 2009

An Account of the Dutch Capture of Westchester in 1656

Only months after he acquired lands from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654, Thomas Pell sold a portion of them to English settlers who planted a tiny village along what is known today as Westchester Creek in the Bronx. The settlement was known as Westchester or "West Chester". The Dutch referred to it as "Oostdorp" and some records reference it as East Towne.

Pell's purchase of the lands that became the Manor of Pelham was a provocative act that inflamed the passions of the Dutch in New Netherland. The settlement of Westchester, however, sent the Dutch into a frenzy of anger. In his history of Westchester County published in 1886, J. Thomas Scharf provided a brief account of the capture of the tiny settlement by the Dutch in 1656. That account is quoted below, followed by a citation to its source.

"In 1654-55 some New Englanders settled at or near Westchester without Stuyvesant's permission. On the 19th of April, Van Tienhoven, the Fiscal, issued a writ commanding Thomas Pel, or whomsoever else it might concern, to cease from trespassing and to leave the premises, and intrusted the writ to Claes Van Elslaut, the court messenger, and promptly on the 22d Claes arrived at the new village which was building at Vreedelandt. Four armed men came to meet him at the creek and demanded what he was after. Elslaut asked, 'Where can I land near the houses?' The reply was, 'You shall not land.' The messenger said, 'I am cold, let me land,' and he sprang ashore. Albert, the trumpeter, was with him, and both were placed under guard by the settlers and told not to advance a foot. The commander of the party advanced with a pistol in his hand and with eight or ten men following. The faithful messenger did his duty; he read the protest or warrant and handed it to the leader, who said, 'I cannot understand Dutch; why did not the Fiscal send it in English? If you send it in English, then shall I answer in writing.' He added, 'But that's no matter; we expect the ships from Holland and England which are to bring the settlement of the boundary. Whether we are to dwell here under the States or the Parliament time will tell; furthermore, we abide here under the States of England. If we had a sup of wine we should offer you some, but we have not any.'

They then discharged their guns all round. Elslaut tried to see their houses and fixtures, and also the Parliament's arms, which the English said were hung on a tree and carved on a plank, but the people left the messenger standing in a hut on the shore well guarded by men. The messengers were finally permitted to return and Van Elslaut made his report.2 [FN. 2: N. Y. Col. Docs., xiii. 36.]

Such treatment roused the indignation of Stuyvesant. On the 6th of March, 1656, he and his Council instructed Captain Frederick de Conninck with Captain Lieutenant Brian Nuton and the Fiscal, Van Tienhoven, to proceed to Westchester or Ostdorp [sic] by night with a detachment of soldiers and take possession of the houses of the Englishmen, and direct them to remove with all their movable property and cattle; they were to proceed against them by force, if necessary, and the houses were to be demolished. A lieutenant --Wheller or Wheeler -- seems to have been, the principal man at the settlement, which, according to Van Tienhoven's account of the population, consisted principally of fugitives, vagabonds and thieves, who, on account of their bad behavior in New England, had fled to Westchester. The expedition ordered on the 6th reached Westchester on the 14th of March, and were met there by the people, who had drawn up in line under arms, and showed themselves unwilling to remove, saying that the land belonged to them. Captain-General Conninck deprived them of their arms and took twenty-three of them prisoners, and brought them to New Amsterdam on the ship 'de Waagh.' Only a few, with the women and children, were left behind to take care of the goods. The wives of the captives, however, plead for their husbands' release, and the soft-hearted Governor and Council finally resolved to release the prisoners after they promised, under oath and over their signatures, to remove from Vredelandt and out of the province within six weeks, and not to come back without the consent of the Dutch government. The prisoners were also required to pay the expenses of their apprehension.3 [FN. 3: Idem, 65.] The petition of the captives, though quaint in language, is almost pathetic. They beg that the Governor and Council will be pleased to take into consideration the humble request of the poor and humble petitioners, and that 'whereas, it doth appeare' that the government does make claim to the place where they were settled, they state that they are willing to submit themselves unto the government of the Netherlands, so long as they continue within that jurisdic- [Page 771 / Page 772] tion, provided they be allowed to choose their own officers for the enforcement of laws which may be made for the good of the township. Their petition was granted and on March 16, 1656, they were allowed to depart for Vredelandt and also to nominate a double number of officers, subject to the approval of the Director-General and Council. They at once organized and elected Lieutenant Thomas Wheeler as their magistrate, and his selection received the sanction of the director on the game day. Some of the party, however, were ordered to leave the province unless they gave bail for good behavior.1 [FN. N. Y. Col. Docs., 67]"

Source: Scharf, J. Thomas, ed., History of Westchester County, New York Including Morrisania, Kings Bridge and West Farms Which Have Been Annexed to New York City, Vol. 1, Part 2, Chapter XX. Westchester Town by Fordham Morris, pp. 771-72 (Philadelphia, PA: L.E. Preston & Co. 1886).
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