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 30, 2009

Article Published in 1901 Detailed Ghost Stories and Legends of Pelham

An article appeared in the December 15, 1901 issue of the New-York Daily Tribune entitled "Legends of Pelham". It detailed ghost stories and legends about the area. Perhaps most significantly, it included a series of wonderful photographs showing, among other things, Split Rock and the Pell Treaty Oak.

None of the stories is new. All previously have been reported on the Historic Pelham Blog. However, there are a few interesting twists and additional details included in these renditions of the stories. Thus, below is the text of the lengthy article, followed by the photographs that accompanied the story.




The red spectres of long departed Indian braves and the white ghosts of massacred Englishwomen and children, victims of Indian cruelty, haunt the lands which a few hundred years ago were a part of the manor of Lord Thomas Pell, and on which practical people of to-day and recent yesterdays have built the attractive village of Pelham. Even the devil has left his footprints in the immediate vicinity, and Manitou, the god of the Indians, has a stone rocking horse on the neighboring shore ready and waiting to carry him in triumph when he finally comes to end all things. And if all this is not enough, there is a phantom fire ship, which sails up and down the Sound with the heavy winter storms.

There are not many people in Pelham to-day who have seen these ghosts and phantoms. Indeed, most of the villagers believe that they ceased active duty a long time ago. There are others, however, who say they have seen these wonders with their own eyes, and that they can still be seen and heard if one watches in the proper spirit on the right sort of night; and to this faithful few belongs the credit of preserving the details of the traditions of Pelham. The scoffers know not the names of the tribes which fought on Haunted Cedar Knoll, and have never even heard of their predecessors -- the wolfmen of the stone age. For this they are to be pitied.

It was to Pelham that Ann Marbury Hutchinson came when the Puritans had driven her from Boston and again from Rhode Island, for her expounding of the truth of simple living. She came into the wilderness without fear, owing to her trust in a power greater than any wielded by mere man, but not without danger. The Dutch in Manhattan did not look with favor on the approach of the English, even though they were exiles, and Puritan hatred was ready to follow this devoted woman, did follow her in fact, through cruel Indian allies. Crossing from Flushing with her family of fatherless children and a few devoted followers, she had her house built on the rising ground back of Split Rock, so-called from a fissure in the centre of its huge bulk, through which a tree had slowly forced its way. She continued to expound her peculiar faith with characteristic force, and there were many among the scattered neighbors who believed in her teachings.

Among others who came to her meetings was big John Underhill, captain by virtue of his powers as an Indian fighter. He cared not so much for her teaching as he did for her handsome self. She liked the big, careless fellow, but she was severe with him.

'What have you done since you were here last that you should have left undone?' she would ask when he came to the meeting.

And under her stern glance, John would tremble and confess to the 'crimes' of a fortnight. Drinking rum or daning with a maid at the tavern were the usual sins.

'Will you never become good?' she would say with a sigh, and then to one of the faithful, 'Bring me the foll's cap.'

She would place the long peaked cap upon his curly head, and he would take his seat before the others and do penance. Yet as soon as he was away from her he was the same roistering good fellow.

One morning an Indian came to the Hutchinson cabin, and his friendly greeting gained him entrance. They were English, and the Indians made war only against the hated Dutch. Ann did not fear him, and fed him well on cakes and fresh bread and clams from the shore.

'Where all the men?' asked the Indian, as he ate the food she prepared for him.

'There are no men here,' she said, and, pointing to her oldest son, 'this is the only man I have.'

'Ugh!' exclaimed the Indian. 'Him no man; only little boy.'

He went his way with a smile on his face, after promising to bring the woman some game the next time he came that way. He came again, all too soon, and the game was an Indian game. The same night the redskins came in force, surrounded the house and set fire to it from several sides. When the frightened woman tried to rush out she was driven back into the flames. The son escaped, only to be burned at the stake in front of Split Rock, it is said. The little sister, whom he had carried from the house, was taken by the Indians, and lived among them so long that she hated to return with the white men who found her after many years.

John Underhill was in a tavern when a man came in with the news of the massacre. He dashed a mug of ale from his lips and swore a mighty oath to be revenged on the Indians. Many men were ready to help him, and a large, well armed company was soon on the trail. It led straight back to Connecticut, and at Stamford the revenging party was not far behind. The Indians encamped near Bradford, and to that point Underhill tracked them through the snow. They were on the edge of a high bluff, and, throwing his men around the approachable sides of the camp, the trap was made complete. Hardly an Indian escaped, and their bodies were thrown over the bluff. To this day the spot is known as the Indian burying ground.

When the work of revenge was ended John Underhill stood on the edge of the bluff. He gazed at the blood stained snow and the ruins of the camp. He looked at the bodies below.

'I have done my best,' he said, taking off his cap and looking up to the sky, 'but if we had killed a thousand more of the red devils, it would not have paid for a single drop of Ann Hutchinson's blood!'

Then he shook his fist in the direction of Boston, where lived her Puritan persecutors, for he knew they would rejoice when they learned of her fate. And he was right, for rejoice they did, and made sermons about it in which 'the just hand of God smiting the unrighteous' played a part.

The site on which Ann Hutchinson's house stood is as yet unmarked. A short time ago it was definitely place, and a movement is under way to put a suitable table on the spot. A creek in the vicinity is named after her, and Mrs. J. C. Hazen has named one of her school buildings Marbury Hall, in honor of the woman who founded the first woman's club in America, and did so much for the people of her time.


'If you want to see the most awful ghosts you can possibly imagine,' advised an old woman, who has lived all her life in Pelham, 'you must wait until the moon is full and then hide yourself near Haunted Cedar Knoll.'

She was not the kind of woman who would give a stranger wrong directions for the fun of it, and her manner was as serious as it had been a few moments before, when she told me of the death of her only son.

'And where is this haunted place?' she was asked.

'You know the Boston Post road - the one that runs from Pelham to New-Rochelle, and how much further I don't know, but I guess clean through to old Boston? Well, the Pelham Priory is on that road; you can't miss it, for it's the finest old house hereabouts. And just across from the priory is a knoll covered with rocks and cedar trees. That's the place.'

'Have you seen ghosts there?' asked the stranger, 'or did some one tell you about them?'

'Sure, certain, I seen them,' she said, shaking her head wisely. 'Do you think I'd believe what people told me? You do as I told you, and you can see them for yourself. I don't ask any one to believe me.'

'But the moon won't be full for days yet, and I cannot wait that long. Suppose you tell me about them.'

'I was a young girl when I saw them,' she began, 'and that was a long time ago.' She smiled. 'It was so frightful that I never dared go back again. They were Indian ghosts, you see, and their cries and yells just made your blood stop running.'

'The wind was blowing. I suppose?' interrupted the listener.

'Well, there was some wind, but I know what sort of noises the wind can make. Nothing like those I heard. There were more than a score of them, and they had no heads, unless you count the heads which they were carrying in their hands, which couldn't have been of much use to them. They formed in a big ring, and began to dance. First, each headless ghost danced by himself. Then, they threw the heads in the centre of the ring and danced around them. After they got tired they picked up the heads again (I've always wondered if by chance some of them might have picked up the wrong heads), and in a minute they were gone. All that I saw myself.

'My grandmother told me how the Indians came to haunt the cedars, but I can't swear as it's the true story. Once there were two tribes that were very good friends -- the Siwanoys and the Laaphawachkins -- least that is what the names sounded like. One of the 'Si's' killed one of the 'Laapshaws' in a quarrel, and the 'Laapshaws' robbed some of the 'Si's' graves in revenge. So there was a blood feud. They fought a deadly battle on the knoll, and the 'Laapshaws' were all dead. The others cut off their heads and left them there for their squaws to bury, and that is the whole story.'


Pelham is not the only place on Long Island Sound where one hears of the Phantom Fire Ship. It is said to have been seen at various places from Hell Gate to Gardiner's Island, and even beyond. Unlike the Flying Dutchman, this phantom of the sea cannot be seen from other vessels, but only from the shore. The Pelham account is as thrilling as any of the others. Here it is:

When the buccaneers infested the Sound they captured a ship, and because the cargo was not worth their trouble and the loss of a few bold pirates they killed the crew. Having no use for a big white horse which was on board they tied him to the foot of the foremast. Then they set fire to the ship and sailed away. The ship caught fire quickly, and was soon all in flames, but, strange to say, the fire burned without smoke and without destroying anything. It burned life into the murdered crew and enabled them to move about the decks. The horse alone was frightened, and sparks flew as he pawed at the foremast.

When the fiercest storms blow this pyrotechnic craft blows here and there with the wind, leaving behind a trail of sparks. Even the waves dash back from her redhot sides with a hiss of pain, and for the moment are turned to flame. The fiery sailors run about the decks and even climb into the rigging, which is the color of molten iron. At least, the fire phantom did all this when the old residenters were boys, according to their own story. That the newcomers have never been able to see it proves nothing. Perhaps they did not look at the right time.


When those who lived a hundred years or more ago found the prints of huge human feet on rocks at various places they decided that they had been left by the devil in his flight through the country. The first print was discovered in East Chester, and another, pointing in the same direction, was near Fort Schuyler. Across the Sound, on Long Island, they found the third footprint in solid rock, and there the trail was lost. Long Islanders have said that if the devil could jump from East Chester across Pelham to Fort Schyler, a distance of nine miles, he would not find it difficult to step across the island into the sea. In Pelham they hint that perhaps the devil liked Long Island and stayed there. Anyway, when they found the footprints the imagination of the residents was called upon to furnish an explanation for the devil's flight, and as a result, two traditions have been handed down. The good people of Connecticut had been casting devils out of witches a little while before the discovery, and it is only natural that they accepted that explanation.

The other story is more elaborate, and goes back further - even as far as the Stone Age. In that time the people who lived here were like wolves, and the hand of the devil was heavy upon them. They tried in every way to rid themselves of their oppressor. Some thought that if they could only cut off his tail the devil would feel the disgrace and leave them. Accordingly, two of the strongest men, famous wielders of great stone axes, were appointed to perform the task. They waited many days before they found him asleep. Great was they dismay when they found that he slept with his tail tucked under his body. They decided to cut off his cloven hoofs. When the devil awoke from his long slumber he found that a human foot had grown on the stump of his right leg and that he had neither foot nor hoof on the other. Accordingly he made haste to leave the country by a series of mighty jumps.

The redeeming feature of this tale is that it explains the absence of cloven hoof, and the fact that all of the prints are those of the right foot. The footprints are really there, and are as plain to-day as they ever were.


Near what is known as 'The Old Pell House,' which stands just over the brow of Prospect Hill, in full view of the Boston Post Road, are the remains of 'Treaty Oak,' under which Thomas Pell, first lord of the manor, signed the treaty with the Indians for the manor lands. He came from Connecticut in 1654, and had little trouble persuading Maminepoe, Annhoock and the other sachems to sign away their land. He began to look about for a dwelling site, and chose Pelham Neck because the fishhawks nested in the oaks and chestnut trees. A belief which he brought from England convinced him that good fortune came to a farm on which fishhawks nested. Luck was with Lord Pell, and before he died he found himself in secure possession of his manor in spite of the protests of the Dutch.

His nephew, John Pell, became the second lord of the manor, and was sadly afflicted until he found a new cure for rheumatism. He had not left his bed for years, so the story goes, when one day a slave came running into the room shouting that a mad dog was running into the room shouting that a mad dog was running about the lower floor. The effect on John was magical. He jumped from the bed and climbed the stairs to the second story without a sign of pain. The cure was permanent, even though he afterward learned that the mad dog story was nothing but a hoax to scare the faithful slave."

Source: Legends of Pelham, New-York Daily Tribune, Dec. 15, 1901, Part II, p. 2, col. 1.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home