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.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

1909 Dispute Among Pell Family Members Over Who Would be the Rightful Recipient of the Fatt Calfe from New Rochelle

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On September 20, 1689, John Pell and his wife, Rachel, sold to Jacob Leisler of New York City 6,000 acres of in the Manor of Pelham.  At the same time, they gifted an additional 100 acres for use as church grounds. 

Leisler reportedly was commissioned to acquire the land on behalf of French Huguenots hoping to relocate to the area, many of whom reportedly had fled from La Rochelle in France following persecution by French Catholics.  The acreage became today's New Rochelle, named in honor of La Rochelle.

A condition of the sale in 1689 was that Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns should deliver to "John Pell his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham. . . as an Acknowledgment to the said Manor one fatt calfe on every fouer and twentieth day of June Yearly and Every Year forever (if demanded)."

Periodically, members of the Pell family have demanded delivery of a "fatt calfe" from today's City of New Rochelle, typically in connection with significant celebrations.  The tradition has led to some odd circumstances.

Consider, for example, a demand for the fatt calfe made by George H. Pell of Bronxville in 1909.  After arranging a massive ceremony and issuing more than 500 invitations, the entire event was canceled at the last minute due to a fear that "sharp lawyers" might use intervening "failures" to deliver calves as a means to question the titles of thousands of lots owned by New Rochelle residents to extort a monetary settlement.  See Friday, March 4, 2005:  In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony.

Something must have been in the local water in 1909.  It seems that after news accounts described George H. Pell's efforts to demand a fatt calfe from New Rochelle, a different member of the Pell family stepped forward to claim that he -- not George H. Pell -- was the latest living descendant of John Pell and that he should be the rightful recipient of the fatt calfe.

An article about the dispute appeared in the July 31, 1909 issue of the New Rochelle Pioneer.  The article is quoted below:

H.W. Pell, of Rome, N.Y., Declares Himself Only Living Descendant of Lords of Manor.--He Reads of Proposed Ceremony at New Rochelle and Writes Asserting Claim to a Position.
(From the N.Y. Herald, July 22.)

Had Mayor Raymond presented the fated [sic] calf and three peppercorns to George H. Pell, as seventh lord of the Manor of Pelham, as had been arranged recently, it would have been doubtful if the real heir to the now obsolete title would have received the gifts, according to the statement of H. W. Pell, of Rome, N.Y., who asserts that George H. Pell has no claim to the title and is not a descendant of the lords of Pelham Manor.

In a letter to a friend here, H. W. Pell states that he has read about the proposed presentation of the fatted calf and of the subsequent refusal on the part of Mayor Raymond to carry out the ceremony, also noting the statement that George H. Pell claims to be a true descendant of the lords of Pelham Manor.

'There must be some mistake in that,' goes on the letter.  'My family records give the geneology [sic] of our family as follows:  Henry W. Pell, born June 23, 1835 (which is the writer of this); Thomas Pell, M.D., his father, born April 15, 1806, died November 1, 1869; Thomas Pell, his father, born at Manor Pelham, March 1, 1775; Thomas Pell, his father, owner of Pelham Manor, born 1744.  He had but three children, Thomas, Helena and Margaret; Joseph Pell, lord of Pelham Manor, born 1701, his father; Thomas Pell, his father, second lord of Pelham Manor, born 1675; Sir John Pell, his father, born in London, 1643.  He came to America in 1671 [sic -- actually, 1670], and in 1685 was appointed by James II, a Justice of the Peace fort the county of Westchester, N.Y., and Judge in 1688.  In 1687, he was created lord of the Manor of Pelham, N.Y., by letters patent from the Crown.  He married Rachel Pinckney and was succeeded by his son.

'This is far enough to assure you that I am the only living and true descendant of Lord John Pell, of Pelham Manor.  I have the geneology [sic] back to the origin of the name. 

'Lord Pell transmitted his punch bowl to his successor.  It came to my father and was of lignum vitae, bound with silver.  The hoops came off, after which the bowl was broken and lost.  I have played with it time and again, therefore I remember it perfectly."

Source:  Againt the Fatted Calf, New Rochelle Pioneer, Jul. 31, 1909. 

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