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 30, 2009

Philadelphia Lawyer Questioned Title of All Pelham Property Owners in 1877

I recently ran across an odd item that I previously knew nothing about.  It involved a reported effort by a lawyer in Philadelphia to raise questions about the validity of titles of property owners throughout Pelham in an effort to extract settlement funds from local property owners.  The whole matter smacks of a scam that periodically hits members of the Rose Family who are convinced that due to defects in title, they may be owners of large portions of lower Manhattan once owned by Trinity Church.  A cryptic reference to Trinity Church in the article below even suggests as much. 

The article appeared on the front page of the July 27, 1877 issue of The Chronicle published in Mount Vernon, New York.  The text is followed by a citation to its source.


We do not think that any of the owners of property in Pelham need worry about the following, which is copied from on of our exchanges.  It contains much interesting matter apart from the claims it undertakes to establish. 

From time to time, of late years, the validity of titles to large tracts of real estate in and about the city of New York have been contested by persons believing themselves to be the lawful heirs thereto, with varying results.  Preliminary steps are now being taken to contest the titles held by certain persons owning property in Westchester County, and the singular manner in which the discovery of the presumed rightful ownership of the property was made as well as immediate local interest, make the circumstances of the case worthy of publication.  The property involved consists of over 9,000 acres of land, lying for the most part along Long Island Sound.  Several beautiful villages are built on the land, which, altogether, is worth several millions.  The discovery of the title now alleged to be correct grew out of the litigations over Trinity Church.

In the summer of 1859, Mrs. M. D. Kellogg, of Binghamton, a widow lady, paid a visit to relatives in Oswego, N.Y.  While walking along the bank of the Susquehana River, one bright afternoon, with a friend, Mrs. Kellogg was shown the residence of a woman named Bliss, whose powers as a clairvoyant, were highly esteemed by the spiratualistic residents of the village.  In a spirit of banter Mrs. Kellogg challenged her friend to visit Mrs. Bliss, and the challenge was accepted.  Mrs. Kellogg was taken into a private room by the clairvoyant, and speedily informed of certain matters connected with the affairs of her then recently deceased husband which the widow believed none knew but herself.  Then, to her greater astonishment, the clairvoyant said:

'You are heir to a large property.'

'I think not,' replied Mrs. Kellogg:  'I never heard of any such thing.  Is the property in England?'

'No,' replied Mme. Bliss; 'It is not far off and lies beside a large sheet of water.' 

Mrs. Kellogg left the woman, dismissed the whole subject from her mind and had nearly forgotten it until over two years later, when it was brought again to her mind by a cousin of hers, a Mrs. Bayliss, of Binghamton, who informed her that she had just learned that she was heir to a large property in New York, and that the family would all come in for a share.

Living in Philadelphia at the time were four female cousins, descendants of the New York Grays.  Miss Jane Dean was one of these cousins, and she had been informed by her dying mother that the family were heris to a large estate in the neighborhood of New York.  What that property was the mother of Jane Dean could not tell, and as about that time persons claiming to be interested in the Trinity property were endeavoring to establish their titles, Miss Dean jumped to the conclusion that she must be a descendant of Anneke Jans.  At that time a Philadelphia lawyer, named Wm. Linn Brown, was working in the interest of claimaints for the Trinity estate.  Some person, as a joke, inserted an advertisement in a Philadelphia newspaper, requesting all persons who believed themselves such heirs to meet on a certain day in Lawyer Brown's office.  The Dean girls read this advertisement, and in good faith went to Brown's office.  Of course their visit was a surprise to him, but he courteously glanced over the genealogical tree he had made of the owners of Trinity estate, and informed Miss Jane Dean that she was not an heir.  With some disgust and considerable disappointment, Miss Dean left the office, saying, as she closed the doors, 'One thing I do know--I am a descendant of Lord Pell.'  According to Brown's statement, the parting shot, so to speak, of the would-be heiress furnished him some food for thought.  He recalled being on Hunter's Island, in the Sound, near New York, and remembered a conversation with Mr. Hunter, its owner, who told him that he had paid $80,000 for the property; that with the improvements it was worth $200,000, and that his title was defective.  'It belongs to Pelham Manor,' said Mr. Hunter in conclusion, 'and I wish you would hunt up the heirs.'  Brown thereupon informed the Deans that they must be heirs to Pelham Manor, and he was paid to visit Albany and make searches, where he found the original grant of the land from the Duke of York to Thomas Pell, of which the following is a copy:

'Richard Nicolls, Esq., Governor under His Royal Highness the Duke of York, of all his territories in America.  To all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting, Whereas, There is a certain tract of land within this government upon the main, situated, lying and being to eastward of Westchester bounds, bounded to the westward by the river called by the Indians Aqueouncke, commonly known by the name of Hutchinson's River, which runneth into the bay lying between Throgmorton's Neck and Hook's Neck, commonly called Hutchinson's Bay, bounded on the east by a brook called Cedar Tree Brook, and on the south by the Sound which lieth between Long Island and the main land, with all the islands in the Sound not already granted or otherwise disposessed of, lying before explained, and northwards to run into the woods, about eight English miles in breadth as the bounds to the Sounc -- which said tract of land hath heretofore been purchased from the Indian proprietors and satisfaction given for the same.

'Now know ye that by virtue of the commission and authority unto me given by His Royal Highness James, Duke of York, etc., upon whom by lawful grant and patent from His Majesty, the proprietor and government of that part of the main land, as well as of Long Island as all the islands adjacent among other things as settled. 

'I have thought proper to give, grant, confirm and ratify unto Thomas Pell, of Oncknay, alias Fairfield, in His Majesty's colony of Connecticut, gentleman, his heirs and assigns, all the said tract of land, bounded as aforesaid together with all the lands, islands, seas, bays, woods, meadows, pastures, marshes, lakes, waters, creeks, fishing, hawking, huntin, and fowling, and all other profits, and that the said tract of land and islands, and appurtenances shall be forever hereafter had, deemed, reputed, taken and be an enfranchised township, manor and place itself, and shall always from time, and at all times hereafter, have, hold and enjoy like and equal privileges with any town, enfranchised place or manor within this government, and in no manner of way be subordinate or belonging unto any other township or jurisdiction, but shall in all be held as an entire enfranchised township, manor and place of itself in this Government; to have and to hold the said tract of land-grant with all and singular the appurtenances, premises and privileges, immunities, and franchises given and granted unto the said Thomas Pell, to his heirs and assigns, to the proper use and behoof of the said Thomas Pell, his heirs and assigns forever, freely and clearly in so large and ample manner with all the privileges as before expressed, as if he had held the same immediately from His Majesty the King of England etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., his successor as of the manor of East Greenwich in the county of Kent is free and common seaage [sic], and by fealty only yielding, rendering and paying yearly unto His Royal Highness the duty forever, and his heirs, or to such Governor as from time to time be constituted and appointed, as an acknowledgement [sic] one lamb upon the first day of May, if the same shall be demanded.

'Given under my hand and seal, at Fort James, in New York, on the island of Manhattan, the sixth day of October, in the eighteenth year of the reign of our sovereign lord Charles the Second, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc., etc., and in the year of our Lord God, 1666.


'Entered and recorded in the office of New York, the eighth day of October, 1666.


The changes in the names of the localities mentioned in the grant make it extremely difficult for one who is acquainted only with the present names of boundary marks in Westchester County, and points along the Sound to satisfactorily define the precise limits of the grant.  From Albany, Brown went to Fairfield, Conn., where he found a variety of documents on record bearing on the case.  The original grant of Pelham Manor from the Indians is dated Nov. 14th, 1654 [sic], and embraced 9,166 acres [sic], bounded as follows:

'Embracing all that territory bounded on the east by a stream called Stony Brook, or river, and so running northward as the said brook or river runs eight English miles into the woods; thence west to Bronck's River to a certain bend in said river; thence by marked trees south until it reaches the tide waters of the Sound which lieth between Long Island and the mainland, together with all the islands in the Sound, etc., etc., Signed by the Sachem and five chiefs.

When Lawyer Brown informed the Dean girls that they were probably heirs to Pelham Manor, they wrote to Arthur Gray, of Binghamton, requesting information about his family.  Arthur Gray died soon after the receipt of the letter and before he had an opportunity of answering it, and it came into the possession of his son, Christopher Gray.  He showed the letter to a lawyer named Richards, of Binghamton, who advised him that unless he wished to make a fool of himself to say nothing about it.  Mr. Gray said nothing for over a year, and then he informed Mrs. Bayliss who told Mrs. Kellogg.  Mrs. Kellogg at once answered the letter and invited the Dean girls to visit her, which they did, and information about the family was reciprocally imparted.  Both Mrs. Kellogg and the Deans began a search of the family genealogy, which is not yet fully completed, but sufficiently so, as those who so wish it claim, to prove themselves the rightful heirs of Sir Thomas Pell.  The original will of Thomas Pell is on record in Fairfield, Conn.  The following is a copy omitting a few personal legacies of no importance:

'The last will of Thomas Pell.

'In ye name of God, amen.

'It hath pleased ye all wise God many years to exercise me with much weakness of bondy, and having lately taken to Himself my beloved wife Lucy, it being ye good pleasure of God to deny me natural issue of my own body, His good hand of mercy continuing unto me to keep me in perfect memory and my understanding in in a comfortable measure according to the proportion of wisdom and knowledge which he saw meet to me, I desire in faith to give up my soul to God which gave it -- my body to a comely burial, that I may be decently buried in such a comely manner that God may not be dishonored.  It being my desire that peace may be attended in enjoyment of what God has seen pleased to give to me.  This being my last will and testament.  I do make my nephew living in Old England, the only son of my only brother, John Pell, Doctor of Divinity, which he had by his first wife, my whole and sole heir of all my lands and houses in any part of New England, in the territories of ye Duke of York.

I also give all my goods movable and whole and sole heir the plate, chattles and immovable whatsoever, and cattle of all kinds, except such parts and legacies as I give and bequath [sic] to persons my just debts being first paid.

'And if my nephew, John Pell, be decesased and hath left a son or sons surviving him, then what I have given to my nephew, John Pell, I give to such issue of his; and in default of such issue it is my will that my brother John Pell's daughter shall enjoy the above said portion; and in case they or any of them be deceased, then it my will that the children of my brother's daughter shall inherit the above said portion, to be equally divided amongst them.  It is my will that in case my nephew, John Pell, my brother's son by his first wife, be deceased, and hath left no male issue, if my brother hath a son or sons by his last wife, he or they shall enjoy ye above said portion, and in ye default of them or their male issue, then my brother's daughters or their children shall enjoy ye above portion as is above expressed.

'I make, ordain, constitute and appoint Daniel Burr and John Bankes to be my executors of trust, and order them to pay after my burial all my just debts and legacies, and to make sale of any utensils which are subject to decay -- old cattle -- and to be accountable to my heir or heirs, and to keep up housing and fencing, upon my heir's charge, that the estate may not suffer.

'In witness whereof I have herunto set my hand, this twenty and one years of the reign of our Sovereign lord King Charles, and the 21st of September, 1669.


'Signed in presence of us,

'Nathan Gould,
'John Catell.'

This will was duly probated and recorded.  In 1675, John Pell, the heir sold to John Burr of Fairfield, all the meadows on Mill River, in Fairfield; and in December, 1685, sold John Smith, of the town Brunkland, Great Minneford's Island, opposite Ann Hook's Neck.  It appears that John Pell, son of John Pell, D.D., and heir of Thomas Pell, married Rachel Pinckney, and had by her two sons and several daughters.  John Pell died intestate in 1700 [sic].  The eldest son, Thomas Pell, took possession of the estate under English law.  Thomas pell second, married and had a son, Joseph Pell, to whom he willed the estate July 3d, 1739.  Joseph Pell married Zipporah Pell (a daughter of John Pell.)  The result of this marriage was seven children, David, Abner, Thomas, three daughters and Philip Pell, the latter supposed to be a posthumous son.  It was through these children that Lawyer Brown advised the descendants of the Grays to look for their heriship to Pell Manor.  The claimants of the estate have been advised, however, that when the Dutch came over and took possession of New York they brought with them new laws, and in accordance therewith, set aside the claim of Thomas Pell, son of John Pell, to the whole property, because his father died intestate, and divided the whole estate equally among each of John Pell's children, nine in number.  It has been learned that all of these nine children, with one exception, signed quit claim deeds of their share in the property.  This one exception was Mary Pell, who married Samuel Sands, a son of Samuel Sands of Sand's Point.  They had one daughter by this marriage, Mary Sands, who married Colonel John Reid at Hempstead, L. I., in 1721.  The fruit of this marriage was a daughter, named Euphsemie Reid, who married Daniel Reading, of Flemington, N.J.  A daughter, Mary Reading, was the result of this marriage, and she married Arthur Gray in Flemington.  Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Binghamton, N.Y., and reared a family of twelve children, who are now all dead.  There are in the neighborhood of one hundred children and grandchildren living in the neighborhood of Binghamton and Philadelphia at present. 

The would be heirs to Pelham Manor claim that the wills and titles of the property are so worded and reserved that the statute of limitations as to the holding of undisputed possession of property for twenty years giving absolute title does not apply to the case.  In case an absolute, unquestionable title can be established the only steps that the new heirs would attempt, would be to compromise with the owners of property on the estate, taking a per centage and giving therefore good titles."

Source:  Heirs to Pelham Manor, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Vol. VIII, No. 410, Jul. 27, 1877, p. 1, col. 2.

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