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, January 27, 2014

What is that Memorial Tablet Next to Pelham Memorial High School and Who Was Col. Philip Pell?

Near the front entrance of the Pelham Memorial High School there is a lovely granite memorial with a bronze plaque dedicated to Col. Philip Pell.  Those who are particularly observant will notice that embedded in the side of the granite memorial is another stone with "1750" inscribed on it.  What is this memorial?

The bronze tablet contains the following inscription:



1753 - 1811 
OCTOBER 15, 1938"

Immediately below are several photographs that I have taken of the memorial including the plaque and the date stone from the Philip Pell homestead.  

Philip Pell (July 7, 1753 - May 1, 1811) was born in the Manor of Pelham.  He graduated from Kings College (the predecessor to Columbia University), read the law and was admitted to the bar of New York.  He practiced law in Westchester County and New York City.  

Philip Pell is buried in the cemetery at St. Paul's Church National Historic Site in Mt. Vernon, New York.  He served as a lieutenant in the Westchester County militia at the onset of the Revolutionary War.  By 1777, he was appointed Deputy Judge Advocate for the Continental Army, "a position that almost certainly introduced him to General Washington."   Osborn, David, Philip Pell:  Revolutionary War Leader, Last Member of the Continental Congress (Nat'l Park Service U.S. Dep't of the Interior, St. Paul's Church National Historic Site, Jul. 2013) (available at http://www.nps.gov/sapa/historyculture/upload/Pell-updated.pdf).  As one author who has studied his life has noted, "[d]rawing from his training, he offered legal advice to senior officers, guided interpretations of army regulations and the code of conduct, and prosecuted trials before courts-martial or other tribunals."  Id.  

Pell was elected to the New York State legislature in 1778.  He served for three years in Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County, New York, which then was the state capital.  During a portion of this time, he served as Commissary of Prisoners in New York.  He was, in effect, responsible for "exchanging captured militia troops for enemy soldiers."  Id.  

Some, including those who created the memorial plaque next to the Pelham Memorial High School, have claimed that Pell served as Judge Advocate General of the Army.  However:

"There is a confusing place in Pell's resume following the 1781.  Many biographical sketches list him serving as Judge Advocate General of the Army, but the official history of that office doesn't mention him.  It records two other lawyers -- James Innes and Richard Howell -- who were appointed, but declined the position.  It seems that Pell, who served on General Washington's staff from 1781 to 1783 with the rank of Colonel, functioned in the capacity of Judge Advocate General of the Army while never obtaining official appointment by the Continental Congress."  


After the Revolutionary War, Pell was elected to the State legislature where he served from 1784 to 1786.  He also served as a regent of the University of the State of New York from 1784-1787.  The State of New York also sent him as a delegate to the final session of the Continental Congress where he oversaw the adjournment sine die of that final session.  He thus has been referred to as the "last member of the Continental Congress."  

Philip Pell was rabid Anti-Federalist who opposed the sort of strong central government proposed in the new U.S. Constitution (and touted  by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay in essays that later became known as The Federalist Papers).   

After the end of the Continental Congress and the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution, Philip Pell withdrew from national and state politics.  He did, however, serve in the office of surrogate for Westchester County from March 13, 1787 to October 31, 1800.  

The memorial to Colonel Philip Pell was dedicated next to the high school on October 15, 1938.  The following Friday, there was extensive coverage of the event in the local newspaper, The Pelham Sun.  Below I have reproduced various images that were published as part of the coverage and have transcribed the articles included as part of the coverage.  

"Officials With Donor of Tablet
Mayor Edmund C. Gause of Pelham Manor (center) donor of the tablet dedicated to the patriotism of Col. Philip Pell, first Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, at Memorial High School, on Saturday.  The group also includes Town Historian William R. Montgomery, former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, Congressman James M. Fitzpatrick, Supervisor Harold W. Davis and Loren O. Thompson who participated in the ceremonies, and officials of the villages and town."

"Recall Pelham's Beginnings At Dedication of Memorial To Patriotism of Col. Pell
Town Historian William R. Montgomery, Former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild Tell Interesting Story of Old Days of Pelham.  

A tribute was paid to the patriotism and service of one of Pelham's most distinguished early sons, in the dedication of a tablet erected in honor of Col. Philip Pell, at Pelham Memorial High School on Saturday afternoon.  Many local residents were given a glimpse of the symbolic foundation stones of the Town of Pelham.  Town Historian William R. Montgomery, and former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, speakers of the day, drew interesting pictures of the early Pelham, bringing to light some delightful facts about our beginnings.  

The tablet, mounted on a granite boulder in which the date stone of the old Col. Philip Pell homestead has been inserted, was unveiled by Col. C. Sidney Haight, U.S. A. retired.  Mrs. R. Clifford Black of Pelham Manor dedicated the tablet.  L. Ogden Thompson, former president of the Board of Education made the presentation and Supervisor Harold W. Davis accepted it for the Town of Pelham.  Mayor Edmund C. Gause of Pelham Manor donated the stone and tablet as a memorial to his wife, the late Mary Sargent Gause.  The stone has been erected near the entrance to the high school where it will stand as an inspiration to the youth of Pelham.  

The program was arranged by Town Historian Montgomery and is the first of a series of functions honoring individuals who have made important contributions to Pelham's history.  Col. Philip Pell was the first Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, a Judge Advocate of the Continental Army, a member of the New York State Assembly, a Regent of the University of the State of New York, Surrogate of Westchester County and a delegate to the Continental Congress.  

School Trustee Perrin C. Galpin acted as chairman of the meeting.

The site on which the stone was erected was once part of Col. Pell's farm.  The date stone, with the rude inscription '1750' was taken from the chimney of Col. Pell's house when it was destroyed by fire in 1888.  The homestead was situated on Colonial avenue (the old Boston Post Road) near what is now Cliff avenue.

In his address 'Old Pelham,' Town Historian Montgomery announced his plan to establish a 'Field of Honor' commemorating the deeds of men and women of the Pelhams who have contributed to the historical growth of the town.  He referred to Anne Hutchinson, who in 1642 established the first colony here.  ; to Lord Pell who founded the Manor of Pelham; to Aaron Burr who once lived on Split Rock Road, and others of historical importance.  

'In 1942 we are planning to observe the 300th Anniversary of the settling of Anne Hutchinson here,' said Mr. Montgomery.  'It is hoped that a statue dedicated to this great woman can be erected and that the program will receive national recognition.'

Mr. Montgomery told the story of the old trail which the Indians used in coming from Long Island Sound to the east and west path.  Split Rock Road followed the general route of that trail from the shore and Colonial avenue the east and west trail.  

He told how the first white men followed these trails and how they became the roads, and later the important highways.  

'On Split Rock Road in 1730 Joshua Pell built his home,' said Mr. Montgomery, 'and in 1790 this became the property of Aaron Burr.  Burr, it is said, was responsible for the present Boston Post Road through Pelham Manor.  It was opened in 1804 as a toll road and later taken over by the state.'

Payment of Fatted Calf Suggested

Former Congressman Ben L. Fairchild, founder of Pelham Heights, in a talk on 'New Pelham,' told of the beginning of the present Pelham Heights village, and how he stood with Clarence S. McClellan, the president of the First National Bank of Mount Vernon on a rocky bluff in Mount Vernon, overlooking the Pelham that was then a wooded tract.  'Mr. McClellan regarded that land as a sentimental inheritance because his grandfather had purchased it from Col. Philip Pell, who had in turn obtained it from the original grantor.  Mr. McClellan subsequently erected a fine residence on what was approximately the site of the old farmhouse of his grandfather.  I wanted to purchase the entire tract which is now the Village of Pelham Heights, but while I was in California Ben Corlies purchased a section known as the Corlies Tract in the northeastern part of the village site.  However, I had possession of all the remaining land and with Clarence S. McClellan as my guiding hand and advisor the present highly restricted residential village was developed.'  He referred to the treaty made by Lord Pell and the Huguenots, recalling the fact that it provided that New Rochelle should pay to Pelham a fatted calf every year.

'I understand that New Rochelle has been in default for many years,' said Mr. Fairchild.  'What a splendid demonstration of neighborliness it would be if every year the city would present the town with a fatted calf and the citizens of both communities would join in a big barbecue, so that New Rochelle would no longer be in default.'

Mr. Fairchild told of making an early visit to what is now Pelham Heights, near the turn of the century, and visualizing the growth of the wooded land into the residential community.  There were small communities in Pelhamville (North Pelham) and in Pelham Manor, but they were separated by this wooded tract, said Mr. Fairchild.  It was really the improvement of this land in between that was responsible for bringing [material not legible at bottom of page] inspired the other communities to preserve their attractive suburban character.  

He paid high tribute to such men as the late Robert C. Black, John Townsend and to Henry W. Taft, now living, who did much to guide the early growth of Pelham Manor; and to the late Harry A. Anderson whose effort to clean up the tax muddle in Pelhamville was responsible for the advance of North Pelham.

First Pelham Heights School

'There were schools in Pelham Manor and in North Pelham in those days,' said Mr. Fairchild, 'but they were too far away for the smaller children in the Heights to go to, so I elected myself a Board of Education and set up a school in one of the residences.  For two or three years the children of Pelham Heights attended that school and then the local Board of Education agreed to pay the teacher's salary if I provided the school house.  From that beginning the Colonial School started.  

'Now with such brilliant men as Supt. of Schools Joseph C. Brown at its head, our school system has grown to be one of the finest in the state.'

Congressman James M. Fitzpatrick in a short talk offered the services of his office to Mr. Montgomery in arranging the Anne Hutchinson anniversary program.  He suggested that the state rights which were taken from Anne Hutchinson when she fled Rhode Island and came to Pelham, be officially restored.  Similar restoration was made in memory of Roger Williams at a program in Rhode Island two years ago.  

In accepting the memorial Supervisor Davis said:  'I believe that today we do more than honor Col. Philip Pell; we are reminding ourselves to continue with that pioneer spirit which made this nation great.'

In the dedicatory remarks, Mrs. Black said:  'I dedicate this tablet to the memory of Col. Philip Pell, the soldier, the scholar and the statesman; whose fidelity, integrity and loyalty we commend to the youth of Pelham.'

During the portion of the program held in the high school auditorium, A.J. Fregans, head of the Music department of the local schools presented an organ recital.  Marguerite Gauvreau, a high school pupil, sang 'Auld Lang Syne' and 'America.'

A military escort was provided by Pelham Post No. 50, American Legion, Elmer Williams Commanding.  Mrs. Black was escorted by members of the Knapp Chapter, D.A.R., Mrs. Hilliard C. Birney, Regent.  

The Rev. Willard P. Soper of the Huguenot Memorial Church offered the Invocation and the Rev. Edward Thomas Taggard, the Benediction.  Frank Genz was the bugler."

Source:  Recall Pelham's Beginnings At Dedication Of Memorial To Patriotism Of Col. Pell, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 21, 1938, pg. 1, col. 2 and pg. 11, col. 1-2.

The article below also appeared in the same issue of The Pelham Sun and provides further information about Philip Pell.  It is transcribed in its entirety, followed by a citation to its source.

Abridged from 'The Pells of Pelham'
William R. and Frances E. Montgomery

Colonel Philip Pell was born July 7, 1753 and was graduated with high honors from King's College (Columbia University) in 1770.  He studied law and was admitted to the Bar and practiced in New York City and Westchester County. 

In 1776 he enlisted in the 3rd Dutchess County Militia and later was made a Lieutenant.  In 1777 he was appointed Deputy Judge Advocate of the Continental Army.

He was elected a member of the State Assembly during the period 1779-1781, and was again elected for the years 1784-1785-1786.

Colonel Pell was appointed by Gen. George Washington, Judge Advocate of the United States Army for the years 1781-1782-1783 and had the honor and great privilege of being a member of General Washington's Staff at the evacuation of the City of New York by the British troops on November 25, 1783.

He was appointed Regent of the University of the State of New York for the years from 1784 to 1787. 

From 1787 to 1800 he served as Surrogate of Westchester County. 

Governor George Clinton appointed him a delegate in 1789 to the Continental Congress.  (See Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1924, Washington, Government Printing Office 1928 page 1398).

Colonel Pell was elected in 1801 as Supervisor of the Town of Pelham; also as Commissioner of Schools and served in both positions until 1811.

He died on May 21, 1811 and his remains were buried in 'Old St. Paul's' church yard, Eastchester.  He was for many years a vestryman and pewholder of 'Old St. Paul's.'

Colonel Philip Pell was proposed by General George Washington and elected on July 6, 1784 to be an Honorary Member of the Society of the 'Cincinnati.'  This society was formed in 1783 by many of the Colonial officers of the Revolutionary War, who had served honorably, and who were gentlemen in every sense of the word.  It was considered at that time to be the most desirable organization in the State.  George Washington was the first president of the society and Alexander Hamilton the second.  The by-laws contained the provision that in order to be eligible for membership, one must be the eldest son of a member, Col. Pell's membership in this society emphasized the high esteem in which he was held by his fellow officers.

Colonel Philip Pell's son also named Philip Pell succeeded his father as Supervisor of the Town of Pelham.  Through him comes the story that when General Lafayette arrived at the Eastchester Inn, in the year 1825, on his way to Boston to assist Daniel Webster in laying the corner stone of Bunker Hill Monument, he was advised of the death of his old friend Colonel Pell.  General Lafayette, learning that he was buried in St. Paul's church yard, requested the stage coach driver to go past the cemetery, rather than by the new Boston Turnpike.  After paying his respects at the grave, he continued a short distance and stopped at the old homestead, greeting the son.

We have been unable to locate any picture of Colonel Pell, but from Mr. Ogden P. Pell, who died several years ago at the age of 95 years, we learned that the Colonel was very retiring in his mode of living, and repeatedly refused high honors which were offered him by three Presidents of the United States.

Mr. Ogden P. Pell recalls a family tradition in regard to his great uncle, namely, that the Colonel was tall, of fine physique, had very black hair and dark skin, indicative of the Indian blood that flowed through his veins.  History records that his great grandfather, Hon. Thomas Pell, the third Lord of the Manor of Pelham, married Anne, the daughter of the reigning Indian chief of Westchester.

Col. Philip Pell was a man of whom everyone in the Town of Pelham could be proud, a soldier, a statesman, and a good citizen.

The Philip Pell farm originally included nearly all of the present Village of Pelham.  Immediately after the Battle of Pelham (October 18, 1776), the British troops were camped on this farm.  It made an ideal encampment as it had several springs and brooks which supplied drinking water.  In later years one of these springs was known as the McClellan Spring and for some time supplied table water for the Bolton Priory School.  These springs and brooks flowed into a lake called Glen Mitchell or Mitchell Glen which was in Pelham Manor.  The outlet crossed Pelhamdale avenue through a stone conduit or smal canal, over which were placed wooden planks, which often broke through.  When the trolley line was built on Pelhamdale avenue, the wooden planks were eliminated.

Philip Pell Jr., the son of Col. Pell, who succeeded his father as Supervisor of the Town of Pelham, often pointed out the room in the old house in which General George Washington slept on several occasions.  This homestead was later owned by the McClellan family, one of whom William S. McClellan was a member of the Board of Education in 1861, when the first school house in Pelhamville (North Pelham) was constructed, on the present site of Hutshinson School.  For years it was always referred to as 'The Old School House on the Hill.'"

Source:  Montgomery, William R. & Montgomery, Frances E., Colonel Philip Pell (1753-1811) Abridged from "The Pells of Pelham," The Pelham Sun, Oct. 21, 1938, pg. 11, col. 3.

Source: Montgomery, William R. & Montgomery, Frances E., Colonel Philip Pell (1753-1811) Abridged from "The Pells of Pelham," The Pelham Sun, Oct. 21, 1938, pg. 11, col. 3.

I have written extensively about Colonel Philip Pell in the past.  For a few of the many examples of such postings, see:

Fri., Mar. 9, 2007:  Abstract of Will of Philip Pell, Sr. of the Manor of Pelham Prepared in 1751 and Proved in 1752.  [This is an abstract of the will of the father of Col. Philip Pell.] 

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