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, April 28, 2014

More on The Estate Known as "West Neck" that Once Belonged to Philip B. Schuyler

I recently wrote of Philip B. Schuyler and the estate that he once owned in the Town of Pelham.  He called his estate "West Neck" and built a lovely brick mansion on the grounds.  That home burned in 1895.  For more, see:

Wed., Apr. 23, 2014:  Philip B. Schuyler and the Burning of the Schuyler Homestead in What Once was Part of Pelham in 1895.  

After I published my brief account of Schuyler and the fire that destroyed the home he built, I received a message from Jorge Santiago of The East Bronx History Forum with a link to a map of the Town of Pelham published in 1853 that reflected Schuyler's West Neck estate.  I have included a detail from the map below showing the estate.  Jorge's note started me thinking about the topic again.  I decided to assemble a little more information about the estate.  Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting does just that.

Detail Showing Area of Philip Schuyler's Estate Known as 
"West Neck" and "Westneck" from M. Dripps & R.F.O. Conner,
Southern Part of West-Chester County, N.Y.
Map Published in 1853 (52 Inches in Width)

The 1881 edition of Bolton's two-volume History of Westchester County references Schuyler's estate briefly.  It states:

"West Neck, the estate of the late Philip Schuyler, Esq., joins the village [i.e., the "new village of Bartow"] on the north, originally belonged to John Pell, a grandson of John Lord Pell.  The old mansion, which formerly occupied the site of the Schuyler residence, was removed in 1850 and is now used as a carriage house and stable.  Here, during the Revolutionary war, the daughters of John Pell and Mary Totten were frequently in the habit of entertaining the British officers, who would drive up from New York."

Source:  Bolton, Jr., Robert, The History of The Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement To The Present Time Carefully Revised by Its Author, Vol. II, p. 88 (NY, NY:  Chas. F. Roper, 1881) (edited by C.W. Bolton).  

Bolton's reference in the 1881 edition of his History of Westchester County is fascinating in that it claims that the structure that originally stood on the site of Schuyler's home was removed in 1850 and used as a carriage house and stable.  It further claims that the structure that became the carriage house and stable once belonged to John Pell, grandson of the original settler of Pelham, John Pell (the nephew of Thomas Pell who acquired the lands from local Native Americans.  The detail from the 1853 map depicted above clearly shows what may be the carriage house / stable near the main home.  This John Pell would have been the John Pell who was son of John and Mary Totten Pell and who became a Lieutenant and later Captain in the Queen's Rangers during the Revolutionary War.

During the Revolutionary War, West Neck lay at the heart of the so-called "Neutral Ground," a deserted waste land that separated various areas of operation between those supporting the British and those supporting the Americans.  According to Pell family tradition, the Pell family estate known as West Neck played a small role during the War.  One author writes that during the mid-winter of 1777, as raiding parties flooded over the Neutral Ground, refugees from the area began to stream out:

"Meanwhile the refugees at City Island were evacuated to New York City by ship, including the widow Mary Pell and her children, and there they were joined by scores of Westchester men who had fled overland.  Joshua Pell and his family were soon with them, and they were able to return  for a time under British guard to their stately house, West Neck, on the Sound.  Joshua II joined General Oliver de Lancey's Corps of Royalists as a Captain, and John, son of John and Mary Totten Pell, was a Lieutenant, later Captain, in the Queen's Rangers.  

Westchester by this time was a 'waste land,' as it was described by the Revertend Timothy Drayton who visited it at the year's end of 1778.  'The power of volition seemed to have deserted the few people who remained,' he wrote in his Journal.  'They have lost every trace of animation and feeling.'  Many people lived on weeds in 'desolated' houses, abandoned, deserted, so that 'not a single solitary traveler came down the Post Road.'

Throughout 1779, the American and British lines swayed back and forth in Westchester, and John Pell, Mary Totten Pell and their daughters were obliged to flee into New York City once more, where John Pell died.  Lieutenant Colonel  Aaron Burr occupied their mansion [i.e., the mansion on the estate known as "West Neck"] and 'bought' it, together with all their lands, when they were confiscated.  Colonel Philip Schuyler then 'bought' John Pell's property from Burr together with the confiscated house, farmhouses and land of Joshua Pell, the ancestor of Pells of Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain.  By the year's end, at all events, General Washington concentrated on strengthening West Point, and the American lines were pulled back.  The British occupied at least half of Westchester County.  But they did not allow the civilians in New York City to return, declaring it to be a battle zone."

Source:  Pell, Robert T., Pelliana:  Pell Of Pelham, New Series, Vol. I, No. 3, p. 74 (Privately Printed, Aug. 1965). 

After Philip B. Schuyler's death on February 12, 1865, his estate passed under his will "for the use of [his] unmarried, children, as a homestead."  See Christoph, Florence A., Schuyler Genealogy:  A Compendium of Sources Pertaining to the Schuyler Families in America Prior to 1800, Vol. 2 (Friends of Schuyler Mansion, 1992).  

There also is an interesting connection between Philip B. Schuyler and Alexander Hamilton.  Alexander Hamilton's wife was Elizabeth Schuyler (born August 9, 1757; died November 9, 1854).  Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton was a daughter of Revolutionary War General Philip Schuyler.  Elizabeth's brother, John Bradstreet Schuyler, was the father of Philip Schuyler who built the West Neck estate in the Town of Pelham.  As a youngster, after his father's death, Philip Schuyler attended school on Staten Island and resided with his uncle and aunt, Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton, on weekends.  As one source puts it:

"In the late 1790s, the unceasing demands of a growing family prevented Eliza [i.e., Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton] from a full-scale commitment to Christian charity work.  On November 26, 1799, she gave birth to her seventh child, Eliza, but she continued to shelter strays and waifs, a practice that she and Alexander had started in adopting Fanny Antill.  In 1795, Eliza's brother, John Bradstreet Schuyler, had died, leaving a son, Philip Schuyler II.  During the week, the boy attended school on Staten Island with the Hamilton boys and then spent weekends with Uncle Alexander and Aunt Eliza.  So Eliza's home was always bursting with youngsters demanding attention."  

Source:  Chernow, Ron, Alexander Hamilton, pp. 582-83 (NY, NY:  Penguin Books, 2004).

Although Philip Schuyler was virtually ruined in the panic of 1837, he and his wife, Grace Hunter Schuyler, were able to retain many of the family heirlooms and possessions that belonged to Schuyler's illustrious grandfather and Revolutionary War General after whom he was named.  The story as to how is fascinating.  The article below, published in 1959, details the circumstances, followed by a citation to its source.  

"Schuyler House History
Mother Rescued Furniture for Debt-Ridden Philip Schuyler in 1837

(This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Schuyler House consisting chiefly of a report by Worth Bailey, architectural historian in the Washington office of the National Park Service, which is attempting to restore the Schuyler House to its original state and to have it furnished in a fashion known to the inhabitants of Old Saratoga.)

Philip Schuyler had married Grace Hunter in 1811 and the Schuyler House was home to his growing family until 1837.  Schuyler's financial troubles by that year had become so serious as to force him to empower his attorney to convert his property into cash to be applied in payment of debts.  

It was then that his mother stepped in to acquire the furniture, yielding it as a gift in the daughter-in-law's name and blocking attachment by his creditors.  Thus when the Schuylers left Schuylerville they were able to claim their furnishings through the generosity of Mrs. Bleecker. 

'The Schedule of Household Furniture' drawn up on May 4, 1837, affords a glimpse of the family household 42 years after the death of John Bradstreet Schuyler.  The document is incomplete, but is valuable for informational listings of items in parlor, piazza, garret and cellar.

*     *     *

IN 1824 an itinerant artist, Ambrose Andrews, painted the Schuyler family seated in their own hall.  The picture is a small water color with a rather crowded composition comprising mother and father with the five girls.  Its domestic details are of more than passing interest, for it possesses all the authority of a corroborative footnote to several items of furniture.  Shown is the handsome 'Constitution-type' gilt mirror with the Pembroke table beneath, which are glimpsed through the doorway into the parlor.

These items could very well be heirlooms dating from the general's period.  The chairs appear early 19th century.  In the picture the Hepplewhite style piano with its adjustable stool is a focal point in the hall.  The schedule of furnishings taken in 1837, while listing both in the parlor, also poses an unanswerable question.  Possession of two pianos firmly establishes the role of music in the family.  Likewise the guitar is an important witness to the fact.  

Reference to three sofas poses an intriguing problem of identity.  A single sofa had gone down to Albany in 1796.  Here is probable evidence that it returned.  Two sofas listed in the 'piazza' were later acquisitions.  The piazza, we are confident, meant the stairhall.

Without doubt these same three sofas figure again as the connecting link between the fragmentary inventory of 1837 and the document drafted by the appraiser on Agu. 31, 1865, following the death of Philip Schuyler II at the family homestead in Westchester County.  Researchers believe the furniture in the residence at New Rochelle comprised the same that had been devised by Philip to his children and according to their agreement had been kept intact.

Apparently this arrangement was maintained until the death of Fanny Schuyler in 1917, when th estate was dispersed.  Interlocking references that pass along from generation to generation convey not only a degree of supporting assurance, but corroboration.  The information definitely establishes the continuity.

*     *     *

IN THE REPORT Bailey has listed the furniture contained in the house in 1865, taken from the inventory and also the inventory in 1917 and, between the two, has come up with what furnishings he feels would have been in the house during Schuyler's time.

Every effort has been made to learn as much as possible about these individuals, in specific detail, and inventories have been meticulously followed as guides in furnishing.  

Consequently, as Bailey puts it, this will not be just another nice old house pleasantly filled with antiques, but the re-created home of a specific person or family where individual tastes and habits are intimately and convincingly revealed.  

The problem is, where can such period furniture be found?  The search goes on and will continue to go on, as long as there is a possibility that something may turn up that may be used in the Schuyler House."

Source: Schuyler House History - Mother Rescued  Furniture for Debt-Ridden Philip Schuyler, The Saratogian [Saratoga, NY}, p. 2, cols. 3-8.  

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