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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pelham Resident Recorded His Impressions of Meeting Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr, who served as Vice President during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and who fought a duel with, and mortally wounded, Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, spent time in Pelham, bought a farm there which he promptly sold to his step-son Augustine J. F. Prevost, and married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow born in Pelham Manor who was ten years his senior.  The story of the farm itself is quite fascinating, as evidenced by the work of Pelham Manor resident Mark Gaffney.

On August 23, 1784, New York State's Commissioners of Forfeiture sold a 146-acre farm in Pelham on which sat the mansion known as "The Shrubbery" to Isaac Guion for 988 pounds.  See Abstracts of Sales of Confiscated Loyalist Estates by the Commissioners of Forfeiture in the Southern District of New York (available in the collections of the New-York Historical Society).   The tract had been confiscated after the Revolutionary War from Joshua Pell [Junior] who served as a British officer in upstate New York during the War.  See Pell, Howland, The Pell Manor:  An Address Prepared for the New York Branch of the Order of Colonial Lords of Manors in America (Baltimore, MD:  1917).

The will of Joshua Pell [Senior] entitled his children to receive monetary legacies when his farm (the one of which Aaron Burr eventually bought a portion) was divided in half and devised to two of his older sons:  Joshua Pell [Junior] who was entitled to receive the northern half of the farm, and Edward Pell who was entitled to receive the southern half of the farm.  

Joshua Pell [Junior] and his brother, Edward Pell, eventually filed a lawsuit alleging that the the forfeiture proceedings involved a wrongful taking of the property.  Significantly, the Pell brothers were represented in the matter by Aaron Burr.  As a consequence of the lawsuit, in 1789 the New York State Treasurer paid Joshua Pell [Junior] 988 pounds in compensation for "wrongful taking" and paid Isaac Guion 125 pounds for his expenses.  See Yoshpe, Harry B., Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of New York, pp. 104-06 (NY, NY:  1939).  

Significantly, on February 26, 1790, Aaron Burr bought one of the farms at issue in the lawsuit.  He bought the northern half -- the Joshua Pell [Junior] tract -- from Nicholas and William Wright "subject nevertheless to the right of dower of Phoebe Pell the widow of [Joshua Pell Sr.] deceased to the payment of all such pecuniary legacies as are charged upon the said premise by the will of [Joshua Pell Senior]."  See Deed from Nicholas Wright and William Wright to Aaron Burr, Westchester County Archives, Elmsford, NY, Register of Deeds, Liber L, 363-66.

Burr soon sold the tract to his step-son, Augustine J. F. Prevost.  At least one author who has studied that sale has concluded that it was part of a scheme by Aaron Burr to hide his involvement with the tract.  In his book Cipher / Code of Dishonor, Dr. Alan J. Clark analyzed the sale and concluded that during the 1790s, Burr was involved in a secret scheme to move the Boston Post Road (which, at that time followed today's Colonial Avenue in Pelham) to its present location which passes near where The Shrubbery once stood. At the same time (and as part of the same scheme), Burr sought to form a toll road leading from Manhattan through the West Farms area of what was then southern Westchester County. This, it seems, was all part of a land speculation scheme in which Burr sought to profit by acquiring the lands of poor farmers who found it difficult to sustain large farms in the area in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by the predations of two armies in the so-called "Neutral Ground" between New York City and upper Westchester County during the Revolutionary War. By moving the Boston Post Road so that it passed next to his newly-acquired farm in Pelham and by placing a toll road in the West Farms area near the Burr Family's ancestral home to shorten the travel time from New York City, Burr hoped to increase the value of those properties and, before the scheme became known, perhaps acquire other properties in the area that likewise would increase in value. 

In his fascinating book, Dr. Clark describes the scheme as follows: 

"[I]n 1790 Aaron Burr purchased as a summer residence 'The Shrubbery', manor house of the Pell family since 1740 on the Boston Post Road in Pelham, New York for his bride, Theodosia Prevost married in 1782. Burr conveyed the home to his stepson Augustine Frederick Prevost in 1794. 

Next he entered on a scheme to move the New York to Boston road (now the Boston Post Road) and form a toll road in the West Farms area of southern Westchester County and Connecticut near his Burr family ancestral home. Dr. Joseph Browne married Catherine (Caty) De Visme, Theodosia's half sister, in a joint wedding with the Burrs at the Hermitage. He owned some of the land on which the road was to be built. Dr. Brown had acquired it from the estate of John Embree in 1785. Road commissioners, engineered into the legislation for absolute control by Burr himself, were Dr. Joseph Browne, George Embree (the family of the city of Embree deeded to Trinity Church during the war and back to Effingham Embree on May 6, 1795) and John Bartow, Jr. Bartow was a brother of Theodosia Bartow Prevost Burr. The Lewis Morris family took all of the tolls from the new bridge over the Harlem River at their Manor of Morrisania. 

Burr began speculating in land of Rebels caught in the no man's land between the armies in Westchester County. These poor farmers had been unable to sustain a living on their land because of constant predation by both sides during the War of Independence and after the war were unable to sustain the vast land holdings without slave labor. They were forced to sell their land at bargain prices. Burr was only too glad to oblige. With the new road Burr and Browne would have convenient access to their newly acquired lands from Manhattan making them more valuable to break up into smaller farms for new immigrants. The enterprise was unpopular with the local population because it required taking thir land for the new road. Since Burr had been appointed Attorney General of the State of New York by Governor Clinton in March, 1790, he was forced to sell the Shrubbery Manor house, situated on the toll road, to his stepson Augustine Prevost, to prevent discovery of his connection to the tolls." 

Source: Clark, Alan J., Cipher / Code of Dishonor - Aaron Burr, an American Enigma -- Trinity The Burrs Versus Alexander Hamilton and the United States of America, p. 48 (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse 2005).

Aaron Burr's connections to Pelham arose in part from his marriage to Theodosia Bartow Prevost who was born in Pelham Manor and maintained close family connections to residents of Pelham and New York City her entire life.  According to their marriage certificate, on July 6, 1782, Aaron Burr married Theodosia Bartow Prevost.  There is evidence, however, that the couple actually married on July 2, 1782.  

Burr bought a farm in Pelham on February 26, 1790.  See Deed from Nicholas Wright and William Wright to Aaron Burr, Westchester County Archives, Elmsford, NY, Register of Deeds, Liber L, 363-66.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes the text of a lengthy essay written by Rev. William Hague who was born in Pelham in 1808.  Hague read the essay at a meeting of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society on March 25, 1881.  Hague knew Aaron Burr when Hague was a young student.  His impressions of Burr, though delivered in flowery Victorian prose, offer an interesting glimpse of Burr through the eyes of a long-time Pelham Manor resident who knew Burr personally.

Portrait of Aaron Burr, 1802, by John Vanderlyn.
Source:  Wikimedia Commons.  Note:  This Portrait
of Burr is Referenced by William Hague in the Essay Below.


[Footnote * reads as follows:  '* Read before the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, March 25, 1881.']

NOT many months ago, during the latter half of January, 1881, while sojourning in Washington and occasionally visiting the Capitol, particularly the Senate-chamber, in company with a few friends, the historical associations pertaining to our surroundings called forth, in the free flow of talk, allusions to the early days of the American Congress -- the Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, the Vice-Presidency of Colonel Aaron Burr.  In connection with the mention of the latter name several facts were touched upon, quoted from Mr. James Parton's biography of the man, illustrating his power of address, the ease with which he could put himself in communication with people of every class, from the highest to the lowest, from the most cultured to the rudest, old and young alike, instinctively quick to adjust himself, as to thought, tone, and manner, to any personal presence whatsoever, confident in his ability to win responsive feeling and realize the aim or even the whim that may have impelled him at the time.

The conversation having taken this turn, evidently, as it went on, awakened fress interest in the study of a distinguished character that had seemed to some mysterious and almost mythical.  One lady there present, certainly well read in general history, was disposed to criticise [sic] the style of those statements as exaggerated; quite ready to admit the exceptional greatness of the man as a born ruler of men, exemplified especially in his last address as presiding officer of the Senate, whereof there were many witnesses, yet questioning the affirmations she had heard as to the extent of his regal sway, his capability of universal conquest, despite distinctions of age and class, wheresoever the way was open for his genius to assert itself as 'a living presence.'  Then another added, with an emphasis of expression, 'Why, the style of talk about Burr that I have heard from some old southern gentlemen sounds like a boy's romancing, rather than a man's plain story of what he has seen and known in the matter-of-fact world we live in.'

Thus I was led when alone at night, thinking of the driftings of that day's talk, recalling my own personal memories of Colonel Burr, to muse upon the curious combination or fusion of incongruous influences that have free scope in 'the make-up' of every particular individuality of the human race.  One's own experience may vivify this thought to his own consciousness if he chance to follow it out in reflective or retrospective moods of mind.  How few, comparatively, have apprehended, much less comprehended, the workings of all the conflicting elements in constant play throughout the changing phases of inner life, yet all unified at last under the dominant sway of one supreme idea or ruling principle!  Such is the general observation then recorded in my diary, to me very real indeed, as if I were writing it in the real presence of two contemporary contrasted characters, called up at my mind's bidding from 'the vasty deep,' both at once reappearing, not seeing each other, but both greeting me, as of old, in contrasted tone and manner, with the cheer of friendly recognition.

The intervening half-century is as one day; for, as I now look back to the early years of my academic life in New York, where I was in the way of seeing Colonel Burr, for successive years, twice or thrice every week, at the house of an aged relative where he occupied the lower front room as a law-office, it seems to myself quite noteworthy that I, so young, should have been so thoroughly captivated as by the spell of his genius for winning social sympathy, admiring him as the realization of an heroic ideal, and at the same time, on the other hand, conscious of an attracting force put forth by one of the plainest, most simple-minded, and most honest-hearted of Christian men, Richard Cunningham, Esq., an elder of the Brick Presbyterian Church, under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Spring, while that distinguished minister, who kept his place of eminence for more than a half-century, was yet in his prime.  The elder, a good and lovable man, could not have endured the companionship of Colonel Burr for a single hour without a keen sense of nervous uneasiness, so little had they in common, particularly after the public feeling had turned so mightily against the slayer of General Hamilton.  At that period my father, who commanded a ship in the India trade, disliked the mere presence of Colonel Burr; and it happened once that when Mr. Bartow, a relative of my mother and also of the Colonel, called in company with him at our house, my father, as soon as the name was announced, managed to take himself out of the way, and thus refused to see the late Vice-President of the United States [Page 525 / Page 526] freely speaking of him as an enemy of his country and a social demoralizer whom good society should disown.  And yet, even at that time, enjoying week by week the freedom of opportunity for observation allowed to a schoolboy in a recognized family relationship, the charm of Burr's manner and conversation, incidentally in the law office or in the parlor, was felt intensely as a power of extraordinary attraction.  

Now, I may safely say that if Richard Cunningham, Esq., whose wife and my mother had grown up at Pelham as neighbors in a relation like that of sisterhood, at whose city home, therefore, I was a frequent visitor, had been aware of the fact that I have here recorded, and had inquired of me what I had found that was so interesting in the presence of the ex-Vice-President who had 'lost caste,' as Dr. Spring expressed it, I could not have explained the matter so that either he or his minister could have understood it at all.  Nevertheless, viewing it retrospectively, it is easy enough here to set if forth so that any one may discern the secret of personal power, or, as some have called it, 'magnetism,' and see the Colonel from a young student's point of observation.

To this end let the reader picture to his thought old New York, as it was more than a half-century ago, and imagine that about six o'clock P. M., of a November day, about 1821, being a schoolboy of thirteen, having delivered my mother's message to her aunt, Mrs. Bartow, an aged lady of seventy-five (a relative by marriage to Colonel Burr's first wife, nee Theodosia Bartow), I was protracting my stay in the parlor of her dwelling in Vesey Street, with the expectation that the Colonel would come in very soon, as was his wont, to take his tea, in company with Mr. Bernabue Bartow, and his excellent mother (nee Ann Pell), whom Colonel Burr could not but venerate, and upon whose sympathetic kindness he recognized a degree of dependence.  Imagine him entering the parlor, as I recall him, at a moment when it happened that I was lingering there alone.  His physique, air, style of movement, realize a boy's highest ideal of the soldier and gentleman, while his keen glance and sunny smile, expressive of a personal interest as real as if I had been a senator, awaken a feeling quickly responsive to the tone of cheer in his greeting:  'Well, Will, I'm glad to see you.  Have they left you alone here?'

'Hardly, Colonel.  Aunt and Cousin Bernie were called out just now; they will be in soon.'

Approaching the sofa where I had been reclining, and taking up a school-book that lay there, he notices the title-page and the edition, asking, 'Is it your way to be carrying Caesar's Commentaries' about with you?'

'No, sir, but I have evening lessons; and, as I have not been home since school, I have kept Caesar with me.'

'How far have you read?'

'Up to the Bridge.'

From this incident, as a starting-point, the reader may trace in thought, as far as fancy can serve him, a lively talk about Julius Caesar; stories of his youth, his personal appearance, his manner and habits of life, his characteristics as a Roman citizen, a soldier, a writer, etc., all of which the Colonel could render as interesting to a boy as Sir Walter Scott's word-pictures of Queen Elizabeth or of the Duke of Buckingham in 'Kenilworth' -- a book that occurs to memory in this connection, because it happened to be the freshest of the Waverleys, that everybody was reading or talking about just then.  

Here, in reminiscences pertaining to schooldays (taking within their scope two men notably contrasted, constantly within view, and present to my thought, often meeting in old New York, but never interchanging a word or look of recognition), I trace in personal experience two currents of educational influence incessantly active, distinct, and different, yet coalescing like the two contrasted streams of Hebrew and Greek thought in the education of youth throughout England and America.  A similar fusion of influences in the early domestic and academic life of the only son of the second President of Princeton College, and grandson of the third President, Jonathan Edwards, may be traced in the life-course of Aaron Burr, who, when Vice-President of the United States, could so readily carry with him the sympathies of the national Senate by the power of eloquent address, and could ever move with equal ease and gracefulness of bearing, in the social circle, in the festive hall, in the reunions of scholars, writers, and scientists, in courts of law, upon the arena of political conflict, upon the chosen ground of the duelist, in the camp, or upon the battle-field.  In the interior life of Colonel Burr, the Greek or 'Gentile' element dominated, ultimately shaped his conceptions and ideals; so much so that, even in those early academic days to which memory now reverts, while reading parts of Rollin's 'History,' the thought would suggest itself that we saw in him actually the ancient Stoic and the primitive Epicurean fused into a live unity.  Never could I conceive of an ancient Stoic, in the palmiest days of that philosophy, more fully 'possessing himself,' and persistently imperturbable, than was Aaron Burr.  He surpassed Zeno himself.  His perfect poise, his equanimity, his power of endurance, his apparent superiority to all changes of condition, even from affluence to a poverty that he could dignify like Diogenes, who stood [Page 526 / Page 527] up in the sunshine so royally as the peer of Alexander, were exceptionally wonderful, seeming almost superhuman; and now, while the memory of those fine qualities revives the sympathetic admiration ever called forth by his personal presence, we can not resist the saddening thought that, if they had but been subordinated to a worthy life-aim of sufficient 'pith and moment' to enkindle the enthusiasm of which his gifted nature was capable, the world would have recognized a style of heroism that it would gratefully commemorate, and would have assigned to him a place in history upon the highest plane of 'representative men.'

This remarkable power of self-possession, an endowment of nature -- improved, even in his college-days, by a regulated self-discipline -- was incidentally, now and then, a topic of home-talk; and in this connection it was a familiar observation that Colonel Burr was never, throughout all his life, in the least disconcerted, 'except once.'  Well do I remember the day when I asked of my mother an explanation of this saying, 'It was during his sojourn in Parks,' she answered, 'where, for a time, he felt himself liable to arrest.  There, while walking alone, quite willing to remain unnoticed, he was surprised by the quick,, sharp exclamation of a stranger, 'That's the man!'  The Colonel told the story himself, frankly confessing his exceptional experience of a nerve-tremor and a heart-beat.  It turned out that the stranger had seen the portrait of Colonel Burr, drawn by his celebrated protege, Vanderlyn; and his quick recognition of the likeness startled him into a mood of admiration that could not but express itself aloud to the honor of the artist.

At the time here noted, Colonel Burr, sojourning as an exile in the French capital, to which his party in Congress had once unanimously agreed that he should be sent to reside as United States Minister, must have felt himself keenly alive to the falseness of his position, out of all normal relations to society; and any European who might have made his acquaintance just then would have seen him not 'at his best,' but his worst, thus failing to get a just impression of that combination of qualities that had for years called forth from all orders of people the most curious questionings as to the possibilities of his career.  Nevertheless, every feature of his physique and manner indicated the complete self-control which is always sure to win the mastery of others.  Thus it had been from first to last.  At the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, nearly a year before the Declaration of Independence, at the age of nineteen, enlisted as a volunteer under General Arnold, in the campaign against Quebec, he had won the military prestige that a veteran might have envied; then, after the war, while we behold him a self-trained student and practitioner, acquiring preeminence at the bar, and, yet in early manhood called forth and idolized as a political leader by the best young men of the nation, we feel assured that we have before us, as a study, not merely a personality richly gifted by nature, but severely self-disciplined for the realization of a well-defined ideal, ever present to his thought as an impelling and uplifting power.  His conception of the type and style of character to be realized seems not to have been given by 'heredity,' but formed by the agency of moral causes, a strong will putting forth choices of its own, as if consciously a creative genius, with faith in the maxim that 'a man makes for himself the world that he lives in.'  In rendering his conception of manhood actual, he was as minutely particular as Lord Chesterfield (in his view a typal character), in laying down rules of gentlemanly living, not disdaining in his intercourse with law-students to emphasize the smallest things pertaining to conduct, as for instance by the reminder, 'Remember, sir, no gentleman will be seen smoking in the streets.'

That reminder, which in those days was occasionally quoted in my hearing, is associated with memories of the whole aggregate of impressions made upon my mind during the period of my school-life in New York, by Colonel Burr, 'as a living presence,' realizing to my youthful conception the highest type of cultured manhood, awakening an intense desire to appropriate and assimilate the elements of manly power of which he was ever before me as the most complete exponent.  The possibility of my exemplifying the qualities that I so keenly appreciated was often a matter of serious questioning.  Under his care at that time was a Spanish lad, Columbus, occupied as an office-boy, whom I was always glad to meet.  One day, while talking with him in front of the house in Vesey Street, the Colonel stepped out to the hall doorway, in order to give the boy an errand, and some particular directions as to the manner of doing it.  As soon as he had left us and closed the office-door, I was impelled to exclaim:  'O Columb, isn't he great?  A perfect gentleman!  You could tell he was a born soldier if you had never seen him before -- couldn't you?'  To this Columb assented.

The incident is here recalled as illustrating the impression of the moment.  That and like impressions were enduring.  I can truly affirm that, as a matter of personal experience, throughout the half-century that followed, seldom, if ever, have I found myself tempted to give way to impatience, to anger, to peevishness, to the [Page 527 / Page 528] abandonment of self-control, but that the image of Colonel Burr has risen before me as a mentor, rebuking the weakness and quickening manly resolution. Even now, in similar circumstances, under the spell of such a temptation that early experience would be renewed, and the soliloquizing question put:  'Shall I, with all the added aid of a Christian's faith, fall below the standard of self-mastery attained by one whose only recognized sense of inspiration was a 'common-sense philosophy' -- the strength of a gifted and cultivated nature?  What a miserable and pitiable failure that would be!'

In connection, however, with this grateful acknowledgement of indebtedness to Colonel Burr for influences so helpful and uplifting, there comes the unwelcome reflection that his life, regarded as a whole, even in relation to his own cherished ideal, was a disastrous failure.  His philosophy proved utterly inadequate to meet his need of self-regulating power at the culminating point of his brilliant career.  At the opening of this century, in his manly prime, he had captivated the nation.  He had won its heart; thrilled it with the delight of a hero-worship that seemed but a generous enthusiasm.  Then came to him what comes to all in a degree, the crucial trial of the grounds of character, the one great temptation  that becomes a turning-point of history.  He seems like a man standing upon a pinnacle, 'observed of all observers,' beyond the reach of harm from any one except himself; listening to the subtle tempter whispering, 'Cast thyself down,' and whispering, too, the false promise of power to lift himself up in bedazzling triumph over his enemies, above all law, human or divine.  Instead of bidding away the angel-like fiend that assumed to speak as the champion of Honor, he yielded to the say of 'the hour and power of darkness.'  In his latest retrospect of life he must have caught a glimpse of 'the situation' as we see it now, when, having been sympathetically moved one afternoon, by hearing readings from Sterne, among them the story of 'Uncle Toby and the Fly,' he was heard to say pathetically, 'Had I read Voltaire less and Sterne more, I might have thought the world wide enough for Hamilton and me!'

How suggestive was that expression of a sad heart-story, never fully told, but just hinted!  While we all regret his great mistake, we may trace it back to its source, chronologically beyond the period when Voltaire overshadowed Sterne, to the day of his student-life at Princeton, when he sought an interview with the fourth president of the college as to the proper manner of treating the extraordinary religious interest in progress just then among all classes of the undergraduates.  To the good Doctor, thoroughly familiar with the set habitudes of a Scotch university, molded by the traditional forms of the state Church, this spontaneous movement, on the part of the young men, of an earnest spirit of inquiry not comprised within the prescribed educational cirriculum, was of a sort somewhat new and strange.  He spoke of it disparagingly; treated it as an outbreak of fanaticism.  The young inquirer acknowledged his sense of relief from anxiety, and resolved to ignore the movement or resist its appeals.  This hostile attitude was unhealthful; issued in a set antipathy that modified his tastes, his choice of books, or favorite readings, his associations, his decisions, and the trend of his life-course.  If the fourth President of Princeton had been as well qualified to 'understand his times' as have been his successors, especially the eminent Christian philosopher of our own time, who also crossed the Atlantic to take the same presidential chair, he would surely have emphasized, in some way, the sentiment sounded forth by Thomas Carlyle in interpreting the story of young Oliver Cromwell at the like crisis of his inner life, heart-trouble, and deliverance thus:  'Certainly a grand epoch for a man -- properly the one epoch, the turning-point which guides upward or guides downward him and his activity for evermore.  Wilt thou join the dragons?  Wilt thou join the gods?  Of thee, too, the question is asked, whether by a man in Genevan gown, by a man of four surplices at All-Hallowtide, with words very imperfect, or by no man, and no words, but only by the silences, by the eternities, by the life everlasting, the death everlasting.'  Would that some such Carlylean oracle had been whispered in the ear of the President of Princeton in time for the critical hour of his pupil's exigency, and imparted the fitting tone of response to the call of an inquiring spirit!

After the summer of 1824, absence from the city of New York during the period of collegiate and professional studies, and then the establishment of my home in Boston, allowed me but few opportunities of personal interviews with Colonel Burr -- hearing from him occasionally, however, through mutual relatives and friends.  Throughout the years of his residence in Vesey Street, which Mr. Parton has not particularized, he enjoyed, to a degree, the sympathies and comforts of family-life; and afterward, death having invaded that home circle, his office was removed, and he lived, for the most part, alone within it.  His physical energy was wonderfully sustained until the year 1830, when he was suddenly smitten by paralysis of the right side.  As soon as the intelligence reached his cousin, Mrs. Hawes (nee Catharine Bartow), she hastened from her residence in Brooklyn to visit him in his office, [Page 528 / Page 529] then on the corner of Gold and Fulton Streets.  His physician and several friends were there, and the experiment of electrical application was going on.  He expressed his wish to Mrs. Hawes that he might be removed to her home and be under her care.  Mr. Edwards, one of the company, immediately took an opportunity to say to Mrs. Hawes, with a look of anxiety:  'He is not in a fit condition to be removed, and it will excite him too much just now to talk about it.  As there is a coach at the door, perhaps you had better avail yourself of it and take leave of hiim for the present.'  Mrs. Hawes returned to Brooklyn.  But the strong-willed man had his way ere long.  On the day following, a coach containing the Colonel and two strong men as attendants, who had managed a mattress and pillows for his support, arrived at the dwelling of Mrs. Hawes, who, hastening in her surprise to greet him, was hailed by his salutation in an exultant, joyous tone, 'Cousin Katie, I told you that you must take care of me now.'  It was so.  He was cordially welcomed.  The sickness did not prove to be as expected, his last.  A few weeks assiduous care on the part of Mr. and Mrs. Hawes, encouraging him with their help to rise and, by gentle exercise in the parlor, to learn to walk again, repeating the process at a set hour daily for a month, restored the old warrior, so that he resumed his office business with as keen a zest as ever.  Although he had passed 'the borderline of threescore and ten,' his interest in the details of professional work had not flagged, the changes wrought by time had not touched his brain, and the tone of his mind, thus marvelously kept up, rendered his work a kind of rejuvenation.  At the same time, despite all faults, sorrows, 'loss of caste,' abandonment by society, he never lost faith in the genuineness of unselfish friendship, or his power to win and keep it; and never, we may safely say, has history shown us the example of a man whose experiences of adversity more fully proved that the love-power is a reality, and that real love is a deathless principle.

Among the reflections suggested by the review of a life-course so marked by contrasted changes and interesting episodes, there comes to us one that is somewhat startling; namely, this:  the ethical and aesthetic lessons inculcated by moralists in their analyses, summings up, and final judgments of his career had been anticipated by Aaron Burr himself in the papers that he had written and read as 'compositions' in the years of his college-life at Princeton.  Therein he has set forth a high ideal of character and purpose.  That fine ideal was, in the main, actually realized in his own family-life as husband, father, educator, and companion.  From the day of his marriage to Mrs. Theodosia Prevost (nee Bartow) to the day of her departure from earth, no household of any public man in America that we have any account of, as to its interior relations, could show a more beautiful exemplification of a pure and happy home.  To her, though older than himself, he had been attracted by qualities of mind and heart that not only won his love but commanded his admiration.  Their correspondence betrays a profound congeniality of sentiment and intellectual kinship of the highest order; so that in her he recognized a woman to whom he could look up as a superior representative of her sex, realizing his own cherished ideal of true womanhood.  Trust is the basis of love, and his trust in her was all but boundless.  He honored her judgment when it differed from his own, appreciating its frank expression.  Writing of her before the time of their marriage, he said she could talk of books, of Voltaire, Rousseau, Chesterfield, 'could appreciate those authors without becoming their disciple.'  In accordance with this statement we notice that in one of her letters to him, in 1781, referring to Lord Chesterfield, she says, 'The indulgence you applaud in that author is the only part of his writings that I think reprehensible.'  At the same time, referring to the subject of religion in its personal relations, she declared that worlds should not purchase the little she possessed.  In all their communications we trace a sense of mutual indebtedness.  She admired his type and style of manliness.  In 1781 we observe his saying to her in familiar pen-talk, 'That mind is truly great which can bear with equanimity the trifling and unavoidable vexations of life and be affected only by those events which determine our substantial bliss.'  They were mutual helpers in their life-battle.  Years after her death, while we hear him saying, as was his wont, 'The mother of my Theodosia was the best woman and the finest lady I have ever known,' we feel assured that her loss could not be supplied by any human substitution.  He needed not only her companionship, but a kindred religious principle as a regulating force.  Had that distinguished woman lived in full possession of her queenly powers a few years longer, and been with him as his 'guardian angel' at the critical point of his life-trial, he might have come forth from it wearing the laurel of moral conquest, and exemplified the ancient saying, 'He that is slow to anger is greater than the mighty, and he that ruleth his spirit than he taketh a city.'

The biography of Colonel Burr, by James Parton, has been widely welcomed as a contribution of permanent value, not only to American literature, but to world-history.  Its achievement was an important part of his 'mission'; had he [Page 529 / Page 530] passed away without undertaking it, the lack could never have been supplied.  Although his readers may differ from him occasionally, as to sentiments incidentally expressed, we recognize throughout the skill of the artist and the fidelity of the conscientious historian.  During the closing years of Colonel Burr, to the last day of his life, September 14, 1836, the heroic elements pertaining to his gifted nature were still in lively play, and Mr. Parton's word-pictures are so clear and truthful that the reader who still remembers  the subject of the narrative as a living personality is impelled by agreeable surprises to soliloquize aloud like the stranger who had beheld the portrait by Vanderlyn, 'That's the man!'

From different quarters objections have been urged against Mr. Parton's treatment of his subject as a fanciful style of portraiture, investing an essentially defective character with a halo that renders it attractive and even fascinating to youthful minds when it should have been his aim, rather, to dispel its charm and render it repulsive.  Such criticisms are quite superficial.  A biography is not a novel; in a work of fiction a writer may create his characters, but a writer of history deals with facts.  If the biographer had represented Colonel Burr in any other light than as a mightily attractive personality, his book would have been untruthful and morally valueless.  A volume was not needed to warn any one against the fatal issues of a life utterly destitute of any element of excellence to love, honor, or admire.  But to demonstrate by a great example that a character may be eminent for virtues that command the homage of a nation and yet fell as to the realization of the chief end of life for lack of a supreme moral principle ruling within, at the very center of one's being, is to set forth the one primary lesson that our times call for, and worthy of being issued in new and improved editions for the sake of 'the generation to come.'


Source:  Hague, William, A YOUNG STUDENT'S IMPRESSIONS OF COLONEL AARON BURR, Appleton's Journal:  A Magazine of General Literature, New Series, No. 60, pp. 525-30 (Jun. 1881).  

*          *          *          *           *

I have written about Aaron Burr and his connections to Pelham as well as Augustine Prevost and the home known as the "Shrubbery" that stood on Burr's farm on many occasions.  For examples, see:

Wed., Jun. 14, 2006: Text of Deed by Which Aaron Burr Acquired Pelham Lands in 1790.

Tue., Jul. 18, 2006:  Aaron Burr Tries to Pull a Fast One in the 1790s and Must Sell His Farm in Pelham.

Thu., Jul. 27, 2006:  1799 Notice of Foreclosure Sale of Pelham Manor Lands Owned by Augustus James Frederick Prevost, Stepson of Aaron Burr.  

Tue., Jan. 10, 2006:  Mrs. Aaron Burr Describes Roads in Pelham in 1791.

Thu., Apr. 14, 2005:  The Pelham Home for Children that Once Stood on Split Rock Road.

Mon., Oct. 2, 2006:  The Revolutionary War Diary of Loyalist Joshua Pell, Jr. of the Manor of Pelham.

Wed., Jan. 31, 2007:  A Large Distillery Once Stood on the Prevost Farm in Pelham During the 1790s.  

I also have written about the Reverend William Hague who wrote his impressions of Aaron Burr as quoted above on a number of occasions.  For one example, see:

Mon., Jun. 11, 2007:  Biography of Rev. William Hague, Born in Pelham in 1808.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

The Heights Tells North Pelham: So What if We Pulled a Fast One and Renamed the Train Station? Get Over It!

I have written about how Pelhamville "lost" its name and became the Village of North Pelham.  The settlement of "Pelham Heights," consisting of about two dozen residents, successfully incorporated as the "Village of Pelham" in a transparent attempt to convince authorities to change the names of the local post office and train station to "Pelham" so that they could improve their chances to sell their lots in The Heights -- rather than accepting the name "Pelhamville."  The residents of Pelhamville were livid and felt they had been duped.  For examples of previous articles addressing this issue, see:

Fri., Apr. 15, 2005:  How Pelhamville "Lost" Its Name!

Tue., July 01, 2014:  Why Do We Call It the Village of Pelham Instead of Pelhamville? Because We Were Duped!

Pelhamville residents incorporated the Village of North Pelham after the incident, but continued to seethe over the slight.  Indeed, at about the time of the tenth anniversary of the incorporation of the Village of North Pelham, local residents began to "agitate" to change the name of the Town's New Haven Line train station from "Pelham" to "North Pelham."  

The Village of Pelham, of course, would have none of it.  On December 19, 1906, the Board of Trustees of the Village of Pelham (The Heights) passed a resolution protesting any such name change.  The resolution, presumably, was for distribution to railroad authorities to ensure that the Village of North Pelham would not be able to "pull a fast one" and obtain a name-change like that achieved by The Heights a decade before. . . . 

Lockwood Barr made passing reference to the 1906 resolution, without explaining its context, in his history of the Town of Pelham published in 1946.  He wrote:

"Concerning the Pelham Station:  'Prior to July 1, 1896, this Station was known as Pelhamville, and on that date, was changed to Pelham.  In 1906, there was some agitation on the part of the Village of North Pelham, to have the name changed to North Pelham, due to the fact that the station property was located in both the Village of North Pelham and the Village of Pelham--the westbound station being in the former and the eastbound station in the latter village.  The following is quoted from a resolution adopted by the Board of Trustees of the Village of Pelham, December 19, 1906:  'Whereas the boundary line between the Villages of Pelham and North Pelham is located in the center of the railroad property, the two stations are located in different villages and have always been regarded as town stations, being used by the residents of the Villages of Pelham, Pelham Manor and North Pelham, and the unincorporated section of the town; and Whereas the name of the station and Post Office which was originally Pelhamville, was changed to Pelham several years ago, upon a petition which originated in the Village of North Pelham; and, Whereas the property interests in the Village of North Pelham represents less than one-third of the total assessed valuation in the Town; Be it resolved that the authorities of the Village of Pelham protest against any change of the name of this station.'"

Source:  Barr, Lockwood Anderson, A Brief, But Most Complete & True Account of the Settlement of the Ancient Town of Pelham Westchester County, State of New York Known One Time Well & Favourably as the Lordshipp & Manour of Pelham Also The Story of the Three Modern Villages Called The Pelhams,  pp. 146-47 (The Dietz Press, Inc. 1946) (Library of Congress Control Number 47003441, Library of Congress Call Number F129.P38B3).

Despite "agitation" by residents of the area formerly known as Pelhamville, no name change ensued.  

Map of Pelhamville Published in 1868.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity
from Actual Surveys By and Under the Direction of
F.W. Beers, Assisted By A.B. Prindle & Others,
pg. 36 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868) (Detail from
Page 36 Map Entitled "Town of New Rochelle,
Westchester Co., N.Y. (With) Pelhamville).

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Friday, September 26, 2014

1909 Advertisements Show How the New Development of Pelhamwood Was Marketed to New Yorkers

Nestled just north of the Pelham station on the New Haven Line is the lovely neighborhood known as Pelhamwood.  Almost triangular in shape, the neighborhood is bordered on the north by Lincoln Avenue, on the west by Harmon and Highbrook Avenues, on the south by the railroad tracks and on the east by the New Rochelle border.  In 1909, Clifford B. Harmon & Co. bought from the Winyah Park Realty Company this one-hundred acre tract and began development of Pelhamwood. 

Periodically I have written about Clifford B. Harmon and Pelhamwood.  For those interested in a comprehensive history of the development, see Bell, Blake A., The Early Development of Pelhamwood, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 37, Sept. 17, 2004, p. 12, col. 2.  For earlier postings about Clifford B. Harmon and Pelhamwood, see:

Sat., Jan. 25, 2014:  Putting the Finishing Touches on the Lovely New Church in Pelhamwood in 1923.  

Mon., Feb. 1, 2010:  Obituary of Richard B. Ferris of Pelhamwood

Thu., Oct. 11, 2007:  Biographical Data and Photographs of Clifford B. Harmon Who Developed Pelhamwood

Tue., Jul. 10, 2007:  An Early Event in the History of Pelhamwood

Thu., Jun. 21, 2007:  Information About "Aeronautic" Exploits of Clifford B. Harmon Who Developed Pelhamwood in Pelham

Thu. Aug. 10, 2006:  The New Development of Pelhamwood Gets Approval for its Proposed Sewage System in 1912

Tue., Nov. 15, 2005:  Plaque Dedicated at the Historic Pelhamwood Clock Tower

Mon., Sep. 12, 2005: Pelhamwood Association Celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 1942

Thu., May 12, 2005: Clifford B. Harmon, Developer of Pelhamwood.

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides two important newspaper advertisements published in 1909 that urged New Yorkers to move to Pelhamwood, a new New York City suburb located in the heart of the Town of Pelham.  The images and marketing prose used in the advertisements provide glimpses of the intent behind the real estate development and how it was designed to fit into the landscape rather than modifying the landscape so a development could be placed upon it.  Clifford Harmon intended the new development to be a rustic, country getaway convenient to New York City where elegant homes would be built into the rustic landscape with as little modification to the landscape as possible.  This meant that instead of broad and closely clipped lawns, large and elegant homes were built onto hillsides, among trees and boulders to give the development a woodland feel only minutes away from New York City.

The advertisements below emphasize the rustic feel of the development, the elegance and exclusivity of the new suburb, and the speed with which one could commute to and from New York City for work or play.  To see a larger and more legible version of each advertisement, click on the images below for a magnified view.  (Click again on the larger image for an even higher resolution version of the image.)  To facilitate search, I have transcribed the text of the two advertisements at the end of today's posting.  

Source:  The Story of Pelhamwood [Advertisement],
The Evening Telegram - New York, Apr. 8, 1909, p. 13, cols. 1-3.

Source:  Pelhamwood [Advertisement], The Evening Telegraph - New York,
Apr. 10, 1909, p. 16, cols. 1-5.





Wise Restrictions

Our property is high class and we wish it to remain so; therefore some restrictions are necessary.  

No buildings shall be allowed for any purpose offensive to a high-class residential section.  The cost of homes will be restricted according to location, the minimum being $4,000; in the larger portion of the property restrictions are $6,000 and $7,000.

High-Class Improvements

Substantial cement walls will be laid in front of lots.  Streets will be graded and macadamized.  Water and gas and electric lights will be installed at our expense.  Police and fire protection.

Title Insured

To us, and our title will be acceptable to all Trust Companies.

$24,500 in Gold

To stimulate building, cash prizes are offered.

First 10 villas costing not less than $10,000  $500 EACH
First 10 villas costing not less than $8,000  $400 EACH
First 10 villas costing not less than $6,000  $300 EACH
First 10 villas costing not less than $4,500  $200 EACH

To come under this offer houses must be started before Sept. 1, '09 and completed before Feb. 1, '10.

Free Car-Fare for One Year

To the head of each family who begins building before June 1st, 1909, and completes before January 1st, 1910.

Free Deed

in case of death.  Our contract protects your wife and children.  No taxes for one year.  12% discount for casy 30 days; 10% discount for cash 60 days.

No Dirt -- No Smoke

No dust; no cinders; no strap hanging; no overcrowding; seats for all.


34TH ST. AND 5TH AVE., 11.45 A.M.

PRINTED matter and pictures tell only part of the story of Pelhamwood -- and a mighty small part.  All we've said of the place -- all we've printed for you to read, we want to prove.  and there's only one way to do it.

We Want You to SEE Pelhamwood!

We want you to see its superb location -- want you to see its beautiful, wonderful trees -- want you to see the improvements under way -- to note that it takes but 33 minutes from Grand Central Station -- want you to enjoy the clean, dustless ride there.  Every assertion we've made we want you to prove -- for we want you to have the same belief in Pelhamwood -- the same enthusiasm for this superb property -- as we have!  And when you do see it, your belief will be as solid as your enthusiasm!

Free Inspection of Pelhamwood To-morrow


Come as our guest -- and bring your wife.  Write, phone, or call at our office for tickets -- we're open on Sunday -- or come to Grand Central Station after 1 o'clock, and ask our representative at the train gate.

Glad to have you come -- glad of the opportunity to prove to you that Pelhamwood is all we've said it is -- and more!

Come!  Spend the afternoon at Pelhamwood -- and breathe the air of the country!

$10 DOWN Secures Any Plot.  Balance 1% Monthly.
Prices $440 AND UPWARD




For 22 years Mr. Harmon has had a large share in the development and success of more than 100 suburbs in the big Eastern cities, and his customers have shared in his success.


The Growth of New York.

Has always been northward.  WHY?  Because it lies in the line of least resistance -- no ferries, no bridges.  There is nothing to retard the northward growth.

The Completion of the Subway

Added thirty-one millions of dollars to values to the Bronx alone.  The electrification of the New Haven Road is causing values in the vicinity of Pelhamwood to increase in proportion.  NOW IS THE TIME TO BUY.

50,000 People

Moved from Manhattan into the Suburbs last year, and the largest number went northward into Westchester County.  You should follow in their footsteps.


Now has electric train service, and is as close in time as the upper section of New York City.  You have none of the inconveniences of city travel.

Trolley Connections

From New York City and to Long Island Sound, one mile away, and all parts of Westchester County.  

Accessible from City

On the main line of the New Haven Road.  Fifteen miles from Grand Central Depot; thirty-three minutes by electric train.

You Will Never

get rich by saving.  Fortunes have been made by the wise purchase of Real Estate.  Prices will never be lower and the opportunity will never be greater than now.  See our property at once."

Source:  THE STORY OF PELHAMWOOD [Advertisement], The Evening Telegram - New York, Apr. 8, 1909, p. 13, cols. 1-5.  

Office, 5:00 P.M.
Pelham Station 5:51 P.M.

A beautifully wooded, restricted property, in a high class residential district, within easy access of New York.

You May Leave Your New York Office at 5 P.M. and Play Tennis at Pelhamwood by 6 P.M.

¶ Why did 50,000 New Yorkers move to the new suburbs last year?  Because they were tired of merely existing -- and wanted to LIVE!

¶ They were tired of high rents, cramped quarters and vitiated air -- and out they went, where the big broad country remedied every evil.

¶ You can LIVE at Pelhamwood -- you have practically every city convenience, combined with the wholesomeness of the country -- you can get to or from New York in 33 minutes -- you can buy at once -- then build -- and all you need to start is ten dollars --

$10 Down Secures Any Plot  Prices $440 and Upward.  Balance 1% Monthly.

¶ Last Sunday we ran our first free inspection train to Pelhamwood -- and sold $122,872 worth of property.  Those who came believed in Pelhamwood's present no less than its future -- knew that it was destined to be the most wonderful investment and home suburb near New York.  And if YOU see, you, too, will believe.

¶ We want you to come to Pelhamwood to-morrow -- and bring your wife.  Spend Easter Sunday close to nature.  You are not obligated to us in any way -- all we want is for you to come and SEE!  Then you'll spread the good news!


Our Free Inspection Train Leaves Grand Central at . . . 2 P.M. and Stops at the 125th Street Station 10 Minutes Later.

Get tickets at our office or ask our representative at either station half an hour before train time.

'Pelhamwood is the place to dwell, Between Mount Vernon and New Rochelle.'


For 22 years Mr. Harmon has had a large share in the development and success of more than 100 suburbs in the big Eastern cities, and his customers have shared in his success.

[Text Below is from the left column of the advertisement.]

Wise Restrictions

Our property is high class and we wish it to remain so; therefore some restrictions are necessary.

No buildings shall be allowed for any purpose offensive to a high class residential section.  The cost of homes will be restricted according to location, the minimum being $4,000; in the larger portion of the property, restrictions are $6,000 and $7,000.

High Class Improvements

Substantial cement walks will be laid in front of lots.  Streets will be graded and macadamized.  Water and gas and electric lights will be installed at our expense.  Police and fire protection.

Title Insured

To us, and our title will be acceptable to all Trust Companies.

$24,500 in Gold

To stimulate building, cash prices are offered:--

First 10 villas costing not less than $10,000............$500
First 10 villas costing not less than $8,000..............$400
First 10 villas costing not less than $6,000..............$300
First 10 villas costing not less than $4,500..............$200

To come under this offer houses must be started before September 1, 1909, and completed before February 1, 1910.

Free Car-Fare for One Year to the head of each family who begins building before June 1, 1909, and completes before January 1, 1910.

Free Deed in case of death.  Our contract protects your wife and children.  No taxes for one year.  12% discount for cash 30 days; 10% discount for cash 60 days.

No Dirt -- No Smoke

No dust; no cinders; no strap hanging; no overcrowding; seats for all.

[Text Below is from the right column of the advertisement.]

Accessible from City

On the main line of the New Haven Road.  Fifteen miles from Grand Central Depot; thirty-three minutes by electric train.

The Growth of New York

Has always been northward.  WHY?  Because it lies in the line of least resistance -- no ferries, no bridges.  There is nothing to retard the northward growth.

The Completion of the Subway

Added thirty-one millions of dollars to values in the Bronx alone.  The electrification of the New Haven Road is causing values in the vicinity of Pelhamwood to increase in proportion.  NOW IS THE TIME TO BUY.

50,000 People

Moved from Manhattan into the Suburbs last year, and the largest number went northward into Westchester County.  You should follow in their footsteps.


Now has electric train service and is as close in tim as the upper section of New York city.  You have none of the inconveniences of city travel.

Trolley Connections

From New York City and to Long Island Sound, one mile away, and all parts of Westchester County.

You Will Never

Get rich by saving.  Fortunes have been made by the wise purchase of Real Estate.  Prices will never be lower and the opportunity will never be greater than now.  See our property at once."

Source:  Pelhamwood [Advertisement], The Evening Telegraph - New York, Apr. 10, 1909, p. 16, cols. 1-5.

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