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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Benjamin Palmer's 1789 Petition to President George Washington Seeking Redress for Damages Sustained During the American Revolution

The Manor of Pelham, including today's City Island, suffered grievously as part of the Neutral Ground during the American Revolution.  The Neutral Ground was an extensive area that included southern Westchester County.  It sat between the warring armies and was prowled by American Patriots and British Loyalists throughout the War. 

The plight of Benjamin Palmer of City Island perhaps best illustrates the sufferings of the local population during the American Revolution. Records indicate that on August 27, 1776, British troops raided City Island, killing some of Palmer's livestock and plundering Palmer's farm on the island.  Within months, Palmer bravely (though perhaps injudiciously) sent to the Commander-in-Chief of the invading British forces, General William Howe, a letter in which Palmer set forth “the just Case of the people of this Country had to oppose the King’s orders."

Palmer subsequently claimed that Howe vengefully retailiated for the cheekish letter.  Palmer and his entire family were taken prisoner by the British.  According to Palmer, after he and his family were captured and imprisoned, they were released, but were ordered to abandon their "plantation" on City Island and to move to New York, which they did.  After the War, Palmer submitted a petition addressed to George Washington in September, 1789.  Washingtonwas then serving the first months of his first term as first President of the United States.   Palmer claimed in the petition that he and his family had been unduly persecuted and imprisoned by the British at the outset of the War in retaliation for the letter that he wrote to Howe.  One author has described the events of that time as follows:

"On August 27, 1776, as British ground forces swarmed across Brooklyn, three Royal Navy vessels with one hundred armed men raided City Island.  The British troops killed Palmer's livestock and 'plundered many things, all of which they carried off and never paid for,' Palmer later wrote.  Two months later, Palmer sent a letter to British general William Howe, justifying the Revolution.  This letter, Palmer would later claim, prompted Howe to seek revenge:  In 1779, the British warship Scorpion captured Palmer, taking him and his family to New York against their will.  Although he found a neighbor to farm his land, Palmer never again lived on City Island."

Source:  Seitz, Sharon & Miller, Stuart, The Other Islands of New York City:  A History and Guide, p. 108 (3rd Edition, Woodstock, VT:  The Countryman Press, 2011).

Palmer's petition to President Washington seeking redress for the injuries he suffered at the hands of the British was part of a larger effort by Palmer during which he also later wrote to New York Governor John Jay seeking reimbursement for his losses during the War.  After losing his land in a "war-related lawsuit," Palmer was left destitute.  Aaron Burr, who had many family and real estate connections to the Manor of Pelham, eventually "raised enough money to support Palmer through his old age."  See id.

Benjamin Palmer’s brief petition to President Washington seeking unspecified redress for the damages he suffered at the hands of the British during the American Revolution is worthy of being reproduced here in its entirety because it sheds important light on the sufferings of local residents during the War:

“[29 September 1789] 

The Petition of Benjamin Palmer Most humbly Sheweth. 

That your Petitioner lived on Minefords Island commonly called City Island in the State of new York in the beginning of the War between Great Brotain and those States and your Petitioner with all his Family were taken Prisoners by the British who used us very Ill. And then ordered us off my plantation which I then had on said Island down to New York where I have continued with my Family ever since – The case of their using me so ill was on Account of sending a Letter to General How the Commander of the British Army in Vindication of and setting forth the just Case of the people of this Country had to oppose the King’s orders – A copy of said Letter I wish to lay before your Excellency with the proceedings our people made to take away my Lands from me after they had got quiet possession of those States with several other copies of Letters of consequence, which your Petitioner has a great desire that your Excellency will take some suitable time to peruse them. And your Petitioner as in duty Bound will ever pray &c. 

Benjn Palmer” 

Source:  Letter from Benjamin Palmer to George Washington, Sep. 29, 1789 in Benjamin Palmer Papers, 1669-1817, New-York Historical Society Library, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024.  Neither the original letter to British Commander-In-Chief Howe from Palmer, nor the copy of the letter submitted by Palmer to President Washington in 1789 has ever been located.  The text of Palmer's petition to President Washington is also available online.  See National Archives and Records Administration and University of Virginia Press, Founders Online:  To George Washington From Benjamin Palmer, 29 September 1789 (visited Oct. 12, 2014).

Map of Town of Pelham with Inset of City Island, 1868.
Source: Beers, F.W., Atlas of New York and Vicinity,
p. 35 (NY, NY: Beers, Ellis & Soule, 1868).

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Below are examples of many prior postings that touch on Benjamin Palmer, Members of the Palmer Family and the early history of City Island.

Tue., Oct. 07, 2014:  Legislative History of the 1775 Statute Authorizing Construction of City Island Bridge.

Fri., Oct. 03, 2014:  1775 Statute Authorizing Construction of City Island Bridge.

Tue., Dec. 01, 2009:  Brief History of City Island Published in 1901.

Tue., Dec. 26, 2006:  1775 Statute Authorizing Samuel Rodman and Benjamin Palmer to Build City Island Drawbridge.  

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