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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Pelham Democrats Purportedly Stole the Supervisor Election in 1886 by Importing Paupers from Hart Island to Vote

Hart Island is about 85 acres and lies due east of City Island.  The status of the island as either within the Town of Pelham or outside the Town of Pelham during the last half of the nineteenth century created confusion in a host of contexts including in Town elections.

Detail of 1867 Beers Map Showing Hart Island Shortly
Before John Hunter, Jr. Sold it to New York City.
Source:  Beers, Ellis & Soule, Atlas of New York and
Vicinity From Actual Surveys By and Under the Direction
of F. W. Beers, Assisted by Geo. E. Warner & Others, p. 7
(Philadelphia, PA:  Beers, ellis & Soule, 1867)

The confusion seems to have arisen from the fact that New York City bought the island in 1868 from John Hunter, Jr. for $75,000 for use as a municipal prison  and Potter's Field for the indigent.  See Westchester County Records of Land Conveyances, Liber 674, Page 447 (available at Westchester County Archives; thanks to Mark Gaffney for providing this reference).  New York City did not, however, annex the island to make it part of New York City at the time.  Thus, New York City owned the land, but the land remained within the Town of Pelham.  Pelham viewed the island owned and maintained by New York City as part of New York City and did not consider the island when dealing with town affairs.

Pelham residents recognized that the situation was ripe with possibilities for election fraud, particularly in town elections for such a tiny town where a handful of votes could change the results.  Indeed, as early as 1882, Pelham residents were concerned that some inhabitants of Hart Island insisted on voting in Town of Pelham elections.  The records of the Pelham Manor Protective Club indicate that on April 1, 1882, representatives of the "Law and Order Society of City Island" met with representatives of the Pelham Manor Protective Club "to see if we could not stop the residents of Hart's Island from voting in the town of Pelham."  The Records of The Pelham Manor Protective Club, p. 20 entry for April 1, 1882 ("At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the P. M. P. Club held at the residence of G. H. Reynolds April 1st 1882.  Reynolds, Black, Barnett, and De Witt were present, also a committee from the Law and Order Society of City Island, consisting of Messrs. Bell, Mority, and McAllister, whose purpose in metting with us was to see if we could not stop the residents of Hart's Island from voting in the town of Pelham.") (original in collections of the Westchester County Historical Society).  

In 1884, the Chief Clerk in the Election Bureau of the City of New York issued a formal opinion blessing the practice of Hart Island inhabitants voting in Pelham elections.  A brief article described the development:

"The Hart's Island Vote.

An employee in one of the city's institutions on Hart's Island wrote to the Election Bureau to ask where he ought to vote at the coming election -- in Pelham or in New York.  Investigation showed that custom sanctioned Pelham as the polling place of inhabitants of Hart's Island, while the map plainly put the island in Westchester county.  On the other hand, chapter 238 of the Laws of 1869, which empowered the Charity Commissioners to establish an industrial school on Hart's Island, referred to the island as the property of the city and county of New York.  To offset this, in the Revised Statutes of 1875 Hart's Island is included in the town of Pelham, while chapter 782 of the Laws of 1870 takes the same view, saying that the boundary line had not been altered since Capt. Bond drew his map in 1711.  The Chief Clerk of the Election Bureau concluded that the balance of authority lay with Pelham, and advised the anxious inquirer to vote there.  The vote of Hart's Island is not large.  The island is tenanted chiefly by the dead in Potter's Field."

Source:  The Hart's Island VoteThe Sun [NY, NY], Aug. 31, 1884, p. 6, col. 2.  

The following year, in 1885, City Island Democrat Sherman T. Pell ran against Republican Robert H. Scott for Town Supervisor of Pelham.  The election was a close one.  Scott beat Pell by ten votes.  See City and Suburban News - Westchester County, N. Y. Times, Apr. 2, 1885, p. 8.  

Sherman Pell and his Democratic cronies took time to formulate a plan for the following year's election.  They concluded that the decision by the Chief Clerk of the Election Bureau offered an opportunity that was simply too tempting to ignore.  The following year, Sherman Pell ran once again against incumbent Supervisor Scott.    

In that 1886 election, Sherman Pell and his Democrat cronies took advantage of the determination by the Chief Clerk of the Election Bureau that inhabitants of Hart Island could vote in Pelham elections.  First they packed the Democratic caucus that year with men from Hart Island to enable Pell to defeat former Town Supervisor James Hyatt and another up-and-coming Democrat for the Democratic nomination for Town Supervisor.  Second, they arranged to transport 25 men from Hart Island to vote in the town-wide election -- an unprecedented number of Hart Island "voters."  

The election was even closer than before.  On March 30, 1886, Sherman Pell won the election by a single vote.  The election, however, was clouded in a scandal that had Pelham tongues wagging for at least a decade.  Pell's Republican opponent Robert H. Scott announced after the election that he intended to contest the election "on the ground that 25 persons who voted for Mr. Pell were brought over from Hart's Island, and that two-thirds of them were New-York paupers having no right to vote."  Westchester County, N.Y. Times, Apr. 3, 1886, p. 8.

Sherman T. Pell's election shenanigans in the 1886 Town Supervisor election foreshadowed his more serious shenanigans once he was entrenched in the office.  When he finally lost the 1893 Town Supervisor election after seven years in office, he disappeared.  Soon it was discovered that for years Pell had executed notes on behalf of the Town, forged the signature of the Town Clerk, and sold the forged bonds on Wall Street while pocketing the proceeds.  According to a variety of reports, Pell stole amounts totaling between $30,000 and $100,000.  Pell fled to parts unknown (though rumors claimed he fled to South America).  He was never caught and was never heard from again.  See Bell, Blake A., Take the Money and Run:  Pelham Town Supervisor Sherman T. Pell, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIV, Issue 19, May 13, 2005, p. 14, col. 2.  

Daguerrotype Showing Family of Samuel Pell of City Island.
Arrow Points to a Young Sherman T. Pell Who, as Town Supervisor,
Later Forged Town of Pelham Bonds, Sold Them to Wall Street
and Pocketed the Proceeds.  Source:  Digital Collection of the Author.

*          *           *          *          *

Below is text from a series of articles referencing the incidents that are the subject of today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"At the town election in the town of Pelham, on the 30th ult., Sherman T. Pell, democrat, was elected Supervisor, of the town over R. H. Scott, the republican candidate, by one majority.  Now Mr. Scott being disgruntled, contests the election on the ground that of those who voted for Mr. Pell twenty-five were brought over fro Hart's Island, and that of these eighteen were paupers belonging in New York and having no right to vote at all."

Source:  [Untitled], The Eastern State Journal [White Plains, NY], Apr. 10, 1886, Vol. XLII, No. 1, p. 3, col. 3.



The annual town election is to take place on the 29th inst., and as a natural consequence the people are casting about for not only eligible but the most suitable candidates.

In the town of Pelham a few weeks ago it was conceded that Mr. Sherman T. Pell would be almost the unanimous choice for the office of Supervisor, but of late some of the more thoughtful have been inquiring into his record, and we are forced to say that in some very important matters it is not an enviable one.

Last spring Mr. Pell was elected Supervisor of Pelham, by a bare majority of one vote, and where that vote and several others came from will be shown below.  The Chronicle has watched Mr. Pell's record closely, and we must say that while he has shown commendable zeal in some minor matters, in the more important affairs of the town where he should have stood as a bulwark to guard the people's interests, he has shown himself to be totally unfit for the honorable and trusted position which he holds.

Below are given some of the reasons why Mr. Pell should not be re-elected.  If he can justify his acts therein detailed, the Chronicle will cheerfully accord him ample space to do so.  

First -- As regards his election -- Twenty or thirty men came over from Hart's Island and voted for Mr. Pell at the last election; these men had no interest in, or knowledge of the town affairs; they were employees and inmates of the City Institutions on the Island.  The introduction of such an element into our town affairs, is wrong; unless it is rebuked by the honest and intelligent citizens of the town, it may furnish a dangerous tool in the hands of the unscrupulous men who wish to use the town government for their own personal and selfish purposes.  Of course as Mr. Pell's majority was only one, the votes of the Hart's Island men elected him.

There is littlle doubt that the following men voted for Mr. Pell.  Their residences appeared on the official list of the employees of the City Departments, published in the City Record in the January before the town election as follows:

Arthur Connor, residence, 20 Greenwich street, N. Y. City; Andrew McCauley, residence, 10 Charles Lane, N. Y. City; David T. Corde, residence, 59 Clinton Place, N. Y. City; John Murphy, residence, 511 East 15th street, N. Y. City; William Langhorst, residence, 158 East 23rd street, N. Y. City; Bernard Arthur, residence, 70 East 3rd street, N. Y. City; where his wife resides.  Mr. Arthur admitted after the election that he had resided at the above address for five years.  He registered and voted in New York City in November before the town election.  David T. Corde also voted at the November election in New York City.

Second -- On the 14th of September, 1886, seven persons presented to the Supervisor, an application under the provisions of a Statute of this State for a franchise to form a company to supply the town of Pelham with water.  

The active men among these applicants were W. R. Lambberton and Moses R. Crow, the former the attorney for the applicants and the friend of Mr. Pell, and the latter, the disgruntled Vice President of the New York and Mt. Vernon Water Company, whose hostility to that Company is no secret.  They proposed to form the Southern Westchester Water Company.

Giving them no particulars of the object of the meeting, Mr. Pell called a meeting of the Town Board and Highway Commissioners, on two days' notice, presented to them for their signatures a lithographed document which granted an exclusive franchise to the applicants to use the roads of Pelham for their pipes, and which bound the Town to allow no other company to be formed in the Town or to use the roads to supply its residents with water.  In return they were to receive, one dollar and one per cent. of the net earnings, which,, it need not be said, would never amount to anything.  The company furnished no security that they would ever complete the works, or furnish the town with water, though the town bound itself to get it from no other source; they did not even offer to indemnify the town for accidents they might cause in tearing up the roads.  This document purported to be a proposition emanating from the town, yet it was drawn by Mr. Lamberton, the applicant, and was never submitted to, or seen by the Town Counsel.  Naturally, objection was made in the Board and it was suggested that the Town Counsel should be consulted, and that such an important matter should be publicly discussed, but Mr. Pell said, it was all right, and he urged immediate action.  Thus it went through, to the delight of Messrs. Lamberton and Crow, who were present.  Fortunately one chance of escape remained open to the town for the proposition could not be accepted till the company was organized and officers elected.

The Town Counsel, heard of it unofficially and wrote to the Supervisor, setting forth the effects of the contract which were so disadvantageous to the town, and also advising him that the town had no power to grant an exclusive franchise in the roads; he advised an immediate rescission of the resolution, so far as it granted such a franchise.  The case was so plain that the Supervisor could not refuse, without manifestly betraying the interests of the town.  So the resolution was rescinded, and the applicants notified in less than a week.

The Town was saved from great loss and disadvantage and the Town of Pelham escaped from being an involuntary force in the internecine struggle which is being waged between the hostile factions in the New York and Mount Vernon Water Company.  

Now, how does Mr. Pell come out of this matter:  He has asserted that he did not know until after the meeting of the 16th of September, that the exclusive franchise had been granted, and that he did not think that that part of the contract was read to him, yet his name is signed at the foot of the grant, and he vouched for its propriety so vigorously that he calmed the objections of his colleagues.  If he did not know, how can he excuse such wretched carelessness and ignorance?  How can he justify his failure to refer the document to the Town Counsel?  When asked how he knew that the Town had power to enter into such a contract and that the application was in accordance with law, he said he supposed such was the case, for he had been told so by Messrs. Lamberton and Crow.

Now, either Mr. Pell used his position as Supervisor to advisedly put a matter through the Town Board, which was glaringly to the disadvantage of the town, or he showed himself woefully incompetent for office in allowing such a ridiculously one-sided contract to be sanctioned by him, and that, too, without any advice but from the most interested parties.

If he rests upon the latter alternative, he can only do so by admitting that he was deceived by Mr. Lamberton in a matter where the interests of the town were at stake.  How then can Mr. Pell consistently say this and continue to trust Mr. Lamberton to handle important town matters?  Mr. Pell has employed him as special counsel to advocate a bill now before the legislature for the relief of Pelham, by the taxation of the park lands in the town, and has not given any outward indication that he considers him less public spirited than before.

Mr. Pell has used his position to gain political strength, and it has been considered that he could not be beaten; but some respectable man of common sense will be found, who will be elected, and will reform the methods he has inaugurated.  Party is of little consequence, but freedom from entangling alliances is of the utmost importance."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 11, 1887, Vol. XVIII, No. 966, p. 1, cols. 6-7.


The indications are that the political campaign this year will be the liveliest one Pelham has seen in many a day.

The present management of the town affairs of Pelham look all right on the surface, but they won't stand investigation.  The Independent is on the correct tack this time in most respects regarding that town, and the Chronicle acknowledges the 'corn.'

The plan of electing Mr. Pell Supervisor seems to contemplate the election of Mr. H. D. Carey, as Justice of the Peace, to fill the vacancy caused by the failure of Mr. Jerome Bell to qualify.  The Chronicle believes that the people of the town will see the great impropriety of having in the Town Board any officer or even stockholder of the City Island Railroad Company.  We understand that Mr. Carey owns more than 100 shares of the stock of this company.  We have not a word to say against Mr. Carey.  He is very much of a gentleman, and no doubt would be a good justice; but questions will come up before the Town Board. with reference to the railroad, in the course of its construction, and perhaps suits will have to be brought.  Mr. C's sense of propriety should dictate to him that under these circumstances he ought not to be in the Board.  Nor doe we think that Mr. Bell, who was careless or indifferent enough not to qualify, ought to be given another chance.

Jurstice Patterson, as upright an officer as Pelham ever had, is being flattered by some Democrats into the belief that they want him for justice in Pelhamville.  They don't mean what they say, but, if they take the Chronicle' sadvice they will nominate him.  Mr. Hogan is another Democrat that these same democrats think they can soothe with sweet words.  Mr. Hogan is peculiar, almost eccentric.  He is pretty capable, but he speaks his thoughts too plainly for some people.  They say they will make him assessor.  This, they think will appease him, and he will not be in the Town Board.  The Chronicle makes no promises, but it believes that if the Democratic party nominates for Supervisor such a man as Hogan or Fordham, or Hyatt, it will be a good thing for the town, and the party.  We fear Mr. Hogan will not consent to have his name used, but if he should, and Mr. Scott would consent to run as an Independent or Republican, the result would be a canvass in which the Chronicle would take great interest.

This leads us to say that we understand that Mr. Scott has yielded to the importunities of his friends, and has consented to head an Independent ticket.  To Mr. Scott, service to the town means a serious business inconvenience.  But it is eminently proper that he should be the candidate, for many people who voted against him last year are more than anxious to vote for him this year, to rebuke the Hart's Island business, of which he was the victim.

By the way, it was the use of the Hart's Island vote in the Democratic caucus that nominated Mr. Pell and defeated Messrs. Hyatt and Hogan, though Mr. Hyatt was no doubt the choice of the majority of the best class of Democrats.

Some of the Democrats of Pelham are beginning to think that Mr. Pell has shown by his associations that he is a little too much of a Republican for them.  

In addition to those referred to, Mr. Delcambre is mentioned as a candidate for the Justiceship, which belongs to Pelhamville.  Mr. Lamberton, too, has been mentioned.  For Town Clerk, the incumbent of that office, Mr. Waterhouse, is mentioned by the Republicans, and Mr. James D. Bell, by the Democrats.  For Collector, the Republicans are talking about Charles Bell, and the Democrats are divided between Messrs. Daniel Craft and John F. Adams, the present Collector.  For Road Commissioner, the Democrats talk of Wm. Cochran, Hugh Ryan and Mr. Connolly, and the Republicans of A. S. Wilson.  It is charged that the Democrats are encouraging the nomination of A. S. Wilson so that Mr. Cochran can be re-elected.  If this is so the Republicans should find another candidate.

The election in Pelham this year seems to be so much more important than usual, that the Chronicle suggests to both parties that they hold their caucuses in time to allow a full discussion of the qualifications of the candidates."

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 15, 1887, Vol. XVIII, No. 967, p. 1, col. 6.


The Country Club of Pelhham, it is understood, propose to purchase the grounds near Bartow, now leased by them and make that a permanent headquarters.

If the Democrats will nominate men whom the party can support, we will not see any more money thrown away in patches or fences -- Westchester Independent.

Accomplish the same result by voting for Scott.

Mr. Sherman T. Pell expects to be the Democratic candidate for supervisor.  He also expects the party to vote straight on election day.  Why doesn't he set the example?  His party is watching him.

The Westchester Independent is very anxious to find out where something like $43,000 has gone the past year.  The supervisor ought to be able to tell, if he would.

The interest in the approaching town election suffers no abatement.  The water franchise business, as shown up by the Chronicle, has attracted a great deal of attention, and was news to many who are usually well posted in town affair.  It is generally felt that Mr. Pell's (or Mr. Lamberton's) reply to the statements made in the Chronicle is very lame, and does not meet the issue.  Of course, every one understands the remarks about employing labor, etc.  This is mere demagogism.  No one for a moment supposes that Mr. Pell is a bit more favorable to our laboring population than Mr. Scott, who seems likely to be his opponent this year.  It is no argument for Mr. Pell; and does anybody even dream that he wanted the water franchise put through in order to benefit the laboring people of Pelham?  This is easily seen through.  The workmen know that their best friends are the solid men who contantly employ them, and not those who try to rush jobs through the Town Board, increase taxes, and then try to excuse themselves by saying they wanted to benefit the laborers.

It is good news that Mr. Scott has finally consented to be a candidate for the office of Supervisor.  There is a strong feeling among the solid citizens, both Democratic and Republican on City Island, and on 'the Main,' that the best interests of the town demand his election.  Nobody has forgotten where Mr. Pell's majority of one vote came from last year.  It was unquestionably by the votes of men brought over from Hart's Island, that he was elected -- men who can have no earthly interest in the town affairs, and many of them shown to have been registered as living in New York City just before the election; and Mr. Pell has not the shadow of a chance of success this year against Mr. Scott, except possibly by the employment of the same means.  The polls will be more carefully watched this year.  As to Mr. Scott's qualifications for the office, there is only one opinion.  He is a thoroughly reliablle man.  He has been tried and not found wanting."  

Source:  PELHAM AND CITY ISLAND, The Chronicle [Mount Vernon, NY], Mar. 22, 1887, Vol. XVIII, No. 969, p. 3, col. 2.

ON HART'S ISLAND."  Source:  Art and Picture Collection,
The New York Public Library. "New York City --
Metropolitan Charities -- The Bible And Fruit Mission To
The Public Hospitals -- Ministering To The Convalescent Patients
On Hart'S Island." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1879.

Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak." 

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