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, August 17, 2015

Buyer's Remorse: After Thomas Pell Bought Pelham From Native Americans, He Wanted His Money Back!

A fascinating translation of a 17th century journal entry of a Dutch soldier who visited the tiny settlement of West Chester, also known as Oostdorp and -- occasionally -- East Towne, East Town, and the Village of Vreedland, sheds light on Thomas Pell's severe case of buyer's remorse shortly after he acquired the lands that include today's Pelham from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654.

Shortly after Pell's purchase in 1654, a group of English settlers sponsored by Pell settled on Pell's land near today's Westchester Square in The Bronx.  The English called the settlement "Westchester" or "West Chester" because it was the farthest west English settlement among English settlements located in and around the New Haven and Fairfield areas.  The Dutch called the settlement "Oostdorp," meaning "East Village," because it was the farthest east of the Dutch settlements in and around New Amsterdam.  

The Dutch believed that they had acquired the land where Westchester was founded from its Native American owners years before.  See, e.g., Wed., Aug. 12, 2015:  Significant Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham.  On November 14, 1654, the Director-General of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, and his Council passed a resolution directing their Fiscal, Cornelis van Tienhoven, to deliver a cease-and-desist order to the English settlers at Westchester directing them to depart.  Upon delivery of the message, the English settlers refused to leave.

On April 19, 1655, Province Fiscal Cornelis van Tienhoven issued a formal protest "To you, Thomas Pell, or whom else it may concern" warning that the settlers had settled on lands that belonged to New Netherland by virtue of "title deeds" obtained by former Director General Willem Kieft.  The protest further warned the settlers that they were subject to prosecution for their actions.  

Apparently fed up that the English settlers at Westchester ignored their warnings and protests, on March 6, 1656, the Director General and Council of New Netherland ordered Captain Frederic de Coninck and Lieutenant Brian Nuton [i.e., Brian Newton] to lead a group of soldiers to Westchester to arrest most of the male settlers and to demolish all but three or four of the structures (leaving some to store personal goods until the remaining women and children could depart).  Within days the Dutch soldiers overran the tiny little settlement and took leading male settlers prisoners.  They took the prisoners to a prison ship named the "De Waagh" anchored off the shores of Fort Amsterdam.  

After the women of the settlement petitioned and begged the Dutch authorities for release of their husbands, fathers, and sons, the Dutch agreed to release the imprisoned English settlers if they would leave New Netherland or take oaths of allegiance and submit to the rule of the Dutch authorities in New Netherland.  Virtually all of the settlers chose the latter alternative and, on March 16, 1656, the settlers petitioned the Dutch authorities to allow them to submit to Dutch rule and re-settle on their lands in Westchester.  The petition was granted.

Thomas Pell was furious.  He apparently believed he had been sold out by the Westchester settlers and that the entire incident called into question the validity of the Indian Deed he had obtained for much of the same lands.  Pell apparently began to stew and began to stir up the Indians from whom he bought the lands demanding that they keep their promise to defend his ownership of the land if challenged.  

Against this backdrop, Lieutenant Brian Nuton [Newton] of New Netherland visited the little Dutch settlement known as Oostdorp from December 29, 1656 until January 1, 1657.  The purpose of his visit was to announce the Director General's selection of three Oostdorp residents to serve as local Magistrates, chosen from a list of six residents that the Oostdorp settlers had submitted to the Director General.  Once there, Nuton got an earful!  The settlers demanded protection from local Native Americans who, they claimed, had been stirred up by Pell and were threatening to "destroy them."  They claimed that Pell was so upset that the Dutch had reclaimed a portion of his land and had called his ownership of the entire tract into question that he had been pressuring the Native Americans to give him his money back or keep their promise to defend his ownership of all the lands including Oostdorp.  In the journal maintained by three of the Dutch authorities who visited Oostdorp (including Nuton), the following entry appears for the date January 1, 1657:  

"The preceding being accomplished, divers of the Inhabitants made the following complaints which they requested us to present to the H r General & Council, in order that a timely remedy may be applied : --

Firstly, regarding the insolence of the Indians; that they daily threaten to destroy them if they repair under the Dutch which some told us proceeded from Mr. Pel [sic] who purchased that piece of land from the Indians on this condition, as they said, that the Indians should deliver it to him unembarrassed, and maintain him in it against all who may have claims to it, and that the said Pel [sic] now daily importuned the Indians to return his money, or otherwise that the Indians according to Deed of Sale, should free him from the Dutch nation who claim it as their property."  

Source:  The Documentary History of the State of New-York Arranged Under the Direction of the Hon. Christopher Morgan, Secretary of State, Vol. III, p. 559 (Albany, NY:  Weed, Parsons & Co., 1850).  

"Thomas Pell" by Thom Lafferty from an Original
by an Unknown Artist Who Imagined Pell as He
Would Look. There Are No Known Images of
Thomas Pell. NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

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