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, August 20, 2015

Pre-Revolutionary War Pewter Plates Were Discovered in Pelham in 1938

The Town of Pelham has an ancient history.  Consequently, there lies beneath its soils a wealth of undiscovered historic treasure -- the detritus of nearly four centuries of European settlement and thousands of years of pre-historic settlement by Native Americans.  Occasionally such treasures surface and the excitement and consequent town pride are palpable.  For one recent example, see, e.g., Mon., May 18, 2015:  Cannonball Fired in The Battle of Pelham Found on Plymouth Street in Pelham Manor.

During the summer of 1938, there were two fascinating discoveries of such historic treasure that occurred in rapid succession.  During that summer, Robert Howe of Pelham Manor was having a tree removed from a property located near the end of the Esplanade where the roadway met the plaza in front of the old Pelham Manor Train Station that once stood next to the Branch Line tracks in Pelham Manor.  During removal of the tree, a single pewter plate was unearthed.  It was an ancient plate manufactured in England before 1740 by a "well known manufacturer."

In what seems to be an incredible coincidence, only a few months later in early September, 1938, Robert Howe's brother, Joseph Howe, was transplanting a tree at 1080 Hunter Avenue in Pelham Manor only a few blocks away from where his brother unearthed that pewter plate.  As Joseph dug down about three feet below the surface of the soil, he noticed something.  He found a pair of ancient pewter plates nested together and two more pewter plates a few feet away.

After reporting his find to then Town Historian William R. Montgomery, the Town Historian arranged for a local metallurgist, Charles Hardy of the Esplanade, president of Hardy Metallurgical Company, to test the four pewter plates.  Hardy was able to determine that the unmarked plates likely were manufactured prior to 1750 and that they contained "about 75% tin, 15% lead, some copper and antimony."

The Town Historian surmised that the single English pewter plate manufactured before 1740 and discovered by Robert Howe must have belonged to a Pell family member (presumably because the Pell family continued to control most of the Manor of Pelham in 1740).  He further surmised that the plate found by Robert Howe and the four unmarked pewter plates later found by Joseph Howe, must have been buried for safe keeping by residents of the Manor of Pelham at about the time of the Revolutionary War. 

Such surmise is fascinating.  The Manor of Pelham sat squarely within the area known as the "Neutral Ground" during the Revolutionary War.  The Neutral Ground was an area that sat between New York City, controlled by the British throughout most of the War, and the northern reaches of today's Westchester County and beyond where American troops ranged more freely throughout much of the war.  Those who lived within the Neutral Ground were subject to depradations by troops of both sides and by irregulars who supported both sides.  As a consequence, much of the area was laid waste and did not recover from the devastation for decades thereafter.

There is meaningful evidence that local citizens buried valuables to protect them from the depradations of marauding troops and irregulars.  Indeed, I have written about one such incident before.  See Mon., Apr. 06, 2009:  Paper Recounts Burial of the Bell of St. Paul's Church in Eastchester To Save it from the British During the Revolutionary War.  

There is, of course, no way to know how the two sets of pewter plates came to be buried in Pelham Manor.  Oddly though, they were found only a few hundred yards from each other in an area that is not known to have been near any residences, structures, or roadways that existed during the Revolutionary War.  Indeed, the location would have been in the middle of nowhere at that time, distant from structures near today's Shore Road and others known to have existed along the Old Boston Post Road (today's Colonial Avenue).

If nothing else, these two fascinating discoveries made in 1938 reaffirmed that a wealth of historic treasures continue to lie only inches beneath our feet as we daily traverse the little Town of Pelham.  Those treasures, waiting to be discovered, will continue to surface in the future and will continue to bring both excitement and civic pride to our Town.  Personally, I can't wait until the next such discovery!

Four Eighteenth Century English Pewter Plates Generally
of the Sort Unearthed in Pelham Manor in 1938.  These
Plates, Manufactured by London Maker "Townsend,"
Sold at an Auction Held by R. A. DiFillipo Antiques and
Auctions on July 22, 2014 for $70 for the Set.  The
Whereabouts of the Pewter Plates Unearthed in Pelham
in 1938 Are Unknown.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Below is the text of a brief article that appeared in the September 23, 1938 issue of The Pelham Sun regarding the discovery by the Howe brothers of the pewter plates.  It is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"Pewter Plates, Manufactured Before Revolution Unearthed in Pelham Manor

Four pewter plates believed to have been buried by Pelhamites to prevent their being stolen by raiding parties during the Revolutionary War period were unearthed recently by Joseph Howe, 19, of No. 1080 Hunter avenue, Pelham Manor.  Their discovery early this month was not disclosed until this week after metalurgists had submitted them to tests which proved that the plates were manufactured prior to 1750.  Town Historian William R. Montgomery has taken considerable interest in the relics and is authority for the report that they were undoubtedly the property of an early settler.

The plates were unearthed when Howe was transplanting a tree.  They were found about 3 feet below the surface of the ground.  Two of the plates were nested, giving an appearance that they had been purposely buried.  The other two were found within a few feet of where the first pair were located.  

The plates were examined by Charles Hardy of the Esplanade, president of the Hardy Metallurgical Co.  Tests showed that the pewter contained about 75% tin, 15% lead, some copper and antimony.

A few months ago Robert Howe, brother of Joseph unearthed a pewter plate, which Mr. Montgomery believes belonged to a Pell family.  This discovery was made when a tree was being removed on the Esplanade near the Branch Line of the railroad.  This plate is still under examination, but it has been established that it was made in England about 1740 by a well known manufacturer.

According to Mr. Montgomery, during the Revolutionary War Pelham residences were frequently raided by plunderers, and they buried many valuables to prevent their being stolen.  The hiding places were either forgotten or those who buried them were killed in the war."

Source:  Pewter Plates, Manufactured Before Revolution Unearthed in Pelham Manor, The Pelham Sun, Sep. 23, 1938, Vol. 28, No. 25, p. 1, cols. 1-2.

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