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, August 12, 2015

Significant Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham

This is one of the most significant and, to me at least, exciting posts I have had the pleasure to publish to the Historic Pelham Blog in years.  

Nearly every Pelhamite with even a passing interest in the history of our Town is familiar with the so-called "Indian Deed" executed by Thomas Pell and local Native Americans on June 27, 1654.  Referred to variously as the "Pell Deed," the "Pell Treaty," the "Pell Indian Deed" and by other names, the deed reflects Thomas Pell's acquisition of the lands that include today's Town of Pelham.  Immediately below is an image of a seventeenth century copy of the original deed.  This copy is believed to be in Thomas Pell's handwriting and is on display at the Thompson-Pell Research Center in Ticonderoga, New York.

17th Century Copy of Pell Deed Signed by
Thomas Pell and Native Americans on June 27,
1654. Believed To Be in Thomas Pell's Handwriting.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

While most Pelhamites are familiar with the Pell Deed, fewer are aware that the Pell Deed likely was not the first "Indian Deed" conveying Native American lands that encompassed today's Town of Pelham to European settlers.  Officials of New Netherland claimed to have acquired the same lands from local Native Americans before Pell obtained his deed.    

For nearly sixteen years I have tried to locate an actual copy, or reliably-transcribed text, of the elusive first "Indian Deed" reflecting the sale by local Native Americans to the Dutch of the lands that included today's Pelham.  Dutch authorities reputedly instructed Cornelis Van Tienhoven to acquire lands that included today's Pelham in 1640.  Some authorities suggest that the acquisition occurred in 1640 and was reaffirmed by deed issued in 1649.  Other authorities suggest that no acquisition actually occurred until 1649.  

I am now able to confirm that my research has located a reliably-translated version of a 1649 "Indian Deed" published as part of the New Netherland Project work of Charles T. Gehring who has been engaged in nearly a fifty-year effort to translate extant New Netherland papers.  I have yet to locate any purported "Indian Deed" executed in 1640 covering the lands that form today's Town of Pelham.  Locating the 1649 deed, however, is a significant step in the right direction.

For those who might wish to learn more about my quest to locate copies, or reliable text, of the purported 1640 and 1649 "Indian Deeds" conveying land to the Dutch and to read more about the 1654 "Indian Deed" reflecting the sale of these lands to English settler Thomas Pell, see

Mon., Dec. 26, 2005:  The Dutch Acquired Lands Including Pelham From Local Native Americans in 1640

Tue., Dec. 5, 2006:  Where is Evidence of the 1640 Dutch Purchase from Native Americans of the Lands That Became Pelham? 

Tue., Nov. 06, 2007:  Is This Another Dead End in the Search for the Text of an Indian Deed to Lands That Included Today's Pelham Sold to the Dutch? 

Tue., Mar. 18, 2014:  The First "Indian Deed" Reflecting a Sale by Native Americans of Lands that Became Pelham.

Tue., Sep. 02, 2014:  More Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham.

Immediately below is the transcription of the "Indian Deed" by which local Native Americans reaffirmed their conveyance of lands that included much of Westchester County to the Directors of the West India Company on July 14, 1649 as translated from the original Dutch records that survived the great New York State Capitol Building and State Library Fire of 1911.  These portions of the records were published in 1980.  This Indian Deed covers all of today's Pelham, the northeast Bronx, and much of today's Westchester County.  It covers basically the eastern half of the mainland beyond the Harlem River and includes lands bounded by today's Byram River all the way to today's Harlem River.

The text of the deed demonstrates that on July 14, 1649 the Director-General and Council of New Netherland acquired a vast swath of land that included today's Pelham, Northeast Bronx and much of Westchester County -- six years before Thomas Pell acquired much of the same lands from different Native Americans.  The so-called "Indian Deed" shows that the Dutch traded the following for the land:  "6 fathoms of duffels [i.e., cloth for jackets], 6 fathoms of seawant [i.e., wampum, a form of shell currency]; 6 kettles, 6 axes; 6 adzes, 10 knives, 10 awls, 10 corals, 10 bells, 1 gun, 2 staves of lead, 2 lbs. of powder; 2 cloth coats."  

This Indian Deed also is significant because it makes clear that those who sold the land and, presumably, controlled it and, perhaps, resided on it lived in an area that they and the Dutch called "Wiequaes Keck" according to the deed.  The area extended throughout much of Westchester County (and all of today's Pelham).  There is no mention of Siwanoys.  This is further evidence that the Native Americans that once populated the area in and around Pelham were Wiechquaeskecks -- not "Siwanoys."  See Wed., Jan. 29, 2014:  There Were No Native Americans Known as Siwanoys.   

While some may scoff at what seems to be a meager offering of items in exchange for thousands and thousands of acres of land, it must not be forgotten that at the time two vastly different cultures were colliding.  The items traded by the Dutch for the land were technological marvels not otherwise available to the Native Americans.  The nature of the exchange was far more complex than over-simplified suggestions that the Native Americans did not understand that they were giving up their land.  


On this day, the date underwritten, appeared before us, the Honorable Lords, the Director-General and Council, Megtegichkama, Oteyochque, and Wegtakochken, the rightful owners of the land located on the east bank of the North River of New Netherland called Wiequaes Keck; extending in breadth through the woods until a stream called Seweyruc [Byram River], with a boundary line running north and south from Greenwich on the East River to a stream called Kechkawes [Mianus River].  This same land is located between the two streams, dissecting the woods between the North and East River, so that the western half remains with the aforesaid owners; while the other eastern half, which is divided by a north-south line through the woods, the aforesaid owners acknowledge in the presence of the chief Seyseykimus and all the remaining friends and blood relatives to have sold the aforesaid parcel of land to the honorable Petrus Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, for a certain amount of merchandise, which they acknowledge to have received  and accepted before approval of this document, namely 6 fathoms of duffels, 6 fathoms of seawant; 6 kettles, 6 axes; 6 adzes, 10 knives, 10 awls, 10 corals, 10 bells, 1 gun, 2 staves of lead, 2 lbs. of powder; 2 cloth coats.  

Therefore, the aforesaid owners transfer, cede and convey the aforesaid land to the Lord-General or his successors in true and lawful ownership, renouncing for themselves and their descendants now and forever all claims thereon, and resigning herewith all rights and jurisdiction, transferring it to the aforesaid Lord-General and his successors, to do with as they please, without being molested by them, the conveyors, or anyone of them, whether it be person or property.  It is further agreed that the western most half may be purchased for the same amount as above whenever the Director-General desires to pay for it; and they, the grantors, promise to sell the part still in their possession on the North River for that price and not to sell it to anyone without informing the Director-General.  They further promise to maintain and uphold this conveyance firmly and inviolably under the penalty prescribed by law.  Thus was this signed in the presence of the witnesses below on 14 July 1649 at New Amsterdam in New Netherland.

This is the mark


of Pomipahan, made himself.

This is the mark


of Meytehickhama.
This is the mark


of Wegtakachkey.

This is the mark made by


the chief, Seyseychkimus, as witness."

Source:  Gehring, Charles T., ed. & trans., New York Historical Manuscripts:  Dutch Volumes GG, HH & II Land Papers, pp. 62-63 (Baltimore, MD:  Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1980) (Published under the direction of The Holland Society of New York).
For another earlier translation of the same record, see:   

O'Callaghan, E. B., ed., History of New Netherland; Or, New York Under the Dutch, Vol. II, pp. 96-97, n. 1 (NY, NY:  D. Appleton and Company, 1848) (citing "Book of Patents, G. G. 507.").

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