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, September 24, 2015

Thomas Pell's Plantation at West Chester Petitioned New York Colonial Authorities in 1664 Seeking Understanding for their Oaths of Allegiance to the Dutch

The tiny settlement of West Chester originally was an English plantation established by Thomas Pell near today's Westchester Square in The Bronx only months after Pell acquired the lands that became the Manor of Pelham from local Native Americans in 1654.  Ten years later, in 1664, the handful of West Chester residents who remained seemed to feel they were in a tight spot.  After being imprisoned and forced to swear allegiance to the Dutch in 1656 to remain in their homes, the settlers now faced a change in control of the region.  In September, 1664, England took control of all of New Amsterdam and the surrounding region from the Dutch.  The little settlement of West Chester found itself having to deal with yet another reversal of allegiance and a need to explain to the English colonial authorities who controlled the region their years of allegiance to the Dutch.  This "explanation" ripened into a "petition" to English authorities issued in 1664 that is the subject of today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog.

In late 1654, shortly after Thomas Pell purchased the region from local Native Americans, Pell arranged for 23 settlers to plant their homes at West Chester.  The Dutch promptly demanded that the English settlers remove from the area -- an area that the Dutch insisted they previously had acquired from other Native Americans.  For a more complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the competing Dutch and Pell purchases and the early days of the settlement at West Chester, see, e.g.:

Mon., Aug. 17, 2015:  Buyer's Remorse: After Thomas Pell Bought Pelham From Native Americans, He Wanted His Money Back!

Wed., Aug. 12, 2015:  Significant Research on the First "Indian Deed" Reflecting the Dutch Purchase of Lands that Included Today's Pelham.  

Mon., Oct. 22, 2007:  Dutch Authorities Demand That Thomas Pell Halt His "Intrusion" at Westchester in 1656.

On April 19, 1655, Dutch Province Fiscal Cornelis van Tienhoven issued a formal protest "To you, Thomas Pell, or whom else it may concern" warning that the settlers at West Chester 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.  The settlers seem virtually to have ignored the Dutch protest.

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 West Chester to arrest most of the male settlers and to demolish all but three or four of the structures (leaving some buildings 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. 

Eight years later, on September 8, 1664, England took control of New Amsterdam and the surrounding region from the Dutch.  Dutch Director-General Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to an English naval squadron.  Colonel Richard Nicolls became the English colonial governor.  New Amsterdam was renamed New York.  

Only a few miles away, the little settlement named West Chester still stood.  Though it began as an English settlement planted by Thomas Pell, it had changed its allegiance to the Dutch under threat of force.  That tiny settlement faced a change in control in colonial government back to English authorities.  Its residents were in a tight spot and had to explain themselves.  Their explanation took the form of a petition to the new English colonial authorities.  

The petition is fascinating.  It indicates that Thomas Pell purchased his tract "for large Sumes."  (See Bell, Blake A., How Much Did Thomas Pell Pay for the Manor of Pelham?, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 43, Nov. 3, 2006, p. 10, col. 1.).  The petition further suggests that Pell purchased his tract for the benefit of England, saying he bought it "under the Title of England."  The petition also detailed a little of the horrors suffered by the early West Chester settlers who were imprisoned in the prison ship "De Waagh" shortly after Pell established the plantation.  The petition reads as follows (all spelling as in original source):

"Petition of inhabitants of Westchester

To the Hono. ble his Ma. ties Com. rs for the affaires of new England, The Inhabitants of West Chester Humbly Shew.

1  That the said Tract of Land called West Chester, was purchased for large Sumes, under the Title of England by Mr Tho. Pell, of the knowne Auncient proprietors in ye yeare 1654.

2  The pretended power of the Manhatoes, did thereupon continue protesting ag. st and threating of the said Plantacon keeping the Inhabitants at continuall watch and ward, untill at length the persons of Tewnty three Inhabitants of west Chester aforesaid, were Seized under Commission from the said Powers, committed Prisoners into the Hould of a Vessel, where they continued in restraint from all friends, for the space of thirteene dayes, fed wth rotten Provision creeping wth wormes, whereby some of them remaine diseased to this day, after wch, they were carryed away in Chaines, and layed in their Dungeon at Manhatoes.

3  That the said Inhabitants, had perished wth famine in the said Imprisonm t, but for the reliefe obtained at other hands.

4  That all this suffering was inflicted on them under noe other pretence, but that they were opposers of ye Dutch Title to the Lands aforesd.

5  That when the said pr tended powers, had freed the said Prison rs and introduced their owne Governm t over the sd Plantacon, They drove away such as would not Submit to their pr tended Authority, to their greate Endaagem t, and the enslaving of Such as remained.

6  That when in May 1663.  the said Plantacon was reduced to the Kings Authority, by vertue of his Ma. ties Patent to Conecticutt, the pretended powers aforesaid, sent in hostile manner, for certaine Inhabitants of West Chester, whom they confined in Manhatoes, and the next day sent for one Mr Richard Mills,a [Footnote "a" reads:  "a  A schoolmaster who had taught school previously on Long Island."] whom they case into their Dungeon, and afterwards soe used him for thirty eight dayes space, as there are yet, strong and crying presumtions they caused his death, which followed soone after.

7  That the unreasonable damage of the Purchaser, and the low estate of this Plantacon, occasioned by the premisses, hath had no other recompense to this day, but new threatenings, and thereby an utter obstruction from the peopleing and improving of a hopefull Countrey, all which as an unsufferable abuse to his royall Ma. tie and Our English Nation, is humbly offered to the consideracon of the Hon. ble Commission rs."

Source:  "Petition of Inhabitants of Westchester" in State Library Bulletin History No. 2 May 1899 -- Colonial Records General Entries V. I 1664-65 -- Transcribed from Manuscripts in the State Library, pp. 83-84 (Albany, NY:  Univeristy of the State of New York, 1899).  

Detail from 1776 Map Showing Manor of Pelham Area
Including West Chester, Shown as "W. Chester".
Source:  Muller, Johann Carl, "Der Teufels Belt gemeiniglich
genannt der Lange Insels Sund [Long Island Sound
and Vicinity] (Leipzig Germany, 1776).

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