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.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Lean Roast Beef Is NOT a "Fatt Calfe" Though Pell Family Members Accepted it in 1956

On September 20, 1689, John Pell, and his wife, Rachel, sold to Jacob Leisler of New York City 6,000 acres of Manor of Pelham land.  At the same time they gifted to Leisler another 100 acres for use as church grounds.  Leisler reportedly had been commissioned to acquire the land on behalf of French Huguenots seeking to relocate to North America, many of whom fled from La Rochelle in France.  The land became today’s New Rochelle, named in honor of La Rochelle from which many of the Huguenots fled religious persecution by the French Catholics. 

A condition of the sale in 1689 was that Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns should deliver to “John Pell his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham . . as an Acknowledgment to the said Manor one fatt calfe on every fouer and twentieth day of June Yearly and Every Year forever (if demanded).” The June 24th date was not chosen randomly.  June 24 is the annual date of The Feast of St. John the Baptist when a "fatt calfe" would be particularly welcome for a feast and celebration.

1938 New Rochelle U.S. Commemorative Silver Half Dollar
(Obverse) Depicting John Pell Receiving the "Fatt
Calfe" in 1689.  Photograph by the Author.

Every few generations, it seems, there is a "rediscovery" of that ancient provision in the deed by which John Pell transferred the lands to Jacob Leisler. With each such "rediscovery," members of the Pell family approach the City of New Rochelle and "demand" delivery of a "fatt calfe" -- typically as part of an anniversary or family reunion celebration.

During the 1950s, future United States Senator Claiborne Pell (who served as a Senator representing Rhode Island from 1961 to 1997) served as chairman of the Pell Family Association.  Claiborne Pell was particularly active in pushing the City of New Rochelle to honor its purported obligation annually during much of that time.   

Beginning anew in 1950, the Pell Family Association began requesting annually that the City of New Rochelle deliver the famed fatt calfe on June 24.  Although the City obliged, soon its elected officials and taxpayers tired of the annual ritual as a calf had to be located, transported, symbolically "delivered" and returned.

New Rochelle mayoral candidate George Vergara even made a campaign promise in the mid-1950s to rid the city and its taxpayers of payment of an annual tribute to Pell family members.  After his election, Mayor Vergara broached the topic in a letter to then-chairman of the Pell Family Association, future United States Senator Claiborne Pell.  Vergara suggested in the letter that the entire tribute be "called off." 

Claiborne Pell was direct in his response.  Without regard to whether the City of New Rochelle could be considered an heir and assign for owners of land in New Rochelle, Claiborne Pell responded by warning that if New Rochelle abrogated the agreement "it would seem to me that the whole assignment to Jacob Leisler of the land on which New Rochelle now stands is null and void."

Mayor Vergara relented on the condition that the "fatt calfe" be delivered in the form of a steak dinner rather than a live calf.  Moreover, proceeds from the dinner were to be for the benefit of the New Rochelle Hospital.  Nearly three hundred people including 26 Pell family members attended the dinner that year.

Within a few short years, however, the annual tribute lapsed.  The demand was honored in 1963 on the occasion of New Rochelle's 275th anniversary, but not again until 1966.  At that time, for whatever reason, the tribute had reverted to the symbolic "delivery" of a live calf.  Two Pell family members, dressed in period garb that would have been worn by John Pell and Rachel Pinckney Pell at the time of the sale to Jacob Leisler, accepted a live calf in payment of the tribute.  

The tradition has continued and has been honored as recently as 2004 at the time of Pelham's 350th anniversary celebration -- a tradition that, hopefully, will continue for at least another 350 years . . . . 

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I have written about the requirement that the "heirs and assigns" of Jacob Leisler, as purchaser and recipient of the 6,100 acres that became today's City of New Rochelle.  For examples, see:

Bell, Blake A., Tradition of Demanding a New Rochelle "Fatt Calfe", The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 16, Apr. 16, 2004, p. 8, col. 2.

Thu., Sep. 10, 2009:  1909 Dispute Among Pell Family Members Over Who Would be the Rightful Recipient of the Fatt Calfe from New Rochelle.

Fri., Mar. 04, 2005:  In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony.

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Below are transcriptions of the text of several articles addressing the delivery of the "fatt calfe" to Pell family members during the 1950s and 1960s.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.  

"Mayor Conditionally Breaks Campaign Promise

NEW ROCHELLE, May 15 UPI -- The mayor today broke a campaign promise and gave in to the Pell family's historic annual tribute of one 'fatt calfe' -- but on condition that it is served at the dinner table.

The tradition of the well-fed calf goes back to 1689, when John Pell sold the land on which New Rochelle now stands to Jacob Leisler.  Pell stipulated that his heirs should be paid a 'fat calfe' on the 24th of June each year in perpetuity.

For a long time the Pells forgot but one Pell revived the custom about the calf that was due them six years ago.  New Rochelle has been paying the tribute since then.  

The present mayor, George Vergara , promised during his campaign to rid the city of the tribute, and early this month wrote to a representative of the Pell family suggesting they call the whole thing off.

But Mayor Vergara got a letter a few days later from Claiborne Pell of Washington, D.C., chairman of the Pell Family Assn., warning that if New Rochelle abrogated the agreement 'it would seem to me that the whole assignment to Jacob Leisler of the land on which New Rochelle now stands is null and void. . . '"

Source:  Mayor Conditionally Breaks Campaign Promise, Plattsburgh Press-Republican [Plattsburgh, NY], May 16, 1956, p. 15, cols. 2-3.  

"Pell Family Gets Its 'Fatt Calfe"

NEW ROCHELLE, June 24 UPI -- The Pell family - 26 members strong - got its 'fatt calfe' from the City of New Rochelle tonight, only it was lean roast beef.

And it wasn't on the hoof, but on plates at a banquet.  Thus did the city pay off its 269 year-old obligation to the Pell family to pay over one fatt calfe each year forever and ever.

And thus did the Pells and the city fathers inaugurate a new method of payment -- a dinner to which all the Pells and the citizens of New Rochelle are invited.  The proceeds go to the support of the New Rochelle Hospital.

Ancient Contract

The annual fatt calfe was in return for a deed to much of the land on which the city of 60,000 now stands.  

The Pells demanded -- and got -- a fat calf on the hoof in 1953, and each year since.  The 1953 calfe recently gave birth to twins.  

This year Mayor George Vergara decided to pay the old debt by 'doing something useful,' and broached the matter to Claiborne Pell of Washington, D.C., chairman of the Pell Family Assn.

Pell Replies

Pell replied 'if the self-respect of your city fathers would be better served by this year having the Pells partake of the calf at such a meal on Sunday, June 24th, rather than leading it away, such an arrangement would be agreeable to me.'

Altogether, 300 persons attended the dinner, including representatives of four foreign governments.  

The British representative was invited because the Pell family has a little obligation of its own -- payment of 20 shillings to the crown for some bygone privilege.

The others were asked as a neighborly gesture."

Source:  Pell Family Gets Its "Fatt Calfe", Plattsburgh Press-Republican, Jun. 25, 1956, p. 5, cols. 4-5.  


NEW ROCHELLE -- Demand for payment of a 269-year old debt of 'one fatt calfe' incurred by the Huguenot founders of New Rochelle in 1689, is again presenting a problem for Mayor George Vergara and members of the municipal government.  Claiborne Pell III of Washington, D.C., has requested satisfaction of the ancient agreement 'on behalf of the heirs and assigns' of John Pell, second lord of Pelham Manor, and in accordance with the covenant of Sept. 20, 1689 between him and Jacob Leisler.  Thomas A. Hoctor, city historian, has been named general chairman of a committee to plan a 'fatt calfe' dinner for June 20 here."

Source:  OUT OF THE PAST, New Castle Tribune, May 15, 1958, p. 8, col. 3.  


NEW ROCHELLE -- Today is the 4th and 20th day of June and the city barn is empty.  According to an agreement made in 1688, the city is to give the Pell family, who once owned the and, a 'fatt calfe.'  But last March, Claiborne Pell of Maryland told the city their [sic] would be no demand this year.  Today, Duncan Pell of Walnut Creek, Calif., filed a demand for the calfe.  But Mayor George Vergara said he would recognize only Claiborne as head of the family."

Source: WANTS FATT CALFE, New Castle Tribune [Chappaqua, NY], Jun. 25, 1959, p. 17, col. 4.  

"Rodman Pell Receiving New Rochelle's 'Fatt Calfe'"
The Long Island Traveler, Mattituck Watchman [Southold,
NY], Jul. 7, 1966, p. 1, cols. 2-4 & p. 3, cols. 4-5.  

"Rodman Pell Receiving New Rochelle's 'Fatt Calfe'

New Rochelle Mayor Ruskin, (left) William Rodman Pell II and Miss Florence Secor are shown above as on June 24 the city of New Rochelle once again paid the unique debt incurred by its Huguenot founder 177 years ago.  The Huguenots, who had fled from La Rochelle, France, contracted in 1689 with Sir John Pell, Lord of the Manor of Pelham, for the land which was to become the city of New Rochelle.  The price for the 6000 acres was 1,625 pounds sterling and the payment, whenever demanded, of 'one fatt calfe' on June 24th yearly and forever to the heirs of John Pell.  The last demand was honored in 1963 and was tendered to a member of the Pell family on the oc- (Cont. on Page 3)

'Fatt Calfe' 
(Continued From Page 1)

casion of the 275th anniversary of New Rochelle.

This year the demand was received by Mayor Alvin R. Ruskin from William Rodman Pell II, President General of the Pell Family Association, and a direct heir of Sir John Pell and fourteenth claimant to the Lordship and Manor of Pelham.  Mr. Pell resides at 214 Atlantic Avenue, Greenport.  

City officials presented the calf at City Hall at 4:30 P.M. on June 24th to several members of the Pell Family Association.  Speakers were Mayor Ruskin, Senator Claiborn Pell (Democrat, Rhode Island), and William Rodman Pell II.  The latter, and Miss Fllorence Secor, a granddaughter of Samuel Treadwell [sic] Pell were dressed as the Lord and Landy of the Manor of Pelham.  Following the ceremony a dinner was held at the Bartow-Pell mansion in the Bronx.

Upon accepting the 'Fatt Calfe,' Mr. Pell spoke as follows:

'As the fourteenth successor of Sir John Pell who made the sale and grant of the rolling hils and dales of Pelham to Jacob Leisler to harbor a persecuted people, the Huguenots of France, I accept the 'fatt Calfe,' from your Honor, representing what has grown from a humble settlement in the wilderness into a proud city, New Rochelle, I have by my side my cousin, Miss Florence Romola Secor.  She is taking the place of Lady Rachel Pinckney Pell, and together we speak, in commemorating this historic occasion, for a Pell family united in an Association, and whose President, Mr. Clarence Pell, is also by my side.

'The Pell family has a long history and it has many proud moments in it, but perhaps the prodest when, a century before the founding of our American Republic, Sir John Pell offered his acres to men and women and children fleeing tyranny and helped them by every means at his command to found a new home, where they could worship as they chose and live untrammeled as free men.  Sir John looked far into the future.  But he would have been astonished -- pleasantly -- if his vision could have projected to this scene today, marking nearly three centuries of close association between the Pell family and New Rochelle in a setting where men of many faiths and origins live and work and learn side by side and dream of an ever more radiant future for the generations to come.

'The Pell family through me, as President General, accepts the calf from New Rochelle as a symbol of our long association and friendship.  Moreover, following the precedent which has now been established, it will mark the occasion by joining with New Rochelle in the support of the Wildcrest Museum for Children.  We consider it a privilege through this participation to play our part in the progressive community of New Rochelle, and we are confident that this privilege will be ours for years to come.  

'Thank you, Mr. Mayor.  Thank you, citizens of New Rochelle for reconsecration with us in 1966 this noble bond, in the spirit in which it was entered into by Sir John Pell in 1689.'"

Source:  Rodman Pell Receiving New Rochelle's 'Fatt Calfe', The Long Island Traveler, Mattituck Watchman [Southold, NY], Jul. 7, 1966, p. 1, cols. 2-4 & p. 3, cols. 4-5.  

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

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