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, April 12, 2016

Famed Scotsman James Stuart Visited John Hunter's Mansion in Pelham on November 16, 1829


What is it about the Town of Pelham that seems to attract men who have killed their rivals in notorious duels?  Aaron Burr, who served as Vice President during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and who fought a duel with, and mortally wounded, Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, spent time in Pelham, bought a farm here which he promptly sold to his step-son Augustine J. F. Prevost, and married Theodosia Bartow Prevost, a widow born in Pelham Manor who was ten years his senior.  Burr was not, however, the only notorious duelist who shot a rival dead who was attracted to the Town of Pelham.  Another such man was famed Scottish politician James Stuart who shot and fatally wounded a rival, Sir Alexander Boswell, in an infamous duel on March 26, 1822 near Fifeshire, Scotland.  Though acquitted of murder, James Stuart fled to America for a three-year "tour" and lived, for a time, in a boarding house on Long Island Sound near the village of New Rochelle.  

On November 16, 1829, James Stuart visited the grand mansion of John Hunter on Hunter's Island in the Town of Pelham.  He wrote about the visit in his two-volume work entitled "Three Years in North America."  Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog provides information about James Stuart and transcribes the account of his visit with John Hunter.

The Life of James Stuart

James Stuart of Dunearn, Scotland, was born in 1775.  He likely attended the High School of Edinburgh from 1785 to 1789 and studied at the University of Edinburgh.  He became a solicitor and was admitted to the Society of Writers to the Signet, a society of solicitors.   

Stuart served as a local political official.  He served as a "deputy-lieutenant and justice of the peace" who "took an active part in county business."  He became an active Whig, however, who offended local officials with his political views.  

On October 10, 1821, the Glasgow Sentinel (a new Tory newspaper published in Glasgow) published a personal attack on Stuart in its very first issue.  The attacks continued in subsequent issues of the newspaper until it became clear that Stuart had been "singled out by the conductors of the journal for abuse."  Stuart filed a libel action against the publishers of the newspaper.  The author of the most scurrilous of the articles attacking Stuart was Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck.  Boswell was a Scottish poet, antiquary, and song writer who was a staunch Tory and a Member of Parliament.  

On March 25, 1822, Stuart issued a dueling challenge to Boswell.  The local sheriff, however, caught wind of the challenge and arrested both men who "bound them over to keep the peace within the town and county of Edinburgh."  Consequently, the men and their seconds agreed to conduct the duel the following mmorning neaar the Village of Auchtertool in Fifeshire.  

At the appointed time, the men stepped off their paces and spun.  Sir Alexander Boswell lifted his pistol and intentionally fired it into the air.  Stuart, however, fired and hit his mark despite never having handled a pistol before.  Boswell fell, mortally wounded, and died the following day.  Stuart fled to Paris, but soon surrendered himself to the British ambassador there.  

James Stuart returned to Scotland to stand trial for wilful murder.  At the close of trial, the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" without even retiring to deliberate.  For the next three years, Stuart lived in Edinburgh and in Fifeshire.  However, he found that his affairs were "embarrassed" and he departed for America, leaving Liverpool on July 16, 1828.  

He lived and traveled in America for about three years then sailed for England on April 17, 1831 where he became editor of the Courier, a newspaper published in London.  Upon his return to England, Stuart published his two-volume work "Three Years in North America."  Stuart died on November 3, 1849.




"James Stuart of Dunearn (1775-1849), Duellist and
Pamphleteer," Oil on Canvas by Daniel Macnee.  Source:
"James Stuart (1775-1849)" in WIKIPEDIA - The Free
Encyclopedia (visited Mar. 26, 2016).  NOTE:  Click on
Image to Enlarge.

James Stuart Visited Hunter's Island in Pelham on November 16, 1829

After touring New York City and traveling to upstate New York, James Stuart visited the region of Mount Vernon, Pelham, and New Rochelle during the spring, summer, and fall of 1829.  In August, 1829, Stuart settled for a months in a boarding house operated near New Rochelle by a Mr. Weyman.

Stuart took long walks in the neighborhood and repeatedly passed the bridge from today's Shore Road to Hunter's Island where John Hunter maintained his spectacular mansion at the highest point on the island.  According to Stuart, as he and a friend passed the island on one occasion returning to the boarding house in New Rochelle, John Hunter flagged the men down and, according to Stuart, "begged us to return to his house and take some refreshment."  Because it was late in the evening, the men were "obliged to decline to accept his hospitality on this occasion.  The pair, however, "promised to take an early opportunity of paying him a visit."  They did so on Monday, November 16, 1829.  

The men discussed the need for improved relations between the United States and England.  They also discussed Scottish farming methods and the success that various farmers in the Pelham area had experienced following such methods.  

John Hunter also showed James Stuart his grand collection of master paintings displayed throughout his mansion.  Stuart, it turns out, was singularly unimpressed.  He later wrote:

"Mr. Hunter has had a collection of pictures lately made for him in Italy by, I think he said, his brother, at present in that country.  I saw part of those pictures, and among them some of considerable merit by Poussin, and Watteau, &c.; but it would have been far more for Mr. Hunter's interest, I suspect, to have purchased half a dozen fine pictures by the best masters.  A choice collection might have no inconsiderable effect in forming the taste of the people in this part of the United States, -- far more than the acquisition of so large a number of pictures of the middling class.  Chaste works of art are much wanting in the United States.  Few persons comparatively are yet acquainted with them.  The collections of pictures, and of works of art in the great towns, show great want of information and skill."  (See full text of quote below.)



Exterior of Front of John Hunter's Mansion on Hunters Island, 1882.
Embedded Image Not Copied to the Historic Pelham Blog so If the
Image is Removed by its Owner or the Link to it is Changed, It Will
No Longer Display Here. Source: Digital Version of Albumen Print in
Collections of the Museum of the City of New York, No. X2010.11.10134.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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The excerpt below is taken from Volume II of "Three Years in North America" by James Stuart.  It describes Hunter's Island in 1829 and Stuart's visit with John Hunter on November 16, 1829.  The excerpt is followed by a citation and link to its source.

"While the weather continued fine, and when the roads were good, we took very long walks.  When the roads were wet, owing to much rain having fallen, Mr. Weed insisted on our driving out in one of his open carriages free of expence; and he always sent it to church with us when it rained, or when the road was wet.  One of the finest walks at New Rochelle, is from thence along the shore to Hunter's Island, situated at a distance of two or three miles, close to the shore, to which it is joined by a bridge.  There is a great variety of ground in this island, which consists of about 300 acres, and is well laid out in meadow-land and wood, handsomely disposed.  The house is in a beautiful situation, commanding fine views of the lawn, and of the indented shores of Long Island, and the Frith or sound dividing it from Hunter's Island.  The house is a large stone building, of heavy architecture, but containing a good deal of accommodation.  The office-houses and garden are good, and in good order.  In short, this is not only a fine country seat, in the English sense of the word, but a place well worth a visit, on account of its peculiar and attractive beauties.  Mr. Hunter is a man of large fortune in various parts of the state.  I was told that 30,000 acres of the Catskill mountains belonged to him.  Joseph Buonaparte has been frequently here.  Before he made his purchase on the Delaware, he was very anxious to acquire Mr. Hunter's Island; and showed his good taste, as I think, in offering a very large price for it.  It is in all respects superior to the acquisition he afterwards made [Page 19 / Page 20] on the Delaware.  But Mr. Hunter was quite right to decline, on any terms, to part with such a gem as this.

The second time that I had gone to this island to enjoy its scenes, we were accompanied by a friend from New York.  Mr. Hunter had by this time heard of our being in the neighbourhood, and, having noticed us when going away, he followed, and begged us to return to his house and take some refreshment.  It was getting late in the evening at the time, and we were therefore obliged to decline to accept his hospitality on this occasion; but we promised to take an early opportunity of paying him a visit, which we accordingly did on the 16th November.  Mr. Hunter was long a member of Congress, -- seems a very gentlemanly person, of mild manners, -- very anxious that a good understanding should subsist between the people of the United States and of England, and therefore regretting much the views which Captain Hall has given of the United States.  He expressed great approbation of the system of farming practised by several Scotch farmers whom he knew in various parts of this neighborhood, especially by a Judge Somerville.  Mr. Hunter has had a collection of pictures lately made for him in Italy by, I think he said, his brother, at present in that country.  I saw part of those pictures, and among them some of considerable merit by Poussin, and Watteau, &c.; but it would have been far more for Mr. Hunter's interest, I suspect, to have purchased half a dozen fine pictures by the best masters.  A choice collection might have no inconsiderable effect in forming the taste of the people [Page 20 / Page 21] in this part of the United States, -- far more than the acquisition of so large a number of pictures of the middling class.  Chaste works of art are much wanting in the United States.  Few persons comparatively are yet acquainted with them.  The collections of pictures, and of works of art in the great towns, show great want of information and skill."
Source:  Stuart, James, Three Years in North America, Vol. II, pp. 19-21 (Edinburgh, Scotland:  Printed for Robert Cadell, Edinburgh; and Whittaker and Co., London, 1833).  

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I have written about Hunter's Island, also known as Appleby's, Applebee's, and Henderson's Island, John Hunter, and Hunter family members on numerous occasions.  For thirty two such examples in addition to today's article, see:

Thu., Mar. 10, 2016:  The Auction of the Magnificent Art Collection of John Hunter in January 1866.  

Thu., Feb. 04, 2016:  Did Joseph-NapolĂ©on Bonaparte, Elder Brother of Napoleon and Once King of Spain, Try to Buy Land in Pelham?

Tue., Jan. 26, 2016:  1807 Offer to Lease Alexander Henderson's Farm on Henderson Island in the Town of Pelham.

Fri., Jun. 26, 2015:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Campaigned for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in 1832.

Tue., May 12, 2015:  The Old Stone House That Stood on Hunter's Island Near John Hunter's Mansion.

Friday, April 17, 2015:  Lawsuit Over the Will of John Hunter of Hunter's Island.

Thu., Mar. 19, 2015:  Article About Hunter's Island Published in 1903.

Tue., Mar. 10, 2015:  Pelham Reacted to Rumors of the Establishment of a Cholera Hospital on Hunter's Island in 1892.

Wed., Jan. 28, 2015:  Pelham Manor Resident Pushed for Removal of the Causeway from Shore Road to Hunter's Island in 1902.

Mon., Jan. 26, 2015:  Hidden Treasure that Once Belonged to the Father of John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Found in a Discarded Chest in the 19th Century.

Mon., Nov. 10, 2014:  Obituaries And Notice of Art Auction Published Upon the Death of John Hunter of Hunter's Island in 1852.

Fri., Oct. 2, 2009:  Failed Efforts in 1900 to Build a Golf Course on Hunter's Island Rather than on the Mainland in Pelham Bay Park.

Thu., Feb. 19, 2009:  The Old Hunter House Burns to the Ground in an Arson Incident on Travers Island on April 4, 1889.

Thu., Jan. 17, 2008:  A Little More Information About John Hunter of Hunter's Island.

Fri., Aug. 17, 2007:   Advertisement Offering Alexander Henderson's Island Estate To Let Published in 1807.

Thu., Aug. 2, 2007:  Biography of Arthur Middleton Hunter of Pelham, A Descendant of John Hunter of Hunter's Island.

Wed., Apr. 11, 2007:  1774 Notice of Public Sale of Applebee's Island, Later Known as Hunter's Island, in the Manor of Pelham.


Fri., Dec. 15, 2006:  References to John Hunter of Pelham Manor in the Papers of President Martin Van Buren.  

Tue., Nov. 21, 2006:  John Hunter Loses a Debate in the State Senate During the Winter of 1841.


Mon., Aug. 28, 2006:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Obtained Special Tax Relief in 1826.

Mon., Aug. 14, 2006:  An Early Account of a Visit to Hunter's Island and John Hunter's Mansion in Pelham.

Tue., Aug. 8, 2006:  The 'Old Stone House' on Hunter's Island.

Tue., June 13, 2006:  Sketch Showing Hunters Island Mansion in 1853.


Thu., Apr. 27, 2006:  Burial Place of John Hunter (1778 - 1852) of Hunter's Island.

Thu., Apr. 6, 2006:  Alexander Bampfield Henderson: "Lone Lord of the Isle".

Fri., Mar. 31, 2006:  Text of 1804 Will of Alexander Henderson, Owner of the Island Later Known as Hunter's Island.

Tue., Mar. 14, 2006:  A Potentially Significant Advertisement - Is This Hunter's Island?

Fri., Feb. 24, 2006:  Notice of Settlement of the Estate of Alexander Henderson of Pelham in 1805.

Tue., Jan. 17, 2006:  John Pugsley, An Early Owner of Appleby's Island Later Known as Hunter's Island.

Wed., Dec. 14, 2005:  New Information About John Hunter's Acquisition of Hunter's Island in the Manor of Pelham.

Fri., Dec. 2, 2005:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham, New York.

John Hunter of Hunter's Island, Pelham, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 42, Oct. 22, 2004, p. 12, col. 1.


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