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.

Friday, June 03, 2016

More Newspaper Accounts of President Martin Van Buren's Visit to Pelham in 1839

In July, 1839, the President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, visited Pelham for two days.  He stayed in the magnificent mansion of John Hunter on Hunter's Island.  

I have written before about President Martin Van Buren's visit to the home of John Hunter on Hunter's Island in the Town of Pelham on July 9-11, 1839.  See Thu., Nov. 03, 2005:  President Martin Van Buren's Visit to Pelham in July 1839.  A number of newspaper articles documented the President's visit.

Martin Van Buren in a Photograph Taken by
Matthew Brady, Ca. 1855-58.  Source:  Wikipedia.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Van Buren's visit to Pelham was part of a "grand tour" of Westchester County that, in turn, was part of a tour of New York by the President in 1839.  On Tuesday, July 9, 1839, following the President's tour of New York City, a "New York committee of arrangements" escorted the President on horseback to Harlem where he was met by a mounted escort from Westchester County.  The escort proceeded with the President to the villages of West Farms and Westchester, then part of Westchester County and now part of the Bronx.

Following brief visits at West Farms and Westchester, the mounted escort accompanied President Van Buren to the grand home of John Hunter on Hunter's Island in Pelham.  There the President greeted his friend, John Hunter, who hosted a light meal for the President and the mounted escort.

John Hunter, like Martin Van Buren, was a Democrat.  Hunter had campaigned vigorously for Van Buren in 1832 when Van Buren ran in his first national election as the Vice Presidential candidate running with Andrew Jackson (who successfully sought reelection in that campaign).  See Fri., Jun. 26, 2015:  John Hunter of Hunter's Island in Pelham Campaigned for Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in 1832.  Hunter reported to Van Buren on the state of New York politics for more than a decade after the 1832 election.  Indeed, the papers of President Martin Van Buren include numerous communications between the two men from 1832 to 1839 and for a number of years thereafter.  See Fri., Dec. 15, 2006:  References to John Hunter of Pelham Manor in the Papers of President Martin Van Buren.

John Hunter of Hunter's Island from Lockwood
Barr's History of Pelham Published in 1946.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Once the President was settled at Hunter's Mansion on July 9, the mounted escort departed.  On the following day, Wednesday, July 10, 1839, President Van Buren remained with John Hunter and "received calls from the committees of the different towns, the ladies and his fellow citizens in general."  

According to an account of the visit published in the July 12, 1839 issue of the New York Herald, the President "occupied an elegant suite in the southeast wing [of Hunter's mansion], with rose colored silk curtains and rich carpets."  On Wednesday evening, July 10, John Hunter "hosted a grand dinner for the President served on a magnificent double service of gold and silver plate.  Among the many courses were 'Calf's brains and Financier pie.''  Clearly the dinner was befitting a President.  The same account noted that those who attended the dinner enjoyed five different champagnes, seven madeiras, five types of burgundy, and four different clarets.  See Thu., Nov. 03, 2005:  President Martin Van Buren's Visit to Pelham in July 1839.  

While receiving guests at the mansion that day, a sixteen-year-old girl appeared after walking seventy miles to see the President.  Although John Hunter was inclined to turn away the young girl, President Van Buren reportedly asked his host to usher her into the room so he could greet her.  The girl was ushered in and stared at the large group of people in the room.  She blurted out "But I do not see the president."  Van Buren reportedly replied "But I am the president."  The young girl exclaimed "I did not think the president was such a small man," though she immediately realized her mistake and begged forgiveness for "my rudeness and stupidity."  The laughter of those present showed she was forgiven, but she was so flustered that she departed without presenting the President a bouquet she had brought with her.  See Id.  

On Thursday, July 11, 1839, President Van Buren left Hunter's Island and proceeded with an escort to New Rochelle.  From there he visited Eastchester and continued his tour through Westchester and beyond in the days that followed.  Few hosts, however, could match the grandeur of John Hunter's mansion on Hunter's Island in the Town of Pelham.  

Exterior of Front of John Hunter's Mansion on Hunter's Island in 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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Below is the text of a couple of additional newspaper articles that mentioned President Van Buren's visit to Pelham in 1839.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source. "From the Westchester Spy of the 17th inst.


On Tuesday afternoon this gentleman was met at Harlem by the committee of arrangements and a mounted escort from Westchester, who received him from the New York committee, and proceeded with him to the villages of Westfarms [sic] and Westchester, where he was introduced to and received the congratulations of his fellow citizens; from thence he proceeded to the residence of the Hon. John Hunter, where after partaking of a handsome collation, the committee and escort left him.  On Wednesday he received calls from the committees of the different towns, the ladies and his fellow citizens in general.  on Thursday he left Hunter Island for the village of New Rochelle, where he was handsomely received by the New Rochelle Cadets and a large concourse of citizens; here he was joined by the escort from Eastchester and the committee of arrangements from that town, and proceeded to the residence of Frances Kain, Esq., where he made a short call, and thence he proceeded to the house of Colonel Hayward and was received by the committee of arrangements and partook of a collation got up in fine style; here he was presented to a large number of ladies and gentlemen. -- After a visit to the extensive marble quarries of Kain and Morgan, the cavalcade now composed of the escort from Eastchester, and citizens from New Rochelle, Pelham, Westchester, and Yonkers, moved on to the northern line of Eastchester, where he was met by the escort from White Plains, consisting of some sixty gentlemen on horseback and was escorted by them to this village, (White Plains,) where he was received by the committee of reception at the house of J. W. Tompkins, Esq.  After partaking of some refreshment he proceeded to a text erected on the green, and was presented to a tent erected on the green, and was presented to a large concourse of ladies and gentlemen who had assembled to receive him.  The President and the committees and escorts from the different towns were then invited to partake of a very handsome collation at the house of J. W. Tompkins, Esq., after which the cavalcade again formed and proceeded towards Tarry Town accompanied by the escort from Greenburgh.  Near the battle ground about half a mile from the village, the procession halted at the Female Seminary of N. C. Hart, where all the young ladies appeared on the piazza, and a piece of music composed for the occasion by Mons Hutet was performed.  After being presented to the ladies, the procession proceeded from thence to Tarry Town to the house of Charles Curtis, esq.  Here a large number of ladies and gentlemen were collected to receive him.  After the usual congratulations were tendered and received, the cavalcade again formed and escorted him to the residence of Washington Irving, esq.  Here the different escorts and committees took leave of the President, after giving him three hearty cheers, and three for Rip Van Winkle and Geoffry Crayon.  Upon the whole, the affair passed off well -- every one appeared pleased -- the utmost harmony prevailed, and all, without distinction of party, appeared to enjoy themselves, and it was a reception alike respectful and gratifying to the Chief Magistrate of this great Republic, and creditable to Old Westchester."

Source:  THE PRESIDENT, Mohawk Courier [Little Falls, NY], Jul. 25, 1839, New Series Vol. VI, No. 4, p. 2, col. 5.

"From the Poughkeepsie Telegraph, July 17.

The President left New York on his tour to the north on the 9th inst., spent the two following days with Gen. John Hunter, at Hunter's Island, Westchester county.  On Thursday was at Sing Sing, on Friday was received at Peekskill, and Saturday visited Governor Kemble, esq., at Cold Spring, with whom he spent the Sabbath. . . ."

Source:  From the Poughkeepsie Telegraph, Mohawk Courier [Little Falls, NY], Jul. 25, 1839, New Series Vol. VI, No. 4, p. 2, col. 5.  

"President Greeted By Cheers As He Tours County (In 1839)


'The utmost harmony prevailed, without distinction of party' and the grand tour of the President of the United States terminated at the door of Washington Irving's home in Tarrytown with all the citizens tossing their hats in the air and giving three rousing cheers for 'The President and for Rip Van Winkle.'

The President was Martin Van Buren, the time was July, 1839.  The grand tour, termed at the time 'a credit to Old Westchester,' is an event hitherto overlooked and unrecorded by local historians.  It is one of many valuable bits of forgotten history of Westchester which has been brought to light by the researches into old newspapers and ancient documents by T. Edward Oakley of Mount Vernon.  Results of Mr. Oakley's long and painstaking study of old manuscripts are being filed, as he completes them, with the Mount Vernon Library where they will serve as keys to the past to Westchester students and historians.

Research on Old Patent

New light on the much disputed Long Reach Patent of 1708 involving the western portion of the Town of Eastchester is one of many items compiled by Mr. Oakley and reported in the January issue of the Westchester Historical Bulletin.  The research reported in the Bulletin covers the years 1654 to 1729, and includes maps and carefully documented items.  

The story of President Van Buren's triumphal tour of 'Old Westchester' was found by Mr. Oakley in a copy of The Westchester Spy, a weekly county newspaper published on Wednesday, July 17, 1839.  Copies of The Spy have been carefully documented by Mr. Oakley and have verified many disputed dates of the past.  

The grand tour of President Van Buren started from Harlem Village on July 9, proceeded to West Farms and Westchester Villages in what today is the Bronx, ended that night at the baronial estate of John Hunter on Hunter's Island.  Today Hunter's Island is part of the New York Park system adjacent to Orchard Beach near City Island.  

President Van Buren stayed at Hunter's Island for a two-day visit.  On Thursday morning a guard of honor from New Rochelle, mounted on horseback, escorted the President to New Rochelle, conducted him on a tour, served a collation, made speeches.

Escort from Eastchester

The Presidential party then rode to the Eastchester town line where the New Rochelle escort turned Mr. Van Buren over to a mounted escort from Eastchester.  Here the President visited the Tuckahoe marble quarries of Morgan and Kain, repaired to the Marble Hotel, the finest inn in Southern Westchester, for a reception and collation.

A mounted delegation from White Plains and Greenburgh took the Van Buren party over at the Eastchester line on Friday, July 12.  

At the home of J. W. Tompkins a reception was held and collation served under a tent on the lawn.  

After a tour of White Plains and Greenburgh, accompanied by an increasingly large body of horsemen, President Van Buren ended up at Sunnyside, the home of Washington Irving, where he evidently spent the weekend with the famous author.  The last entry in the story of the tour, written by some forgotten reporter of The Westchester Spy, reported the rousing farewell of the villagers and the horseback-riding town officials from most Westchester communities who waved their hats and gave three rousing cheers for the 'President and for Rip Van Winkle.'"

Source:  President Greeted By Cheers As He Tours County (In 1839), The Herald Statesman [Yonkers, NY], Jan. 15, 1953, p. 14, cols. 1-5.  

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