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, July 07, 2016

Pelham Once Was Part of Yorkshire in the Province of New York

The period between 1664 and 1683 is a fascinating time in the history of Pelham.  Thomas Pell, who acquired the lands that became the Manor of Pelham from local Native Americans in 1654, did not reside on his lands.  Rather, during the period before his death in late September, 1669, he managed those lands from his home in Fairfield in the Colony of Connecticut.  In 1670, Pell's nephew and principal legatee, John Pell, arrived in New England and proceeded to Connecticut and then to Pelham to claim the lands he had been bequeathed.  

During this time, the region was experiencing great change.  On August 29, 1664, forces loyal to the Proprietor of the Province of New York, the Duke of York, captured New Amsterdam from the Dutch and proceeded to take all of New Netherland.  They renamed New Amsterdam as New York and constituted the Province of New York to include large parts of today's New York (including New York City, Long Island, Westchester County, and Albany) as well as parts of New Jersey, Vermont, and even southeast Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The first English colonial governor of the Province of New York was Richard Nicolls.  Under his guidance, the so-called "Duke's Laws" were prepared and distributed throughout the Province.  This was, in effect, New York's first set of English statutes to govern the conduct of New Yorkers.

The only unit of local government created by the Duke's laws was a unit named "Yorkshire."  Though often referenced as a county, Yorkshire was a slightly different entity that might best be described as a governmental administrative area.  It encompassed parts of the region of today's New York City that included English settlers:  Manhattan, today's Westchester County, Long Island, and Staten Island.  It was named after Yorkshire, England in northern England, an administrative area or "shire" so named-because it encompassed the City of York.  As one scholar has written about Yorkshire in the Province of New York:

"The only unit of local government created by the Duke's Laws was the county of Yorkshire.  It contained the areas of English occupation -- Long Island, Westchester, and Staten Island -- and like its namesake, it was divided into three ridings.  The east riding comprised the towns at the east end of Long Island (now Suffolk County); the west riding, the middle section of Long Island (parts of Suffolk, Nassau, and Queens counties) and Staten Island; and the north riding, the west end of Long Island (Queens and Kings counties) and Westchester.  The focus of administration in the ridings was the court of session.  The officers of the court were justices of the peace and under-sheriffs who were chosen by the governor.  Their duties were to hear appeals from the town courts, supervise the collection of taxes, and entertain petitions from aggrieved individuals or towns.  The high-sheriff of the county supervised the work of the courts of session.  In theory, he was chosen from nominations made by the sessions in a three-year cycle.  In practice, the governor chose his own man and kept him in office as long as he liked.  As the chief liaison with the towns the sheriff had to be someone who had the confidence of the governor."

Source:  Ritchie, Robert C., Duke's Province:  A Study of New York Politics and Society, 1664-1691, p. 35 (Chapel Hill, NC:  The University of North Carolina Press, 1977).

After his arrival in the Manor of Pelham in late 1670, John Pell became a friend of then New York Governor Francis Lovelace.  Pell was appointed a Justice of the Peace to serve in  the north riding of Yorkshire encompassing the west end of Long Island (today's Queens and Kings Counties) and today's Westchester County.

The Dutch briefly recaptured New York from the English in August, 1673.  Within a few weeks the local government structure returned to that which had been in place during the original Dutch reign over New Netherland.  Theoretically, at least, Yorkshire was no more.  

Only weeks later, on February 9, 1674, the Treat of Westminster ended the Anglo-Dutch War and transferred the territory that had been the Province of New York back to British control.  The English colonial authorities promptly re-instituted the governmental structure that previously existed, including Yorkshire that included the Manor of Pelham.  

On November 1, 1683, English colonial authorities eliminated Yorkshire.  The various ridings were converted into counties.  The North Riding that included the Manor of Pelham was converted into Westchester County (including much of the modern Bronx County), Queens County (including much of the modern Nassau County), and New York County.  

Thereafter, the Manor of Pelham no longer was part of the administrative area known as Yorkshire.  Rather, it was part of Westchester County.

Burr, David H., "Map of the County of Westchester" (1829).
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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