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, December 08, 2016

Cancellation of 1909 Fatt Calfe Ceremony Due to "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted a Pell Family Feud

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).”  

Why was there a provision in the deed requiring delivery of a "fatt calfe" to Pell and his "heirs and assigns" on June 24 each year thereafter?  In addition to being an acknowledgment of Pell's largesse in providing the land in the first place, it was, in part, a symbol of good will between the Manor of Pelham and the new French Huguenot settlement of New Rochelle to encourage an annual celebration and feast among Pelhamites and the Huguenots.  June 24 is the Feast of St. John the Baptist celebrating the Nativity of St. John.  The celebration is considered one of the oldest festivals of the Christian Church listed as early as 506 C.E. by the Council of Agde as one of the principal festivals typically celebrated as a day of rest in preparation for the upcoming Christmas season.  A "fatt calfe," if demanded, provided a perfect opportunity for a celebratory feast and likely would have been "demanded" only after prior consultation and preparation for such an event.

1938 New Rochelle U.S. Commemorative Silver
Half Dollar (Obverse) Depicting John Pell Receiving
the "Fatt Calfe" in 1689. Photograph by the Author.
NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

Portrait of John Pell Who Sold Portion of
the Manor of Pelham to Jacob Leisler on
September 20, 1689.  NOTE:  Click on 
Image to Enlarge.

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.  

In 1909, George H. Pell joined the long line of Pell family members who "rediscovered" the provision contained in the ancient deed.  He demanded delivery of the "fatt calfe."  New Rochelle officials agreed to participate.  In perhaps one of the oddest instances in the history of the famed "fatt calfe" ceremony, however, the ceremony was canceled at the last minute after more than 500 invitations had been issued due to a fear of "sharp lawyers."

What did New Rochelle fear?  It feared that lawyers would seize on the fact that New Rochelle agreed to pay the "Acknowledgment" after failing to pay for many previous years to argue that there were defects in the titles of all properties in New Rochelle.  Under such a "sharp" theory, sharp lawyers might argue that title to the thousands of properties would revert to members of the Pell family.  

I have written about this interesting incident before.  See Fri., Mar. 04, 2005:  In 1909 Fear of "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted Cancellation of the Pell Family's "Fatt Calfe" Ceremony.  

A fascinating dispute arose among two members of the Pell family after the event was canceled.  H. W. Pell of Rome, New York came forward and claimed that he was the rightful claimant entitled to receive the famed fatt calfe, not George H. Pell.  The dispute erupted into a series of newspaper articles about which I also have written before.  See Thu., Sep. 10, 2009:  1909 Dispute Among Pell Family Members Over Who Would be the Rightful Recipient of the Fatt Calfe from New Rochelle.  

Today's posting to the Historic Pelham Blog transcribes a different article published in 1909 regarding the Pell family dispute that arose over who would be the rightful recipient of the fatt calfe.  The article is fascinating because it discloses a portion of H. W. Pell's letter that claimed that since the time of John Pell, nephew and principal legatee of Peham founder Thomas Pell, a punch bowl that belonged to John Pell was passed from each purported "Lord" of the Manor of Pelham to the rightful successor entitled to receive the fatt calfe.

According to that letter, John Pell's punch bowl was made of lignum vitae, a trade wood from trees of the genus Guaiacum that are indigenous to the Caribbean and the northern coast of South America.  The wood was an important export to Europe since the beginning of the 16th century.  According to H. W. Pell, the wooden punch bowl was bound with silver hoops.  He claims to have played with the punch bowl as a child, but the silver hoops separated from the wood and "the bowl was broken and lost."  

H. W. Pell provided in his letter a detailed genealogy that, he claimed, demonstrated that he and not George H. Pell was entitled to receive the fatt calfe.  The dispute, it appears, was never resolved.

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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, deliver a "fatt calfe" to Pell heirs each year "if demanded."  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.

John Pell and the New Rochelle Commemorative Coin Dated 1938, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 7, Feb. 13, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

Tue., Dec. 01, 2015:  Lean Roast Beef Is NOT a "Fatt Calfe" Though Pell Family Members Accepted it in 1956.

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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Had Mayor Raymond presented the fatted calf and three peppercorns to George H. Pell, as seventh lord of the Manor of Pelham, as had been arranged recently, he would have hurt the feelings of another claimant to that title, H. W. Pell of Rome, N. Y.

In a letter of detailed explanation H. W. Pell states that he has read about the proposed presentation of the fatted calf and of the subsequent refusal on the part of Mayor Raymond to carry out the ceremony, also noting the statement that George H. Pell claims to be a true descendant of the lords of Pelham Manor.  

'There must be some mistake in that,' goes on the letter.  'My family records give the geneology [sic] of our family as follows:  Henry W. Pell, born June 23, 1835 (which is the writer of this); Thomas Pell, M.D., his father, born April 15, 1806, deed November 1, 1869; Thomas Pell, his father, born at Manor Pelham March 1, 1775; Thomas Pell, his father, owner of Pelham Manor, born 1774 [??].  He had but three children, Thomas, Helena and Margaret; Joseph Pell, lord of Pelham Manor, born 1701, his father; Thomas Pell, his father, second lord of Pelham Manor, born 1675; Sir John Pell, his father, born in London, 1643.  He came to America in 1671 [sic], and in 1685 was appointed by James II a Justice of the Peace for the county of Westchester, N. Y., and Judge in 1688.  1687, he was created lord of the Manor of Pelham, N. Y., by letters patent from the Crown.  He married Rachel Pinckney and was succeeded by his son.

'This is far enough to assure you that I a the only living and true descendant of Lord John Pell, of Pelham Manor.  I have the geneology [sic] back to the origin of the name.

'Lord Pell transmitted his punch bowl to his successor.  It came to my father and was of lignum vitae, bound with silver.  The hoops came off, after which the bowl was broken and lost.  I have played with it time and again, therefore I remember it perfectly.'"

Source:  ANOTHER LORD OF THE MANOR, The Bronxville Review, Jul. 23, 1909, p. 3, col. 2.  

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.
Order a Copy of "Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak."

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