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, May 16, 2017

Who Today Has the "Right" to Receive the Famed Manor of Pelham Fatt Calfe from the City of New Rochelle?

The expectant crowd anxiously awaited on and along Fifth Avenue in front of Town Hall in the Village of North Pelham at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday, August 29, 1946.  Representatives of television broadcaster Columbia Broadcasting System were present with television cameras to record the event.  (Commercial television broadcasting, which had declined dramatically during World War II, was beginning to ramp up again.)  A gaggle of photographers from newspapers and news organizations throughout the region were waiting expectantly.  There was a large crowd of spectators despite threatening skies.  Everyone was excited.

That day and night, the Village of North Pelham was in the midst of its Golden Jubilee celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its founding in 1896.  One of the many events that formed an important part of that celebration was so special that it was recorded by Columbia Broadcasting System (with an announcer) for a later nationwide broadcast on Sunday, September 1, 1946 from 8:15 to 8:30 p.m. on WCGW.  Moreover, CBS was not the only broadcaster present at the event.  A portion of the ceremony also was broadcast by radio station WFAS, 1230 on the am dial.  The special event that attracted so much attention was the presentation of a "fatt calfe" by the City of New Rochelle to the little Village of North Pelham.

I have written repeatedly not only of various fatt calfe ceremonies in Pelham's history, but also of the grand Golden Jubilee fiftieth anniversary celebration hosted by the Village of North Pelham on August 29, 1946.  See, e.g.:

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., Dec. 08, 2016:  Cancellation of 1909 Fatt Calfe Ceremony Due to "Sharp Lawyers" Prompted a Pell Family Feud.

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

Mon., Jan. 05, 2015:  The Village of North Pelham Celebrated the Golden Jubilee of its Incorporation During Festivities in 1946.

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.

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.

The "fatt calfe" ceremony that attracted so much attention on August 29, 1946 was an homage to a promise made by Jacob Leisler in 1689, as a representative of French Huguenots of New Rochelle, to John and Rachel Pell of the Manor of Pelham to deliver one such "calfe" annually "if demanded."  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 and his "heirs & 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)” (spelling and punctuation as in original deed).  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 have been particularly welcome for the sort of feast and celebration that was so common on that date in those years.

Every few generations, it seems, there is a "rediscovery" of that ancient "fatt calfe" provision in the deed by which John and Rachel Pell transferred lands to Jacob Leisler.  With each such "rediscovery," members of the Pell family typically approach the City of New Rochelle and "demand" delivery of a "fatt calfe" to one or more members of the family as part of an important historic anniversary or a large family reunion celebration.  Rarely however, has such a "demand" been made by any of the Villages in Pelham or the Town of Pelham.  The North Pelham celebration in 1946 was an exception.

Though it may come as disappointing news to the many members of the Pell Family descended from John and Rachel Pell who are scattered throughout the nation, it would seem (at least from Pelham's perspective) that a meaningful argument can be made that the right to demand and receive the "fatt calfe" (to whatever unlikely extent it may still be labeled a "right") has devolved to the Town of Pelham and not to members of the Pell family or to today's Villages of Pelham and Pelham Manor.  

Under the original deed, the "right" to receive the "fatt calfe" belonged to John Pell and "his heirs and assigns Lords of the said Manor of Pelham."  The deed did NOT say the right belonged to the descendants of John Pell, only John Pell and his "heirs and assigns."

John Pell, of course, no longer is with us, having died in the first few years of the 18th century.  Thus, we are left to determine the meaning of "his heirs and assigns," a legal term of art in the real estate field.  We then must determine who meets this definition of "his heirs and assigns."

The phrase typically appears in a so-called habendum clause in a deed -- the clause that describes the estate that is being granted.  John Pell's "heirs" would have been those to whom his real estate was bequeathed or who otherwise inherited it.  His "assigns" would have included those who came into possession of his property through purchase, gift or some form of transfer from him, his heirs or anyone who inherited the property from him or any of his heirs.  

This suggests, of course, that an argument can be made that all who now own any of the lands that comprised the Manor of Pelham immediately after the sale to Leisler in 1689 (including those who live in today's Town of Pelham and on City Island) are among John Pell's "assigns" as referenced in the 1689 deed.  If such a theory is correct, there would now be tens of thousands of Lords of the Manor of Pelham -- those who own property that was owned by John and Rachel Pell in the Manor of Pelham immediately after the sale to Jacob Leisler on September 20, 1689.  

Now things get even a little more interesting.  The clause of the deed requiring delivery of a fatt calfe if demanded may arguably be deemed ambiguous.  It requires Jacob Leisler, his heirs and assigns to 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).”  Does that mean Jacob Leisler and, subsequently all his heirs and assigns (arguably all landowners in today's City of New Rochelle) must each deliver one "fatt calfe" to each of the "heirs and assigns" of John Pell (arguably at least all the landowners in the Town of Pelham and on City Island) if demanded?  Alternatively, is the delivery of only one "fatt calfe" required to be delivered to all "heirs and assigns" of John Pell?

It would seem that it would be most reasonable to interpret the provision to require delivery of only "one fatt calfe" regardless of the number of "heirs and assigns" who may exist today.  But, who should deliver the fatt calfe?  Who should properly receive the fatt calfe?

Over the last century, members of the Pell Family seem implicitly to have recognized that the reference to John Pell's "heirs and assigns" in the deed does not include his descendants (i.e., members of the Pell Family).  Thus, they do not seem ever to have demanded that the descendants of Jacob Leisler deliver a fatt calfe to them.  This omission implicitly affirms that provision placed the obligation not on Leisler's descendants but on his "heirs & Assigns."  Of course, essentially the same phrase (i.e., "heirs and assigns") is used on the opposite side of the equation providing that John Pell and his "heirs and assigns" are entitled to receive the fatt calfe.  

In short the Pell family does not demand the "fatt calfe" from Leisler's descendants but, instead, from a municipal representative of his "heirs and assigns" -- the City of New Rochelle as the representative of all those within the City who own lands once owned by Jacob Leisler (Leisler's "Assigns").  Paradoxically, however, at the same time members of the Pell Family demand that the calf be delivered to them (or one of their own) as descendants of John Pell and NOT to a municipal representative of Pell's "heirs and assigns."  

Thus, one could argue, there are only two who today would have the joint authority, as the municipal representatives of John Pell's true "heirs and assigns" (i.e., the tens of thousands who now own land that was part of the Manor of Pelham immediately after the sale of land to Jacob Leisler on September 20, 1689) to demand delivery of the fatt calfe on June 24.  Those two would be the Town of Pelham (as landowner and representative of those who own land in Pelham) and the City of New York (as landowner and representative of those who own land on City Island and in Pelham Bay Park).

This author now has the temerity to assert that all previous deliveries of a "fatt calfe" to members of the Pell Family and to the Village of North Pelham are null and void and of no force and effect since those deliveries were not demanded by John Pell or any of his "heirs and assigns" -- only his descendants.  Since neither the Town of Pelham nor the City of New York demanded delivery of the fatt calfe in those instances, no such delivery was required.  The City of New Rochelle should be deemed simply to have gifted the fatt calfe on each such occasion rather than meeting any obligation under the deed issued to Jacob Leisler.  

What say you Pell Family members?  What say you landowners in New Rochelle?  What say you landowners on City Island?  And, indeed, since New York City owns today's Pelham Bay Park which was part of the Manor of Pelham on September 20, 1689, what say you New York City?

*          *          *          *          *

Below is a transcription of an article describing New Rochelle's delivery of the "fatt calfe" demanded by the Village of North Pelham in 1946.  Although, arguably, the Village was a representative of John Pell's "heirs and assigns" who lived within its boundaries, it was not the most appropriate representative to make such a demand.  At least the ceremony was performed in front of the Town Hall of the Town of Pelham. . . . . . 

"Presentation Of 'Ye Fatte Calf' [sic] Recalls Olden Tribute To John Pell, Lord of Manor

NORTH PELHAM -- One of the most colorful events of the Village's celebration yesterday on the 50th anniversary of its founding was the historic reenactment of the delivery of a fatted calf by Mayor Stanley W. Church of New Rochelle to Mayor Dominic Amato of North Pelham at 4:15 P. M.

The picturesque ceremony, which took place in front of Town Hall, was recorded by a battery of photographers as well as by the Columbia Broadcasting System television, when it will be shown over a nationwide broadcast Sunday over WCGW from 8:15 to 8:30 P. M.

George Usbeck, announcer, opened the ceremony:

'The year is 1689; on the shores of Long Island Sound a little band of French Huguenots had selected a site for their settlement.  That site was part of the landed properties of the Lord of the Manor of Pell.  And when the purchase contract was signed, it contained a provision in which the Huguenots agreed to 'forever yielding and paying unto John Pell, his heirs and assigns, one fatte calf [sic] on every four and twentieth day of June yearly and every year forever, if demanded * * *

'Two hundred and fifty-seven years have passed down the corridors of history since that agreement was signed, but today New Rochelle again delivers to its neighboring village, North Pelham, 'ye fatte calf.'

Neil Gibbons, who played the part of a mounted courier in Colonial costume, rode up Fifth Avenue from the Railroad Station to Town Hall, where he dismounted, handed the reins of his horse to a policeman, and unrolling a scroll, read greetings.

Mayor Church, holding the calf by the tethers, and assisted on each side by Miss Denise Velon and Miss Arline Gyllenhammer, dressed in colonial costumes, came down Fifth Avenue grinning broadly, and the calf tugged so hard he pulled the little procession along.  Miss Velon, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henri Velon of 454 Fourth Avenue, was dressed in blue and rose, and Miss Gyllenhammer, daughter of Mrs. Harriet Gyllenhammer of 125 Second Avenue, wore a white flower-sprigged costume.

They stopped in front of Mayor Amato, and the battery of photographers had a field day as the two mayors shook hands and held the pose for a few minutes.

'It gives me great pleasure,' Mayor Church said, 'to present to your fine village today a token of our friendship in the form of the ancient fee for the site of New Rochelle.  I bring you the fatted calf to help make your day's celebration complete and, from the residents of New Rochelle, greetings as your reach your 50th birthday.  I want to congratulate you on the ceremony that will take place tonight when you burn the bonds to signify that at the ripe young age of 50, North Pelham is debt free.'

Mayor Amato receiving the calf for the residents of his village, thanked the New Rochelle Mayor and residents.

'The friendly relations, both business and social, between New Rochelle and the Pelhams are worth cherishing,' he said, 'and have their roots in the ceremony that we reenacted today, which began so many years ago.  I hope there will be many other occasions like this when our communities may get together for the mutual advancement of our section of Westchester.'

At the close of the exercises, a barbecued calf was carved into sandwiches and sold."

Source:  Presentation Of 'Ye Fatte Calf' Recalls Olden Tribute To John Pell, Lord of Manor, The Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, NY], Aug. 30, 1946, p. 10, cols. 3-7.  

"HISTORIC CUSTOM reenacted at North Pelham's celebration of its
50th anniversary yesterday.  Mayor Stanley Church of New Rochelle
(center) presents a 'fatte calf' [sic] to Mayor Dominic Amato, according
to the terms of an old deed.  Looking on are (second from left) Miss
Denise Velon of 545 Fourth Avenue, North Pelham, and Miss Arline
Gyllenhammer, of 125 Second Avenue, North Pelham, in Colonial
Tribute To John Pell, Lord of ManorThe Daily Argus [Mount Vernon, 
NY], Aug. 30, 1946, p. 10, cols. 3-7.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

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