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, September 21, 2017

Pelham Founder Thomas Pell Served in the Pequot War in the early 17th Century



It is well established that Pelham founder Thomas Pell was among those who settled Fort Saybrook in the Colony of Saybrook (now part of Connecticut) in the 1630s.  It is also well established that Pell served as the "Chirugeon" (surgeon -- i.e., physician of the day) who traveled with Captain John Underhill and his militia when they sailed away from Fort Saybrook and attacked a fortified Native American settlement near Mystic on May 26, 1637 during the so-called Pequot War. 

It seems clear that Pell refused to leave the ship when it arrived ferrying militia members on the way to the massacre. Indeed, at least one leader of the attack complained bitterly that Pell refused to accompany the soldiers, led by Captain John Underhill, after they disembarked from the vessel and began their overland march to the fortified settlement where they massacred an unknown number of men, women and children. There is evidence to suggest that Pell acted not from some principled disagreement with the nature of the venture that led to a terrible massacre of the Native Americans but, rather, out of fear that the venture was ill-fated and would lead to the deaths of those who planned to attack the Native American village.

Today's Historic Pelham article quotes a brief reference in Mason's History of the Pequot War and, more particularly, an excerpt of a description of the May 26, 1637 expedition against a fortified Pequot settlement at Mystic:

"They were taken in their own snare, and we through mercy escaped.  And thus in little more than one hour's space, was their impregnable fort with themselves destroyed, to the number of six or seven hundred, as some of themselves confessed.  There were only seven taken captive, and about seven escaped.  Of the English there were two slain outright, and about twenty wounded; some fainted by reason of the sharpness of the weather, it being a cool morning, and the want of such comforts and necessaries as [Page xiii / Page xiv] are needed in such a case; especially our Chirurgeon * [see text of footnote "*" below] was much wanting, whom we left with our barks in Narragansett Bay, who had orders to remain until the night before our intended assault. . . . 

[Text of footnote "*" follows.]  * Dr. Thomas Pell, a gentleman of good family from London, was sent from the fort at Saybrook, as surgeon of the expedition.  He afterward settled at New Haven, from whence he removed to Fairfield, and afterwards to Westchester, N. Y. [sic], where he purchased of the natives a large tract of land, which was given the name of Pelham. -- Styles' History of Windsor, p. 38.  [New paragraph] Mrs. Martha J. Lamb's Hist. of New York I. 171, 257, 381.  Bolton's Hist. of Westchester.  Dr. Pell's will was probated at Fairfield, and some reliable documents in regard to his nephew John Pell of London, are on file there."

Source:  Schenck, Elizabeth Hubbell, The History of Fairfield - Fairfield County, Connecticut From the Settlement of the Town in 1639 to 1818 By Mrs. Elizabeth Hubbell Schenck, Vol. I, pp. xiii-xiv (NY, NY:  Published by the Author, 1889)(citing "Mason's Hist. Pequot War," a short-form reference to citation appearing elsewhere in the volume as "Mason's Hist., Pequot War., Mass. Hist. Coll., Vol. 8, S. 2, 146-151").

Though at least one other account complains bitterly that Pell refused to accompany the expedition to the fortified village, this brief reference contains a vague and ambiguous reference.  It states that the expedition especially needed "our Chirugeon . . . whom we left with our barks in Narragansett Bay, who had orders to remain until the night before our intended assault. . . . ."

At first blush, it would seem that the reference to "orders to remain until the night before our intended assault" would apply to the barks that transported the troops to the shores near the fortification at Mystic.  Is it possible, however, that the reference "orders to remain" was intended to relate to "our Chirugeon," Thomas Pell?  While that is at least a remote possibility, historians long have suggested the contrary, choosing to support the story that Pelham founder Thomas Pell did not believe the expedition would succeed and, thus, remained aboard a bark to avoid the risk of death.


Portion of Engraving Depicting the Attack on the Pequot Fort
at Mystic in May 1637. Source: Underhill, John, "The Figure
of the Indian's Fort or Palizado," Illustration in Newes from America;
or, A New and Experimental Discoverie of New England (London:
1638). NOTE: Click to Enlarge Image.


"Thomas Pell" by Thom Lafferty from an Original by
an Unknown Artist Who Imagined Pell as He Would
Look. There Are No Known Images of Thomas Pell.
NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

I have written about Pelham founder Thomas Pell and various aspects of his life on countless occasions.  For links to more than sixty articles and one book dealing with the topics, see the following.

Fri., Jan. 16, 2015:  Possible Service of Pelham Founder, Thomas Pell, with English Forces in the Siege and Capture of Bois-le-Duc in the Netherlands in 1629.  

Thu., Jan. 15, 2015:  The Man For Whom The Town of Pelham Is Named.


Thu., Oct. 30, 2014:  Did Thomas Pell Act on Pangs of Remorse After Witchcraft Persecution Involving His Family?

Mon., Mar. 31, 2014:  Inventory of the Estate of Pelham Founder Thomas Pell Taken Shortly After He Died in Late September, 1669.

Wed., Oct. 7, 2009:  1656 Native American Deed for Fairfield, Connecticut Lands Signed by Thomas Pell as a Witness.

Fri., Apr. 24, 2009:  Dutch Authorities Remove the Settlers At West Chester in March, 1656.

Tue., Apr. 07, 2009:  1666 Record Containing "Observations" on the Patent Granted to Thomas Pell.

Thu., Dec. 20, 2007:  Two 17th Century Fairfield Probate Records Referring to Thomas Pell.  
Tue., Dec. 18, 2007:  1648 Commercial Record Involving Claim Against Thomas Pell for Three Hundred Pounds.

Mon., Dec. 17, 2007:  1649 Record Whereby Thomas Pell Appointed Agent to Recover Bond Due From Pewterer Ambrose Adlam of the City of Bristoll.

Fri., Dec. 14, 2007:  Additional 17th Century Shipping and Commercial Records Mentioning Thomas Pell.  

Tue., Nov. 27, 2007:  Thomas Pell Was Elected a Freeman of Connecticut on October 9, 1662, the Day the Crown's Connecticut Charter Was Read to the Public.

Wed., Oct. 24, 2007:  July 3, 1666 Letter on Behalf of the Governor of the Province of New York To Thomas Pell.

Tue., Oct. 23, 2007:  1664 Petition of Inhabitants of Westchester to Commissioners for the Affairs of New England Mentioning 1654 Purchase by Thomas Pell.

Mon., Oct. 22, 2007:  Dutch Authorities Demand That Thomas Pell Halt His 'Intrusion' at Westchester in 1656.

Fri., Oct. 19, 2007:  Thomas Pell Was Feared Drowned or Lost at Sea in 1656.  

Thu., Oct. 18, 2007:  April 19, 1655 Dutch Protest Against Thomas Pell's Efforts To Settle Englishmen on Lands the Dutch Called VreedLandt.

Wed., Oct. 17, 2007:  1669 Map of Lands in Dispute Between Thomas Pell and John Richbell.

Tue., Oct. 16, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1912.

Wed., Oct. 10, 2007:  Thomas Pell Accompanies Delegation of Dutch from New Haven to Hartford in October, 1663.

Tue., Aug. 14, 2007:  Biographical Data About Thomas Pell, His brother, John, and His Nephew, John Pell of the Manor of Pelham.  

Tue., Jul. 24, 2007:  Article About the Pell Treaty Oak Published in 1909

Mon., Jul. 23, 2007:  1906 Article in The Sun Regarding Fire that Destroyed the Pell Treaty Oak.

Wed., May 2, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak Published in 1922

Mon., Apr. 2, 2007:  More Evidence That Thomas Pell Paid 500 Pounds Sterling for the Lands that Became the Manor of Pelham.

Wed., Mar. 07, 2007:  Published Abstract of 1669 Will of Thomas Pell, Followed by Entire Text of Will of Thomas Pell.

Wed., Feb. 07, 2007:  Information About Thomas Pell in the Catalogue of the Names of the First Puritan Settlers of the Colony of Connecticut Published in 1846.

Fri., Feb. 02, 2007:  1670 Letter from John Winthrop, Jr. to William Lord Brereton, Describing the Arrival of John Pell in America to Receive Thomas Pell's Estate.

Thu., Jan. 11, 2007:  More 17th Century Commercial Records Involving Thomas Pell and Edmund Leach.

Wed., Jan. 10, 2007:  17th Century Commercial Records Involving Thomas Pell and Edmund Leach.

Tue., Jan. 9, 2007:  1648 Notarial Record by Boston Merchant Providing Power of Attorney to Collect Debt From Thomas Pell of New Haven.

Mon., Jan. 8, 2007:  Dutch Authorities Decide To Station a Ship With Men Off Today's City Island on February 9, 1654 To Keep Watch on the Activities of the English.

Fri., Dec. 22, 2006:  Brief Biographies of Thomas Pell, First Lord of the Manor of Pelham, and His Nephew, John, Published in 1912.

Tue., Dec. 12, 2006:  Did Thomas Pell Avoid Taxes by Maintaining a Medical Practice?

Fri., Dec. 08, 2006:  An Interesting Power of Attorney Executed in Favor of Thomas Pell on October 29, 1651 Plus Other Records.

Thu., Dec. 07, 2006:  Additional Authorities Supporting Assertions that Thomas Pell Conducted Trade by Ship Along the East Coast.

Wed., Dec. 06, 2006:  When Did Thomas Pell Arrive in America?

Wed., Nov. 22, 2006:  Young Thomas Pell Unjustly Accused of "Extortion or Sinfull Unrightousness".

Mon., Nov. 06, 2006:  The Source of Confusion Over the Date Thomas Pell Acquired the Lands That Became the Manor of Pelham.

Tue., Oct. 24, 2006:  Thomas Pell's and John Pell's Land Dispute with John Richbell in the Late 1660s and Early 1670s.

Mon., Oct. 23, 2006:  More Early Evidence That Thomas Pell Had a House Later Used by His Nephew, John Pell, on Rodman's Neck

Fri., Oct. 06, 2006:  Additional Evidence That Thomas Pell Acquired His Lands At the Behest of English Authorities.

Thu. Oct. 5, 2006: Additional Evidence That Thomas Pell Paid 500 Pounds Sterling for the Lands That Became the Manor of Pelham.

Wed., Oct. 04, 2006:  Did Thomas Pell, First Lord of the Manor of Pelham, Act as an Attorney?

Fri., Aug. 25, 2006:  Thomas Pell, First Lord of the Manor of Pelham, Traded Tobacco Along the East Coast by Barque.

Mon., July 24, 2006:  A Statute Enacted in 1666 Seems to Have Prompted Thomas Pell To Seek a Royal Grant Confirming His June 27, 1654 Land Acquisition.

Fri., July 7, 2006:  The Involvement of Thomas Pell's Family in the Witchcraft Persecution of Goody Knapp.

Mon., July 3, 2006:  Where Is Thomas Pell's Handwritten Copy of the Treaty Signed With Local Native Americans on June 27, 1654?

Wed., Jun. 28, 2006:  A Biography of Mathematician John Pell, Brother of Thomas Pell (First Lord of the Manor of Pelham).

Tue., Jun. 27, 2006:  Land Owned by Thomas Pell and His Wife in New Haven, Connecticut in the Mid-17th Century.  

Thu., Apr. 13, 2006:  Rumors in 1657 That Thomas Pell Manipulated Local Native Americans To Protect His Land Acquisition From Incursions by the Dutch.

Fri., Mar. 03, 2006:  1666 Letter from Thomas Pell to John Winthrop, Jr. Regarding Pell's 1654 Purchase of the Lands That Became Pelham.

Thu., Feb. 16, 2006:  Evidence of the Use of Thomas Pell's Insignia To Seal a Letter from Lion Gardiner in 1636.  

Fri., Jul. 29, 2005:  Has Another Piece of the Treaty Oak Surfaced?

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell and the Legend of the Pell Treaty Oak (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2004). 

Bell, Blake A., How Much Did Thomas Pell Pay for the Manor of Pelham?, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XV, Issue 43, Nov. 3, 2006, p. 10, col. 1.

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell's Feud With the New Haven Courts, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 14, Apr. 2, 2004, p. 10, col. 2.

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell: The Historical Context, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 12, Mar. 19, 2004, p. 10, col. 1.

Bell, Blake A., Pelham History: The Involvement of Thomas Pell's Family in the Witchcraft Persecution of Goody Knapp, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 4, Jan. 23, 2004, p. 11, col. 1 through p. 12, col. 2.

Bell, Blake A., Pelham History: Why Did Thomas Pell Buy the Lands That Became Pelham?, The Pelham Weekly, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Jan. 9, 2004, p. 11, col. 1 through p. 12, col. 3.

Bell, Blake A., Thomas Pell's Treaty Oak, The Westchester Historian, Vol. 28, Issue 3, pp. 73-81 (The Westchester County Historical Society, Summer 2002). 



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