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, March 09, 2018

More on the 1926 Pageant Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Pelham

On October 16, 1926, the Pelhams held a massive "Colonial Pageant" commemorating events important in the history of the area including the Battle of Pelham that occurred on October 18, 1776. The pageant celebrated the Sesquicentennial of the Battle of Pelham.

There were more than five hundred members of the cast. About five thousand spectators watched the spectacle.  The event was held along Split Rock Road which, at that time, extended from today's Shore Road near the Bartow-Pell Mansion to the Boston Post Road. The pageant was an important and major commemoration in the life of the three villages that formed the Pelhams at that time. There is an ample historical record of the event which included one of the earliest uses of outdoor amplified sound using electrical speakers in Pelham.  The event was well reported in local newspapers. 

I have written before about the Colonial Pageant held on October 16, 1926.  See:   Thu., Jul. 14, 2005:  Pelham's 1926 Pageant Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of PelhamToday's Historic Pelham Blog posting provides more information about the Pageant and the nature of the program presented that day.

The pageant was held in a natural hollow in the countryside with a grove of trees at the bottom of the hollow that served as the backdrop for the program.  Members of the massive cast moved in and out of the trees for the various scenes of the production.

The production was not slavish to the accurate portrayal of Pelham history.  Indeed, several scenes that commemorated historic events in Pelham bore little resemblance to the actual historical events they celebrated.  

The pageant began with an introductory "reading" to provide historical context and to set the tone of the celebration.  The reading was followed by the first scene dedicated to the historic massacre of Anne Hutchinson and most of her family in 1642.  Pelham Boy Scouts, led by famed American illustrator and artist Remington Schuyler, played the roles of the Native Americans who murdered most of the Hutchinson family.

Pelham Boy Scouts, led by Remington Schuyler, famous artist,
portray scene in Pelham's early history.  The re-enactment of this
episode was was one of the outstanding features of Pelham's
Sesqui-Centennial Pageant."  Source:  THE STORY OF THE PAGEANT,
The Pelham Sun, Oct. 29, 1926, p. 10, cols. 1-3.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

The second scene of the pageant celebrated Thomas Pell's signing of the deed on June 27, 1654 by which he acquired from local Native Americans the lands that became the Manor of Pelham.  Referenced erroneously during the pageant as "The Pell Treaty," the document was not an agreement between nations (i.e., a treaty) but, instead, was a form of deed.

The third scene of the pageant celebrated what was called "The Manor Period' of Pelham.  It depicted John Pell, nephew and principal legatee of Pelham founder Thomas Pell, and his wife as the equivalent of an English Lord and Lady who managed a grand Manor Home in Pelham.

This erroneous concept of a grand "Manor" much like English feudal Manors arises from the propensity of members of the Pell Family to refer to Thomas Pell, John Pell, and the eldest sons of each of John Pell's progeny as "Lords."  On October 20, 1687, John Pell obtained from New York Provincial Governor Thomas Dongan a patent that confirmed his ownership of the lands he inherited from his uncle, Pelham Founder Thomas Pell.  That patent referred to the lands as "the lordshipp and manner of Pelham."  Thus, for more than a century, members of the Pell Family have referenced Thomas Pell as "First Lord of the Manor of Pelham," John Pell as "Second Lord of the Manor of Pelham," etc.

Of course, the reference in the October 20, 1687 patent confirming John Pell's ownership of the lands did not confer a title of the peerage on him.  Nor did it constitute a Royal conveyance of the sort of feudal rights associated with grand English Manors.  (Nor is there any evidence to support the Pell Family legend that when the King of England learned of John Pell's inheritance from his uncle the King called John Pell before him and knighted him on the spot.)  Thus, the concept of Pelham as a grand English-style Manor is merely a romanticized notion of the more accurate fact that John Pell built a simple country home likely near today's Bartow-Pell Mansion and lived there with his wife, Rachel, and their children during the last decades of the 17th century.

The fourth scene of the pageant included a romanticized reenactment of the Battle of Pelham fought on October 18, 1776 -- likely on the very site where Pelham's "Colonial Pageant" was held 150 years later.  The organizers of the pageant took fictional liberties to convey the concept that Colonel Glover and his men fought a delaying action to halt the advance of British and Hessian troops attempting to surge across the mainland to halt the escape of George Washington and his army from upper Manhattan to White Plains.

The final scene of the pageant was an "Allegory" of beautiful young women "draped" and depicting Westchester County, the Town of Pelham, and the three villages that then comprised "The Pelhams."

As the celebration ended, Pelhamite and United States Congressman Benjamin L. Fairchild was permitted to address the crowd using the electrical amplification system.  He spoke of no politics -- only his pride in the history of his little hometown of Pelham, New York.

Pelham Representative watching the pageant is invited to speak
to audience.  He did not mention politics.  Colonel C. Sidney Haight,
director-general of the pageant is the officer in the background, dressed
in the uniform of Col. Glover's military staff."  Source:  THE STORY OF
THE PAGEANT,The Pelham Sun, Oct. 29, 1926, p. 10, cols. 2-4.  NOTE:
Click on Image to Enlarge.

(Published by Request)

'Turn your thoughts backward, O dweller in Pelham, back to the days when this nation was founded!'

Clearly, impressively came the words, compelling the attention of the vast aggregation of 5000 people to eager attention.  Below them, as they sat or stood on the historic hill on Split Rock Road, the gentle slope spread out to a small plateau.  A grove of trees with their brightly tinged leaves made a natural background.  As the last words of the reading die upon the air, from the little cabin that sets peacefully in the hollow there comes Ann Hutchinson and her family to greet their neighbors and fellow-refugees.  A day of celebration is at hand in the little colony of 1642.

The arrival of the Dutch governor's envoy is greeted with cheers as with courtly gesture, he presents Ann Hutchinson with the official grant to the land where she and her followers have found refuge from the persecution of the Puritans of Massachusetts.

The children dance and play games while the women served food and drink to their guests.  Freedom from besetting cruelty and intolerance seems very close at hand.  Suddenly, destroying the hope and happiness of the little group, comes the dread of the colonists.  A lone Indian, of sullen mein and treacherous aspect, is pounced upon as he sulks behind a tree.  Brought before the Dutch official and forced to his knees in homage, he gives a cry of hatred and with a sudden struggle breaks free from their grasp and rushes madly into the concealing wood.  The shots that ring out mingle with the frightened cries of the women and children.  Almost within the drawing of a breath, the guests depart.  Ann and her family are left alone.  As her sons go to the field, she had her daughters apprehensively make the house secure.  A pause, and from the woods rings the dreaded war-whoop of the Indians.  Led by him who so recently escaped, they surround the house and their straight brown bodies flash in a wild dance of cruel anticipation.  A louder shout and a rush to the door of the cabin, as the redskins crash in the door and drag Ann and her daughters forth.  A wrangling over the women, and the chief raises his tomahawk and brains Ann Hutchinson with a blow.  The older daughter meets her mother's fate while the younger child is carried off to the wood.  The men of the village, hearing the tumult, rush in, but their only mission is one of heartbreak and sadness as they lift the poor, broken bodies of their fearless leader and her daughter, and bear them slowly from the scene.

The Pell Treaty

A brighter scene now takes its place upon the setting.  Siwanoy and Wykagyl Indians appear from the forest.  The squaws busy themselves in erecting the gaily painted tepees while the braves make the council fire.  An atmosphere of expectancy pervades the encampment.  As an Indian scout comes running to tell of the approach of Thomas Pell of Connecticut with his English followers, the entire tribe group themselves around the chief to receive the visitors.  The white men approach on horse-back, their elaborate costumes contrasting vividly with the brown bodies and picturesque garments of their hosts.  The council fire is lighted and the pale face and the red man seat themselves in peace and friendliness about the glowing blaze.  With solemnity and dignity they smoke the peace pipe and, having smoked, discuss the terms of the agreement which Thomas Pell desires to make with the Indians.  A treaty is produced and signed by both which conveys to Thomas Pell all the lands lying in the region that later became the Manor of Pelham and vicinity.  Indian women, subservient, respectful, bring forth gifts of corn and fruit and Pell makes payment to the red men in trinkets, blankets and metals for metal working.  Suddenly the sounds of inharmony disturb the scene as a party of Dutch stride angrily into the scene from boats in the Sound demanding to know under what authority that the English have purchased the lands which they claim.  [Illegible] this treaty which so enrages the Dutch official that he draws his sword and orders his soldiers to arrest the British party.  The Indians spring to the assistance of Pell and his followers and the Dutch, far outnumbered, reluctantly withdraw in the direction of their boats.

And now the Indians, their mission accomplished, break camp and silently depart.  Pell and his followers proudly plant the standard of Great Britain in the ground and reverently kneel and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the success of their undertaking.

The Manor Period

Half a century has passed before the time of the next scene.  The Manor period is at its height.  The Lord and Lady of the Manor approach the village green where the tenants of the Manor and the neighboring gentry are gathering to pay their respects to them and to witness the presentation of the royal patent to the Lordship and Manor of Pelham at the hand of the British envoy from His Majesty, James the second.

A wrestling match, games and children's dance are performed for the entertainment of the guests.  From the direction of the Manor House there approaches a coach and four drawn by spirited horses and driven by a picturesque coachman in his colorful costume.  It brings to the festivities a group of Lord Pell's friends.  As they descend their elaborate and costly garb lends a note of grandeur to the assembly.  Charming and dashing ladies and gentlemen ride in on horseback and when the guests are all arrived, the tenants pay their yearly tribute to Lord and Lady Pell.  A cow, a goat, fruit and grain are paid in lieu of taxes as the tenants crowd round to do homage to their gracious leige.

From the road is driven a large post coach.  The British envoy and his escort are courteously received by Pell.  Amid the cheers of the populace, the Lord of the Manor is presented with the royal grant and proclaimed rightful owner of the lands.

The envoys depart and the assembly gradually breaks up.  Lord and Lady Pell are alone except for a few Indians who have mingled unnoticed in the crowd.  Respectfully they approach the white man and signify their desire for friendship and goodwill.  As they withdraw, the Lord and Lady of the Manor clasp hands and, holding aloft the grant, retire to the Manor house.

The Battle of Pell's Neck

The Manor period passes, the colonists are no longer loyal subjects of Britain's king.  The strife of war and struggle is abroad in the land and the scene of the Manor has become a scene of battle.  A patrol of Continental soldiers occupies the grove, and after posting sentries, builds a watch fire and waits for orders from Colonel Glover who is in charge of the detachment.  An Indian enters with a warning that the British are landing at Pell's Neck.  The inactivity of the patrol is suddenly changed into the quick stern preparation for conflict.  Village women and children hurry through, fleeing before the British.  Their pathetic bundles of cherished possessions bespeak the unexpectedness of their departure from the little homes where they had for so long found new-world peace.  As the officer of the patrol reassures them, the sentry rushes in with the news that more ships and troops are landing.  A group of village boys come in and are armed with pitchforks and clubs and drilled by one of the soldiers.  As the sound of firing is heard in the direction of the Sound, the villagers who had huddled at the side of a ruined settler's cabin are sent on the road to safety by the soldiers.  Some, fearing for the safety of their children, go willingly, but a mother lags behind, her eyes on her son who may fall before the day is past.  A girl, forgetting her Puritan training, sobs as she clings to her sweetheart, the young patrol officer.

The firing becomes louder, nearer.  The first detachment of Colonel Glover's men enter in retreat before the overwhelming force of the British.  Colonel Glover and his staff gallop in, dismount and hold consultation on the wisest plan of action to prevent the British from reaching the White Plains Road and cutting off Washington as he withdraws from Harlem to White Plains.  The Continentals continue to straggle through, firing incessantly to hold back the enemy until Washington shall have passed the danger zone.  As the last detachment retires beyond the summit of the hill, the advance detachment of the Hessian troops springs over the stone wall that lies at the foot of the hill.  On up the hill they pursue the fighting Continentals.  Lord Howe, in splendid uniform, rides on the scene.  With his staff he discusses the situation.  A captured Continental, the young patrol officer who had so recently led his men against the enemy, is brought before the general.  Wounded, weak, but still courageous, he replies to their insistent questioning with a graphic description of the numberless force of Continentals that await them over the brow of the hill.  An Indian scout is dragged in by two soldiers and questioned.  He too, tells Lord Howe of the inadvisability of proceeding further inland and the difficulty of a successful advance against the Colonial troops.  The British officers, convinced that Washington has eluded them, decide to withdraw and Lord Howe sends an officer to recall the Hessians.  As they march off toward the troop ships on the Sound, the wounded Continental painfully drags himself up from the ground, and staggers to the foot of the hill.  His last strength goes into a signal to the Americans and as they rush down the hill, cheering and rejoicing that there effort has been successful, he falls, his duty to the new-born nation done.

The Pelhams In Allegory

Again the scene is changed, the contrast startling, vivid.  The bright uniforms, the military atmosphere is gone.  In its place comes a host of lovely young women.  Soft colors, soft lines drape them gracefully.  Westchester County, now unawakened, takes her place in the background.  Each of the Three Villages with their attendants group themselves on the scene, Pelham, the town, sends forth the spirits of the villages and as they surround Westchester County and give to her the Lamp of Knowledge, she awakens and gives to them her protection and benediction.

As the allegory closes, the five hundred people who took part in the pageant are grouped artistically on the setting.  The lovely costumes of the Manor period, velvets, brocades, in brilliant hues, vie with the resplendent uniforms of the troops.  The modest dress of the early settlers and the barbaric color of the Indian garb mingled effectively and a fitting climax inspired the thousands present as the spectators and participants joined in the singing of the national anthem."

Source:  THE STORY OF THE PAGEANT, The Pelham Sun, Oct. 29, 1926, p. 10, cols. 1-7.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home