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.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

What Was Pelham Like in the 1660s?

What was Pelham like during the 1660s, barely a decade after Thomas Pell acquired the land from local Native Americans on June 27, 1654?  It is possible to tease a little from 17th century records to help piece together an answer to this question.

It seems that today's Pelham Neck on the mainland and City Island in Long Island Sound were the centerpieces of the Manor of Pelham during the 1660s.  We know from an inventory of Thomas Pell's estate at the time of his death in late September, 1669 that Pell had a working farm on today's Pelham Neck, known then as Ann Hook's Neck (various spellings).  See:

Fri., Jun. 24, 2016:  Archival Record of the Last Will and Testament and Estate Inventory of Pelham Founder Thomas Pell.

Wed., Dec. 10, 2014:  Did Pelham Founder Thomas Pell Have a Residence in Pelham?

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

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

Though Thomas Pell never lived in Pelham, he clearly seems to have maintained a farmhouse on Ann Hook's Neck in the Manor of Pelham presumably as a base for when he visited his Pelham property and, perhaps, as a caretaker residence (although records have not yet revealed whether he actually employed a caretaker).

Apart from the fact that the Neck of land at issue (Ann Hook's Neck) has long been known as "Pell's Point," as early as the 18th century, tradition in Pelham also held that Thomas Pell had a farmhouse that stood near the end of Ann Hook's Neck on the site of the old Bowne homestead.  Although the references to such effect are numerous, one example comes from Bolton's 1881 edition of The History of Westchester County. It states: 

"Pelham Neck is terminated by the property of the late Gilbert Bowne. On the site of the dwelling-house, stood the residence of Thomas Pell, Esq., first lord of the manor. Perhaps the finest view of City Island and the adjacent waters are to be had from this portion of the Point." 

Source:  Bolton, Robert, The History of The Several Towns, Manors, and Patents of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. II, p. 71 (NY, NY: Chas. F. Roper, 1881). 

Thus, it appears that during the 1660s near the tip of Pelham Neck (today's Rodman's Neck) there stood the Pell farmhouse looking out over City Island and the Long Island Sound.  There likely was at least one residence on City Island after about 1668 -- that of Ralph and Mary Hall who had fled from Setauket, Long Island (today's Town of Brookhaven) after being tried for witchcraft and sorcery.  See Drake, Samuel G., Annals of Witchcraft in New England and Elsewhere in the United States from their First Settlement Drawn Up from Unpublished and Other Well Authenticated Records of the Alleged Operations of Witches and Their Instigator, the Devil, pp. 125-27 (NY, NY: Burt Franklin 1869) ("Under these Bonds they continued until the 21st of August, 1668, at which Time 'they were living upon the Great Miniford's Island.'").  See also Tue., Jun. 12, 2018:  Original Records of Witchcraft Trial of Ralph and Mary Hall Who Afterward Fled to the Manor of Pelham (and materials cited therein).

Pelham Neck may well have been used to graze cattle during the 1660s.  Indeed, records of the Court of Assizes suggest that one of Thomas Pell's friends, William Newman of Stamford, Connecticut, may have grazed cattle on the Neck at some time prior to September 1, 1668.  (William Newman was among the Englishmen who witnessed the signing of Thomas Pell's so-called "Indian Deed" on June 27, 1654, and who signed the document as such a witness.)

William Newman appears in the records of the Colony of New Haven as early as February 26, 1640/41.  The next year William Newman became one of the founding settlers of Stamford, together with Richard Crabb, John Finch and Henry Ackerly. In October, 1642 he received two acres of marshland and three acres of woodland in Stamford.

According to one historian, William Newman “was evidently a man of note in the young colony, and once represented the town in the General Court.”  He remained in Stamford for a number of years.  In fact, on July 8, 1652, he and Richard Crabb (another Englishman who signed the Pell Deed) signed as witnesses to the last will and testament of Robert Hussted of Stamford.  The records also suggest that William Newman occasionally acted as an attorney on behalf of Stamford residents.

It is also possible that Newman had some experience at some point as a cobbler or, perhaps, a shoe dealer.  In 1659, after the Colony of New Haven received complaints from residents regarding disputes over the “sizes of shoes” sold to them, the Court turned to William Newman for help.  Court records indicate that Newman had an instrument that he had brought from England that “was thought to be right to determine this question.”  Thus, the Court ordered that the instrument be procured from Newman and used to develop a standard “which shall be the rule between buyer and seller, to which it is required that all sizes be conformed.”

Shortly before signing Thomas Pell’s deed, William Newman was involved in a series of events that shed important light on Thomas Pell’s reasons for moving to acquire the lands in question.

In March, 1653/54, the Magistrates and Deputies of the Colony of New Haven hauled a man named Robert Bassett before the General Court.  At the time, the First Anglo-Dutch War was underway, though there had been no fighting among the Dutch and English colonies in North America.  The Court charged Bassett with carrying on an “insurrection” against the Colony of New Haven by attempting “to raise volunteeres to goe against the Duch . . . wthout any approbation from authority here, so that he hath bine a ringleader in these wayes of disturbance and undermining the gouermt of the jurisidiction, and this hath bine contrary to his oath of fidellitie taken to this jurisdiction.”

The Court demanded that Bassett name his confederates.  He named several Stamford residents including William Newman noting that each was “unsatisfied wth the gouerment of the jurisdiction because they have not their votes.”  The Court ordered Newman and others to appear at its next session.

Newman and the others appeared before the General Court on March 22, 1653/54. The Court charged Newman with being “one of the disturbers of ye peace of Stamford, in pleading for such libertie in votes as would overthrow the foundations of gouerment here laid, wch by his oath hee should have upheld and maintayned”.

The Court found all the parties guilty as charged, but saved the most severe punishments for confederates John Chapman and Jeremiah Jagger.  As for William Newman, the Court directed that he “enter bond to the valew of twenty pound, to attend his oath of fidellitie hereafter and maintayn the foundations laide for gouerment here and the lawes of the jurisdiction, to the utmost of his abillitie, avoyding all wayes of disturbance in this kinde wch he hath formerly gon on in.”  The Court required all of the offenders to execute an agreement promising to post bonds for good behavior and reaffirming their oaths of fidelity to the Colony of New Haven.

Despite such difficulties, William Newman remained in Stamford.  For example, on May 31, 1658, he appeared in court to pursue an unspecified action against Peter Disbrow.  Two years later, Newman testified on October 13, 1660 in a lawsuit over ownership of a horse brought by John Archer of Stamford against Francis Brown of Stamford. In that testimony, he described himself as “aged about 50 yeares”.

Sixteen years later, in 1676, a “William Newman” described as a “planter of Stamford”, sold land to John Austin, a “taylor” of Stamford. Newman’s will, dated “7.9.1673”, names as his legatees a wife named Elizabeth and his children “Thomas, Daniel, John, ---------, Elizabeth, and Hannah”. The will also mentions his brother, John.  (For more on William Newman and citations supporting these references, see Bell, Blake A., The New Englanders Who Signed Thomas Pell's 1654 Agreement Acquiring Much of Today's Bronx and Lower Westchester Counties From Native Americans, The Bronx County Historical Society Journal, Vol. XLVI, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 25-49 (Spring / Fall, 2009).

William Newman of Stamford, therefore, had known Thomas Pell for many years when, in 1668, he became involved in a dispute with another Stamford resident named William Graves.  Graves brought a lawsuit alleging "Debt and damage" against Newman and, on September 1, 1668, obtained from the Court of Assizes led by the new Governor of the Colony of New York, Francis Lovelace, a warrant "to attach certain cattle found on Anne Hookes Neck and belonging to William Newman of Stamford, Conn."

The warrant directed the Constable of West-Chester "to attach so many of the Cattle or other Goods, as you shall find upon the said neck of Land or within the precincts of your Towne belonging unto the said William Newman, to the value of therty pounds good pay, or that you take sufficient security or sec[ ]rityes for the Appearance of him the said William Newman at the next Generall Court of Assizes, to be helden in this City begin[ ]ing on the first day of October next."  (See transcription and citation below.)

The special warrant of attachment was never served on William Newman.  It turned out that no cattle or other goods belonging to Newman were found on Thomas Pell's lands at Pell's Point.  Moreover, as a Stamford resident in the Colony of Connecticut, William Newman resided outside the jurisdiction of the New York Court of Assizes.  

Both the dispute involving William Newman and the inventory of Thomas Pell's estate at the time of his death strongly suggest that cattle grazed on the Pell farm overlooking City Island on Pell's Point in the 1660s.  

At the time, there were two small settlements near Pell's Point:  West Chester and Eastchester, both of which stood on lands sold to the settlers by Thomas Pell from his Manor of Pelham lands.  The roadway from West Chester to the edge of Throgg's Neck and Eastchester Bay existed, but likely as little more than a broad pathway.  There also likely was a Native American path parallel to the shore on the opposite side of Eastchester Bay along the route of today's Shore Road.  See Fri., Oct. 14, 2016:  Early History of Pelham's Ancient Shore Road, Long an Important Pelham Thoroughfare Along Long Island Sound.  

At the time, Native American trails crossed the Manor of Pelham.  Native Americans remained in the area and likely visited (and even planted and hunted on) Thomas Pell's lands.  It is not unreasonable to surmise this since many 17th century records indicate that once Thomas Pell's nephew, John Pell, inherited the Manor of Pelham, Native Americans continued to frequent the lands even during King Philip's War.  See Tue., Mar. 25, 2014:  More 17th Century References to Native Americans in the Manor of Pelham.  

Although the Old Boston Post Road (today's Colonial Avenue) did not exist until later when it was laid out through the Manor of Pelham, in part, by Thomas Pell's nephew, John Pell, an Indian trail followed its route through Pelham.  There likely were edible blackshaw shrubs, starved panicgrass, prairie fleabane, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and more.

Apart from the foregoing, the Manor of Pelham during the 1660s likely was mostly virgin, old-growth forest with lush salt marshes along the coast and nearby islands.  There likely were vast old-growth groves of various types of oak trees, beech trees, black-cherry trees, and up to another 150 species of trees.  Seventeenth century wildlife in Pelham likely included white tail deer, wolves, turkeys, rabbits, perhaps a few beavers and bears, plovers, squirrels, snapping turtles, eagles, hawks, ospreys, ducks, songbirds,  and even rattlesnakes.

Yes, our region was very, very different in the 1660s.  Our little Town of Pelham was not yet even a gleam in the eye of anyone then alive.  Look, however, at what it has become nearly four centuries later. . . . . 

Detail from 1776 Map by Charles Blaskowitz Showing Portions of Pell's
Point and Eastchester Bay. Source: Blaskowitz, Charles, A survey of Frog's
(1776) (Library of Congress Geography and Map Division Washington,
D.C. 20540-4650 USA; Digital Id g3802t ar115200; Library of Congress
Catalog Number gm71000648).  NOTE:  Click to Enlarge Image.

*          *          *          *          *


[CALENDAR:  Sept. 1.  Constable of West-Chester to attach certain cattle found on Anne Hookes Neck and belonging to William Newman of Stamford, Conn., or take security for the appearance of Newman to answer complaint of William Graves.]


[William] Graves Plt.
[William Newm]an Deft.

[. . . several lines lost . . .] being informed that the said Newman hath Cattle within this Government upon Anne Hookes Neck, capable to make satisfaction for the Same; These are in his Majesties name to require you, to attach so many of the Cattle or other Goods, as you Shall find upon the said neck of Land or within the precincts of your Towne belonging unto the said William Newman, to the value of therty pounds good pay, or that you take sufficient security or sec[ ]rityes for the Appearance of him the said William Newman at the next Generall Court of Assizes, to be helden in this City begin[ ]ing on the first day of October next, then [   ] there to make answer unto the complaint [   ] the said William Graves in an Action [   ] Debt and damage:  Whereof you are to [   ] true Returne at the Secretary off [     ] your hand, and for your so doeing th[     ] Speciall warrant.  Given und[     ] Seale this 1st day of [     ]mes in New Yor[     ]

Fra[     ]

[MOULTON:  The first judicial act of Gov. Lovelace on record is a warrant dated 1st Sept. 1668 directed to the Constable of West Chester, commanding him to attach certain cattle belonging to a non resident Debtor in behalf of a resident Creditor to the amount of 30 pounds, or take sufficient security from the owner, for his appearances at the next assize on the 1st Oct. next, to make answer to the complaint of Pltf. in an action of debt and damage, whereof you (the constable) are to make return to the Secretarys office, and for so doing this shall be your 'speciall warrant.']"

Source:  Christoph, Peter R. & Christoph, Florence A., eds., New York Historical Manuscripts: English -- Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682, p. 74 (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1983).


[CALENDAR:  William Graves vs. William Newman.  Not tried, because no goods of defendant were found nor does the defendant live within the jurisdiction of the court.  Speciall warrant of attachment never served.]


William Graves Plt.
William Newman Deft.

This Cause came not to a hearing or Tryall  The Plt. having not found any goods of the Deft. within this Government And the Deft. living in another Jurisdiction, was not summoned nor was the Speciall Warrant of Attachment ever served."

Source:  Christoph, Peter R. & Christoph, Florence A., eds., New York Historical Manuscripts: English -- Records of the Court of Assizes for the Colony of New York, 1665-1682, p. 82 (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc. 1983).

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