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The Manor of Philipsborough
Address Written for The New York Branch of
The Order of Colonial Lords of Manors in America
by Edward Hagaman Hall, L.H.D.

Published 1920

This page was last updated: Thursday, 05-Apr-2012 09:43:23 MDT

The Manor of Philipsborough, of Philipse Manor, as it is frequently called, extended along the Hudson river from Spuyten Duyvil creek to Croton river, a distance of about twenty-one miles, and embraced about 156,000 acres. It was neither the first nor the largest of the great Colonial Manors in what is now the State of New York, but derived its distinction from its proximity to the Metropolis, the character of its proprietors, and the history enacted within its borders.

It is not a little singular that this rich domain, so eligibly situated for commerce by reason of its location on the Hudson and so attractive on account of its good farm land and mill-streams, should so long have escaped bestowal upon some influential and worthy citizen of the Colony, after tracts more remote had been granted by the Crown to Thomas Pell, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer and Robert Livingston, not to mention less notable characters. It cannot be denied, however, that when Philipsborough Manor was created by Royal Charter on June 12, 1693, it was worthily bestowed.

View of Philipse Manor

Frederick Philipse, the grantee, was born in Bolswaert, Friesland, in 1626 – the year in which Peter Minuit, the first Director-General of New Netherland, arrived at Manhattan Island with a fully equipped government and the year from which the City of New York dates its first permanent settlement. He was the grandson of Viscount Philipse of Bohemia who had fled from that country for greater liberty of conscience in Friesland. Frederick Philipse came to New Amsterdam probably in 1647 when he and the embryo Metropolis were both turning the twenty-first year of their ages. Within six years from that date he had so firmly established himself in public confidence as a man of sound judgment, that his first appearance in the documentary history of the colony shows him acting as arbitrator in establishing the valuation of some disputed real estate in New Amsterdam. His native ability is also shown by the rapidity with which he rose from the calling of architect and builder, in which official capacity he served the West India Company, to become the leading merchant of his day and the possessor of a large fortune. That his acquisition of wealth was not at the expense of the esteem of his fellow citizens is evident from his promotion to many public positions, including those of City Surveyor (1666) and Alderman (1674); and finally, when the Duke of York issued instructions to the newly appointed Governor Dongan in 1682, Philipse was so well known at court that Dongan was directed, on his arrival at New York, "to call together Fredericke Phillips, Stephen Courtland, and soe many more of the most eminent inhabitants of New Yorke, not exceeding tenn, to be of my Councill."

Philipse's first land-holding was acquired in New Amsterdam in 1658, when Director-General Stuyvesant, by authority of the Council, granted him a lot on the northeast corner of the Markveld (Market-field, now Whitehall street) and Brouwer straat (Brewer street, now Stone street). And to this he added other possessions within the wall which once extended across what is now Wall street. But it was not till 1672 that he acquired his first holding in what was destined to be the lordly Manor of Philipsborough. This purchase, made in partnership with Thomas Lewis and Thomas Delaval, included the region bordering on the Neperhan river which had been granted by the West India Company in 1646 to the learned Adriaen Van der Donck, and which, after his death in 1655, had been sold by his widow and her second husband to Elias Doughty of Flushing, L. I. There was already a thriving business going on at the mill-site near the mouth of the Neperhan, now included in the City of Yonkers; and Philipse found it so profitable that he bought out the interests of his partners and in 1686 became sole owner.

From this nucleus he gradually extended his ownership by purchase until, in 1685, his possessions extended from Croton river on the north (the southern boundary of the future Van Cortlandt Manor), to Lower or Little Yonkers on the south. When, in 1693, Philipse received by his Royal Charter a grant to a neck of land called Paparinemin at Spuyten Duyvil creek, and in January, 1694, bought from Matthias Buckhout the fifty acres called George's Point (now Van Cortlandt Park), his estate stretched continuously from Spuyten Duyvil creek to Croton river.

Philipse's charter erected this region into "a Lordship or Manor of Philipsborough in free and common socage according to the tenure of our Manor in East Greenwich within our County of Kent in our realm of England, yielding, rendering and paying therefor, yearly and every year, on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at our fort at New York, unto us, our heirs and successors, the annual rent of £4 12s current money of our said Province."

The reference to the Royal Manor in East Greenwich, in Kent, signified the most liberal manorial tenure that the Crown could grant, and recalls the fact that when the Normans conquered England, the Saxon kingdom of Kent was the first to submit peaceably to the Conqueror, in recognition of which William confirmed the inhabitants in all their ancient laws and liberties. These privileges were so much more liberal than those of the rest of the kingdom that the common law of Kent was different from the common law of other parts of England. One of these privileges was "free socage tenure" as distinguished from feudal tenure by Knight's service, and therefore the customs and practices of the Royal Manor of East Greenwich were particularly adaptable to the conditions in America.

Philipse was also privileged to hold Court Leet and Court Baron within his domain; and, knowing, as we do, his fair-mindedness in the adjudication of public affairs, from the arbitration of real estate disputes to the settlement of inter-colonial boundaries, we may infer that his judgment within the local courts of his Manor were just and equitable.

Owing to the proximity of his demesne to the Island of Manhattan, from which it was separated by Spuyten Duyvil creek, Philipse acquired by his charter a privilege of unique value in his permission to erect a toll-bridge across the creek 'upon condition that it be called the King's Bridge. When it is remembered that this bridge was the chief, and for some years the only, means by which travellers from New York could pass to the mainland, or travellers from the mainland pass to the Island of Manhattan, except by ford or boat, it will be understood that this privilege was a lucrative source of income. Within the past decade, Spuyten Duyvil creek — that water-way around whose inexplicable name Washington Irving wove such a fanciful legend about the fate of Stuyvesant's trumpeter Corlear — has ceased to be; its channel has been filled up; and the King's Bridge has lost its identity in a solid roadway; but the name King's Bridge, first written in the charter of Philipse Manor, still applies to the locality and identifies it in the pages of history.

When the first Lord of the Manor died in 1702, he closed a career in which he may well have taken pride. Coming of good family stock and yet without the advantage of inherited wealth, he had won his fortune and estate by force of character and the applications of his talents to industry and commerce. He had served the Colony in positions of responsibility and trust. He had manifested physical courage in time of physical danger and moral courage when principles of liberty were involved even to the point of questioning the Royal power when it went beyond what he believed to be lawful limits. It is a curious contrast of fate that the first Lord of the Manor, who was contumacious of the King's authority, died in possession of his estate, while the third Lord lost his because of loyalty to the King.

Of this first period of the Manor we have three interesting monuments in the Manor Hall at Yonkers, the "Castle" on the Pocantico, and the Sleepy Hollow church. The first of these, through the generosity of the late Mrs. William F. Cochran, is now in possession of the State and the custody of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The second is the home of Elsie Janis, the popular actress. And the third, situated in Sleepy Hollow cemetery, is still a place of religious worship. The exact dates of the erection of the Manor Hall and the Castle are not known, but there is reason to believe that the beginning of the house on the Neperhan antedates that of the house on the Pocantico. Frederick Philipse availed himself of the water power of both the Neperhan and the Pocantico to build mills near their confluence with the Hudson, and near each of these mill-sites stands one .of these monumental buildings. The earliest documentary evidence referring to the Yonkers site shows that Van der Donck had erected a saw-mill and laid out a farm and plantation there prior to 1652. A law suit shows that there was a mill there in 1674 and that it had been there some years. And complaints from the Government of Connecticut show that in 1682-84 he was building a mill on the Pocantico in addition to the one on the Neperhan. Now it goes without saying that in those days, where there was a sufficient settlement or centre of activity to have, a mill, there was need for a strong house for protection against the Indians. This is repeatedly attested in the history of the Hudson and Mohawk valleys where even to-day stand houses perforated with loop holes to shoot the Indians.¹ The writer has no doubt but that there was a substantial house at Yonkers as early as 1652, certainly as early as 1674, and beyond the peradventure of a doubt in 1682, but how much of it remains in the present Manor Hall is largely a matter of conjecture, aided by study of the structure itself. Reflections upon the evidence of the building during the seven years which have elapsed since the publication of the writer's book entitled Philipse Manor Hall at Yonkers, N. Y., leads him to the opinion that part of the foundation may antedate 1682; that part of the southern wing dates from about 1682-1694; and that the remainder and larger part dates from about 1725; or 1730, although the date 1745 is also given as that of the enlargement by the second Lord of the Manor. An interesting confirmation of the 1730 date comes to the writer as he is penning these lines from Mr. John Henry Livingston of "Clermont," who says that in the parlor fireplace in his residence is the counterpart of the English fire-back in Philipse Manor Hall, and he dates the erection of his house from 1730. It was probably about this time that the Manor Hall was enlarged.

There is no occasion for doubting that the date of 1683 attributed to Castle Philipse on the Pocantico is substantially correct — for a part if not all of the house; for documentary evidence shows that Philipse's upper-mill "over against Tappan" was erected at this time, and with it, no doubt, a substantial residence.

Concerning the date of the Sleepy Hollow church we have more certain testimony. Frederick Philipse died in 1702 and Mrs. Philipse in her will, refers to "the Dutch Church erected and built at Philipsburgh by my late husband, Frederick Philipse deceased." The old stone slab on the church which gives the date 1699 cannot be far, if at all, out of the way.

There was probably little luxury in the residences at Philipse's mills during the incumbency of the first Lord of the Manor, for in those pioneer days, surrounded by perils from Indians, there could be little approach to the comfort and ease of the old established English Manors, and the family made its chief residence in the City of New York. But with the advent of the second proprietor, the more settled condition of the country and greater security encouraged social life and gradually led to the Manor Hall becoming the centre of more social activity. But time was required to bring about such a result.

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¹ As random illustrations may be cited Van Cortlandt Manor house on the Croton, the Louis Dubois house in New Platz on the Walkill, Fort Crailo in Rensselaer on the Hudson, and Fort Frye on the Mohawk.

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