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NYGenWeb: Philipse Manor
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Westchester County, NY

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.


This page was last updated: Thursday, 05-Apr-2012 09:43:21 MDT

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When the first Lord of the Manor died in 1702, he divided up his extensive property in New York City, Westchester County, Rockland County, New Jersey and elsewhere between his widow, his three living children, Eva, Annetje and Adolphus, and his grandson Frederick. The latter's share included the Yonkers plantation and other property. But the grandson Frederick, who became the second Lord of the Manor, was then a minor, having been born in 1695 and being only 7 years of age; so that the grandfather, by his will, entrusted the guardianship of the grandson and his estate to his widow, with the injunction that she give the boy "ye best education and learning these parts of ye world will afford." Mrs. Philipse did more than that. She took the boy to England where he was thoroughly educated in the law and acquired the best tradition of his day, and when he came of age in 1716 and entered upon his full privileges as Lord of the Manor, he began his career with the advantages of both inheritance and culture. Three years later he married Joanna, daughter of Lieut. Gov. Anthony Brockholls. By this distinguished alliance, the high social and political standing of the family was maintained

Frederick Philipse

The second Lord of the Manor had a social disposition, in which respect he differed from his grandfather, and as a consequence of this characteristic as well as his other personal qualities the Manor Hall took on quite a new atmosphere. The new master had a fertile mind; was a good conversationalist; was manly, courteous, generous and affable and altogether companionable. With these qualifications, he advanced rapidly in private and public esteem, as is evidenced from the briefest glance at some of the positions of public responsibility and trust which he occupied. For fourteen years, beginning in 1719, he was an Alderman of the City of New York, and during much of this same period was Member of Assembly of the Province from Westchester County and Highway Commissioner for the County. He took a conspicuous part in framing the Montgomerie charter of the City of New York (1730-31) which document, Chancellor Kent says, "is entitled to our respect and attachment for its venerable age and the numerous blessings and great commercial prosperity which have accompanied the due exercise of its powers." In 1733 he became Baron of the Exchequer, and also Second Judge of the Supreme Court, which latter position he held until his death in 1751. Because of the latter fact he is usually distinguished by the title of Judge.

There is some uncertainty as to whether it was during the early period of his incumbency as Lord of the Manor, that is to say, about 1725-30, or whether it was in 1745, after he had attained his highest distinction, that he enlarged the Manor Hall. It is possible that improvements were made at both periods. At any rate, it was he who gave it its present dimensions, which make the building about thrice the size it was when he inherited it from his grandfather. By this change the eastern fa´┐Żade became the main front. Between it and the old Post Road stretched a velvety lawn with garden terraces and horse-chestnut trees. On either hand were laid out formal gardens and grounds, ornamented here and there with valuable trees, choice shrubs and beautiful flowers. Among these ran graveled walks bordered with boxwood. To the westward of the building the greensward sloped to the Hudson river, adorned with fine specimens of trees among which were emparked a number of deer. And beyond the river could be seen the columned front of the Palisades. At the foot of the hill to the southward, on the banks of the Neperhan, stood the famous Philipse mills, with their three great over-shot wheels turned by the waters of the stream which was here dammed and harnessed to the service of man.

The interior of the house was elaborately finished and has been so carefully restored and conserved by the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society that it may be described almost entirely in the present tense as a picture of what it was in the period of Judge Philipse.

Philipse Manor, Yonkers

In the middle of the south front, a double "Dutch" door gives entrance to a hall with broad winding staircase and mahogany rail. Doors on either side of the hall give access to parlors about 20 feet square and a door at the rear opens toward what was a rear porch. The right hand or east parlor, situated in the southeast corner of the building, commands principal attention, for its location, facing the Post Road in one direction and the mills in another; its accessibility from both the south hall and the east hall; and the lavish care bestowed upon its ornamentation unmistakably proclaim it to be the chief room of the Manor Hall. The carved woodwork of the mantelpiece and the fluted columns reaching from the floor to the moulding of the ceiling, the doors and the wainscoting are all in the finest kind of workmanship of the period. In the fireplace is an iron fire-back referred to on a preceding page bearing the Royal coat-of-arms. The ceiling is ornamented with elaborate arabesque in relief. In this tracery one sees not only two portrait busts, probably representing the first and second Lords of the Manor, but also charming figures of dancing girls, musicians, hunters, dogs, birds, flowers, etc. In the north wing, across the east hall, are the dining room, and beyond that the space formerly occupied by the kitchen, pantry and rear stairway but now thrown into one large room.

Ascending the stairway of the east hall, guarded by a mahogany balustrade whose more ample whorl indicates the superior dignity of the east entrance, one comes to the second floor. Here, the elaboration of the chamber in the southeast corner, over the parlor before described, easily distinguishes it as the principal bedroom. The wooden mantelpiece is handsomely carved and displays the three plumes of the Prince of Wales, and the fluted pilasters give an air of elegance to the room. All the fireplaces in the two parlors and the two chambers of the south wing were originally lined with Dutch tiles, many of which have been preserved in place, supplemented by modern replicas to replace those which have been lost. In the fireplace, in the west chamber is an old Dutch stove-plate upon which is a quaint representation of Elijah being fed by the ravens. A date upon the plate shows that it was cast in 1760. All the space on the second floor north of the upper east hallway was formerly divided by a central hallway, off from which opened bedrooms. This space was all thrown into one room for a Common Council chamber when the building was owned by the City of Yonkers, the roof being supported by new timber-work quite out of harmony with the style of the building.

In the attic, the slave quarters in the southern part still remain, while the space formerly occupied by similar accommodations in the north wing have been included in the enlargement of the Common Council chamber.

There are many details of the building, interesting architecturally and mysterious historically, which it is impossible to mention within the limits of this paper. Suffice it to say that modest as the mansion appears in comparison with the palatial residences of modern millionaires, or even with those of persons who are not millionaires, the Manor Hall was one of the most elegant homes of its period and a worthy place of entertainment for the distinguished visitors who enjoyed its hospitality.

Nor was the hospitality of the second Lord of the Manor confined to the official and social dignitaries of the Colony, for he continued the curious old feudal customs of court and rent days, and on those occasions his tenants were feasted in right generous fashion. In 1749, Adolphus, his uncle, died, and Frederick thereby inherited the Upper Plantation, thus bringing the ancient domain under a single ownership again; and it was Frederick's custom to have two rent days for the Manor, one at Yonkers and one at Sleepy Hollow, on which occasions there were appropriate festivities as his tenants paid their rentals, ranging from two fat hens or a day's work upwards, according as their holdings were located far from or near to the river.

As might be expected of a family containing such charming daughters as those of Judge Philipse, the Manor Hall was not without its romances. One of these, during the period of which we have been speaking, concerned Susannah Philipse and Beverly Robinson. The latter came of a distinguished Virginian family, being the son of John Robinson who was President of the Colony of Virginia upon the retirement of Governor Gooch in 1734. He was a resident of New York City and paid his devoirs to the 23-year old Susannah in either the townhouse or Manor Hall of the Philipse family as the exigencies of residence required, and their marriage about the year 1750 was one of the social events of the day.

Thus, to understand the life of the Manor at the height of its glory, which was during the quarter century running from near the end of the second Lord's tenure into and comprising most of the third Lord's, we must imagine first this stately mansion, situated, like some of the Manor Halls of Old England, on a great thoroughfare-in the present case on the Post Road from New York to Albany. In the domestic regime there was distinct recognition of the difference between the positions of master and mistress on the one hand and the 30 white servants and 20 slaves on the other. On state occasions, the master of the house and host and his gentlemen guests dressed in the picturesque attire of the period, with colored coats and ruffled shirts, knee-breeches and silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles; while the mistress and guests of her sex made choice between their red silver-laid petticoats, and their red cloth petticoats, and their silk quilted petticoats, and other gorgeous apparel, not forgetting to display glimpses of natural beauty through the mists of delicate lace filling the openings of their satin corsages, to adorn their bosoms with a cluster of flowers, to heighten their complexions by little figures of court plaster and other artistic means, and to powder their carefully arranged coiffures with snows the reality of which was belied by the summer roses on the cheeks below. Then there was the daily routine of attending to the milling business, with its incoming and outgoing traffic by pack horse over the highways or by sloops out of the Neperhan and along the Hudson. There were the post-riders and occasional travellers on horseback, and once in a while a stage coach, plodding slowly up and down the great highway where now automobiles speed by faster than the wind. Frequently, pilgrims stopped at the Manor Hall to inquire concerning the proximity of New York on the one side or the nearest stopping place on the other. Out on the river, sailing vessels plied up and down between Albany and New York, and occasionally might be seen Indians in their canoes en route for a conference at the fort in New York or on some less important errand, but the day of the stately steamboat or the noisy motor-boat had not yet arrived. At rare intervals there were alarms of danger from the Indians and their allies the French, and a bustle of military activity as when, in 1746, detachments from Queens and Westchester counties embarked in Neperhan harbor bound for the north. Occasionally a hunting party would set forth, to return at the end of the day with the trophies of deer or other game. Then, as we have said, there were the rent days, and the court days, when the tenantry gathered together and not only paid their obligations to the proprietor of the Manor but feasted and frolicked, had their folk dances, sang the quaint old songs of Merry England or, perchance, those of the land of St. Nicholas, and interchanged the latest news and gossip of the days when newspapers were a rarity not enjoyed by their class.

But there were days of sorrow, too, for the Manor, and never was there more sincere grief than when the second Lord passed away in 1751 in the fifty-sixth year of his age, remembered for "his Indulgence and Tenderness to his tenants, his more than parental affection for his Children, and his incessant liberality to the Indigent" which "surpassed the splendor of his Estate and procured him a more unfeigned regard than can be purchased with opulence or gained by Interest." [New York Gazette, July 29, 1751.]

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