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NYGenWeb: Westchester (Town), NY history
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Westchester County, NY


An Address Delivered by Fordham Morris,
on the 28th day of October, 1896,
before the Westchester County Historical Society,
in the Court House, at White Plains, N.Y.
Part 1 of 5


      By a law passed in 1895, this ancient township has become a part of New York city.

      Curious to relate, it enters the city with practically the same boundaries as were prescribed and intended in its first paten and charter, 229 years ago. Its natural characteristics are: tide water or streams on its boundaries - rolling ridges, with an altitude at the very highest point not exceeding 200 feet above tide level, placed so as to afford pleasing prospects across its salt meadows or lower plateaus, valleys running into each other, affording convenient sites for streets, railways and drainage operations, while its shores recede inland on gentle grades with estuaries from deep navigable waters, presenting easy problems for the engineer and dockbuilder to change it from rural to city uses.

      Its boundaries are East River to the south, the Bronx River to the west, Eastchester Town to the north, and Hutchinson's River and Pelham Bay to the east. It brings nearly ten thousand acres into the city territory, and adds about ten thousand people to its population. This is only an estimate, as we have no recent census to guide us, and its recent growth has been phenomenal.

      The Sinoway was the Indian tribe inhabiting the region before its settlement by whites. This tribe was probably friendly, for no record of its participation in war appears, though some of its inland neighbors were hostile. The Indian villages within the township were two: one in the Bear Swamp, near where the Morris Park race track is situated, the other on Castle Hill Neck on the western side of the outlet of Westchester Creek. Adri´┐Żn Blok, on his voyage of discovery of East River and Long Island Sound was probably the first white man who saw their wigwams perched on the crown of Castle Hill, where the Screven place now is. The Dutch as early as 1639-40, to extinguish the Indian title, had purchased from them, receiving two deeds of all the lands we now know to be within the bounds of Westchester County. From those two deeds and the original discovery of the water fronts on both the Hudson and Sound sides of Westchester County the primal jurisdiction based on discovery as well as purchase gave the Dutch undoubted governmental and proprietary authority.

      Shortly after the purchase, one John Throckmorton settled on what we now call Throgg's Neck and soon afterwards one Cornell settled on what we call Clason's Point. Both of these settlements were made by and with the consent of the Dutch authorities. This and the adjoining territory had been christened by the Dutch Vreedelandt or the "free land," for on it the West India Company permitted and encouraged settlements by the many refugees from New England, driven away by the religious persecutions of that country. The enjoyment of these privileges was short lived, for the homes of the settlers were destroyed by the Indian raid of the Weekquasesgeeks in 1652. They drove the Cornell's from Clason's Point, Throckmorton from Throgg's Neck, and foully murdered Ann Hutchinson, the most distinguished of all the New England refugees, at her home on the borders of the township. This fearful calamity, the lack of interest manifested towards the colony by the Holland government, the possibly factitious influences of the English speaking subjects of the company, who had settled at Oostdorp or the East Village, as Westchester was then called, all tended to render New Netherland an easy conquest for the English in 1664, as it is a matter of history that many other English besides Throckmorton and Cornell settled at Oostdorp, without permission from the Dutch. Petrus Stuyvesant to punish them had also imprisoned some, and only released them on the petition of weeping wives and oaths of allegiance to the Dutch Company and accepting such magistrates as Stuyvesant approved. It also appears, that even a few months before the surrender, one Thomas Pell from Connecticut, who had procured an Indian grant, confirmed by Connecticut, dated 1654, covering all the region within our township, and much more in Eastchester, prevailed upon the English settlers at Oostdorp to transfer their rights to him, and then on the next day he generously permits them "to enjoy the fullest improvements of their labors."

      Hardly was the English order of things established when Pell began a suit in the Court of Assizes to oust the Cornell heirs from their settlement on Clason's Point, but the Court recognized the early grants and upheld the articles of capitulation by which every man was secured in the estate possessed by him at the time of the surrender. Nicoll, the English commander, acted with fairness and wise deliberation. The people who had either under the Dutch or Pell's auspices, settled between Rattlesnake or Black Dog Brook or west of Hutchinson's River were permitted to remain.

      This settlement was where part of Wakefield, now also annexed to the city, and Mount Vernon are situated.

      Cornell's grant on the Neck was confirmed as far east as Barrett's Creek.

      The people at Oostdorp were not disturbed and Pell was kept generally to the east of Hutchinson's River.

      Having adjusted the disputed grants, in 1667, Nicoll issued the first patent calling the town Westchester, describing it within the same boundaries it had at it(s) recent dissolution. He appointed John Quinby, John Ferris, Nicholas Bayley, William Betts and William Walters on behalf of themselves and the other freeholders and inhabitants patentees of all lands in the said town not otherwise disposed of. The political and proprietary rights secured by this grant created a community with each freeholder possessing his share in the land with rights of pasture in the range of cattle, sheep and hogs, which by the terms of the grant extended into the woods indefinitely but really only until some line of an earlier grant was found. Each one was also entitled to a home lot - which soon became a fee estate. The home lots were about where the present village now is. The pasture lands or commons extended at first in every direction, but were, as the inhabitants increased, gradually allotted in severalty by the freeholders at town meetings. Magistrates, subject to the approval of the Governor, were elected by the people and, thus (t)he little Republic began.


[Transcriber's Note: All the original spelling has been retained in this transcription. However, where a letter is missing from a word, it has been added in paranthesis: i.e., th(e). Additionally, where a word is spelt incorrectly by today's standards, that word will be followed by (sic), an editor's short-hand for "spelling is correct".]

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