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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 3 of 5


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      Though the Church was supported partially by a tax, the school-master was supported by the Borough, but until post revolutionary times the poor were a Parish charge. Though an act for settling orthodox ministers in the province was passed shortly after the establishment of the English Colonial system, (for of course the English was the orthodox church in colonial times) those sons of Cromwellian soldiers, Quaker refugees and Independents did not at first take kindly to a State Church, and good parson Bartow, the first Church of England minister in the town, did not even wear or own a surplice. Many of the people were gradually won over to mother church, so far as a student can judge from reading the good minister's letters to the Society in England, more by his own loving kindness and self respect rather than any inherent love those hard-working farmers had for the Church of England. Besides the Quakers had established their meeting-house in the town almost as early as the Church of England edifice was erected and its graveyard is still to be found adjoining the Episcopal churchyard, though the Meeting House and those who were moved by the Spirit within it, have long since departed.

      Across the Bronx a Dutch congregation had also been established at Fordham. The first Episcopal Church was not an imposing edifice though it had an apology for a steeple in the shape of a cupola which the clergyman in his letter's (sic) to England said looked like a pigeon house, and though the clergyman was paid a small stipend, it was added to by remittances from the Society for the Propogation (sic) of the Gospel in Foreign parts. The parson more than earned his salary, for not only did he have the church in Westchester, but Yonkers and Eastchester also came under his ministration. The church at Westchester has the distinction of having had as its rector at the outbreak of the Revolution, the Rev. Samuel Seabury, afterwards consecrated bishop in Scotland, from whom our other bishops in the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States trace apostolic succession, but the glamour of its ever having been a semi-aristocratic living in the English sense of the term is founded on no state of facts which are worthy of credence. Some documents following the English form were signed by the Bishop of London and entrusted to Colonial Governors to enable them to induct the reverend gentlemen into the parish, where in early times they were grudgingly paid and sometimes not paid at all, and it is a fair statement to make that from the time of Bartow to Seabury in colonial times and from Wilkins to the present Dr. Clendenin, tithes were unknown. Advowsons in the English sense of the word, did not exist, and the good example and holy lives of the clergyman themselves were the center and controlling powers, under God, of old St. Peter's influence, whether it was the good Bartow acting as a missionary to the souls of a flock without a shepherd, or the present reverend incumbent, who, by his manly actions and fair outspoken war on vice and disorder, succeeded at the head of its better citizens in purging the town from political misrule, finally succeeding in obtaining the legislation which has annexed the Township to the City of New York.

      From a very early period a Court House and jail for the County had been located at Westchester. It was burned in 1790. Courts were frequently held there before that time.

      The representation of the Borough in the Board of Supervisors was continuous down to 1778, but from that year to 1784, no record of a supervisor as such appears, as the town was within the debateable (sic) ground during the Revolution. To the credit of the Borough, however, it appears that many of its inhabitants, refugees from their homes, considered themselves freeholders and inhabitants of the Borough and appeared at the temporary Court House on King street, near the Connecticut border and appointed Thomas Hunt, Abraham Leggett, Israel Honeywell, John Oakley, Gilbert Oakley, Daniel White and John Smith to serve the town on the County Committee, which gave so much aid during the Revolution.

      The annals of the Borough in Revolutionary times are worthy our consideration. As you remember after the battle of Long Island, in the summer of 1776, Washington's army still occupied the northern portion of Manhattan Island. A strong line of American pickets was posted along the Westchester County shore of Harlem River stretching from Kingsbridge to Hell Gate. The plan of Howe, the British General, was to destroy the American army on Manhattan Island and then pushing north and east to obtain a footing in Westchester County so as to cut off the line of communication between New England and New Jersey. With the deep harbor of New York and its city as his base of supplies from without; the roads along and leading to the Hudson in his possession; with all Westchester and Long Island for forage, wood and other supplies, his wedge of veterans could separate the thirteen colonies and make an easy connection for another army to advance from Canada. But Washington's prophetic eye forsaw (sic) the danger. His raw and ever changing army, he knew, could not for long cope with veterans - short of supplies, arms and ammunition, pay doubtful, jealousy between colonies, complicated congressional aid, and a population in the city of New York divided as to the merits of the controversy, rendered his tenure of Fort Washington on Manhattan Island subject to the worst of all enemys, (sic) treachery in his midst. Political as well as military considerations required that he should guard well an interior line of communication between the colonies. The Hudson and fastnesses of the Westchester Hills were chosen as the citadel from which he never swerved during the long war. Events in our Borough rendered this masterly strategy possible.

      As early as August, 1776, a part of Howe's fleet made a reconnoisance (sic) up East River and Long Island Sound as far as City Island. The landing party on Pelham Neck, after committing some depredations, were driven away by Graham's regiment of Westchester militia. A flank movement on Washington's left and rear and the hemming in of the army on Manhattan Island were therefore to be guarded against, and on September 4th, Washington and General Heath, who commanded the Americans in Westchester, consulted together at Kingsbridge. Heath formed a chain of videttes along the East River extending all along shore from Hell Gate to Throgg's Neck and broke up the roads leading from Morrisania and Delancey's Mills to Kingsbridge, so as to render them impassable for the British wagons and artillery: trees were felled and deep pits dug in the roads. But the enemy's intentions were not plain. Howe had landed a number of troops at Randall's Island: the contingencies against attacks on Fort Washington by way of Harlem, Hunt's Point or Throgg's Neck were all to be guarded against.


[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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