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Westchester County, NY
 
History



 

This page was last updated: Wednesday, 25-Dec-2013 09:52:41 MST

Westchester County has the proud distinction of being one of the twelve original counties of the State of New York, under the English rule. It was erected by the act of 1683. The twelve counties were, Albany, Cornwall, Dukes, Dutchess, Kings, New York, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester. Two of these, Cornwall and Dukes counties, were subsequently attached to other States.

Prior to the formation of counties, and under the Dutch rule, the only divisions were the cities and towns. In 1665, a district, or Sheriffalty, called Yorkshire, was erected. It comprised Long Island, Staten Island and a part of what is now Westchester County. For judicial purposes it was divided into three ridings. What is now Westchester County was united with what is now Kings County, Staten Island and Newtown, to form the West Riding.

The act of 1683, referred to, reads: "An Act to divide the Province of New York and dependencies into Shires and Countys, etc." "Having taken into consideration the necessity of dividing the Province into respective Countys, for the better governing and settling courts in the same, be it enacted by the Governor, Council and the Representatives, and by the authority of the same, that the said Province be divided into twelve Countys as followeth: The County of Westchester, to conteyne West and Eastchester, Bronx-land Fordham, Anne Hook's Neck, Richbells, Miniford's Islands, and all the land on the maine to the eastward of Manhattan's Island as farre as the government extends, and the Yonker's land, and northward along Hudson's River as farre as the Highland." "This bill having been three times read before the Governor and Council, is assented to, the first of November, 1683."

It is presumed that the county was named in honor of Chester, England, the title having been bestowed after the English occupancy. As it was named subsequent to the town of Westchester, which was created in 1667, it is therefore alleged that the town gave to the county its title. Governor Nicoll, who had changed the name of the province from New Netherland to New York, and named nearly all the other settlements after the various titles which King James, then Duke of York, possessed, such as York, Albany, etc., and styled what is now Westchester County and Long Island as Yorkshire, gave the first patent to the town which he directed should be called Westchester, describing the town within the same boundaries it had when it was, recently, annexed to New York city.

William Smith, the historian, of New York, in 1756, thus described the county "Westchester County is large, and includes all the land beyond the Island of Manhattans along the Sound to the Connecticut line, which is its eastern boundary. It extends northward to the middle of the Highlands, and westward to Hudson's River. A great part of this county is contained in the manors of Philipsburg, Pelham, Fordham, and Courtlandt, the last of which has the privilege of sending a representative to the General Assembly. The county is tolerably settled. The lands are in general rough but fertile, and therefore the farmers run principally on grazing. It has several towns, Eastchester, Westchester, New Rochelle, Rye, Bedford and North Castle. The inhabitants, are either English, or Dutch Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Quakers, and French Protestants. The former are the most numerous. The two Episcopal missionaries are settled at Rye and Eastchester, and receive each 60 annually taxed upon the county. The town of Westchester is an incorporated borough, enjoying a Mayor's court and the right of being represented by a Member in Assembly."

Beside the Hudson River and Long Island Sound, forming the western and eastern boundaries, there are in the county several small streams, Peekskill Creek and Croton River, which rise in Dutchess and Putnam counties, run south westward across the northwestern part of the county to the Hudson; the Saw Mill River runs from Mount Pleasant to the Hudson River at Yonkers; the Bronx River, the Hutchinson River and the Mamaroneck River run south into the Long Island Sound; the Byram River runs from Westchester, principally in Connecticut, and forms two miles of the State boundary from its mouth in Long Island Sound, which receives some other small streams from the southeast angle of Westchester County, direct across the southwest angle of Connecticut.

The county was divided by the act of March 7, 1788, into twenty towns, viz: Bedford, Cortlandt, Eastchester, Greenburgh, Harrison, Mamaroneck, Mount Pleasant, New Rochelle, North Castle, North Salem, Pelham, Poundridge, Rye, Salem, Scarsdale, Stephentown, Westchester, White Plains, Yonkers and Yorktown. The county having an area of 500 square miles.

The name of the town of Salem, was changed to South Salem, April 6, 1806, and to Lewisboro, February 13, 1840. and a part of North Salem was annexed April 26. 1811. Ossining was formed from Monnt Pleasant, May 2, 1815. New Castle was formed from North Castle, March 18, 1791, and a part of Somers annexed May 12, 1846. The name of Stephentown was changed to Somers, April 6, 1808. West Farms was formed from Westchester, May 13, 1846. Morrisania was formed from West Farms, December 7, 1855. Kingsbridge was formed from Yonkers, December 16, 1872.

At present there are twenty-two towns in the county, viz: Bedford, Cortlandt, Eastchester, Greenburgh, Harrison, Lewisboro, Mamaroneck, Mount Pleasant, New Castle, New Bochelle, North Castle, North Salem, Ossining, Pelham, Poundridge, Rye, Scarsdale, Somers, White Plains, Yorktown, the city and town of Mount Vernon, and the city and town of Yonkers.

The village and town of Yonkers were chartered as a city in 1872. The former village of Mount Vernon, in the town of Eastchester, was chartered as a city in 1892; the remaining portion of the town was continued under the name of the town of Eastchester.

Source of the above: Manual of Westchester County, Past and Present, Civil List to Date, 1898. [White Plains, N.Y.: Henry T. Smith, Publisher, 1898], pages 5-7.

There is also a brief county history on the County's own web pages: Westchester County History.

Some Historical Writings

There are several major works devoted to the History of Westchester County, including those by Scharf, Bolton, and French. Please see the attached bibliography for the full names and citations of these books as well as many town histories. You can borrow many of these histories from your local library through InterLibrary Loan. Or, if you prefer to purchase a copy for your own library, search one of the many used and antiquarian book dealers on the Internet. The URLs of several such dealers can be found in the Other Resource Links of these Westchester pages.

New York History Net is a site devoted to the history of New York State and incorporates both educational and commercial aspects.

The following are some web sites dealing with history and touching on Westchester County:

Loyalists
Loyalists were those colonists who supported the Britsh during the Revolutionary War. Some information regarding them is located at this web site at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.con/~nywestch/loyal.htm.
The Native American Adventure
http://www.indians.org/

Return to Westchester County's Town Index page.

Return to the main page for Westchester County at NYGenWeb.

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Copyright © 1996-2012  Cathy Horn. All rights reserved.
This web site was designed by and has been exclusively maintained since November 1996 by Cathy Horn.

NYGENWEB's Westchester County URL: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nywestch/