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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 2 of 5


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      They were farmers or men with trades necessary in a rural neighborhood. Nicoll had changed the name of th(e) province from New Netherland to New York and naming nearly all the other settlements after the various titles which King James, then Duke of York, possessed, such as York, Albany, etc., to carry out the analogy called Long Island and Westchester Yorkshire. Our town lay in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

      During the short interregnum of the Dutch recapture in 1673, the inhabitants again swore allegiance to the Dutch. They delivered up the flag and the constables' staves and joined in a respectful submission. They were granted the rights and privileges of Hollanders and pardoned for their past errors in "coquetting with Pell and the other English."

      The terms of the treaty of Breeda, providing that the Dutch should have Venezula or Surinam instead of New Netherland, leaves little of interest to mention about the short Dutch reoccupancy. In 1673, we may say the English colonial period of Westchester began.

      Her people at first attended the courts and assemblies held in New York and on Long Island. Governor Dongan confirmed in 1686 the Nicoll's patent, but it continued to be the North Riding of Yorkshire until 1691, when the County of Westchester was erected, and being then the most considerable settlement it is a fair deduction that the town named in 1667, gave the name to the County from which it has just been severed.

      In 1696 Governor Fletcher erected Westchester into a Borough town, giving it separate representation in the General Assembly.

      Col. Caleb Heathcote, one of the most distinguished of all the men in colonial times, and then of the Governor's Council, seems to have been one of the largest land owners and was appointed the first Mayor. He was also its first Assemblyman. He, too, at one time, was Mayor of New York, for honors were easy in those days, and plurality of offices seemed to be the customary thing. Besides he was a Judge and Colonel of the Militia, and as in the early days there was no church, he had his men drilled on a Sunday and ordered the Captain to read the Scriptures to them as part of the military exercises. The Borough continued to have its representation in the Provincial Assembly, separate from the other parts of the County down to the time when Tryon, the last Colonial Governor of New York, (in 1776), taking refuge on a British ship in New York Harbor, prorogued the last session of the Colonial Legislature. The Morrises, Liberals, or the DeLanceys, Tories, seem to have been, after Heathcote, the representatives for the Borough, as the Liberal or Tory parties prevailed, for the Morrises were freemen, though not residents of the Borough, and the DeLanceys at the West Farms Mills had suceeeded (sic) in the female line to Heathcote, as he left no male heirs to his holdings.

      Isaac Wilkins, the owner of Castle Hill, who had intermarried with the Morrises of Morrisania, was also the representative just before the Revolution. His family tie with that Revolutionary stock did not prevent his sidling with the King, and later he became a loyal refugee from the country and lived for a time in England. Returning after the Revolution, he retained the homestead on Castle Hill, took holy orders and became a rector of St. Peter's after the establishment of the new order of things. History takes no sides but records facts, and a distant connection cannot now refrain, after the heated family and political dissensions are ended, to give to good Parson Wilkins' memory the tribute it merits. Loyal to his King, he sided with the Phillipses of Yonkers and other Tories, and did all he could by pen, speech and in open opposition to Lewis Morris, his brother-in-law, who as a representative of New York, signed the Declaration of Independence. But after the War he came back to his old home, was foremost in helping his former neighbors to reorganize their affairs, taught them not only higher agriculture, learned by him in England, but for years as lay reader, and ordained priest, from the pulpit of Saint Peter's, read the beautiful service of the Protestant Episcopal Church, administered its sacraments and told the old, old story of duty to God and duty to neghbors. (sic)

      To return to a further consideration of the ancient Borough: With Heathcote as mayor, we find William Barnes, John Stuart, William Willett, Thomas Baxter, Josiah Stuart and John Bailey the first Aldermen, and Israel Honeywell, Robert Huestis, Samuel Ferris, Daniel Turner and Miles Oakley, the Assistant Aldermen. It had its separate seal, Mayor's Court, Constable, Keeper of the Mace, and other usual municipal paraphernalia. Its well kept records show the mode of life adopted by those rural burghers.

      Three mills were in the township, one at the West Farms, on the Bronx, another near the mouth of Black Dog Brook and a tide mill and causeway at the crossing of Westchester Creek, connecting Throgg's Neck, which is almost an island, with the mainland. A ferry running to Flushing was established at the end of the Throgg's Neck road, not far from where Thomas Havemeyer's Dock now is. Pelham Bridge was not built until long after the Revolution, and the driving route to New York was to Kingsbridge by way of the ford or bridge at West Farms near the present dam by the ice house in Bronx Park, or after crossing the Bronx by a lane on the west side of the Bronx leading to Morrisania, where Harlem River was crossed by a scow ferry which landed passengers near the foot of 125th Street. This Borough existence was recognized as late as the full establishment of the state government in 1785.

      Some have likened this ancient town to those of New England and Long Island, whilst others, zealous members of the Episcopal Church, have tried to make themselves and others believe that the town was a reproduction of an English parish of the 18th century such as we read of in the Spectator or the tales of Fielding and Smollett. They fancy the Squire in his high backed pew, the parson in his wig, gown and surplice, telling the congregation its duty to their Maker and also as to tithes, the Royal Family, the House of Hanover, and the protestant Succession. Neither is a correct similitude. The officials, though elected, were subject to the Governor's approval, and no rigid rule as to church membership prevailed as in the New England towns. The town, not the church wardens and vestry attended to most of the temporalities such as highways and bridges, and though the vestry levied the church rates, the town built and paid for the church, and in very late colonial times released its interest in the church property to the rector, church wardens and vestry.



[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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