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Full text of "The Van Cortlandt manor : anonymous address read by the late Mrs. James Marsland Lawton, president-general of the Order of Colonial Lords of Manors in America, at the sixth annual meeting of the New York branch held in the city of New York, January 26, 1918"

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REYNOLDS HISTORICAL 
GENEALOGY COLLECTION 



ALLEN COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY 

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THE 

VAN CORTLANDT MANOR 



ANONYMOUS ADDRESS READ BY 

THE LATE MRS. JAMES MARSLAND LAWTOX 

PRESIDENT-GENERAL 

OF 

THE ORDER OF COLOXIAL LORDS OF 
MANORS IX AMERICA 

AT THE SIXTH ANNUAL MEETING OF THE 

NEW YORK BRANCH HELD IN 

THE CITY OF NEW YORK 

JANUARY 26, 1918 



BALTIMORE 
1920 



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1570327 




VAN CORTLANDT ARMS 
Arms: Argent; four mngs of a mndmill conjoined in saltire sable; 

gules between five stars placed crosswise of the last. 
Crest: A star gules. 
Motto: Virtus sibi munus. 



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VAN CORTLANDT MANOR 

The great Manor of Cortlandt, as granted to its first Lord, 
Stephanus Van Cortlandt. extended for ten miles along the 
Hudson River, from the southerly shore of the Croton River 
to the line dividing Westchester and Putnam Counties, and 
twenty miles east to the Connecticut boundary line. This large 
tract "of beautiful country included the present townships of 
Cortlandt, North Salem, Somers and Yorktown, with a part of 
the town of Lewisboro'. 

Stephanus Van Cortlandt, first Lord of the Manor of Cort- 
landt, was the son of Olaf Stevense Van Cortlandt, a soldier in 
the ser\'ice of the West Indian Company, who left his home at 
Wyk by Durnstede in Holland, a village not far from Utrecht, 
and came to this country in 1638 with Wm. Kieft, Director- 
general of the Company's North American Provinces. 

The family, an ancient one, had come to Holland from 
Courland. Their coat armor is recorded in the Hall of Records 
in Amsterdam, and Olaf brought his coat of arms, as well as a 
portrait of his mother, Catharine Van Cortlandt, with him 
when he came over with Kieft in the ship Haring in 1638. 

Olaf Van Cortlandt became a man of wealth and influence 
and held many public offices in New Amsterdam. He married 
Annetje Loockermans of Turnhout, a town in Belgium. She 
was possessed of a considerable fortune, and having made 
large in\-estments in the New Netherlands, came to America 
with her brother, Govert Loockermans to make inquiries into 
the success of her ventures. They had six children, of whom 
Stephanus, born in 1643, was the eldest. He received his 
excellent education from tutors. He entered into the public 
life of the City at an unusually early age, his first appointment 
being to the Court of Assizes, and at thirty-four, he was chosen 
Mayor, being the first American-born Slayor of New York 
City. He entered the Militia, and in 1693 was the Colonel 
commanding the Kings County Militia. He was the first 
Judge in .\dmiralty, appointed by Governor Andros; an Asso- 
ciate Judge of the Colonial Court, and was in rapid succession 
chosen Chancellor, then Collector of the Revenues and lastly, 
7 



Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was also a merchant, 
with a place of business at the northeast corner of Pearl and 
Broad Streets, and with all these many and varied claims 
upon his time, he yet found, or made, leisure to serve the interest 
of Church, as well' as State, as Senior Warden of Trinity Church. 

Early in his career, Stephanus \'an Cortlandt began to 
acquire large tracts of land, in what is now Westchester County, 
on which he settled tenants, built houses and established ferries. 
His earliest movement toward obtaining these lands, afterwards 
to comprise his magnificent Manor, was to take out, pursuant 
to the law of the Province, a license to purchase from the Indians. 
The original of this license from Governor Edmund .Andros is 
preserved among the Van Cortlandt papers. It is dated 
November 16, 1677. 

This license was general, and permitted Van Cortlandt to 
buy of the Indians whenever it could be convenientl_\- done. 
No time was mentioned and it operated as an indefinite per- 
mission to e.xtinguish the Indian title to the regions named 
and establish his own. Si.x years after its date in 168,S, he 
bought the peninsula, now known as Verplanck's Point, and 
another large tract adjoining it to the eastward, called by the 
Indians, Appamapagh. These lands were conveyed to him 
by deed. In 16S3 he also purchased lands and meadows on the 
western shore of the Hudson from the Sachems of Haver- 
straw and that neighborhood. In this purchase was included 
"Salsbury's Island," now known as lona Island. 

In 1686, Thomas Dongan, Governor of the Province under 
James II purchased from the Indians, lands adjacent to those 
bought by \'an Cortlandt. These lands Dongan later conveyed 
to Van Cortlandt, whose final purchase, so far as is known, was 
an extensive tract on the east side of the Hudson belonging to 
"Hew MacGregor. gentleman of the City of New York," who 
had obtained it from the Indians. 

Van Cortlandt now set himself to the task of setting the 
boundaries of his estate. He set out in his Periagiia from New 
York, leisurely surveying the shores of the river as he sailed. 
until he reached a point just North of Anthony's Nose, which 
is now the dividing line between Westchester and Putnam 
Counties. Here he disembarked, sending his Indians to go 
"a days journey into the \\-ilderness.'' This days journey was 
just twenty miles and terminated at the boundary line of 
Connecticut. This "Indian Walk," an e.xact straight line, is 
today the accepted boundary of the Manor of Cortlandt, and 
the northern boundar\- of the countv. 




THE FRONT DOiJR OF THE MANOR HOUSE. SHOWING LOOP HOLES FOR DEFENCE 



He had now acquired some 83,0('0 acres. DeLancey gives 
it as 87,000. and nothing remained but to apply for a Royal 
Charter, fitting confirmation of this princely estate. His 
request for this Charter, with the varied rights appertaining 
thereto was granted, and the territory was confirmed to him 
and erected into a Lordship and Manor by a Manor Grant 
bearing date. June 17, lo97. This original grant in perfect 
preservation is at the Manor House at Croton. It is beautifully 
engrossed upon two skins of vellum, and the initial letter highly 
ornamented, has a portrait of William HI. The great seal of 
England is attached to the document. 

The Charter provides for the holding of Court Leet and Court 
Baron, and gives all the advowsons and rights of patronage 
over all Churches that may be built on the i\Ianor, appointing 
also the Lord of the Manor sole and only Ranger, as in "our 
realm of England. " It provides in the fullest manner for all 
hunting and fishing rights and ends by giving the "Lords of 
Cortlandt the extraordinary privilege of sending a representative 
to the Provincial Assembly. ' This privilege was of so high an 
order that it was granted to but two more of the New York 
Manors — to Rensselaerwyck in 1705 and Livingston in 1715, 
the former eight, and the latter eighteen years later than the 
grant to Van Cortlandt. 

The topography of the Manor is varied, and most beautifuL 
The majestic mountain of .Anthony's Nose at its northern 
boundary is still in the possesssion of the Van Cortlandt family, 
as is also its southern boundary, the beautiful valley of the 
Croton River. Between these two points and stretching 
eastward lay a region remarkably wooded and watered and 
abounding in game of every description. Deer were plentiful 
as were their foes, the wolves. Beaver inhabited the streams, 
and to this day a branch of the Croton bears the name of 
"Beaver Dam" and a high wooded ridge near it is still called 
"The Deer's Delight." The broad bay where the Croton 
joins the Hudson swarmed with ducks, including the famous 
canvas back, and abounded in striped bass as well as many a 
less kingly fish. 

Except for a few white people who clustered about the stone 
Manor House at the mouth of the Croton and a few more at 
Verplanck's Point, the whole Manor was occupied by the 
Indians, for, though the_\' had sold their actual title to the land, 
they still considered that their ancient right to hunt, fish and 
plant corn held good. 

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LIBRARY OF THE MANOR HOLSE 



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The Manor Hou-e itself was built originally for a fort, for 
the protection of the tenantry against the Indians, who were 
prone, at their semi-annual feasts and dances to a dangerous 
excitability. 

Constructed of red sand-stone and oblong in shape, the walls 
three feet thick, are pierced with loop holes for musketry and 
embrasures for cannon, and the general character of the building, 
its simplicity of line, the flat stone roof of its early days, and 
its marked resemblance to the Mohawk Valley forts, built in 
1638-1640, would lead one to conclude that it had perhaps been 
in existence long before history speaks of it. However that may 
be, tradition and events indicate that it was standing in 1681, 
and was a useful place of refuge to Stephanus Van Cortlandt's 
tenants, until the Indians, being finally gone from the neigh- 
borhood, a second story was built over the flat roof of the fort, 
a veranda added and windows and doors cut through the 
walls. 

It was now used as a hunting lodge and histor>- tells of 
Governor Dongan stopping here on his hunting expeditions 
and of "gay house parties of gentlemen, for he never went 
alone, quartered under its roof at one time and another." It 
became also a summer home, or rather a home kept open all 
the year, and with slaves always there to wait upon the family. 

The "family" by this time, was a large one, as Stephanus 
Van Cortlandt and his wife, Gertrude, the daughter of Philip 
Pieterse Schuyler of Albany, had eleven children. 

Stephanus died in ITCHJ at the age of tifty-seven. His wife 
long survived him and constantly visited the Manor to attend 
to business and interview the tenants. "The coach of Lady 
Van Cortlandt, with its outriders wearing badges of mourning, 
made frequent trips between the Manor House and the City, 
though the ladies might also be seen wending their way through 
the woods on horseback." "The ladies" were her daughters, 
the seven Miss \'an Cortlandts who were distinguished for their 
decision of character, good sense, personal beaut}- and warm 
affection for each other. They were often accompanied by 
Lady Bellomont and other friends. 

The eleven children of Stephanus are named in his will in 
the order of their birth, John, Margaret, .Ann, Oliver, Mary, 
Philip, Stephan. Gertrude, Elizabeth. Katharine and Cornelia. 
With the exception of gi\ing Veqjlanck's Point to John as his 
eldest son, he divided his very large estate among his children 
equally. Besides the Manor, it included houses and lots in 
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New York — his share in the great Patent above the Highlands, 
a tract in PennsyKania and other lands owned in connection 
with Gulian \'erph\nck — and pieces of land in other counties. 
The children decided not to di\-ide the land in their mother's 
life-time, and it was not divided until 1730, and not until 
November 4, 1734, that a final partition took place between 
the surviving children and grandchildren, namely Philip Ver- 
planck, Samuel and Margaret Bayard, Stephan DeLancey, 
Pliilip \'an Cortlandt, Stephan \'an Cortlandt, John ^Miller, 
Gertrude Beekman, \\'illiam Skinner, Andrew Johnston and 
John Schuyler, Jr. 

The present town of Yorktown was the portion allotted to 
Gertrude Beekman and named after her, " Gertrude's Borough, " 
and Somerstown was originally "Stephen's town.'' 

The population had gradually increased, mills had been built, 
roads made, and the tenantry aided in establishing farms, and 
most of the improvements begun b_\- Stephanus Van Cortlandt 
were carried out. At the time of the first division of the Manor 
there were settlers upon almost all lots. By lots being meant 
the portions of each child. The lots were divided into farms 
averaging 250 acres. By 1750 the whole jManor had become 
populated, as appears by the list of farms and tenants, in the 
accounts. About 1770, as the tenants had prospered and their 
families increased, the\- began to acquire the "Soil right" by 
purchase. 

Upon the death of Stephanus — followed by that of his two 
sons, John and 01i\-er — Philip Yan Cortlandt, the third son, 
became head of the family, and to him fell the Manor House at 
Croton and its enormous surrounding estates. He was born in 
1683 and married Catharine, daughter of Abraham DePeyster. 
He was an eminent merchant. In 1729, he was appointed a 
Councillor of the Province at Governor ]\Iontgomerie's request, 
and was a commissioner of Indian affairs involving some claims 
of the State of Connecticut. He died in 1747. Of his five sons, 
three died young. The share of the elder son, Stephen, who 
did not long sun.-ive his father, was, lands in the eastern part 
of the Manor, and the youngest son, Pierre, inherited the ^lanor 
House and its estate, and became, in his turn, head of the 
family. 

Pierre Van Cortlandt married his cousin, Johanna Livingston, 

and in 1749, they left New York for the Manor House at Croton 

River, hereafter to be their permanent home. Hither came the 

troops of distinguished guests that have made the old house as 

16 




CERTRIDE (van CORTLANDT). WITE OF HENRY BF.EKMA> 

BORN 16S8. Died, between 1776 and 1779 

iOriiiual in possession of RUImrd Wayne Parker. Esq. of Oronfe, .V 




ELIZABETH (VAN CORTLAXDT . UIFF. OF P,E\ . U ILLFAM SKINNER. 

BORN 1694 DIED 1747 

(Originalin Iht pos^rssion of Richard Wayne Parker. Esq.. of Oranse. \ . /. i 



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PARTITION DEED klADE BY STEPHASTS 1 



famous for hospitality as for historic association. In 1753 
CadwaldiT Coldcn writes to his wile — "I ha\-e had a pleasant 
ride from Fishkill to Wan Cortlandt's passing easily through 
the mountains and arrived at the Manor House at dusk. Young 
Pierre and his charming wife keep up the hospitality of the 
house equal to his late father. " 

He represented the Manor of Cortlandt in the Colonial 
Assembly from 176S to 1775, watching, with apprehension the 
encroachments of the Crown upon the liberties of the Colonies. 
In 1774, Governor Tryon" came for a night to the Manor House, 
and announced to his host the great favors that would be 
granted to him if he would espouse the royal cause and adhere 
to King and Parliament. \'an Cortlandt answered him that 
he was chosen a representative by unanimous approbation 
of a people who placed confidence in his integrit}' to use all his 
ability for their benefit and the good of his country, as a true 
patriot, which line of conduct he was determined to pursue. 
The discomfited royal Governor returned to New York. The 
approaching storm called \'an Cortlandt from the quiet life of 
a country gentleman to a political and military activity. A 
letter of November, 1775, says — "Thursday night were here to 
supper and breakfast of Colonel Hammond's Regiment, three 
hundred men." The same month \'an Cortlandt was chosen 
deputy to the Second Provincial Congress. He was also a 
member of the third and fourth congresses to May, 1777, and 
was then elected President of the Council of Safety. 

These were stirring times and brought the Manor House 
many visitors. Here came Benjamin Franklin, in an old 
fashioned post chaise lent him by General Philip Schuyler, 
and his host lent him a horse the followng day to take him the 
next stage of his journey. To the old house came LaFayette, 
de Rochambeau, Steuben and the Duke de Lauzun — Wash- 
ington was here many times, while his army lay on the shores 
of the Hudson and along the heights of the Croton. In more 
peaceful days the great George Whitefield had preached here, 
standing on the high verandah, to spellbound crowds upon the 
lawn, who had been summoned from miles around by messen- 
gers on horseback, sent out by \'an Cortlandt. 

Directly in front of the house was the Continental Bridge, 
where Washington halted for a while July 2, 1781, and wrote 
in his diary of "the new bridge over the Croton." Until this 
bridge was built, the ferry was the only means of crossing the 
river and the old Ferry House ottered shelter to many soldiers 
of the Revolution. 

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LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR PIERRt: VAN Ci IRTLANDT HV JAR\IS. 
BORN 1721, DIED 1814. 
(Original in Ihe possession ol ll:c V.m CorHomll Family ,:/ lire Van Corllan'll Mano. 



In 1777 he sent his family to Rhinebeck. the Manor House 
being too near neutral ground for safety — and in this year he 
was chosen Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York, 
General George Clinton, the Governor, being constantly in the 
field, Van Cortlandt fullilled the duties of both Governor and 
Lieutenant Go\-ernor — "tilling the office with great dignity."' 

He was Lieutenant-Governor until 1795, holding olfice for 
eighteen years, was President of the Convention that estab- 
lished the Constitution. In 1783 this earnest patriot accom- 
panied General Washington on his entrv- into New York City. 
He records it thus in his diary — '" I went from Peekskill Tuesday, 
the 18th of November in company with His Excellency. Gov- 
ernor Clinton, Col. Benson and Col. Campbell — lodged that 
night with General Cortlandt. Croton River {this was his son, 
General Philip \'an Cortlandt of Revolutionar\- fame) proceeded 
and lodged Wednesday night at Edw. Couwenhoven's, where 
we met His E.xcellency General Washington and his aides. 
The next night lodged with Mr. Frederick \'. Cortlandt at the 
Yonkers, having dined with Gen. Lewis Morris. Friday 
morning in company with the Commander in Chief, as far 
as the Widow Day's at Harlem, where we held a Council. 
Saturday I rode down to Mr. Stuyvesants. stayed there until 
Tuesdav, then rode triumphdnt into the Citv with the Commander 
in Chief." 

With the coming of peace, the family returned to the Manor 
House and there in 1814 at the age of ninety-four, Pierre Van 
Cortlandt died. "The simplicity of his life," says a notice of 
his death, '' was that of an Ancient Patriarch. He has descended 
to the grave, full of years, covered with honor and grateful for 
his country's happiness." 

His eldest son. General Philip \'an Cortlandt now succeeded 
to the entail. The story of his life is too long and too eventful 
for space to be afforded to it here. From the da}- he threw his 
royal commission into the fire and joined the Continental 
Army his eventful career would demand a separate article. 
The friend of Washington. Rochambeau, of Lafayette, he was 
a part of the country's history in its most critical time, and a 
brilliant officer. Congress conferred upon him the rank of 
Brigadier General for his gallant conduct at Yorktown. He 
was one of the original members and founders of the Society- of 
the Cincinnati, and was on most intimate terms with all the 
foreign officers belonging to this Society. He accompanied 
Lafayette in his tour through this country in 182-i. He was a 
21 



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BRIGADIER-GENERAL PHILIP VAN CORTLANDT. BORN 1749, DIED 1831 




MAJOR-GENERAL PIERRE VAX CORTLA.VDT, BORN 1762, DIED I S4S 
(Or/|in<i/ in the possession of the Van Corllandl Family al the Van Corllandl Manor Uous, 
Croton-oii-Hudson.S.V.) 



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CORNELIA (van CORTLANTJU. WIFE OF GERARD C. BEEKMAN, 
BORN 1753, DIED IS-17 




COLONEL PIERRE VAN CORTLANT)T BV ELLIOTT, BORN 1SI5, DIED 1884 



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CAPTAIN JAMES STEVEXSOX VAX CORTLAXDT. BORX 1S44, DIED 1917 
{From a plmlograph in llic pn, session v Hiss Van CoT-.Undi al lit! Van CorlhnJl lienor Ho. 
Croton-on-Hudson.y . I'.) 



mcniljcr of Congress for sixteen vears. He died at the Manor 
House in 1 S.I 1. ^ 

The Manor House and its estate now became the property of 
his brother, General Pierre Wan Cortlandt, who, like his pre- 
decessor, held various public offices, for which he was well 
equipped, having studied law in the otike of Alexander Hamilton, 
besides being an LL.D. of Rutgers College. He served in 
Congress for two years. He was twice married, tirst to ]\Irs. 
Taylor, daughter of General George Clinton. His second wife 
was Miss Ann Stevenson of Albany. 

At his death, the ^Nlanor property came to his only son, 
Colonel Pierre \'an Cortlandt. He married INIiss Catharine 
Beck of Albany. He was a domestic man, delighting in country 
pursuits, living most of his life at the Manor House. When 
he died it was truly said of him — "Residing all his years from 
• boyhood to old age in this town which bears his name, he died 
without an enemy.'' 

One son survived him, James Stevenson \'an Cortlandt, 
who followed the tradition of his family in gi\-ing his services 
to his country. He entered the army in 1862, at the age of 
eighteen, as Second Lieutenant and served until the end of the 
Civil War. He took part in twenty-two battles and skirmishes 
and was mustered out at the end of the war, with the rank of 
Captain, a title he gallantly won. 

He died at the Manor House April 28, 1017, the last descen- 
dant of the name in the direct line. 

The Manor House, with its extensive grounds is still in the 
possession of the family, as well as other portions of the original 
Manor.