Hangings in Van Cortlandt?

Home Forums The American Revolution Hangings in Van Cortlandt?

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    • #1818

      A member recently sent a link to a doctoral dissertation entitled “Floral Interactions in Van Cortlandt Park…”

      History was not the focus of the document but it contained a summary of the park’s history for background, including this paragraph:

      James [van Cortlandt], the first son of Frederick, took over Van Cortlandt estate at the age of 22 (Mott 1874), completing his father’s home within a year. Like his father before him, he died in his early 50s, a typical age at that time in history. The estate was then passed on to his brother, Augustus, the second born of Frederick’s six children. Of a sturdier constitution, Augustus saw the estate through some of the most troublesome of times during the War of Independence while trying to remain neutral since he relied on selling goods to both loyalists, stationed north of his property, and rebels, stationed further south. Early in the conflict, thirty loyalists were found hanging in an old oak tree on his property that bordered Broadway near Albany Post Road. Important visitors during this war period were British General Howe, Rochambeau, Lafayette, and Washington, who all passed through on several occasions (Ultan 1993).

      There a few factual errors here.  For example, loyalists were generally garrisoned to the south of the property, not the north and I never heard that Augustus Van Cortlandt “relied on selling goods” to anyone during this period.  However, what stands out is the claim that “thirty loyalists were found hanging in an old oak tree on his property that bordered Broadway near Albany Post Road.”  Putting aside the fact that Broadway did not exist in The Bronx during the Revolution, has anyone heard anything like that mass hanging event in our area?  Any ideas where this idea may come from?




    • #1819

      not to mention…. must have been a big tree

    • #1820
      Thomas Casey

      The only mention of Hangings is the Oak near where the old Seton Hospital was located Hanging tree Spuyten Duyvil

    • #1821

      Yes, it would need to be a pretty seriously large tree!  I think that the “Hangman’s Tree” (or “Hangman’s Oak”) is probably what the author was referring to.  Even though this tree was on Spuyten Duyvil near Seton Hospital, it was still on property belonging to Augustus Van Cortlandt, so perhaps the author was confused.  This 1885 map shows that the land around today’s Seton Park once belonged to Augustus Frederick Van Cortlandt:

      My personal opinion is that the “Hangman’s Tree” is an interesting piece of local lore but I am not sold that there were actually any loyalists hanged from it.  I have never seen any record of a hanging here.  But hey, I guess you never really know for sure.

    • #1822
      Peter Ostrander

      Yes I too have never heard of a mass hanging in Van Cortlandt or frankly any location in Amer Rev.

      30 hanging in one place would be very a large number.  In army terms it would be  a platoon size group.  For comparison there were only 22 Hessian killed in the Battle of Trenton and 30 Americans  in the Battle of Bennington.  More like a rumor spread by the Van Cortlandts to keep the cowboy and skinners away or today’s Beware of Dog sign.

      In addition the quote “that James Van Cortlandt died in his early 50s, a typical age at that time in history is a generalization. Many early Dutch lived well into their 70s and 80s, same for those of the Amer Revolutionary period. In the same vane that those back then were short.  George Washington was  6 ft 2.


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