Origins of the Word "Mosholu"

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    • #1240

        I had in mind to write about the Native American names for places in our area and I ended up getting stuck on “Mosholu.”  There are two different theories on the origin of the word–one published by a revered local historian, the other by an expert on the Munsee.

        I am proposing a new theory that boils down to a transcription error by British mapmakers during the Revolution.  Since it goes against previously published and accepted ideas I thought I should attempt to explain it in an article, which I have done here:

        I am curious to know if it is convincing to others so feel free to disagree!

      • #1245
        Thomas Casey


          This has got to be the best scholarly research I have ever read about the Bronx.   I have always been focused on the  Mosholu Parkway South section from Gun Hill to Webster Avenue.  I knew that the road was called Middle Brook Road, since the stream that was there ,  know as the Mill Brook, was often called Middle Brook.  Since the Boston Post Road crossed this stream at Van Cortlandt East, I just assumed the Indian name of the Mill Brook was “Mosholu”.   I was not aware that Tibbetts Brook was called “Mosholu” at any time, since George Tibbetts acquired his property in 1668.  Just thought “Tibbetts Brook” was the original name.  I believe you have it correct, 100 %.

          Now I can not wait for Kappock Street and Katonah Avenue!

        • #1246
          Peter Ostrander

            Nick – Think you may have nailed it.  The maps and documents   all pointing to Muscoota with  Mosholu being a derivation or mistaken spelling of it all seems to fit.  I’ve seem long held beliefs on the origin of  my own last name being proven wrong with further research and using maps at that.  Way to go Nick,  nice work and research ‘connecting the dots’ on the origin of Mosholu.

            Regarding naming of Fort Independence Ave in Spuyten Duyvil.  It does go back to the misplacement of two Ft Independence’s on the British 1776 map. Another reason though for the two Fort Independence’s is the confusion on which hill it was located.  Tetard’s Hill or Tippett’s Hill, both of which the Americans built forts.

          • #1247
            Peter Ostrander

              Few additional thoughts.   I think Nick’s research shows strong proof that it was a cartographer’s error or typo that eventually gave us Mosholu. But  there is still the mystery of the meaning of Mosholu or Muscoota.  Robert Bolton’s 1848 – ‘smooth stones’, or Grumet’s name of an India Chief.  There is also historican Reginal Pelham Bolton, a nephew of Robert once wrote it was derived from the word mosquitoes. But he later wrote it was likely smooth stones.

              An East Harlem history site ( states  ” All the area north of what is now 59th Street (on Manhattan) was called “Muscoota” by the Manhattan Indians. Muscoota means “flat place”. This flat place was good for growing food and this is why many of the Manhattan Indians lived in this part of Manhattan.”   This  actually describes the Van Cortlandt flats and parade grounds pretty well even today.

              Search for Munsee words this one comes very close  máske·kw  (linguistic) máskeekw (practical pronunciation)  and (meaning) swamp, pond.  A swampy area would also work for today’s TIbbetts brook in today Van Cortlandt park or back in the past,  the Muscoota brook.

              Given the fact that we will never have a definitive  translation or meaning. With nothing written down and  native spoken words were generally literal translations written down by Europeans from what they heard spoken.  Muscoota might have a few meaning that would describe this area in today’s Van Cortlandt park –  ‘flat place”  or  ‘swampy / pond’ area both seem to describe the area in Van Cortlandt Park and down through the area of old historic Kingsbridge.


            • #1255

                That is interesting stuff about the name Muscoota.   That must have been a commonly used term among the local native people and not some kind of unique place name as you pointed out.  I have seen it translated as meadow or marsh.  You have to figure there would have been a lot of places called Muscoota given all of the salt marsh or meadow in the New York area and sure enough you see the word in a few places.  This another British Revolutionary map (from 1775) and you can see “Musketto Cove” depicted on Long Island.

                Oddly enough I found a reference to a Muscootakes River in a deed to Jacobus Van Cortlandt–only this one does not refer to land in The Bronx but rather to land in Bedford in Westchester:

                Funny that the Van Cortlandts were buying land in two different places (The Bronx and Bedford) and they both bordered on running water known as Muscoota.  When my children were younger I would take them to a park in northern Westchester called Muscoot Farm and I believe the name is connected to the above river.

                On the topic of “Smooth Stones,” I found some interesting stuff as I was researching.  The local people spoke Munsee, which is described as either a language in the Algonquian family of languages or an Algonquian dialect.  According to this book, Mamusqunke in Connecticut meant “smooth stones” to the Quinnipiac, who also spoke an Algonquian language.

                I kind of stumbled upon the information that I wrote about in my article–I did not set out trying to find the origin of Mosholu.  I was researching the “Upper Cortlandts” house when I learned that the guy that lived there, T. Bailey Meyers, was the one that named the post office “Mosholu” and that he also collected Revolutionary War manuscripts.

                Tom mentioned Gun Hill Road in his earlier reply.  In a similar way I also stumbled upon some information that leads me to question the common origin story of the name “Gun Hill.”

              • #1700

                  Thank you for  researching this! I find our local history to be a fascinating subject and thought your article was very informative and interesting!

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