The Enslaved People of Riverdale, Kingsbridge, and Spuyten Duyvil

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    • #279

      Two of the area’s first European settlers were George Tippett and his wife, Mehitable, who settled in today’s Van Cortlandt Park near the mill pond.  He died in 1675 and left his property to his son, George. In 1698, constable “Samuell Hickokes” took a census of “Inhabitants of Fordham and Adjacent Places.” The census lists “Joarge Tippit and his wife Joane and one child: Joarge and one Slave adum,” among the inhabitants.  Many other settlers and enslaved people lived in Fordham, the valley of Kingsbridge and adjacent areas according to the census. Other documents that I have come across in my research make it clear that slavery was actually quite prevalent in colonial Kingsbridge, which, as a result, had a large black population. Enslaved people were held by the first European settlers and the slave population only grew from there.

      I have come across so many references to enslaved people and slavery in this area as I researched local events in the American Revolution that I wanted to make sure to document them in one place so that they can be looked at as a whole. Once I’ve gathered more information, I will make a corresponding map and location chart so that the information is easily understood.

      • This topic was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by ndembowski.
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    • #370

      The above-mentioned George Tippett’s great-grandson, Gilbert Tippett, lived in Spuyten Duyvil during the American Revolution. Gilbert’s story is very interesting and long so I won’t get into it all but he was a loyalist, who eventually lost his lands after the revolution. Not too long ago, I learned that Gilbert held an enslaved person when I stumbled across this document in an online auction:

      Sale of Violet to Gilbert Tippett

      It indicates that Kesiah Glover of Westchester sold a 14 year old girl named Violet to Gilbert Tippett in 1764 for 50 pounds (New York Currency). The document describes her as “One Certain Negroe Wench About fourteen years of Age Called and Named Violet.” According to another document of the same date, Kesiah Glover got into some legal trouble and was ordered to pay James Ferris (of Westchester) 100 pounds. Gilbert Tippett was to sell Violet if Kesiah Glover was unable to pay what she owed to Mr. Ferris. In summary, Gilbert Tippett procured a slave that he was holding in escrow for Kesiah Glover–but in the meantime Gilbert “owned” this enslaved person. The legal language of this transaction for a 14 year old girl sends a chill up the spine as she is treated as any commodity.

      There is no way of knowing what life was like for Violet other than the location of her home. According to the will of Gilbert Tippett’s grandfather, Gilbert’s property was on the east half of Spuyten Duyvil neck–sometimes referred to as “Tippett’s Neck.” Maps from the revolution indicate a couple of structures in that area. The below map, a screenshot taken from the Clements Library digital collection, shows a building on the Spuyten Duyvil Creek west of Marble Hill. This is where Violet probably lived with Gilbert Tippett. During the revolution, Gilbert operated a ferry at Spuyten Duyvil close to this spot.

      Tippett's Neck area

      In this other map from 1781, also from the Clement’s Library, the structure is labeled as belonging to “Tippet.”

      1781 Tippett's Neck

      Today, the site of Gilbert Tippett’s home might no longer exist. As you can see in the previous maps, it was situated on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Spuyten Duyvil Creek. That peninsula was eradicated when the Harlem River Ship Canal was cut through that land. Below is a current map depicting the canal. For some reason, Google labels this waterway “Spuyten Duyvil Creek” despite the fact that it is no longer a “creek” but a wide, deep, and turbid canal.

      Present-day Tippett's Neck

      At some point between the date of her purchase by Gilbert and the end of the American Revolution, Violet ceased to be in Gilbert’s “possession.” But Gilbert’s slave-holding did not end with Violet. We know these things because of certain events that occurred at the conclusion of the American Revolution.

      Throughout the war, the British had hoped to entice enslaved Black people to flee their patriot masters and join the loyalist cause. Many did so and ended up in British-held New York until the end of the war in 1783. According to the Treaty of Paris, which ended the war, the British were supposed to return the formerly enslaved refugees to their American masters. However, Sir Guy Carleton, then Commander in Chief of British forces, refused to comply with the provision and did not return the Black refugees. According to Carleton, it “would be a dishonorable Violation of the public Faith pledged to the Negroes” to return the enslaved people to their captors and subject them to “Execution and others to severe Punishment.” Therefore, when white loyalists fled New York for Nova Scotia in 1783, many who had escaped slavery from patriot “masters” kept their freedom and went along with them. To America’s patriot leaders, this was an outrage. James Madison denounced Carleton’s actions as Black refugees, such as Harry Washington, who had escaped from George Washington, were allowed to retain their freedom in Nova Scotia and the Caribbean. Those enslaved by loyalists, however, were not as lucky. The British allowed loyalists to keep enslaved people in bondage elsewhere in the empire after fleeing New York. Slave or free, all of the Black people that were evacuated from New York in 1783 on British ships had their personal information recorded in a document called the “Book of Negroes,” which was created in the event that the British were forced to return the formerly enslaved people to their patriot masters. In this book, two Black children, Joe and Nancy (aged 10 and 11 respectively), are recorded as slaves belonging to “Gilbert Tippet.” They set sail aboard the Joseph in March of 1783 bound for Annapolis, Nova Scotia. Joe is described as a “stout boy” and Nancy as “incurably lame.”

      Selection from the Book of Negroes

      That is all we know about Joe and Nancy. Could they have been the children of the aforementioned Violet? Possibly. She would have been about 23 years old in 1773 when Joe was born. If the children grew up in the house at the Spuyten Duyvil Creek they would have witnessed their “master’s” temporary imprisonment by the patriots for speaking ill of the patriot army in 1776. They would have seen the British army fight their way past their home in the Battle of Fort Washington later that year. They would have lived next to a Hessian garrison and heard many skirmishes fought in the area around their home. Perhaps they even encountered an unexpected visitor on July 14, 1781. On that date, Washington sent very specific orders to Colonel Alexander Scammell of his elite light infantry. Washington wrote, “At the mouth of Spiten Devil, it must be observed whither any Water Craft lies there, whether any Person lives in the House at the Point.” At that time, Washington was planning an assault on New York City through Kingsbridge that never came to pass. As the war came to a close, the enslaved children would have been taken to the city where they would board the Joseph and set sail for Annapolis, Nova Scotia. I would not imagine the world made very much sense to Joe and Nancy. Interestingly, aboard the same ship, according to the “Book of Negroes,” was a Black refugee named Violet Moore listed at 30 years old from New York–formerly enslaved by William Hedden (a common surname in the area around Westchester). There is no evidence to indicate that this is the same Violet once held by Gilbert Tippett–just the first name is the same and the age roughly fits.

      According to a 1784 census of Annapolis, Nova Scotia, Gilbert Tippett had one “servant.” It is not clear if this was Joe, Nancy, or someone else. The Tippetts must not have loved life in Nova Scotia as they moved back to New York and settled in the Albany area. An 1800 census records “Gilbert Tippets” as a resident of Ballston, NY, where he lived with his wife, Susannah. The household is recorded as having had enslaved people. It is therefore unknown what happened to Violet, Joe, and Nancy.

    • #372

      The following advertisement was placed in the June 13, 1774 issue of the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.

      Jack, slave of Tetard

      According to the ad, Jack, a “negro fellow,” had apparently run away from “I. [or J.] G. Tetard.” This must have been either a misprint of J. P. Tetard or an unidentified relative of John Peter Tetard, who resided in Kingsbridge. Who was John Peter Tetard? He was a minister and a teacher and eventually became a chaplain to the patriots in the American Revolution. But before that he ran a boarding school in Kingsbridge. This was the first school in the area. It is perhaps best described by the following ad that also appeared in the New York Gazette and Weekly Mercury for August 24, 1772:

      This is to inform the PUBLIC, That the Revd. J. P. Tetard, late Minister of the reformed Church in this City, has lately opened his BOARDING School at his House near King’s Bridge, (within 15 Miles from New-York) where he teaches the French Language in the most expeditious Manner, together with some of the most useful Sciences, such as Geography, the Doctrine of the Sphere, ancient and modern History, Logic, &c. He likewise takes in Pupils for the learned Languages, the skillful reading of the Classics, and whatever is requisite to fit the young Students for Admission into any College or University. The house is remarkable for its healthy Situation, commanding one of the finest Prospects in the Government, and the Tutor’s Character and Capacity well known, he having lived with credit in the City of New-York upwards of fifteen Years; so that Gentlemen who will intrust him with the Education of their Children, may depend on their Expectations being properly answered.

      Tetard is the subject of a book by the Kingsbridge Historical Society’s founder, the Reverend William Tieck. In this book, America’s Debt to John Peter Tetard, Tieck describes Tetard’s home as “located within the triangle formed by modern Kingsbridge Terrace (the old Boston Post Road), Sedgwick Avenue, and Perot Street.” This location in Kingsbridge Heights would have certainly commanded a fine “prospect.” Visitors to the school would have had a view of Marble Hill and Inwood below with Spuyten Duyvil Hill and the Hudson River Palisades in the distance. There are several maps depicting the Tetard house in this spot, including the below map from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Note “Tetard’s” on the far right of the map.

      Tetard House

      As for Jack, who escaped slavery, he seems to have had quite an interesting background–an elderly former sailor, who spoke at least three languages. It is unknown if he escaped to eventual freedom or if he was recaptured.

    • #387

      Enslaved people also inhabited what is probably the oldest house in The Bronx–the Van Cortlandt Mansion in today’s Van Cortlandt Park. Jacobus Van Cortlandt (1638-1739) purchased the property in the late 1600’s. A 1698 census of “Fordham and Adjacent Places” listed the people held in slavery by Jacobus’ Van Cortlandt as: “hetter, tonne, marce, and hester.” By the time of Jacobus’ death, he had more enslaved workers, which he willed to his son, Frederick. According to Jacobus’ will of May 12, 1739 Frederick Van Cortlandt was to receive Jacobus’ “Indian Man Slave named Pompey [his] three Negro men Slaves called Piero John and Frank and [his] two Negro Women Hester & Hannah togr. with all the Children that are already or hereafter shall be born of the Body of the said Negro Woman named Hester (except such of the said Children as I may think fit in my life time to dispose of by Deed or Gift or otherwise).” In 1748, Frederick began work on the Van Cortlandt Mansion.

      Van Cortlandt Mansion

      In 1749, Frederick wrote his will. The number of enslaved people on the family estate only increased in the 10 years after his father’s death. Frederick bequeathed “unto [his] wife Frances [his] two Negro Girl Slaves Mary and Hester with my two and four wheal chaise to sell or dispense of as she . . . shall think fitt.” Along with the mansion, he left to his son James Van Cortlandt: “[his] Negro Man Levellie the Boatman, and all my wagons, plows, and utensils, in full bar to all claim as [his] eldest son.” Frederick’s will continues: “I do also give and bequeath unto my said Son James the following Negro Slaves to witt piero the Miller and Hester his Wife and little Pieter the Son of Piero with my Indian Man Cesar and Kate his Wife. . . I give and Bequeath unto my daughter Anne the negro Girl called Hannah and to my Daughter Eve the Negro Girl Sare. . . To my Son augustus I give my Negro boy Claus and to my Son Frederick I give my Negro Boy called little Franke.” That is a total of 12 slaves. In Frederick’s will we find the second reference to an enslaved Indian person. His father had an enslaved Indian named Pompey and Frederick held an enslaved Indian named Cesar, who had a wife, Kate. It makes me wonder just how common Indian slavery was in the area. Frederick’s slave, “Piero the Miller,” is also noteworthy. In those times, millers were considered skilled professionals–given the complex mechanics of water mills and the difficulty in maintaining millstones. I wonder how common it was for slaves to have these sorts of occupations. Curiously, at Frederick Philipse’s “Upper Mills” on Philipsburg Manor, another enslaved person, Cesar, was also working as a miller. Apparently, Cesar made a small fortune for Philipse, who charged the neighboring farmers a percentage of their grain for the right to use the mill–on top of the rents he charged them for the land. Perhaps Piero made a similar fortune for the Van Cortlandt family. The Van Cortlandt mill, pictured below, was located at the southern end of Van Cortlandt lake, and stood until 1911 when it burned down.

      vcp mill

      Its location is labeled in this British intelligence map from the American Revolution (a small section of a map that can be found at the Clements Library at the University of Michigan):

      Mill Map

      One of the millstones can still be found in the park in the brick walk south of the mansion.


      Another picture of the millstone

      James Van Cortlandt inherited the majority of the enslaved people and he lived with them at Van Cortlandt mansion. His brother Frederick (Frederick Van Cortlandt II), who inherited a little boy named Franke, also lived in the area but not at the mansion. Frederick Van Cortlandt II lived at the “Upper Cortlandts,” in the vicinity of present-day Ethical Culture Fieldston school near West 238th Street. There was a Hessian Jaeger encampment there during the American Revolution and, despite the lack of documentary information, it is depicted on several maps such as the one below from Historic Hudson Valley, where you can see “F Courtland” labeled to the southwest of “Col. Courtlands”:

      HHV Courtlands

      The below map from the Library of Congress depicts the area around Kingsbridge in 1778 and shows “Fred Courtlands” west of Tibbett’s brook by the “Corps of Yagers.” This would be the height now occupied by the Fieldston School’s campus.

      Fred Courtlands LOC

      The 1782 British Headquarters map gives the most detailed depiction of the “Upper Cortlandts” showing three buildings:

      1782 HQ Map

      Frederick Van Cortlandt (the First) left several enslaved people to his wife, Frances Van Cortlandt, who died in 1780. Her will dated 1771 states:

      My will further is, that my said Daughter Ann Van Horne may have the Choice of any one of my Negro Girls, which I shall leave undisposed of, at the time of my Decease. Item I give and bequeath my Negro Girl Susan to my Daughter Eve and my Negro Wench Hester, and my Negro Boy Pero unto my Son Frederick. Item my Negro Man John who now lives with my Said son James I leave and bequeath unto him. Item all the rest Residue and Remainder of my whole Estates as well as well Real and personal whatsoever and wheresoever, I give Devise and bequeath unto my five Children James, Augustus, Frederick, Ann and Eve, and the Heirs Executors Administrators and assigns for Ever, Equally to be shared and divided between them share and share alike.

      This brings the total number of enslaved people that Frederick Van Cortlandt II inherited to three. Apparently, however, he felt that he needed more and by 1790, according to the census, Frederick held nine enslaved people. It stands to reason that they lived with Frederick II and his wife at their residence at Upper Cortlandts near today’s Fieldston School Campus.

      In 1909 the City History Club of New York published a Historical Guide to the City of New York. It is basically a mix of local lore and real history and it contains some interesting notes about this “Upper Cortlandts” area. Below is a map from the book:

      History Club map

      Points 21 and 23 on the map are located right in that area around 238th Street between Waldo Avenue and Riverdale Avenue. The points are described below:

      If it is indeed true that the Waldo Hutchins estate house incorporated Frederick Van Cortlandt’s dwelling, then images of the building do exist. The below photos are taken from the auction pamphlet distributed for the sale of the Waldo Hutchins estate.
      The photo on the cover depicts a building clearly built after the 18th century:

      Waldo Auction Cover

      Inside, however, we can see photos of an older looking house captioned: “Hutchins Colonial Mansion at Premises.”

      Frederick Van Cortlandt

      It seems that the building in the photos was indeed the homesite of Frederick Van Cortlandt II and part of the colonial “Upper Cortlandts.” The mansion house in today’s Van Cortlandt Park was passed on to James Van Cortlandt’s brother, Augustus, who resided there until 1823–living into his mid-90’s. According to the above-mentioned 1790 census, Augustus held 17 enslaved people at the plantation.

      • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by ndembowski.
      • This reply was modified 4 years, 2 months ago by ndembowski.
    • #408
      Peter Ostrander

      There was an African slave burial plot for the Van Cortlandt family slaves  that was situated adjacent to and east of the Kingbridge Burial grounds in Van Cortlandt Park just west of the lake and old Putnam RR tracks.  There were no known headstones but the placement of field stones to mark the locations of burials. It is thought that this burial site was mostly or totally destroyed by the cutting through for the old Putnam RR line spur to Yonkers. There is no marker on the site today for either the Kingsbridge or African burial grounds. A number of years ago the NYC Parks dept had plans to install a dog run on the site of the African slave burial location  adjacent to the Kingsbridge Burial grounds.  After the KHS informed the Parks Dept and CB8 of the historical and sensative nature of the  site the plan for the dog run  was abandoned. As with many NYC  Parks Dept plans regarding historical sites there is little concern,  planning and research done when money is offered for projects usually by local politicians who should better.

    • #409

      I am sure that’s true.  The local Black people had to be buried somewhere close by.  I would like to find some kind of documentary evidence for it being at that location.  Are you aware of any?  I know the NYHS has some Van Cortlandt family documents and some day I will look through them for any kind of reference to the slave burial ground.  Also, the Westchester Co. Historical Society has a lengthy diary of one of the Van Cortlandts that has never been transcribed–I wonder if anything is in there.  I did just find this about the cemetery and another burial place at Sedgwick Avenue.  It is from the New York Genealogical and Biographical Record Volume 20.  I was kind of surprised when I saw the author–none other than Thomas Henry Edsall (the first local historian)!  No mention of the African burial ground, though.

    • #410
      Thomas Casey


      [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="811"] Jacbus Van Cortlandt Slave reward[/caption]

      Many Bodies were diinterred from the DYCKMAN-NAGEL CEMETERY located in Inwood. I am sure there were many African American burials nearby this site. Maps from the early 1900s indicate that the cemetery was bounded by Ninth and Tenth Avenues and 212th and 213th Streets in Inwood.

    • #413

      Thanks for sharing this, Tom.  These sorts of advertisements are the closest thing these people had to a biography.  They always seem to raise more questions.  Interesting that Andrew Saxton was Catholic.  I wonder how common that was.  It is also interesting that he had a skilled profession–that of cooper.  The Van Cortlandts also had an enslaved person working as their miller (described above).  It just goes to show how much of the family business relied on slavery.  Enslaved people probably harvested the wheat, milled it into flour, and made the barrels to have it shipped.

      It has been said that there was an African burial ground in Van Cortlandt Park.  The condition of the remaining gravestones in Van Cortlandt is of great concern to me but I will write about that here.  I want to keep the focus of this thread on the enslaved people in the area because there is still many more stories to tell.

    • #447

      On the Manhattan side of the Spuyten Duyvil Creek, in today’s Marble Hill, you could find Hyatt’s Tavern.  Cole Thompson wrote about the tavern on his excellent blog.  In Cole’s article, he writes that Washington was rumored to have visited the tavern in 1789.  He actually documented the visit in his diary, here.  I am intrigued by Washington’s statement in the diary entry about the “Six Servants which composed [his] Retinue.”  Is that the polite southern way of referring to slaves?  If yes, they would not have been the only slaves at the tavern that night.  According to the 1790 census, Caleb Hyatt, the innkeeper, had three slaves.  The 1790 census reveals a shockingly large number of slaves in the neighborhood at that time.

    • #448
      Peter Ostrander

      When one is researching the 1790 and for a few federal census records following the information was taken in the order locations of the homes.  So you can follow old maps and follow the trail of the census taken.  In subsequent years following the 1790 census if a new home was built unfortunately it was added to the end of the list breaking with the sequential order of the earlier census.  If you follow the link provided above to see the 1790 census records about Kingsbridge remember to search on yonkers at the search line at the left.

    • #450

      I see what you are saying.  If you follow the names of the census in order, you can tell the path of the census taker.  Here is snapshot taken from the census:

      It is clear from the order of the names that the census taker was travelling south on Broadway (then called the Albany Post Road).  The name at the top of the list is Samuel Lawrence, who lived near today’s Broadway and Lawrence Street.  Further down the list you see William Warner, who lived to the south–just East of Broadway in present-day Van Cortlandt Park near 261st Street.  Continuing down the list you see George Hadley, who lived in the “Hadley House,” which still stands at 5122 Post Road.  The Post Road continued south to the Van Cortlandt mansion and estate of Frederick Van Cortlandt.  The last name in the screenshot is Daniel Halsey.  He operated the reconstructed tavern that once sat at the intersection of 230th and Broadway (known as “Cock’s Tavern” during the revolution).  Perhaps from the screenshots, you can see just how prevalent slavery was in the area.  The last column totals the number of enslaved people.  Just in this small sampling there are 50 enslaved people listed.  Compare that to the number of free white adult males at 32.

    • #1036

      Interesting article dealing with slaves of Gilbert Tippett (“The Tippetts must not have loved life in Nova Scotia as they moved back to New York and settled in the Albany area. An 1800 census records “Gilbert Tippets” as a resident of Ballston, NY, where he lived with his wife, Susannah.”) since I now live in Ballston Spa, NY.

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