|Proceedings of the Commissioners of Forfeiture Summary|
Westchester County Archives
Series 35 Commissioners of Forfeiture Proceedings. 1784-1786
Abstract of Sales, Commissioners of Forfeiture, Westchester County
Written by Ross Liemer, July 2003
Description of pp. 137-141, Lands Awarded to John Paulding and David Williams, Two of the Three Captors of British Deputy Adjutant General Major Andre
Units of Measurement
This ledger from the 1780s contains records of the transactions of the Commission of Forfeitures, which sold lands that had been confiscated from loyalists after the American Revolution. The bulk of the volume consists of summaries of “Sales made by Isaac Stoutenburgh and Philip Van Cortlandt Esquires,” who were the Commissioners of Forfeitures for the Southern District of the State of New York. There are also two entries detailing land grants awarded by the Commissioners of Forfeitures of the Middle District to John Paulding and David Williams, in recognition of their capture of British Major Andre. All the abstracts note the purchaser, the price, the date of sale, and a description of the boundaries and acreage of the land. Richard Hatfield, a clerk for the Commission, inscribed each entry.
The best resource for further research on the Commissioners of Forfeitures for the Southern District is a book by Harry B. Yoshpe, The Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the State of New York, New York: Columbia University Press, 1939 (reprinted by AMS Press, 1967). Also of interest will be the several 1880 maps of Philipsburgh Manor by M. K. Couzens, which are revised versions of the 1785 map entitled, “A Plan of the Manor of Philipsburg in the County of Westchester and State of New York, Surveyed Agreeable to the Instruction of Isaac Stoutenburg and Philip Van Courtlandt unto John Hills.” These maps depict the farms on the Manor and name the individuals who bought each particular parcel.(1)
The property of loyalists was seized and sold to fill New York State coffers when funds began to run dry during the Revolutionary War.(2) A series of laws passed by the New York Provincial Congress and the Congress of the United States provided for this sequestration, and later confiscation, of forfeited loyalist property.
On March 6, 1777, the Provincial Congress appointed Commissioners of Sequestration to “take into their custody & possesion all the personal property” of loyalists and sell the seized items at public auction following ten days’ notice. Loyalist families were only allowed to keep their clothes, some essential furniture, and three months’ provisions.(3) The lands of the Tories were to be leased at moderate rent, with preference for supporters of the American cause who had been kicked out of their homes by the loyalists. Of the six counties in the Southern District, only Westchester was assigned Commissioners of Sequestration (The Counties of New York, Kings, Queens, Richmond, and Suffolk were loyalist strongholds under British control).(4)
“An Act for the forfeiture and sale of the estates of those who have adhered to the enemies of this state” was passed by the Provincial Congress on October 22, 1779. The law seized the land of fifty-nine loyalists, and, if they were found guilty of loyalism, banished them from the State of New York upon penalty of “death without benefit of Clergy.”(5) Among those attainted was Frederick Philipse, owner of the Manor of Philipsburg, the largest tract of land in Westchester County.(6) Also on October 22, 1779, writes historian Vivienne L. Ratner, “the Governor was authorized to appoint Commissioners of Forfeitures to dispose of the confiscated estates,” with tenant farmers, “who had leased…and improved the land,” given first priority to purchase their tracts.(7)
A law passed on March 10, 1780, called for the immediate sale of portions of the forfeited lands to pay for apparel and provisions needed by the troops.(8) On March 18, 1780, the United States Congress passed an Act which mandated the issuance of new currency, backed by the credit of the states to which the bills were allotted. Each state was to pay off one-sixth of the bills annually. On June 15, 1780, the New York legislature reserved the larger of the forfeited estates, including that of Frederick Philipse, as collateral for the redemption of the bills issued by New York in pursuance of the act of Congress of March 18, 1780. The Commissioners of Forfeitures, however, were not permitted to sell any of the mortgaged lands until further instructions from the Provincial Congress.(9)
Such orders came within a few months. On October 4, 1780, the Provincial Congress issued an act stating that the certificates issued to pay New York troops defending the United States in lieu of currency would be accepted for the purchase of confiscated estates at the same value as specie.(10) Many of the soldiers who received such certificates, however, had been dubious of the fledgling government’s ability to eventually redeem the bills, and so sold the certificates to speculators, who did not hesitate to take up the state on the offer to buy forfeited lands.
Sales of the estates set aside on June 15, 1780, and of other forfeited lands were authorized by the state legislature on October 7, 1780. The Governor was to appoint commissioners to sell forfeited lands for gold, silver, or Congressional bills of credit, in order to pay off one-sixth the bills issued in pursuance of the act of Congress of March 18, 1780. These early transactions were not conducted by the Commissioners of Forfeitures, but rather by “commissioners of specie” who bridged the gap between the Commissioners of Sequestration and the Commissioners of Forfeitures. The majority of the forfeited estates, however, were not disposed of until after the conclusion of the war.(11)
On March 31, 1781, the right of tenants to preemption of purchase of their farms was again affirmed and the procedure for such sales further described. An act of the Provincial Congress on April 14, 1782, mandated that none of the seized lands in the Southern District was to be sold “until the further order of the legislature.”(12) Following acts of the United States Congress and the Provincial Congress, an exception was made so that land could be granted to Isaac Van Wart, John Paulding, and David Williams, as a reward for their capture of British Deputy Adjutant General Major Andre. Abstracts of the conveyance of lands in Cortlandt Manor and Eastchester to Paulding and Williams, respectively, on June 16, 1783, are recorded on pages 137-141 of the Abstract of Sales.
Article V of the peace treaty signed by Britain and the United States in Paris on September 3, 1783, insists on “the restitution of all estates, rights, and properties, which have been confiscated belonging to real British subjects” and to noncombatant loyalists. Tories who fought the United States were to be given one year to reclaim their property and leave the country. Payments were to be made to loyalists whose estates had already been sold. Article VI prohibited any future confiscations. Many citizens of New York, however, still harbored strong resentment against the loyalists, leading the Provincial Congress to effectively nullify the Treaty of Paris of 1783 by an act of May 12, 1784.(13)
This act authorized “the speedy sale of the confiscated estates,” writes Yoshpe, “…[it] systematized the confiscatory machinery and gave it impetus.” The Governor was ordered to appoint two Commissioners of Forfeitures for the Southern District. Unlike the Commissioners of Sequestration, the Commissioners of Forfeitures did function throughout all six counties of the Southern District.(14) With the exception of the land grants to Major Andre’s captors, the abstracts in the Commissioners of Forfeitures Proceedings describe sales after the act of May 12, 1784.
Several thousand acres of the Philipse estate went to the tenant farmers who worked on the land. These farmers were not poor as one might expect. A combination of advantageous economic and geographic circumstances ensured that few Westchester County farmers had financial problems; many were well-to-do and some agricultural families were quite wealthy.(15) When tenant farmers could not afford or did not wish to purchase their lands, the tracts were sold to wealthy landowners, Revolutionary leaders, and businessmen from New York City.(16) Most of the buyers of confiscated estates were men. The only women to buy tracts of forfeited estates in the Southern District were either widows or administratrices of estates, or were pooling their resources with male family members to purchase a tract of land.
The Commissioners of Forfeitures ceased operation on September 1, 1788, by an act of March 21, 1788. They had sold nearly all the tracts of land entrusted to them, raising large amounts of revenue for the state of New York. Philipse Manor alone brought in ?234,170 18 s.. The few remaining tracts of forfeited estates were then to be administered and sold by the Surveyor General.(17)
Exactly how much of a democratizing effect the Commissioners of Sequestration and Forfeitures had upon landowning in Westchester County is debated by historians.(18) Yoshpe holds that the immediate democratizing effect was not great, as most forfeited estates were bought up by well-off tenant farmers, wealthy businessmen, and speculators. The long-term democratizing effect was significant, Yoshpe asserts, because many of the speculators eventually divided up their land into small lots to be sold to whoever would pay.(19)
The capture of British Deputy Adjutant General Major Andre by three Westchester citizens is one of the most notable events in the history of the county. Andre was a spy in league with Benedict Arnold in a scheme to sabotage American forces during the Revolutionary War. The conspiracy, capture, trial, and execution of Andre, and the subsequent lives of his captors are described at length in J. Thomas Scharf’s History of Westchester County, New York (I: 199-229). In addition, the Westchester County Historical Society maintains the Richard Maass Collection on Arnold/Andre, an extensive group of rare primary and secondary sources describing the duo and their treasonous activities.
On October 7, 1780, General George Washington wrote to the President of Congress “ to communicate the names of the three persons who captured Major Andre, and who refused to release him, notwithstanding the most earnest importunities and assurances of a liberal reward on his part.” Washington said that the service of John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, “merits our warmest esteem ; and I beg leave to add, that I think the public will do well to make them a handsome gratuity. They have prevented in all probability our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us.”(20)
The United States Congress passed a resolution on November 3, 1780, commending the three captors. In gratitude for having captured Andre, “whereby the dangerous and traitorous conspiracy of Benedict Arnold was brought to light, the insidious designs of the enemy baffled, and the United States rescued from impending danger,” they were awarded a silver medal and an annual two hundred dollar pension for the rest of their lives.(21) The New York legislature voted to give each of them farmland valued at £500.
Paulding and Williams both obtained in excess of £500 worth of land, as noted at the end of their respective abstracts; they paid the full price of the land minus the £500 gratuity. John Paulding was granted 168 acres and 16 rods of land in Cortlandt Manor on the 16th of June, 1783. The four separate tracts of land (100 acres, 10 acres, 21 acres and 16 rods, and 37 acres) given to Paulding were “forfeited to the people of this state by the Conviction of Peter Huggeford.” The land was appraised at £529 10 s., so Paulding paid £29 10s.. David Williams was granted 252½ acres of land in Eastchester, also on the 16th of June, 1783. His four parcels of land (173¼ acres, 23¾ acres and 25 rods, 20½ acres and 32 rods, and 34½ acres and 30 rods) were forfeited by Edmond Ward. Williams paid £1330 12 s. 6 d. for land valued at £1830 12 s. 6 d.. These transactions were carried out by Samuel Dodge and John Hathorn, two of the three Commissioners of Forfeitures for the Middle District (the third was Daniel Graham).
The abstracts pertaining to John Paulding and David Williams are particularly interesting in that they mention the capture of British Major Andre and the legislation relevant to the Commission of Forfeitures. Williams and Paulding are praised for “Apprehending and Securing the British Deputy Adjutant General Major Andre who was Returning to New York After having in the Character of a Spy Concerted Measures with the Infamous Benedict Arnold then Commanding at the Posts in the Highlands for betraying the said posts into the hands of the Enemy and for his Virtue in Refusing a large Sum of Money offered by the said Major Andre as a bribe to permit him to Escape.” The abstracts for Williams and Paulding also mention the acts of March 18, 1780; October 7, 1780; and April 14, 1782, which confer upon the Commissioners of Forfeitures their “Powers and Authorities.”
Griffin, Ernest Freeland, ed. Westchester County and Its People: A Record. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1946.
Ratner, Vivienne L. “The Hastings Men.” The Westchester Historian. 48 (Summer 1972).
Scharf, J. Thomas. The History of Westchester County, New York. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886. Reprint, Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1992.
Yoshpe, Harry B. The Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the State of New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1967.
Stored at the Westchester County Historical Society under the call number “Map WC 1785.”
“Map of [southern] part of the Manor of Philipsburgh…showing the grants from the state of New York in the city of Yonkers and the town of Green burgh, from the original map of the Manor in 1785, surveyed for Isaac Stouten burgh and Philip Van Cortlandt by John Hills. Revised by M. K. Couzens in 1880.” 4 copies (linen, blueprint and 2 positive photostats); also 1880 original (poor condition) in Oversize Map Drawer.
“Map of the upper part of the Manor of Philipsburgh, showing the farm occupants in 1785 and who became purchasers from them….Copied from Couzens 1880 map of the manors, 1904.” 2 blueprints, 39" x 29½", and 1 reduced photocopy.
(1)Ratner, Vivienne L. “The Hastings Men.” The Westchester Historian. 48 (Summer 1972). 57.
(2)“Records Relating to the Revolutionary War: Forfeited Estates.” Online. Available: http://www.archives.nysed.gov/a/researchroom/rr_mi_revwar_estates.shtml. Jun. 30, 2003.
(3)“New York Estates Confiscated.” Online. Available: http://www.genealogycanada.ca/newyork/estates.htm. Jun 30, 2003. Taken from: NewYork in the Revolution as Colonyand State, 3d ed., 2 vols. Albany: J. B. Lyon Co., 1904.
(4)Yoshpe, Harry B. The Disposition of Loyalist Estates in the Southern District of the State of New York. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939. Reprint, New York: AMS Press, 1967. 15-16.
(6)Griffin, Ernest Freeland, ed. Westchester County and Its People: A Record. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1946.
Historical Development of Westchester County: A Chronology. Vol. 1 of 2. White Plains, NY: Westchester County Emergency Work Bureau, 1939.
(15)Scharf, J. Thomas. The History of Westchester County, New York. 2 vols. Philadelphia: L.E. Preston & Co., 1886. Reprint, Camden, ME: Picton Press, 1992. I:177-179.
(17)Ibid., 27, 121.
(19)Yoshpe, 7, 113-119.
(20)Scharf, II: 207.
(21)Ibid., II: 219.
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