In this installment we meet some of Grandma’s more colorful English ancestors, some of whom who ended up in the Bronx, then considered part of Westchester. In the 1640s, Westchester was a border zone between two colonies with very different cultures and politics: New Netherlands and New England. The region even had two opposite names. The Dutch called it “Oostdorp” or “East Village,” because it was their easternmost settlement in the area. To the English trickling in from Connecticut and Long Island, it represented a western outpost, and they called it “Westchester.”
Its residents had a front row seat for an international power struggle as New Amsterdam fell to the British, went back to the Dutch, and finally became New York. And everybody clashed with the Indians – the Lenape and Siwanoy, primarily.
Some of our ancestors worked for the Dutch and some for the English. The Dutch and the English intermarried. One ancestor was a pirate. One set of forebears on this tree, further back in time and living in Massachusetts, were the ancestors of two U.S. presidents. And one Quaker goodwife living in Rhode Island was the most notorious, twice-divorced, scandal-ridden Jezebel in all of the colonies.
This all comes up because I stumbled on the record of a 1921 archeological dig at the former George Tippett farmstead in the Bronx. It’s in a neighborhood called Spuyten Duyvil, possibly named after a “spouting devil” grabbed a swimmer in the Harlem River in the New World’s first recorded shark attack. It could also mean “spite the devil.” No one is quite sure.
Here’s the site of that dig today. It’s now the intersection of W. 231st Street and Arlington Avenue, just a stone’s throw from the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Here lay the Tippett farm for a century and a half, until they lost it in the American Revolution for being Tories. (Thanks, Grandma’s ancestors!) The farmhouse stood in the intersection right where the lower righthand box is wedged against the border. The house, if it was still standing during the Revolution, was in the direct line of fire of Fort No. 2, a Hessian fortification built just 400 feet to the south. Many musket balls turned up at the dig.
This is a simplified tree for Charles Oakley, Grandma’s great-grandfather. All four Tippetts in this tree lived on that farm.
Charles Oakley was a wealthy lawyer living in lower Manhattan. His wife, Margaretta Roome, was of Dutch descent. I took her out of today’s tree for simplification, but her forebears were named Bogart, deGroot, Van Gelder, Delameter, Van Schaick, Benson, Van Deusen, Esselstyne, and – especially interesting – Wolphert Gerretsz Van Kouwenhoven, founder of the first European settlement on Long Island, now buried under Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. His surname morphed to Conover, among other variations. The deed of his purchase from the Lenape Indians is still in existence and sold at auction in 2007 for $156,000.
Herodias Long. Sometimes described as “Scarlett O’Hara meets The Scarlet Letter.” A courageous Quaker with a scandalous personal life. She’s also a Vail ancestor through the issue of her first husband, John Hicks. He’s the one who dragged her off to the colonies at age 13 after her father died in London of the plague. He then beat her and abandoned her to go live with the Dutch. Hicks claimed to have beaten her because she was carrying on with the above-named George Gardner; she said it was the other way around. Later, she took up with John Porter, another Hutchinson follower, who then abandoned our Vail ancestor Margaret Lang and their children. At the time Porter was Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island, so he got away with it. Luckily Margaret had previously married someone else – George Odding – and already managed to become our ancestor. For more salacious details you can read a historical novel called Rebel Puritan: A Scandalous Life, by Jo Ann Butler.
Thomas Baxter. The pirate, or “privateer” to be polite. Baxter was an English mercenary and opportunist living among the Dutch when Governor Stuyvesant called for the building of a stockade to keep out Indians and/or creeping English colonials. Baxter sold him the timber that became Wall Street. Shortly thereafter he led a group of Rhode Island marauders and began seizing Dutch ships. In retaliation, Stuyvesant arrested Baxter and seized his property, located in what is now Battery Park. Baxter escaped from prison and went on to offend the English by seizing their ships, too. He abandoned his wife, Bridget Clark, who divorced him in 1662. (She’s not in this tree, sorry, but if she were she’d be attached to the dark blue Baxter.) His ship was called “La Garce,” politely translated as “The Wench,” and he was also tangled up with the fascinating John Underhill, a Vail ancestor.
Henry Adams is the forebear of the presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, born six and seven generations down the line, respectively. He came to Braintree, MA, in 1632, possibly with the Rev. Thomas Hooker, in which case he was acquainted with the huge kludge of Dad’s relatives who went on to settle Hartford.
So next time you’re stuck in traffic on the Cross-Bronx Expressway, tip your hat to Grandma!