The Philipse Manor House, Yonkers, New York


At first glance one would not think that the name Yonkers was derived very directly from the name of the first settlers of the region, de Jonkheer Adriaen Van der Donck. When, in 1646, he secured a large tract of land bounded by the Hudson, the Bronx, and Spuyten Duyvil Creek, this was called ” Colen Donck ” (Donck’s Colony) or ” De Jonkheer’s” (the Young Lord’s). As the Dutch “j” is pronounced “y,” the transition from Jonkheers to Yonkers was easy.

On September 29, 1672, after the death of the original owner, 7,708 acres of the princely estate were sold to three men, of whom Frederick Philipse (originally Ffreric Vlypse) was one. A few years later Philipse bought out the heirs of the other two purchasers, and added to his holdings by further purchases from his countrymen and from the Indians. On June 12, 1693, he was permitted to call himself lord of the Manor of Philipsburgh. From that day the carpenter from Fries-land, who had grown so rich that he was called ” the Dutch millionaire,” lived in state in the house he had begun in 1682.

This lord of the manor became still more important in consequence of the acceptance of his offer to build a bridge over Spuyt-den-duyvil, or ” Spiting Devil ” Creek, when the city declined to do so for lack of funds. The deed given to him stated that he had ” power and authority to erect a bridge over the water or river commonly called Spiten devil ferry or Paparimeno, and to receive toll from all passengers and drovers of cattle that shall pass thereon, according to rates hereinafter mentioned.” This bridge, which was called Kings-bridge, was a great source of revenue until 1713, when it was removed to the present site. Then tolls were charged until 1759, or, nominally, until 1779.

Part of the Manor House was used as a trading post. Everything Philipse handled seemed to turn into gold. All his ventures prospered. It was whispered that some of these ventures were more than a little shady, that he had dealings with pirates and shared in their ill-gotten gains, and that he even went into partnership with Captain Kidd when that once honest man became the prince of the very pirates whom the Government had commissioned him to apprehend. And Philipse, as a member of the Governor’s Council, had recommended this Kidd as the best man for the job! It is not strange that the lord of the manor felt constrained to resign his seat in the council because of the popular belief in the statement made by the Governor, that ” Kidd’s missing treasures could be readily found if the coffers of Frederick Philipse were searched.”

Colonel Frederick Philipse, the great-grandson of Captain Kidd’s partner, enlarged the Manor House to its present proportions and appearance. He also was prominent in the affairs of the Colony. He was a member of the Provincial Assembly, and was chairman of a meeting called on August 20, 1774, to select delegates to the county convention which was to select a representative to the First Continental Congress. Thus, ostensibly, he was taking his place with those who were crying out for the redress of grievances suffered at the hands of Great Britain. Yet it was not long until it was evident that he was openly arrayed with those who declined to turn from their allegiance to the king.

The most famous event that took place in the Philipse Manor was the marriage, on January 28, 1758, of the celebrated beauty, Mary Philipse, to Colonel Roger Morris. A letter from Joseph Chew to George Washington, dated July 13, 1757, shows that—in the opinion of the writer, at least—the young Virginian soldier was especially interested in Mary Philipse. In this letter, which he wrote after his return from a visit to Mrs. Beverly Robinson in New York, the sister of Mary Philipse, he said :

” I often had the Pleasure of Breakfasting with the Charming Polly, Roger Morris was there (Don’t be startled) but not always, you know him he is a Lady’s man, always something to say, the Town talk’t of it as a sure & settled Affair. I can’t say I think so and that I much doubt it, but assure you had Little Acquaintance with Mr. Morris and only slightly hinted it to Miss Polly, but how can you be Excused to Continue so long in Phila. I think I should have made a kind of Flying March of it if it had been only to have seen whether the Works were sufficient to withstand a Vigorous Attack, you a soldier and a Lover, mind I have been arguing for my own Interest now for had you taken this method then I should have had the Pleasure of seeing you—my Paper is almost full and I am Convinced you will be heartily tyred in Reading it—however will just add that I intend to set out tomorrow for New York where I will not be wanting to let Miss Polly know the Sincere Regard a Friend of mine has for her—and I am sure if she had my Eyes to see thro would Prefer him to all others.”

While it is true that George Washington went to New York to see the charming Polly, there is no evidence that he was especially interested in her.

Colonel Morris later built for his bride the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is still standing near 160th Street. Mrs. Morris frequently visited at the home of her girlhood. The last visit was paid there during Christmas week of 1776. Her father, who had been taken to Middletown, Connecticut, because of his activities on the side of the king, was allowed to go to his home on parole.

In 1779 the Manor House and lands were declared forfeited because the owner refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Colonies, and Frederick Philipse, III, went to England.

The property was sold in 1785. Until 1868 it was in the hands of various purchasers. To-day the Manor House is preserved as a relic of the days when Washing-ton visited the house, when loyalists were driven from the doors, and when it was the centre of some of the important movements against the British troops.