Pierre Van Cortlandt
|Pierre Van Cortlandt|
|Lieutenant Governor of New York|
|Succeeded by||Stephen Van Rensselaer|
|Born||January 10, 1721
New York City
|Died||May 1, 1814
|Residence||Van Cortlandt Manor|
He was born in New York City, the son of Philip Van Cortlandt (1683–1746) (a son of New York Mayor Stephanus Van Cortlandt and Gertruj Schuyler), and Catherine De Peyster (a granddaughter of Johannes De Peyster— an ancestor of Abraham De Peyster and Arent Schuyler DePeyster). His great uncle Jacobus Van Cortlandt was mayor of New York City.
Van Cortlandt Manor
By Royal Charter, Van Cortlandt Manor was a originally a 86,000-acre (35,000 ha) tract granted as a Patent to Stephanus Van Cortlandt, grandfather of Pierre Van Cortlandt, in 1697 by King William III, stretching from the Hudson River on the west to the first boundary line between the Province of New York and the Colony of Connecticut, on the east, twenty English miles in length by ten in width, in shape nearly a rectangular parallelogram, forming, “The Manor of Cortlandt.” The massive holding was acquired by direct purchase from the Indians, in part, by Stephanus van Cortlandt, a native born Dutch gentleman of New York, and in part by others whose titles he subsequently bought, this tract, together with a small tract on the west side of the Hudson River opposite the promontory of Anthony’s Nose, which he also purchased from the Indians. The Van Cortlandt Manor House was built sometime before 1732 but was not any owner's principal residence until Pierre moved there in 1749.
In 1748 Pierre inherited from his father the Van Cortlandt Manor House and significant surrounding lands. He diversified and organized the Croton lands to develop income-producing tenant farms. Pierre maintained the Van Cortlandt Manor House and lands as a farmer/planter. Subsequently he inherited from Gertruyd Beekman, his aunt, the large tract of land known as Front Lot No. 10 at Anthony's Nose, which she had inherited from Stephanus Van Cortlandt, and two tracts of land in Peekskill being about 340 acres.
In 1749, Pierre turned the family's simple hunting lodge into an elegant residence known as Van Cortlandt Manor House, adding the upper stories and porches. The house remained in the Van Cortlandt family until 1945 and was purchased in 1953 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to assure its preservation. The restored manor house was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961. During the American Revolutionary War Pierre entertained Washington, Franklin, Lafayette, Rochambeau, von Steuben and other generals at the Manor House; when the place was threatened by the British Army in New York, he removed his wife and children to one of the Livingston farms at Rhinebeck, and for a time the Upper Manor House at Peekskill.
During most of the period from about 1777 the family of Pierre Van Cortlandt were absent from their home at Croton. Pierre first moved his family out of the Croton Manor House in 1776, to the Upper Manor House in Peekskill. But, by 1777 the Upper Manor House, too, had become an unsafe home for the family of one the state’s greatest patriot officials. Prowling bands of Tories had gathered and were “very busy riding about and combining to provide arms, and the Tories from the eastward were coming continually down, to the number of two or three hundred, who all assembled at N. Merritt’s and A. Crouk’s with fife and drum.” They were dispersed by the minute-men and “parts of Colonel Thomas’ regiment, and the troops of horse of Captain N. Trendwell, were ordered to scour Rye Neck. I hear the intent of the Tories was, at Peekskill, to have taken the committee [Committee of Safety] and sent them on board of the ‘Asia’. I go to-morrow to New York to the Congress — Thursday night were here to supper and breakfast of Colonel Hammond’s Regiment, about three hundred men. They said they drank two Hogsheads of cider.”
A ferry was the only means of traversing the Croton until Van Cortlandt built a bridge. In 1781, Washington paused and wrote: "The new bridge on the Croton, about nine miles from Peekskill," mentioned by Washington in his diary of July 2, 1781, superseded the ferry, and the brick-and-timber Manor Ferry-house was the temporary barracks for soldiers on their passage up and down the river.
In 1756 Van Cortlandt built a home near Peekskill, Westchester County, New York called the Upper Manor House, and occupied it at various times until he died. During the Revolution, Pierre and his family was obliged to leave the Manor House at Croton, and spent most of the time at their Rhinebeck home and at the Upper Manor Home at Peekskill. Pierre moved upstate and Gerald Beekman and his wife Cornelia Van Cortlandt (Pierre’s daughter) occupied the house. This house was always open to his friends, as both he and his wife were famed for their hospitality.
The Upper Manor House is a gambrel roofed, brick house, built by Pierre Van Cortlandt. General George Washington with his aides slept in this house many nights while making Peekskill their headquarters in 1776, 1777 and 1778. While residing there, Cornelia (Van Cortlandt) Beekman refused to give a representative of the British spy John André an American officer’s uniform she had in safe-keeping. The Upper Manor House is now part of the adjoining Cortlandt Healthcare nursing care center and may be seen by appointment. The Upper Manor House is located near Hillside Cemetery, Cortlandt Manor, Westchester County, New York where Pierre and his wife, Joanna Livingston Van Cortlandt, are buried.
Cornelia Van Cortlandt, Pierre’s oldest daughter and wife of Gerard G. Beekman, had left New York for the Manor House at Croton, but this was too near the neutral ground to be a safe refuge for her father, and it behooved that ardent patriot to keep out of reach of his enemies, many of whom were his own tenantry, now ranged against their country. Pierre and his family left the Upper Manor House at Peekskill in 1777 for a farm in Rhinebeck he leased from kinsman Henry Brockholst Livingston, son of William Livingston. A curious old journal tells of their exodus, and the catalogue of the flocks and herds, man-servants and maid-servants that were sent to Rhinebeck, reads like a biblical story of the journeyings of the Patriarchs.
Upon his marriage to Gertrude Van Cortlandt, an aunt of Pierre's, in 1726, Col. Henry Beekman, Jr. became the owner, through an exchange of property, of the Kip House (Heermance), near the river in Rhinebeck, and moved into it. He greatly enlarged it, and became his mansion when he became a resident there. It is this house that Pierre Van Cortlandt leased between 1777-1780 after his family had evacuated from Croton and then Peekskill. Following the death of Col. Henry Beekman on January 3, 1776, his daughter Margaret, by his first wife Janet Livingston, inherited this property, and it became known as the Livingston Mansion.
A family dispute arose in 1780 causing Pierre and his family to relocate at a farm in the Nine Partners Patent. Pierre's son Philip, in his Memoir, relates that in “the Spring of 1780 . . . having passed thro the Manor of Cortlandt Saw My friends at Peeks Kill and then to Nine Partners where my Father and his family were obliged to remove from Rhinebeck as Colo. Livingston would not suffer him to remain any longer”.
Not only did George Washington sleep at the Van Cortlandt Upper Manor House, he stayed for extended periods commanding the battles of Long Island, New Amsterdam, and Westchester County. He also stayed there during his numerous visits to West Point.
Washington, when in Peekskill, had his official headquarters in the village, but would spend evenings in the house which he used as a sort of “safe social” headquarters, doing his dining and entertaining in the house. While staying at the house he slept in the northwest bedroom on the second floor. The list of the famous who either stayed or were entertained in the house is long. Benjamin Franklin stopped here on his way back from the mission to win Canada to the side of the colonies in 1776; the Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury stopped here; Lafayette, von Steuben; General Alexander MacDougall; General Israel Putnam; General Philip Schuyler; Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr all visited the house. It was here that Washington entertained the Count de Rochambeau and his French officers. The house was also used as headquarters by General William Heath.
In spring, 1783 Lt. Gov. Van Cortlandt returned with his family to the Upper Manor House at Peekskill to reside while the Manor House at Croton was restored to habitability. By 1803 Lt. Gov. Van Cortlandt and his wife returned to Croton. Pierre and Joanna resided there for the balance of their lives, 1814 and 1808, respectively.
In 1760 Van Cortlandt built another home, Oldstone (28 Bear Mountain Bridge Road, Cortlandt Manor, NY 10567), a magnificent estate on a bluff upon Anthony's Nose overlooking the far-reaching river and Peekskill Bay. The 29-acre property overlooks a bend in the Hudson and an eagle sanctuary. Because of its strategic location on the eastern banks of the old Hudson River, Oldstone was commissioned by the United States Military and used as a military outpost during The Revolutionary War.
During the 1700s, the Boutonville area of Pound Ridge found itself at the center of a 50-year land dispute concerning overlapping grants to the Stephanus Van Cortlandt Manor grant and to the Stamford patentees. After a lengthy legal battle, clear title to the 3,000 acres was finally given to Van Cortlandt heirs in 1788. Most of this land is now part of the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation. Sometime after that, Pierre Van Cortlandt built a home there as well. In 1815, Samuel Piatt (Peatt) (1773-1850) purchased seven acres and an existing house from Pierre's son, Gen. Philip Van Cortlandt. This home, since demolished, was on what now is Honey Hollow Road. The farmland in the Pound Ridge and Lewisboro sections (Ward Pound Ridge Reservation) were part of the Van Cortlandt Manor lands that were divided into “great lots” of about 3,000 acres each. These lots were further divided into 300-acre farms.
Van Cortlandt was first elected to the New York Assembly in March 1768 and served in that body as the representative from Van Cortlandt Manor until 1775. He emerged as a member of the more radical wing of that body, among whom were such Revolutionary stalwarts as George Clinton, Philip Schuyler, and Philip Livingston. The Van Cortlandt, Schuyler and Livingston families were related through the extensive intermarrying the three families had partaken. Not an orator, Pierre’s strength lay in his administrative abilities and sense of detail. This was soon put to the test.
Pierre was not chosen as a representative to the extremely short-lived Provincial Convention in April, 1775 but he subsequently sat in all of the legislative bodies from May 22, 1775, until April 9, 1795. He was a member of the Second New York Provincial Congress, 1775-1776. By July 25, 1775 he had been selected to serve on the Committee of Safety, which wielded a great amount of authority during those revolutionary times. Initially, Van Cortlandt served as the Committee's Vice-Chairman with John Jay, his second cousin, as Chairman. Van Cortlandt was chosen as its Chairman on January 3, 1776.
Van Cortlandt sat for Westchester County at all four of the Provincial Congresses and was chosen to preside over the last three; was Vice President of the 4th New York Provincial Congress which convened as the New York State Constitutional Convention from 1776 to 1777.
With the British advancing on New York, on the 30th of June, 1776, the Provincial Congress adjourned from the city of New York to the courthouse in White Plains, where they were to meet again on July 9, and there continued in session until July 29. It was resolved, "that the treasurer and secretary of this Congress be and they hereby are directed forthwith to repair, with all and singular the public papers and money now in their custody or possession, unto the White Plains, in the county of Westchester. It was further ordered that all the lead, powder and other military stores belonging to the State be forthwith removed to White Plains as well."
The journey between New York and the Plains was performed by the members on horseback, Pierre van Cortlandt, the president, riding at their head. The stout-hearted commoner was acting-marshal of the "Equestrian Provincial Congress". This body, during the Revolution, was frequently obliged to change quarters, and made the necessary journey upon horseback. Several times while marching they received dispatches from General Washington requiring official action. The bugler would sound halt; they would wheel their horses into a hollow square; there put through legislation in approved parliamentary style, and announce adjournment by the bugle call, when they would break into fours and proceed on their way. It was at White Plains on the 9th of July, the Provincial Congress received the Declaration of Independence.
After the Convention agreed on April 20, 1777 to the form the new state government would take, they determined that the governmental organization should become effective in July. For the interim, the Convention created a Council of Safety, over which Van Cortlandt presided as President.
Van Cortlandt served in the colonial forces during the American Revolution in spite of efforts by British officials to ensure his loyalty to Great Britain. On October 19, 1775 he was appointed Colonel of the Third Regiment of Westchester County Militia. He remained Colonel of the Regiment until June 28, 1778, when he was replaced by John Hyatt.
Since the southern portion of the state was under British military control, the Council assumed the responsibility of choosing senators from the enemy-held territory. On May 8, 1777, Pierre was appointed a Senator from the Southern District. Later that year he was chosen as Lieutenant Governor of the State, and re-elected several times, serving 1777-1795. On July 9, 1776, he was among thirty-eight delegates to ratify the Declaration of Independence at White Plains.
He lost the election as Lieutenant Governor of New York to George Clinton who was elected both Governor and Lt. Gov. in June 1777, but formally resigned the office of Lt. Gov. when he took office as Governor. Van Cortlandt was elected to the New York State Senate in 1777 and was elected Temporary President of the State Senate, and thus was Acting Lt. Governor. In 1778, Van Cortlandt was elected Lt. Gov. to fill the vacancy, and took office on June 30, 1778. He was re-elected five times, remaining in office until 1795.
The dramatic conclusion to the War for Independence came to New York in November, 1783, when General George Washington was officially informed by Sir Guy Carleton that the British troops were preparing to evacuate New York City. On November 25, 1783 this earnest patriot accompanied General Washington on his triumphant ride into New York City. He records it thus in his diary —
“I went from Peekskill Tuesday, the 18th of November in company with His Excellency, Governor Clinton, Col. Benson and Col. Campbell — lodged that night with General Cortlandt (his son, General Philip Van Cortlandt), Croton River proceeded and lodged Wednesday night at Edw. Couwenhoven’s, where we met His Excellency General Washington and his aides. The next night lodged with Mr. Frederick V. Cortlandt (Pierre's first cousin) at the Yonkers, having dined with Gen. Lewis Morris. Friday morning in company with the Commander in Chief, as far as the Widow Day's at Harlem, where we held a Council. Saturday I rode down to Mr. Stuyvesants, stayed there until Tuesday (Evacuation Day), then rode triumphant into the City with the Commander in Chief.”
The day's dramatic events culminated with a grand feast at Fraunces Tavern, at which the assembled throng of patriots and military leaders drank toast after toast to the memory of those who perished and to the brighter future awaiting the state and nation. The tavern was formerly the home of Pierre's aunt, Ann Van Cortlandt (1676-1742) and her husband Stephen De Lancey (1663-1741).
Only once during his eighteen year career as Lieutenant Governor did Van Cortlandt make public his ambition to assume the gubernatorial seat. In January, 1789, he announced in a public advertisement that he had been requested "by a number of my friends ... to offer myself a Candidate for Governor of the State of New York at the ensuing Election." Pierre thus added his name to the list of those who sought to unseat George Clinton, who led the New York forces opposed to ratification of the Federal Constitution of 1787. For his role in opposing the Constitution, Clinton incurred the wrath of Alexander Hamilton who determined to unseat the long reigning Governor. Pierre apparently counted on some support from the state Federalist forces led by Hamilton, but Hamilton supported Robert Yates, and urged Pierre to withdraw, which he did.
In addition to presiding over the Senate, Pierre performed other important governmental functions. From February to July, 1789, with George Clinton, Egbert Benson, John Hathorn, Peter Gansevoort, Jr., Ezra L'Hommedieu, and Samuel Jones, Van Cortlandt met with a number of Chiefs of the Cayuga Nation in an effort to legalize New York's claims to lands formerly held by the Iroquois Confederation.
Van Cortlandt announced his retirement in a release published in the Albany Gazette, January 30, 1795:
- "Fellow Citizens:
- My advanced age renders it necessary for the repose of my future years, that I should retire from public life, you will be pleased not to consider me a candidate at the approaching general election. For the various proofs of confidence and regard with which you have honored me for a long series of years, I return you my cordial thanks-and I trust that if I have ever omitted to manifest a proper sense of your favors, it has never proceeded from design. That every private blessing may attend you all and that our country may long be flourishing and happy, is the sincere prayer of your affectionate, humble servant."
Pierre returned to the home he had inherited from his aunt, Margaret (Van Cortlandt) Beekman, the "Upper Manor House" in Peekskill. He remained there until he and Joanna removed for the last time, in 1803, to their original home, the Manor House, on the Croton. There they remained until their deaths.
Aside from his family, his lands, and a continued interest in political affairs, Pierre turned to church related activities. Relatives were informed that up to his last, on May 1, 1814, Pierre was "resigned and happy". His religion served him well, for in his last illness he "manifested his love of God, in so striking a manner that we have the consolation to know that our Loss is his gain."
The following obituary notice appeared in the Albany Gazette of May 17, 1814:
- "Pierre Van Cortlandt, early took an active part against every oppression of the English government upon the colonies. He was chosen into the first Provincial Congress, was a member of the committee which formed the constitution of this State, and was honored by the suffrages of his country at the first election under the new government the station of lieutenant governor, and continued to be elected to that office for eighteen years successively. He was the friend and confident of that great patriot, George Clinton. In the revolution he shared the fate of the friends of their country; his family were obliged to abandon their homes in the Manor of Cortlandt, and take refuge in the interior. Firm and undismayed in adversity; the ill success of our arms was a stimulus to greater exertions. He was one of those who, relying on the justice of their cause, put their trust in God and stood firm at the post of danger. In prosperity he was not too much elated, but held a temperate and uniform course, having in view only the independence of the United States and the safety of his country.
- "In the Senate of this State he presided with dignity and propriety, nor ever suffered his opinion to be known until called upon constitutionally to decide; and his vote was then given with promptness, uninfluenced by party feelings, and evidencing the convictions of a sound and honest mind. In the year 1795 he declined a re-election as lieutenant governor, and retired into private life."
An obituary published in the New York Commercial Advertiser, prepared by his sons, paid homage to the father with the apt summation that Pierre Van Cortlandt was, "a patriot of the first order zealous for the Liberties of his Country. He was a friend to the Poor, he was a kind and good neighbour, an affectionate fond and indulgent Parent, an honest man and a good Christian."
Pierre Van Cortlandt was buried at Hillside Cemetery in Peekskill, New York. The inscription on his grave marker reads:
- "Pierre Van Cortlandt, Late Lieut. Governor of the State of New York. President of the convention that formed the Constitution thereof, during the Revolutionary War with Great Britain. He was a Patriot of the first order, Zealous to the last for the liberties of his Country. A man of exemplary Virtues, kind as a neighbor, fond and indulgent as a parent, an honest man, ever the friend of the poor. Respected and Beloved. The simplicity of his private life was that of an ancient Patriot. He died a bright witness of that perfect Love which casts out the fear of death, putting his trust in the living God, and with full assurance of salvation in the redeeming Love of Jesus Christ. Retaining his recollection to the last, and calling upon his Savior to take him to Himself, died May 1, 1814 in his 94th year."
- Philip, born 21 Apr 1749; died 21 Nov 1831, unmarried and without issue.
- Catherine, born 4 Jul 1751; died 29 Sep 1829. Married Abraham Van Wyck, 21 Sep 1748. He died January, 1786
- Cornelia, born 2 Aug 1753; died 14 Mar 1847; married, 1769, Gerard G. Beekman, Jr. who died 1822
- Gertrude, born 26 Jun 1755; died 9 Dec 1766.
- Gilbert, born 6 Apr 1757; died without issue, 12 Nov 1786; was a Captain in the Manor of Cortlandt Regiment in 1776.
- Stephen, born 13 Feb 1760; died 29 Aug 1775; was a soldier in the Revolution.
- Pierre, Jr., born 29 Aug 1762; died 13 Jul 1848; married (1) Catherine Clinton Taylor (died 10 Jan 1811), daughter of the New York Governor and eventual Vice President George Clinton; (2) Anne Stevenson (died 20 Feb 1821).
- Anne Depeyster; born 1 Jun 1766; died 10 Jan 1855; married Philip S. Van Rensselaer (died 25 Sep 1824), mayor of Albany, NY.
The first wife of his second son (also named Pierre Van Cortlandt) was Catherine daughter of New York Governor and Continental General George Clinton. A brother George Washington Clinton was also a son-in-law to New York Congressman William Floyd. Another sister of Catherine Clinton named Maria was married to Dr. Stephen D. Beekman-a grandson of Pierre Van Cortlandt and Joanna Livingston. A cousin of Catherine was Congressman George Clinton, Jr..
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- Van Cortlandt Manor
- Van Cortlandt Oldstone Manor
- Van Cortlandt "Upper Manor House"
- Van Cortlandt Find-a-grave memorial
|Lieutenant Governor of New York
Stephen Van Rensselaer