Making Visible the Erased History of Our Farm and Community
The history of the Phillies Bridge Farm Project is rooted in the history of the LeFevre family and the Huguenot settler colonialists of New Paltz. It is also rooted in the history of the forced removal and forced migration of the Lenape Nation from their ancestral homelands and of the slave labor and indentured servitude of African Americans.
In 1742, Jan LeFevre purchased 1,000 acres of land south of New Paltz known as the Kettleborough, where the 65 acre Phillies Bridge Farm Project is now located. The farm that he built there remained in the LeFevre family for over seven generations, as documented in Stessin-Cohn’s deeply researched History of Phillies Bridge Farm. Jan’s father, Simon LeFevre, was one of the 12 original Huguenot colonial settler patentees who founded the village settlement of New Paltz. They purchased the 37,000 acre tract of land stretching from the Shawangunk Mountains to the Hudson River from the Esopus Munsee tribe of the Lenape nation in 1677.
Tracing the history of Jan LeFevre’s land, we find that it was part of a 2,000 acre tract that was patented to Thomas Garland by King George II in 1721 (Carfizzi, 2005). And Garland’s land, in turn, was part of a tract that Governor Benjamin Fletcher granted in 1694 to his friend Captain John Evans, Commander of the Royal Man O’ War Frigate, The Richmond (Zimm, et al., 1946, pp. 47, 623). Evan’s land was part of a vast territory (included in what are now Ulster, Orange and Rockland counties) that Governor Thomas Dongan bought from the Lenape in 1684 for 70 pounds. The magnitude of the Governor and the Captain’s land deal caught the attention of English authorities, and Fletcher and Evans were later recalled from New York to England, and charged with making excessive land grants and conspiring with pirates. Evans’ land was later divided into smaller sections (Headlam, 1910; Garrett, n.d.).
This map shows the Evans tract in Gardiner patented in 1694, containing the 2,000 acre Garland patent where Jan LeFevre bought his land (Carfizzi, 2005).
This is an 1875 F.W. Beers Map of Gardiner with a yellow highlight of where the Phillies Bridge Farm is currently located, then owned by Andries A. DuBois. The surrounding farms were owned by other LeFevre family members (spelled in the map as Lefever).(Stessin-Cohn, n.d.).
Writing about our local colonial history in 1909, a descendant of the Kettleborough LeFevres made the claim: “The Indians make but a small figure in the early history of New Paltz. There is no account of their having ever troubled the inhabitants a particle. This is because the Paltz people had honestly paid for the land and treated the Indians kindly” (p.78).
This passage reflects the all-too-common erasure of Indigenous voices and perspectives from the histories recorded by white settlers and their descendants. In the spirit of recovering historical memory and of seeking some measure of repair to the harm of this erasure, we intend to contribute to the process of making visible, honoring and memorializing the place of the Lenape, as well as the enslaved people who worked the land now occupied by the Phillies Bridge Farm Project and across the broader Hudson Valley region.
It is important to understand that the so-called purchase of the New Paltz land, and the Dongan/Evans territory soon after, cannot be considered “honestly paid for.” By the time the Lenape came to the negotiating table with the Huguenots and later with Governor Dongan, a half century of genocidal violence, destruction and disease had rendered them virtually powerless. To understand why the Lenape may have penned their name to a piece of paper agreeing to these land deals, it is crucial to recognize the too-often erased bloody history of Dutch and English settler colonialism in our region (Joe Baker and Hadrien Coumans, Interview with Goodman, March 9, 2022; Roth, 1999).
Furthermore, when we think about the “purchase” of land, we must understand that there was no concept of ownership of land among the Lenape people. The sale and purchase of land reflected Eurocentric ideas about private ownership. In contrast, the Lenape viewed land as an animate part of the life system — that we come from the water and the earth. We cannot sell our mother, or grandmother, or our creator. Likewise, we cannot sell land, any more than we could sell the air (Joe Baker and Hadrien Coumans, Interview with Goodman, March 9, 2022; Roth, 1999).
By 1677 and 1684, the Lenape had suffered a steady decline in their population and collapse of their economy, society, and environment resulting in starvation, disease, displacement and forced removal from their homelands. The Dutch colonial policy of genocide and ecocide destroyed Lenape farmland and crops by clear cutting their forests for sale of timber in Europe, and intentionally using farm animals to destroy the corn and beans and other foods Lanape people depended on to survive. Removal of Indigenous peoples from the land became the primary objective for the Dutch, once land became the prime trade commodity rather than fur or corn. The Dutch massacred and enslaved local Indigenous people and destroyed whole villages through the Esopus Wars in the 1650’s and 1660’s and the Kieft War in the 1640’s. Indigenous populations were further decimated by epidemics of smallpox, measles, mumps and other diseases introduced by the European settler colonialists. (Joe Baker and Hadrien Coumans, Interview with Goodman, March 9, 2022; Lenik, 1999; Roth, 1999)
By the late 18th century, caught between the waring colonial powers of Dutch in the south, the French and British in the north, native nations pitted against each other, and the expanding population of second and third generation Huguenots and some Dutch settlers in New Paltz, most of the Esopus were forced to flee their ancestral homeland in the Hudson Valley. Many were eventually relocated to the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin. (Gibbons, 2021; Roth, 1999).
Beginning to farm the land in 1742, Jan LeFevre’s sons Abraham and Andries were able to make farming profitable by fertilizing the poor soil with lime from Rosendale to neutralize the acid, planting clover to increase nitrogen levels, and employing crop rotation to increase their yields. These innovative techniques were revolutionary at the time. Andries’ son Johannes inherited the land, and passed it on to his son Nathaniel, who lived in his grandfather’s 1745 house. He then built a new home for his family of nine boys and three girls on the stone foundation of the original house some time around 1850. This farmhouse still stands today providing housing, offices, and meeting space for Phillies Bridge Farm staff and Board (LeFevre, 1909; Stessin-Cohn, n.d.; Thompson, 2001).
The LeFevres and their extended families (there were 11 LeFevre families in the community by 1820) did not work the farm alone. They used the forced labor of three or four enslaved Africans in each family who they bought and inherited (some were held as indentured servants after manumission) to help them keep their homes and work the fields that are now occupied by Phillies Bridge Farm, as well as neighboring farms (LeFevre, 1909; New Paltz Independent, 1949).
The Dutch West Indies Company of furriers and traders brought the first enslaved Africans to the New York territories in 1626. According to the 1790 Census there were over 20,000 enslaved people in New York State at that time; 2,906 of them were in Ulster County making up 10% of the population. By the end of the 18th century, New York had the largest enslaved population in the North. Ulster had the second highest enslaved population in the state. They not only were domestic and farm laborers but also worked in crafts such as carpentry, masonry, and blacksmithing (Gibbons, 2021).
Like the history of the Lenape Nation in our region, the history of these enslaved and indentured people has too often been erased and forgotten. A number of books, news articles, photographs, genealogies, and local archives paint a rich picture of the public and private lives of generations of extended LeFevre family members and their intermarriages with the DuBois, Elting and other founding patentee families in the New Paltz area. But the names, stories and lives of the enslaved and indentured people who worked and lived on what is now Phillies Bridge land have been largely unrecorded.
The enslaved people owned by the LeFevres were counted as taxable property. To gain a fuller picture of their humanity, we have searched the digital archives extensively researched by Stessin-Cohn in “The Missing Chapter: Untold Stories of the African American Presence in the Mid-Hudson Valley”, as well as other historical manuscripts, news articles, obituaries, tax assessments, maps, and slave census records, property deeds, probate wills, and rewards posted for enslaved fugitives. According to the 1755 Census of Slaves (p. 849), Abraham LeFevre owned one male. The 1798 Slave Census lists various LeFevre family members owning a combined 61 enslaved people.
Andries Junior owned:
4 male slaves, 2 of whom were over 18 and under 30, subject to taxation
2 female slaves, 1 of whom were over 18 and under 30, subject to taxation
2 male slaves, 1 of whom was over 18 and under 30, subject to taxation
1 female slave (Southeastern New York Library Resources Council)
An obituary, photo, and caption (also from the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council’s New York Heritage’s Digital Collection) open a window into the life of “Aunt” Judy (Julia) LeFevre Jackson. She was born between 1809 and 1812 after the Gradual Manumission Act, and separated from her mother when she was two or three. She was sold to Philip LeFevre and then given as a wedding gift to his son Andries P. LeFevre, by the time she was eleven. She remained enslaved in their household until 1827. The exact date of her freedom is unknown. Her obituary lists her age in 1898 as 98. Neither Judy nor her husband Thomas could read or write.
One of the only other sources we found that give detailed descriptions of the enslaved people owned by the LeFevres is in the announcements of rewards for their capture. In 1783, Andries LeFevre, Nathaniel LeFevre and David Hasbrouck offered 5 dollars reward for each of 3 fugitive slaves. William was described as a “slim fellow, 27 years of age, about 5 feet 9 inches high, has a remarkable scar across his nose, speaks very good English and Low Dutch”. Harry was “about 5 feet 7 inches high, about 30 years of age, had on a linsey woolsey coat coloured grey, a white jacket of ditto, striped over-hawls and new shoes”; and John “about 39 years of age, 5 foot 8 inches high, well fet, has a remarkable scar on his upper lip” (Southeastern New York Library Resources Council).
If caught, enslaved fugitives could be subject to flogging, amputation of limbs or even death. Many found shelter and safety with Native Americans and were welcomed into their tribes. We found no record of whether these three men were captured or ever made their way to freedom (Gibbons, 2021). Let us remember their names.
The Gradual Emancipation Act of 1799 was viewed as a scheme for former masters to not only receive the free labor of their (former slave) servants, but also receive monthly payments from the State of New York in support of these “abandoned” children. The Act freed all children born to enslaved African women living in New York State after July 4, 1799. But those children would have to serve their mother’s owner as an indentured servant until the age of 28 if a male, and 25 if a female. When the slaveholders notified the Town Clerk that they were “abandoning” the child, and had them listed in the New Paltz Slave Registry, they could then receive the children back into their homes as servants. The Town Clerk of New Paltz recorded the births and names of babies born into slavery in the Register of Slaves, and the enslaved who were freed or “abandoned” by their owners in the Record of Disbandments. In 1817 a new law passed that would free slaves born before 1799, but not until 1827 (Southeastern New York Library Resources Council; Stessin-Cohn).
Johannes LeFevre, who inherited the farm from his father Andries, reported in the Register in 1800 that “on the Seventeenth Day of May Last a Mail [sic] black Child Born and Called his Name (Sezor)”. Sezor appears to have stayed on as a servant at Johannes’ residence at the farm. The Register included the births of many more babies born to women owned by members of the extended LeFevre family who were living in neighboring farms, including those from John A., Nathaniel, Johannes, Jacob, Matthew, Philip and Peter. Johannes LeFevre reported the “abandonment” of Feeb in August 19th 1803, who was born earlier that year on January 9th. The Record of Disbandments included the names of other enslaved people “abandoned” by Peter, John, and other members of the extended LeFevre family who were living in neighboring farms (Southeastern New York Library Resources Council; Stessin-Cohn).
Together, these fragments shed a small amount of light on the Indigenous and enslaved people who lived on the land where the Phillies Bridge Farm Project now stands. We invite questions, comments, dialogue, and more research to document the histories of the Lenape people and the enslaved and indentured people who lived and worked on the farms and surrounding communities of our region.
Partial List of Sources
Baker, Joe, Lenape Center Executive Director and Co-Founder and Hadrien Coumans Lenape Center Co-Director and Co-Founder. (March 9, 2022). Interview by Steve Goodman on Zoom. Lenape Center. https://thelenapecenter.com
Carfizzi, Joseph. A. (2005). History of the Lower Hudson Valley, New York Before the Revolution. Joseph A. Carfizzi. Walkill, NY.
Census of Slaves, 1755. 1850. New Paltz. p. 849.
Garrett, Pamela Hutchison. (n.d.). Bio: Captain John Evans. Markham of Chesterfield. http://markhamchesterfield.com/biographies/evanjohn3711_bio.pdf
Gibbons, Ann. (2021, July 22). “Hudson Valley Roots: Slavery Played a Big Role in Hudson Valley History.” Daily Freemen https://www.dailyfreeman.com/2011/02/27/hudson-valley-roots-slavery-played-a-big-role-in-hudson-valley-history/
Headlam, Cecil. (Ed). (1910). America and West Indies: August 1700, 16-20′, in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 18, 1700. London, British History Online. pp. 487-489. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/colonial/america-west-indies/vol18/pp487-489.
LeFevre, Ralph. (1909). New Paltz, New York and Its Old Families from 1678 to 1820. Port Orange Press, Albany, NY.
Lenik, Edward J., 1999. Indians in the Ramapos, The North Jersey Highlands Historical Society.
New Paltz Independent. (1949, April 21). “LeFevre Family-Kettleborough Branch”
Roth, Eric. (1999, March 15). “Relations Between the Huguenots of New Paltz, N. Y. and the Esopus Indians.” Historic Huguenot Street/Huguenot Historical Society.
Southeastern New York Library Resources Council, “The Missing Chapter: Untold Stories of the African American Presence in the Mid-Hudson Valley.” https://omeka.hrvh.org/exhibits/show/missing-chapter/introduction
Thompson, Ed. (2001). The Road to Gardiner.
Stessin-Cohn, Susan. (n.d.). History of Phillies Bridge Farm: A Scrapbook.
Zimm, Louise H., Emsley, Joseph W., Corning, A. E., & Jewell, Willett C. (Eds.). (1946). Southeastern New York: A History of the Counties of Ulster, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland and Putnam. Vol. II, Lewis Historical Publishing Company Inc., New York.
Special Thanks To:
Carrie Allmendinger. Archivist and Librarian. Historic Huguenot Street/ Huguenot Historical Society.
Joe Baker. Lenape Center Executive Director and Co-Founder.
Hadrien Coumans. Lenape Center Co-Director and Co-Founder.
Carol Johnson. Coordinator. Elting Memorial Library’s Haviland-Heidgerd Collection
Brian Obach, Terrence Ward and Sally Vasse. Former Phillies Bridge Farm Project Board Members.
AJ Schenkman. Gardiner Town Historian