Sunday, August 01, 2010

All the Brothers Were Valiant: One Man's Family in the American Revolution


On the eve of the Revolution, Westchester County largely consisted of manorial grants that had been made to owners of large estates in the first 40 years of British rule of the former Dutch colony of New Netherland. With each grant, transferable to their heirs, the estate became a "Manor" and the owner became the "Lord of the Manor." Colonial lords enjoyed special privileges. They could administer laws, sit on manorial courts and even maintain their own private militia. Each lord rented land to his tenants, usually for life, the rent being payable in money, farm produce or services. England's purpose in creating manors, mostly in Westchester and on Long Island, was to set up a dependable aristocracy to support and defend British policy and provide a loyal local militia.

More densely populated Manhattan Island was divided into six wards, but in these most of the available land had been already taken up. Young men desirous of becoming farmers were forced to travel north to Westchester County or farther out on Long Island, where they could lease land on one of the manors.

Philipse Manor, immediately north of the former New Amsterdam and New Harlem, its "suburb" on the island of Manhattan, extended from Spuyten Duyvil Creek to the Croton River and from the Hudson to the Bronx River. The largest of the manors, it totaled some 156,000 acres and included much of the present-day borough of the Bronx. The first lord of the manor had been Frederick Philipse, who received his manorial grant in 1693.

Except the 3,000 acres on which lived the third lord of Philipse Manor, also named Frederick, every acre of Philipse Manor land was leased by the time of the Revolution. This Frederick Philipse was a solid Loyalist and made no bones about it. In 1776 he was arrested by Patriots but released on parole. He broke his word and immediately headed for British-held New York City. As a result, the Continental Congress seized his manorial property.

Philipse Manor largely became disputed territory, a veritable no-man's-land separating British and American forces and called “the Neutral Ground." This was a misnomer; both sides raided into it and neither side policed it. Loyalist and Patriot bands, called "Skinners" and "Cowboys," roamed over it at will, making life difficult for those who lived there.

Living in Philipse Manor at the time of the Revolution were many Dyckmans and their related families named Odell --William Dyckman's sisters Rebecca and Margaret had married the brothers Abraham and Jonathan Odell. Other relatives were named Vermilye, Hadley and Brown.

Farther to the north, Cortlandt Manor dates from 1697. Extending north of the Croton River for ten miles along the Hudson to the present Putnam County line and eastward 20 miles ("a day's walk") to the Connecticut border, it included more than 86,000 acres.

In contrast to Frederick Philipse, Stephanus Van Cortlandt proved to be a just and able administrator. His grandson Pierre and great-grandson Philip were both colonels in the American army. Cortlandt Manor became a haven for Patriots fleeing New York City and the Neutral Ground.

Van Cortlandt established ferries on the rivers and built houses to attract tenants. Like the Philipses, he was a merchant and colonial administrator, serving as mayor, councilor, judge of the Admiralty Court, and associate justice and chief justice of the provincial Supreme Court.

Two smaller manors were the Manors of Morrisania and Fordham. At 1,920 acres, Morrisania was named for the Morris brothers, merchants from Barbados, who purchased the Jonas Bronck estate in 1670. The smallest of the manors, its first lord, Lewis Morris, received his grant in 1697.

Governor Lovelace granted Fordham Manor, north of Morrisania and covering some six square miles, in 1671 to Jan Arcer (later changed to John Archer), a Dutchman so acquisitive in buying land from the Indians that his Dutch neighbors nicknamed him "Koopall" ("buy-all"). The name of Fordham Manor may have been derived from the nearby crossing ("ford") of Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Another theory holds that it was named to honor Robert Fordham, a Long Island minister and governor of Hempstead, although the connection is far from clear.

As war clouds gathered over New York in 1776, 30-year-old William Dyckman pondered his options. He had diligently worked the family farm in northern Manhattan until the fields and orchards produced abundantly. Then the Continental Congress decided to fortify the hills to the east and north of the Harlem River.

A chain of forts soon overlooked the Dyckman farm, which lay in an exposed position along the lower road to the King's Bridge. The entire area bustled with American military activity. On a ridge to the south, a formidable fort named for George Washington was rushed to completion.

The New York Convention, then governing the state, resolved on August 17, 1776, that "women, children and infirm persons in the City of New York be immediately removed from the said city agreeable to General Washington's request."

On August 31, the Committee of the Convention, meeting at Jonathan Odell's Inn in Irvington, resolved that the inhabitants of "New York Island" should drive their cattle, horses, hogs and sheep into the interior of the state to circumvent their seizure by the British. Invasion was imminent. The city, a veritable army camp, was already half-emptied of civilian inhabitants.

Time to Leave
William Dyckman decided that the time had come to abandon the Dyckman homestead and move north. With a heavy heart, he loaded his carts with household goods, farming tools and produce. Family slaves would drive the slow-moving cattle.

It was an arduous journey punctuated by stops at the farms of Dyckman relatives, of which there were many along the way. Writing in The Westchester County Historical Bulletin for April 1953, H. Dorothea Romer, a sixth generation Dyckman descendant, has left us her impression of what that journey may have been like.

According to her account, the caravan crossed Spuyten Duyvil Creek over either the Farmer's Free Bridge, built by William Dyckman's older brother, Jacob, or Frederick Philipse's King's Bridge, on which tolls were no longer collected. They passed through the section known to this day as Kingsbridge, crossed Tippets Brook below the Van Cortlandt dam and skirted the Van Cortlandt lands until the Albany Post Road brought them to the large estate of William Dyckman's cousin, William Hadley.

After pausing here, the party continued through Philipse Manor to the farm of George Hadley, another cousin. William Dyckman's sister, Aunt Rebecca to the Dyckman children, and her husband, Abraham Odell, lived on a farm in the Saw Mill River valley, and Dyckman's younger sister Margaret, wife of Jonathan Odell, lived in Irvington. Exchanging news and gossip was another reason for stopping at each of these homes.

Just past the Croton River lived other cousins--Tellers and Vermilyeas--and near the King's Ferry at Verplanck's Point were several sons of his brother Jacob and his widow, Catalina.

Safe at Last
William Dyckman was a prosperous farmer with slaves, horses, cattle and farming tools. He undoubtedly rented a farm and resumed the life of a farmer. One of the advantages of settling in Cortlandtown for him was its proximity to the King's Ferry. Brothers and sisters of his wife, Mary Tourneur Dyckman, lived across the river near Haverstraw. The ability to cross the river easily to Stony Point and visit members of her family probably gave Mary Dyckman an added feeling of security.

In the Dyckman party were five of his seven children. These included Abraham, 22; Michael, 20; William, 14; Jemima, 11; Gerritie (Charity), 6. Daughter Jane had died in 1772 at 13, and seven-year-old son John had died in 1774 in a cart accident. Older son Jacobus, 28, a blacksmith, lived in Greenburgh, and daughter Mary, 24, lived in Yonkers as the second wife of Jacob Vermilye, her cousin. Both had married in 1773.

When he returned to northern Manhattan after the war, the senior William Dyckman found his home burned and in ruins and his orchards cut down for firewood. Legend has it that the original Dyckman house had been destroyed in retaliation for the William Dyckman family's resistance to the British occupation.

The British had opened a new road to the King’s Bridge, coming up from the city through Bloomingdael and now called Broadway. On this new road at 204th Street, he constructed the house that still survives to this day as the Dyckman House Park and Museum. For a time, he turned the new house into an inn to make ends meet. Less than four years after returning home and only two weeks before his 62nd birthday, William Dyckman died in 1787.

The 1790 Census shows a "Widow Dyckman" as head of a household in the Out Ward of New York consisting of one male 16 or over, three females and seven slaves. His widow continued to live there until her death in 1802.

What follows is the story of how William Dyckman's family managed to survive during the American Revolution:

Jacobus Dyckman
His oldest son, Jacobus, also known as "Cobus," was born in 1748. Like other farmers in the "Neutral Ground," William Dyckman and his wife's uncle, Abraham Odell, tried to compromise with the occupying forces. In November of 1777, two of Odell's relatives, Gilbert and Abraham Valentine, signed an affidavit that Dyckman and Odell "have not taken up arms against His Majesty's troops during the said Rebellion (the said Dyckman's training with the militia excepted) and that both did come in to the King's army when at White Plains and take the oath of Allegiance to His Majesty, since which time they have not aided or assisted in the Rebellion."

Repeated depredations by British troops and Tory irregulars convinced Dyckman and Odell that they had made a mistake in choosing which side to support. Accordingly, Jacobus enlisted in Captain Honeywell's volunteer cavalry of the New York militia and his name also appears as a private in Colonel Samuel Drake's Third Westchester County Regiment of militia.

Jacobus continued in the Westchester militia after the war and served as a lieutenant from 1786 to 1792, when he moved back to the Dyckman House in Manhattan. His wife died in 1814; he survived her for another 18 years. They were both buried in the Nagle-Dyckman burial ground not far from the original Dyckman farm. In the 1920's their remains were removed to Oakland Cemetery on Saw Mill River Road in Yonkers to make way for the Independent subway’s rail storage yards and shops.

In spite of humble beginnings in a farmhouse in rural New York City, Jacobus's son, also named Jacobus, graduated from Columbia College and medical school and practiced medicine and became the city's Health Commissioner. Another son, James, also graduated from Columbia and was a promising young lawyer when he died in his 24th year.

Abraham Dyckman
He was the first of the Dyckmans to bear the name Abraham--but family and friends affectionately called him "Brom." The third of seven surviving children, he was born August 25, 1754, on the Dyckman farm in northern Manhattan.

Riding horseback throughout the journey to Cortlandtown, Brom had shepherded the caravan northward.. Once the family was settled near the King's Ferry, however, Brom enlisted as a private in Colonel Samuel Drake's 3rd Regiment of Westchester County militia and served an initial term of six months. He also served in the 2nd Regiment of Orange County militia on the other side of the Hudson, in which his uncle, Henry Tourneur, was a captain.

In January of 1777, General Heath, headquartered in Peekskill, planned his abortive attack on the fort the Americans had named Fort Independence, now occupied by Tories and Hessians. Heath asked the local Committee of Safety for the names of guides who knew the lay of the land in the Kingsbridge area.

This was the neighborhood in which Brom and his brother Michael had grown up and knew well. The committee proposed their names and those of several other young men as guides for the three columns that were to attack the fort.

Abraham and his younger brother Michael, and their cousin John Odell, who had lived along the Croton River, were chosen to escort the column under General Benjamin Lincoln that moved south along the Hudson River from Tarrytown.

The expedition was a dismal failure, but General Heath's staff was so pleased with the performance of the young men they included them in a mounted unit called the Westchester Guides whose specialty was raiding Tory farms. Brom Dyckman stood out in the group. He was described as "of medium height, broad shouldered, friendly and well liked, brave to the point of recklessness, always optimistic."

According to an article in the Tarrytown Argus for December 30, 1893, the Guides were so successful in countering the marauding raids of Tory units commanded by Colonel James De Lancey that George Washington asked the Guides try to take De Lancey prisoner.

The Guides made several attempts to capture the elusive DeLancey, whose headquarters were on the Harlem River south of the British-held Fort Number 8, originally constructed by the Americans but by then held by the British. The site of the fort later became the University Heights Campus of New York University, and is now Bronx Community College.

In one raid, Brom and John Odell learned the countersign used to respond to British sentries' challenges and got as far as DeLancey's quarters, only to find their elusive prey absent. By 1778, Brom was so successful as a guerrilla fighter he was promoted to lieutenant (with the pay of a captain) and placed under the command of Continental officers instead of the militia.

On March 4, 1782, as the war was winding down, he staged an attack on De Lancey's headquarters and was mortally wounded. There are several versions of what occurred on this raid. The following account is from the pension application made many years later by his cousin William Nagel (Billy) Dyckman, who was with Brom and his brothers as a member of the raiding party:

Billy's Story
"The expedition was planned for the purpose of drawing out Colonel DeLancey's regiment of Refugees (Tories) into an ambuscade with about 200 Continental troops commanded by Major Woodbridge and about 100 mounted men commanded by Israel Honeywell, all under the command of Major Woodbridge.

"We marched within a short distance of the enemies' lines and then the troops were formed in a proper position to receive the enemy if they could be drawn without their lines.

"Myself with Abraham Dyckman and four or five more volunteered to go within their picket guards in order to alarm them, expecting them to follow up out, but they did not choose to do so.

"It was then proposed to the commanding officer to attack them in their quarters, which he said was beyond his orders, but if a party of the mounted men would make an attack on them he would make a slow retreat to protect us in case we were pursued.

"Between 30 and 40 volunteered and after daylight attacked them in their headquarters. We killed some and wounded many others and brought off 20 or 30 prisoners. This was done entirely with our swords.

"The enemy was then collected and commenced their pursuit and harassed our rear for many miles though we frequently turned on them and drove them back.

"The enemy making a halt, Abraham Dyckman and myself rode back to discover their position and after coming very near them were fired upon by them and he received his death wound. It was with difficulty that I supported him upon his horse to prevent the enemy from cutting him to pieces until I received assistance from our troops.

"The enemy continued their pursuit till they came up with our foot and received a warm fire from our men, and they immediately returned the fire and killed and wounded a few of the Continental troops, and they afterward fell in with a few of our mounted men and cut them to pieces."

Otto Hufeland's 1926 study, Westchester County During the Anmerican Revolution, identifies the site of the fatal incident and embellishes Billy Dyckman's statement. It seems that Major Woodbridge's battalion of Continental infantry was posted on the Eastchester Road to cover the retreat of the mounted volunteers. The horsemen started back along the present White Plains Road with 20 prisoners and an equal number of captured horses. The pursuing Tories caught up with the Americans at Purdy's store near the present "Scott's Bridge" in Mount Vernon, where Woodbridge’s infantry was lying in ambush.

Brom Dyckman and his cousin Billy rode out waving their swords as a challenge to the enemy to personal combat. A Tory rifleman ahead of the main body and hiding behind a stone wall fired one shot at long range that struck Brom. His brothers Jacobus and Michael were nearby and led his horse to safety.

Abraham Dyckman died from his wounds in Peekskill five days later on March 9, 1782 Unmarried and 27 years old, he had planned to wed a sister of Cornelius Oakley, another Westchester Guide, according to John Odell's grandson, Dyckman Odell. He was buried with full military honors in the graveyard adjoining the Yorktown Presbyterian Church Built in 1839 and dedicated in 1840, this fine Greek Revival style church is on the site of two previous churches dating from 1738 and 1785. The 1738 building was burned by the British in 1779.

In the adjoining churchyard are buried the bodies of two other patriots killed during the Revolution, Colonel Christopher Greene and Major Ebenezer Flagg of the First Rhode Island Regiment, killed in 1781 at the Davenport House in what is now the Croton Heights section of Yorktown. A handsome granite monument on the grounds of the church was erected by the State of New York in 1900 to honor the sacrifices of these three patriots killed in Westchester.

Greene had soundly trounced Hessian troops under the command of Colonel von Donop in 1777 and distinguished himself in the defense of Newport, Rhode Island, the following year. When 44-year-old Greene, third cousin of Revolutionary War strategist Nathanael Greene, was placed in command of the American lines at the Croton River, he selected the Davenport House as his headquarters. Built in 1750 by Richardson and Lydia Davenport, the house is today the only surviving structure in Westchester County continuously held by American forces during the Revolution.

Under its many coats of paint, the front door bears the scars of the battle in which Colonel Greene of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and many of his men were killed. Formerly the home of the Yorktown Historical Society, the house is at 127 Croton Heights Road, opposite Peter Pratt's Inn.

Three-quarters of a mile east of the Blenis Ford and a quarter of a mile west of Pine's Bridge, the house was strategically placed near these important military objectives. A guard was posted at the ford every night but withdrawn at dawn. This practice was reported to Tory commander James De Lancey, and he took advantage of the routine. Late in the day of March 13, 1781, about 60 mounted cavalry and 200 foot soldiers marched under cover of darkness through White Plains, Chappaqua and then over back roads to within a mile of the Croton River, where they waited for the lone guard at the ford to be withdrawn.

Crossing the river and quickly surrounding the Davenport House, the Tories killed Major Flagg and badly wounded Colonel Greene, who had defended himself with a sword. Six soldiers were also killed and 30 were taken prisoner and taken to New York City where they were sold at auction and shipped to sugar plantations in the British West Indies. Ironically, many of these were black former slaves who had been promised their freedom at he conclusion of the war.

Retreating south over Pine's Bridge after killing the guard stationed there, the Tories took the dying Colonel Greene with them, throwing his body over a packhorse, but later abandoned him by the side of the road. One source says that Greene had seven severe sword and bayonet wounds in the arms and abdomen, in addition to "several sword cuts on the head and many in different parts of the body."

Washington biographer Douglas Southall Freeman reports that the savage assault on the Davenport House and its tragic outcome was an event that much distressed Washington and the army as they prepared for the Yorktown, Virginia, campaign.

During a 1982 ceremony dedicating a monument to black soldiers killed during the engagement at the Davenport House, a monument was dedicated on the grounds of the Yorktown Presbyterian Church. Sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Foundation of Westchester County and the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, it honors "the black soldiers of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment who died in the Battle of Pines Bridge in defense of America's freedom." During the ceremonies, the late Cortlandt Pell Auser, a local historian, recalled that 40 men were quartered just for that night at the Davenport House and read the names of some of these black soldiers; the names of the rest remain unknown.

Michael Dyckman
Michael, third son of William Dyckman, was named for his maternal grandfather, Michael Tourneur. Joining the militia with his brother Abraham and cousin John Odell, he later served with them in the Westchester Guides.

He remained with the Guides until 1780, when he was appointed a Muster Master. Muster Masters were recruited from reliable militiamen. Given a lieutenant's commission, his task was to enroll recruits (Levies) selected by their militia regiment colonels for the regular forces. Muster Masters reported the strengths of each regiment directly to Governor George Clinton.

A letter Michael wrote from Fishkill to his friend John Pine, still with the Westchester Guides, would delight proponents of simplified spelling: "I hare that our boys has bin down and taken sevin horsis," he wrote. (By order of General Washington, Guides were permitted to keep the property taken or its equivalent in cash.) In this letter he also speculated on his chances of being "sculped" by Indians raiding American lines.

In another letter to young Pine from Albany two weeks later, Michael wrote: "I have met with an Irish twist I have lost almost all my close stole from me in Albany however I have had the good luck to get some lining for shurts I should be glad if you could get me a grate coat and send it up with Mr. Lion to Mr. Simons in Albany whar I shal have an opertunity to get it at any time

"I am now staitioned at Schohary midel fort whare the Indians are skulkin round dayly a few days ago they tuck of a hole family within one mile of the fort however thare was a party of our men salied out and we tuck all the prisoners

"John Odell has bin to fort Stanwix but he has returned to Stone Roby [Stone Arabia, a village burnt by the British] whare he will meat with Capt Williams I have got orders to march for the same place whare whe shall be stasioned for this sommar inles times should altar

"Schohary whas a fine place thare is twenty or thirty fine dutch girls in the fort every night and that was not the best of all yet we had a damd fine Commasary with rum and provisions plenty

"my complements to all friends I remain your friend
Michael Dyckman"

His rough letter demonstrates that phonetic spelling was probably common at that time, even among those with some degree of education.

After serving with the Levies, Michael returned to the Guides. In July of 1781 he was assigned, with John Oakley and John Pine, as guides to the French army that had just marched to Westchester County from Newport, Rhode Island. It was Washington's intention to retake New York City in a surprise assault with the assistance of the French.

The Comte de Rochambeau's force of four infantry regiments, an artillery battalion and the Duc de Lauzun's 600-man legion of horse and foot soldiers reached Dobbs Ferry. Instead of attacking the city, Washington decided to march secretly south with Rochambeau's force to Yorktown in Virginia, where British Lord Cornwallis was bottled up behind his fortifications.

After accompanying the French across the Hudson, the three young men received a certificate certifying that "Ockly, Pine et Dickman, Guides de l'Armée Américaine" conducted themselves very well while attached to the French Army.

Michael Dyckman next rejoined the Westchester Guides and accompanied his brother Abraham on the expedition against De Lancey's headquarters in Morrisania. After the war, he became a farmer in Cortlandtown and married Sarah Oakley about 1795. The 1800 census lists him as head of a family of one male, 36-45 (himself), one male, 16-26; one female, 26-45 (his wife); two females under 10 (his daughters Sarah and Maria); and six slaves. He died in 1808 at the age of 52.

Despite Michael Dyckman's deficiencies in accepted orthography and punctuation, it is interesting to note that his grandson John Reuben Thompson later served as literary editor of William Cullen Bryant's New York Evening Post.

William Dyckman Jr.
When the Dyckman family moved to Cortlandtown in 1776, William Dyckman Jr. was nearly fourteen--too young to join the militia or to serve with his older brothers in the Westchester Guides. A year later, close to his 15th birthday, he was living in Orange County on the other side of the Hudson, where his uncle, Henry Tourneur, was a captain in the Orange County militia.

From his pension application, made 40 years later when the government decided to pay a pension to those who had served during the Revolution, we know that he was patrolling the river in October of that year, He had enlisted in his uncle's militia company, stationed north of Haverstraw at Stony Point. It was about this time that British troops landed and headed north to attack Forts Clinton and Montgomery.

In the spring of 1778, he volunteered again and served one week out of every four until winter came. The three months' service he claimed were disallowed by a clerk in the pension office with the dismissive comment "too young" written in the margin of his application. At age 16 on December 9, 1778, he became eligible for military service and was a militiaman again in his uncle's militia company, patrolling one week in every four.

The following year marked the beginning of the Mohawk Valley campaign, and he enlisted at what is now Clarkstown for three months in Captain Jonathan Lawrence's militia company. He marched with his company to Albany and then west along the Mohawk River. His three months were up before he saw any action, but he volunteered to remain "at the solicitation of his officers." In a brief engagement at Fort Plain, near Canajoharie, some enemy troops were captured, and he was chosen to guard them on the march down the Hudson Valley.

Discharged at Poughkeepsie after four months' service, he returned to Orange County and rejoined his uncle's militia company, serving for two months in 1781 and one month in 1782.
Although he had itemized 13 months of service on his application, the pension office credited him with only 9 1/2 months. He received an annual pension of $31.66.

William Dyckman Jr. returned to New York City with his father and married Maria Smith in 1786 at the city's Dutch Reformed Church. Their first daughter was baptized at the Tarrytown Old Dutch Church. Their next two children were baptized in the city at the Dutch Reformed Church. The next child was baptized in the Greenbush Dutch Reformed Church, near Albany.

Most Dyckmans tended to remain in the Hudson Valley, but William Dyckman Jr. suffered from a strong wanderlust. In 1802, the family relocated from Greenbush to New York's Onondaga County and lived at several locations there until 1834. The next move was to the state of Michigan.

This Dyckman family traveled overland in three covered wagons to Buffalo, where horses, wagons and Dyckmans were loaded on a ship. They disembarked at Detroit and resumed the overland journey to the town of Paw Paw. William Dyckman Jr. died in Michigan in 1846, a year after his wife's death. They are both buried in Old Town Cemetery in Paw Paw. One of his sons, Evert Brown Dyckman, became prosperous in Paw Paw and built a hotel, the Dyckman House, still operating there on East Michigan Avenue.

The title of this article is taken from the inscription on the tomb in Westminster Abbey of the Duchess of Newcastle, a remarkable woman ahead of her time. The wife of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, a Royalist leader and patron of the arts, she was an early feminist, scientist and science fiction novelist.

Although 50-year-old Margaret Cavendish died in 1673, her epitaph fittingly matches William Dyckman's family a century later. "All the brothers were valiant," it reads, and adds, "and all the sisters virtuous," a sentiment true of the Dyckman women. They were equally as brave as the Dyckman men--but their story must wait for another time.


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