Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Search of Dennis Kennedy: A Genealogical Detective Story



On Tuesday morning, January 16, 1979, that frightening call sounded in Montrose, N.Y., when neighbors noticed smoke pouring from the unoccupied Kennedy House at 185 King's Ferry Road. An alarm was sounded immediately, and fire companies from Montrose, Verplanck and Buchanan responded. For four hours they fought the stubborn blaze that gutted the building, one of the oldest in this part of Westchester.

Owned by James W. Henning, a local real estate and insurance agent, the imposingly large Kennedy House had been built in the 1750's, and contained 11 rooms and four fireplaces. It took its name from Dennis Kennedy, father-in-law of States Morris Dyckman, who had owned it and lived in it during the Revolution.

A devastating fire may have been inevitable. The timbers of the big old house were tinder-dry. Joseph Butler, arson investigator for the Westchester County district attorney, reported that the fire was not deemed to be suspicious. What remained of the house was demolished and trucked away. Local historians were dismayed.

"The past is a bucket of ashes," Carl Sandburg would write years later in his poem "Prairie," disparaging the uses of the past. The image is apt. Nothing survives today from the venerable house in Montrose, not even a bucket of ashes. The Hendrick Hudson Free Library occupies the site today. An overenthusuiastic 2002 article in a Westchester newspaper reported that a nearby pile of bricks was from the original Kennedy House. On inspection by this writer, they proved to be modern.

What Was Lost
Many Federal period architectural details went up in smoke with in the burning of the Kennedy house. In his monumental work on Westchester architecture, Frank E. Sanchis compared the house with the well-maintained Joseph Purdy House in North Salem and noted that while it was in poorer condition it had more specifically Federal architectural details:

"It incorporates, for example, a fully developed Federal door, with transom and sidelights, and features parallel lintels, with raised center blocks, on the second-floor windows. The end elevation, facing King's Ferry Road, contains quarter-round ‘quadrant windows’ at the attic level; these are more common in city houses, but are not often seen in Westchester buildings, where a single window, centrally located is more typical.

"The entablature [details in the upper portion of a building] of the front elevation appears to have been removed, as well as the roof overhang; while tight eaves, without overhang are used on building sides, the front and rear eaves are projected as a rule. The porch of the Kennedy House has been extended and enclosed at the ends."

Famous Visitors
In its life of more than two centuries, the Kennedy House knew many famous visitors. On July 18 and 19, 1778, two sessions of the court-martial of Gen. Charles Lee met "at the house of Mr. Kennedy at Peeks-Kill." General Lee was charged with disobedience, retreating before the enemy and disrespect.

After meeting earlier in New Brunswick and Paramus, N.J., sessions of the court were moved to the Kennedy House in order to interview witnesses now stationed in the area. The proceedings then moved to North Castle, where the verdict was rendered: guilty on all three counts. Despite the seriousness of the charges, Gen. Lee received a remarkably light sentence: suspension from command for 12 months.

George Washington was in the Cortlandt area on five occasions totaling 20 days between 1776 and 1781. He stayed at Peekskill's Birdsall House in 1780 when he met with Benedict Arnold; a week later, he would learn of Arnold's treason. On other visits, Washington made his headquarters at the Upper Manor House on Oregon Road. Going to and from the King's Ferry, however, he passed the Kennedy House and may have stopped there.

Returning from a mission to General Horatio Gates at Peekskill, while he lay ill of rheumatic fever at "Mr. Kennedy's House," Lt.Col. Alexander Hamilton wrote a letter to Gen. Washington on November 15, 1777. He was nursed back to health at the Kennedy House before his return to Washington’s headquarters.

Not Built by William Dyckman
Published accounts of the Kennedy House are often replete with misinformation. It was sometimes called the Dyckman House in the mistaken belief that it had been built by William Dyckman, a Revolutionary War refugee from upper Manhattan.

An Ossining historical researcher, the late H. Dorothea Romer, offered an explanation for the association of the Dyckman name with the Kennedy House:” An old building on the King's Ferry Road has been pointed out as William Dyckman's stopping place, but there is no evidence that he remained there. The building may have been a tavern that merely offered temporary shelter. King's Ferry Road was a main thoroughfare leading to the Ferry to Stony Point, and was used by both armies. She wrote, "It is more probable that by the spring of 1777 William Dyckman found a safer refuge for his family. He was a farmer with slaves and agricultural tools and could have rented land and raised food for his household for the duration of the war."

William Dyckman's stay in Cortlandt was temporary at best. After the British quit New York City in 1783, he returned to upper Manhattan and the farmhouse between 208th and 209th streets and Ninth and Tenth avenues. The site is now covered by vast subway yards of the Independent System. He found the house in ruins and his orchards cut down for firewood by the British.

Before his death in 1787, William Dyckman built another house, still standing at 204th Street and Broadway, the new road the British had opened to the King's Bridge. With its low-pitched gambrel roof covering a full-length porch, lower walls of fieldstone and brick, and random-width chestnut floorboards, it is the last surviving Dutch colonial farmhouse in that borough. The house is today a museum of period furniture and artifacts.

Loyalists vs. Patriots
Because allegiances played such an important role in the lives of the colonists, it will be useful to pause here and explore the differences. Those who opposed the rebellion called themselves "Loyalists." To the opposition, who called themselves "Patriots" or "Whigs," they were referred to contemptuously as "Tories." Loyalists included conservatives of every stripe who resisted change or supported Parliament's right to tax the colonies, and royalists who believed in the right of kings to rule. Among these were public officials and judges who would lose jobs and income, Anglican clergymen and many church members [the Church of England was the official church of the Crown], professionals, such as lawyers, physicians and teachers, and prosperous farmers, merchants and innkeepers. Political animosities sometimes determined commitment. The De Lancey family in New York City became Loyalists to counter their influential upstate pollirtical rivals, the Livingston family, who were Whigs.

In 1775, the population of Great Britain numbered some 8 million. The 13 colonies had a population of only 2.26 million. Generations of America school children have been taught that nothing was more reprehensible than a native-born American who sided with the British during the American Revolution. The Revolution has been portrayed as an almost universally popular uprising opposed by a traitorous few. Not so. The number of those who actively backed the Revolution varied from colony to colony. In some communities Loyalists outnumbered Patriots by better than two to one.

New York was a veritable hotbed of Loyalist activity and the last state to agree to the Declaration of Independence. It furnished more recruits to George III than it did to George Washington, supplying 15,000 men to the British Army and more than 8,000 Loyalist militia. In all, Great Britain drew some 50,000 soldiers--regular or militia--from among its American Loyalist sympathizers. When the British evacuated New York City in 1783, they took with them 7,000 Loyalists. The number of Loyalists who left America during the Revolution, largely for Canada, may have been as large as 100,000. During and after the war, New York made $3.6 million from the sale of confiscated Tory property, and Maryland collected more than $2 million.

Loyalists eventually became a burden to British strategic planning.When Howe abandoned Boston for New York City, his ships first had to sail for Halifax with Tories evacuated from Boston. Howe became overextended and had to post garrisons in Trenton, Princeton, Bordentown and Brunswick on the winter of 1776 in order to protect the Tories of New Jersey.

Political scientists have long debated what would have happened to the patriots had the Revolution failed and Loyalists returned to power. Britain was firm in its determination to extinguish the colonial rebellion. Similarly, loyalists' were outspoken in their desire for vengeance and retaliation. Historian Sydney George Fisher concluded, "America would have become an enormous Ireland."

Peter Corne
Over the years, the Kennedy House in Montrose house also has been known by the names of the successive families that owned it. It has been called the Henry House, the Tate House, the Mackey House and the Johnson House.

It should properly have been called the Corne House, having been built for Peter Corne, openly a loyalist during the Revolution, probably in the 1750's. The Corne name was pronounced locally as "Cor-ney" and sometimes written with an accented final letter--the French accent aigu (é).

Born in the English port city of Hull in 1722, Corne, already “a master mariner," came to New York as a young man and entered into partnership with merchants Anthony and Isaac Van Dam. Not content with the dull routines of commerce, Corne sailed the company's ships to the West African coast. Here he bought slaves and transported them to the island of St. Eustatius in the Dutch Antilles, a center for contraband. High mortality among the workers on sugar plantations made slaves a desirable cargo. Emptied of their human freight, his ships then loaded Caribbean sugar and rum for transport to the North American colonies.

Between 1740 and 1748, during the American phase of Britain's War of the Austrian Succession, with a commission from the colony of New York, Corne became part owner of several privateers. Armed with eight cannon, his brig Nebuchadnezzar wreaked havoc on Dutch and French merchant vessels.

Peter Corne was soon wealthy. He owned town houses in New York City, a summer mansion north of the city that he called Greenwich House (it lent its name to the neighborhood) and homes on Long Island and near the King's Ferry, where he had a farm and a gristmill near Peekskill.

In 1751, he married Elizabeth Henderson, affluent in her own right. Her mother, Thysie Benson, was the daughter of Derrick Benson, a well-to-do New Jersey landowner. Her Scottish-born father, wealthy physician and merchant Dr. James Henderson, owned houses and land in New York City and extensive acreage in the Mohawk Valley.

Peter and Elizabeth Henderson Corne had three daughters. Without her father's consent, on Sunday, June 23, 1773, Letitia, the eldest, married Dennis Kennedy, "a gentleman of New York," in Manhattan's Lutheran Church. Built in 1729 on Broadway at Rector Street, the church would be gutted in the disastrous fire that consumed a third of New York after American troops evacuated he city in 1776. As the father of States Morris Dyckman's wife, Dennis Kennedy is an important figure in the Dyckman family history and the Boscobel story.

The second Corne daughter, Elizabeth, married a lieutenant of artillery and deputy quartermaster general of Hessian troops with an imposing name: Baron Charles August de Girancourt de Vourecourt. Peter Corne roundly disliked the groom. The third, Margaret, married successful New York merchant George Douglas.

A stubborn, die-hard Tory, Peter Corne's name appears frequently in records during the Revolution. British headquarters files, conspiracy committee minutes and newspapers all contain references to him, including three jail sentences served because of his "passionate allegiance to George III in the faces of Rebel committeemen."

Family legend has it that Peter Corne once took the Kennedy children to the cellar of his home. Opening a curtain covering a portrait of British King George III, he commanded them, "Down on your knees to your Master!"

His wife Elizabeth Henderson Corne died in Bushwick, Long Island, on August 30, 1780. Five years later, Peter Corne married his partner Isaac Van Dam's widow, Sara. The relationship soon soured. Toward the end of his life he promised Sara anything in return for a legal separation. Peter Corne died in New York City on July 18, 1807.

Dennis Kennedy
Facts about Peter Corne's son-in law, States Morris Dyckman's father-in-law and Betsey Dyckman's father Dennis Kennedy are elusive, and he remains a person of interest but also a person of mystery. From public records of the years following his 1773 marriage to Letitia Corne Kennedy, however, we can glean a few details. We know that the couple had a daughter named Elizabeth, born May 1, 1776. She was called Betsey--although she always signed herself Elizabeth.

The Corne family brought Betsey with them when they left Westchester to take refuge behind the British lines, and she became the ward of Peter Corne. Dennis Kennedy remained behind. No further mention of Betsey's mother appears; she seems to have died within a few years.

There also may have been other Kennedy children, including at least one older brother. A male child named Peter Cornel Kennedy was baptized at Christ Church in Poughkeepsie on August 28, 1774, probably the son of Dennis and Letitia. His sponsors were listed as Peter Cornel, his wife, and John Barnes. Two infants were buried at New York's Trinity Church for P. or Capt. Corney: a child of 1 yr. 3 mos. in June of 1779 and another of 1 yr. 6 mos. on November 12, 1780. These appear to have been children of Dennis and Letitia Kennedy. Peter Corne and his wife were too old for them to be theirs, and their younger daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, had not yet married.

How Dennis Kennedy acquired the house that came to be known as the Kennedy House is unclear. By turning it over to his son-in-law, Peter Crone may have been attempting to keep his Westchester property from being confiscated under anti-Tory laws. Eventually, the Corne farm and mill were seized by the Commissioners of Sequestration and sold to a Patriot.

Was Dennis Kennedy a loyal Patriot? Or was he a covert Tory? We may never know the answers to these questions. He served in the American forces, yet he moved to Canada after the Revolution. On April 12, 1774, Dennis Kennedy subscribed 10 shillings toward a glebe farm and house for St. Philip's Episcopal Church in the Highlands in Garrison, N.Y., where Peter Corne was a vestryman. [A glebe farm was land donated to a parish, whose rent went to support the church.] The church strongly supported the Crown.

In White Plains, on April 13, 1775, Peter Corne and Dennis Kennedy joined 297 others in signing their names to a document protesting the selection of delegates to represent the colony of New York at the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. They declared their "allegiance to their gracious and merciful sovereign, King George the Third." Paul Revere's fateful ride was only five days away.

Because Corne later refused to take the oath of allegiance to the revolutionary government, the Fishkill Committee on March 20, 1777, ordered him to go "with his Family, apparel & household furniture" behind the British lines within 20 days. Corne owned the large house near King's Ferry and asked that "his Son in Law Dennis Kennedy" be allowed to live on his [Corne's] farm to care for his property until its disposition could be decided.

By then Kennedy had taken the oath of allegiance and was grinding flour for the American army. The committee offered no objection. The Kennedy family, then living in Dutchess County, "moved down there," according to the minutes of the First Commission for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies in the State of New York. What Dennis Kennedy found shocked him.

The Commissioners of Sequestration had sold "every moveable Thing," including the livestock Corne had left to Kennedy "by way of recompense for two years service I did him and never rec'd 6 pence before." This information comes from his petition to the Council of Safety, dated May 24, 1777, on file in the archives at Albany. It asks for the return of is personal effects and a Negro man named York.

Not only had Dennis Kennedy taken the oath of allegiance before moving to Corne's house in Cortlandt, he enlisted in the militia. On February 17, 1777, he joined Capt. James Stewart's Company of Col. Lewis Dubois's 5th New York Regiment of the Line for three years. His name remained on the muster rolls until November 3rd. On October 6 of that year, the record shows that military pay was due him. Under "Remarks" is the notation, "Prisn or dead." October 6 was the date British and Hessian troops seized lightly defended Forts Clinton and Montgomery near Bear Mountain in a surprise attack on American positions from which some defenders escaped across the Hudson. This diversionary attack by Sir Henry Clinton was intended to assist Burgoyne's thrust from the north toward Albany, but was already too little and too late.

He obviously survived that debacle. By 1778, Dennis Kennedy was serving as a sergeant in the 3rd Regiment of Westchester County Militia organized by Col. Samuel Drake of Bedford. On February 27, 1779, he was commissioned an ensign [an intermediate rank between sergeant and lieutenant] in the same regiment.

During this period, Kennedy continued to occupy the Corne house. In the New York Packet and Advertiser for June 4, 1777, he advertised for a button lost from his bearskin coat and noted that he was "living near Peekskill." As late as November 29, 1779, a small package was addressed to him and delivered at the house on King's Ferry Road frequented by Continental officers and known as the "Kennedy House."

Friend or Foe?
After 1779, Dennis Kennedy's trail grows faint. His name does not turn up again until after the Revolutionary War. Lorenzo Sabine's Loyalists of the American Revolution, published in Boston in 1864, lists him as having been a "Loyalist Associator" in 1782, and settling in Shelburne, Nova Scotia.

But from other sources we learn that he and his family (one male, one female, two children, one servant) did not embark with the main body of loyalists. A search of Nova Scotia archives reveals no grant of land in Shelburne, although a Dennis Kennedy was reported as the joint owner of a 400-acre grant in Chester Township. Because he did not file a petition, however, the land reverted to the province.

Perhaps Kennedy had seen a letter published in the Boston Gazette for September 12, 1783, describing refugees in the Shelburne area as "the most miserable set of beings that it is possible to conceive of" and "cursing both King and Congress." Shelburne, a boomtown of ten thousand inhabitants in 1783, had dwindled to a few hundred only two or three years later. Shelburne had a good harbor but it froze in winter. The soil was infertile and not conducive to farming, and the land had to be cleared of trees.

By January 24, 1786, a Dennis Kennedy was in Ontario helping former Dutchess County farmers Daniel Hammel (or Haumel) and Thomas Robbler file their claims against the British Crown for compensation as Loyalists. Kennedy had known both men before the Revolution. In Hammel's claim, Kennedy is identified as a "witness from Ontario." Yet no record of any grant of land to Dennis Kennedy exists in that province's archives. Nor is he listed among the United Empire Loyalists in Ontario. The trail of Dennis Kennedy effectively ends here.

Betsey Kennedy Marries
The Daily Advertiser, a New York City newspaper, reported the marriage on February 1, 1794, of "States Morris Dyckman, Esq., of King's Grange, Westchester Co., to Miss Kennedy, grand daughter of Peter Corne, Esq., of Mansfield in the same Co." The bride, "Miss Kennedy," of course, was Elizabeth Kennedy, daughter of Dennis and Letitia Corne Kennedy. At the time, she was the ward of Peter Corne.

The ceremony was performed in Manhattan’s Trinity Church, the structure completed in 1790 as a replacement for the original building burned out in the huge fire of 1776. Officiating was the Rev. Benjamin Moore, whose wartime Loyalist leanings had initially prevented him from elevation to rector."He preached and prayed against us during the war," :recalled Robert Livingston. He was also the father of Clement Clark Moore, who would claim authorship of "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Witnesses included States Morris Dyckman's widowed sister, Mrs. John Vredenburgh, his sister Caty, her son William.

Peter Corne had not been pleased at the prospect of the marriage. Dyckman, a longtime bachelor, was 39 or 40 and suffered from severe bouts of gout. Betsey was not yet 18, maling him more than twice her age. Peter Corne did not want his young granddaughter to marry a much older man who was not only ailing but whose finances were shaky.

Corne and Dyckman had one quality in common: States Morris Dyckman had been an openly avowed Loyalist during the Revolution. Forced to seek refuge in New York City, he found work with the British as a trusted quartermaster's clerk there and in England.

In 1804, States Morris Dyckman began the construction of the Boscobel mansion located on what would later be the grounds of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Veterans Hospital. Built by William Vermilye, Dyckman's cousin, a builder by trade, no formal plans have been found.

Dyckman did not live to occupy Boscobel. Death came suddenly on August 11, 1806, while he was visiting his cousin Jacobus Dyckman at the Dyckman House in upper Manhattan. Jacobus was the oldest son of William Dyckman, who had fled to Cortlandt during the war.

The exquisite architectural gem that is Boscobel was completed under the direction of Betsey, Dennis Kennedy's daughter, who showed remarkable skill in managing her husband's properties. Betsey Kennedy Dyckman died in Boscobel June 20, 1823.

Like their 13-month-old daughter, Letitia Catalina, who died of scarlet fever July 20, 1800, States Morris Dyckman and Betsey were buried in the Nagle-Dyckman burial ground near the original Dyckman farm in upper Manhattan. They were later reinterred in the Cedar Hill Cemetery of the Reformed Church of Cortlandtown on the Albany Post Road, joining dozens of other Dyckman ancestors and descendants. Considered too expensive to repair, the original church, built between 1795 and 1799, was replaced with a modern structure in 1971.

With the decline of the family fortune, Boscobel fell into disrepair and was repeatedly threatened with destruction. Sold by the federal government to a house wrecker for $35, it was rescued dramatically from the wrecker's ball and carefully dismantled. The pieces were transported 15 miles to the north and painstakingly reassembled in Garrison, N.Y., where it stands today in all its glory, still overlooking the picturesque Hudson.

Dennis Kennedy's Descendants
Only one of Betsey's two children survived to adulthood: a son, Peter Corne Dyckman, born in 1797 and sickly as a youth. He married Susan Matilda Whetten in 1819 and died five years later at Boscobel, only 27 years old.

Their daughter, Elizabeth Letitia Corne Dyckman, was born at Boscobel September 10, 1822. Often called Eliza, a name she preferred, she was Dennis Kennedy's great-granddaughter and Betsey Kennedy's only granddaughter.

Peter Corne Dyckman's will left Boscobel to his widow, Betsey, and $10,000 to daughter Eliza when she reached 21--or upon her marriage. Not yet 16, Eliza was married to John Peach Cruger at Boscobel on Christmas Day in 1837. Between 1838 and 1869, she gave birth there to 15 children. Some Crugers buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery thus are descendants of Dennis Kennedy. Other descendants may be living in the area, unaware of the Kennedy connection.

The past guards its secrets well and yields them up reluctantly. Two nagging questions still remain: Where did Dennis Kennedy's loyalties really lie? And where did he end his years? Perhaps a lonely, moss-covered headstone in some forgotten Canadian graveyard holds the answer.

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Boscobel Story, 1: The Short, Troubled Life of States Morris Dyckman


His life reads more like Henry Fielding's picaresque novel Tom Jones than actual history. The son of a failed Manhattan innkeeper, he was one of only two or possibly three members of the extensive Dyckman family to side with England during the revolution.

Fleeing to British-occupied New York City, he became a quartermaster clerk for the British army and discovered that bills were being kited and funds siphoned off by high officers. By later enabling the officers to fight off attempts by Parliament to force restitution through what was tantamount to blackmail, he eventually gained a personal fortune.

But even as he assured them that all incriminating documents had been destroyed, his baggage bulged with hundreds of such documents he had brought to London with him, ready to be put to use if needed. He returned to America from England with the fortune that was his due--but he would have only a couple of years to enjoy it.

As a young bachelor, he fathered a son out of wedlock. In middle age he wed a girl 21 years his junior and only three years older than his illegitimate son. She would raise the boy as her own. After his 14-year-old sister Catalina was married to merchant Daniel Hale, a "bossy blowhard," and became a drug addict after the birth of her first child, he sheltered her and her son, and paid for her treatment.

He suffered most of his adult life from painful attacks of gout, a systemic disease that causes needlelike crystals of uric acid to be deposited in the joints. It incapacitated him for long periods. Although he had no formal training in architecture, he began the building of Boscobel, one of the loveliest Federal houses ever built in the Hudson Valley. The supreme irony was that he never lived to occupy his beautiful creation.

His name was States Morris Dyckman. This is his story.

The Black Horse Tavern
Sixth of nine children, Staats Morris Dyckman was born in 1754 or 1755 at his father's inn, the Black Horse Tavern, in Harlem. Located near the 7th milestone on the King's Highway leading to Westchester and New England, the site today is in Central Park, just west of Fifth Avenue at 105th Street.

The tavern was not far from Benson's race track (at what is now 110th Street), patronized by a sporting crowd that included Lewis Morris, third lord of the Manor of Morrisania, and later a signer of the Declaration of Independence. A New York newspaper, The Mercury, reported a win by the Morris stable on April 27, 1767, when Lewis Morris's "Mare, Strumpet, beat Smoaker and Jimcrack, for £30, carrying Weight for Age."

Lewis Morris’s younger brother, Staats Long Morris, was a 27-year-old bachelor for whom this fourth son of Jacob Dyckman may have been named. Later in life, Staats Morris Dyckman would Anglicize his name to States Morris Dyckman.

His father was Jacob Dyckman Jr., born about 1720. His mother was Catalina Benson, born in 1725. She would die 75 years later at the Westchester farm of her son, States, while he was in England.

Another Tavern--and a Bridge
When young Dyckman was still an infant, Jacob Dyckman sold his tavern to his sister-in-law, Catherine Benson McGowan, widow of sea captain Daniel McGowan. The McGown name would later be applied to the narrow break in the escarpment through which passed the road to Kingsbridge. It is still called “McGowan’s Pass.”

Dyckman trekked north with his family and built another tavern not far from Frederick Philipse's King's Bridge over Spuyten Duyvil Creek, located near what is today 225th Street and Broadway. Philipse owned all the land from the Creek north to the Croton River, and his bridge, built in 1693, was perhaps the first bridge in America to charge tolls. Philipse's tolls made travel expensive: nine pence for a carriage, three pence for each horse or head of cattle, and a penny for a pedestrian.

States’s father later helped to finance and build with blacksmith Benjamin Palmer a rival bridge called the Free Bridge, also known as the Farmer's Bridge or Dyckman Bridge, opened on January 2, 1759. His bridge, leading to land not cotrolled by Philipse, broke the Philipse monopoly, but it also bankrupted Jacob Dyckman when local subscribers failed to honor their obligation.

Deeply in debt, his father sold the inn near the King’s Bridge to Caleb Hyatt in 1772. Staats Morris Dyckman was then 17 years old and may have learned accountancy skills as an apprentice in a mercantile establishment. Three of his mother's female relatives had married wealthy merchants: John Kelly, Anthony Duane and James Henderson.

Two years later, on Feb. 17, 1774, Rivington’s Gazette, a Loyalist weekly that appeared each Thursday, announced, “Mr. Jacob Dyckman in returning home to Harlem from this city fell from his horse at the bottom of the hill below Mrs. McGown’s and fractured his skull in such a manner that his life is despaired of.”

At the beginning of the Revolution, States Morris Dyckman was apparently working for the colonial government in Albany, where he was part of a small group of Tories that included Mayor Abraham C. Cuyler, County Clerk Stephen De Lancey and Deputy Postmaster Richard Cartwright.

On June 4, 1776, young Dyckman celebrated King George III's birthday at Cartwright's Inn with the toast, "Damnation to the enemies of the King." Two days later, he was arrested and jailed for refusing to pledge support for the Continental Congress.

From Albany to New York City
Upon being released on parole, the 21-year-old Dyckman made his way to New York City, where he found employment as a clerk in the offices of the British Army's Quartermaster General, first under Lt. Col. William Sheriff and then under Brig. Gen. Sir William Erskine. Here he showed an aptitude for figures and accounts that made him invaluable to his superiors.

British Army quartermasters in the colonies received only a small salary. In a practice dating back to Braddock's expedition in 1758, they were permitted to own horses and wagons they rented to the British army, as well as supplying drivers. The expense vouchers presented to commanders were pure fiction, of course. It was a system that made for fraud, but one that army commanders winked at and tolerated.

To split the proceeds among participating officers, a separate set of books was kept. In these the true amounts of receipts and expenses were recorded and from them the quartermasters' profit was tallied. Young Dyckman was not supposed to be privy to this knowledge, but somehow he became aware of the truth. Quartermasters were skimming a profit of 75% of the money the Crown was spending for transport. Such enormous graft may have played a role in the eventual British defeat.

Young Dyckman so impressed the Quartermaster General that when Sir William Erskine retired in the summer of 1779, 24-year-old Dyckman was invited to accompany him to England. The account books of Erskine's time as Quartermaster General had to be readied for inspection by British government auditors.

A Child Is Born
In 1779 Dyckman sailed with Sir William Erskine to Cork in Ireland aboard the "Cork Fleet," a convoy of ships bearing British officers and officials returning to England guarded by heavily armed warships. The Irish destination was to keep the Atlantic crossing as short as possible and avoid attacks and capture by French frigates or American privateers.

A few months after States Dyckman's departure, a son was born to Eleanor Brewer, a young woman with whom he had been friendly. Dyckman dutifully accepted parental responsibility. A will drafted for him in England in 1781 by attorney Peter Van Schaack included Eleanor Brewer. “now or late of New York” and included her son “States Brewer, now about two years old to whom I am godfather” as a principal heir. "Godfather" was a euphemism that fooled no one.

Once Sir William Erskine's accounts were accepted and approved, he offered young Dyckman the choice of a lump sum payment of 1,000 pounds or an annuity of 100 pounds semiannually. States chose the latter.

States was called back to New York in 1781. With a British victory over the rebellious colonists becoming less likely, scrutiny of accounts intensified--eventually developing into a full-scale investigation. Sir Henry Clinton, concerned about increasing costs of running the war and mounting evidence of irregularities in accounting practices, convened a Board of General Officers to set new rules for handling accounts. The Board created rigorous directives for operating the Quartermaster General's office. In the future, purchases had to be backed by vouchers. Only the commanding general could approve payments.

Dyckman returned to London in the summer of 1782. Delays and interruptions in his work were frequent, and he used his free time to travel and see the sights of England and Scotland. He also crossed the Channel to visit France and the Netherlands. He was enchanted by Holland, whose people and customs reminded him of the Dutch traditions of his childhood.

Upon his arrival back in London, he turned down a job offer as an auditor and began to think of returning home. His attorney friend Peter Van Schaack had written from New York that it was now safe to return. "The distinction of Whig and Tory is no more," Van Schaack assured him. He had been promised a generous settlement when all quartermaster accounts were approved. His annuity from Sir William Erskine was arriving regularly at his bank. He now felt financially secure and decided to return to the new republic.

Coming Home
Still troubled by painful attacks of gout, he chose a southern route home, traveling by way of Lisbon, Madeira and Jamaica. He reached New York in June of 1789. His first action was to buy a farm at King's Ferry, near the 44th milestone on the Albany Post Road and not far from the farms of his brothers. Defiantly, he called it King's Grange. He joined the reopened St. Philip's Church in the Highlands in Garrison, which had been closed in 1775 because of Loyalist sympathies.

Financial problems loomed. Annuity payments from Sir William Erskine became irregular. Other members of the Dyckman family became dependent on him: his brother Benjamin and his family of four sons and a daughter, his widowed older sister Jane, whose husband had died during the war, and his mother.

On February 1, 1794, in New York City’s Trinity Church, States Morris Dyckman, married Elizabeth "Betsey" Kennedy, the ward of Peter Corne, her grandfather. Dyckman was 39 or 40; she was 18. That union would result in two children: a boy, Peter Corne Dyckman, born in 1796, and a girl, Letitia Catalina, born in June 1799 and named for her two grandmothers.

In his Journal of a Tour in the United States of America, 1794-1795, English agriculturalist and traveler Sir William Strickland left us a picture of contemporary Cortlandt, where houses "are in a general way much out of repair, and there is an appearance of want of substance in the owners which disables them from improving their houses and cultivating their lands. They seem in general to possess little more than mere necessities. Not a gentleman's seat is met between Dobbs Ferry and Peekskill." States approached agriculture with the same diligence that he had devoted to accounting. He improved the soil with "Plaster of Paris" (lime) and planted cover crops like vetch and clover that were tilled into the soil to improve it.

Strickland described States Dyckman's 240-acre farm as being "improved as far as possible according to the ideas of the country." He found it "in a high state of cultivation . . . and extremely well planted with the best kinds of fruit trees, now in high condition and full bearing, with a good house upon it."

The Dyckmans prided themselves on their hospitality. One traveler, Benjamin West, who had been a guest, wrote to States from Philadelphia: “The manner of doing a thing is certainly not of such trivial importance as is very much imagined here . . .. It either enhances or detracts from a favor,” He then drew “a contrast between the truly friendly attention I experienced at Kings Ferry, and the formal reception of many on whom I have a better claim.” West attributed the difference to “good breeding.”

But there was trouble in paradise. Strapped for cash, in 1793 Dyckman sold his precious library of identically bound books to Chancellor Robert Livingston, and they disappeared upstate. During a 1795 visit to Livingston's house at Clermont, he noticed the distinctive books he had once owned among the volumes in Livingston's library. Next he sold the furniture he had brought back with him from his ten-year stay in England and then his farm animals. He even sold part of his property at King's Ferry and mortgaged the rest.

London Again
Sir William Erskine had died in 1795, and his unstable son, also a general, ceased to honor his father's obligations. Strapped for cash, in an attempt to collect the monies owed to him by the other quartermasters, Dyckman returned to England toward the end of May in 1800 aboard the ship Three Sisters, having waited for the birth of his daughter. In the ship's hold were stowed the papers Dyckman had collected and stashed away during his years of working for the several quartermasters.

As it turned out, his presence in London was propitious. The cooked books of the other quartermasters had come under scrutiny. Thanks to Dyckman's intimate knowledge of their accounts, he was able to reach favorable settlements for them--and a rich reward for himself without resorting to the incriminating papers he had brought. In the meantime, his wife suffered through a series of calamities back home, including the death from scarlet fever of their daughter, Letitia Catalina, and the deaths of his sister Jane and his mother.

States proudly wrote to Peter Corne, his wife's grandfather, telling him that he now had eight thousand pounds sterling, or about some $36,000 (today the equivalent of more than a half million dollars). After an absence of nearly four years, again choosing a southerly route because of his gout, on Oct. 7, 1803, States Morris Dyckman boarded the Tippo Sahib to set sail for home by way of Charleston, South Carolina. He reached New York on January 1, 1804.

Dyckman immediately set about to live in the style he had always dreamed about and that his wealth now made possible. Using patternbooks he brought from England delineating Robert Adam's style of architecture then supplanting the Classical style, he described to his cousin, builder William Vermilye, the beautiful mansion he would build to be called Boscobel. Its name was taken from the Forest of Boscobel, where a legendary giant oak tree had sheltered English King Charles II after his defeat by the forces of Oliver Cromwell.

Unfortunately, he never lived to occupy the house. On a visit to New York City, States Morris Dyckman died on August 11, 1806, at the age of 57 years in the Dyckman farmhouse of his cousin Jacobus in upper Manhattan . Mourners consumed three gallons of sherry, one gallon of brandy, plus “pipes and cigars,” all with a total value of two pounds, 13 shillings and six pence.

Following the practice of the time, he was buried in the Dyckman-Nagle Burial Ground located between 212th and 213th Streets and between Ninth and Tenth avenues in the upper Manhattan neighborhood later called Inwood.

Betsey composed the inscription on his tombstone: "His manners were polite, his taste refined, his conjugal love was pure, his parental strong, his hospitality sprung from benevolence, his charity from feeling and sense of duty. Highly esteemed in life, he was sincerely lamented in death."

Boscobel was still little more than a waiting foundation with 382 panes of glass, 4,000 bricks, 10,000 shingles and a supply of lumber stored nearby. We shall probably never know the identity of the designer of the exquisite jewel of a neoclassical Federal style house that is Boscobel, although William Vermilye was an experienced builder and probably had a hand in its design. The only surviving floor plan is a rough sketch of a more conventional building drawn on the back of an 1804 grocery bill. After her husband's estate was settled in March of 1807, work resumed on Boscobel. Working closely with builder William Vermilye, Betsey saw the house through to completion.

The main feature of the balanced facade of Boscobel is a recessed two-story columned portico with bays on each side and tripartite windows on the first and second floors. A triangular pediment with a semicircular window caps this portico. Above the cornice, the remainder of the roof edge is trimmed with a delicate balustrade.

The exterior is painted yellow with white trim. Unique carved-wood stylized swags, a motif representing the awnings of Palladian houses, fill the spaces between the slender columns. One-third of the area of the facade is made up of windows, giving a surprising brightness to the interior.

Visitors enter a large light-filled central hall. On the right are two drawing rooms; on the left, a dining room and a butler's pantry. At the far end of the hall, a graceful stairway ascends to a landing. Here the stairway splits, each narrow stairway curving to lead to the upper floor.

The second floor contains a front sitting room, bedrooms, a bath and a dressing room. Sarah Wilkerson, a free black servant to the family affectionately called “Sill,” used one bedroom. Two years after States Morris Dyckman's untimely death, his wife and son moved into the sparkling new house.

Editor’s Note: In Part Two of The Boscobel Story, we follow the checkered lives of the descendants of States Morris Dyckman and learn the fate of the house, saved from destruction by the efforts of a small but determined group of concerned citizens.

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The Boscobel Story, 2: Dyckman Descendants and the Miraculous Salvation of Boscobel


The States Morris Dyckman line did not end with his death. His wife and two sons survived him. One, the illegitimate son by Eleanor Brewer, took his name and lived at least until the age of 81. The other, Peter Corne Dyckman, his son by wife Betsey Kennedy, died at 27.

When Eleanor Brewer bore States Morris Dyckman's son out of wedlock, single parenthood was almost impossible for a woman. It is therefore not surprising that her name disappears from the public record, and we lose track of her. The boy became a part of his father’s household and worked on the farm at King's Ferry. He is mentioned frequently in correspondence between his stepmother, Betsey, and his father in England between 1800 and 1803.

At the age of 25, shortly after his father returned from England, Eleanor Brewer’s son, States Brewer, now States Morris Dyckman Jr., left Boscobel and married 18-year-old Rebecca Vermilye on April 26, 1804, in New York City. Between 1805 and 1807 he operated a grocery in the city at 70 Partition Street (the former name of Fulton Street between Broadway and the Hudson River).

States Morris Dyckman Jr. and Rebecca had two sons. States Morris Dyckman Jr. changed his residence and returned to Cortlandt. The 1810 Census shows him living there as the head of a family of four--two males under 10 (his sons); one female, 16-26 (his wife); one male, 26-45 (himself). He also changed his occupation. In an indenture signed on June 1, 1810, and now in the New-York Historical Society, he identifies himself as an innkeeper.

Sometime later he moved back to the city again. Directories from 1827 to 1843-44 list a States M. Dyckman as a teacher. Between 1829 and 1836, he lived successively at various addresses on the Lower East Side: 114 Willett Street, 184 North Street (the former name of East Houston Street between the Bowery and the East River before 1833) and 156 Norfolk Street.

The Census for 1860 lists him as being 80 years of age and his wife, Rebecca as being 72. (She had subtracted two years from her age.) Rebecca Vermilye Dyckman died in New York City on June 17, 1862, aged 74 years 2 months; no date of death has been found for her husband. In 1860, they were living with their son. also named States, and his wife, Julianna, at 648 East Fourth Street in New York City. Both were listed in the 1860 Census as being 53 years old.

New York City directories for the 20 years between 1834-35 and 1854-55 list this son States, the first States Morris Dyckman's grandson, as a carter. [Directories appeared each year in May.] The following year his occupation changed to "policeman." This continued until 1861-62. Valentine's Manual for that year shows him as a patrolman in the Third District Police Court. No information is known about the second son

Peter Corne Dyckman
Peter Corne Dyckman, son of Elizabeth Kennedy and States Morris Dyckman, was born in January of 1797. He could not have known his father well, for States left for London in 1800 and lived only two and a half years after returning from London in 1804.

States doted on little Peter Corne and the child lacked nothing as he grew up. Several years after the War of 1812 ended, he joined the N.Y. militia, and was appointed an ensign in 1818 and a lieutenant in 1820. On May 1, 1819, he married Susan Matilda Whetten. He was 22 and she was 18, and the newlyweds moved into Boscobel.

According to the 1820 U.S. Census, the occupants of Boscobel were widowed Elizabeth, Peter and his bride, plus a staff of “five free colored persons”—a rather large number for such a small family group. Peter and Susan had one daughter, born at Boscobel on September 10, 1822, and given the cumbersome name of Elizabeth Letitia Corne Dyckman. She preferred to call herself Eliza.

A year later, Peter Corne Dyckman's mother, Elizabeth (Betsey) Kennedy Dyckman, “departed this life, June 20, 1823, aged forty-seven” at Boscobel. Friends remembered her as “cheerful, benevolent, and hospitable. Her bounty was without ostentation, her hospitality flowing from native kindness of heart.” With "a sense of increasing loss," they erected a headstone as a monument to her. The epitaph reads, "Left a widow in the prime of life, she so continued until her death, her affections centering on the memory of her departed HUSBAND."

If States Morris Dyckman's troubled life had been short, Peter Corne Dyckman's was even shorter. Always sickly, on April 18, 1824, at the age of only 27, he died at Boscobel, survived by his wife and 19-month-old daughter. Under his will, Boscobel and the farm and everything in them went to his widow.

Originally buried in the Dyckman-Nagle Burial Ground in upper Manhattan, the graves of States Morris Dyckman, his wife, infant daughter and son were moved to the Cedar Hill Cemetery of the Cortlandtown Dutch Reformed Church along the old Albany Post Road (Route 9A) in Montrose, N.Y. Cemetery records are unclear about dates.

In 1926 and 1927, the remaining burials in the long-neglected graveyarlocated in Inwood between 212th and 213th streets and Ninth and Tenth avenues were disinterred to make way for subway yards and repair shops for the new city-owned subway system. The remains of 417 persons were reinterred at Woodlawn Cemetery, 67 of which were identified by name.

Peter Corne Dyckman’s widow later married Edward B. Rathbone and gave birth to four children before his death in an explosion in 1831 of the steamboat General Jackson running between Peekskill and New York City. Married a third time in 1833, the groom was Henry I. Cruger. The Crugers were an old and wealthy mercantile family whose neighboring estates gave their name to a station on the Hudson River Railroad.

The Crugers
Her daughter Eliza married 25-year-old John Peach Cruger in the center hall at Boscobel on Christmas Day in 1837. At age 25, he was the younger brother of her stepfather; she was 15. Title to Boscobel was transferred to her in 1838. In the 31 years between 1838 and 1869, she gave birth there to fifteen children, eight boys and seven girls.

During the Civil War, their son Peter Corne Cruger served in Co. A, 6th Regiment, Heavy Artillery, N.Y. Volunteers. He was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek, Virginia, on October 19, 1864, a bloody battle that broke the back of Southern resistance in the Shenandoah Valley. Peter Corne Cruger died eight days later at Winchester, Virginia, not yet 21 years old.

Of the other 14 children, six died in infancy and one died before his eighth birthday, a mortality rate not unusual in the first half of the 19th century. Only two of the surviving seven married and had children, so members of this branch of the family are not numerous. Three of the grown children who never married were still living with their parents in 1880.

Having effectively gone through his wife’s inheritance, John Peach Cruger tried to generate income from the Boscobel property by leasing land along the Hudson below the house to brickmakers. A typical agreement dated December 12, 1848, between William H. Carrigan and John P. Cruger and wife provided for the use of sheds, machines, dwelling house and barn, and the privilege of taking sand, clay and fresh water for making bricks, and allowed pasturage for horses, cows and oxen.

By 1857, the Crugers had mortgaged Boscobel to George and William Douglas, sons of Margaret Douglas, Betsey Dyckman's wealthy aunt. In 1868, a 378-page book of poems by Eliza Cruger and titled Regina and Other Poems was published in New York by G.W. Carleton and in London by S. Low. A foreclosure sale on May 14, 1880, transferred title to Boscobel to William P. Douglas, son of George Douglas. Before John Peach Cruger died on August 29, 1888, title to Boscobel passed to his creditors and then to land speculators. Five years later, Douglas sold Boscobel to Herbert C. Plass and wife, of New York City.

John Peach Cruger's obituary in The New York Times for August 31, 1888, noted that he had died "at the old manor house, Boscobel." For ten years before his death he was an invalid. The new owners had obviously allowed the Crugers to remain in the house. Col. Cruger, as his obituary referred to him, was the son of John C. Cruger and the great-grandson of John Cruger, 38th mayor of New York City from 1739 to 1744. His title of colonel derived from his service with the old 139th Regiment of the State militia. A lover of yachting and a member of the New York Yacht Club, he was the owner of the sloop-yacht Eliza, named for his wife.

Survivors included his wife and six children: four sons and two daughters. His funeral service was held at the Episcopal Church of the Divine Love in Montrose. This was not his wife's church; Eliza Cruger had been admitted to the Cortlandtown Reformed Dutch Church in 1843 "on confession of faith."

Eliza Cruger survived him by thirteen years and lived into the 20th century, dying on December 12, 1901, at the age of 79. All but the last few years of her life were spent at Boscobel, the house in which she had been born. The Crugers' two unmarried daughters were forced to sell off their family possessions to survive. Eliza Cruger died in 1923, and Martha Cruger died in 1942--both were "without issue," as genealogits say.

Abandoned and for years a near ruin, Boscobel and the land around it was sold in 1923 to Westchester County for development as Crugers Park. In 1941, the Westchester County Park Commission threatened to demolish the building, but an organization quickly formed to provide money for maintenance and insurance. After the U.S. government bought the property in 1945 for a hospital for wounded veterans, the organization disbanded, having been assured the mansion would be preserved following construction of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Veterans Hospital, a complex of 37 buildings on the 383-acre site.

Because no use could be found for the building, however, the General Services Administration declared Boscobel to be unneeded and slated it for removal. Early in 1955, the government sold the mansion to a demolition contractor for thirty-five dollars.

Although many of the architectural details had already been sold and brought to Long Island to be incorporated in a house being built there, a group headed by the Putnam County Historical Society sprang into action and raised $10,000 to purchase what remained of the house and dismantle it. Exact copies were made of the removed architectural elements and exchanged for the original pieces on Long Island.

To provide a new home for the building, 45 acres of land were purchased in Garrison, New York, 15 miles north of the original location. Ground was broken in 1957 for the reconstruction of Boscobel on the new site. Fortunately, the measurements of the house had been recorded by the Historic American Buildings survey in 1932. These drawings greatly aided the reconstruction under architect Harvey Stevenson, whose name is closely associated with the “Stone Houses” along old Post Road North in Croton.

The lovingly rebuilt house was formally opened on May 21, 1961, with an address by Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, who properly called it "one of the most beautiful homes ever built in America."

Time and acid rain have made States Morris Dyckman’s tombstone in the Cedar Hill Cemetery virtually illegible. Yet there can be no more fitting monument to the dynamic man who spent much of his adult life in agonizing pain battling a crippling and eventually fatal disease than this glorious building he never lived to see.

Editor’s Note: Boscobel is open to visitors every day except Tuesdays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

DIRECTIONS TO BOSCOBEL (MAP COORDINATES: Latitude: 41.41386 / Longitude: 73.938211 )

Reach Boscobel, located eight miles north of the Bear Mt. Bridge on Route 9D

BY CAR: From Westchester: Taconic State Parkway north to the Cold Spring, Route 301 west exit. Take Route 301 into the Village of Cold Spring. Turn left at the traffic light at the intersection with 9D, and follow 9D south for one mile. Boscobel is clearly marked on the right.
From Manhattan and New Jersey: Upper level George Washington Bridge to Palisades Parkway north to Bear Mt. Bridge to Route 9D. From Long Island: Throggs Neck or Whitestone Bridge to I-287 to Taconic State Parkway north. Taconic to the Cold Spring, Route 301 west exit. Take Route 301 into the village of Cold Spring. Turn left at the traffic light at the intersection with Route 9D and follow south for one mile. Boscobel is clearly marked on the right. Boscobel is an approximate 1 hour 20 min. drive from NYC.

From the North: NY Thruway to I-84 east; cross the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to Route 9D south, exit 11, and drive eleven miles south to Boscobel. OR Taconic State Parkway south to the Cold Spring, Route 301 west exit. Take Route 301 into the village of Cold Spring. Turn left at the traffic light at the intersection with Route 9D and follow south for one mile. Boscobel is clearly marked on the right.

From points West: I-84 east across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to Route 9D south, exit 11. Drive eleven mile s south to Boscobel.From Manhattan: Take the Major Deegan to the NYS Thruway, take the Thruway to Route 9A, and follow 9A to Route 9 (they merge just south of Croton). Take Route 9 north to Route 403, Garrison (turn left at the traffic light). Take Route 403 to the traffic light at the intersection with Route 9D. Turn right and take 9D for approximately three miles. Boscobel is on your left.

From Queens: Take Route 678 across the Whitestone Bridge to Route 95 Cross Bronx West to the Major Deegan going north, which becomes the NYS Thruway. Follow the Thruway to Route 9A, then continue as directed above.

BY TRAIN: Boscobel can be reached via train using Metro-North's Hudson Division from Grand Central Station to Cold Spring. For schedules and fares, contact Metro North. Upon arrival in Cold Spring, one can either walk about 1.5 miles to Boscobel, or take a taxi from the train station. Call 845-265-TAXI (8294) in advance to arrange for a car to meet you and bring you to Boscobel.

BY TROLLEY: Trolley service connects Boscobel with the train stations in both Cold Spring and Garrison. Memorial Day through December the trolley runs Fridays through Sundays, originating near the Cold Spring Metro-North station. Stops include shops on Cold Spring’s Main Street and other cultural attractions. The service costs just fifty cents (.25 for seniors) and is being provided by Putnam County. For more information, call 845-878-RIDE.

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Thursday, June 03, 2010

Of Dogs and Dog Parks: Myths and Truths


In the U.S. the first official dog park opened in 1979 in Ohlone Park in Berkeley, California. Today, more than 600 city- or county-sanctioned off-leash areas exist in the U.S. Sooner or later, dog owners in a community without a dog park will plump for a dog park--a facility set aside for dogs to exercise and play off-leash in a controlled environment under the supervision of their owners.

Typically, a dog park will feature an area fenced off on all sides, separate, double-gated entry and exit points, benches for owners, shade on hot days, water, utensils for pick up and disposal of feces in covered trash cans. Every well-designed dog park should offer separate areas for large and small dogs. Those that don’t can best be described as “accidents waiting to happen.”

Arguments in favor of establishing a dog park usually go like this: “Dogs are descended from wolves. And wolves are pack animals. Therefore, dogs, being pack animals like the wolves they are descended from, need to run with a pack.“

Dogs are indeed genetic wolves. The fatal flaw in the dog-park advocates’ argument, however, lies in their ignorance of the fact that in the wild, wolves don’t live in packs of unrelated wolves. Early research on the social lives of wolves was based on studies of captive wolf populations composed if unrelated individuals forced to live in enclosures. Captive wolves are almost never members of natural families. The image of wolf packs and alpha wolves promulgated by self-promoting dog-behavior “experts” is wrong and has no foundation in fact.

In no way do the relationships in wolf families resemble the actions of heterogeneous collections of unrelated wolves in captivity, nor do they have an alpha male who fights other wolves to maintain his dominance. The latter is a behavior worked out by captive wolves to overcome the artificial conditions of their captivity. Animal expert Temple Grandin characterizes such captive wolves (and this includes dogs brought to a dog park to socialize) as a “forced pack.”

The Truth About Wolves
Thanks to intensive research by animal biologists like Dr. David Mech (pronounced “Meech”) who made a 13-year study of wolves in the Canadian Arctic, the last stand of the wolves in the wild in North America, we now have detailed knowledge of the social interaction that takes place among wolves. In the wild wolves live the way humans do: in families made up of a mother, a father and their children, all clearly understanding their hierarchical familial relationships.

Wolves exhibit traits and characteristics that humans might emulate in their desire to live together amicably. So-called “wolf packs” are merely families consisting of a mom and a dad and their pups at various stages of life. In no way do wolf families resemble the assorted breeds and sizes and temperaments of dogs that might be found in a dog park. Wolves mate for life and are monogamous. Young wolves from previous breeding seasons support their parents in the training and raising pups of later litters.

Some popular dog-training manuals talk about “pack leadership” and tell new owners that they must establish themselves as the pack “alpha.” Such concepts are based are based on outdated captive wolf studies that imply a rigid, force-based dominance hierarchy. And they are hopelessly wrong. What every newly adopted dog or puppy needs is not for his owner to be a domineering alpha wolf but a foster parent to guide him or her in growing up to be a socially well-adjusted dog through patient, firm and loving training. Dogs were meant to be friendly companion animals, not cowering submissive slaves.

Another argument frequently heard from proponents of dog parks is that dogs need exercise. Indeed they do. But the conventional wisdom of dog-park advocates holds that exercise can only be achieved by allowing dogs to run unleashed with other dogs. This is errant nonsense. Veterinarians will tell you that a good brisk walk of an hour each day will give even large breeds all the exercise they need, and will benefit the dog walker as well. Dogs need people, play and the opportunity to explore and learn. Only people can satisfy those needs.

Not only do dogs come in all shapes and sizes, they come with a variety of dispositions and personalities. Small dogs can be unexpectedly aggressive, and large dogs can be surprisingly laid back. But the combination of a large, aggressive dog and a small, timid dog is usually fatal. And the incendiary combination of two large and aggressive dogs engaged in a fight to the death is not a pretty sight. One reason groups of dogs in dog parks can act unpredictably is that most dogs have lost the submissive behaviors and signals that allow wolves to live together in groups.

Although dog owners bring their dogs to dog parks to socialize, the chasing and nipping that sometimes occurs is incipient aggression and can turn into something more serious. Also, aggressive behavior on the part of large dogs toward smaller dogs may not be the result of aggression but what animal behaviorists call predatory drift, the ancient inclination to hunt small game as prey. The killing of smaller dogs in dog parks by other dogs has been reported many times in newspapers—but such reports are usually only carried locally and are not widely circulated.

Anyone foolish enough to bring a dog to a badly designed dog park that fails to separate small breeds from large is asking for trouble. It’s surprising, too, that dog owners blithely expose their dogs to the hazard of a dogfight in dog parks and yet are totally unprepared when a dogfight occurs. All dog owners should know what to do to stop a dogfight. Here are six tips to remember:

How to Break Up a Dogfight

(1) Screaming or yelling at a dog or dogs in a dogfight is ineffective.

(2) Never reach for the collar of an attacking dog. You risk being severely bitten. And be careful about what you say to the owner of an aggressive dog; such owners are often also aggressive and unreasonable.

(3) Some dog owners make it a point to walk with a walking stick or a cane. But even being struck forcefully with a stick will not stop some vicious dogs.

(4) One of the most effective tools a dog owner can carry is pepper spray. A canister of pepper spray may legally be carried and used in all 50 states, although some retrictions may apply. In New York, for example, pepper spray is sold only in drugstores and by licensed firearms dealers. A squirt or two in the eyes of even the most vicious attacking dog will take the fight out of him and causes no permanent damage.

(5) If you don’t have pepper spray, one technique is to step behind the attacking dog and grab him by his rear legs, lifting them off the ground. This will put him in a “wheelbarrow” position and render him less able to continue attacking your dog or you.

6) In the final analysis, the best way to stop a dogfight involving your dog is not to put your dog in a situation where a dogfight can happen.

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