Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Newtown families

At the time in the late 1860s when my great-grandfather, Louis Windmuller, bought a piece of land in Newtown, Queens, his neighbors were few and sparse.[1] He was part of a tiny, pioneering minority of prosperous businessmen seeking country retreats within commuting distance of their Manhattan offices. At that time the majority of local residents had migrated there long before, fleeing the intolerant 17th-century provinces of New England and seeking religious freedom in Dutch New Amsterdam. Among Windmuller's neighbors, the families earliest to arrive had been named Betts, Burroughs, Cumberson, Lawrence, Leverich, Moore, Morrell, Smith, and Van Alst. You can locate them on this map of 1852.

{source: Woodside: A Historical Perspective 1652-1994 by Catherine Gregory (Woodside On the Move, 1994), found in macaulay.cuny.edu and forgotten-ny.com}

These ancient families all have their stories. One of them boasted an ancestor who was one of the first settlers in the area, a man who objected to Dutch treatment of the Quakers and who therefore in 1657 signed the Flushing Remonstrance. This document was the first (ultimately successful) demand for religious toleration made in the American colonies.[2] Another family came from a noble lineage whose members had fought in Palestine with Richard the Lion-hearted, graced the illustrious court of Elizabeth I, served in the Long Parliament in the reign of Charles II, and secured fame as a friend and supporter of John Milton. A member of this family received, in 1689, one of the first British grants to farm in what would become Newtown.[3] Another family's forebear was known to be "a resolute character and warm advocate of popular rights." He came to Newtown from Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1630s. He had sufficient education to serve as town clerk under the Dutch and, having continued in that role after the British took over, was censured for bluntly expressing the town's grievances against unjust treatment handed out by the new English rulers. [4]

When Windmuller bought his land, his neighbors were the children and grand-children of men and women who had lived through the colonial rebellion. Throughout most of that war Newtown was occupied by British troops and frequently had many thousands of them encamped on its fields. James Riker, in his Annals of Newtown, tells of locals who fought on both sides of the conflict and of the confiscations, theft, and destruction of their property during this time.[5] One of them, a man who owned the land adjoining the property Windmuller was to purchase, gallantly fought off three British deserters as the war came to a close.[6]

You see a "Betts Avenue" on the 1852 map and by it property belonging to A. Betts and Theo H. Betts. These two were descendants of one of Newtown's most illustrious citizens. William O'Gorman describes him thus:
Captain Richard Betts, whose public services appear for fifty years on every page of Newtown’s history, came in 1648 to New England, but soon after to Newtown, where he acquired great influence. In the revolution of 1663 he bore a zealous part, and after the conquest of New Netherlands’ by the English was a member from Newtown of the provincial Assembly held at Hempstead in 1665. In 1678 he was commissioned high sheriff of "Yorkshire upon Long Island," and he retained the position until 1681. He became a bitter opponent to Director Pieter Stuyvesant and the little town of Bushwick, which he had founded. Under leave from the governor the English settlers had planted their town, but were refused the usual patent, and in 1656 Richard Betts administered a severe blow to Stuyvesant by purchasing the land for himself and 55 associates, from the red men, at the rate of one shilling per acre. The total cost amounted to £68 16s. 4d., which, with the sum of £76 9s. paid to the sachems Pomwaukon and Rowerowestco, extinguished the Indian title to Newtown. For a long series of years Betts was a magistrate. During this time he was more than once a member of the high court of assize, then the supreme power in the province. He became an extensive landholder at the English Kills. His residence was here, in what is still known as "the old Betts house." ... The old house which we may enter by lifting the wrought iron latch of heavy construction, worn by the hands of many generations; the polished flags around the old deep well, where the soldiers were wont to wash down their rations, are still as the British left them on their last march through Maspeth. This house is but one of several most ancient farm houses still carefully preserved for their antiquity, on the old Newtown road, between Calvary Cemetery and Maurice avenue. These venerable companions have witnessed many changes, and now enjoy a green old age, respected by the community in which they stand.[7]
Old Betts House

{The Old Betts House, from an article in the Brooklyn Eagle, April 25, 1880}

Old Betts Farm

{Betts Farm, 1900; source: maspethchamberofcommerce.org}


Some sources:

"Middleburg", in History Of Queens County (New York: W.W. Munsell & Co., 1882)

Woodside: A Historical Perspective 1652-1994 by Catherine Gregory (Woodside On the Move, 1994)

Eight generations from William Thorne of Dorsetshire, England, and Lynn Mass by Joseph Steward Middleton and Alan McLean Taylor (Boston, private imprint, 1913)

Prominent families of New York; being an account in biographical form of individuals and families distinguished as representatives of the social, professional and civic life of New York city edited by Lyman Weeks (New York, The Historical company, 1897)

The Old Merchants of New York City, Second Series, by Walter Barrett Clerk (Carleton, 1863)

Descendants of Signers of Flushing Remonstrance 1657 New Netherland

Flushing Remonstrance Comes Home by Liz Rhoades, Queens Chronicle, 11/29/2007

Annual report of the American Institute of the City of New York (C. van Benthuysen., 1847)

Captain Thomas Townsend in wikipedia

The Old Betts House

The Townsend family of Long Island

The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York by James Riker (Fanshaw, 1852)

Richard Betts Early Long Island, New York Settler



[1] I've written a couple of other posts about Windmuller and his country estate: Bragaws and Woodside.

[2] The ancestor was John Townsend. He came to New Amsterdam in 1640 and a few years later received permission to settle in the area that later became Newtown. Back in January I wrote a blog post about the Flushing Remonstrance: love, peace and liberty condemn hatred, war and bondage.

[3] Here's an awe-struck account of this set of ancestors:
It has been said of the Lawrences that "they were related to all that was most illustrious in England, to the ambitious Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the favorite courtier of Queen Elizabeth, and to Sir Philip Sidney, who refused a throne." The earliest ancestor of this family, of whom there is an authentic record, was Sir Robert Lawrence, of Ashton Hall, Lancashire, who accompanied King Richard Coeur de Lion to Palestine, and was the first to plant his standard on the walls of Acre in 1191. His grandson, Sir James Lawrence, in the time of Henry III., married Matilda Washington. Among the descendants of this marriage were Sir John Lawrence, who, in the reign of Henry VII., was the owner of thirty-four manors; Henry Lawrence, a member of the Long Parliament, and William Lawrence, the friend of Milton.

The family was one of the first of distinction to send its representatives from England to the New World. Three sons of William Lawrence came to the American Colonies. John and William arrived in the ship Planter, and Thomas Lawrence, the youngest brother, afterwards joined them. They went first to New England, where their kinsman, Henry Lawrence, had received with Lord Say and Seal, Lord Brooke, Saltonstall and others a large grant of land in Connecticut, from which the settlement of Saybrook originated. Later they came to New Netherland and became landowners, men of wealth and influence in the Province. John Lawrence was Mayor of New York from 1673 to 1675, and again in 1691, and was a Justice of the Supreme Court and a member of the Governor's Council from 1672 to 1679. He left no male descendants.

Captain William Lawrence was the head of the patentees of Flushing, Long Island, in 1645, a magistrate under the Dutch administration, and a military officer under the English Government. He was the ancestor of Captain James Lawrence, U. S. N., commander of the frigate Chesapeake in its memorable action with the British ship Shannon in 1813, whose dying words, "Don't give up the ship," have become immortal, and whose tomb is now a conspicuous feature of the graveyard of Trinity Church, New York.

Major Thomas Lawrence, the youngest of the three brothers, was the chief patentee of Newtown, Long Island, and commander of the Queens County forces in 1689. His son William was a member of Jacob Leisler's Committee of Safety in 1689, and a Councillor of the Province in 1690, and from 1702 to 1706.
-- Prominent Families of New York
[4] -- Having received support from the town council, this man, John Burroughes, wrote again and this time was punished. The order reads: "that John Burroughes be forthwith committed into the custody of the sheriff of this city, to remain in prison until some time on Monday next, then to be brought to the whipping-post, before the city hall, and being fastened thereunto, to stand an hour, with a paper on his breast setting forth the cause thereof to be for signing seditious letters in the name of the town of Newtown, against the government and court of assizes, and that he be rendered incapable of bearing any office or trust in the government, for the future." -- The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York: containing its history from its first settlement, together with many interesting facts concerning the adjacent towns ; also, a particular account of numerous Long island families now spread over this and various other states of the union by James Riker (D. Fanshaw, 1852)

[5] The annals of Newtown, in Queens county, New-York by James Riker (Fanshaw, 1852)

[6] The man was Thomas Cumberson. Here's the story:
One night, a little before the peace, Thos. Cumberson was awakened by a knocking at his door by some persons, who asked the way to Hallet's Cove. They then wanted to come in and get something to eat. This he refused, as the hour was unseasonable. They affected to go off satisfied. But, suspecting they might return again, Cumberson dressed himself, and stood his loaded gun by his bed. In a short time, without notice, his front door was forced open by a stone as large as a man could well manage. The robbers then rushed in upon him, and one cried out, " Now, you rascal, we've got you." He fired instantly and lodged the load in the fellow's abdomen, and sung out, as to a friend present, " Hand the other gun, or fire yourself." Thereupon, all three decamped. The wounded man essayed to mount his horse, but failed. He, however, snapped his pistol at Cumberson, who had followed him out of doors, and was looking on. Finally he begged to be led into the house. C. told him he had been in once. " Yes, to my sorrow," said the wounded man, throwing down his pistol and falling on the ground. He at first refused to give up the names of his associates; but on being told by the British surgeon that he had but a short time to live, he confessed all. His name was Michael Hogans. Three of them had deserted from the British camp at Flatbush and come over to the English Kills, where they broke open the King's stables and stole three wagoner's horses. His two accomplices, Docharty and Lyons, rode off to Hallet's Cove, where stealing a boat, they crossed the river, and were never heard of afterwards. The wounded man died eight hours after in great agony, and was sewed up in a blanket of Mrs. C.'s, and buried in the woods east of the house.
-- Documents and letters intended to illustrate the revolutionary incidents of Queens county: with connecting narratives, explanatory notes, and additions by Henry Onderdonk (Leavitt, Trow and company, 1846)
[7] From "Remains of Ancient Newtown," a series of articles by William O’Gorman, in the Long Island Star, 1879-80, quoted in HISTORY OF QUEENS COUNTY (New York, W.W. Munsell & Co., 1882)

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