The First Church – The Upper Mills (Sleepy Hollow)
I have been trying to put my finger on the reason why the Old Dutch Church means so much to me. I think the words of the Rev. Arthur F. Mabon delivered during the 200th anniversary celebration of the church captures part of it:
In a very real sense the Old Church has become so large in its life and influence that it truthfully can be said to have outgrown its own immediate family exclusiveness, without having lost any of it. It has demonstrated in [a] most beautiful manner the reality of a wider circle. Such a gathering as this to-night bears witness to the spirit of a true unity among the churches, which no articles of agreement, signed and sealed, could possibly effect. From its associations, this whole community and region round about have come to believe, and rightly so, that they have a share in the life, welfare, and perpetuation of the Old Church. There is also a devotion to it from afar, owing to its national character, as it links so wonderfully in its history certain great events in our American life.
These words, spoken over 100 years ago still ring true today. The shuttered doors of the church this year have not kept visitors from the burying ground. Fathers still lifted children onto their shoulders to peak through the Gothic windows and catch a glance of the 335-year old sanctuary. The cancellation of the Old Dutch Fest and Historic Hudson Valley’s one-man performances of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow did not keep people away. The numbers, of course were no where near the thousands of past years. But still, they came. In fact, the cessation of October “festivities” allowed our guests to experience the more peaceful and contemplative atmosphere that many of us appreciate at the Old Dutch. Who are these people? I’d like to think they are part of the “wider circle” Rev. Mabon refers to. As stewards of the Old Dutch, my congregation has seen first-hand the importance of “The Old Church” to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, not just from a commercial perspective, profiting from The Legend and our Favorite Author, but also from a place of pride. As Rev. Mabon says in the last sentence, the life of the Old Dutch “links so wonderfully in its history certain great events of our American life.” The Old Dutch Church isn’t just a nice old building – (ancient by American standards). There is history here. The church has been described as an “anchor” for the early settlers – a foundation upon which to build community life. It continues in that capacity as it anchors our two river towns to the stories that came before us and it still functions as it was designed, as a place of worship. There are layers upon layers of stories here. Sometimes hidden treasure. As a docent, nothing gives me more pleasure than surprising folks with a new discovery, or sharing tales with Headless Horseman fans about the real heroic actions of our predecessors during the American Revolution.
So this brings me to a thought that crossed my mind when I was at the Old Dutch in December. The place was candle-lit and video equipment had been set up to record readings for our Christmas Eve service, that alas, was online this year. In past years, the church has filled to capacity four times in a night to accommodate the people who come to hear the service. Our congregation could have easily done one service for ourselves, but you see, this is another time where the “wider circle” is honored. The tradition of Christmas Eve at the Old Dutch is one we gladly share with those who seek to “share in the life, welfare, and perpetuation of the Old Church.” So as I went up to the lectern to read my reading it was not lost on me that buried beneath my feet was the builder of this place, Frederick Philipse I, the founder of a family dynasty that would influence the region politically and economically for generations. The church was built to provide spiritual sustenance to the Dutch settlers. I don’t know if Philipse was a religious man. Unlike his second wife Catherine, who is listed as the first member of the church, the name of the Lord of the Manor is not listed in the membership roll at all. But he was the architect of the church and a successful land developer, merchant and businessman, who was entangled in the global venture of sugar and slave-trading, accused of fraternizing with pirates and at the same time considered by his tenants to be a fair landlord.
After Philipse’s death in 1702, his properties were divided between his son Adolph, and his grandson Frederick, who also gained the hereditary title due to the premature death of Frederick Philipse’s eldest son Philip. Catherine Philipse was charged with the duty of providing the best education possible for his grandson, which meant taking Frederick to England. When Frederick was of age, he became the second Lord of the Manor. His uncle Adolph is noted for purchasing what is known as the Highland Patent or Philipse Patent – 250 square miles which roughly makes up current Putnam County, NY. When Adolph died in 1750, Frederick Philipse II, his sole heir, inherited all of his uncle’s property, including the Highland Patent. In the will of Frederick Philipse II, his son and heir Frederick Philipse III would inherit all of Philipsburg Manor. The Highland Patent would be equally divided between his other children, Susannah, Mary, Margaret, and Philip.
The Second Church – The Lower Mills (Yonkers)
Frederick Philipse II died not long after Adolph. He left 400 pounds to build an episcopal church in Yonkers. This was carried out by his heir, Frederick Philipse III, with the building of St. John’s Church in 1752. Over the years St John’s has gone through various expansions, but a wall from the 1752 structure remains preserved and incorporated in the contemporary church. After the Old Dutch Church, St John’s Episcopal Church is the second oldest church in New York State. For me, it signifies the complete anglicization of the Philipse family. While Philipse II donated the funds to build an Anglican church , at his instruction, his remains were interred in the family crypt at the Old Dutch Church with his grandfather Frederick Philipse I, his grandmother Catherine who raised him, and other members of the Philipse family.
The story of the Philipse family and church building could end here. The final act of the Philipses in America seemed to have been played out during the American Revolution. The third Lord of the Manor remained a loyalist. And why wouldn’t he? The Philipse family had a successful run under British rule and managed to gain a hereditary title in the process. By all accounts Frederick Philipse III was a good landlord. He enjoyed the status his predecessors established for him in New York. He was a member of the New York Assembly and held the rank of Colonel in the militia. His signature appears on the Loyalist Declaration of Dependence, 1776, which most likely drew the attention of General George Washington who ordered his arrest on suspicion of treason. He was confined for a period of time and then paroled. However, after breaking his parole, under the 1779 Act of Attainder by the New York Legislature, his name was placed on a list of 59 loyalists who were considered to be enemies of the state – their lands were confiscated and they were banished from New York. Philipse had no choice but to flee to British held Manhattan where he spent the remainder of the war. He, his family, and other American loyalists were part of the evacuation of the British fleet from New York that commenced on November 25, 1783.
The Third and Fourth Churches – The Highland Patent (Peekskill & Garrison)
The heirs of the Highland Patent. Susannah Philipse married Beverly Robinson, formerly of the colony of Virginia and a childhood friend of George Washington. Robinson hoped to stay neutral during the war, but when pressed to choose a side he chose his King. In 1777, he formed the Loyal American Regiment with the rank of Colonel. Mary Philipse, whose name is linked to a possible romance with George Washington, married businessman Roger Morris, who had served as a Colonel during the French and Indian War. She and her husband also remained loyal to Britain. Along with Frederick Philipse III, the sisters and their spouses were listed among the 59 loyalists who were declared guilty of felony and if found in New York State could be “adjudged and declared guilty of felony” and who “shall suffer Death… without the Benefit of clergy.” It doesn’t go unnoticed that they were among the wealthiest landowners in New York and the sale of their properties would benefit the patriot cause. Roger Morris left for England as soon as the war broke out, leaving his wife and children at the Philipse Manor home in Yonkers until it was safe for him to return to Manhattan. Morris expressed his feelings about their separation in a letter while he was living in exile:
The Churches of the Highland Patent. Ten years prior to the Revolution and the unhappy events that led to their exile, Beverly and Susannah Robinson helped to establish, (under the governance of the Church of England), St Peter’s Church on land belonging to the Manor of Cortlandt near Peekskill. Robinson was the primary benefactor, founder and first Church Warden of St Peter’s. From the beginning it was acknowledged that there must also be a ministry to the families in nearby Garrison, NY. Thus, St. Philip’s Chapel in the Highlands was established. As “United Churches”, a single pastor served both churches. Beverly Robinson donated a 200-acre farm to provide a home and living for the pastor and while it was under construction the Robinsons hosted the new pastor in their home, “Beverly”. As you can imagine, the outbreak of the Revolution had severe consequences for Anglican churches. They faced physical damage and their congregations suffered from political division. St Peter’s was used as a hospital by French troops under General Rochambeau and it was only by the command of General Washington that St Philip’s was not totally destroyed by patriots.
Hardly had the parish been established when the War of the Revolution broke out with most disastrous results to the United Churches [St Peter’s and St Philip’s]. The material damage to the property was the least evil. The Rector was a Tory, and a ‘a little previous to the War gave up his charge;’ the senior Warden [Robinson] fought on the British side and lost alike his estates and his citizenship; the parish was politically divided; the churches closed and the flock of God left unshepherded. There is no recorded meeting of the Vestry for fifteen years. Source: “St Peter’s Church and St Philips Chapel”
After the war, Beverly Robinson’s sons went to Canada and continued their military careers for the Crown, while he, his wife and younger children went into exile in England. He spent the years following the war seeking compensation from the British government for his property losses so that he could support his family. St Peter’s and St Philip’s felt the loss of their greatest benefactor as they went about rebuilding. However, there was one member of the Philipse family who remained to support the United Churches – Captain Frederick Philipse. He would serve as a Vestryman from 1812 through his death in 1829. His grandson, Frederick Gouverneur would legally change his name to Frederick G Philipse and continue as a benefactor of the St Philip’s and serve as Clerk and Treasurer (1836-1873) and Church Warden (1848 to his death in 1874). St Peter’s and St Philip’s became two separate parishes in 1840.
Who is this Captain Philipse? I always thought that all of the Philipse family went into exile at the end of the war and thus, the end of the Philipse family story in New York. But that is not the case. When Margaret Philipse died without heirs in 1752 her share of the Highland Patent was redistributed between her three surviving siblings. We’ve seen that the Robinson and Morris properties were confiscated by the New York Commission on Forfeitures. But what about the fourth sibling, Philip Philipse, who also inherited one third of Margaret’s share? Philip Philipse died before the war in 1756. The lots originally owned by Philip Philipse were not confiscated in 1779. His widow, Margaret Marston Philipse, and his three sons, Adolph, Frederick and Nathan inherited his share of the Highland Patent. (Philip Philipse is buried in the Martson family crypt at Trinity Church, New York. Margaret Marston later married Rev John Ogilvie who served at Trinity Church. The couple had no children.) Nathan Philipse, the youngest son of Margaret and Philip Philipse, was commissioned as an Ensign in the British Army. He died at the Battle of Germantown in 1777. His inheritance was transferred to his oldest brother, Adolph. Upon Adolph’s death in 1785, all property was transferred to the remaining brother, Captain Frederick Philipse, who did not leave the country. Captain Philipse married his cousin Mary Marston. After her death he married Maria Kemble. Maria Kemble Philips outlived her husband Frederick (d. 1829), who like his father, is buried in the Marston family crypt at Trinity Church. And now we come to the fifth church in our story.
The Fifth Church – (Tarrytown)
Captain Philipse, His Widow, and a Mystery
Christ Episcopal Church in Tarrytown was built in 1836 and consecrated in 1837. Washington Irving was a noted member of the church. And so, it appears, was Maria Kemble. A marble slab on the north side of the chancel bears these words:
(relict of Frederick Philips,)
of Philipstown, Putnam County,
who departed this life the 13th day of
November, A.D. 1839,
aged 68 years.
Her remains rest within the walls of
the Tower of this Church.
The memory of the just is
blessed. —- Prov. x.7.
Who was Maria Kemble? According to the “The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, vols 10-11”:
Frederick Philipse, an officer in the British service, resident in America, who married, first, his cousin Mary, daughter of Thomas Marston, Esq, and secondly, Maria, daughter of Samuel Kemble, niece to Lord Gage. She was born in England, and was of English descent…Frederick Philipse died in 1829; his former wife Mary (Marston) died young giving birth to a daughter, Mary Philipse, who married Samuel Gouveneur…
Westchester historian Robert Bolton also notes that the Maria, and her sister Katherine Kemble, who is buried with her, were “nieces of the Honorable Viscount Gage”. Whether “Lord” or “Viscount”, this declaration puts them in relationship to the American loyalist Peter Kemble of New Jersey, a businessman and politician whose daughter Margaret Kemble Gage was married to General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces in the early part of the Revolution. She was the sister of Samuel Kemble who did have daughter “Mary” who would indeed have been the niece of Lord Gage. We can concede that the names “Mary” and “Maria” might be interchangeable. However, I can find little information about Samuel’s daughter Mary, and I don’t see any reference to a sister Katherine in the genealogies. Another publication, “Founding a Foundry: The Diary of the Setting-Out of the West Point Foundry, 1817” says that the wife of Captain Philipse was the sister of Gouverneur Kemble, Samuel Kemble’s nephew. According to this article, after the death of Captain Philipse, his widow married Roger Parker Parrott, who ran the West Point Foundry. The article appears to confuse the two women. Mary Kemble Parrott died in 1890 and is buried in the Cold Springs Cemetery, 50 years after the death of Maria Kemble Philipse. So, we are still left with a mystery.
Returning to that memorial of Maria Kemble Philips at Christ Episcopal Church – Is it too much of a stretch to think that its prominent placement in the church, which announces her connection to the Philipse family, might also indicate that she played a significant role in funding the building of this church, funds that she may have inherited as the widow of Captain Frederick Philips? Robert Bolton’s 1848 history of Westchester County says the church structure was valued at $8,000. An article in “The Citizen Register” of Ossining, NY, on 10/1/1965, says that Maria Philips and her sister Katherine Kemble were the first congregants of the church. It goes on to say that the church cost $5,000 to build and $4,000 of that was raised through subscriptions, the balance obtained through a mortgage. Whether Maria or her sister played a role in financing the church remains uncertain. But surely their entombment in a prominent place in the church has some significance. Putting aside my own questions about Maria Kemble Philips, the discovery of her burial, for me, brought the story of the Philipse family full-circle back to their Tarrytown beginnings.
Usually, when I tell the story of the Philipse family at the Old Dutch Church it ends with the exile of Frederick Philipse III and his family. I hadn’t ventured much into the history of the Highland Patent or that fact that the direct descendants of Philip Philipse, brother of Lord Frederick Philipse III, continued to reside in America, and managed to keep their wealth, and more importantly their land, after the Revolution. I only recently learned of Maria Kemble Philips’ entombment at Christ Episcopal Church, a discovery that inspired this rather long reflection.
The Philipse family reveals the complexity and contradictions of American history. There are themes that resonate with the idea of the “American Dream” – the successful immigrant who comes to America with nothing and creates an empire based in commerce and the acquisition of land. There are the hard themes of people who enhanced their wealth by the subjugation of others through the Atlantic Slave Trade and the use of enslaved Africans to increase their wealth and status. We have the 17th century story of she-merchant and female entrepreneur – Margaret Hardenbroeck and the 18th century romance of Mary Philipse and George Washington. There are stories of conflicts between friends and family that split along loyalist and patriot lines and led to the great tragedies of loss, exile and death.
Yet, we cannot ignore the stories of faith found in each generation of the Philipse family. We could easily look backwards through our modern lens and question a Christian faith that made room for owning and trading in slaves. As generous and loved a man as Beverly Robinson was, it grates on our modern sensibilities that this person who founded a church could also list the names and values of the enslaved African men and women as lost property on his compensation claim with British government. But still, these 17th, 18th, and 19th century churches, built upon the wealth of imperfect men and women, have survived and continue to minister to their communities in Sleepy Hollow, Tarrytown, Yonkers, Peekskill and Garrison, NY. These churches stand as witness to the past and they continue to inspire and renew the communities they serve today.
Two Hundredth Anniversary of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, October 10 and October 11, 1897 – 1697-1897. First Reformed Church of Tarrytown. 1898.
A History of the County of Westchester, From Its First Settlement to the Present Time, Vol 1. Robert Bolton. 1848
History of St Philip’s Church in the Highlands, Including, up to 1840, St Peters Church on the Manor of Cortlandt. E Clowes Chorley, B.D. 1912
Walton, S. (2009). Founding a Foundry: The Diary of the Setting-Out of the West Point Foundry, 1817. IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology, 35(1/2), 25-38. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41550363
New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volumes 10-11. The New England Historical and Genealogical Society. 1856
‘Christ Episcopal: in Tarrytown History’. The Citizen Register, Ossining, NY, 10/1/1965. Thanks to Char Weigel who found this article for me.
An American Loyalist – the Ordeal of Frederick Philipse III. Stefan Bielinski. 1976
The Women of the American Revolution: Mary Philipse. Elizabeth F Ellet. 1849