You could be forgiven if you thought that the rivalry between Rye and Harrison began in 1929 when the two high schools played the first of their of annual football contests.
By Paul Hicks
You could be forgiven if you thought that the rivalry between Rye and Harrison began in 1929 when the two high schools played the first of their of annual football contests. In fact, its origin can be traced back more than three hundred years. In 1662, Peter Disbrow (one of the original Rye settlers) purchased a tract of land situated between Blind Brook and the Mamaroneck River from a group of Indians. Four years later, John Budd (another Rye settler) bought from other Indians a more extensive tract that included Disbrow’s land.
This territory remained vacant and uncultivated for more than three decades, probably because it was too remote from the security of Rye’s coastal settlement. In 1695, John Harrison, newly arrived from Long Island, bought much the same territory (thereafter called “Harrison’s Purchase”). The seller was an Indian who professed to be “the true owner and proprietor,” according to Rye’s noted historian, Rev. Charles W. Baird.
Whether Harrison was aware of the prior title claims is a matter of dispute, but it is clear that the no patent had been obtained from New York by any Rye resident. Rye was originally part of the Colony of Connecticut, but in 1683, it was ceded to the province of New York, despite objections from the residents. Baird notes that the “English governors of New York were quite as generous as their Dutch predecessors in giving away the public lands…So carelessly were the patents for these grants bestowed, that not infrequently they entrenched upon the boundaries of lands previously taken up or absorbed them.”
Most of this history is well documented by Baird and others, but parts are colored by local lore, such as the reason for the irregular boundary line of what is now the Town of Harrison. It is said that John Harrison was told that he could purchase as much land as he could cover on horseback in a day. The clever Harrison ended up with a tract about nine miles in length and nearly three miles wide by never spending the time to cross Rye Pond (now part of Kensico Reservoir) on the north, Blind Brook on the east or the Mamaroneck River on the west.
Harrison’s Purchase was surveyed by order of Colonel Fletcher, Governor of New York, and a patent was granted by the British government to Harrison and his four associates. The inhabitants of Rye opposed the grant, but instead of combining their forces, they presented two separate claims. Disregarding both of the Rye claims, the Governor validated Harrison’s Purchase in 1696.
Baird provides a dramatic account of what happened next: “Under this grievance, the town of Rye seceded. It renounced the authority of the provincial government and returned to the colony of Connecticut. The provocation was great and the temptation was strong. It is more surprising that the Connecticut government should have received the rebellious town. But there was much bitter feeling just at this time between the two colonies, growing out of the unsettled state of the question as to their boundaries.”
During the four-year period (1696-1700) when Rye was again part of Connecticut, Harrison’s Purchase remained part of New York. Although the town is named for John Harrison, he sold his land interest in 1702, while his four associates disposed of their shares by 1708 or soon after.
The first substantial settlement of the town did not occur until 1724, when a group of Quakers (Society of Friends) arrived from Long Island. There is a legend that the area they settled was called “Purchase,” because the town map was on two pages with “Harrison” shown on the first page.
Until the Revolution, Harrison was considered a precinct within the Town of Rye, and in March 1788, it became a separate township within the state of New York. Many of the original land owners in Harrison were members of old Rye families, including Haviland, Park, and Purdy, so the rivalry can be seen as just a family feud over grievances against the colonial government, which helped sow the seeds of the Revolution.