According to the 2010 census, the City of Rye covers 20.0 square miles, of which 5.8 square miles is land area and the rest is mainly coastal water.
By Paul Hicks
According to the 2010 census, the City of Rye covers 20.0 square miles, of which 5.8 square miles is land area and the rest is mainly coastal water. In addition, the Town of Rye, consisting of the Village of Port Chester, an unincorporated part of Mamaroneck known as Rye Neck, and the Village of Rye Brook, has a current total area of 7.4 square miles. However, the territory that the early settlers of Rye claimed from 1661 to 1788 was many times larger than the current total of 27.4 square miles, despite many boundary changes.
The settlement of the Town of Rye began in 1660 when Peter Disbrow and other residents of Greenwich signed treaties with the local band of Siwanoy Indians. According to the “History of Rye, Harrison and White Plains,” by Charles Baird (published in 1871), “The First Purchase on Peningo Neck comprised the lower part of the present town of Rye on the east side of Blind Brook. From the extreme end of the peninsula proper, or Brown’s Point, as it has long been called [Milton Point], this territory continued north to the present village of Port Chester.”
More land was acquired a short time later from the Siwanoys, as described by Baird: “By these two treaties, our settlors acquired the lower half of the present territory of the town, between Blind Brook and the Sound or Byram River; together with the adjoining island of Manussing [Manursing]. Nearly a year after, they bought the land lying further north, between the two streams. This included considerably more than the present territory of the town.”
The third step in the growth of Rye’s territory followed in 1661 when, led by John Budd, “they bought from the Indians the lands on the west side of [Blind Brook], extending to the Mamaroneck River and beyond. Upon these purchases, the town of Rye subsequently founded its claim to territory now known as Rye Neck, and to the present townships of Harrison, and the White Plains.”
Baird went on to say that through these purchases, the founders of the Town of Rye acquired title to territory whose “boundaries, so far as they were stated with any degree of clearness, included the area now covered by the towns of Rye and Harrison, much of the towns of North Castle and Bedford, and of Greenwich in Connecticut; whilst in a northwesterly direction was absolutely without a fixed limit.”
However, there were other settlers who also signed treaties with the local Indians and thus had claims to much of the same territory as the founders of the Town of Rye. The best known of the land disputes was with a group from Long Island, headed by John Harrison, who in 1696 acquired part of Rye’s land from some of the same Indians.
Because the Rye residents held no patent and had not yet settled that land, the royal governor of New York granted a patent to Harrison and his group. The memory of this episode, long known as Harrison’s Purchase, persists today in the name of Purchase Street, which runs from Rye to the Purchase section of Harrison.
This adverse decision caused the residents of the Town of Rye to secede from New York and join their former colony of Connecticut where they remained from 1697 to 1700. In that year, a law issued by King William returned Rye to the Colony of New York, but none of the land lost to Harrison was ever returned.
Nonetheless, Rye residents continued to assert their claims to the land further to the west, which they had purchased in 1683 from other Indians who called the area “Quaroppas.” That name was translated into English as the White Plains, supposedly because it described the mists that frequently formed over the land along the Bronx River that flowed through it.
Again, there was opposition, but this time it was from John Richbell, the founder of Mamaroneck who had bought a large tract of land from the Weckquaeskeck Indians that ran westward and northward. Moreover, he had obtained patents both from the officials of New Netherlands in 1662 and, later, from the colony of New York. In 1701, after the death of Richbell, his widow sold to Caleb Heathcote the rights she inherited in land that ran from Mamaroneck to the White Plains.
According to Baird, “This tract included the whole of the present town of Scarsdale, for which Colonel Heathcote immediately obtained patent letters from the British Crown, securing to him that territory and constituting the ‘lordship’ or manor of Scarsdale.” However, the fair-minded Heathcote chose not to press his rights to the White Plains over the claims of Rye, nor did his heirs after his death. Over the years, members of many Rye families moved to White Plains, and, Baird writes, “in 1721, certain individuals obtained from the British government a patent for themselves and their associates, for the whole tract of four thousand, four hundred and thirty-five acres.”
In 1758, White Plains became the county seat of Westchester County, and it remained part of the Town of Rye until 1788 when a separate Town of White Plains was created. Even when a map of the area was published in 1867, a number of old Rye names were shown as White Plains property owners, including Carpenter, Haviland, Knapp, and Purdy. Although the early settlers of Rye sometimes slept on their rights, they clearly had their own sense of manifest destiny.