By Paul Hicks
Rye residents contended with rival claims to the territory they acquired more than once.
The concept of “manifest destiny” was first promoted as an American doctrine in the nineteenth century, but the pursuit of territorial expansion had been an important goal for pioneers in the New World since the1600s.
When the original settlers of Rye purchased a large tract of Native American land in 1660, they established their original community on Manursing Island. Soon after, their numbers grew and they expanded onto the mainland, occupying land along both sides of Blind Brook.
In 1662, they acquired additional land from Native Americans further to the west. However, when they failed to settle or cultivate those holdings for more than three decades, the royal governor approved the competing title claim of a group from Long Island in what became known as “Harrison’s Purchase.”
It was not the only time the Rye residents had to contend with rival claims to the territory they had acquired. As reported in the history of Rye by Charles W. Baird: “The tract of land known to the natives as Quaroppas, and called by our settlers ‘The White Plains,’ was purchased by them from the Indians in the year 1683.”
But the title held by the inhabitants of Rye was challenged by John Richbell of Mamaroneck, who had a claim dating to 1662, which was acknowledged by both Dutch and English authorities. According to Baird, Richbell complained to the governor that he was “wholly obstructed and hindered by Rye men…and he cannot therefore dispose of these lands…”
The dispute remained unsettled for many years, but after Richbell’s death, his estate’s lands (including all of White Plains) were sold to Caleb Heathcote, who had recently become Lord of the Manor of Scarsdale. The title issues became further complicated when Heathcote died a few years later and his heirs did not press a claim on behalf of his estate. Finally, in 1721 the settlers from Rye obtained a royal patent for the whole tract of 4,435 acres, making it part of the town of Rye.
In 1758, White Plains became the seat of Westchester County, and the unincorporated village remained part of the town of Rye until 1788, when the town of White Plains was created.In the original courthouse at White Plains, the members of the Fourth Provincial Congress of New York assembled on July 9, 1776, where they received a copy of the Declaration of Independence sent to them by the Continental Congress, then sitting in Philadelphia.
The delegates from New York to the Continental Congress had not been able to vote for the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, because they had not yet received authority from the Colony’s prior Provincial Congress. After review by a committee chaired by John Jay, the new Provincial Congress approved the document and sent instructions to New York’s delegates in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration.
In front of the courthouse on July 11, 1776, Judge John Thomas of Purchase unfurled the Declaration of Independence from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and read it aloud to a large crowd. A painting by George Albert Harker depicts the historic scene with Judge Thomas flanked by John Jay and other prominent New York patriots. At his side is a drummer boy and near him is the color bearer of the local company of militiamen.
It is clear from the evidence, despite all the twists and turns, that White Plains, which became the “Birthplace of New York State,” grew out of the expansionist zeal of settlers from Rye.