29 Warburton Avenue, Yonkers
Philipse Manor Hall embodies more than 300 years of Hudson Valley history. The site was a place of land dispossession, enslavement, and revolution. It encapsulates the complicated ties and divisions between European gentry, white laborers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans. The oldest building in a New York urban center, it now houses a museum that explores this rich history.
Built in the 1680s, Philipse Manor Hall was one of the primary residences of the Philipse family. The Philipses claimed ownership of over 156,000 acres of land along the Hudson River through the manor system, a creation of European colonialism.
The manor system was central to the colonial settlement of vast holdings of land claimed by the Dutch and the English. The colonial government would give well-off families a large swath of land along with executive power over life on that land. In exchange, the lord of the manor would promise persistent settlement and consistent production for export to the mother country. Typically, as was the case with the Philipse estate, tenant farmers cultivated the land in exchange for being able to live there under the terms of a lease.
In most cases the lord reserved the right to change lease terms at any time. He could raise the rent or fine and evict tenants with little notice. Lords were also able to execute legal and economic power over their tenants, controlling most aspects of their lives. As a result of this heavy control and increasing notions of individual rights, tensions between lords and tenants rose throughout the 18th century.
Unhappy tenant farmers found allies in the Native American communities whose lands manor estates occupied. Native people claimed that fraudulent purchases and intentionally misinterpreted contracts had enabled lords to claim huge amounts of land. For example, on the Philipse estate the Wappinger people asserted that they had never made a land deal with Frederick Philipse. Thus, in Native eyes, many leases which farmers had made with the lords were void.
Under the leadership of Sachem Daniel Ninham, the Wappingers–with the support of tenant farmers who readily accepted their claim–brought a lawsuit before the New York Common Council in 1765. However, because the colonial government was reluctant to set a precedent which would enable Native tribes to reclaim their land, the Council threw out the case.
The following year, tenant farmers went on to stage a revolt which became known as the “Anti-Rent Riots.” This violent uprising was led by William Prendergast, a tenant of the Philipse estate since the 1750s. Prendergast was outraged by constant lease changes, the most recent of which had terminated families’ long-term, hereditary leases in favor of one- to three-year leases.
Up and down the Hudson River, thousands of tenants attacked landlords and restored evicted families to their former homes. But military intervention quickly stamped out the rebellion and Prendergast was eventually charged with high treason in July 1766.
While land tenancy was key to the wealth of the Philipse family, most of their income came from various forms of involvement in slavery. The family was the largest enslaver in the Hudson Valley, and one of the largest in the Northern colonies as a whole. The labor of enslaved Africans was central to the running of their vast lands. There were more than 125 enslaved people on the estate, with 115 of them named either in censuses or wills during the Philipse’s tenure.
Enslaved people who worked in Philipse Manor Hall did the cooking, cleaning, and maintenance of the household, as well as providing childcare for the Philipse children. Enslaved people also worked the land, mostly cultivating wheat as the main export of the estate. As a labor-intensive crop, wheat facilitated a system of slavery not unlike those seen on Southern plantations. Additionally, the Philipses owned ships which carried enslaved people both from the British West Indies and from Africa to North America.
In 1777, during the Revolutionary War, the Philipse family fled New York due to their Loyalist beliefs. Not long thereafter, the newly formed New York State government confiscated the land they left behind and sold it in chunks. As the land passed through many hands in the coming decades, it became increasingly divided.
In 1868, the City of Yonkers gained possession of Philipse Manor Hall; it served as the seat of government for the city until the early 20th century. When the building came up for sale once again, Eva Smith Cochran, the wife of carpet mogul Alexander Smith Cochran, paid to have the building preserved and donated it to New York State as a historic site.
When the state museum first opened in the early 1900s, its curators advertised it as a marvel of Georgian English architecture with Dutch influences. They scarcely made references to the “horde of servants” – as one 1940s magazine article puts it – who kept it running during the reign of the Philipse family. But over time the museum shifted its focus so that it now centers the stories of marginalized groups whose labor and lives played an important role in forming the Manor Hall and the City of Yonkers as a whole: from the Native Americans who were there first and fought to keep claiming their land, to the tenant farmers that campaigned for their right to escape feudalism, to the enslaved people who labored, lived, and died there.
Following its most recent renovation, the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site reopened to the public in November 2022.
From the Yonkers (Metro North) train station, a 0.2-mile (4-minute) walk. Look for signage outside the station to “Philipse Manor.”
To learn more:
John Gloag, “In Old New York: Philipse Manor Hall, Yonkers Home of a Girl Whom Washington Loved,” Country Life, November 23, 1940, vol. 88, 460-461.
Edward Hagaman Hall, Philipse Manor Hall at Yonkers, N.Y.; the Site, the Building, and its Occupants, New York: The American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, 1912.
Irving Mark, “Agrarian Revolt in Colonial New York, 1766.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, vol. 1, no. 2, 1942: 111–42.
Nicole Saffold Maskiell, Bound by Bondage: Slavery and the Creation of a Northern Gentry. Cornell University Press, 2022.
Charles W. McCurdy, Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839-1865. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.