OF INDIANS, HEROES, AND SPIES - A HISTORY OF PUTNAM COUNTY

Colonial era: In the 17th century, our general area was inhabited by the Wappinger Tribe of Indians. Their Sachem bore the English name of Daniel Nimham. On Route 301, just east of the firehouse, is Nimham Road leading to Mount Nimham.

In these early colonial years, most of the families that came to the area from Europe were Dutch settlers. They named the area Duchess County. One of the most influential of these was the Phillipse family. In the early 18th century, the Phillipses became embroiled in a law suit and counter-suit with the Wappingers, who claimed that they had been wrongfully denied ownership of certain lands in this area.

As the story goes, two young Dutchmen named Lambert Dorlandt and Jan Sybrante sold to the Phillipses a large tract of land they claimed to have purchased from the Wappingers. This sort of thing — the dubious representation of land purchases from indigenous Indian tribes — was frequent. To intercept fraudulent land purchase schemes, colonial law required the prior issuance of a license by the colonial governor for such transactions. Dorlandt and Sybrante had received no such license.

During the French and Indian War, a fair number of the Wappingers moved north with their families to the vicinity of what is now Stockbridge, Massachusetts. When the war ended, they returned to their homeland only to find much of it rented by the Phillipses to tenant farmers. The Indians sought to reoccupy these lands. The local courts were unhelpful and the Phillipse family appealed to the High Court of Chancery.

The Wappingers contended that since the original transfer had not been sanctioned by the colonial governor, the sale to the Phillipses was invalid. It is said that those representing the Phillipses submitted to the court a forged document with signatures from eight Indian chieftains conveying the Wappinger title to Adolph Phillipse. The court agreed with the claim of the Phillipse family. Subsequently, Daniel Nimham appealed to the English Crown, but that effort also failed. Nimham, himself, died in 1778 fighting with colonists in the Revolutionary War. To this day deeds to property in Putnam County contain a provision reserving to the heirs of Phillipse mineral rights in the subject property. Check your deed.

Revolutionary era: Somewhat later, other better known failures of the English Crown led to the American Revolution. The American colonel Henry Ludington lived in what is now Carmel. On April 26, 1777, his daughter Sybil, age 16, rode over 40 miles through back roads—from the area of that would become Kent to Mahopac to Danbury—to alert the soldiers in her father’s regiment to prepare for an attack by the British. Unlike Paul Revere, a renowned silversmith who rode a mere 12 miles on familiar roads near Boston and rendered immortal by Longfellow, it was not until nearly 200 years after her perilous ride, that Sybil received recognition. She is buried in the cemetery just behind the old Presbyterian church in Patterson on Route 311 with members of her family. Her unadorned headstone reads:

 

IN
Memory of
SIBBEL
LUDINGTON
Wife of
Edmond Ogden
WHO DIED
Feb. 26, 1839
E. 77 yrs. 10 mo. & 21 ds.

 

Our new Kent Town Center on Route 52 is at an intersection called Sybil’s Crossing. A statue of Sybil on horseback stands on the shore of Lake Gleneida in Carmel. In 1975, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in her honor.

Another local Revolutionary War hero was Enoch Crosby. Crosby spied for the Americans and was a resident of Carmel. He was the inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy. After the war, he returned to Carmel and became a Justice of the Peace. Benedict Arnold, who spied for the British, resided in Garrison when he commanded West Point. He fled to join the British at the time his treachery was discovered.

Nineteenth century: Kent became its own municipality under the name of Fredericks in 1795. In 1819, the town’s name was changed to Kent in honor of a prominent local family. (NYT 11/27/05)
After the Revolution, many farmers from New England moved into the area. They removed trees, built stone fences, and plowed the land. They clashed politically with the Dutch descendents who lived in the northern part of Duchess County. The Dutch regarded themselves as an elite entitled to govern. The newcomers were determined to split away and form their own county. Finally, in 1812 their efforts succeeded and Putnam County was formed. The County was named for General Israel Putnam, affectionately known as “Old Put”—the hero of Bunker Hill, and one of the oldest, toughest and the most popular of the Revolutionary War generals. The Putnam County Courthouse, erected in 1814, still stands in Carmel where Route 301 meets Route 52 across from Lake Gleneida.

Putnam County was heavily farmed. The hillsides were devoted to hayfields, dairy and pastureland. Woodlots provided firewood to be rafted downriver to New York. Crop farms were planted only in the narrow strips of bottomland along the streams because the rocky soil of the uplands was impossible to plow. With the rise of industrialized farming and efficient long distance transport, however, it was no longer possible to live off the land in Putnam County and the local farmers moved to the cities where a better life could be found. Old photos show that as recently as 1910 the countryside around Lake Sagamore was almost entirely open fields.

Twentieth century: In the years since the farmers exited the area, forests have rapidly returned (although still not fully mature), bottomlands have become reservoirs, and residential developments have replaced more accessible farms. It is said that the population of the Kent-Carmel area has only recently approached the numbers of 200 years ago. Yet, despite these changes Putnam County still represents a sharp departure from the suburbs separating it from New York City. It has been, and still is, a tableau of roads twisting through wooded areas and stony ridges.
By way of postscript, in the last decade development pressures have been rippling up from Westchester County and have brought the usual raft of box stores to the area. Of special interest is the fact that the Putnam County Legislature voted unanimously in 2005 to place a bond referendum on the ballot that would allocate $20 million to preserve open spaces. Unfortunately, the referendum was defeated. Nevertheless, to protect its reservoir watershed, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) considers the Lake Sagamore Watershed area of the highest priority for acquisition. The DEP buys land in the area from landowners willing to sell. For the most part, the residents of Putnam County share with the residents of Lake Sagamore an eagerness to preserve the semi-rural nature of the area.

If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.
Lao-tzu