Heritage Facts Bundle #5
For 300 years the White Plains Presbyterian Church has been nurturing faith in our city. Heritage Facts, or snippets of history, appear in our Sunday bulletin every week.
Check the index for other posts.
May – July 2013
HERITAGE FACT: The baptismal banner hanging from the balcony this morning was created by the deacons of the Setauket Presbyterian Church on Long Island. It was presented to that congregation on the occasion of August Xavier’s baptism in 2006, and was displayed each time the sacrament was celebrated. When Pastor Jeff came to White Plains, the banner was sent with him and has been used here for each infant baptism. It was hung last week for Gabriela’s baptism, is present today for Pentecost, and will remain for the baptisms during the next two Sundays.
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HERITAGE FACT: There is a dedication plaque on the cover for the baptismal font that reads:
In Loving memory of
Edward Erskine Porter
Baptized in this Church
September 17th, 1893
Entered into Eternal Life
November 1st, 1918
Aged 25 Years
“To Have a Standard, Jesus Christ”
Edward was killed in the Malbone Street Wreck in the community of Flatbush, Brooklyn. Also known as the Brighton Beach Line Accident, the accident occurred the evening of November 1, 1918, during the last days of World War I. At least 93 individuals died, making it one of the deadliest train crashes in the history of the United States. His funeral took place at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church. In life and in death, we are not alone. We belong to God.
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HERITAGE FACT: Caleb Hyatt (c. 1675 – c. 1776) Caleb Hyatt and his brother John were two of the earliest settlers in White Plains. Their father, also named Caleb, was a prominent member of the Rye settlement on the New York / Connecticut border. In 1715 Caleb helped lay out the White Plains Purchase, and in 1721 was one of the patentees under the British Crown. He was a prominent Presbyterian and in 1727 was active in the effort to procure funds from Connecticut for the building of our first sanctuary and another in Rye. While continuing to farm his land, Caleb was appointed justice of the peace for White Plains in 1722 and again in 1735. He had three sons, Caleb, Nathan and Elisha, all active in the life of this congregation and the community. His daughter Sarah married Judge Jonathan Griffin Tompkins (who was introduced in last week’s Heritage Fact). The signature below is from the original deed for “a burial ground adjacent to the Presbyterian meeting house,” which was signed in the presence of his son-in-law. Caleb is said to have died as a patriot in the War for independence.
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HERITAGE FACT: Jacob Purdy (1739-1822) and His Family. The Purdy family name is synonymous with early White Plains history. Joseph Purdy was one of the original settlers, and in 1721 was named in the Royal Patent given to White Plains by King George II. Around 1730, a home built by Samuel Horton was purchased by Samuel Purdy, one of Joseph’s sons. Still standing, it remains the oldest house in our city, dating from before 1721. In time, Samuel Purdy passed this house on to his son Jacob, and it has been known as the Jacob Purdy House ever since.
The Purdy family is also important to our national history. Jacob joined the Westchester Militia in 1775, and once Independence was declared and war was upon us, Jacob offered his home to General George Washington to use as his headquarters, which he did both in 1776 and again in 1778. Washington received reports from his spy network in Jacob’s home. But like many families in our area, the Revolution divided loyalties. While Jacob and a few of his brothers were staunch Patriots, other brothers remained Loyalists, and when the war was over fled to Canada.
Jacob was active in the Presbyterian Church, serving on the original board of trustees, which was supposedly the first use of trustees in an American church. His wife Abigail was the daughter of The Rev. John Smith, the first Presbyterian minister to serve this congregation. Many of the Purdy’s including Samuel, Joseph and Abigail, are buried in our cemetery. Abigail’s headstone was recently restored by the White Plains Historical Society. Jacob’s headstone reads: “Softly my fainting head I lay on Jesus’ loving breast. I died to enjoy my God.”
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HERITAGE FACT: Jonathan Griffin Tompkins (1736 – 1823) Jonathan was born in a house located where Mamaroneck Avenue and Post Road meet. At the age of nineteen he married Sarah Ann, daughter of Caleb Hyatt, a farmer and justice of the peace in White Plains. The couple moved into a log cabin in Fox Meadow (Scarsdale), where their children were born, including Daniel and Caleb. Jonathan quickly became one of the leaders of two social groups – tenant farmer and middle class – in a colony dominated by a powerful landlord and merchant aristocracy. On the eve of the revolution he declared himself a Whig and readily took the side of the colonies against King and Parliament, declaring for American independence. Serving in numerous democratic meetings, including the state convention that adopted the Declaration of Independence and the state constitution, Jonathan was one of the most politically active men in Westchester County, and in New York State. He was a lifelong member of the White Plains Presbyterian Church, serving on the board of Trustees when the church was incorporated in 1787. His headstone in our cemetery reads
Sacred to the Memory of Jonathan G. Tompkins.
Born June 8, 1736. Died May 22, 1823.
86 yrs – 11 mos. – 11 days.
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HERITAGE FACT: Daniel D. Tompkins – Biographer Ray Irwin has written, “Most Americans, if questioned about Daniel Tompkins, would have to plead total ignorance. Many historians would find it difficult to describe him with any accuracy. He remains a dim figure even in New York City, where among the multitudes who daily throng Tompkins Square in Manhattan and Tompkinsville, Staten Island, there can be few who ever associate those localities with the individual for whom they are named.” Since we will get to know Daniel D. Tompkins and his family in Heritage Facts throughout the summer, let’s summarize a few important facts about him:
- Daniel Tompkins was born on June 21, 1774, at Fox Meadow, Scarsdale.
- He was presumably baptized in this church, where his father was a Trustee. His family remained active here for generations.
- Daniel studied law at Columbia University, and served on the NY Supreme Court (1804-7).
- He was elected Governor of New York and served from 1807 until 1816.
- Daniel served two terms as Vice-President of the United States under James Monroe (1817-1825).
- Though Daniel is buried in with his wife in her family vault at St.-Mark’s-in-the-Bowery, NYC, the rest of the Tompkins family (parents, siblings) are all buried in our church yard.
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HERITAGE FACT: Caleb Tompkins (1759 – 1846) Caleb Tompkins was the oldest son of Judge Jonathan Griffin Tompkins and Sarah (Hyatt) Tompkins, a prominent family in the early history of our church, Westchester County and the nation. Caleb was born in the family house at Fox Meadow (Scarsdale), which he eventually inherited, and likely baptized in our first sanctuary by The Rev. John Smith. He married Deborah Varian, daughter of James Varian, one of the other leading revolutionaries in our area.
Like his father and younger brother, Caleb found his calling in public service and political office. Tompkins served locally as member of the New York State Assembly 1804-1806. Caleb was then appointed the first judge of the Westchester County Court of Common Pleas on March 10, 1808. His appointment was signed by his younger brother, Daniel D. Tompkins, then Governor of New York State and later Vice-President of the United States. He was also elected twice to the U.S. House of Representative as a Democratic-Republican, serving in Congress (1817 – 1821) while his brother Daniel was Vice-President.
Judge Caleb Tompkins served about 20 years and then was compelled to retire at the age of 60. The next year the state legislature abolished the age limit, and he was reappointed, continuing as a judge until he was over 80. He is buried in our cemetery.
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HERITAGE FACT: About midnight, on November 5, 1776, shortly after the Battle of White Plains, the Presbyterian Church, the White Plains Court House and other building were set on fire by American soldiers under the command of Major Osborne, to prevent their falling into the hands of the British.
For the next several years, White Plains was the center of a so-called Neutral Ground between the lines and was subject to years of devastation by both British and American scouting parties and irregulars. As mentioned in previous “heritage facts,” many church members, as staunch Whigs, were obliged to retire to the northern part of the county to avoid the assaults of the British. This included our pastor, The Rev. Ichabod Lewis (1768-1776), who moved with the group to Bedford and later to Salem, where he is buried. The members who remained near White Plains reverted to their former habit of holding services under the trees or in their homes, with occasional sermons by the Rev. Thomas G. Smith of Tarrytown, the Rev. Marcus Harrison and the Rev. Mr. Ely of Dobbs Ferry, representing the Domestic Missionary Society. The journal of the Rev. Silas Constant, pastor in Yorktown (1784-1825), frequently mentions his visiting and preaching in the home of Jonathan G. Tompkins.
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HERITAGE FACT: The White Plains YWCA traces its history back to a Victorian charitable institution, the Presbyterian Rest for Convalescents, founded by Rachel Lenox Kennedy, a member of New York City’s Lenox family, long known for charitable work in both medicine and Presbyterian affairs. “The Rest,” which opened in 1893, was one of several charitable institutions that attempted to meet a perceived lack of services for patients not ill enough to be kept in a hospital, but too weak to return home and too poor to find suitably supportive accommodations. Mrs. Kennedy created The Rest with a board of 17 New York women (including herself and Elizabeth Macoubry, the wife of the Rev. Dr. Anthony R. Macoubry, who was pastor of the White Plains Presbyterian Church from 1889 – 1901). The Rest first occupied an old house on beautifully landscaped grounds which helped create the restful atmosphere desired for the institution. An 1895 articles described the grounds in glowing terms:
[The older part of] White Plains … has the characteristic beauty of a New England town, its principle avenue being park-like in its broad expanse of green with trees and shrubbery… thirty or forty varieties of trees and a large number of the choicest shrubs, surround the “Rest” with the grateful shade, the luxuriant beauty and the fragrant charm which are not least among the joys of Paradise that survived the fall. (June 9, 2013)
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HERITAGE FACT: “Jesus doeth all things well.” This is what Joseph M. Tyler, born 1873, wanted on his headstone when he died. No date is recorded for his death, but the sentiment serves as a good epitaph for the whole cemetery. For almost 300 years, the Presbyterian “Burying Ground” has been a site of grief, longing and Christian hope for our community.
Ours is the oldest cemetery in White Plains.