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Van Cortlandt Manor

At Van Cortlandt Manor, explore the stone manor house and brick ferry house, wander through the heritage gardens, and stroll down a quiet country road along the Croton River. There, you'll experience the domestic life of a patriot family living in the years just after the American Revolution - the New Nation period.

Costumed guides demonstrate and invite visitors to try their own hands at blacksmithing, brick making, open-hearth cooking, spinning, weaving, and other crafts and tasks of the period. These activities and a lively program of special events help bring the past to life.

Enter the manor house and see an extraordinary collection of furnishings from the colonial and federal periods, in their original setting. Downstairs hear about one of the largest and best-equipped colonial kitchens in America and see samples of 18th-century medicines and foodways.

At the Ferry House, built before 1750, find a rural tavern that offered food, drink, and lodging to travelers along the Albany Post Road. Pause if you wish to see an extensive collection of Hudson Valley vernacular furnishings.

As you walk through the gardens, you'll find a remarkable array of flowers, vegetables, and herbs available to American gardeners in the late 18th century.

The Van Cortlandts were one of New York's most prominent families, who faced and influenced pressing political issues of the time, including Federalist and Anti-Federalist debates over the drafting of the constitution. The family also grappled with religious change following the rise of evangelical religions and had to confront the controversy over emancipation, since they were slaveholders. These issues, along with everyday life and social activities of the period, are explored at Van Cortlandt Manor.

The Birth of the Manor

In 1749, Pierre Van Cortlandt (1721-1814), the fourth generation in a dynasty of Manhattan merchants, uprooted his wife Joanna and infant son Philip and transported them forty miles to a thousand-acre tract in Westchester County. This young family's journey to the frontier marks the start of the intensive development of the property.

The manor of Cortlandt was born in 1697. In that year, King William III publicly recognized the family's political support by granting a royal charter for lands Stephanus Van Cortlandt had purchased from the Kitchtawanc Indians and European landowners. The act was not a gift of land, but rather a bestowing of favor and special privileges. The 86,000 acre tract ran from the Croton River twenty miles north to Anthony's Nose (where the Bear Mountain Bridge crosses the Hudson today) and from the Hudson River east to Connecticut. In a departure from the general practice in other colonies, Van Cortlandt and a few other large land owners leased rather than sold small tracts of land to tenant farmers. This concentrated wealth in the hands of a few powerful manorial landlords who owned much of the Hudson Valley.

The Revolutionary War Years

In 1776, their domestic and economic security shattered by the American Revolution, the current owners of the manor house, Pierre, Joanna, and their children, abandoned the manor house, their home for the past twenty-five years. The manor was tenuously positioned on "Neutral Ground," a demilitarized zone between British-held Manhattan and the largely Patriotic upper Hudson Valley. The divided allegiances of Westchester County residents resulted in nothing less than civil war. Pierre's active role as a Patriot leader in New York and his son Philip's commission as an officer in a Patriot regiment probably led Van Cortlandt to move his family and portable possessions behind Rebel lines for safety.

Pierre was elected New York's first lieutenant governor in 1777. Son Philip served as an officer in the army where he fought at the battle of Saratoga, endured winter a Valley Forge, and took part in the siege of Yorktown, the battle that concluded the war.

The Manor Household in the New Nation

Van Cortlandt Manor is restored to the early National or New Nation period, an era running from 1783 to 1815. During this time, the United States forged its political and cultural identity as an independent nation. In the pre-Revolutionary War years, Pierre and his Westchester contemporaries had focused on the development of their agriculture and related enterprises, but now the uncertain nature of the political and social experiment called the United States dictated that they embrace the world more fully. No one was certain if the United States government would survive its rocky start. Anti-Federalists like Pierre expressed reservations about ratifying the Constitution as proposed an issue hotly debated for years. He and his sons also wondered how the infant nation would interact with the international community.

Although political victors at the end of the war, the Van Cortlandts returned to Croton in 1783 to find their property in shambles. Only the shell of the manor house remained and the surrounding fields, orchards, and fences demanded attention. Reestablishing their home, farm, and businesses required energy and money, both scarce commodities at the end of the war.

The estate in general and the manor house in particular filled the varied needs of the members of the household: home, center of working farm, business office, political headquarters, site of religious revivals, "hotel" for the Hudson Valley elite, showplace, and symbol of legacy. Four generations of Van Cortlandts, extended family, guests, and enslaved Africans crammed into a structure.

The Van Cortlandts left enough letters to fill volumes but their slaves left none. Their lives are much harder to document yet a close examination of family letters and other records provides glimpses of their work, family life, personalities, and ways of coping with slavery.

The work undertaken by the enslaved Africans was dictated in large part by convention. Abby and Sally served as personal servants; Phillis worked in the kitchen. Titus, who lived in the household for more than thirty-five years, assisted with one of the family's many moves during the Revolution and later accompanied Joanna on her travels. Ishmael also picked up and delivered people and goods. Titus, Ishmael, and the other men probably labored on the farm. In addition, Ishmael held a side job as a fiddler and may have kept the money he earned for himself in order to make his life and that of his wife Sib and daughter Abby, a bit easier.

The family's focus on agriculture shifted slightly after the Revolution. They continued to ship processed grain and meat to New York and to grow apples, a primary crop in the Hudson Valley to this day. The Van Cortlandts expanded their interests to include raising sheep. Agriculture was not the only business run from the manor house. During the early National period, the family looked west for business opportunities. They made considerable investments in companies that built and administered turnpikes and canals leading to the frontier.

Because the Van Cortlandts concerned themselves not only with matters of this world, but also of the next, the manor house served as a center of religious life. While generations of the family had belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church, some of the Van Cortlandt women were drawn to Methodism during the early National period. Joanna and her daughters Cornelia and, in particular, Catherine, attended church services, quarterly business meetings, and even camp meetings.

In an era before easy travel and rapid communication, Americans looked forward to visits and visiting and praised hospitality to the highest. The manor house served as a resting place for New York's upper crust; the Van Cortlandts considered it an insult if a friend or family member did not stop when traveling up or down the Hudson Valley.

Visiting Van Cortlandt Manor

April to October daily (closed Tuesday): 10am - 5pm, Last Tour at 4pm.
November & December weekends Only: 10am - 4pm, Last Tour at 3pm.

Guided Tours of Site - Tour the historic buildings and gardens led by costumed guides. Tours last about 45 minutes and leave approximately every 30 minutes. Demonstrations throughout the day.

Tour & Grounds - Adult: $10, Senior (62 +): $9, Child (5-17): $6, Historic Hudson Valley Members + Children under 5: FREE
Grounds only - Stroll around the gardens and landscape sited on the banks of the Croton River. Picnic grounds available. Adult: $5, Senior (62 +): $5, Child (5-17): $3, Historic Hudson Valley Members + Children under 5: FREE

Specifics on visiting Van Cortlandt Manor were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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