Where Was the Philipsburg Proclamation Issued?

PMH Staff
Published on
September 1, 2023
September 1, 2023

Note: This article continues our series on the Philipsburg Proclamation. Check out the first installment here.

The Philipsburg Proclamation, as published in the "Royal Gazette," July 4, 1779.

Issued on June 30, 1779, by General Sir Henry Clinton, the Philipsburg Proclamation, as it came to be known, offered freedom to any enslaved person who deserted rebel service and who made it to British lines. No military or service requirements were included. Although the Philipsburg Proclamation is less well-known than its predecessor, Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation, it nevertheless had an outsized influence on New York and its enslaved community during the American Revolution. In researching the proclamation, historians at Philipse Manor Hall began working to try to figure out where exactly the proclamation was issued.

It should have been a straightforward task. After all, Continental Army Commander-in-Chief General George Washington was meticulously accurate as to his location when writing letters and orders. To the point where, over the course of a single day, historians could sometimes track his movements across a region. His late war counterpart, General Sir Henry Clinton, Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty’s Royal Forces in North America, was less precise.1 While in New York in 1779, Sir Henry Clinton often signed orders and letters as “Headquarters, Philipsburg.” Perhaps Sir Henry feared patriot spies might set upon his messengers and reveal his whereabouts. Or perhaps he was stating what was obvious to people in the period but confounding to modern historians.

To the reader unfamiliar with Westchester and Putnam counties, the name might seem obvious. “Philipsburg” must ostensibly be some village or town and easy to find. The name has tripped up other historians. In the 1971 edition of Sir Henry Clinton’s memoir The American Rebellion, editor William B. Willcox footnoted Philipsburg as a town near Middletown, NY, west of New Windsor, in present-day Orange County.2 But at the time, Washington and the Continental Army were encamped throughout New Jersey and Orange County, with headquarters at West Point, meaning if Sir Henry was near Middletown, he would have been well behind enemy lines.

The trouble lies with the name – Philipsburg. It has been used to describe a variety of locations in Westchester County, mostly because that title referred to the entirety of the 52,000-acre manor owned by the Philipse family. Today, Philipsburg Manor is the name of the historic site located on the Pocantico River in Sleepy Hollow, NY, which in the period was known as the Upper Mills. But Philipsburg Manor was named after the 52,000-acre manor, not the other way around. For this reason, the Wikipedia article about the Philipsburg Proclamation and other notations on the internet have assumed that the Philipsburg Proclamation was issued at the Upper Mills location in Sleepy Hollow. But they are also wrong.

At the time of the American Revolution, the Upper Mills and the small stone house attached were still owned by the Philipse family, but Frederick Philipse III had no interest in running his great-uncle’s mills. In 1752 he rented them to a tenant instead, a man named Josiah Martling.3 In 1761, William Puglsey took over the lease.4 In 1777, a young, enslaved woman named Eleanor Fleming self-emancipated from Pugsley at Philipse Manor at age 15.5 The Pugsley family was still in possession of the lease in 1784, when William Pugsley sold it to Gerard G. Beekman, who bought it outright from the Commissioners of Forfeiture in 1785.6 All of this means that the manor house at the Upper Mills was almost certainly occupied for the duration of the war.

Photo of a whitewashed two story stone house with a gambrel roof, chimney, and small windows with wooden shutters, taken on a sunny summer day, trees in background. Photo taken with the house corner centered. Philipse Manor House in Tarrytown, NY.
Philipsburg Manor House in Sleepy Hollow, NY, 2010. Wikimedia Commons.

The Upper Mills consisted of a two-story stone house of comparatively modest dimensions. To the previous three generations of Philipses, it served as a temporary residence when visiting the Upper Mills and collecting tenant rents. Adolph Philipse, second son of Frederick Philipse I, was its longest owner, but he lived primarily in New York City.

Frederick Philipse III himself resided at the Lower Mills – Philipse Manor Hall on the Saw Mill River in present-day Yonkers. The Manor Hall had been expanded twice since it had initially been built in the 1680s and by the 1770s its generous proportions, fine gardens, and easy access to New York City via either the Hudson River or the Albany Post Road made it a comfortable full-time residence for Frederick III, his wife Elizabeth, and their children.

Artist's interpretation of the Philipse Manor Hall complex, circa 1755. Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site Collections.

Philipse and his family were Loyalists. His sister Susannah and her husband Beverley Robinson lived in then-Dutchess County, at Beverly House, located on the Hudson River just across from West Point. His youngest sister Mary and her husband Roger Morris, recently retired from the British Army, lived at Mount Morris, an impressive white house built just ten years earlier on the heights of Northern Manhattan. With the outbreak of the Revolution, Beverley led the Loyal American Regiment. Roger returned to England to avoid being attacked by Patriots, but probably also to avoid being recalled to active duty in the British Army. The wives left alone, Susannah, Mary, and their children retreated from their homes, by then the front lines of the conflict between England and the rebellious New York colony, to the relative safety of their brother’s mansion. But soon even that location was unsafe. In 1776 Frederick III was imprisoned by the rebel New York government. During his retreat from the Battle of Long Island, American General George Washington used Mount Morris as his temporary headquarters for about a month, between September and October 1776.

Following the British capture of New York City in the fall of 1776, Frederick III, who was also known as Colonel Philipse, was released on the promise of good behavior. He promptly violated the terms of his parole by reporting on American troop movements to the British, and the whole family fled to their properties in New York City in the spring of 1777, leaving Philipse Manor Hall empty except, perhaps, for a few enslaved servants who remained to maintain the grounds and keep the grist mill running for their tenant farmers.7

In 1778, Sir Henry Clinton occupied Mount Morris in upper Manhattan as his headquarters.8 The home of Mary Philipse and Roger Morris was located on a high bluff and had easy access to both the Hudson and Harlem Rivers. But Sir Henry soon decamped and Baron Knyphausen, commander of the Hessian forces, took over the Morris house as his headquarters for the next two years.[9] So where did Sir Henry go in 1779? Philipse Manor Hall.

Of all the properties in lower Westchester County, Frederick Philipse III’s house on the Saw Mill River made the most sense. It was located on a rise overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades. It had an established ship landing at the mouth of the Saw Mill and its location on the southern end of Haverstraw Bay meant it was easily guarded by British warships which could take up position in the center of the three-mile-wide Tappan Zee, well out of range of Patriot artillery on shore. It was near the Albany Post Road, and within easy distance of Kings Bridge and Manhattan Island, and therefore also within easy distance of the Boston Post Road. The house was supplied by gardens and orchards and likely the mill and bake house still contained flour and hardtack. Its stone and brick structure was sturdier than the wooden Mount Morris and it was the largest, finest house in the district. A fitting headquarters for the Commander-in-Chief.

Although many period sources reference Sir Henry Clinton’s whereabouts in the summer of 1779, the most specific references come from the journal of Captain Johann Ewald, of the Hessians. Covering from 1776 to the cessation of hostilities and his return to Hesse (now Germany) in 1783-84, Ewald’s journal is an invaluable first-hand account of British and Hessian troop movements throughout the war, and Ewald’s unit was often where Sir Henry was.10

Hand-drawn map of the British Army encampment at "Philipps-Hill" by Johann Ewald, c. 1778.

Ewald also included maps in his journal. This one marks out a Hessian encampment at “Phillip’s Hill.” The Saw Mill River (“Samul Crique”) is marked, as is Philipse’s House (“Phillips Huiss”) in the lower left-hand corner. The military encampments stretched north of the Manor Hall.11

On October 21, 1778, the British Army encamped in present-day Yonkers on Valentine’s Hill and Sneading Hill, and Ewald wrote, “On the 24th the army moved up to Philipse’s Hill.”12 We know this is in present-day Yonkers because Ewald makes several references to sending men north to Tarrytown and Dobbs Ferry, and notes that the Continental Army had “taken up cantonment quarters at Peekskill, Fishkill, and Danbury. His [Washington’s] cordon, under General Scott, had been extended from the Hudson River behind Sing Sing over to Bedford.”13 The 52,000 acre Philipse Manor, which stretched from Spyuten Duyvil in the south to the Croton River in the north and from the Hudson River east to the Bronx River, was officially a battleground.

But winter was coming, and so the British army moved south for the winter. In December 1778, the army moved to York Island (Manhattan), Staten Island, and Long Island. The Jager Corps marched to Flushing, Long Island, but the Emmerich Corps kept watch at Kings Bridge on “York Island.”14 Kings Bridge was another Philipse property – a toll bridge granted by the Crown to the Philipse family in 1693. But the installation of the toll-less “Farmer’s Bridge” or “Free Bridge” in 1759 meant that Frederick Philipse III also rented out the toll house and collection of the tolls.15 Because Spyuten Duyvil and the Harlem River divided Manhattan from the mainland, it was a choke point for invasion, which necessitated careful watching.

In 1779 a shortage of bread for rations was alleviated by the arrival on January 24 of the provisions fleet. Washington must have had spies in the British Army, for Ewald noted, “General Washington had ordered his cordon to push forward toward York Island [Manhattan] as soon as he had been informed of the scarcity of bread in the army, in order to prevent the country people from bringing provisions to Kings Bridge.”16 Thus was Westchester still caught in the midst of the two armies.

"Col. Roger Morris' House, Washington's Head Quarters, Sept. 1776. now known as Madame Jumels' Res'ce." Lithography by G. Hawyard for D.T. Valentin's Manual, 1854. New York Public Library Collections.

That winter Lieutenant General Von Knyphausen, the Hessian commander, had control of the northern part of Manhattan. In recounting each battalion’s winter headquarters and their locations, Ewald notes, “The Robinson provincial battalion [is located] in huts between Harlem and the Morris House.”17 Mary Philipse Morris must have been comforted to know her brother-in-law, Colonel Beverly Robinson of the Loyal American Regiment, was keeping an eye on her house at Mount Morris for the winter.

In the spring of 1779, it was time for military action again. On May 29, 1779, the British Army was on the move, headed north from winter quarters. Ewald notes, “The English grenadiers marched immediately to Butler’s Ferry, and the Jager Corps to Philipse’s house, where it had had its post in the previous command. [. . .] The headquarters were at Philipse’s house.” The following day, everyone was ordered onto flatboats departing from “Philipse’s wharf above Philipse’s house.”18

That wharf at the mouth of the Saw Mill River would become the main point of departure and return for the British Army’s movements in the Hudson Valley. Scottish Grenadier John Peebles also notes in his diary, “Sunday 30th [May, 1779]. The Troops from Virginia return’d & came up the North River to Phillip’s – in the Evening the troops that were Encamp’d marched to the left and Embark’d at Phillips on board of those Ships that came from Virginia & some small craft leaving their baggage behind in wagons got under way about midnight & sail’d up the River – “19

They were headed up to attack Verplanck’s Point and Stony Point, where the rebel Americans had made fortifications opposite each other on the Hudson River to protect King’s Ferry. General Sir Henry Clinton, their Commander-in-Chief, went with them.20 After successfully taking Verplanck’s and Stony Points, the army fell back south. On June 28, 1779, at 2 pm, the fleet set sail south. “Afterward we were obliged to anchor at Haverstraw Bay, because of calms, and arrived on the afternoon of the [June] 30th at Philipse’s wharf, where all the troops disembarked at once and moved into camp at their former posts.”21 Here they stayed for two weeks until “a violent cannonade was heard in the direction of Verplanck’s Point and Stony Point” on July 15, 1779. Then the news came that the Americans had retaken Stony Point and bombarded Verplanck’s. “Hereupon the Commander in Chief embarked at once at Philipse’s wharf with the 42d, 63d, and 64th regiments and sailed up the Hudson to save Verplanck’s Point.”22

"Storming of Stony Point," 19th century depiction of General Anthony Wayne leading the midnight bayonet charge that took Stony Point from the British. New York Public Library Collections.

Sir Henry himself recounted, “I embarked myself with the light infantry and joined him [Brigadier General Stirling] in Haverstraw Bay, as I was anxious that no measure should be omitted for the recovery of the post and [was] not without hopes that Mr. Washington, in the course of the struggle for it, might be drawn into an engagement.” He continued, “as soon as the rebels perceived the approach of the galleys and boats, they precipitately abandoned their acquisition, of which they now had held possession four days; and, setting fire to a galley which they had brought down to carry off the heavy artillery, they left us at liberty to reoccupy the post without molestation.”23

But Sir Henry and the British Army could not stay. Clinton was being called to South Carolina. At the end of the month they marched south again to Manhattan (“York Island”). Ewald noted, “This is now the third campaign where we have continually lost in the end what we won with the first rush in the beginning.”24

The Americans, too, were keeping track of Sir Henry Clinton and British troop movements at this time. On July 1, 1779, General George Washington wrote to John Jay, then the President of Congress regarding the taking of Verplanck’s and Stony Points. He wrote of the British, “The Troops have fallen down from Verplanks & Stoney points to philips’s, except such Garrisons as are necessary to occupy the Works at those places.”25

A few days later, Washington wrote to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. regarding British troop movements, trying to predict their future actions: “It seems the enemy have lately collected a number of their shipping in the East River—Their whole force except this detachment is assembling about Kings Bridge and Philip’s farm.”26

A few days after that, Washington wrote to Major General Horatio Gates, chastising him for providing incorrect information on the British prior to the defeat of Verplanck’s and Stony Points. Washington wrote: “Previous to my last the enemy after strongly fortifying the two posts of Stoney Point and Verplank's, and leaving sufficient garrisons for their defence, had fallen down the River to Phillips's where and in the vicinity their principal force still lies.”27

In early August 1779, Washington again wrote to Jay, the President of Congress: “By reports from our Officers advanced on both sides of the River, the Enemy broke up their Camp at Philipsburg on the night of the 30th and morning of the 31st Ulto. The accounts received by the Officers on the East side say, that they had all gone below Kings-bridge, those on the West, that their march pointed towards Fort Independence.”28 Here, Washington refers to the camp that Ewald outlined on the Saw Mill as “Philipsburg.”

Sir Henry Clinton himself also used that term, writing in his memoir, “When the works at Stony Point and Verplanck’s were nearly perfected, a respectable force (besides their proper garrisons) was left in the neighborhood of the latter [Verplanck’s Point], and the remaining troops fell back to Phillipsburg, where the chief part of the King’s army lay encamped. This situation was within a convenient distance of all my posts and apportée for acting offensively to advantage the instant it should be in my power to do so. ”29

It is clear that the “Headquarters, Philipsburg” reference in Sir Henry’s letters and on the Philipsburg Proclamation was, in fact, Philipse Manor Hall in present-day Yonkers, NY.

Interestingly enough, none of these period references mention the issuance of the Philipsburg Proclamation. For the British Army officers, it was of far less importance than troop movements, battles, and winter cantonments. The Proclamation may have been written by Clinton on the boat ride south from Verplanck’s Point, perhaps while they were frustratingly becalmed in Haverstraw Bay on June 29th. Perhaps Sir Henry, gratefully disembarking at the wharf on the Saw Mill River and striding up the hill to his comfortable headquarters, ready for a real bed and a bath after days of battle, handed off his drafted proclamation to John Smith, his secretary, to make it official. The Philipsburg Proclamation was published in the Royal Gazette on July 4, 1779, perhaps as a snub to the Patriots who proclaimed, “all men are created equal” on July 4, 1776, but conveniently did not include enslaved people in their definition of “all men.”  

Stay tuned for our next installment, where we examine the wartime and post-war impacts of the Philipsburg Proclamation.



[1] Sir Henry Clinton became Commander-in-Chief in May of 1778.

[2] Sir Henry Clinton. An American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775-1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents, edited by William B. Willcox, Archon Books (1971), Footnote 13, p. 129.

[3] Advertisement for rent of the Upper Mills, by Frederick Philipse, published in the New York Weekly Post Boy, January 6, 1752; the March, 1755 Westchester County slave census lists Josiah Martling at the Upper Mills.

[4] 1761 Deed to the Upper Mills, Westchester County Archives

[5] Book of Negroes, pages 80-81, Eleanor Fleming, “Formerly the property of Wm. Pugsley, Philipse Manor, N.Y.P.” The book notes she left him six years ago. The book was written in 1783, meaning she self-emancipated in 1777.

[6] 1761 Deed to the Upper Mills, Westchester County Archives – the deed has a 1784 codicil noting the sale of the lease to Beekman.

[7] Stephen Belfinski, An American Loyalist: The Ordeal of Frederick Philipse III. New York State Parks and Recreation (1976) p. 27.

[8] Morris-Jumel Mansion National Register nomination, National Archives.

[9] Morris-Jumel Mansion National Register nomination, National Archives.

[10] Ewald’s account of the Battle of Kingsbridge also gives us the famous sketch of a Stockbridge Militia soldier, which is one of the few in existence.

[11] Captain Johann Ewald, Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal, translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin, Yale University Press (1979) p. 153-54.

[12] Ewald, 149.

[13] Ewald, 152.

[14] Ewald, 156.

[15] Philipse Manor rent roll, c. 1761 lists John Cock paying 100 pounds rent “for the House at Kings Bridge.” Historic Hudson Valley collections.

[16] Ewald, 157.

[17] Ewald, 158.

[18] Ewald, 160-161.

[19] John Peebles, John Peebles’ American War: the diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776-82, edited by Ira D. Gruber. Stackpole Books (1998), p. 266-267.

[20] Both Ewald and Peebles note the commander-in-chief’s presence at the taking of Stony Point and Verplanck’s Point.

[21] Ewald, 172.

[22] Ewald, 172.

[23] Clinton, 132.

[24] Ewald, p. 175.

[25] “From George Washington to John Jay, 1 July 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-21-02-0265. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 21, 1 June–31 July 1779, ed. William M. Ferraro. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, pp. 318–319.]

[26] “From George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-21-02-0309. [Original source: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 21, 1 June–31 July 1779, ed. William M. Ferraro. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, pp. 374–379.]

[27] "From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, July 10, 1779," as appears in Volume 15 (May 6, 1779-July 28, 1779) of The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745-1799 edited by John C. Fitzpatrick. Washington: United States Government Printing Office (1938) p. 393.

[28] "From George Washington to President of Congress, August 2, 1779." George Washington Papers, Series 3, Subseries 3A, Varick Transcripts, Letterbook 4. http://www.loc.gov/resource/mgw3a.004

[29] Clinton, 129.