If you’re familiar with Westchester historic sites, you’ve probably heard of our friends at Philipsburg Manor. Located in Sleepy Hollow, NY, Philipsburg Manor was known in the period as the “Upper Mills,” to differentiate it from the “Lower Mills” in Yonkers, where Philipse Manor Hall is located. They were both once part of a vast estate owned by the Philipse family – so how did they get to be separate sites?
When Frederick Philipse I and his wife Margaret Hardenbroek purchased Adriaen van der Donck’s former patroonship from his widow in 1672, it was not much larger than present-day Yonkers. Between 1680 and 1694 the Philipses gradually purchased more land in the area, ultimately stretching the property from the Spuyten Duyvil in the south 22 miles to the Croton River in the north. When the Philipses purchased the van der Donck property, there was already a sawmill in place on the Nepperhan River, which would come to be called the Saw Mill River. In the 1680s they began construction on what would become Philipse Manor Hall. Margaret Hardenbroek died around 1691, and Frederick married to Catherine Van Cortlandt. In 1693, they were awarded a manor by the British crown. As a manor lord, Philipse was tasked by the government with populating his manor with tenant farmers. In order to attract tenants, Philipse built grist mills on both the Saw Mill and Pocantico Rivers in the early 1680s. The grist mill on the Saw Mill or Nepperhan River became known as the “Lower Mills,” and the mill on the Pocantico became known as the “Upper Mill.”
The mills were part of a shift in enterprise for the Philipse family. The 1670s saw a decline in the fur trade, in large part due to overharvesting of fur bearing animals. A new income source was necessary, and the Hudson Valley was particularly well-suited to growing wheat. As lord of the manor, Philipse could tell his tenant farmers what to grow, and wheat was a lucrative cash crop. Although some of the grain was raised for local consumption, the vast majority of it was sent to the Caribbean to feed the enslaved population, and their enslavers, working on sugar plantations. In this way, the entire 52,000 acre manor became what is commonly referred to as a “provisioning plantation,” or an agricultural site designed to produce raw materials to be consumed or used elsewhere.
The manor also allowed the Philipses to vertically integrate. They already owned a fleet of ships from their fur trading days and were actively involved in trade both with Europe and in the slave trade with Africa and the Caribbean. With the grist mills on the manor, their tenants raised wheat on Philipse land and paid rent to the Philipses. The Philipses then ground that wheat into flour in their own mills, built barrels in their own cooperages, shipped the flour on their own ships, and sold it in the Caribbean, including to a plantation owned by Frederick I’s eldest son, Philip Philipse, in Barbados. Philipse ships also brought enslaved people from West Africa and Madagascar to the Caribbean and New York. Throughout it all, the people the Philipses enslaved did the bulk of the skilled labor of processing the flour, building the barrels, and even sailing the ships.
What is a Manor?
Today we typically use the term “manor” to refer to a house, but in the period a manor was a specific legal designation within the British Empire. Dating back to the Medieval feudal system, a manor was an award by the British crown to large wealthy landowners that gave them specific legal rights– mainly the rights to appoint a sheriff, appoint a churchman, and to hold courts. Both small landowners (freeholders) who lived on the manor and tenants who rented land (copyholders) from the manor lord came under the jurisdiction of the manor lord in this way.
Philipse Manor also included the award of a toll bridge – Kingsbridge. Formerly, if people wanted to get from Manhattan Island to the mainland, they had to ford the shallow and shifting river delta of the Harlem River and Spyuten Duyvil. But with the 1693 manor award, Frederick Philipse I was granted the right to construct a toll bridge (to be called Kings’ Bridge)and collect tolls, which he did. In this way, everyone traveling from Manhattan north had to pay tolls to the Philipse family (who were exempt from payment, of course).
Confusingly, the entire 52,000 acre estate was referred to as “Philipsburg,” “Philipsburgh,” “Philipsboro,” or “Philipsborough” in the period. The Manor Hall/Lower Mills was also sometimes called "Philipsburgh," or "Philips’," or “Philips’ Farm.” Even more confusingly, the Upper Mills have also been called “Philipsburgh” on at least one map.
Today, we refer to the entire estate as “Philipse Manor” to differentiate it from the modern “Philipsburg Manor” historic site in Sleepy Hollow (the Upper Mills) and Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers (the Lower Mills).In addition, most other manors in the period were named for the manor lord’s last name – such as Livingston Manor, Van Cortlandt Manor, etc., so it made sense to follow that naming convention.
Manor House vs. Manor Hall
Although today the designation is not as clear, in the past a manor house was defined as a temporary residence for the manor lord, located somewhere on the manor property. In that sense, both the house in Yonkers and the one in Sleepy Hollow were originally manor houses as Frederick Philipse I, his second son Adolph Philipse, and his grandson Frederick Philipse II all had primary residences in New York City and visited their Westchester properties only occasionally. But when Frederick Philipse III took control of both the Upper and Lower Mills, following the deaths of his great-uncle Adolph Philipse and his father Frederick Philipse II, he took the house at the Lower Mills as his primary residence, and it became Philipse Manor Hall.
Upper Mill vs. Lower Mills
The two mills were built in the early 1680s to entice European tenant farmers to move to the Philipse Manor. Part of the tenant leases indicated where the tenants were required to send their wheat for appraisal and grinding - either the Upper or Lower Mills depending on the location of the tenant farm. The Pocantico and Saw Mill Rivers provided the waterpower to turn the mills. The Upper Mills in Sleepy Hollow had one water wheel which historically operated 3 pairs of mill stones to grind grain. The modern reconstruction of the mill at Philipsburg Manor today has two pairs of mill stones in operation. The Lower Mills in Yonkers had two water wheels operating between four and six pairs of mill stones. The Lower Mills also had the sawmill.
In addition to the grist mill with three pairs of millstones, the Upper Mills in Sleepy Hollow also had a cooperage, a bake house, and a dairy as well as a landing for ships and general agricultural activity. The grist mill took in wheat raised by tenants in the upper part of the manor and ground it into flour. The dairy produced butter for sale off the manor. The bake house went into full swing in the winter months when the Pocantico froze, stopping the operation of the grist mill. The primary output of the bakehouse was not yeasted bread, but rather unleavened ship’s biscuit or hard tack. This shelf-stable product was an essential provision for long voyages and would also be used to feed the enslaved on Caribbean sugar plantations. The cooperage made barrels to hold the flour and ship’s biscuit and firkins to hold butter for export aboard Philipse-owned sailing ships.
The Lower Mills had a sawmill, a grist mill with four to six pairs of mill stones, a cooperage, bake house, smoke house, and a ships’ landing. It also had orchards, barns, gardens, and other agricultural activity designed to support the house. Enslaved people also operated the mills and other industries and served as servants in the house when the family was in residence.
We know the Upper Mill was operated by an enslaved miller – likely a man named Caesar. Although we do not have records of who ran the Lower Mills grist mill and sawmill, they were almost certainly enslaved. In fact, enslaved Africans did the majority of the skilled labor at the Upper and Lower Mills. Operating the mills, working in the cooperages, smoke house, bakehouses, and dairy were all the purview of enslaved people. Enslaved people also worked on the Philipses’ ships and boats and likely did the bulk of the agricultural labor for 800-odd acres controlled by the Philipses directly – approximately 300 acres at the Lower Mills and 500 acres at the Upper Mills. Raising wheat on the rest of the 51,200 acres of the manor was the purview of the Philipse tenants, who were European, although some tenants did also enslave small numbers of Africans and African descendants.
Dividing the Manor
When Frederick Philipse I died in 1702, he divided his properties between all of his heirs, as was the Dutch custom. His eldest son Philip Philipse was to receive the entire manor, under the English legal rule of primogeniture. However, Philip died before his father, so Frederick I adjusted his will to divide the manor in half. The Lower Mills portion went to Philip’s son Frederick Philipse II, who was just a child. The Upper Mills, from Dobbs Ferry north to the Croton River, went to Frederick Philipse I’s other son, Adolph Philipse, along with New York City warehouses, reflecting Adolph’s role in the international trade, including the slave trade. Frederick’s adopted daughter Eva DeVries Philipse Van Cortlandt (whose parents were Pieter DeVries and Margaret Hardenbroek) and her husband Jacobus Van Cortlandt received the house and manor they had been leasing from him, which is today Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx, as well as properties in New York City. Frederick’s daughter Annetje and her husband Philip French received properties in New York City, a house and properties in Bergen County, NJ, and land in Ulster County, NY. The value of Frederick’s business ventures, including ships and material goods, were divided equally between the four children. Enslaved people and families were also broken up and divided amongst the Philipse heirs.
Although Adolph received the house at the Upper Mills, he did not live there full-time, as he had a primary residence in New York City. As an active politician and merchant, he lived closest to his work, which involved shipping warehouses, sailing ships, and banking.
Adolph likely also operated the Lower Mills on behalf of his nephew, Frederick II, while he was educated in England and raised by his step-grandmother Catherine Van Cortlandt. When Frederick II came of age in 1716, at the age of 21, he returned to New York, learned the trade from his uncle, and took over the Lower Mills. Although he added on to the original house at Yonkers, it still was not his primary residence, which was in New York City.
Adolph Philipse died unmarried and childless in 1749. Upon his death, the Upper Mills returned to the eldest Philipse son – Frederick II. However, Frederick II died just two years later, in 1751. When he did, the Upper and Lower Mills were reunited as Philipse Manor under his eldest son, Frederick Philipse III. The Highland Patent, which had been purchased by Adolph in the 1690s, was divided equally between the four other children – Susannah Philipse and her husband Beverly Robinson, Mary Philipse, Margaret Philipse, and Frederick III’s younger brother, Philip Philipse. Margaret Philipse died unmarried just a year after her father in 1752, and her portion of the Highland Patent was divided into thirds and distributed to her surviving siblings.
Frederick III had far less interest than his father, great-uncle, and grandfather in expanding the family’s business interests. In fact, after trying and failing to sell the Upper Mills, he eventually rented them out. He also sub-contracted out the collections of tolls at Kingsbridge –collecting 200 pounds per year in rent.
Frederick III finally turned the house at Yonkers into Philipse Manor Hall – making it his full-time residence. When he remained loyal to the British crown during the American Revolution, Philipse Manor was seized by the New York state legislature in October, 1779 through the Act of Attainder, which targeted Loyalists like Philipse. The entire 52,000-acre manor plus the properties in the Highland Patent (today Putnam County) owned by Susannah Philipse Robinson and her husband Beverly, and Mary Philipse Morris and her husband Roger (Philip Philipse died in 1768, before war broke out) were seized and sold off to pay American war debts. The Philipses, Robinsons, and Morrises, accused of treason and exiled on pain of death by the new government, fled to England. The vast majority of the Philipse Manor property was purchased by the people who had been farming it for decades – the Philipse’s former tenants.
Those tenants were also the ones who voluntarily sold land in order to establish towns at Tarrytown, Ossining, Hastings, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, Yonkers, and elsewhere.
The construction of the Hudson River Railroad in the 1840s cut off the Saw Mill and Pocantico Rivers from their ships' landings, curtailing boat traffic up the river to the mills and stagnating the flow of both rivers.
The Upper Mills at Tarrytown remained relatively intact, albeit in severe disrepair, until it was restored in the early 20th century by the Rockefeller family and opened as a living history complex where the stone manor house, mills, outbuildings, and farm are still operated by living historians and interpreters.
Of the Lower Mills at Yonkers, only the Manor Hall remains. The outbuildings and mills were repurposed throughout the 19th century but most were demolished as the Saw Mill River was forced underground in the late 19th century. The Manor Hall was used as Yonkers Village Hall and later City Hall, from 1868 until 1918, when it was saved from demolition by the Cochran family and turned into a museum. The house was restored in 1911.
Today, Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow is operated by Historic Hudson Valley, a private nonprofit. Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers is now a State Historic Site. But they were once both part of a vast estate, fueled by enslavement, trade, and tenancy, called Philipse Manor.
Visit area sites associated with the Philipse family:
Van Cortlandt House Museum in Bronx, NY was built by Frederick Van Cortlandt, son of Eva DeVries Philipse and Jacobus Van Cortlandt
Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City, NY was built by Roger Morris and Mary Philipse Morris.
Sherwood House Museum in Yonkers, NY was built in 1740 by Thomas Sherwood, who leased the land from the Philipses and later purchased his farm after the American Revolution.