Philipsburg Manor, Growth of the Manor to 1750


Adolph Philipse was heir to the wealth and land of his parents but as well as to their business sense. Trained in merchant houses in Amsterdam and experienced at overseas commerce through involvement in his parents’ business activities, Adolph was well-qualified to take over the northern portion of Philipsburg Manor in 1702. And during the decades following Adolph’s inheritance of the property, the Upper Mills grew dramatically in population, infrastructure, and profitability.

Bridge over the millpond.

New York’s steady shift away from the fur trade and toward the provisioning trade was no doubt an important factor in Adolph’s decision to invest in enhancements to the Upper Mills property during this period. The push for greater capacity to process grains grown on the manor spurred the addition of a third set of millstones as well as a bakehouse near the mill for the bread and ship’s biscuit that sailors consumed during ocean voyages.

Expansion of the Upper Mills infrastructure went hand in hand with the manor’s growing population. The manor’s advantages—reliable gristmills, excellent Hudson River access, relative proximity to Manhattan—made settlement there more appealing over time. The number of tenants who leased land on Philipsburg Manor increased from approximately thirty families in 1700 to about 150 families in 1750.

The African community at the Upper Mills was growing, too. That twenty-three men, women, and children lived at the Upper Mills by 1750 is a clear indication of their importance to the manor’s heightened prosperity during this period.

By the mid-eighteenth century, multiple generations had lived at the Upper Mills, and the community consisted largely of families. The conspicuous absence of any young girls other than three-year-old Betty suggests that Adolph Philipse considered female children less crucial to the Upper Mills operations and sold them, probably to city residents who used female slaves in their urban homes. With the significant exception that separated young girls from their families, there was relative continuity in the Upper Mills community from the time of Frederick Philipse I’s 1702 death through 1750. 

Naming patterns that emerge from wills and inventories help reveal family connections and long associations with the Upper Mills. Charles and Billy were among the 16 people Adolph inherited in 1702 and are most likely the Charles and Billy who were community elders at the Upper Mills in 1750. “Old Susan,” designated in Frederick Philipse’s 1700 will to remain at the Upper Mills for the rest of her life, had probably died by 1750. However, “Susan the Younger” from the 1700 document may well have been the Susan heading the list of five women at the Upper Mills in 1750. Sue, another of the five, carried on the name and may well have been the granddaughter of “Old Susan.”

Other namesake relationships evident in the Upper Mills community at 1750 were Caesar, the miller, with two-year-old Caesar; Diamond, the boatman, with seven-year-old Diamond; and Tom, the farmer, with nine-year-old Tom. Upper Mills children Charles, Harry, and Hendrick shared names with three men listed in Frederick Philipse I’s will. Frederick’s will explicitly stated certain family relationships, such as “Harry with his wife and child,” bequeathed to his son Frederick Philipse II, and “the Indian woman Hannah and her child,” bequeathed to Adolph. Catherine Van Cortlandt Philipse’s will of 1730, too, refers to Molly, an “Indian or Mustee” slave, and her children.

The presence of multiple generations of families at the Upper Mills must have gone a long way toward creating continuity in a situation otherwise rife with uncertainty. Not only could children like Diamond and Sam gain a strong sense of personal identity through close contact with parents and grandparents—an experience more often denied under slavery—but all those who were born or raised in New York could maintain a strong cultural identity as Africans through their relationships with African-born elders. Folktales, music, religious custom, and other critical cultural expressions from B’Kongo,  Malagasy, or Akan traditions must have sustained the American generations.

Drumming and dancing during Pinkster celebrations.

The Pinkster carnival, which is recreated by Historic Hudson Valley as a special event each year at Philipsburg Manor, was one way in which the diverse African cultures and traditions in New York came together. While Pinkster was originally the Dutch religious celebration of Pentecost, the free time allotted enslaved Africans for the holiday enabled them to celebrate in their own ways. At the week-long carnival held in the spring, black New Yorkers played music on African-style drums and stringed instruments similar to banjos. White commentators considered the music and dance to be distinctly African. The presence of a master drummer setting the pace during Pinkster festivities is typical of the music and dance traditions of many West African cultures. The election of a Pinkster King who served as master of ceremonies was a means of asserting a social hierarchy within the black community separate from the established white hierarchy. The Pinkster carnival was celebrated from the seventeenth century to the early 1800s in areas that had been heavily settled by the Dutch, with notable festivities in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, and Albany. Whether the Upper Mills community participated in the large urban festivals or spent the free time during the holiday in other ways, Pinkster undoubtedly afforded the enslaved persons a welcome rest from their many labors.

While in most cases we don’t know exactly who performed each job at Philipsburg Manor, we can nevertheless imagine a possible breakdown of labor at the Upper Mills based on what we do know about this provisioning plantation and its products. Caesar maintained and operated three sets of millstones and kept all the gearing mechanics and structural components of the mill in good order. Diamond loaded plantation produce from the wharf onto boats and navigated the Hudson to Manhattan with his cargo. Flip and Tom labored in the fields, orchards, and hay meadows, plowing, planting, and harvesting, while Sampson and Kaiser managed livestock, maintained fences, and baked hard-tack. Susan and Abigail processed barrels of beef, pork, and dried peas for export. Sue maintained the manor house, cooked meals for the enslaved community, and watched over the smallest children who were too young to help with work. Dina and Massy milked the dairy cows, processed the milk into butter for export, and kept the dairy and all its utensils scrupulously clean. James, Venture, Charles, and Billy, too old for heavy labor, worked in the provision garden and helped mind the children.

Adolph Philipse, of course, was an absentee landlord who left much of the day-to-day administration of the Upper Mills to an overseer. Adolph’s business, political, and social interests meant his life revolved around Manhattan. Adolph built up an impressive stock of imported goods from Europe, Asia, and Africa in his warehouses in lower Manhattan, ranging from packs of playing cards to mouse traps, frying pans, ivory combs, yard goods, sickles and sword blades. From these stocks of varied merchandise—chiefly dry goods—Philipse could supply retail merchants in the city and also could send wares north to the Upper Mills for purchase by the manor’s residents.

In his shipping endeavors Adolph Philipse specialized in the Caribbean trade. He imported all that the English plantations had to offer, dealing particularly with Barbados and Jamaica for sugar, rum, molasses, cacao, old iron—and slaves, whom Adolph purchased in small groups from the Caribbean for the New York market. The labor and skill of Caesar, Tom, Sue, Massy, and all the Upper Mills community, along with the many tenants of Philipsburg Manor, ensured that Adolph Philipse could load his outgoing cargoes by the ton with New York’s “provisions of plantation produce” as well as with timber products such as barrel staves, hoops, and heads by the thousands. Planters in the West Indies needed empty barrels in which to pack their export produce and relied on northern colonies to provide the wooden components. For the Caribbean trade he used his ship, the Phillipsburgh, and, frequently, a smaller ship called the Abigail. The Abigail was named after Abigail Levy Franks, daughter of prominent Jewish merchant Moses Levy. Adolph Philipse forged economic partnerships across ethnic and religious lines, and shared ownership of the Abigail with Moses Levy, Samuel Levy, Jacob Franks, and others.

Like his father before him, Adolph held various political offices in the colonial government, beginning in 1705 with a seat he held on New York’s Provincial Council until 1721. He also served in an administrative capacity in the Chancery Court during this time. Dismissed from the Council for exerting “undue influence” on one of his colleagues, he quickly reentered the political arena as a representative to the General Assembly in 1722, and served as Speaker of the Assembly from 1725 to 1737 and again from 1739 until his retirement in 1745. Not surprisingly, during his time in politics Adolph pressed for free trade with minimal customs interference and for low taxation on New York City merchants. He also passed legislation enacting the slave codes that grew increasingly harsh in New York during the first half of the eighteenth century in response to slave insurrections in the city.

Costumed guides help to tell the story at Philipsburg Manor.

Two insurrection conspiracies in particular, one in 1712 and one in 1741, challenged any notions white New Yorkers may have had about the contentedness of the colony’s African captives.  These insurrections also counter enduring myths that northern slavery was somehow more benign than slavery in the South and that enslaved persons accepted their lot without anger or resistance. In 1712, a group of more than twenty conspirators, male and female, African and Native American, set fire to city buildings at night and then murdered those who came to put out the flames.

In 1741, a series of fires in the city lit the flame of suspicion in the minds and memories of white New Yorkers. In a massive convulsion of hysteria that historians compare to the Salem witch trials, the city prosecuted dozens of individuals, both blacks and poor whites. Many were executed; still others were deported. Cuffee, an enslaved man owned by Adolph Philipse, was accused of setting fire to the warehouse of Adolph’s nephew Frederick Philipse II. Adolph did not exert himself much in Cuffee’s defense and claimed he could say nothing about his character. Cuffee was convicted and burned at the stake.

The multiracial character of both the 1741 conspiracy and the 1712 insurrection seemed dangerous to those in power, who had typically viewed New York’s pluralistic society as a necessity to be tolerated, not a virtue to be celebrated. Members of the provincial government, fearing class war, used the event to promote racism as a way of driving a wedge between servant-class whites and enslaved and free blacks. With Cuffee’s death, members of the Upper Mills community had lost someone in their extended network, someone who chose to live just at or beyond the limits of white law. Stories of Cuffee, and of others like Amba and Nicholas Cartagena before him, expanded the set of options for resisting slavery’s limitations.

Because Philipsburg Manor was so closely connected to Manhattan via trade, the Upper Mills community was affected by the political, social, and economic events of New York City. Likewise, the city depended on the activities of the farms, mills, and other rural industries at Philipsburg Manor and elsewhere in the countryside for its very existence and purpose. Thus in this chapter, the story of the manor’s development from 1702 to 1750 has been intertwined with stories of Manhattan.

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