This article appeared in a series of articles pertaining to the early history of twenty two families of Westchester County, New York. They were published during the summer and fall of 1951 as part of a special feature in the Westchester Group Newspapers and Affiliates. The author was Maureen McKernam. The article on the Van Tassel family was the 14th of the series.
Van Tassels of Westchester can rightly claim to be "an original American" family, for the founder of the family in this county, Jan Van Texel, was the son of a Montauk [actually probably Matinecock-rvt] Indian Princess.
Cornelis Janezan Van Texel as the name was often spelled until almost Revolutionary War times married Catoneras, daughter of a Montauk [prob. Matinecock-rmv] Sachem, some time after he came to New Amsterdam from his native Schoondenwort in South Holland where he was born about 1600.
Cornelis' son, Jan, was born in New Amsterdam where he married Antje Alberts. In 1684 he went up the Hudson to an Indian village in Ryck's Patent. Two bits of land along the Hudson were there, that the Van Cortlandts were never able to lay their hands upon.
Peekskill now occupies these patents which were purchased direct from the Indians by Dutch settlers. The larger tract, where Jan Van Texel settled, was commonly known as Ryck's Patent, a contraction of "Ryck Richard Abramson's Patent," and it lay between Peekskill Creek to Verplanck's Point. The Lent family, so numerous in Yorktown and elsewhere in the county, descends from Ryck Abramson who changed his name to Lent.
One of Jan Van Texel's daughters married Hendrick Lent. Other children married into the families of Storm, de Witt, Springsteen and Crancheit.
Cornelis [prob. means Jan-rmv] lived out his life at Ryck's Patent Peekskill as did his son, William, while his other sons moved down the Hudson; Cornelis 2d to Elmsford; Jacob to Ossining; Jan to North Tarrytown. All had large families.
Johannes, Jacob's son, married a daughter of William Hammond, the patriot whose farm house on County House Road at Grasslands is the property of the Westchester County Historical Society. Johannes' farm is now occupied by Sing Sing Prison.
Revolutionary War records are studded with the names of Van Tassel soldiers and officers. Most colorful of the patriot Van Tassels was Jacob of the fourth generation whose home, Wolfert's Roost, was bought by Washington Irving and is today's Sunnyside Restoration, a museum.
Jacob, who was Johannes' and Magdelina Hammond's son, was born in Tarrytown in 1744 and married his cousin, Hester. His house was a meeting place of the patriots. He was a captain of the Colonial Militia and a lieutenant under Capts. Requa and Combs. Such a thorn in the flesh to the British was Jacob that the British burned his 100-year-old house, Wolfert Acker homestead, to the ground when they took Jacob prisoner 1777. They kept him in captivity until October 17, 1778. He was captured again on July 1, 1779, near Croton. This time he stayed in British hands until he was exchanged in 1781. Gen. Oliver de Lancey's house at Spuyten Duyvil was burned by Van Tassel friends from Tarrytown in revenge for the burning of Jacob's house.
After the Revolution Jacob rebuilt his house, then sold it to Oliver Ferris in 1802. Irving bought the property from the Ferris family.
Jacob's cousins, David of Ossining, Cornelius of Elmsford and Steven of Haventji near present Hawthorne were also prisoners of the British. Another cousin, John, was killed in battle in 1779.
Washington Irving, who was a great reporter as well as fiction writer, was so charmed with the Van Tassels, their stories, their houses, their personalities and their customs that he drew heavily upon Van Tassel facts as the framework for his fiction. For example, Katrina Van Tassel was a very common name in his day.
So it is that in modern minds Van Tassel and Tarrytown fact and history are badly mangled by Irving's fiction. For example it is common for Van Winkles to visit Irving's home at Sunnyside and say in all honesty that they are descended from the fictional Rip Van Winkle.
Irving left no written statement as to which Van Tassel house was his model for the home of Katrina Van Tassel of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but the late Mrs. Jacob Mott of Tarrytown, who knew Irving, said the writer told her he had in mind the post-Revolutionary Van Tassel Inn which formerly stood on the site of the present Frank R. Pierson school on Broadway. The door of this inn, which was run by Jacob Van Tassel, is preserved as the traditional door to Katrina's house and may be seen in the corridor of the school. [note-now in the Tarrytowns Historical Society-rvt] ON the other hand, in a newspaper obituary of Irving, Katrina's house is said to be the present Philipse Castle restoration, then the Beekman house, past which Irving's funeral cortege passed on the way to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
There is no fiction, however, about the beauty of the latest Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of Oliver Van Tassel of Tarrytown. The Old Dutch Church was opened last May 6, that she might be christened in the church of her ancestors and her picture was run in all the papers. As a result, to this baby with the olive skin, traditional to so many of the descendants of the Montauk [prob Matinecock-rvt] Indian Princess, has come an offer to be a Powers model, so pretty is she.
One should not close this brief story of Van Tassels without mention of two grand old newspapermen of their days, the late G. Fred Van Tassel who, with Wallace Odell, founded the Tarrytown News and the late Daniel T. Van Tassell, who was historian as well as editor. Daniel Van Tassel was for many years editor of the Tarrytown Argus when it was published by Mr. Van Tassel and Mr. Odell.
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