Clarkstown was formed as a Town on March 18, 1791, exactly 231 years ago this Friday. As I was planning on writing about this important milestone, I could not help but think of a wonderful movie from the Golden Age of Hollywood entitled “The Howards of Virginia.” The movie, starring legendary actor Cary Grant, tells the early story of our nation through the ups and downs of the lives of a fictional founding family in Virginia named the Howards. It plays often on AMC and other venues, and while dated at over eighty years old, is well worth watching.
As I recalled that Golden Age movie, I thought about not a fictional family but a very real one, who were among our founding families, namely the Pyes of Clarkstown. A number of years ago on these very pages, I wrote about the first Town Supervisor, David Pye, the patriarch of that family. Born in England in 1724, David Pye was a lawyer by profession and came to the colonies on business at the age of thirty-three. He decided to remain in America and became one of the earliest settlers of what is now Clarkstown. In 1762 he married Mary Martin of New Jersey and together had six children before her death in 1783. He remarried Cathrena Cooper on October 23, 1784 and they had a child, Isaac. His children and grandchildren would go on to emulate David Pye’s distinguished service.
Over the course of his life, Mr. Pye was a respected community leader and held several offices. He was first appointed as a Justice of the Peace and held a place on the Board of Supervisors. In 1769, he was appointed Excise Commissioner, with the responsibility of collecting taxes on liquor for the Haverstraw Precinct. Mr. Pye was in charge of supervising the construction of new county buildings in New City in 1774, but the operations were interrupted after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He was reappointed when construction resumed a decade later, and he was one of three commissioners that divided Haverstraw into the three districts that would become the towns of Ramapo, Clarkstown and Stony Point.
David Pye’s impact was not just confined to our borders. He was elected to represent Orange County in the New York Provincial Congress, the defacto government of New York during the revolution. It was as a member of this body in which he signed the following document on May 26, 1775:
“We, the Deputies of the different counties of the Colony of New York, in the Provincial Congress convened…Do…resolve never to become slaves and do associate…to adopt and endeavor to carry into execution whatever measures may be recommended by the Continental Congress for the purpose of preserving our constitution and opposing the arbitrary and oppressive acts of the British Parliament.”
In 1777, Pye was a representative at the New York Constitutional Convention and was a member of the Congress that officially ratified the Articles of Confederation.
In addition to serving as Clarkstown’s first Town Supervisor in 1791 and 1792, Pye was also appointed to represent the town in the State Assembly and State Senate later in the 1790’s. After serving as Supervisor, Pye was placed on a committee to split off Rockland from Orange County, as the Ramapo Mountains made governing very difficult. He became the first County Clerk of Rockland in 1798, which position he held until his death on August 28, 1804.
David Pye’s descendants continued his example of service. His son David Pye was born on February 14, 1776 in Clarkstown. On April 10th, 1799 he married Sarah Acker and together they had eight children. According to David Cole D.D., in his history of Rockland County New York published in 1884, David Pye Junior was also a well-respected leader and public official following in his father’s footsteps.
According to Cole, “Like his father, David Pye was a civil engineer, and had charge of the settlement of many estates. His influence of matters of pubic importance was widely felt. His advice in legal matters was often sought, and many controversies were settled through his influence without recourse to the courts of law. If public estimation be a just criterion of merit, he was excelled by few, since for many years he was honored with the office of County Clerk and also held many other positions of trust. He died September 27th, 1852, and was buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.”
Among the decedents of David Pye were several who went on to military service including brothers Isaac and Edward. Isaac was born on December 21st, 1813 and was a farmer and businessman. He was a Captain in the local Militia Calvary known as the “Rockland County Rangers” which was later attached to the 17th regiment of the New York State Militia which saw service in the Civil War. His brother Edward, was born on September 5th, 1823 and was also a lawyer. He was a County Court Judge and Surrogate Court Judge. In 1861 he was appointed Captain of the “Warren Rifles”, which would become Company F of the 95th New York Regiment. He served as a Captain in command of infantry early in the war, and was eventually promoted to Major just prior to the Battle of Antietam. He led the Regiment as a Major at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. He was then promoted to Colonel and saw action at the Battle of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania but suffered mortal wounds at the Battle of Cold Harbor where he died on June 12, 1864. He is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery where a large monument recognizes his sacrifice. The New York Times ran his obituary in June of 1864 recounting his service. According to the Times, “Pye was soon promoted to the positon of Major upon the recommendation of his superior officers in testimonials to his valor and fidelity, of the most flattering character, was appointed by Governor Seymour to command of the regiment.” The obituary goes on to offer the following about his death and funeral, “On Thursday, June 2nd, he wrote hastily to his family: ‘Thank God I am still safe and sound.’ That day he received his death wound. At his urgent request he was removed to Alexandria hoping to reach Washington, but died in Alexandria of his wounds on June 11th. His body was embalmed and taken to his home in Haverstraw where his funeral took place on Wednesday June 15th.” The obituary concludes as follows, “Col Pye was a patriot, who entered the service conscientiously, from an ardent conviction for the righteousness of our cause. …His death adds to the long list of the honored and lamented who have fallen in our defense.”
A more exhaustive history of the Pye family is certainly in order. The patriotism and service of the first three generations of the family is outlined in brief in the 1884 History of Rockland. As you travel through West Nyack and pass the four corners of Old Mill Road, Strawtown Road and Germonds Road you will see an historical marker denoting the location as Pye’s Corner, as David Pye lived nearby. Now you know that the Pye family gave a good bit more than a name to an intersection. Namely they gave exceptional family service over numerous generations to help first build a country, and a town and finally one of their own paid the ultimate price by giving his life during the Civil War. We recall with gratitude the service of the Pyes of Clarkstown on the 231st Anniversary of the founding of our Town.