There was a piece in today’s New York Times concerning New York’s pirate history. And while it makes a few good observations about how the Big Apple was a haven for buccaneers back in the day, it made a comment in passing about who were involved in the Sweet Trade that really needed to be expounded upon.
According to the book The Story of The Bronx by Stephen Jenkins (available online through Google Books), one of the major backers listed in the article, Frederick Philipse, was a merchant who became a major supplier for pirate expeditions, as well as a buyer of goods the pirates brought back with them, what we’d call today a ‘fence.’ When he marries a second time to replace his departed wife, it’s to the sister of Stephanus Van Cortland.
Yes, the same Phillipse and Van Cortlandwhose houses are historic sites. The same Phillipse who owned a bridge (the King’s Bridge) the name of which graces a neighborhood in the Bronx (Kingsbridge), and the Van Cortland whose name is given to the park in the Bronx. Both men made a killing in real estate developing what would become Westchester County, enticing colonists to the land with grants and promises, and were on the governor’s executive council for the Colony of New York in the 1690s.
And yet, when we talk about the Bronx, pirates don’t immediately come to mind. After Phillipse and Van Cortland pass on, we don’t see pirates going upriver towards Yonkers until Sadie the Goat sets sail, followed by those folks selling illicit DVDs on Fordham Road today.
And that’s a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of the Sweet Trade, especially the attitude and institutions, that contributes to American culture and how we see ourselves. And if you live in the Bronx or Westchester, there’s a bit of pirate booty to thank for your streets up there, too…