Eastchester Covenant, 1665
The Eastchester Covenant is the town’s most treasured document. Crafted in 1665, it survives in the form of a 1668 copy, handwritten by Richard Shute, the first town recorder. Once read, it becomes clear why “Keeping the Covenant” is the appropriate theme to mark the community’s 350th Anniversary.
The covenant was signed between 1665 and 1682 by 24 Puritan men who with their families were the original settlers of the town of “East Chester.” A civil covenant, the document created a framework for the governance of the fledgling community. Its paragraphs fell generally into categories related to the conduct of public affairs, community life, ownership and management of the land, moral principles, agricultural matters, and public safety. Elements of Eastchester’s agreement ranged from commitments to plainly deal with each other and to provide for the education of children to requirements that each man should fence his farm land and that one day every spring would be set aside for the “destroying of rattlesnakes.”
One of approximately 60 surviving civil covenants written in the New England and New York colonies between 1620 and 1708, Eastchester’s seems to be the only extant one from a town in the New York colony. By the time this document was written, civil covenants increasingly focused on practical concerns rather than on religious matters. While the spelling and grammar exhibited here is not uniform, Eastchester’s Covenant and the early society that it fostered laid the foundation for a town that respects its citizenry and where the spirit of voluntarism thrives. May it continue to be kept!
The theme for the 350th Anniversary Celebration “Keeping the Covenant” is aptly described by Town Historian Richard Forliano as “emphasizing that for 350 years Eastchester has been a community dedicated to the principle that the town would ‘keep and maintain…love —and civil honesty—and plainly deal with each other.”
You are invited to view it here in its original form (PDF) and as transcribed below.
Eastchester Covenant Transcribed
- We by the grace of god settle on this land between Hutchinson’s Brook where the house was until it comes to the river that runs in at the head of the meadow.
- That we keep and maintain Christian love and civil honesty.
- That we help and counsel each other.
- To deal with one another in Christian love.
- If any trespassing is done, the trespassed and trespasser will try to work out the matter. If need be a third party will be called in to end the matter, without any further trouble.
- That all of us pay the minister according to his need.
- That no one has more than fifteen acres, until all have that quantity.
- That every man has a meadow that is convenient for him.
- That every man build and live in his home before next winter.
- No man is to sell his lot before he has lived on it for one year, and to sell it to the company or to a man they approve.
- Any man may sell part of his land to a neighbor.
- That no man buy his neighbor’s lot for his particular interest, but with respect to sell it if an approved man comes and is judged by the company
- That all public affairs, bridges, highways, or mill be carried on jointly according to meadow or estate.
- That provision be made for the education of the children.
- No man shall entertain a foreigner who is obnoxious. This is amended after a warning is given.
- That all shall join in guarding the cattle when the company sees it to be convenient.
- That every man build and maintain a fence around his house.
- That every man sow his land when most of the company sow or plant in their field.
- That we give encouragement to Mr. Brewster each week to give us a good word, and when we are settled we meet together every other week for one hour to talk about good things.
- That one man, either of himself or by consent give entertainment to strangers for money.
- That one day every spring be chosen for the destroying of rattle snakes.
- That some men stay at home on the Lord’s Day for the safety of our wives and children.
- That every man as soon as he can get and keep a good lock on his door.
- That a convenient place be appointed for oxen if it is required.
- If a man’s meadow be of bad quality, it be considered in the quantity.
- That every man that has taken up lots shall pay all public charges equal to those that have none.
- That all who or shall take up lots within this track of land mentioned shall subscribe to these articles.
Phillip Pinkney, Thomas Shute, the mark of Nathaniel White, the mark of Nathaniel Tompkins, William Haidens, John Hoit, the mark of John Gee, James Eustis, the mark of Joseph Joans, the mark of Samuel Goding, Moses Hoit, the mark of William Squires, David Osburn, the mark of John Tompkins, Richard Hedly, Samewell Drake, John Goding, the mark of Henery Fowler, John Emery, john Hackson, Moses Jackson, John Clark, the mark of John Drake, the mark of John ( )