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From Slavery to Freedom: Robert Purdy in Scarsdale, N.Y.

"If a man is fortunate he will before he dies gather up as much as he can of his heritage and transmit it to his children. And in his final breath, he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that is our nourishing mother and our lasting life." -- Will Durant


The African presence in Scarsdale is as old as the Village itself. We can start 
with the West India Company's charter of Privilege and Exemption for the Patroons. In that document for the purpose encouraging agriculture, the company agreed to furnish colonist as many Africans as they conveniently could. And by 1712, eleven years after the formation of the Manor of Scarsdale, the inhabitants numbered only 12, of whom four were white, the remaining eight were enslaved Africans. Therefore, it's not an anomaly to see that by 1915 seven houses were owned and occupied on Saxon Woods Road by African Americans.
Robert Purdy (1823-1890) and Lena Landrine Purdy (1813-1880) were African American residents and homeowners on Saxon Woods Road, in Scarsdale, New York. Donna Lockley is a descendant of Robert Purdy. It is interesting to note that as a great-great-granddaughter of Robert Purdy, she has traced the family history using maps, census records, archives and an oral history. Lockley has stated that Robert Purdy was a runaway slave from Louisiana. He was able to establish himself as a runaway on Saxon Woods Road, which is in Scarsdale, N.Y. Unlike the South, New York State abolished Slavery in 1827.
Lena Landrine, the wife of Robert Purdy, was a Native American. The Purdys traveled to Quaker Ridge in Scarsdale, N.Y., which was a safe haven. Robert Purdy worked on local farms and purchased 12 acres of fine land for $270 from George A. Willets. There were other sellers of the additional acreage. However, there should be no confusion as to what the acreage was used for. These men were farmers and were practically 100 percent self-sufficient through growing vegetables, fruit, and raising many types of animals and fowl.
Lockey found the following information recorded in The Selected U.S. Federal Census Non-Population Schedules, 1850-1880:
George J. Williets was the Enumerator in 1880. Robert Purdy was an owner of his property on Saxon Woods Road, Scarsdale, New York: "The Tilled including fallow and grass in rotation (whether pasture or meadow) (5)of farm including land, fences and buildings (1,000) dollars of farming implements and machinery (50 dollars)of Live Stock (80) dollars Estimated value of all farm productions (sold, consumed, or on hand for 1879) 400.00 dollars. Mown Acreage (3) not Mown (2) Altogether Robert had about 5 acres here Hay (6) TonsHorses of all ages on hand June 1, 1880 (1) Yea he had a horse Cows (1) Other (1) Claved dropped (1) Cattel of ages Purchased (2) Sold living (2) Butter made on the Farm (50 lbs) Swine on hand June 1, 1880 Number (1) Poultry on hand, June 1, 1880 exclusive of Spring Hatching barn yard (50) Eggs produced in 1879 were (175) Indian Corn 1879 Acres (1) Crop (Bush) 70 Irish Potatoes in 1879 he had 1/4 Acres of Crop (20) Apples 1/2Rearing trees 40Bushels (1879) 5 Total value of orchard products of all kinds sold or consumed dollars (2) Bees (1879) 20lbs."
Robert Purdy was the only one reported during 1880 who sold 20 lbs. of honey who raised bees. One descendant remembers the deep, deep backyards at the homes of relatives during childhood visits. It is also interesting to note that these large individual parcels of land existed even after the annexation of acres Purdy land by Westchester County. Donna Lockley has the deed of this bill of sale as well as other family documents that tell the story of Purdy's journey from slavery to freedom. 
Several houses were built on the Purdy Estate. This property has housed descendants of the Purdy family for generations. The Robert Purdy Homestead was at 307 Saxon Woods Road. This house was built for his wife, himself and family. When each of his daughters married, he gave them a piece of land for a house. In time all the houses were occupied by family members and remained so until the mid-20th century.
The Education of Purdy children was very important. "All of the children attended the Quaker Ridge School. It is important to note that by 1840 the Purdy family members were educated in a one-room Quaker school along with the neighboring white children," said Robinette Purdy Allen Robinson. 
One textbook attests to the academic rigor that is still important in Scarsdale schools today. Robinette Purdy Allen Robinson adds, "One book is named 'Gill's Oxford & Cambridge Spelling' and appears to have been used for Grades 2 - 5. Unfortunately, it is in very poor condition today and the first 3 pages are missing so I can't determine when it was published. By the handwriting on the inside cover and some pages, I'm guessing that Maude & Millie, the Peterson twins, ( grandchildren of the Purdys) shared this book and that they were quite young when they received it. The inside cover and the first remaining page (actually page 3) as well as some subsequent pages will give one an idea of the scope of learning in those days, from grades 2 thru 5 (?), starting with 'phonics' and going through Latin and Greek roots of words. Some French terms were also included. The book was 142 pages long and small in size, as one can see from the copies." Certainly, this is a treasured remembrance.
In addition to Robert Purdy's early days as an entrepreneur, Robinette Purdy Allen Robinson, the great-great-granddaughter of Purdy, states the following: 
"Robert Purdy is credited to being one of the founders of the A.M.E. Zion Church in Mamaroneck N.Y., which is now known as Barry Ave. A.M.E. Zion Church. The early services were held at his home on Saxon Woods Road as well as at the Cedar Street home (Mamaroneck) of Mrs. Dinah (Granny) Hicks. Mr. Purdy and 4 other trustees were instrumental in the purchase of the current church property, subsequently erected at its current location, 645 N. Barry Avenue, in 1903."
Robert and Lena Purdy were buried in the African Cemetery in Rye, N.Y. The land for the cemetery was donated to the Town of Rye in 1860 by Underhill and Elizabeth Halstead with the condition that it "shall forever hereafter by kept, held and used for purpose of a cemetery or burial place for the colored inhabitants of the said Town of Rye and its vicinity, free and clear of any charge therefore..." This information was provided by the Rye Historical Society in conjunction with the African American Cemetery Project sponsored by Building Community Bridges Org. at the Memorial Day observance this year. Today the African Cemetery, North St., Rye is a National Historic Place and Westchester County Tricentennial Historic Site. 
A reunion of close to 100 descendants of Robert Purdy took place in August 2012. This coincided with the 160th Anniversary of the Barry Avenue A. M. E. Zion Church in Mamaroneck. Thus, the legacy of Robert Purdy is now unrolled for understanding. It is the legacy of family unity; the legacy of self-determination and education; a legacy of responsibility and integrity. And finally, it is a legacy of faith. Faith in one God. The Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. The God that reveals a way, when there is often no way. 
Special Acknowledgment:
Donna Marie Lockley and Robinette Purdy Allen Robinson, who are the direct descendants of Robert Purdy.
Photo of the 1850 Purdy Estate in Scarsdale, N.Y., researched by Donna Lockley.

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