The Beginnings of Harrison's Purchase
One popular legend has it that in 1695, an Indian chief named Pathungo sold John Harrison as much land as he could cover in a day on horseback. Not wanting to get his horse's feet wet, he marked the boundaries for a future landlocked Harrison, which is the only community close to Long Island Sound without access to the water. Another legend has it that the uneven boundaries of the town were paced out by a drunken Indian while selling it to a colonist for a handful of beads, bright cloth and "white man's wampum."
It is possible that the land was sold more than once, as Indians did not understand sales contracts, that under white man's law, once he had bought the land, it was his. They thought they were merely selling the white man the right to live, hunt, and farm on the land.
According to Charles Dawson, Harrison's first town historian, the true story began with the Siwanoy Indians who sold land to Peter Disbrow in 1662 and to John Budd in 1666, and again in 1695 to John Harrison. Unfortunately for Mr. Disbrow and Mr. Budd, neither had filed claims with the provincial government of New York. John Harrison, however, did file, and when his claim was disputed, it was upheld. Eventually, he and four others who were involved with him in the purchase, known as "Harrison's Purchase," sold the land, it is thought, to the first Harrison settlers who appeared around 1724.
The new owners were Quakers who settled in Purchase where they built their first Meeting House in 1727. This was later destroyed by fire, but a replica was erected on the same foundation, also to be destroyed by fire on January 1, 1973. The Friends now meet in another building near the site, which has been cleared. An old newspaper was found in the Harrison Public Library dated Saturday, April 29, 1911. It is a Souvenir Edition of the Harrison Observer, edited by the Ladies of the Presbyterian Church. And from it comes this piece about the early days of Purchase:
"Nearly everyone has heard of Haviland China, yet very few know that the first Haviland China was made in Harrison.
"A Frenchman by the name of Havreland, driven from France by religious troubles, crossed the Atlantic and settled at Flushing, Long Island. It was but a step for him to cross the Long Island Sound and make Purchase his home.
"Here he found a fair quality of felspar, one of the necessities in the manufacture of china. Probably for the sake of euphony, Mr. Havreland had changed his name to Haviland, and in Purchase he made and sold many Haviland China dishes.
"The religious troubles of France having ended, Mr. Haviland returned to France, leaving his sons in America. In his old home there was a better quality of felspar than America had yet produced. As a result, the famous Haviland China factory was established there, which now employs 7,000 people."
Major General Thomas Thomas, a Revolutionary patriot, lived in Purchase. On November 13, 1778, his house was surrendered to the British. He was captured and taken to Long Island, but escaped. He was Harrison's first Supervisor, and the Thomas estate comprised of all the land where the State University and Pepsico are now located. The main house was on what is now Lincoln Avenue, north of Anderson Hill Road, and the Thomas family lived there until the land was sold and subdivided in 1850. Major General Thomas died in 1824 and was buried in the Thomas cemetery behind the Neuberger Museum on the State University campus. The state of New York erected a handsome monolith over his grave. The inscription in part reads: "He assisted in laying foundations of those institutions that are intended to perpetuate the Republic."
Judge John Thomas, his father, read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Courthouse in White Plains on July 11, 1776.
The old records of meetings held in Harrison are stored in the Municipal Building on Heineman Place and date back to April 5, 1774. On that day, the Freeholders and inhabitants of Harrison's' precinct met to elect their officials: as supervisor, Major General Thomas Thomas; as town clerk, William Miller, as constable and collector, W. Dusinbury; as assessors, Stephan Fields and Job Haddon Jr.: as pounder, Thomas Park; as fence and damage viewers, Samuel Haviland and Thomas Park; and a highway master for each road - seven in all. This was the first annual meeting in the town of Harrison.
Although the town of Harrison had a supervisor and master of the roads, fences and pound, a municipal form of government was not established until the middle of the 1800's. During much of this intervening period, most court actions, legal transfers of land, and other similar matters were taken care of by the town of Rye, and a close relationship existed between the two.