Residents of White Plains and local history lovers are invited this Sunday to attend a pair of simultaneous celebrations that have been as much as three centuries in the making.
Not only is the White Plains Historical Society holding its annual commemoration of the Battle of White Plains, which has its anniversary several days later on Oct. 28, but it will also observe the 300th anniversary of the Jacob Purdy House, where George Washington is known to have stayed in 1776 and in 1778.
John Vorperian, president of the White Plains Historical Society, said with the Purdy House’s milestone anniversary this year, it made sense to combine the two events, where 1721 meets up with 1776.
“The point is that we’d like to do something where the public is aware,” Vorperian said. “The Battle of White Plains we do every year to commemorate (and) the board had felt this was the appropriate way to go, so that’s what we’re going to do on Sunday.”
The celebrations last from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jacob Purdy House, located at 60 Park Ave. in White Plains, with a flag-raising at noon. There will be groups of re-enactors, not only representing the patriots but also British redcoats, along with two blacksmiths and women re-enactors who portray the importance that they played during the American Revolution, Vorperian said.
One re-enactor who usually dresses as Martha Washington will come as a washerwoman, someone who would be found at a Revolutionary War camp, he said. Women often came and gave support to the rebels.
“This is something that I’ve been hammering away at as president, to look at history in a more global perspective,” Vorperian said. “Yes, Washington is one of the fathers of our country, but we get to look at who else participated in the Revolution and the role of women.”
There will be a fife and drum corps and the White Plains High School marching band will also perform at the event. Tours will be given of the Jacob Purdy House, where visitors can walk the same spaces that Washington did on his visits, although groups will be limited to six to eight people at a time.
While some may think of history occurring in far-off places, Vorperian said White Plains and its surroundings were a hotbed of activity during the Revolution. In addition to being home to the battle, where Washington’s troops were able to repel the British, the city was the first place in New York State that held a public reading of the Declaration of Independence at the armory on North Broadway, he said. That site now has senior apartments.
White Plains was also split in its loyalties, with roughly a third of its inhabitants loyal to the crown and another third supporting the patriots. The rest of the citizenry just tried to stay out of the way. There were even taverns that were known to be pro-crown or pro-patriot. Hatfield’s Tavern, a pro-King George spot, was burned down by rebels.
“Here in Westchester, and White Plains in particular, there was no safe side to be on,” Vorperian said. “People just tried to get through it all.”
The split also fractured the Purdy family, which bought the house and about 132 surrounding acres from its original owner and builder Samuel Horton. Jacob Purdy was living in the house at the time of the Revolution, Vorperian said. The Purdys who were loyalists fled to Canada, and the White Plains Historical Society has formed a friendship with the Annapolis Royal Historical Society in Nova Scotia, where they settled.
The house stayed in the hands of the Purdys until shortly after Jacob’s death in 1823. Then 10 years later, it was reacquired by Jacob Purdy II until it was bought by James Ferris in 1866.
Vorperian is hopeful that if families bring their children there will be at least a couple of youngsters who will fall in love with history.
“My hope is if it means one, two, maybe three youngsters turn and say, ‘Hey I want to go to college and I want to major in history, I’ll be all the more enthused and happy about this,” he said.
The event is free for anyone who attends.