By Paul Hicks
<“A map does not just chart, it unlocks and formulates meaning; it forms bridges between here and there, between disparate ideas that we did not know were previously connected.”> — Reif Larsen
A new exhibit is opening Saturday, June 10 at the Square House Museum, entitled “Mapping the History of Rye,” and the public is invited to a reception that afternoon from 5 to 7. As one of the exhibit’s curators, together with Jennifer Plick and Sheri Jordan of the Rye Historical Society, I hope these historic maps of Rye and environs will be viewed by a wide audience throughout the summer. It should have special appeal for adults and children who are captivated by maps.
The exhibit begins with a map entitled “West Chester under the Mohegan Indians”, dated 1609 (the year that Henry Hudson sailed up the river that bears his name). If you look closely at the map, you will see an island in what is Long Island Sound that is identified as “Minniwies or Menusing.” These were Native American names for what is now Manursing Island, the place where the settlers of Rye established their first community, which they named Hastings.
On the mainland there is a stream labeled “Mockquams”, which the Rye colonists named Blind Brook. It separates “Poningoe” (the Milton Point peninsula) from “Apaqwamis” (one of the Native American names for what is now Rye Neck). In bolder letters is the word SIWANOYS, identifying the Native American group that some (but not all) historians believe inhabited the area encompassing Rye.
An introduction to the exhibit provides a useful timeline of key historic events, including Rye’s numerous border changes. The Town of Rye became a part of the Colony of Connecticut in 1665, but in 1685 Rye appeared on an English map, which accurately showed that it was then part of the Province of New York to which it had been moved by royal act in 1683. Later maps in the exhibit show Rye back in Connecticut and finally in New York. Rye residents had much in common with parts of Europe, like Gedansk/Danzig that went from Poland to Russia and back to Poland over the centuries.
Written descriptions of the lands that were exchanged between Connecticut and New York in settling these “border wars” are hard to understand, but it becomes much clearer when looking at the maps. In the last negotiation, New York got a narrow quadrangle running up to the Massachusetts border and, in return, Connecticut got a “panhandle” (not quite as large as the Florida or Texas ones).
Another map, which shows the military plans and operations of the British army during the Revolutionary War, is focused on the battle of White Plains in 1776, when that area was still part of the Town of Rye. Seeing General Washington’s encampments shown in blue and those of General Howe in Red, the conflict becomes as immediate to the viewer as if it were recorded live on today’s media.
Other maps in the collection, some of which are reproductions and some from the Society’s collection, illustrate the evolution of Rye from a settlement on Manursing Island to an unincorporated hamlet to an incorporated village (1904) within the Town of Rye to an independent city (1942).
To me, reading that Rye was settled in 1660 is certainly impressive, but to see that its importance warranted it being shown on a rare and significant map as early as 1685 is even more so. It proves once again that a picture is worth a thousand words.