Lefferts family papers
Language of Materials
The Lefferts family papers contain documents created and collected by members of the Lefferts family, a Brooklyn family of Dutch origin that played a prominent role in the city's politics, society, and development. The collection also contains records created and collected by the stewards of the Lefferts Historic House Museum in relation to the Lefferts family and the house's history. The documents span from the 1650s to the 1970s and include those created by members of the Lefferts family in Brooklyn (particularly in the town of Flatbush) as well as members of the family that branched out into other parts of America including Ohio and Illinois. The collection covers a variety of subjects including the development of Flatbush, the Lefferts family role in the political, economic, religious, and social life of Flatbush and Brooklyn, colonial life, slavery, and more. The documents include personal papers and correspondence of the family members, papers related to maintenance of their farm and businesses, genealogical records of the family, and photographs and other graphic materials of family members and the Lefferts house. The collection also contains related clippings, some maps, and an assortment of books either owned by or related to the Lefferts family and Flatbush. There are some documents related to the maintenance of the Lefferts Historic House and some documents and graphic materials collected over time by the stewards of the house.
Biographical / Historical
The first member of what would become the Lefferts family to arrive at what would become Brooklyn was Pieter Janse Hagewout, a cobbler who sailed in 1660 from Holland to New Amsterdam on the ship de Bonte Koe (The Spotted Cow). In 1661 Hagewout bought a house and lot in Vlacke Bos (Flatbush), but it is unknown what became of this land. It was his eldest son, Leffert Pieterse, who would go on in 1687 to purchase the fifty-eight acres in the village of Flatbush upon which the original Lefferts homestead would be built. From Leffert Pieterse on, the Lefferts family extended their land holdings in Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, and New Jersey as well as extending the size of the Lefferts homestead in Flatbush. Leffert Pieterse's great-grandson, Peter Lefferts (1753-1829) married Femmetie Hegeman in 1784 and through the marriage and a purchase of 100 acres of land from Femmetie's sisters he acquired parts of the neighboring land once owned by Evert Hegeman.
Acquiring so much land and being one of the first Dutch families to develop in Brooklyn placed the Leffertses in a prominent position in the political and civic life of Flatbush and other parts of Brooklyn, and many Lefferts family members assumed roles typical of this prominence. Peter Lefferts (1753-1791) was a first lieutenant in the American Continental Army during the revolution and went on to hold such positions as Flatbush's Overseer of Highways and Overseer of the Poor. He was also elected as one of two delegates from Kings County to the Constitutional Convention in Poughkeepsie, NY in July of 1788 and was one of the founders of Erasmus Hall. Like many other members of the family would be in the future, Peter was involved with the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church, serving as one of its first trustees and eventually as Church Master. Peter Lefferts's son, John Lefferts (1785-1829), was the County Treasurer (1811-1813), elected to Congress (1813), and elected to the State Senate (1826). Other prominent Lefferts family members include: Jacobus Lefferts (1757-1799), one of the wealthiest farmers and land holders in New Utrecht; Leffert Lefferts (1774-1847), first judge of King's County in 1823 and owner of a large farm in the village of Bedford Corners; John Lefferts (1826-1893), farmer and eventual President of the Brooklyn Safety Deposit Company, director in the Long Island Loan and Trust Company and stock holder in the Brighton Beach Railroad. Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt was another important member of the family, not only through her marriage to Judge John Vanderbilt (b. 1829) but also through her chronicling of Lefferts family history and genealogy and the social history of Flatbush.
The Lefferts house itself is an example of colonial-era Georgian architecture with two-stories, a gambrel roof, an attic, and a basement. In 1776 the Lefferts house was burned down by American troops, an action taken on several Flatbush homes so that they could not be used by the invading British and Hessian soldiers preceding and during the Battle of Long Island. Peter Lefferts (1753-1791) rebuilt the house on the same spot and, according to Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, used some of the original timber and pieces from the original house with few modifications to the original design. Ownership of the house passed down through the family until the estate of John Lefferts offered the House to the City of New York on the condition that the House be moved from its original location (the site of the former boundary line of the town of Flatbush) onto city property. The City agreed and in 1918, in conjunction with the Dutch House Preservation Committee, the house was moved to Prospect Park. In 1920 the house was first opened as museum under the stewardship of the Fort Greene chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Lefferts Historic House is now owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Prospect Park Alliance, and is a member of the Historic House Trust. The house has undergone several renovations and is maintained as a historic house museum.
The files within most series are arranged alphabetically according to description with some exceptions. The Lefferts Family series is arranged chronologically according to figure with some miscellaneous documents appearing at the end.
Users of the collection should be aware that it is likely that documents on some matters will be found in various series, and in various folders within series. Check the series Scope and Content notes for specific examples.
Folders labeled with a date range might also include undated documents. Also, in some cases the date range was determined by the archivist based on a broad survey of folder contents and not on an item level review; accordingly, there may be items in the folders that fall outside the indicated range. Users of the collection should also be aware that some oversized items have been moved to four oversize containers. Notes have been made in these instances both in the folders from which the material was removed and in the container list in this finding aid.
The collection is organized into the following eight series:
- Lefferts Family, 1661-1925
- Lefferts Businesses, 1783-1882
- Lefferts House and Ephemera, 1728-1938
- Genealogical Material, circa 1720s-1930s
- Maps, 1794-1890s
- Graphic Materials, circa 1800s-1970s
- Clippings, circa 1830s-1957
- Books and Scrapbooks, 1659-1917
Scope and Contents
The Lefferts family papers contain the records created and collected by members of the Lefferts family as well as some records created and collected by the Lefferts Historic House. This includes documents of the Lefferts farm, Lefferts land acquisitions and indentures, business transactions, genealogical records, photographs and other graphic materials, news clippings, books, personal papers, and ephemera.
The contents of the collection span from the 1650s to the 1970s though the bulk of the collection span from the 1720s to the 1930s. Much of the earlier material includes the land deeds and other estate matters of the family and shed light on the family's growing economic and political importance over time. This growing economic and political role includes the growing farm and land holdings, involvement in the development of Brooklyn's transportation infrastructure, and important positions among Brooklyn's banks, legislative system, and judicial system. Many prominent members of the Lefferts family are represented by these documents which were either created by them or reference them. Some of these family members are John Lefferts (1719-1776), Peter Lefferts (1753-1791), Femmetie Hegeman Lefferts (1760-1847), Jacobus L. Lefferts, Leffert Lefferts (1774-1847), Maria Lott Lefferts (1786-1865), and Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt (b.1824). The papers also include some records of individuals and families related to the Lefferts family such as John Cortelyou (1772-1829), the Lott family, the Remsen family, and the Alexander family. The case of John Cortelyou is particularly interesting as he was declared "A Lunatic" and had his estate handled by John Lefferts. The papers of Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt include manuscript notes on her family's experience in the 1863 Draft Riots and on her family in general. The Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt documents give a greater sense of the social history of the family and of Flatbush. The majority of the other papers on these Lefferts family members are in reference to their business matters and include inventories, promissory notes, land indentures, account ledgers, and some correspondence. Other Lefferts business is accounted for in the Lefferts Businesses series which includes Incorporations which the Lefferts were involved in (primarily transportation infrastructure companies) and some general receipts and business items in regards to the Lefferts farm.
The collection contains many items related to slavery including property lists, wills, and financial transactions that included enslaved people, bills of sale for enslaved people, slavery related news clippings (primarily from the late 19th and early 20th centuries), and financial records of payments to possibly free black men for manual labor. Among the draft manuscripts of Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt are accounts of the New York Draft Riots of 1863 and accounts of slavery among the Dutch in early New York. The collection also has some Civil War materials including a collection of clippings with accounts of battles and political issues and some clippings in regards to the assassination of President Lincoln.
Genealogical materials on the Lefferts family are also well represented in the collection. The collection contains copies of Teunis G. Bergen's Genealogy of the Lefferts family, 1650-1718 and Lefferd M.A. Haughwout's The Lefferts-Houghwout family: a chart genealogy in eight generations (these monographs can also be found in the Brooklyn Historical Society stacks). The collection also contains several hand-written pages of Lefferts, Hegeman, Haughwout, Cortelyou and Lott family births, deaths, and marriages. Many of these genealogical records came from the Lefferts family bibles and some of these bibles still contain pages with genealogical or other notations written on their flyleaves. Many of the family bibles are in Dutch and are interesting artifacts of the religious connection of the Dutch families in Flatbush. This is further illustrated through the other religious books (also primarily in Dutch) that have been preserved within this collection. Other personal books of the Lefferts family within the collection shed light on Lefferts life as artifacts, such as the various cookbooks, one of which is entirely hand-written and probably belonged to Maria Lott Lefferts and Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt.
The collection contains images of various Lefferts family members, though many of the figures in these images are unidentified; these images are in a variety of formats including photographic prints, glass plate negatives, daguerreotypes, and tintypes. In addition to the photographs the collection contains a handful of maps. Most of these maps appear to be related to surveyor assessments and the sale of Lefferts-owned property. Other graphics include images of Brooklyn, New York City, and representations of the Battle of Long Island which resulted in the burning of the Lefferts homestead. More information on the Lefferts homestead can be found within the clippings files. The articles are primarily retrospectives concerning the place of the Lefferts family and their home in Brooklyn history, particularly as an old Dutch family which rose to prominence. There are also some articles concerning the house's eventual move from Flatbush to Prospect Park. More images of the house and other Lefferts buildings are among the graphic materials, showing the state of the house and Brooklyn at different periods. The collection also contains a handful of items in relation to the maintenance of the Lefferts house as a historic house and some ephemeral items that were among the materials within the house.
Conditions Governing Access
Open to researchers without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
The majority of the materials in this collection are in the public domain, but for some materials copyright restrictions may apply and permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from Brooklyn Historical Society and the copyright holder.
Identification of item, date (if known); Lefferts family papers, ARC.145, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection is comprised of four separate accessions. The provenance for accession 1977.347 (the account book of Jacobus Lefferts) and the provenance for accession 1977.445 (receipt for shares in Brooklyn, Jamaica and Flatbush Turnpike company for Leffert Lefferts) are unknown, but both were formally accessioned in 1977. Accession 2006.004 (Lefferts family papers and memorabilia) was given as a gift in January of 2001 by Carol Schleede Chester. Accession 2010.001 (Lefferts family papers and book) was given as a gift in January of 2010 by the Prospect Park Alliance and Lefferts Historic House Museum of Brooklyn, NY.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Items that are too fragile or contain mold spores are not available for research. This is noted in the corresponding file-level Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements note.
An assortment of books owned by the Lefferts or related to the Lefferts were removed for cataloguing.
About this Guide
The Lefferts family papers come from four different accessions. Two of these accessions, 1977.347 and 1977.445, were single items and were simply integrated with the rest of the Lefferts materials. Accession 2006.004 was previously processed by an archivist at Brooklyn Historical Society in conjunction with the Lefferts Historical House Museum staff in 2006. The project was supervised chiefly by Leilani Dawson. This accession was reprocessed when it was combined with the two earlier, single-item accessions and the most recent accession, all containing relevant Lefferts materials.
The most recent accession, 2010.001, consists of materials from the Lefferts Historical House Museum of the Prospect Park Alliance. These materials consist of items that have been part of the Lefferts Historical House since it was first moved to Prospect Park in 1919 and materials that were collected by or donated to the museum up until 2010. The museum was originally under the stewardship of the Fort Greene chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and some of the collected items reflect their interests in American colonial history. Other items were donated by descendents of the Lefferts family. No previous processing or arrangement was done on the materials from this accession.
Only accession 2006.004 had a discernable arrangement and after the addition of the three other accessions, the current arrangement somewhat reflects that prior arrangement, including separate series for Lefferts books and Lefferts visual materials, but with some notable additional series such as Genealogical Material and Maps.
These materials were collectively processed by Craig P. Savino in 2011.
Oppressive descriptive language was remediated from the subject terms, abstract, and scope and contents notes in this finding aid as part of an anti-racist descriptive language audit performed in December 2020. Folder titles were retained to maintain record of descriptive language of collection creators.