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Terhune and Wyckoff families papers

Call Number



1747-1932, inclusive
; 1800-1852, bulk


Terhune family
Wyckoff family


0.8 Linear Feet in two manuscript boxes.

Language of Materials

Materials are in English.


The Terhune and Wyckoff families papers (1747-1932) include documents of two prominent families, affiliated through marriage, from Gravesend in Kings County, New York (part of the New York City borough of Brooklyn after 1898). John Terhune (1767-1842) played a significant role in the early development of Coney Island as a resort location, and the collection includes some documents on that subject and on a dispute over whether to incorporate the town of Gravesend. The bulk of the collection, dating from the first half of the nineteenth century and likely compiled principally in connection with the administration of the estates of various Terhunes and Wyckoffs, includes bills, receipts, promissory notes, inventories, deeds, indentures, court filings, and other financial and legal documents. The collection holds several individual items of interest, including two letters commenting on the use of personal slanders as a tactic in political campaigns, a document related to the founding of the Agricultural Society of Kings County, six cartes-de-visite, bills of sale and a will referring to enslaved African-Americans, indentured servitude agreements, and a promissory note (1796) from Aaron Burr to Albert Terhune. Other names of Gravesend residents appearing frequently in the collection include Bennet, Emmans, Lake, Lott, Ryder, and Stillwell.

Biographical / Historical

Albert Terhune (1715-1806) was the great grandson of Albert Albertson Terhune, a Huguenot ribbon weaver from Holland who died in Flatlands, Long Island in 1685, having founded a family which spread through New Amsterdam, Long Island and Bergen County, New Jersey. The great grandson was a supervisor of the town of Gravesend, a member of the Gravesend Dutch Reformed Church (circa 1766) and an elder of that church (circa 1795). At his death in 1806, Albert left an apparently sizeable estate to his six surviving children: Abraham (1759-1840), Isaac (1762-1837), John (1767-1842), Anna (1750-circa 1826; m. Stryker), Margaret (1764-1840; m. John Wyckoff), and Maria (dates unknown; survived siblings and married twice: Emmons, Lott). A son, Roelef (b.1752) predeceased his father by a short time.

John Terhune was a judge in Gravesend and a supervisor of that town during the 1810s and 1820s. A founder of the Gravesend and Coney Island Road and Bridge Company, John fostered the development of Coney Island as a resort and recreation area for tired New Yorkers, to which end he and his brother Abraham backed the building of the first hotel there, the Coney Island House, in the 1820s. As an entrepreneur and financier, John does not appear to have always exercised the best judgment. In the 1810s and 1820s he was accused of having failed to account for public funds; he appears to have exonerated himself. At the time of his death in 1842, he had recently been served with notice of a sheriff's levy on his household goods for the benefit of creditors; he died insolvent and perhaps incompetent.

Shortly before his death in 1842, John wrote but failed to execute a will. The estate was beset with two major difficulties: the deceased's insolvency, which resulted in an estate sale of his furnishings and household goods, and, of greater significance, the fact of his intestacy, which resulted in a long litigation among relatives claiming rights to his real estate. His estate was administered by the sons of his sister Margaret, Albert Wyckoff and Jacob V. D. Wyckoff (1805-1857), a New York hardware merchant, and their brother-in-law, Abraham Van Siclen (m. Phebe Wyckoff, b. 179?).

Rights to the estate were litigated on the basis of Albert Terhune's will; the question was whether or not the terms could be construed to include the children of Albert's daughters as heirs, or whether the estate's distribution ended with Albert's children. The Wyckoff nephews and nieces were of the view that the first question should be answered in affirmative; the opposing view was taken by Marie Lott, Albert's last surviving child, and her husband. The affair was settled in 1852, apparently not greatly to the Wyckoff's favor. In 1878-1879, title to the lands once owned by John and Isaac Terhune was again questioned, and Albert T. Wyckoff, son of Jacob V. D. Wyckoff, was summoned to appear before the court.


Prior to being processed, the collection was in a state of nearly total disorganization. The lack of organization, the disparateness of the records, the number of individuals to whom they relate, and the lack of any substantial background information on the families or the collection itself made it difficult to perceive any pre-existent system of organization. There was considerable evidence, however, that the papers had been collected by Jacob V.D. Wyckoff and his son Albert T. Wyckoff. A great many of the items bear notations as to content in J.V.D.W.'s handwriting, indicating that he organized them in some fashion, probably in the course of estate administration.

An artificial scheme was therefore developed and imposed on the collection by the archivist in an effort to create a system of organization which might logically have been used by the executors and the persons whose affairs were in their hands. The dangers of an artificial system--possible errors in judgment, destruction of an existent system not readily apparent, or assumption of unverifiable relationships and functions--were weighed against the disadvantages of a more simple organization, such as by date or person. The former seemed better suited to bring to light the more valuable parts of the collection, while making the whole more easily accessible to researchers.

In its present state, therefore, the collection is arranged according to the function or activity of each individual, where applicable, or to a subject or institution. Records are arranged chronologically in each group; the overall arrangement of the collection is roughly chronological with respect to the Terhune estates. Documents of peripheral interest to the corpus are located in the latter part of the collection. Because of the disparateness of the records, the contents of most folders have been briefly highlighted in the container list below. Those few items found tied together during processing were kept together and are noted in the container list.

Scope and Contents

The Terhune and Wyckoff families papers span the years 1747-1932. They are primarily the records of family finances and estates administration for the period 1800-1858. These materials reflect the active lives of John Terhune and his brothers in Gravesend, Kings County, New York (now part of Brooklyn) and the difficult administration and litigation of John and Albert Terhune's estates.

The wealth of the collection for Brooklyn history lies in the documents concerning the Coney Island House, the Gravesend and Coney Island Road and Bridge Company, and Gravesend. There is a small but useful amount of correspondence concerning the effort to incorporate Gravesend, and the objections to it, each related to control over the letting of fishing rights. An 1814 letter provides an early recognition of the potential of Coney Island as a resort area. Although none of these institutions is by any means fully documented in the collection, they achieve a certain coherence in relation to the individual who was active in the direction of each. For this reason, John Terhune's business, legal and personal papers merit some attention as documentation of the public, official and financial affairs of a figure of stature in the town of Gravesend for a number of years. It is possible, too, that the legal records (accounts, opinions, complaints, deeds, etc.) generated both during the Terhunes' lifetime and during the administration of their estate will be of some value to those interested in local legal history, practice or procedure.

The bulk of the material in the collection is in the form of bills, receipts and promissory notes issued by or to the Terhune brothers, and notes or records kept by administrators of the estates of several Terhunes and Wyckoffs. Correspondence of any substance concerning estate administration is rare. With the exception of some printed legal forms (indentures, deeds, etc.) almost all of the papers are handwritten. In instances where items were unsigned, it was usually possible to identify the writer through his handwriting, if the writer was one whose records appear with frequency, as is the case with Jacob V.D. Wyckoff, Albert Wyckoff, and John Terhune to a lesser extent.

The collection also holds many individual items of interest, including two letters commenting on the use of personal slanders as a tactic in political campaigns, a document related to the founding of the Agricultural Society of Kings County, six cartes-de-visite, bills of sale and a will referring to enslaved African-Americans, indentured servitude agreements, and a promissory note (1796) from Aaron Burr to Albert Terhune. In addition to Terhune and Wyckoff, several other family names appear in the collection that are prominent in the history of the towns, especially Gravesend, that now comprise Brooklyn, New York. These names include Bennet, Emmans, Lake, Lott, Ryder, and Stillwell.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to users without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

Material is in the public domain.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Terhune and Wyckoff families papers, ARC.279, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The bulk of the collection was acquired in November 1956 from Paul Baylis of Middle Island, Long Island. Accession 1977.075 (the 1779 tax receipt) was a gift of Henry Onderdonk, Jr., date unknown. Accession 1974.158 (the 1814 Coney Island letter) was donated in January 1913 by Thomas D. Sugden of Bridgewater, CT (formerly of Flushing). Mr. Sugden also donated the materials in accession 1974.173, in 1903.

Related Materials

Brooklyn Historical Society holds other material related to this collection:

The William F. Wyckoff papers (call number 1978.002) includes a property map of Gravesend that relates to the Terhunes. There is also much material on the Wyckoffs, though not necessarily those Wyckoffs in this collection.

The Agricultural Society of Kings County (call number 1977.396) includes additional material on the organization that John Terhune co-founded.

Some Terhune material can also be found in the Lott family papers (call number ARC.186) and Bennet and Ryder families collection (call number ARC.001).

Material concerning the Terhunes and Wyckoffs can also be found in the BHS library by searching the on-line catalog, Bobcat, using the family names. Among the materials are maps and genealogies.

Collection processed by

Alison K. Cole, with updates by Larry Weimer

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:17:03 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: English

Processing Information

The bulk of the collection (accession 1977.192) was processed and described in December 1978 by Alison K. Cole. In December 2011, three additional folders holding small accessions related to the collection's content were placed in the collection. These were accessions 1974.158, 1974.173, and 1977.075 (the folders in the collection indicate which accession they are associated with). Cole's 1978 finding aid was modified slightly for the additions and revisions at other points, and to accommodate input to a collection management system, Archivists' Toolkit. The 2011 modifications were made by Larry Weimer.


Brooklyn Historical Society
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201