Petrus LeFevre and Elizabeth Vernooy

Petrus LeFevre and Elizabeth Vernooy

Row, Row, Row your boat, gently down the Walkill or How to get water when the well runs dry

Petrus LeFevre was born on December 27, 1720 in New Paltz, Ulster County, New York.

Several traditions have been passed down in regards to his family. It is said that in about the winter of 1728 Petrus' parents (who lived a few miles north of New Paltz at a place called Bontecoe) went into town to visit some friends. They left their children locked alone in the house and while the parents were away, the home somehow caught on fire-- with the children trapped inside. Petrus and his siblings were saved when Isaac, the oldest child, was able to unbolt the door. The children took shelter in an outbuilding until their parents returned (Ralph LeFevre, in his History of New Paltz..., calls the building a "bee house.")

Another tale relates that the children saw the tracks of a panther one day, and decided to follow them. The panther was at last cornered in a tree and killed by two of the children, one balancing his gun on the shoulders of the other so as to get a better bead on the target.

There is another legend, probably exaggerated, that as an adult Petrus had his well run dry. Instead of digging it deeper or making a new one it is related that he rowed out into the Walkill River to a place where there was an underground spring bubbling up whenever he needed water. Perhaps those daily rows are what kept him going until the age of eighty-five (it certainly could not have been drinking river water...)! It is said, however, that

"the old people, in noting the characteristics of the LeFevre's, said they lacked the energy of the Hasbroucks and the Beviers; they would not work hard themselves, nor make their slaves work hard; they were not so noted for book learning as the Beviers; they could not talk well; but on the other hand knew when to keep their mouths shut... We must confess that as a general rule, the old people at Bontecoe... were not apparently inclined to overwork themselves. Had they been bent in that direction, the cellars [of their homes] might have been dug deeper, so that one would not be obliged to stoop so much when entering them..."

This was written by Ralph LeFevre who was born in 1844, so the stories that he heard from the "old people" would certainly have applied to the LeFevre's of Petrus' generation.

During Petrus' childhood, there was a school at New Paltz, and he seems to have gotten some education there. He wrote well, although in a curious mix of Dutch and English. He almost certainly knew French too, as this language was spoken at New Paltz until the middle of the 1700's. His Dutch-language bible, in which he recorded the births and deaths in his family, was printed in 1719 in The Netherlands and is now in the posession of Peter Vincent Miller of Fairport, New York.

In 1752, Isaac LeFevre, Petrus' father, died without leaving a will. Under English law, Petrus could have claimed the entire estate. Tradition relates, however, that he chose to share it equally with his brothers and sisters. Petrus retained his father's home at Bontecoe, where he probably engaged in farming, although his name is missing from a 1755 list of slaveholders (slavery was still very common at the time, and most farmers owned slaves).


While many traditions were passed down regarding Petrus LeFevre, all that is known of Elizabeth Vernnoy is that she was born on September 3, 1733 and was baptised at Kingston, Ulster County, New York shortly thereafter. She apparently owned land at Greenfield, in Wawarsing, Ulster County, which was no doubt inherited from her parents (at least one of her sisters owned land there too). A stream known as the Vernooy Kill is located a little north of the present town of Wawarsing, but I cannot find Greenfield on any current maps.


Petrus LeFevre and Elizabeth Vernooy were married on January 1, 1760 at the Dutch Reformed Church in Kingston, Ulster County New York.

A map made in 1763 shows Petrus as owning lot six of the "old lots" along the east side of the "Paltz River," today the Walkill. He also owned lot six of the "old lots" north of the one previously mentioned and lots three and seven in the "second tier from the old division." Lot six of the "old lots" included a pasture and a dam, which was on an ice pond owned in 1909 by Perry Deyo. The second lot six was owned in 1909 by Simon LeFevre and was the site upon which Petrus built his home.

In 1765, Petrus name appears on the Ulster County tax list. He was assesed for 21 pounds, 12 shillings, which was a fairly high amount in comparison with others on the list. He seems to have fit solidly into the middle class of farmers; not rich, perhaps, but comfortable.

On April 30, 1774, Petrus was one of the 52 owners of the Paltz Patent who signed an agreement to pay all assesments levied by the Duzine (New Paltz's governing body) for the defense of their title to the Paltz Patent. According to the agreement, which he signed "Petres Le Fever," he owned 1/50 of the 40,000 acre patent.

During the turbulent times of the American Revolution, Petrus was a firm supporter of the Patriot cause. He signed the Articles of Association (an anti-British document) in 1775, along with most of his neighbors. He recieved Land Bounty Rights under the third Ulster County Regiment, and he is credited with giving personal service. At least one person has joined the DAR based on descent from Petrus LeFevre.

In 1797 and again in 1798, Petrus LeFevre may have held the office of Town Supervisor of New Paltz. By this time there were three Petrus/Peter LeFevre's in New Paltz, ours, a son of Daniel LeFevre who was born in 1759 and died in 1830 and another who used the name Peter I. This situation is made somewhat easier by the fact that the first usually used Petrus as his name, the second Peter Junior and the third Peter I. The 1797-8 Supervisor is listed as Petrus while his sucessor, who served until 1805, was listed as Peter LeFever Junior. I would feel comfortable in stating that the 1797-8 Supervisor was our Peter and his sucessor the other one save for a statement made by Peter Junior's grandson Ralph (who was not even born until 1844) that it was his grandfather who served at the dates in question. It is interesting to note that several of Petrus children were politically active, most notably his son "Major" Isaac, who served in the Legislature in 1803.

The same issue comes into play in determing which "Peter Lefever" was paid three shillings in 1794 for a "Jack for taking the Scow up." This was in regards to a ferry across the Walkill River, on whose banks our Petrus resided.

On April 24, 1801, Petrus drew up his will. It is an interesting document as it specifically bequeaths many household goods, including his bible, and also mentiones that fact that he was in the process of building a new house. This would have been no easy task for a man of eighty. It seems that, like several of his descendants whom I have known, Petrus was not a man to let age stand in the way of his life! It also appears from this document that he was a man of deep religious faith. The long paragraphs about commending the soul to God etc. are typical of wills from that period. Petrus, however, went one better and bequeathed all the church pews he owned to his various heirs! A full transcript of the will is given below.

"IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN. I Petrus Lefever of the Town of New Paltz in the County of Ulster and State of New York being in good health of body and of sound mind memory and understanding Thanks be to God but consider [sic] the uncertainty of this Transistory life and that we must all yield unto death when it pleaseth God to call Do make and publish this my last Will and Testament in manner and form following (that is to say) Imprimis I commending [sic] my soul into the hands of Almighty God who gave it and my body to the Earth from whence it came to be decently buried at the Discretion of my Executors herein after Named in hopes of a Joyful resureection [sic] through the merits of my Saviour Jesus Christ. And as for that worldly Estate wherewith it hath pleased God to help me I give devise and bequeath the same as follows. First I order that my Just Debts and funeral charges be paid in due time after my decease out of my personal Estate by my Executors herein after named and after my Just debts and funeral charges are paid I give devise and bequeath the same as follows. Item I give and devise unto my four sons Jacob Lefever, Isaac Lefever Johannis Lefever and Cornelius Lefever all my Lands or Real Estate situate in the Town of New Paltz and in the Town of Hurley in the County of Ulster aforesaid, Except what I have hereinafter given and devised to my three daughters Sarah, Yanneke and Annaje Except also what I have herein after ordered to be sold by my executors herein after named to pay my Debts to have and to hold all my Land my Lands or Real Estate as aforesaid (except as is above excepted) unto my said four sons Jacob Lefever, Isaac Lefever Johannis Lefever and Cornelius Lefever to be equally divided between them share and share alike and to their respective heirs and assigns forever. Nevertheless it is my will that my loving wife Elisabeth shall have the use of one third part of the house which I am now about building near the Old house during her natural life time and also that my said seven Children Jacob, Isaac, Johannis, Cornelius, Sarah, Yenneke and Annaje shall each one of them yearly and every year during the natural life time of my said wife pay or cause to be paid unto my said wife Elisabeth Two pounds New York Currency making in the whole Fourteen pounds and also that my said seven Children, Jacob, Isaac, Johannis, Cornelius, Sarah, Yanneke and Annaje shall each one of them pay yearly and every year pay or cause to be paid unto my said wife during her natural life time one pound of wool and three pounds of flax making in the whole seven pounds of wool and Twenty one pound flax. Also I give and bequeath unto my said wife one Bed bedding with all the furniture thereunto belonging also my large Cast or Cupboard one looking glass one spinning whele [sic for wheel?] one Tea Kittle and my Tea Cups and Lasses [sic... could be Gasses, maybe meant as Glasses?] my large duch Bible [now in posession of Peter V. Miller of Rochester, NY] two large boles [sic for bowls?] one pare of smoothing Irons one Trammel one Table one Puter [sic for Pewter?] bason [sic for basin?] one pare of hand Irons one pare of Tongs and shovel and one Chest to be her own property hoping and Trusting that she will be satisfied therewith in Lue [sic for lieu] of her Dower; Item I give and devise to my daughter Sarah the wife of Elias Bevier a small Lot of Land No. four in a Granpiers [sic for grandpere, French for Grandfather, a reference to Christian Deyo, one of the original New Paltz settlers who was called by that name] Lot No. twelve in the first Tier south division in the Patent of New Paltz aforesaid and also my right in Lot No. Nine in the second Tier South Division called a Freers Lot situate in the New Paltz Patent aforesaid To have and to hold to my said Daughter Sarah and to her heir and assigns forever. Provided allways [sic] that if my said Daughter Sarah should happen to Dye before her said husband then and in such case I give the use of one acre of Land with the buildings thereon in said small Lot No. four adjoining the East side of the public road to the said Elias Bevier during his natural life time. Item I give and devise to my daughter Yenneke the wife of Samuel DuBois and to my daughter Annaje the wife of Charles Hardenbergh one hundred and fifteen Acres from the west end of the North half of Lot No. four being one of the Lots laid out along Hudsons River North Division situate within the limits or bounds of the Patent of New Paltz aforesaid the Southernmost half thereof to my daughter Yenneke, and to her heirs and Assigns forever, and the northernmost half thereof to my Daughter Annaje and to her heirs and Assigns forever. Item I give and bequeath to my two sons Isaac Lefever and Cornelius Lefever each two horses as good in value as those which my Sons Jacob and Johannins Lefever has had or the value thereof out of my personal Estate. Item I give and bequeath to my daughter Yenneke Nineteen pounds 10 shillings to be paid to her by my Executors within one year after my decease. Item I give and bequeath to my Daughter Sarah and 15 [number written in margin probably refers to note at end of will] Annaje each thirteen pounds to be paid to them by my Executors within one year of my decease. Item it is my will and desire that my Executors or the Survivers or Surviver of them shall sell to the best advantage they can my right in a Grandpiers Lot near the paltz point and also my right in Lot No. six in the Platte [?] Binnewater divison of the patent of the New Paltz and to execute good and sufficient deeds to the purchaser or purchasers for the same also my will and desire that my Executors shall within a convenient time after my decease sell my personal Estate except what I have herein before particularly given and bequeathed and with the money arising from the sale of the Land and of the personal Estate to pay all my Debts and the legeties [sic for legacies?] and bequests which is not otherwise directed how to be paid and the overplush [sic] of all my personal Estate after all my debts and Legities and bequests are paid I give and bequeath unto all my children sons and daughters share and share alike also the debt to me from Peter Delabegar, nevertheless if my personal Estate is insufficient to pay my debts and the legeties then my Executors may pay the same out of what is due to me from said Peter Delabegar Item I give and devise to my three daughters Sarah Yenneke and Annaje and to my wife Elisabeth all that Pew on the Floor in the New Paltz Church known by No. twenty six and to their respective heirs and assigns forever. 4 [written in margin] Item I give and devise to my four sons Jacob Isaac Johannis and Cornelius that the two equal six parts of that Pew on the Gallery in said Church known by No. Two also the two equal parts eight parts of that pew on the Floor in said church known by No. seven: Also the two equal sixth parts of that Pew on the Gallery in said Church known by No. five and to their respective heirs and assigns forever. And Lastly I do hereby make ordain Constitute and appoint my two sons Jacob Lefever and Isaac Lefever and my son in law Samuel Dubois and the Survivors and Survivor of them to be my Executors of this my last will and Testament To take care and see the same be performed according to my True intent and meaning I do hereby revoke all former Wills and Testaments by me made or passed and this only to be taken to be my Last Will and Testament and no other. In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal this Twenty fourth day of April in the year of our Lord Christ one thousand eight hundred and one 1801--------

"petrus lefever ( L. S.)

"Signed Sealed published and pronounsed [sic] and declared by the said Petrus Lefever as his last will and Testament In presense of us who in his presence and in presence of each other have subscribed our names. The word pound in the fifteenth line of the third page first interlined [sic] and a resure [sic for erasure?] made in the fourth line of the fourth and the word six inserted----
Peter I. Lefever
William Duyo
Peter LeFever Junr.

"Ulster County SS [sic] : Be it remembered that on the eighth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and six personally came and appeared before me Daniel Broadhead Junior, Surrogate of said County Peter Lefever Junior who being duly sworn on his oath declared that he did see Petrus Lefever sign and seal the within written instrument purporting to be the will of said Petrus Lefever bearing date the twenty fourth day of April in the year of our Lord Christ one thousand eight hundred and one and heard him publish and declare the same as and for his last will and Testament that at the time thereof he the said Petrus Lefever was of sound dispoving [sic] mind and memory to the best of the knowledge and belief of him the Diponent and that Peter I Lefever and William Duyo together with the Diponent subscribed the said will as witnesses thereto in the Testators presence- And that Jacob Lefever and Isaac Lefever Executors named in the preceeding will likewise appeared before me and were duly sworn to the two [?] execution and performance of the said preceeding Will.

"Daniel Brodhead, Junr. Surrogate

"The People of the State of New York by the grace of God Free and Independent: To all whom these presents shall come or may concern send Greetings Know ye that at Ulster County on the eighth day of December instant before Daniel Brodhead Junior Esq. Surrogate of said County, the last will and Testament of Petrus Lefever deceased (a copy whereof is hereunto annexed) was proved and is now approved and allowed of by us, and the said deceased having whilst he lived and at the time of his death, goods chattles [sic for chattels?] or credits within this State, by means whereof the proving and registering the said will and the granting administration of all and singular the said goods, chattles and credits and also the auditing, allowing and finally discharging the account thereof, doth belong unto us, the administration of all and singular the goods chattles and credits of the said deceased, and any way concerning his will is granted unto Jacob Lefever and Isaac Lefever Executors in the said will named they being first duly sworn well and faithfully to administer the same and to make and exhibit a True and Perfect Inventory of all and singular the said goods, chattles and credits and also to render a Just and True account thereof when thereunto required In Testimony whereof we have caused the seal of office of our said Surrogate to be hereunto affixed Witness Daniel Brodhead Junior Esq Surrogate of the said County at Kingston the eighth day of December in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and six and of our independence the thirty first.

"Daniel Brodhead Junr. Surrogate

"The preceding is a true Copy of the original will of Petrus Lefever deceased, also of the Certificate of the proof thereof and of the Letters Testamentary-

"Daniel Brodhead Junr. Surrogate"

Petrus LeFevre died on October 25, 1806 at the age of eighty-five. Elizabeth died less than a year later, on June 4, 1807. She was seventy-four. Both were laid to rest on the farm at Bontecoe.

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