Mesier Park and the Mesier Homestead are well known landmarks in the local community. In fact, many long-time residents of the Village of Wappingers Falls remember the Homestead as once being the location of the Police Department, or the Water Department! But many people often wonder why this place has the name “Mesier” – who was the Mesier family, why were they important to Wappingers Falls, and why is there a house and park named after them? And how, exactly, is the name pronounced?
A view of the East side of the Mesier Homestead, the home of generations of Mesiers from 1777 until 1891. The smaller building to the right is the original portion of this home built by the Browers in c1741.
Read on to find out the answers to these questions, and more. And once you do, you’ll think about the Mesier family whenever you visit or read about the World Trade Center complex in New York City! Here’s why….
The Mesier Family in Lower Manhattan
Peter Mesier’s story in Wappingers Falls begins in May, 1777. But his family’s story begins long before that. The origins of the Mesier name (pronounced “Mez ear”, phonetically Mez ɪə) is French Huguenot. His ancestors exiled to Holland in the 1600’s to avoid religious persecution. Later generations residing in Holland married Dutch women and kept the Mesier surname and used Dutch first names for their children. Peter’s great-grandfather immigrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City) and worked as a miller, carter, shoemaker and merchant.
Map from St.Nicholas Society depicting the location of Mesier's Mill in southern Manhattan
The painting “Mesier Mill circa 1695” by Len Tantillo depicts a grist mill built by Peter Mesier’s great-grandfather, Pieter Jansen Mesier. Known as “the lighthouse”, it stood near the tip of Manhattan, operating for almost 100 years. It was a landmark and beacon for ships. Centuries later, this site became the location for the World Trade Center; the South Tower stood on nearly the same plot of land. Specially, the site is now 4 World Trade Center, surrounded by Liberty, Greenwich and Cortlandt Streets. At that time, the street was identified as “Windmill Lane”.
Meet "Peter Mesier" at the Mesier Homestead as portrayed by George
Portraits of Peter Mesier's parents, Pieter & Janetje Wessels Mesier. The family wealth is evident not only in their style of clothing, but also by the existence of these portraits.
At the time, only wealthy families could afford to have paintings of themselves done.
Pieter Mesier 1698-1784
Janetje Wessels Mesier 1702-1738
The Mesier Family in Lower Manhattan
Peter Mesier was a Tory, meaning he was on Great Britain’s side during the Revolutionary War. He was a wealthy New York City merchant dealing in the East India Trade and importing items such as tea and other goods. He owned a home and fifteen warehouses, all in the Cortlandt Street area. The Great Fire of 1776 which occurred in lower Manhattan consumed many of his buildings. With growing anti-British sentiment and the loss of many of his buildings, Mesier, his wife Catherine Sleight Mesier, and his children left the city in September of that year.
Mesier was no stranger to Dutchess County. He had been doing business in our area since the 1760’s, so this area was not unknown to him when he chose to settle here. The land which now makes up the village of Wappingers Falls was part of Fishkill at that time. Mesier purchased the Homestead, farmland and mills from Matthew VanBenschoten, who had owned it for roughly 1 month before selling. The Homestead had been built in two phases by a gentleman named Nicholas Brower. The small, original house located in the rear was constructed around 1741-42, and the larger home in front was built in the 1750s. Brower, by the way, was a Patriot and greatly supported George Washington and his army. But that’s another story for another time.
Ironically, the property of a fierce Patriot was now in the hands of a Loyalist.
The Wappingers Tea Party
Peter Mesier’s first few weeks in Wappingers Falls were interesting, to say the least.
He operated mills along the Wappingers Creek, and also opened a small store inside the Homestead to sell goods to the area’s residents. In fact, into the early 20th century many people in the village of Wappingers Falls and elsewhere operated small shops from their homes. It was a way to earn extra money. Among the items sold in the Mesier store was tea. Tea carried a high price due to taxation from the Tea Act of 1773. The most famous tea revolt is the Boston Tea Party, but tea price revolts occurred in small villages throughout the American colonies. Wappingers Falls saw its own “tea party” revolt over the course of several days, beginning on May 19, 1777. What began as a refusal to pay the high asking price for tea turned into violence at the end.
Here’s what happened at Mesier Homestead:
On Monday, May 19th, a group of about 2 dozen women accompanied by 2 local Militiamen came into the Mesier store and inquired about the availability and price of tea. Mrs. Mesier was running the shop at the time. At first, the group agreed to buy at the high asking price, but later said no, they would have it at their own price and proceeded to weigh out for themselves a very large amount of tea. They did leave money for the tea, but it was significantly less money than the asking price.
The next day Peter himself manned the store. A group of 15 women accompanied by one Militiaman entered the shop and inquired of the price of the tea. They refused his price and offered significantly less instead. Mesier did not accept their offer; after some back and forth a few women said they would indeed pay his asking price but Mesier demanded the money upfront before weighing out tea. At that point, the Militiaman grabbed Mesier by the throat, pushed him down and threatened him.
Wednesday was quiet and peaceful.
Thursday, however, was not. A large group of 14 men and 20 women, and the 2 Militiamen, approached the store. Mesier saw the mob coming and locked the doors. They broke into house, searched every room, broke into the cellar, drank of the liquor he had stored there, broke every wine cask in the cellar and broke some items in the house. After they were done inside, they went into the yards and out-buildings, then beat Mesier and some of his servants.
You can easily visit the site of the Wappingers Tea Party – it is now our gift shop at the Mesier Homestead. There, you’ll see the original cabinetry from the Mesier store and even the secret drawer!
Hear "Catherine Mesier" give her account of the Wappingers Tea Party.
An interesting story about Catherine Sleight Mesier
According to Peter and Catherine Mesier’s granddaughter, Maria, in her book The Old Homestead, Mesier remained a “quiet Tory”. This means he did not renounce the King of England, but also did not pledge loyalty to the new nation of America. True Loyalists typically made their home in Canada during this time. Maria also tells us that Peter never returned to New York City again after moving here. His wife Catherine, however, did regularly return to visit the city she loved, to attend Lenten and Easter church services. Her trips to NYC must have raised some concern and suspicion given the political leanings of the family. In 1781 Peter had to post a 100 Pound bond/surety levied by a judge in the Dutchess County government to assure that Catherine would not leave Dutchess County without their prior permission. That was a significant amount of money for the time.
Surety levied upon Catherine Mesier to ensure that she does not leave Dutchess County without prior permission.
The Mesier family became well-respected citizens of Wappingers Falls, and the family legacy continued into the next generation with son Matthew and his siblings.
Check back here on May 26th to read about Zion Church and the Victorian era in Wappingers Falls.
Learn More About the Village of Wappingers Falls, NY
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The Birth and Growth of an Old Village by Edgar Popper
This book is considered to be the “bible” of the history of the Village of Wappingers Falls. A comprehensive recording of Village history, including first land owners, prominent families, early factories, major village fires and early fire companies, churches and village businesses throughout the years.
Mesier Homestead Short-sleeved T-Shirt
Celebrating Wappingers Falls and the iconic Mesier Homestead. This 50/50 cotton/poly t-shirt comes in 4 colors and is only available through the Wappingers Historical Society.