Laying the Foundation: Bedford, NY

Our story of Bedford has not yet ended.  While many would think that a burning of an entire town would end that story, it did the opposite for Bedford.  Bedford rebuilt itself upon its ashes and made itself a major city for early New York.  In fact, much of New York’s early history took place in Bedford, with some very famous characters visiting.

In 1787, not even ten years after the burning, Bedford built up a courthouse.  It is one of the oldest courthouses in New York State and the oldest in Westchester County.   Now, remember, in 1787, travel was not an easy task.  To get from one place to another, you probably had to go by horse, as the railroad had yet to become a major part of life.  So, for a county like Westchester that is approximately 500 miles, it could not be centered only in one place as people would not be able to get there.  So, Westchester had two centers where they held meetings monthly: Bedford and White Plains.  In 1870, the railroad made it so that the county did not need a northern house but until then, Bedford made it possible for Westchester County to efficiently operate.  This court house also had some pretty exciting visitors.  Wait for it… Aaron Burr visited the courthouse to present a very prestigious case.

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A painting of Aaron Burr, still hung in the courthouse

John Jay is a well-known public figure that made Westchester his home, but his son, William Jay, is just as influential for the county.  He was the first judge of Westchester County and he heard his cases right at the Bedford Courthouse.

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The courthouse is preserved to look exactly as it did when William Jay was judge

What makes William Jay so unique though was why he was not allowed to hear cases any longer in 1843.  Slavery was the issue dividing the country and while the North is often remembered for being anti-slavery, pro-slavery sentiment still lived in this part of the country.  William Jay was widely known for being an abolitionist, even being against the movement back to Africa as he felt this was not a real, long-term solution.  The governor of New York decided that the proslavery sentiment was too loud and refused to reappoint Jay as judge of Westchester County.   In 1858, Jay passed away and it is the famous Fredrick Douglas who spoke and eulogized Jay.  Today, William Jay’s name is not one you hear much in history class, but when you visit Bedford, he is remembered and his legacy is not lost.  He helped to make New York a progressive place that fought against what was wrong during its early years.

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William Jay

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The Bedford Courtroom, as it is preserved today

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