My Slice Of the Big Apple

It was soon after 1664 that I came to own New York City. I've never paid much attention to matters there, and I'm told the place has deteriorated until the city isn't worth a great deal now. I don't really need the money, but if I got a decent offer from a responsible buyer, I think I'd sell.

This is all true, and that's the worst part of it. A little history needs to be recalled. As I remember it (I'm referring to my notes), the Dutch got there first, and as New Amsterdam this gave us the Bowery, Rip Van Winkle, Peter Stuyvesant, Peter Minuit, and the story about buying the place for $24.

The Dutch East India Company exploited Manhattan until the English took over in 1664. The name was changed to New York, and it was the property of the Duke of York, who duked for some time and never did a tap himself.

The defense of the place was turned over to a British garrison. An officer of this military takeover was a certain Maj. Nicholas Edwards, who was smart in various ways other than soldiering and was an ancestor of mine to boot. (I did not, at the time, know him personally.) Several efforts have been made to find out more about him, but the family has hushed up much of what was learned.

In those days, the British Army had officers that came in two classes. One was the stalwart soldier, working his way up in peace and war, generally knowing one end of a gun from the other. The other class was made up of nobility scions who got hereditary commissions and went into battle with a butler and a nanny serving tea. Major Edwards was such an officer. His older brother sat in the House of Lords. This has been corroborated somewhat by competent investigation.

Well, I didn't know it, and probably you didn't, that we have certain folks who look into such things and become experts. I found one some years ago and inquired about Major Edwards. I was told precisely who the man was not. That is, he was not in this regiment or that regiment, and by elimination he had to be so-and-so. Family hand-me-down insisted he was on Manhattan Island when the Dutch moved out, and that he feathered his nest by using his position to acquire certain real estate. Family lore also says he requested to be relieved of his military command and prospered variously at a great rate. When he retired, he went to Canada and escaped involvement in our American Revolution. But this cost him, as his holdings in New York were confiscated and he never bothered with them again.

After the Revolution, things were sorted out, titles restored, and New York City belonged to Major Edwards all right, but where was Major Edwards? He was on Prince Edward Island, but nobody much knew that. He did have a few household items he'd brought to Canada from New York, and his tall clock, made in Ireland, eventually came to me. That's rather all there is to know about Major Edwards.

But a law firm in New York took advantage of this a couple of generations ago and retained itself as custodian of the presumptive Edwards fortune. Edwards's heirs were sought and solicited for funds to cover the cost of establishing title, and shortly, so 'twas said, untold millions would be distributed.

I think everybody who heard of this, except this joker right here, became a claimant and sent the specified sum. This went on for years. Every time the lawyers needed more money, they'd say progress was being made and more funds were needed to further the legal settlement, which would be followed by distribution of stupendous sums.

I have some cousins who would share with me if such a distribution comes about, but none of our generation ever contributed to the lawyers. But a generation before us took this come-on more seriously, and lived in firm belief that New York was theirs and a fortune was on the way. Not only that, but from time to time we'd hear about utter strangers who, hoping for the best, found ways to belong to our family and sent checks.

MY mother had some cousins who participated. In the numerous brochures the law firm sent to entice speculation, there was never one word that promised anything, but the brochures permitted you to presume that New York City was about to be divided. And there were two significant upshots: One was the flippant acceptance that this was a hoax, and in the real family we joshed about what we'd do with the money. The other upshot was a fairly extensive membership of "Edwards Heirs" who claimed descent and made a contribution in sincere hope.

It wasn't too many years ago that some of us got another appeal from the lawyers, and I assume they have a mailing list of pure and impure speculators. I expect it's about due to be run through again soon. Meantime, the descendants of Major Edwards have thinned down, and many of us haven't heard lately of our common rich heritage about to be distributed.

So, you see, I'm justified in saying I own New York. It's merely a question of time. I've talked this over with my wife, who thinks we might as well convey our rights to some institution we don't care about and take it off as a tax loss. She says there isn't a great deal in New York she'd own up to owning. That may be so, but I've liked to fantasize about owning property in New York. It teases the imagination. What do you suppose would happen if I showed up with a good and sufficient deed, supported by legal talent, and told The New York Times they were trespassing?

Next week, I'll try to have something else for you to worry about.

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