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Van Cortlandt Park

Indian Field

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This tract of land honors Chief Abraham Ninham and the 17 Mohican Indians who died here during a mission to aid the Americans in the Revolutionary War.

On August 31, 1778, Chief Abraham Ninham and 17 Mohicans from Stockbridge, Massachusetts, died on this field. Chief Ninham and his group fought in many Revolutionary War battles, from Boston to Philadelphia, and they tracked the British throughout the Bronx, reporting their movements to the Americans. On that day in 1778, Chief Ninham and the Stockbridge Mohicans crossed over British lines and traveled along the Mile Square Road, today’s Van Cortlandt Park East. They were soon discovered and found themselves surrounded by British and Hessian troops. The British cavalry pushed the group to Van Cortlandt Woods, where the battle ended with the death of Chief Ninham and 17 other Stockbridge Mohicans. The clash was the only revolutionary battle to occur entirely within the bounds of today’s Van Cortlandt Park.

The battle took place on the farmland of the Devoe family. The Devoes were a wealthy Bronx family, congregants at the First Reformed Dutch Church, and descendants of Daniel Turner who acquired the lower section of the Fordham Patent of 1676. The family buried the Mohicans in large pits and covered Chief Ninham’s grave with a cairn, a stone mound traditional to Scottish burials. On June 14, 1906, the Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a large cairn and a plaque to honor the sacrifice of Chief Ninham and the 17 Native Americans.

Indian Field is located in Van Cortlandt Park along East 233 Street between Jerome Avenue and Van Cortlandt Park East. The Wiechquaskeck Lenapes first occupied this site in 1639 when the Dutch East India Company brought Europeans to settle in the Bronx. In 1646, Dutchman Adriaen Van Der Donck (1620-1655) became the first single owner of what is now Van Cortlandt Park. The Van Cortlandt name was first associated with the tract of land bounded by the modern Yonkers City Line, Broadway, Jerome Avenue, and Van Cortlandt Park East in 1699, when Jacobus Van Cortlandt bought the property. Jacobus’s son, Frederick, built the Van Cortlandt Mansion in 1748 and the family occupied the land until the 1880s. The City of New York acquired this parkland in 1888, but it did not name it in honor of its long-time residents until 1913.

When Indian Field was first constructed, it held baseball and softball diamonds, a sand pit, picnic tables, drinking fountains, and tennis, horseshoe, and shuffleboard courts. The bocce ball and horseshoe courts were named “Mickey’s Courts” for Mickey Caffaro (1931-1998), a local Woodlawn resident. Council Member June Eisland provided $100,000 for bocce court lighting in 2001, as well as $1 million for the reconstruction of the tennis courts.

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