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Guide to the Lefferts family papers ARC.145

Brooklyn Historical Society
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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Craig P. Savino

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on January 19, 2021
eng using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Revised by Amy Lau, Archivist, to remediate oppressive language from subject terms and scope and contents note.  , December 2020

Biographical / Historical

The first member of what would become the Lefferts family to arrive at what would become Brooklyn was Pieter Janse Hagewout, a cobbler who sailed in 1660 from Holland to New Amsterdam on the ship de Bonte Koe (The Spotted Cow). In 1661 Hagewout bought a house and lot in Vlacke Bos (Flatbush), but it is unknown what became of this land. It was his eldest son, Leffert Pieterse, who would go on in 1687 to purchase the fifty-eight acres in the village of Flatbush upon which the original Lefferts homestead would be built. From Leffert Pieterse on, the Lefferts family extended their land holdings in Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, and New Jersey as well as extending the size of the Lefferts homestead in Flatbush. Leffert Pieterse's great-grandson, Peter Lefferts (1753-1829) married Femmetie Hegeman in 1784 and through the marriage and a purchase of 100 acres of land from Femmetie's sisters he acquired parts of the neighboring land once owned by Evert Hegeman.

Acquiring so much land and being one of the first Dutch families to develop in Brooklyn placed the Leffertses in a prominent position in the political and civic life of Flatbush and other parts of Brooklyn, and many Lefferts family members assumed roles typical of this prominence. Peter Lefferts (1753-1791) was a first lieutenant in the American Continental Army during the revolution and went on to hold such positions as Flatbush's Overseer of Highways and Overseer of the Poor. He was also elected as one of two delegates from Kings County to the Constitutional Convention in Poughkeepsie, NY in July of 1788 and was one of the founders of Erasmus Hall. Like many other members of the family would be in the future, Peter was involved with the Flatbush Reformed Dutch Church, serving as one of its first trustees and eventually as Church Master. Peter Lefferts's son, John Lefferts (1785-1829), was the County Treasurer (1811-1813), elected to Congress (1813), and elected to the State Senate (1826). Other prominent Lefferts family members include: Jacobus Lefferts (1757-1799), one of the wealthiest farmers and land holders in New Utrecht; Leffert Lefferts (1774-1847), first judge of King's County in 1823 and owner of a large farm in the village of Bedford Corners; John Lefferts (1826-1893), farmer and eventual President of the Brooklyn Safety Deposit Company, director in the Long Island Loan and Trust Company and stock holder in the Brighton Beach Railroad. Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt was another important member of the family, not only through her marriage to Judge John Vanderbilt (b. 1829) but also through her chronicling of Lefferts family history and genealogy and the social history of Flatbush.

The Lefferts house itself is an example of colonial-era Georgian architecture with two-stories, a gambrel roof, an attic, and a basement. In 1776 the Lefferts house was burned down by American troops, an action taken on several Flatbush homes so that they could not be used by the invading British and Hessian soldiers preceding and during the Battle of Long Island. Peter Lefferts (1753-1791) rebuilt the house on the same spot and, according to Gertrude Lefferts Vanderbilt, used some of the original timber and pieces from the original house with few modifications to the original design. Ownership of the house passed down through the family until the estate of John Lefferts offered the House to the City of New York on the condition that the House be moved from its original location (the site of the former boundary line of the town of Flatbush) onto city property. The City agreed and in 1918, in conjunction with the Dutch House Preservation Committee, the house was moved to Prospect Park. In 1920 the house was first opened as museum under the stewardship of the Fort Greene chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The Lefferts Historic House is now owned by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, operated by the Prospect Park Alliance, and is a member of the Historic House Trust. The house has undergone several renovations and is maintained as a historic house museum.