Thomas Bull: An un-bull-ievable backstory about how a county park got its name

What’s in a name? The first of an occasional series

| 01 Feb 2022 | 01:07

A popular landmark in Orange County lies just outside of Goshen: Thomas Bull Memorial Park, a local favorite known for its golf course and annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Year round, visitors of all ages come to stroll the manicured grounds and take in the views.

But behind the stunning scenery, there is a distinct history.

Revolutionary beginnings

A large swath of the county park’s land was once owned by the Bull family.

English immigrant William Bull married Sarah Wells in 1718. The couple was among the first settlers of Orange County, and during the 1720s, William was granted over 3,000 acres of local land from King George.

Together, William and Sarah had twelve children. Thomas Bull was their fourth, born on December 7, 1727. William gave Thomas 200 acres of land near the Wallkill River, where Thomas built his home. Thomas’ property would later be known as Hill-Hold; his house still stands today, now a historical museum in the park.

But despite becoming a successful farmer and stone mason, “Thomas was not well-liked by his community because he favored the British during the American Revolution,” explained author Julie Cole, a 9th generation descendant of the Bull family.

Orange County historian Johanna Porr confirmed this. “There’s no doubt that Thomas Bull was a Loyalist,” she explained in a 2016 newsletter. “In June of 1778, in the midst of the Revolutionary War and under the threat of exile from his home, he refused to take an oath of allegiance to New York State.”

Local patriot leaders, some of whom were village officials prior to the war, created “Committees of Safety” that “rounded up loyalists deemed dangerous,” explained Porr.

Thomas was jailed in September 1778 for his loyalist ties. “Thomas was detained by the government after being accused of harboring Tory agents,” said Cole. “The conditions were appalling and he got very sick.”

Bull served his time in the Goshen jail, which is now the yellow courthouse building on Main Street.

A park packed with history

When Thomas died in 1801, his home was left to one of his sons, Cadwallader. But less than 15 years later, with Cadwallader deep in debt, the sheriff sold off Hill-Hold and gave the proceeds to those Cadwallader owed money to. The Bull family was devastated, said Cole.

Bull descendants bought the house back a couple of decades later, and occupied the property until around 1965, when they bequeathed Thomas’ 200 acre homestead to Orange County Park.

The park was named Thomas Bull Memorial Park that year. Mostly known as one of the earliest settlers in Orange County, “it seems that [Thomas Bull’s] Loyalist ties were not widely discussed,” explained Porr. “The truth is that Bull’s Loyalist sympathies were never concealed and not enough effort has been put towards illuminating the history and engaging park visitors to contemplate the precarious place that Thomas Bull holds in our nation’s founding.”