Peter Warren was born in 1704 in Ireland. His family was of Irish descent, but interacted frequently with the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. His family were the major landowners in the town of Warrenstown, in County Meath, to the west of Dublin. He was the youngest child in the family, and both his father and grandfather had served in the English navy. Warren’s father passed away when Peter was nine years old, after which he was under the care of his oldest brother. Three years later, Peter’s brother sent him to live with his maternal uncle in England, to begin training for a future in the navy.
Warren volunteered for service in the British Navy when he was only 14. He quickly showed his aptitude for the job, and in four years was promoted to lieutenant. Six years after that, he was made captain of his own ship, the H.M.S. Grafton. The ship was a large one, with seventy guns, and he sailed the Atlantic coast of Europe, down to south Africa, and over to South America, in service for the Navy. His first official navy post was in New York City in 1728, when he was only 24 years old. He was in command of the ship Solebay. He soon became a popular fixture on the New York social scene, and New York newspapers reported he and his ships comings and goings from the port of New York. After two years in New York, his popularity was such that the Common Council of the city voted to give him “the freedom of the city,” a high honor. The next year, he married Susanna Delancey, the daughter of a prominent New York family. Her father, Stephen, was a Huguenot refugee who married into the Van Courtlandt family in New York. He was a well-to-do merchant in New York City, served as an alderman of the city, and was on the Governor’s Council.
Most of Warren’s fortune was made by capturing prize ships, a common way for sailors to make money at the time. Although he and Susanna had a house within the limits of New York City proper, on south Broadway, in 1740 he decided to buy some land outside of the city to use as a summer retreat. The initial land that Warren bought had a house on it, that he and Susanna lived in for several years. Over the next few years, Warren bought three more parcels of land in the area. Finally, in 1744, Warren came into his true fortune when he captured twenty-four French and Spanish prize ships at once. He was able to buy the final parcel of land that would complete his 300-acre estate. In its final form, the estate’s northernmost border was along modern-day 21st Street, stretching south down to Christopher Street. Warren and Susanna moved out of the older house on the property and built a new Georgian-style country residence on the new piece of land. The house was a square frame residence, with gardens of flowers and vegetables, stables, and cows, chickens, pigeons, and peacocks. The house stood on the modern-day block that is squared by Charles, Perry, Bleecker, and West Tenth Streets.
Warren continued to have an illustrious career with the British Navy. His most famous act, however, came toward the end of his career. In 1745, he led, at the request of the Governor of Massachusetts, a fleet in the capture of Louisbourg, a fortress on Cape Breton Island, during King George’s War. This victory gave the British an important bargaining chip, and lead to the end of the war. For Warren, this victory earned him a promotion to vice-admiral, a knighthood, and seat in the British Parliament. Although he retained his property in New York, he and Susanna moved back to England so he could take his seat in Parliament. Warren died at age 48, in 1752, still residing in Britain. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.
After Warren’s death, the estate was divided up between his three daughters. Many of today’s West Village street names can be traced back to Warren’s sons-in-law. Eventually, the grounds around the house began to be sold off. In 1811, the city cut the estate up in to 12 to 15 acre estates for country houses for New York City’s residents. In 1819, Warren’s mansion was purchased by Abraham van Nest. He owned the house until his death in 1864. During the years of van Nest’s ownership, development encroached closer and closer, until the only undeveloped part of the former Warren estate was the house itself. After van Nest passed away, the house was torn down, and the land developed.
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Miller, Terry. Greenwich Village and How it Got that Way. New York: Crown, 1990.