Inaugural Margaret Nolan O’Neill Fellowship Presentation

On Friday, September 8, the Jay Heritage Center (JHC) hosted the inaugural Margaret Nolan O’Neill Fellowship Presentation. The fellowship was established in 2022 in memory of Maggie O’Neill, who studied Political Science and Government at Columbia University. The purpose of this academic opportunity is to advance scholarship in American History and foster respectful dialogue of topics relevant to the evolution of our nation, the shaping of its democracy and place in the global arena. Inspired by Maggie’s own passion for intellectual discourse and boundless curiosity about our country’s history and political landscape, the fellowship allows an undergraduate or graduate student at Columbia University to pursue a 10-week course of study using the JHC campus and archives as resources and includes a stipend for an immersive summer experience.

This year’s first O’Neill Fellow, Fenway Donegan, Class of 2025, conducted research working closely with staff at JHC and using books and maps from the JHC  collection supplemented by materials found at the Westchester County Archives and the Rye Historical Society. Supervised by two Columbia professors, Lynne Breslin,  Adjunct Associate Professor in Art History and Archaeology and Robert Amdur, Associate Director of the Center for American Studies, Fenway’s initial focus was the impact of forced land transfers and confiscation laws in the Revolutionary period  – the removal of property used by the fledgling American government as a means to punish political dissidents and raise needed funds for the war effort. His scope of work ultimately expanded to encompass the seizure and transfer of Indigenous Munsee lands prior to that period for a more comprehensive overview of Rye’s early history. During the summer, Fenway also had the chance to speak personally with JHC guest speaker Heather Breugl, an expert in Indigenous American History.

Following introductory remarks by JHC President Suzanne Clary and Maggie’s father Tim O’Neill, Fenway presented his resulting work titled “Mere Occupants – Transfer and Seizure of Land During Rye’s First Century” to a mesmerized, capacity crowd. Fenway deftly pieced together and compared the narratives of Rye’s historic owners – the Wiechquaesgeck and later the Loyalists who were dispossessed of their land holdings. 

In a four-part PowerPoint, Fenway explained public reactions to bills of attainder and “other instances of property seizure and the legal voiding of property rights,” pausing to take questions from the audience. He successfully laid the groundwork for expanded study about how the Doctrine of Discovery and the Confiscation Acts helped to shape the current political and social landscape of New York.

Watch the video here. Text and appendices of the entire talk coming soon.

Photos by Kim Crichlow

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The support of many individuals was invaluable in creating this fellowship and will provide for future scholarship. On behalf of the O’Neill Family and the Jay Heritage Center, we extend our heartfelt thanks to those helping us to transform the 23-acre Jay Estate into a place that inspires meaningful study and discussion of our country’s founding and future. Special thanks also to Michael Gately, Assistant Director of the Center for American Studies at Columbia University and Ariella Lang, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, and Director of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships at Columbia University for facilitating this partnership.

Donations in Memory of Maggie O’Neill

Stephanie Altman

The Arches Foundation

Lucy and David Ball

Shawna and Donald Barrett

The Martha K. and Richard N. Bradt Family

Fund Ellen and Donald Cacciapaglia

Suzanne and Rich Clary

Gretchen and Peter Crowley

Cynthia and Bernie Curry

Leslie and Bob Dahl

John Daily

Pam and Dan Derman

Meg and Demie Duckworth

Vivi and Lester Duke

Calvine and Douglas Dunnan

Maureen and Oran Kirkpatrick

Brad Gay and Karen Kirkwood

Janet and Campbell T. Gerrish

Laurie and Britton Jones

Sarah Kavanagh

Heidi Greene and Michael Kluger

Sarah and John B. Lindahl, Jr.

Sarah Maynard

Barbara and Michael McQueeney

Beverly and Michael Muessel

Grace and David Munschauer

Christy and Tom Murphy

The Nolan Family Foundation

The O’Neill Family

Hilary and Charles Parkhurst

The Andrew M. Paul Family Fund

Janie and Jeff Plank

Elizabeth and Stanley Ringer

Sadler Charitable Fund

Claire and Rafael Steinberg

Boo and Moose Stroud

Ann and Thomas Vinci

Winokur Family Foundation

Our apologies for any errors or omissions