The Hermitage (250+ Years of American History)
THE NATIVE AMERICAN INHABITANTS IN AREA OF FUTURE HERMITAGE PROPERTY
Their Way of Life
The first people on the property that was to become the Hermitage were the Native Americans. When the Europeans arrived in the 17th century it was the Hackensacks, a group within the Lenni Lenapes, who were living in the current central Bergen County area. A considerable number of Native American artifacts have been found along the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook which bordered the Hermitage property. On the property itself a stone axe, a bowl and arrowheads have been found. These indicate that various Native American people hunted and fished and probably at times resided on this land.
Settlement of Area by European Invaders and Settlers
The first Europeans to claim this area were the Dutch as part of New Netherlands. Then, when in 1664, the English conquered New Netherlands, it became the domain of the Duke of York. He granted what became East Jersey to Lord Berkeley. After the Lord’s death, his widow sold East Jersey to a group of 12 Proprietors, some of whom were English, but most of whom were Scots. They established their colonial base of operations in Perth Amboy.
Exclusion of Native Americans from the Area
Despite the claims of the Proprietors, a group of French Huguenot merchants and land speculators in New York City under the leadership of Peter Fauconnier, bought a large section of what is now northern Bergen County, the Ramapo Tract, from the Hackensacks in 1709.
PIONEER SETTLERS ON HERMITAGE PROPERTY
The Traphagen Family – Jersey Dutch Settlers – 1740s
The property that was to belong to The Hermitage was on the southwestern edge of the Ramapo Tract. The first settlers in the general area of The Hermitage were the Hopper, Bogert, Ackerman, Oldes and Terhune families of Dutch ancestry. A small settlement would be called Hoppertown (Ho-Ho-Kus). Just to its south, the Paramus Dutch Reform Church was built in 1735. There was a rudimentary road that had previously been a Native American path that ran from Hackensack through Paramus and Hoppertown north to the Clove above Suffern through which ran the Ramapo River.
The first individual owner of record of The Hermitage property was Johannes Traphagen. There is not concise documentation on when he first settled there. The first mention of his name is found in a 1743 report to the Proprietor’s by its surveyor John Forman when he wrote about land located between Hopper’s and “John Traphangle’s mill.” In 1744 Forman wrote that John Traphangle had 100 acres near Hopper and Oldes. In the following year the Proprietor’s records have Johannes Traphagen and his heirs as owning 102.79 acres.
Traphagen was born in Esopus, New York, one of ten children. His family, in all probability, was descended from settlers in New Amsterdam. He married Marrieti Laroe in Paramus in 1734. She was born in Rempoch (Ramapo) and baptized in 1719 in the Hackensack Dutch Reformed Church. Her father was Henry Laroe (1685-app1766) and her mother was Marrieti Smidt who was from Tappan. The Laroes were French Huguenots. The origins of the Traphagens is unknown. They may have been of French Huguenot or Dutch ancestry.
Johannes and Marrieti, as the first settlers on what would become The Hermitage property, faced the challenges of being pioneers that needed to fashion a home and a supporting farm out of the forest wilderness that they had acquired. They needed to engage in the strenuous work of felling trees in order to have materials to build a shelter and for fuel for cooking and heating. They had to clear land of trees and rocks so they could engage in farming for their food supply. Afterwards, additional crops allowed for some trade so they could acquire nails, tools, and other things that they could not make themselves. Before the land produced, and even afterward, food was also obtained by hunting, fishing, and gathering. There were still a few Native Americans in the area as well as the forces of nature with which they had to contend. In 1757, there was a major flood in the area. But the Traphagens did succeed in building a home, a producing-farm, and a family. They altered the environment and began to establish for the area a new type of social and economic life.
Before 1760 Johannes Traphagen’s eldest son Henry had married Claaritje Hopper at the Paramus Church. She was the daughter of Jan Hopper and Rachel Terhune of Hoppertown. When Johannes died in 1760, Henry petitioned the Proprietors for his half share of his father’s 100 acres with the other half to go to the other children of Johannes.
The Lane Family – English lawyer and Land Speculator – 1760
However, one, Henry Lane, also claimed what would become The Hermitage acres. He was an attorney and an agent for the West Jersey Society. He may have been related to Thomas Lane, one of the members of the Committee of the West Jersey Society. Thomas’s grandfather was Sir Thomas Lane, Knight, and Alderman of London. Henry Lane appears to have been an affluent land developer and had a house in New York City. Around 1760 he acquired the property of Johannes Traphagen. Lane apparently purchased the land from an intermediary who it was claimed had purchased it from Traphagen. In all these dealings, there were disputed title claims.
The Lane’s Build a New House that Would later Be called The Hermitage – 1760
Henry Lane and his wife Elizabeth quickly improved their 105-acre Bergen County property with a new stone dwelling house in addition to a small barn, a gristmill, a sawmill, a young orchard, and cleared arable land. It is not known if the Lane’s built an entirely new house and made the Traphagen residence an outbuilding or if they incorporated that former house into the new home. It is believed that the new Lane house is the one which will become, within the next decade, The Hermitage. The Lanes brought a new ethnic and social dimension to the Hoppertown area. They were a family of English background amongst primarily Jersey Dutch neighbors, and they brought a more well-to-do, professional way of life into a farming community not long removed from frontier conditions.
According to the records of the Paramus Reformed Church, the Lanes had their son William Henry baptized there on August 1, 1762. They also had a daughter Greesle Lena. The records also show that Henry Lane made out his will on December 27, 1762, apparently a deathbed will. It was proved on January 29, 1763. By February, his wife had decided to put up for sale both the Bergen County and the New York City properties. Elizabeth Lane, Executrix, placed a for sale advertisement in the February 28, 1763 issue of The New York Gazette:
A choice Plantation at Ancocus Brook, (or a Place called Peramos) in the county of Bergen, and Eastern Division of the Province of New Jersey; containing about 105 acres of good arable land, part of which is cleared, the remainder well wooded; there is on the same a good new Stone Dwelling House 40 foot front, and 23 foot back, the front is all of hewn stone, a Cellar under the Whole, and a Well of good Water before the Door; the Walls are near two Foot thick, and good Sash Windows to the House; there is also a good Kitchen 23 Foot one Way, and 20 Foot the other Way, and a good Fire-place therein; The House contains four Fire-places and is two Story high, is pleasantly situated between two Main Roads, and has an entry through the House into the Kitchen, all very beautifully contrived: There is also on the said Tract a small Barn, a good Gristmill, and a good Sawmill, all in good Order, and has not wanted for Water in the driest times; there is likewise a thriving young Orchard on the same, >tis as publick and pleasant a Place as is in the Country fit for Merchant’s business, a Tavern, or any other business. Also a Dwelling House and Lot of Ground in the City of New York…Any Person inclined to Purchase the Whole or either of the said Premises or to hire the same, may apply to Elizabeth Lane, at the House of Mr. William Rousby, near the Oswego Market, and agree upon reasonable Terms. An indisputable title will be given.
The Proprietors warned people not to buy the land so advertised, because they still held title to it. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Lane again advertised the property in 1766.
THE PREVOSTS: LATE COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY WAR ERA
Property and House Purchased by Captain James Marcus Prevost in 1767
James Marcus Prevost in 1767 bought 155 acres of apparently unoccupied land, part of which fronted on the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook and part of which adjoined the Lane property. Later that year Prevost also bought 98 acres (5 went to Benjamin Oldes) from Elizabeth Lane, but only after there was agreement on title and payments due among the Traphagen heirs, Lane, Prevost and the Proprietors. The ownership of The Hermitage by Prevost also is verified in the Bergen County Road Returns which state in 1767 that Clove Road runs along Col. Prevost’s property.
The Military Prevost Family – from Switzerland by Way of England to America
James Marcus Prevost (anglicized from Jacques Marc Prevost) was a British officer stationed in North America since early in the French and Indian War. He was born in 1736 in Geneva, Switzerland into a family that had earlier roots in Savoy, now part of France. His parents had nine children, including three sons who would follow military careers that would bring them to North America. The two older of the three, Augustine (born 1723) and Jacques (born 1725), would first enter the service of the King of Sardinia and then Sardinia’s ally the Netherlands. It would appear that Jacques Marc joined his brothers in Holland.
Then in 1755, after the defeat of the British forces under General Braddock by the French and their Indian allies in western Pennsylvania and with an approaching war with France, the English Parliament approved the formation of the Royal American Regiment. There were hopes of enlisting Germans and Swiss settlers in America. The officers (up to 50) were to be Protestants from the continent with military experience and who could speak the necessary languages. In1756 the British commissioned Augustine Prevost, a major, Jacques Prevost, a colonel and James Marcus Prevost, a captain. They all were sent to North America with the outbreak of war against France. Jacques seems to have avoided major battles, but James Marcus was wounded in the battle at Ticonderoga in New York and Augustine suffered serious wounds with General Wolfe’s army near Quebec, both in 1758. Both recovered in New York City. Augustine remained active in the Royal American Regiment, particularly in the Caribbean, and was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
James Marcus Prevost Met and Married Theodosia Bartow in New York City in 1763
James Marcus, after he recovered from wounds, accompanied Colonel Henry Bouguet, another Swiss in the Royal American Regiment, to establish in 1761 a British post at Presque Isle (present Erie, Pennsylvania). They also spent some time at Fort Niagra. Prevost then was assigned to New York City in charge of some of the British troops in that area. However, with the decrease in military activity after the defeat of the French, James Marcus and other British officers in America were put on inactive duty with half pay. While in New York, James Marcus courted and, in 1763, married Theodosia Stillwell Bartow in Trinity Church in Manhattan.
The Family Background of Theodosia Stillwell Bartow – A Five Generation Spectrum of American Colonial Life
When she married, Theodosia Bartow was a young woman of 17 from a well-established extended New York/New Jersey family. She brought to the marriage, and soon afterwards to The Hermitage, a rich, varied colonial North American heritage stretching back more than 100 years. Through her mother she was a fifth-generation member of the Stillwell family from Virginia, New York and New Jersey, as well as a fifth generation Sands from New England and Long Island, and a fifth generation Ray from New England. On her father’s side she was a third generation Bartow from Westchester and New Jersey with some relation to Pells of Westchester and a third generation Reid from New Jersey and Westchester. The Stillwells, Sands and Rays had generally experienced upward mobility from farming into the mercantile and professional class, the Reids and the Pells were land rich and well-connected families, and the Bartows were a well-educated professional family.
The first Stillwell to come to America was Nicholas from Surrey, England who sailed to Virginia in 1638, just 21 years after the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown. He became al tobacco farmer and an Indian fighter. When a trading venture brought Nicholas into conflict with the Virginia authorities, he moved to New Netherlands where he obtained land for farming. His children were also farmers in New York and New Jersey. By the third generation, Richard Stillwell, born in 1762, established himself as a successful New York merchant with a large estate on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey. He was Theodosia’s grandfather.
Her mother, Ann was the third child, born to Richard Stillwell and his wife Mercy Sands, around 1714. Ann’s brothers and sisters, Theodosia’s aunts and uncles would do well. One uncle became a doctor, and one became a merchant, two of the aunts married British officers, one of whom became a general and both of whom had wealth and standing, two other aunts wed well-to-do merchants, and one aunt married a noted Harvard-educated Presbyterian minister.
Ann Stillwell was brought up on the family’s Shrewsbury estate amid a large, affluent family with extensive family and social connections in New York City. She attained well developed literacy and seemed to have had the advantage of a rather extensive, mostly private education. Shortly after 1742, when she was about 30 years of age, Ann married Theodosius Bartow, about 32, an attorney in Shrewsbury. He owned a 500 acres estate there and additional lands. Bartow was a leader in the Episcopal Church and a man with important New Jersey connections. His father was Cambridge educated, became a minister, and was sent to America to put the Church of England on sound footing in Westchester County in New York. He married Helena Reid, the well-educated daughter of John Reid, the Surveryor General of New Jersey and member of that Province’s Assembly. The Bartows would also marry into the affluent large land holding Pell family in Westchester.
The marriage of Ann Stillwell and Theodosious Bartow was short for he died from a carriage accident in Shrewsbury in 1746 at age 34, while Ann was pregnant with their only child, Theodosia. For five years Ann raised Theodosia as a single parent, apparently partially in Shrewsbury and partially in New York City where several of her sisters and brothers were living. Since two of Ann’s sisters had recently married men with military backgrounds, it appears that she was introduced into that segment of society. Thus, she met and married Capt. Philip De Visme who had served in the British Army, but who had become a merchant in New York City. The wedding took place in 1751 in Trinity Church in Manhattan. Philip was of French Huguenot ancestry and was born in London in 1719. He attended St. Martin’s French Church in that city. His brother, Count de Visme had a daughter Emily who married General Sir Hugh Murray, son of the Earl of Mansfield.
Ann had five children with Philip between 1752 and 1768, half brothers and sisters to Theodosia. In their home French was frequently spoken. When the oldest of the De Visme children, Elizabeth, was only 10 years of age, the father, Philip died in 1762. Ann, at 49, was again a widow, now with six children. Theodosia was then 16 and probably was expected to help her mother with the many young children, although Ann’s financial situation probably enabled her to obtain a considerable amount of service.
Theodosia was brought up both on a country estate in Shrewsbury and in New York City. Her mother gave her the example of a woman who, while not extensively schooled, was certainly well-educated, if not by tutors, then through her family. Ann also transmitted to Theodosia the traditions of several generations of an upwardly mobile colonial family; life supported by urban mercantile and professional affluence and standing; a practiced female strength amidst losses and hardship; and a readiness to seize opportunities wherever they may appear. Theodosia’s stepfather, Philip De Visme, brought a transatlantic cosmopolitanism into the home with his London and French background and connections, a military heritage, a merchant’s acquisitiveness, a frequent use in the home of the French language, and an interest in books and ideas. There is no record that Theodosia, like her mother, had any extensive schooling, but her knowledge of languages, her analytic abilities and her habits of reading indicate an education at home that was far above that received by most privileged women in the colonial New York/New Jersey area. From her stepfather and from a few of her uncles she was imbued with the traditions of the military, and through their connections introduced to young officers who brought to her the excitement, savoir-faire, and different experiences from England and in the case of Jacques Marc Prevost, also experiences and a heritage of the European continent. Prevost, in his mid-twenties, matured through battle and multicultural travels and associations and having already shown leadership talents, entered Theodosia’s youthful social world.
The First Years of Married Military Life of James Marcus and Theodosia Prevost – 1763-1767
At age 17 in 1763 Theodosia Bartow agreed to a marriage with James Marcus with a wedding in the most fashionable church in the New York area, Trinity in lower Manhattan. New excitement and challenge came to Theodosia very soon after the wedding. Within months her husband was ordered to leave New York with his regiment for Charleston. Theodosia accompanied him there. However, by the end of the year she was pregnant. Captain Prevost then arranged for a change in assignment that enabled him to take Theodosia back to New York where she stayed with her mother. It would seem that despite the move north, the pregnancy did not come to term, or a child was lost in childbirth or soon thereafter, because there is no record of a child born in 1764. Meanwhile James Marcus was assigned to a detachment of troops at Fort Loudoun on the Pennsylvania frontier. This unit, led by a fellow British officer of Swiss birth, Colonel Henry Bouquet, campaigned against Ohio Native American towns in the Muskingum Valley. On this expedition James Marcus was accompanied by his nephew, Lt. Augustine Prevost, an illegitimate son of his brother, Lt. Col. Augustine Prevost. The young Augustine soon married into the land rich Croghan family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and would be related through his wife’s half-sister to the Indian warrior Joseph Brandt.
The Prevost’s Establish a Gentleman’s Farm and Family Life on The Hermitage Property in Hopperstown in Bergen County in 1767
James Marcus returned to Theodosia in New York in 1765. Given the relatively peaceful situation following the French and Indian War many of the officers, like James Marcus, were furloughed on half pay. He then decided in 1767 to purchase 150 unoccupied acres near Hopperstown in Bergen County adjacent to the Lane property and then the Lane property itself of 102 more acres and the house which they would name The Hermitage. There James Marcus took up the life of a gentleman farmer with his wife Theodosia and a growing family. In order to assist the family with farming, milling and care of the house, the Prevost’s, like many of Theodosia’s affluent relatives and a considerable number of their Bergen County neighboring farmers, obtained at least two African American slaves. There was a newspaper advertisement for a Negro man and his wife who had run away from the house of Mark Prevost in Bergen County in 1774.
FIVE POUND REWARD - Run away from the house of Mark Prevost in Bergen County, on the 29of September last, a negro man and his wife: the fellow is serious, civil, slow of speech, rather low in stature, reads well, is a preacher among the negroes, about 40 years of age, and is called Mark. The wench is smart, active and handy, rather lusty, has bad teeth, and a small cast in one eye; she is likely to look upon, reads, and writes and is about 36 years of age. She was brought up in the house of the late Mr. Shackmaple, of New London, and as she had a note to look for a master it is probable she may make a pass of it to travel through New-England. They took with them much baggage. Whoever takes up the said negroes and brings them to the subscribers, or gives such information t that they may be had again, shall be entitled to the above reward, or fifty shillings for either of them, to be paid by Mark Prevost, Archibald Campbell in Hackensack, or Thomas Clarke, near New-York. October 12, 1774.
Not long after James Marcus’ purchase of the Hopperstown properties, he was visited in 1767 by his brothers Jacques, now a Major General, and Augustin Prevost now a Lt. Colonel. The latter was accompanied by his new and now pregnant wife, Anne, and her father Issac. While at The Hermitage, Anne gave birth to her first son, George. He was baptized at Hackensack Church. The godmother was Theodosia, and the godfather was Issac, father of Anne. George, born at The Hermitage, would become the Governor General of Canada in 1811.
Between 1766 and 1771 Theodosia and James Marc had five children, two boys and three girls who spent their childhood at The Hermitage. The boys were Bartow (John Bartow) born in 1766 and Frederick (Augustine James Frederick) born in 1767. They were to have active futures. Little is known of the girls, Anna Louisa born about 1770, Mary Louisa born about 1771 and Sally. All three died young, Anna Louisa in 1786 and Mary Louisa in 1787.
It seems that soon after the Prevost’s moved to their Hoppertown land and while they were living in the house that Lane built, they began to put up another house down by the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook together with a number of mills. When these were completed, around 1770, the Prevost’s moved there and sold the Lane house and 68 surrounding acres to Theodosia’s widowed mother, Ann De Visme. She was still bringing up her five De Visme children. Their home, on the upland, was called The Hermitage. The Prevost home on lower ground by the brook got the name Little Hermitage. The reasons for the choice of this name are not known. In addition, Peter De Visme, a son of Anne and a stepbrother of Theodosia bought 25 acres in this area.
After several years of relative quiet, in 1772 the Royal American Regiment was ordered to the West Indies. In November of that year, James Marcus left from Perth Amboy and sailed to Jamaica to command one of the battalions of this Regiment. He was accompanied by his nephew, Augustine. It seems, though, that James Marc was back in New York in 1773 when he was advertising his Paramus property with a set of new mills and his residence, the Little Hermitage, for sale. Apparently, the advertisement failed, for another one appeared in a New York newspaper in 1774. These advertisements give us some information on the Prevost property just before the Revolutionary War.
A well situated and valuable farm, in the county of Bergen, about twenty-five miles from New-York, on the post road to Albany; there is on said farm a new, well finished house, fit for a gentleman, a large barn, all the outside of which is cedar, and sundry convenient outhouses. Also, a complete set of new mills, on a lively and never-failing stream, with two pair of stones, bolting mills, and conveniences for working them by water; also one or two saw mills, as may best suit the purchaser, who can be accommodated with about ninety acres of land, or more, to the quantity of 240 acres, all round the house. There are several young orchards of grafter fruit, a good garden, and the clear land in excellent new fence, a great deal of it is of stone. An undoubted title will be given for the same, and the terms of payment made easy. For further particulars enquire on the premises, or of Captain PREVOST in New-York.
James Marcus, in January 1775, together with three other British officers, obtained a royal grant of land in New York Province. James’s portion, 5,000 acres, was located just over the Bergen County border and included much of what is today, Suffern. In April he sold his entire patent for 200 pounds to Robert Morris, John De Lancy and John Zabriski. Later, John Suffern was the major purchaser of these landowners. Prevost invested in other properties in New York Province, some in conjunction with Ann De Visme who as a widow could own real estate. These transactions were typical aspects of colonial life in British North America. The acquisition and sale of lands to enhance one’s economic position occupied a considerable portion of the population, and particularly British military officers before the Revolution and more affluent colonials.
The Coming of the American Revolution Divides Theodosia’s Family
At the very time when Prevost, De Visme and the others were engaged in property acquisitions in England’s North American colonies, another very different set of circumstances was unfolding. Questions of taxation, economic opportunities, individual and community rights within the empire, increased local self-rule, control of the western frontier, and quartering of soldiers were issues that since the mid-1760s were increasing friction between the American colonies and England. By the mid-1770s organized local committees of resistance had developed, the Continental Congress was established, an outbreak of hostilities occurred at Lexington and Concord, and a Continental Army was formed.
The impact of events would be dramatic for The Hermitage household. Theodosia, a fifth-generation resident of America had deep roots here, but her husband was an important officer in the British military, as was his nephew and even more his uncle, by then a leading British General. Among the relatives on her side of the family, there were significant splits of loyalty, with most relatives favoring loyalty to the mother country, but some becoming increasingly pro-revolution. Likewise, among the neighbors of The Hermitage, there were mixed loyalties with the Fells and the Hoppers strong Whigs, some of the Zabriskies strong Loyalists and a considerable number trying to remain neutral.
In 1776 James Marcus was called back into active duty with the Royal American Regiment. His brother, General Augustine Prevost had raised a new battalion in Europe for the Regiment, which was first stationed in the West Indies, in Jamaica, then moved to British Florida in 1777 and then into Georgia and the Carolinas in 1778 and 1779. The general’s son, Augustine, was also in this battalion. Additionally, most of Theodosia’s half brothers and sisters were deeply involved with the British. Half-sister Elizabeth was married to an officer who was in the Royal American Regiment with the Prevosts. Half-brother Samuel had risen to the rank of Captain in the British army, and half-brother Peter was a British seaman.
Most of Theodosia’s Stillwell aunts, uncles and cousins were actively or passively pro-British except for Lydia Watkins who left her home in northern Manhattan after its occupation by the British and would move near to The Hermitage for the duration of the war. Her son would be an active rebel officer. In Westchester most of the Pells were Loyalists and most of the Bartows were pro rebel or neutral.
The Revolution and the People at The Hermitage
From the beginning of the Revolution and throughout the war, The Hermitage, being in Bergen County, found itself in one of the most contested areas in America. While Whig militias, and at times the Continental Army, had almost full control of northern Bergen County, and the British, from their major base in New York City and with satellite bases in the southern part of the County, had almost full control of lower Bergen County, the region between was subjected to attacks from both sides. There was much action by local Rebel and Tory militia companies, and there were many incursions and encampments by foraging and attacking Continental army troops and by British and Hessian regulars. Paramus and Hoppertown experienced attacks, skirmishes, foraging, troop movements and encampments throughout the war. In addition, the area suffered from ongoing guerrilla warfare because there were present both active Whig and Tory residents. Neighbors on both sides were killed, wounded, captured, and imprisoned.
Through the war The Hermitage houses and properties were managed by two women and their children: Theodosia Prevost with five children and her mother Ann with her teenage daughter, Theodosia’s half-sister, Caty. There probably also were one or two African American slaves in the household. Theodosia, age 29, took the leadership role. Amid guerilla warfare, the first major challenge for them was survival. The women of The Hermitage were spared attacks from the Rebels because there were no male Loyalists residing there who might fight against the Revolution.
By early November 1776, Washington’s Continental Army had been driven out of New York City. They retreated to White Plains and then decided to cross the Hudson River into Bergen County. After the main British army under General Cornwallis moved into Bergen at Closter, Washington and his troops moved south to Hackensack, to Newark and then across the state and the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. As the British pursued the retreating Continentals through Bergen County they passed within a few miles of The Hermitage.
At Hackensack a contingent of British and Tory troops guarded stored supplies. The American troops left to guard the Hudson Highlands established a base in the Clove just north of Suffern and a supply point in Paramus. Through December 1776 the Rebels attacked Hackensack and the British and Tories attacked Paramus and Hoppertown.
After the British defeats at Trenton and Princeton, they pulled their troops out of most of New Jersey back to New York City. However, in April 1777, the Loyalists attacked Leonia, Paramus and Allendale. General William Alexander with Continental troops camped in Paramus in late July of that year.
The British and Loyalists actions in the vicinity of The Hermitage did not pose a threat to the women there. They could count on immunity from direct attacks by the British, since it was well known that their property was owned by one of their military officers. In fact, the English in 1777 placed a young, captured Rebel medical officer, Samuel Bradhurst, a New York relative of Theodosia by marriage, under house arrest at The Hermitage. He would remain there through the war and would become a good friend of a visitor to the house, Theodosia’s cousin, Mary Smith. Samuel and Mary would marry at The Hermitage in December 1778.
In addition to a concern about security from attack in contested Bergen County, Theodosia and the women of The Hermitage had to face the threat of confiscation of their homes by the Rebels. The property was in the name of British officer Capt. James Marcus Prevost who was actively engaged in fighting against the Revolution. Thus, there were those in New Jersey who wanted to send the women to the British in New York and make The Hermitage a prize to raise money for the revolutionary cause or to reward one of its major officials. Theodosia realized that she had to work actively to counter this threat to her continued hold on her family’s property. She did so with considerable resourcefulness and much courage in her extended battle to maintain control of her family property. She would send petitions to the New Jersey State Whig authorities, she would request leading Whig officials whom she knew or would come to know to advocate on her behalf, and she made The Hermitage a place that welcomed officers of the Continental Army, Rebel militia officers and other Whig persons of rank.
Already in 1777, she was writing for help to people she knew in the influential New Jersey Morris family. Later in that year, in September, when her cousin John Watkins was an officer with the rebel Malcolm’s regiment stationed in the Clove above Suffern, she met its commanding officer, the 20-year-old, Col. Aaron Burr. He stopped at Paramus before and after a daring and successful raid on a British position near Hackensack.
General Washington Is Invited to Make His Headquarters at The Hermitage – July 1778
The next July, the Continental Army, after the important Battle of Monmouth, had marched from New Brunswick and the Great Falls of the Passaic toward the Hudson Highlands with plans to encamp for a rest at Paramus.
As the Continental Army approached Paramus, Washington and his top aides expected to stop and make their headquarters at the home of Lydia Watkins. She was an emigre from New York. With the British occupying her home in Harlem Heights, her husband being abroad, and her son enlisted in the rebel cause in New Jersey, she settled in a house in Paramus with her two daughters and near The Hermitage and her sister Ann De Visme and niece Theodosia Prevost. James McHenry, Washington’s secretary wrote:
After leaving the falls of the Passaic, we passed through fertile country to a place called Paramus. We stopped at a Mrs. Watkins’, whose house was marked for headquarters. But the General, receiving a note of invitation from a Mrs. Provost to make her hermitage, as it was called, the seat of his stay while at Paramus, we only dined with Mrs. Watkins and her two charming daughters, who sang us several pretty songs in a very agreeable manner.
While there, Washington received an invitation from Theodosia Prevost to make The Hermitage his headquarters. The General accepted even though the offer came from the wife of an active British officer.
The invitation read: Mrs. Prevost Presents her best respects to his Excellency Gen’l Washington. Requests the Honour of his Company as she flatters herself the accommodations will more Commodious than those to be procured in the Neighborhood. Mrs. Prevost will be particularly happy to make her House Agreeable to His Excellency , and family C A Hermitage Friday Morning, eleven o’clock.
The army encampment spread throughout the Paramus and Hoppertown area for a four day stay from July 11 to 14, 1778. The Paramus Church served as a resting place for the wounded as well as the site for the ongoing court martial of General Charles Lee. Most of the troops were north of the church with the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard camped near The Hermitage, at “Head Quarters two miles from Primmiss Church.”
Through the four days that Washington was at The Hermitage he had to attend to several issues of crucial significance in the continuing War for Independence. Despite the importance of the recent Battle at Monmouth, he did not have much time to dwell upon it. He was concerned for the proper treatment of the wounded and wanted his troops to have rest after the engagement and the marching in continued oppressive July heat. However, Washington’s mind was primarily focused on the need to decide where to best position his army in terms of potential military moves by the British troops in New York City and in terms of best supplying his men with food and other needs. Very crucially, he had to enter his calculations upon very encouraging news, received in part while at Paramus on July 11th, that a French fleet had arrived off the Maryland coast and was prepared to participate in an action against the British. By the 14th Washington was getting reports that the fleet was off Sandy Hook at the approaches to New York harbor. The fleet was commanded by Vice Admiral Count d’Estaing who was a distant relative of Lafayette. His fleet consisted of 16 ships with from 90 to 36 guns. On the way to New York, they caught a 26-gun British ship and sank it. Washington sent congratulations to the Admiral and two of his aides-de-camps, John Laurens, and Alexander Hamilton, to discuss some possible joint action.
When it was decided that instead the French would attack a smaller British force in Rhode Island, Burr’s spying assignment was terminated and, despite continuing health problems was ordered to rejoin his regiment in the Highlands which marched to West Point in late July. While there, he was selected by Washington to act on instruction from the New York State Legislature and the Commissioners for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies to convey three high placed Tories down the Hudson River under a white flag to the enemy in New York City. They were William Smith, Cadwallader Colden and Roeliff Eltinge, leading members of the former New York Provincial government.
Theodosia learned about this trip. Anxious for an opportunity to visit relatives in New York City, she obtained permission from General Alexander for herself, her half-sister Caty and a man servant for passage on this ship. Burr added their names in his own hand to the Commissioners’ passenger list. With several stops, the trip took from August 5 to 10, providing a considerable amount of time for those on board to become better acquainted, as well as on the return trip.
Burr was kept at the task of escorting Tories and British prisoners to New York on regular trips to New York through September, but he continued to suffer poor health. Thus, he wrote to Washington about resigning from the army. However, Burr decided instead to take a short leave, spending some time with friends in Elizabethtown and some time at The Hermitage. On November 5, Burr wrote a letter to his sister Sally from The Hermitage in which he referred to Theodosia as “our lovely sister.” He continued, “Believe me, Sally, she has an honest and affectionate heart. We talk of you very often, her highest happiness will be to see and love you.”
Meanwhile, Theodosia, after her return to Paramus and together with her mother, continued to keep open the doors of their homes to relatives and friends. One of Theodosia’s cousins who took advantage of this hospitality was Mary Smith, the daughter of Ann’s sister Deborah. Over what was probably a considerable amount of time at The Hermitage, Mary developed a relationship with Samuel Bradhurst, the American officer placed there earlier under house arrest by the British. A courtship ensued and they were married at the end of December 1778 at The Hermitage. They would continue to reside there until near the end of the War. Their first two children, Samuel Hazard Bradhurst, in November 1779, and John Maunsell Bradhurst, in August 1782, were born at The Hermitage.
Despite the joy of the visits and the wedding, Theodosia continued of necessity to be worried about the fate of her mother’s and her property in Hoppertown. Toward the end of 1778 the New Jersey Legislature passed a law calling for the confiscation of land owned by Loyalists and others who were acting against the Whig cause. The Hermitage was a prime target, particularly since Theodosia’s husband and brother-in-law were then leading a British attack on Rebel positions in the southern states.
Theodosia, in the midst of this threatening environment, continued to cultivate people of influence in the state. Through the fall her association with Burr seems to have increased and came to include two of his closest friends, William Paterson, then Attorney General of New Jersey, and Col. Robert Troup. Both men were on friendly terms with Governor Livingston and his family, as well as with State Supreme Court Justice Robert Morris. On January 27, 1779, Paterson wrote from The Hermitage to Burr who earlier that month had returned to military service. General McDougall had pressed Burr to take command of the important but demoralized and poorly disciplined Westchester line. For two months he trained these soldiers, intercepted trade with New York City and engaged successfully with a Tory militia.
Despite this activity and in part caused by it, Burr’s poor health did not improve. Thus, he decided to carry out his deferred decision of the previous fall to resign from the military. On March 10, Burr wrote to Washington that his poor health about which he had informed the Commander the past September, had continued to plague him.
He stated: At the instance of General M’Dougall, I accepted the command of these posts; but I find my health unequal to the undertaking. Thus, I propose to leave this command and the army.
Washington replied on April 3: In giving permission to your retiring from the army, I am not only regretting the loss of a good officer, but the cause which makes his resignation necessary.
After Burr had written Paterson about his resignation, his friend responded from The Ponds (Oakland), some ten miles northwest of Paramus, in which he congratulated him on his return to civil life and suggested that he marry Theodosia. This seems to have been an impulsive estranged letter from a friend to a friend. Paterson is happy with his own relatively new marriage, is happy that his friend has come out of the military still vibrant despite his illnesses and happy that his friend has an affectionate relationship with a woman whom he, Paterson, likes and admires. However, was he really urging his friend into a marriage with a woman who was still married and who Paterson still addressed as Mrs. Prevost?
Paterson, in sending this letter and in proposing a meeting, took it for granted that Burr would be at Theodosia’s home. Following his retirement from the army, Burr attempted to find a way to regain his health and to resume his study of the law. These preoccupations kept Burr from seriously considering at this time Paterson’s suggestion that he marry Theodosia. In addition to her existing marriage, Burr was this time not yet set in an income-producing career. Burr did though help to arrange for Dom Tetard to be a tutor for Theodosia’s three daughters. Somehow, it also was arranged, on the request of James Marcus Prevost, that their two sons, aged 11 and 9, would join him in the south and would become ensigns in his Royal American Regiment. Burr returned to the study of law but continued to visit The Hermitage while Theodosia continued to struggle to protect her home and property
In spring 1779 Theodosia received the unhappy news that her half-brother, Peter de Visme, a British seaman, had been captured and was a prisoner of the American navy. Theodosia, again turning to connections she had made, wrote to Washington to get his release. The Commander in Chief of the American Army replied kindly, but stated that he had no authority relating to the release of maritime prisoners
Another major worry for Theodosia continued to be the preservation of her home and land. Burr wrote to Paterson to ask him to advocate on behalf of her interests. Paterson wrote to Burr on June 1, saying that he had talked with the Commissioners who threatened to confiscate her property.
Meanwhile in early 1779, under the command of Augustine Prevost, now major general, and, second in command, James Marcus Prevost, now lieutenant colonel, some 5,000 British troops attacked rebel positions in Georgia and the Carolinas. James Marcus, who New York Tory Governor William Tyron “spoke of as conceited and vain,” led his troops to important victories in battles at Sunbury and Briar Creek in Georgia. The Prevosts and their troops then took Savannah and Charleston, and in early fall defended the former against a major siege by the French under Admiral Comte d’Estaing and the Rebels under General Lincoln. James Marcus was appointed the Lt. Gov. of the Royal Administration in Georgia and at that time urged Theodosia to come south and join him. Her half-sister Eliza, whose husband was also serving in this campaign and whom she accompanied, also tried to persuade Theodosia to join her and the wives of the other officers. Theodosia, however, decided against leaving The Hermitage on the grounds of her need to protect their property, her poor health, and the best interests of their daughters. She sent James Marcus a ring and a lock of her hair.
The very success of the Prevosts against the Rebels in the south increased the interest of the Bergen County Commissioners for Forfeited Estates to act against The Hermitage holdings. Despite efforts on behalf of Theodosia by William Paterson, the Commissioners served Theodosia with an inquisition, indicating that procedures had begun for the seizure of the holdings that were in her husband’s name. Theodosia, for her part, on December 24, 1779, sent a letter to the New Jersey legislature seeking its support against the Commissioners. They deferred action until their next meeting, when it was read and ordered to be filed, March 9, 1780.
Meanwhile, Burr began his return to law studies in Middletown, Connecticut with Titus Homer, one of Connecticut’s delegates to the Continental Congress. While there, Lt. Col. Robert Troup, urged his friend Aaron to join him in Princeton in a law apprenticeship with Richard Stockton, one of New Jersey’s signers of the Declaration of Independence. However, Troup and Burr came to realize that there would be too many distractions in Princeton from female acquaintances, among whom were the Livingston daughters who showed an interest in Burr. Thus, they decided instead to study with William Paterson. After doing so for a time, they found that Paterson was too busy and traveled too frequently to be able to give the students the attention they desired for rapid progress in their studies. The two aspiring lawyers then decided to study with William Smith in Haverstraw who focused their efforts and under whom they did move forward quickly.
War Activities Continue in the Paramus/Hoppertown/Hermitage Area
Rebel troops were stationed almost continually in the Paramus/Hoppertown area. It was, according to Washington, a post that was part of a network obtaining information on any movement of British troops out of New York, it gave protection to the Continental’s communication route along Valley Road connecting Morristown and the south with New England, it was a base for attacking British positions in the southern portion of Bergen County, it provided some protection for patriots in contested Bergen County, and it was an effort to lessen trade and all types of other dealing with the enemy in New York City. In both March and April 1780 British forces from New York struck into Bergen County and engaged rebel contingents in the Paramus/Hoppertown area causing death and destruction.
The Relationship Between Theodosia and Aaron Grows and Theodosia’s Fight for The Hermitage Is Successful
In June 1780 Theodosia sent a letter to Burr’s sister Sally Reeves in which she called her brother “my inestimable friend.” Letters from Troup and Paterson indicate that Burr was at The Hermitage or at least a frequent visitor there through the summer and into fall 1780. The situation at The Hermitage was such that Aaron’s cousin Thaddeus Burr writing from Connecticut to Paramus stated: “I won’t joke you any more about a certain lady.”
While Burr still needed help in his efforts to recover health, Theodosia continued to need support as she was deeply perturbed when another indictment was issued against the property of James Marcus Prevost, this time by the New Jersey Court of Common Pleas in Bergen County. Paterson, in a letter to Burr on August 31, again pledges his service on Theodosia’s behalf. She had a right to be concerned. Despite the advocacy on her behalf of influential friend’s threats to her property continued. In November 1780 she was informed that “there are Inquisitions found and returned in the Court of Common Pleas, held for (Bergen County) on the fourth Tuesday in October last, against the following persons, to wit, James Marcus Prevost…” Final judgement was to be rendered in January.
However, the issue of confiscation after the fall 1780 inquisition disappears from the extant records and letters of all concerned parties. The indictments against The Hermitage properties were never executed. Apparently, the prolonged advocacy of Burr, Troup, Paterson, and others with Governor Livingston, the Morrises, and additional persons of position seems eventually to have taken effect. The cultivation of influential friends in New Jersey by Theodosia over a considerable period seems to have been crucial in the successful retention of her home and property despite very negative circumstances. It also may have been helpful that Lt. Col. Prevost no longer was in the field against American troops after spring 1780.
Lt. Col. James Marcus Prevost Wounded in Jamaica
James Marcus Prevost, after successes in the Georgia and the Carolinas, was assigned in early 1780 to Jamaica with a contingent of troops to deal with disturbances in that Caribbean Island. In an engagement there he was wounded. The health conditions in Jamaica debilitated the English troops there. On July 26 Prevost reported to London that most of his officers were in the infirmary at Spanish Town. He feared the “annihilation” of his regiment if they were not moved from their present feverish location to a healthier area. Prevost’s own health was affected, and his condition was in decline. It seems that sometime in 1780 he sent his teenage sons back to their mother at The Hermitage. They undoubtedly reported on their father’s poor health, and Theodosia and others may have come to expect at some point that his condition was terminal.
The War Continues in Bergen County
Through most of the summer of 1780 Washington and the Continental army were on the move through various parts of Bergen County, while efforts were being made to arrange an opportunity, which did not materialize, for a joint attack with French troops on New York City. On their way from Preakness to Kings Ferry on the Hudson River, the Continentals with some 6,000 men and 900 wagons encamped at Paramus and Hoopertown on July 29. The army with 8,000 men in late August was located between Hackensack and Hoppertown. Washington had a detachment work on the badly deteriorated roads in the Paramus area. There are some who maintain that Washington made The Hermitage his headquarters during several of his visits to Paramus, but this has yet to be substantiated.
Peggy Shippen Arnold Visits The Hermitage
In one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the War, Benedict Arnold, among the most experienced rebel generals, hero of the crucial Battle of Saratoga, decided when in command of West Point in late summer 1780 to betray this important Hudson Highland fort into British hands. His new bride of little more than a year, Peggy Shippen who had been a friend of British officers and particularly Major Andre during their occupation of her home city Philadelphia in the winter of 1777-1778, encouraged Arnold in his act of treason. Before the betrayal was completed, Arnold directed Peggy to travel with their 5-month-old child from Philadelphia to West Point. Arnold sent an aide, Major David Franks, to fetch her, and he sent detailed travel instructions. “The fifth night at Paramus… at Paramus you will be very politely received by Mrs. Watkins and Mrs. Prevost, very genteel people.” It seems that Arnold knew, or knew of, these women and was confident of their being helpful to his wife and child at this delicate time.
After the capture of Andre and the discovery of the plot by rebels, Arnold fled to the British lines, leaving his wife and daughter at West Point. Mrs. Arnold dramatically played the role of the injured wife and convinced Washington and Hamilton of her innocence of the betrayal and to allow her to return to her father in Philadelphia with Major Frank. Despite her pass from Washington, Peggy Arnold found hostility along her return route south, often being refused food and lodging. Still, she did find refuge at The Hermitage. According to an account by Aaron Burr, many years after the event, Peggy Shippen Arnold, believing she had a sympathetic Loyalist ear, confessed to her part in the West Pont conspiracy to Theodosia Prevost. At The Hermitage, “as soon as they were left alone, Mrs. Arnold became tranquillized and assured Mrs. Prevost that she was heartily tired of the theatricals she was exhibiting.” She related “that she had corresponded with the British commander, and that she was disgusted with the American cause and those who had the management of public affairs, and that through unceasing perseverance she had ultimately brought the general into an arrangement to surrender West Point.”
After the Continental army had encamped from September 28 to October 6 at Tappan where the trial and execution of Major Andre took place, Washington decided to move his troops south to Totowa Falls. On the way they halted for two days at Paramus, October 7 and 8. It was cold and wet and there was not a drop of rum to be had. In November, Lafayette was at Paramus with a scouting party. He posted a letter to Washington from Paramus on November 28, 1780.
Burr Intensified His Law Studies and Correspondence Between Theodosia and Aaron Became More Serious
In early 1781 Burr, with the return of better health, became deeply engaged in his law studies with Thomas Smith in Haverstraw. He applied himself to his studies from sixteen to twenty hours a day. Before embarking on this regime, Aaron did try to get an additional tutor for Theodosia’s two young sons, who had returned to her from the south, and whom Burr seems to have liked very much. However, his relations with Theodosia through the rest of 1781 seem to have been mostly through correspondence. For much of this period, if not for all of it, Theodosia resided in Sharon, Connecticut. The reason is not clear. It may have been because of health or to avoid New Jersey wagging tongues, but it was at least in part because of her now close relation with Aaron’s sister, Sally Reeves who lived in Litchfield with her husband. Theodosia wrote to Burr in February stating “I am happy that there is a post established for the winter. I shall expect to hear from you every week. My ill health will not permit me to return your punctuality. You must be contented with hearing once a fortnight.”
If Aaron and Theodosia did keep to that schedule, the extant letters from February through November, from her and from him, would be only a very small portion of the total. Few though they are, they do give some insight into the interests that increasingly bound them together – an interest in discussing the ideas of leading thinkers of their time and thoughts touching on the meaning of life, their happiness and their future, as well as how to react to the negative opinions of others concerning their relationship. In May 1781 Theodosia wrote: Our being the subject of much inquiry, conjecture, and calumny, is no more than we ought to expect. My attention to you was ever pointed enough to attract the observation of those who visited the house. Your esteem more than compensated for the worst they could say. When I am sensible, I can make you and myself happy, will readily join you to suppress their malice. But till I am confident of this, I cannot think of our union. Till then I shall take shelter under the roof of my dear mother, whereby joining stock, we shall have sufficient to stem the torrent of adversity.
Burr Completed His Law Studies, Obtained His License, and Began His Law Practice
By fall 1781 Burr and Trout had completed the course of study in the law with Smith. The next task was to get these efforts approved in Albany by the three sitting Supreme Court justices who were empowered to issue the license needed to practice law in the state of New York. Burr had a major problem. Since colonial times there was a requirement that a candidate for the bar complete three years of an apprenticeship. Burr could claim barely one year. However, he pushed on. He moved up to Albany and petitioned the justices. Theodosia had some connections with one of them, Judge Hobart.
Burr used the argument of patriotism stating: Surely, no rule could be intended to have such retrospect as to injure one whose only misfortune is having sacrificed his time, his constitution, and his fortune, to his country.
Nevertheless, the judges delayed a decision for several months. Burr remained in Albany where he took up accommodation provided by one of the Van Rensselaer’s. While he was able to make a visit or two to Theodosia, their communications remained mostly by letter.
On December 30, 1781, Theodosia’s half-sister, Caty, wrote Burr from The Hermitage: “If you have not seen the York Gazette, the following account will be news to you; We hear from Jamaica that Lieutenant Col. Prevost, Major of the 60th foot, died at that place in October last.'” This information did not come as a great surprise to either Burr or to the people at The Hermitage, since it was known that James Marcus was seriously ill. While the news in the Gazette legally opened the way for Theodosia and Aaron to marry as seemed to be their intention, there was no decision to act quickly. Burr was still in Albany attempting to get the license necessary for him to begin a career that would bring him an income. Theodosia seemed hesitant. There was the fact that she was 35 and he was 25, and, despite Burr’s attractive characteristics, Theodosia had to weigh some of his less attractive traits. She arranged to spend time with relatives after the new year.
Then, in January 1782, the three New York Supreme Court justices agreed that time spent in the military would be taken into consideration in judging the preparation qualifications for admission to the bar. This practice in part was adopted because the judges realized that there would be a shortage of lawyers, following state legislation in November 1781 barring from practice all those who could not prove that they were supporters of the Revolution. Thus, Burr’s petition was finally accepted, he was examined, passed, and obtained his license as an attorney on January 19. He then immediately began his study for the next and highest rank in the profession, counselor-at-law. Burr attained this goal on April 17 when the court judged that he had “on examination been found of competent ability and learning.” He now was ready to set up his own law office. He decided to do so in Albany, since New York City was still occupied by the British.
The Double Wedding of Theodosia and Aaron and of Caty and Joseph at The Hermitage, July 2, 1782
While Burr was busy establishing his law office and practice in Albany through spring 1782, he got news that Theodosia’ half-sister Caty and her fiancé, Joseph Browne, a British-born medical doctor and rebel officer in the Pennsylvania line, had set July 2 as the date for their wedding at The Hermitage. Burr arrived there some time before the event. With very little preparation, Aaron and Theodosia decided it was an appropriate time for them to make a like decision and to act on it immediately. It was agreed that the July 2 event would be a double wedding. Thus, after Theodosia’s and Aaron’s friendship had extended over several years, their wedding took place with such short notice that Burr did not have time to get a new coat, Theodosia had to borrow gloves and other items, and they hardly had enough ready cash to pay the minister. They also did not have enough time to arrange for the banns of marriage, so they had to get Governor Livingston to issue them a special license for the wedding.
The marriage ceremonies were held at The Hermitage and were officiated by the Rev. Benjamin Van Der Linde (Leude). Theodosia’s and Aaron’s marriage certificate read: I do hereby certify that Aaron Burr of the State of N. York Esqr. and Theodosia Prevost of Bergen County, State of N. Jersey widow were by me joined in lawful wedlock on the second day of July instant. Given under my hand this sixth of July 1782. B’n Van Der Leude
There were a considerable number of people present including some members of the Suffern family. Theodosia spoke of many friends being present and that the abundance of food supplied by the Browns was all consumed. Both couples left The Hermitage wedding celebration shortly after it was over. The Burrs went to Albany, the place of Aaron’s beginning legal practice.
From Albany Theodosia wrote to Sally Reeves to tell her about the events of the marriage day. You had indeed, my dear Sally, reason to complain of my last scrawl. It was neither what you had a right to expect or what I wished. Caty’s journey was not determined on till we were on board the sloop. Many of our friends had accompanied us and were waiting to see us under sail. It was with difficulty I stole a moment to give my sister a superficial account. Caty promised to be more particular, but I fear she was not punctual. You asked Carlos the particulars of our wedding. They may be related in a few words. It was attended with two singular circumstances. The first is that it cost us nothing. Brown and Catty provided abundantly and we improved the opportunity. The fates led Burr on in his old coat. It was proper my gown should be of suitable gauze. Ribbons, gloves, etc. were favors from Caty. The second circumstance was that the parson’s fee took the only half joe Burr was master of. We partook of the good things as long as they lasted and then set out for Albany where the want of money is our only grievance. You know how far this affects me.
Governor William Livingston wrote “I have but a Moment’s Time to Congratulate you on the late happy Circumstance of your Marriage with the amiable Mrs. Prevost. Confident that the Object of your choice would ever meet Universal Esteem, I have waited impatiently to know on whom it would be placed. The Secret at length is revealed, and the tongue of malice dare not I think contaminate it. May Love be the time Piece in your mansion, and happiness its Minute Hand.”
Judge Hobart and Governor Clinton, both of New York, also sent congratulations to the newlyweds.
After the wedding Theodosia and Aaron settled in Albany, where he developed his law practice and they had a daughter, Theodosia. Following the Treaty of Paris concluding the Revolution and the consequent evacuation of British troops in late 1783, the Burrs moved to New York City. Here Aaron, as well as Alexander Hamilton, quickly became a leading lawyer and engaged successfully in politics. Burr was elected to the New York State Assembly in the 1780s and was named the United States Senator from New York in 1791.
Theodosia managed a succession of increasingly affluent homes in New York City as well as a summer residence in Westchester County near the Brownes and many of her Bartow and Pell relatives; oversaw Aaron’s law office when he was on his frequent legal business trips; and helped raise their daughter with Aaron aiming to make her a very highly educated young person. Husband and wife, in their correspondence, showed a marked concern for the rights of women. Theodosia’s illness (cancer), however, progressed, despite the efforts of the leading doctors in the young nation, and she died in 1794. Aaron Burr would go on to become the Vice President of the United States in 1800 and then lose his political future after a duel with Hamilton in 1804.
AT THE HERMITAGE, A VARIETY OF OWNERS, 1785-1807 - The Cuttings, the Bells and the Laroes
Ann De Visme Maintains The Hermitage, Burr Sells the Adjacent Prevost Property
In the years from 1785 to 1807 The Hermitage and its property had a succession of owners. Following her marriage to Aaron Burr in 1782, Theodosia saw to it that her brother-in-law, Joseph Browne, was named executor of the estate that she inherited from her deceased husband, James Marcus Prevost. It appears that James Marcus had been in debt for 470 pounds to Mrs. Anne Baldwin. Thus, it was arranged that Burr would buy the estate for 520 pounds which would more than cover the repayment of the debt. The transaction took place on May 15, 1785, and the witnesses were John Bartow Prevost, the son of Theodosia, John Cleves Symmes, and William Treason. The 36 acres owned by Ann DeVisme which included The Hermitage where she lived was not affected by this settlement. In 1785 Burr needed to obtain a loan which may have been necessitated to cover the cost of the Prevost property purchase. He held it for several years, and, then in 1789, he sold the 240 acres parcel to William Cutting, a New York lawyer with whom he had engaged in real estate ventures. The price is not known.
Meanwhile Ann De Visme continued to own The Hermitage and its surrounding acres. It is not known how long she resided there. However, by 1794 she was living in New York City, perhaps with one of her daughters. She had rented The Hermitage to William Bell who had married into the locally important Hopper family and was a leading local personage and county official. He was sheriff of Bergen County, 1792 to 1795, and was a militia captain. Then on June 14, 1794, he purchased the house and its 36 acres for 450 pounds. Ann De Visme is listed as the seller and Bartow and Frederick Prevost were the witnesses. In the same year Bell bought from Cutting the 240-acre former Prevost property for 981 pounds.
Masonic symbols on front of The Hermitage
William Bell was both a Methodist and a Mason. The local Methodist Church tradition holds that a small congregation first met in Bell=s house after 1794. Then in 1797, he sold 0.2 acres, probably with a building, to the congregation. They then refitted the building into a church. Some believe Bell also had masonic symbols carved into his Hermitage home, symbols that are still visible today. He was senior warden and treasurer of the Union Lodge in Bergen County.
In 1801 Bell sold The Hermitage, grist and sawmills and 8 acres to Peter Alyea for $1,625. In the following year Alyea sold the parcel to Cornelius Smith for $1,375. In 1803 Smith sold the same piece to James Laroe for $1,750. In 1804 Bell sold 93 and 151 acres to Laroe for $3,855. Thus, the properties were again brought back together. Laroe, was a member of a long resident French Huguenot family in the Paramus area and in other parts of Bergen County. Earlier Laroe was the wife of Johannes Traphagen the first owner of The Hermitage properties. James Laroe in these early years of the 19th century was a local innkeeper. In 1807 Laroe sold The Hermitage and 55 acres to Dr. Elijah Rosegrant for $2112. Laroe retained the mills.
THE ROSENCRANTZ FAMILY AND THE HERMITAGE – 1807-1970
Dr. Elijah Rosegrant (Rosencrantz) Bought The Hermitage in 1807
Elijah Rosegrant who bought The Hermitage in 1807 was a fourth generation American. His grandfather, Harmon Rosenkrantz, a member of a Dutch family engaged in fishing work in Bergen, Norway came to New Amsterdam around 1650. Here he married the widow, Magdalen Dircks in 1657, and together they moved north to the Hudson River village of Catskill. They had nine children, and by 1680 the family had moved some miles west to the Ulster County township of Rochester where they developed a pioneer farm. Their first son, Alexander, married Marietjen Dupuy, a French Huguenot, and together they had seven children. In 1731 this Rosencrantz family bought fertile frontier land in the Delaware River Valley near Walpack in Sussex County, New Jersey. Their son, John, Elijah’s father at age 21 was given a farm of over 500 acres.
John Rosencrantz became a community leader and a colonel in the Revolution. He and his wife Margaret De Witt, from an influential New York State family had 14 children and a few slaves. One of John and Margaret’s sons, Elijah, attended and in 1791 graduated from Queens College (Rutgers) in New Brunswick, the only one in his family to do so as far as is known. He, in some way became involved with Bergen County, and he would use as his family name, Rosegrant.
After graduation, Elijah decided to study theology and attained his license to be a minister and preach in the Dutch Reformed Church in 1894. He preached at the Paramus church but did not get a call. While he could have found employment as a traveling minister, he decided that he did not like that style of life and that it would not bring him an adequate income and stability. He then accepted a position as head of an academy in Bergen (Jersey City), for a year, following which he decided to train to be a physician, a profession in which he felt he could also serve people. After two years of study and apprenticeship, two New Jersey doctors examined him, and judged that he was qualified to practice as a physician and a surgeon. Two judges of the New Jersey Supreme Court in October 1799 issued his license to practice in the state of New Jersey.
The new doctor decided to reside and practice in Bergen County. Here, he at first lived with a younger brother, Simeon who had come there with his 19-year-old wife, Sarah Shoemaker, both from Walpack. Simeon would apprentice with Elijah and after 1807 would return to Sussex County as a physician. Before leaving, Simeon and Sarah had a son who in 1807 was christened in the Paramus Reformed Church. They would keep in touch with Elijah, and one of their sons, Charik, born in 1811 in Walpack, would marry Mary Ann Hopper of Ho-Ho-Kus. This new family would reside and raise their family there close to The Hermitage.
In 1803 Major William Bell who had been county sheriff and had lived in The Hermitage appointed Dr. Rosegrant as Surgeon Mate of the Bergen County Militia. This appointment was confirmed by New Jersey Governor Joseph Bloomfield. From 1804 forward Elijah began to borrow money to buy pieces of land, culminating with the purchase of The Hermitage from James Laroe on June 20, 1807. Laroe did not include the mill sites on the property but kept them for his own use.
Elijah Rosegrant Married Caroline Suffern from Leading Local Family
Just before his purchase of The Hermitage, Elijah married Cornelia Suffern, daughter of John Suffern, the leading figure in the area of New York (Rockland County) adjoining northern Bergen County. The wedding on June 14, 1807, was held in New Antrim (part of a patent earlier owned by James Marcus Prevost and which later came to be called Suffern) and the signed witnesses were Judge John Suffern, Simeon Rosencrans, John Hopper, Christian Wanamaker, and George Brinkerhoff. At the time of the marriage Elijah was 41 and Cornelia was 34.
Elijah Was a Country Doctor in Bergen County
Elijah was one of the relatively few physicians in Bergen County in the early decades of the 19th century. He cared for families, mostly through house visits to their farms or their homes in villages in the area surrounding Ho-Ho-Kus. Dr. Rosegrant treated people suffering from accidents, set bones, purged patients, gave medicines for fevers and delivered babies. For the latter, the charge was $2, larger than the charges for any of his other services. To reach his patients, Elijah had a gig and a brown horse which was also used for the family’s pleasure sleighing in the winter. Elijah ordered his medicines usually from New York City, and he made efforts to keep up with his profession. He bought books, and we have record of his ordering in 1826 a medical dictionary and Dr. Benjamin Rush’s version of Thomas Sydenham’s (the “British Hippocrate”) textbook on medicine. In 1818 Abram Hopper, 21, of Ho-Ho-Kus, after gaining an academic education in New York City, studied medicine with Dr. Rosegrant for a year. Hopper then began a practice in Hackensack. Also, in 1818 Elijah met with 11 other doctors in an unsuccessful effort to form a Bergen County medical association. An ongoing association was established only in 1854.
According to an account book of Dr. Elijah, in a one-year period (1830), he made 549 house visits to 110 local families. His income from these visits was $538. It is not certain that this was his entire income from his medical practice, but if it was it indicates the middling income and status of a country doctor at this time and indicates why Elijah became engaged in other revenue producing activities. Studies show that $538 would have been about equal to the income of a trade’s foreman. Thus, it was above the average of a wage-earning worker, but did not make one wealthy, comfortable or even “middle class.” But Elijah did search out other sources of income. He not only needed finances to take care of his house, family, and servants, but he did incur expenses in the education of his sons, particularly John who studied at least three years away from home, one year at an academy for classical studies and two years at Rutgers Medical College. At the latter the cost for lectures, books, board, and clothing was about $400 per year. Additionally, Elijah, at least to some extent, took part in the social life of his community. It was noted in an 1828 correspondence that he attended the Washington Ball at the Zabriskies.
Elijah also Farmed, Bought Land and Built a Cotton Mill
For one thing, Elijah continued working on a farm and a sawmill on The Hermitage property. He had several cows, some 20 fowl, a yoke of oxen, and produced a considerable amount of buckwheat, rye, hay, corn, and potatoes among other products. This endeavor would go far in feeding the household and probably provided produce for the market. He had a gun and went hunting. Elijah bought additional pieces of land for The Hermitage and then rented part of these out for added income. He also was drawn to gamble – he often bought lottery tickets – and he bought two 160-acre tracts of land in Illinois in 1818, one for $50, as a speculation. In 1828 he bought some land in Tioga County in upstate New York from a Suffern in-law and then sold it in 1830.
Then, after Elijah’s neighbor, James Laroe, had converted an old bark mill on the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook into a paper mill in 1826 and Andrew Zabriskie had built a cotton mill downstream, Elijah in 1828, acquired property between them with the thought of building a cotton mill. Even though Laroe had enlarged his mill and built a new mill race upstream from Rosencrantz in 1829, Elijah went ahead in the following year with the construction of a mill race of his own, a wheel pit and a cotton mill as rental property. This strained Elijah’s resources, because as son John noted in a letter to his brother George, “we cannot raise cash enough to pay the shoemaker bill.” Nevertheless, Elijah did succeed in finishing the mill by 1830, and in that year signed a 10-year lease with Abraham, Henry and Peter Prall to operate the mill as the firm of Prall and Brothers for $400 a year rent. They began operation around December 1830. In April 1831 a flood damaged the mill, it temporarily ceased operation, but was restarted by 1832.
As both Rosegrant and Laroe, together with others in Bergen Count, were enticed by the possibilities of economic gain through the just emerging industrial revolution, their endeavors brought them into conflict in the years between 1825 to 1830. Elijah brought Laroe to court over road obstructions and the changing of the direction of the flow of water in Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. Although he obtained the legal services of Philemon Dickerson, one of the top lawyers in New Jersey, the court judged that Laroe’s obstructions did not prevent Rosegrant from moving around his property nor deter his mill interests.
Elijah and Cornelia Rosegrant Family Life
Elijah and Cornelia, though married relatively late in life, had four children, all sons. This family, however, had a markedly smaller number of children than the families from which they came (14 and 12). The sons were John born in 1809, George Suffern in 1812, Elijah II in 1814 and Andrew in 1817. Andrew died young at age of 2 in 1819, not an unusual occurrence at this time, even in the family of a doctor. While the other boys received a classical type of education at home, John, for a short time, and George, for a longer period, were apprenticed to their second Cousin Tom Suffern who ran a retail store in New York City.
John, who seems to have been favored by the family, at least in terms of education, was enrolled in a classical academy, probably in New York City, and then at the Rutgers School of Medicine also in New York. This required an outlay of money from Elijah, not only for John’s tuition, but also for his room, board, and other expenses. The years were 1824-1827. For these years when John was in New York, there are several extant letters from Elijah to his son. They give us some idea of Elijah’s values. He constantly urged John to put sustained efforts into his study and to read. He thought highly of a classical education, and when this was no longer possible for John, he accepted a medical education as second best, but still valuable. While Elijah recognized the need for exercise and recreation for his son, he strongly warned that “bewitching frolics,” the pleasures of youth, the diversions of the city, and attractive company should not interfere with his primary task of study. In addition to learning from lectures and books, the father frequently reminded his son that knowledge of the world was indispensable to his becoming useful to himself and to society. John was to derive useful information from everything he saw and heard. Elijah approved of his son’s spending some time in dancing school, if it was proper, probably for its social utility. The father urged John to attend church, give respectful attention to religious instruction, express no critical ideas or opinions, refrain from arguing on religious subjects, but reserve to himself the right of private opinion. At church he could meet good company and observe good manners. Elijah encouraged John to respect others, his equals, and his superiors. The cardinal virtues that Elijah urged on his son were honesty, justice, temperance, and prudence.
Another concern of Elijah was the countering of the prevalent focus of many in the country on “ghosts, specters and hob goblins.” In a statement “If the Hangings Flutter” in 1828, he gave examples of current “supernatural” beliefs and judged them as absurdities. He put the blame primarily on persons of the lower classes and from poor early education. “Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree inclined.”
We do not know much about Elijah’s wife, Cornelia, but she did have three sons to raise and a household to run. She had help from servants. In the letters from Elijah to John, there is mention that Cornelia did get to Paterson, but a promised trip to visit her sons in New York City was continually postponed. She seemed increasingly unwilling to leave her home.
African Americans at The Hermitage
For most of one hundred years, African Americans contributed significantly to life at The Hermitage. They did much of the physical farm labor and domestic work here. Usually in small numbers, one to four, of related persons, a husband and a wife or a mother and a daughter or a son, they planted and harvested crops, took care of animals, worked the saw and grain mills, were masons, were butlers, cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, and helped care for children. These African Americans, as slaves, were key to the economy of the Prevost’s “Gentleman’s Farm” before and during the Revolution and perhaps also earlier for the Lane family in the 1760s. Even in involuntary servitude, at least some of these slaves were able to exercise some independence as indicated by an ad in 1774 when a slave husband, Mark, and his wife ran away from The Hermitage. Still during the Revolution, when Theodosia Prevost had the opportunity to travel to New York City under a white flag, she did so with a man servant, probably an African American slave. In the latter years of the Revolution, as the friendship between Theodosia and Aaron Burr developed, Burr’s personal slave Carlos was often at The Hermitage.
Elijah Rosegrant came from a slave owning family in Sussex County and his wife Caroline from a slave owning family in New Antrim, and Bergen County into which they moved had the highest percentage of African Americans and of slaves of any county in New Jersey in the first years of the 19th century. Further, in Hoppertown, many members of the dominant and extended Hopper family had slaves in their households. Thus, it was not unexpected that Elijah decided to acquire slaves after he bought The Hermitage in 1807. This was after gradual emancipation had become law in New Jersey in 1804, despite the opposition of many of the slaveholders in Bergen County. The New Jersey legislation did not free those who already were slaves, but only those born after the passage of the 1804 law, and then only after they became adults. In 1808 Elijah and his wife Caroline were witnesses to the purchase of a 16-year-old slave boy, Tom, by Elijah’s brother Levi Rosencrantz of Sussex County from Henry Van Emburgh for a sum of $250. In the same year Elijah himself bought, Gin, an adult African American woman slave and her young son Ceasar from Elsie Hopper for $175. Since Gin was born before the gradual emancipation act, Elijah could continue to hold her as a slave. However, Caesar, aged 3, born after the act, would become free at age 25. In 1810 Elijah, as did other slave holders in New Jersey, arranged for Caesar to be accepted as a ward of the local Overseers of the Poor, one of whom was Henry Hopper, who then in turn indentured Caesar to Elijah with an annual sum for his care. The indictment required Elijah to provide Caesar with food, clothing, learning to read and write, and farm or other skills and in return he could utilize his labor until he was 25. However, Elijah in 1811 bound Caesar to Garret Zabrieski, a carpenter in Harrington. Meanwhile, Gin, Elijah’s female slave, had at least three births. It is not clear if the father was a male slave acquired by Elijah or perhaps one who was owned by the Hoppers or some other neighbor. In July 1808 Gin had Harry and in November 1810 Gin gave birth to Jack. Then in 1813 she had Phebe. Elijah also sold a Negro boy to his brother Levi in 1810.
By 1830 Elijah Rosencrantz no longer had slaves. The African Americans in his household were listed by the census of that year as “‘Free’ colored persons: 3 males, 24-36, 10-24, under 10; 1 female 24-36.” Elijah II, aged 13 writing to his brother John, aged 17 in 1827 stated: “Harry says he has blacked your boots so often for nothing that you could afford to buy him a pair second hand, Harry also says that you must not forget his flute.” Then in 1832 Elijah wrote: “Harry and I are building a house. I had to do all the ploughing and Harry had to do all the mason.” Harry was then 24 years of age.
According to the census Gin was no longer at The Hermitage in 1830. During the 1820s Silva (Sill) became a member of the household. In late 1826 she had a son. In 1840 the census listed 1 male 10-14 and 1 female 24-36 African Americans at The Hermitage. The census ten years later listed “Silva Rosencrant, black, 40, born N.J., illiterate” and “Pompey A. Rosencrant – black, 22, laborer, born N.J., illiterate.” Sylvia was listed in 1860 as “50, black, servant, born N.J.” She was the last African American recorded as a member of The Hermitage household. It is evident that for the Rosencrantz family African Americans contributed importantly to the running of the household and the agricultural activities through more than half a century at The Hermitage.
Additionally, it was noted in the 1850 census that in the neighboring household of Henry and Charity Hopper there resided also a Rosencrantz relative, Charick Rosencrantz with his wife Marianne, both age 35 and African Americans workers with the Rosencrantz name; Jane Rosengrant (black female 18), Thomas (black male 24), Benjamin (black male 22), Susan (black female 14), and John (black male 2).
Further, at least two African Americans were in the Rosencrantz mill workforce in the 1850s, Nancy Kipp and Anne Johnson, both of whom lived nearby. Anne’s daughter Fanny would work as a laundry lady for the Rosencrantz family in the 1890s. There may have been other African Americans in the area who did non-live-in work at The Hermitage in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Elijah Died in 1832
In 1831 Elijah began to suffer from poor health and then died in 1832. He left a will, showing an inventory of his assets, mostly related to farm equipment and produce, as well as the cotton mill, but not including the value of the house, outbuildings, and land. It equaled $1,048 in the value of the day. In the will, Elijah directed that $500 in income from rent be set aside for the payment of all his debts. He designated 1/3 of the property for Cornelia together with $100 a year from the mill rent for the rest of her life or widowhood. John and George received land. Elijah received the house, mill, barn, outbuildings, and orchard and Cornelia’s share when she died.
Elijah Rosegrant was a man of the new United States. While he held on to many traditional values in terms of religion and service, he like other young men in this early national period who was open to multiple new possibilities. He was the first in his family to go to college, he moved from his agrarian background, the background of most Americans at this time, into the professions, first as a minister and then as a doctor. He married into an entrepreneurial family some of whose members were in commercial and new emerging industrial enterprises. Elijah would stack out an interest in this nascent industrialism by establishing a cotton warp mill. He also invested, if on a limited scale, in western land as the nation expanded beyond the Alleghenies. He was a leading personage in his community, had strongly held moral values, was practiced in rational thought, believed in “bourgeois” respectability, and engaged in litigation to protect what he thought were his rights. In opening himself to the new America, he provided a model and incentives for his sons to enter Americas growing industrial and commercial life. In the process he firmly established the Rosencrantz family at The Hermitage.
THE ROSENCRANTZ FAMILY AND THE HERMITAGE – 1807-1970
The Second Rosencrantz Generation – Four Sons
Three of the four sons of Elijah and Cornelia lived to be adults, John born in 1809, George Suffern in 1812, and Elijah II in 1814. They received some aspects of a classical education, some at home and some in schools. Their later letters show some knowledge of Greek mythology and other classical and literary subjects. Careerwise the three sons moved in quite different directions. However, the spirit of entrepreneurship and particularly, as with their father in his last years, the new rapidly growing industrialism, captured the imagination and energies of at least two of them. They exhibited flexibility in adapting to new opportunities afoot in the first half of the 19th century. This is a family that, while continuing some farming on their property, had moved in their main career goals markedly from the agrarian roots of their American forebears.
George Rosencrantz, 1812-1864
George, the second son, while having received some education early at home, went to work in 1827 at age 15 in the New York City retail establishment of his second cousin, Tom Suffern. He took up residence in a nearby boarding house on Cedar Street. George was thus employed into the early 1830s. He, however, developed a strong military interest – another Suffern cousin attended West Point – and enlisted in the first regiment of the New York Horse Artillery. He seems to have remained in the military for three years, during which time he transferred to the 59th Brigade of the New York State infantry. George seems to have left under some cloud, since he was court-martialed in 1838 and fined $14.75.
By 1839 George was working for the firm of Crook and Watts. A letter from a friend in 1840 stated: “I rejoice to hear you yield no more to temptation.” Shortly thereafter George seems to have replaced Crook and became a partner in his firm which was then named Rosencrantz and Watts. This firm bought and sold cotton.
Sometime later in the 1840s, George left New York for Philadelphia where he worked as a bookkeeper for his brother John and for John’s wife’s brother-in-law, J. Q. Adams. At some time, probably in the 1850s, George again was having problems. He overdrew money from Adam’s account ($150), was absent from work about half the time, and was found to not be in a condition to attend to business (illness? drink?) By 1860 George is back in Ho-Ho-Kus. He lived near The Hermitage, continued to be a bookkeeper, and had a live-in African American servant. George who never married, became ill and died in 1864 at the age of 52.
John Rosencrantz, 1809-1883
Earlier than George, John, at age 15, had gone to work for Tom Suffern in New York City. But shortly thereafter he was enrolled in an academy for classical studies, probably in New York, in 1824-1825. He pursued Latin, Greek, French, geography, and history. However, whether due to financial problems at home or through his own inclinations, John in 1826 changed his studies to the applied field of medicine. Elijah wrote: “I have met with no disappointment in the course of my life which has hurt me so terribly and acutely as that which compels me to give up the idea of giving you a liberal education.” John seemed to be much less disappointed by the change. He wrote to a friend: “I soon intend to quite Xenophon and go to study physick.”
John decided to study with his friend and neighbor, Garret Terhune, with a faculty that had just formed a new medical school in New York City that arranged to offer its degrees through Rutgers College. He may have returned for a second year, but there are no surviving letters from that time.
When John returned home, it is presumed that he apprenticed with his father. In 1830 the Board of Trustees of Rutgers College conferred upon John Rosencrantz “the degree of Doctor of Medicine.” In that same year John took his father’s place as the physician for the Bergen County Militia, but it is not clear to what extent John practiced medicine in Ho-Ho-Kus.
John Rosencrantz got very caught up in growing industrialism and focused his attention on the cotton warp mill built by his father. By 1834 the Prall brothers seem to have become willing to cease running that mill and to sell their interest in it. In that year John borrowed the capital necessary to buy the Prall Brothers machinery so that he himself could run the cotton warp mill. He began the spinning operation on July 7, 1834, with 22 people working at carding, spinning on throstles, and ruling. In 1836 the mill had 888 spindles, producing 1000 pounds of yarn a week for a net income of $98. John gave thought, but not action, to adding weaving looms at the mill. He also involved his younger brother, Elijah II in the mill.
John and Elijah II were part of the rapidly emerging industrial activities in the eastern part of the United States. Not only was nearby Paterson one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution in this country, but mechanized workplaces and factories were developing in Newark, New York City, Philadelphia and through much of New England. Concomitantly this new economic activity spurred on the building of mills along suitable rivers and streams in rural areas outside of the cities. In rural Bergen County by 1834 there were 16 cotton factories, 5 woolen factories, 10 carding machines and 4 fulling mills for making clothing. In addition, Mother Caroline, a Suffern, brought with her the knowledge of and contact with industrial entrepreneurship in her family practiced not far away across the New York State border in Rockland County. Caroline’s father, John Suffern, after the Revolution established a wool factory, built a forge, and erected a rolling mill and nail factory. His son, John, the Rosencrantz young men’s uncle continued to run the rolling mill and nail factory.
John Rosencrantz’s position now as a leading businessman in New Prospect (Ho-Ho-Kus) enabled him to gain the position of local postmaster in 1835. He probably ran the post office out of The Hermitage. However, the cotton mill also brought John into contact with a wider world beyond New Prospect. The raw material for the mill, bales of cotton from the South, came primarily through cotton merchants in New York City. In seeking markets for the manufactured cotton warp from his mill, he found buyers in Philadelphia. Here he encountered Joseph Ripka and his family.
By the mid-1830s, Joseph Ripka, an immigrant weaver from Silesia who had arrived in Philadelphia in 1816 was well on his way to becoming the leading textile manufacturer in that city with several factories and more than 500 workers. His largest mills were in Manayunk in the western part of Philadelphia. Around 1823 Ripka married Kate Geiger of Germantown and together they had five sons and four daughters.
While details have not been found on how it happened, John Rosencrantz not only became involved with the Ripka’s in terms of business, but impressed the family and particularly his daughter, Cornelia, whom he married in September 1838. He was 29 and she was in her teens. The young couple had a daughter, Mary, in September 1839, but she died at a young age.
John Rosencrantz, thus, entered a highly successful entrepreneurial family, became manager of a large Ripka mill, and settled in Manayunk. He became highly knowledgeable about the most advanced developments in textile production which he shared to some extent with his brother Elijah who took over The Hermitage cotton warp mill.
John attained a degree of affluence, but the cost was high. Joseph Ripka’s factories grew in capitalization to nearing $490,000 by 1850 and his number of workers came at times to exceed one thousand. The self-made owner was hard driving on himself and on his workers. There were 13-hour days and low pay. Already in 1839 John Rosencrantz was writing to his brother Elijah about unrest among the workers. In 1848 another reduction of workers’ wages resulted in worker resentment, protests, and the setting on fire of John’s “big mill” with much damage. It was restored, but in the 1850s the Ripka mills were headed for even greater problems as they became increasingly dependent on the South not only for their raw material, but also as the major market for their finished goods.
Elijah II Inherited The Hermitage, Ran the Cotton Mill and Was a Postmaster
With George Rosencrantz in New York City and John Rosencrantz in Philadelphia, it was brother Elijah who remained at The Hermitage with his mother Caroline. She would reside there until her death in 1859. After the death of her husband, Elijah I, in 1832, Caroline, already noted for a reluctance in the latter 1820s to leave her home, showed increased signs of melancholy and perhaps depression. In February 1834 Elijah wrote his brother George then in New York stating that “ma…had got so much in the habit of staying home that it is with the most extreme difficulty we can get her outside the door.” There is extant a book into which she copied poems that she wished to record and keep. They dealt mainly with loss, loneliness, and death.
By 1838, when he was 24 years of age, Elijah II oversaw the Rosencrantz cotton warp mill. It is not clear how much schooling he received. From his correspondence it appears that he had some classical education, perhaps at home. With his father’s funds going into dam and mill construction, starting in 1828 when Elijah was 14 and then with his father’s illness and death by time Elijah was 18, it appears that there was little money available for a boarding school education (but this is not certain). By 1834 Elijah at age 20 was involved with his brother John in running the cotton mill. Elijah had no schooling for managing a mill. He gained knowledge by observation in working with his brother who was also learning, by trial and error, by contact with other mill owners in his area, by letters from his brother after 1838, and perhaps by some reading – a situation faced by most entrepreneurs in these early years of the industrial revolution in the United States. In 1840 there were in Elijah’s own Franklin Township (within which Hohokus was a village) six cotton manufactories and five paper mills. In the correspondence between the brothers there was advice, criticism, and discussion. In 1841 John complained about the yarn that Elijah’s was sending to the Manayunk mills. He wrote: “If you become familiar with the machinery you cannot fail to make a manufacturer.” In July 1848 Elijah wrote: “We can’t get warpers from Paterson, and in most cases have to learn them.”
As owner Elijah had to recruit, train, and manage the workers at his mill. They ranged between 20 and 40 people. From a ledger entry on one payday in 1850 thirty-one workers were listed. Marion Brown found most of these workers listed in the 1850 manuscript census. They seem for the most part to have been neighbors of Elijah Rosencrantz. They were within walking distance of the mill. Seventeen were male and fourteen were female. Some, including a couple of women, were the heads of households, but most lived with their farm or craftsmen (carpenter) families. There was child labor. Five workers were 14 years of age or younger – at least two had a mother, without a father in the family. Among the women workers, ages ranged from 12 and 13 to 24 with about half being teenagers. The range for the men was greater, from 8 and 9 to 20, 33, 46, 49, 58, 60, and 62, but with no teenagers. All the workers were born in New Jersey. More than half had English family names, while others had Dutch, German, and Irish names. The Rosencrantz mill provided a limited number of families and two-family tenant housing for a portion of its workforce. The laborers worked 6 days a week and 12 hours a day subjected to much noise from the machinery and with much cotton dust in the air. The only days off other than Sunday, but unpaid, were Christmas and the Fourth of July. Work was suspended, again without pay, when the water was too low or there was a lack of orders. As far as we know there were no labor protests at the Rosencrantz mill comparable to those at the Ripka factories in Philadelphia. This was probably because the mill in Ho-Ho-Kus was smaller, the workforce for the most part was made up of neighbors, and most of the workers could depend on families for extra work and/or support on farms or in crafts.
Despite his lack of training and some inadequacies in the running of his mill, Elijah seems to have established a going business, one that survived the national economic downturn of the late 1830s. In fact, his cotton mill, as did the Ripka enterprise and other textile manufacturers, seems to have experienced prosperity in the 1840s. The capitalist business cycles of growing production and prosperity followed by overproduction, a decline in demand and a depression would impact on the Rosencrantz mill and family.
Elijah was able to obtain raw cotton through merchants in New York City that included his brother’s firm of Rosencrantz and Watts. He also associated with New York cotton merchant Samuel Dayton. Equally important, Elijah had a reliable market for his finished warp in Philadelphia through his brother John’s connection to the Ripka mills.
The cotton mill became the main source of income for the Rosencrantz family and of their position as an upper middle-class family through most of the remainder of the 19th century. For a time, Elijah supplemented his income by taking over from his brother John as the postmaster of New Prosepct and by continuing agricultural activities at The Hermitage. Through the 1840s Elijah and his mother had two black servants, Silva, and Pompey Rosencrantz.
In 1840s Elijah Had the Hermitage Reconstructed into a Gothic Revival Style Home
One sign of Elijah’s prosperity in the1840s was his decision around 1846 to enlarge and reconstruct The Hermitage, which had not had a major remodeling in the more than 80 years that it had served as a home. A more imposing home would mark not only Elijah’s success as a new industrial entrepreneur, but also establish his growing status in his community and in his area of Bergen County. It has also been conjectured that a newly rebuilt and enlarged home would enable Elijah to attract a bride from a well-established family.
Elijah chose to engage not just a builder, but a professional architect for the reconstruction of his home. He was fortunate in that he had come to know William Ranlett, who had come to the New York/New Jersey area from Maine and had met and married, in 1833, Adeline Sexton who lived near the Rosencrantzes in Bergen County. Ranlett had established an office in New York City. He had designed houses in Manhattan through the 1840s and had gained a degree of renown through his publication The Architect.
While Ranlett offered his clients a variety of domestic architectural styles, he and Elijah agreed on Gothic Revival for the remodeling of The Hermitage. It was a style that was being advocated in the writings and work of the landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing of Newburg and of New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis and which was coming into vogue in the northeast and particularly in the Hudson River Valley region. The choice of Gothic Revival would mark Elijah as adventuresome, a member of the avant garde, a man of taste, a person of substance. The reconstruction of The Hermitage announced Elijah’s love of place and attachment to his local area. While the Gothic Revival style with its large ground floor windows and porches opened the home to surrounding nature, its innovative modern conveniences; running water, indoor plumbing and central heating made for increased comfort.
The Hermitage as remodeled by 1848 would remain largely unchanged through the Rosencrantz years down to 1970 and beyond that to the present. It remains for us today an outstanding, nationally recognized example of Gothic Revival architecture.
For Elijah, the cost of his reconstructed Hermitage stretched his finances and only gradually was he able to fully furnish the enlarged home. Through the years Elijah and his family remained friends with William Ranlett and his family, who after several years of work in San Francisco, would return east and settle in Bergen County.
In 1848 the Paterson and Ramapo Railroad Was Built Adjacent to The Hermitage Property
While Elijah Rosencrantz was engaged in the reconstruction of The Hermitage, there developed the prospect of a railroad being built to and through Hohokus. The financiers supporting the proposed Paterson and Ramapo Railroad were primarily interested in connecting two of America’s earliest roads, the Paterson and Hudson completed in 1832 and the Erie which reached from Piermont to New Antrim (Suffern) by 1841 and across New York State to Lake Erie by 1851. By the latter date it was the longest railroad in the world. In planning the connection leading from Paterson to the Erie at New Antrim the builders wanted to tap businesses along this connecting road. In an 1847 map showing the prospective route for the Paterson and Ramapo, the planners indicated the location of local factories that might be served, including the Rosencrantz mill and others on the Hohokus Brook. This single-track railroad was completed in 1848.
For a mill owner like Elijah Rosencrantz a railroad would greatly improve transportation essential to his business. Before the arrival of the railroad, cotton bales were brought from New York City to Hohokus by boat and horse and wagon and the finished warp was taken to Philadelphia in the same way. The railroad with a stop near the Rosencrantz mill in Hohokus would greatly facilitate and speed up access to raw materials and to markets. Elijah could not but be excited about the possibilities for increased business and more rapid and comfortable personal access to Paterson and New York City. He thus willingly made land available for the railroad right of way through his property.
The prospects of improved transportation seem to have contributed to Elijah’s decision to join with Mathew Dunlap in planning in 1848 the establishment of a new paper mill on Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. In January of 1849 they ordered a paper making machine from Worcester, Massachusetts for $1,800. The mill went into operation later that year, even though Elijah reported to his brother John that his finances were overextended due to this mill venture and his reconstructed house.
Thus, Elijah exemplified entrepreneurs in industrializing America who were being incorporated more fully, if incrementally, into a regional and even national economy through increasingly technologized infrastructures controlled by heavily capitalized corporations. The railroad aided the Rosencrantz cotton mill business, and his agricultural output. Already in 1848, we hear about strawberry production at The Hermitage. The new railroad opened quick access to growing urban markets and strawberry output increased all along its line. By the 1850s Bergen County produced more strawberries than any other county in the country. While the railroad provided positive benefits, there would be costs and liabilities. Complaints from Eliljah Rosencrantz came early, by August 1849, when he had difficulty in getting the Paterson and Ramapo railroad company to clear debris from construction that had fallen into the Hohokus Brook, and which interfered to some extent with the flow of the water and its use by the mills.
The building of a new railroad and the reconstruction of The Hermitage drew special attention to Hohokus among friends and acquaintances of Elijah Rosencrantz, even ones living in New York City. One of these was the cotton merchant Captain Samuel Dayton. Dayton came to visit Hohokus, and then liking the area he decided to summer there in the late 1840s. He stayed at the Tolles House near the Hohokus railroad station. This was a time when an increasing number of affluent New Yorkers began to seek relief from the noisy, noisome, crowded city, especially in the heat of summer, by spending time in natural countryside areas outside of downtown. And then like some others from the city, Dayton changed from being a summer renter to acquiring a place of his own in the country. He was listed in 1850 as having a residence in Franklin Township with an Irish born worker and a black male child on the property. Additionally, in January 1850, Dayton bought land adjoining The Hermitage that had belonged to Samuel Coe.
Elijah Courted and Married Cornelia “Killie” Dayton
Through an exchange of visits in Bergen County and New York City, Elijah by 1850 came to know and be attracted to Dayton’s granddaughter, Cornelia Dayton. He was a bachelor of 36 and she was 18. In addition to personal attraction, Elijah found in Cornelia who became known as Killie, a young woman from a cosmopolitan family of some affluence, some renown, and a long-established heritage. He grandfather, for one, was a successful businessman. Her father’s and grandfather’s Dayton family reached back to 17th century Boston. Killie’s mother, Cornelia Street Dayton, had a heritage through her father’s family that also reached back to 17th century Boston and through her mother’s Billings family to the powerful colonial families of Robert Livingston and Philip Schuyler. Cornelia Street Dayton ethnically was English, Dutch and German. Her brother, Killie’s uncle, Alfred Billings Street, was a lawyer; a published poet and writer of books on history and nature in New York State; the editor of Northern Lights, a literary journal in the1840s; and was named the Director of the New York State Library in Albany in 1848. For Killie, Elijah was a successful entrepreneur who had just rebuilt and enlarged his country residence in a manner that showed him to be a man of substance and taste and to be forward-looking.
While there seems to be no doubt that the young Killie assented to a developing courtship with Elijah, she, in her correspondence with him, indicated an independence of spirit. For one thing she called into question, humorously or perhaps not, the need in marriage for a woman to obey her husband. However, 1850 proved to be a very difficult year for both Elijah and for Killie. In July 1850 Elijah had to face another challenge to entrepreneurs other than downturns in the national business cycle when his cotton warp mill was destroyed (either by flooding or by fire). This came at a time when Elijah’s finances were already low. However, John urged Elijah to rebuild. In October he agreed and set in motion plans to erect a brick mill building. By spring 1851 the new mill was under construction, and it was back in operation by fall of that year.
For Killie she had to face the death of her father who passed away in August 1850 at age 44. Then in October she, with three sisters, lost one, Mary Elizabeth, in October. Mary had just been married in March in Trinity Church in New York City. She was 21 years of age. A cousin of Killie, Emma, writing to Elijah talked about the light-hearted and wild roving Killie as now less mirthful and happy with the loss of her father and dear sister. Emma was sure that Killie’s happiness would be restored with time, when she would be “newly fixed in the new home.”
This did happen as the courtship culminated in the marriage of Elijah and Killie on June 3, 1851. Thus, were joined two well-established families. This happy event may well be considered one of the high points in the history of Rosencrantz’s long years at The Hermitage.
One economic benefit of the marriage for Elijah was that in December 1851 he was able to obtain a loan of $3,400 from Samuel Dayton. This seems to have enabled Elijah to help pay some of the costs of rebuilding the cotton mill and buy out Mathew Dunlap’s interest in the paper mill for $500. It does not seem that the paper mill prospered, but the cotton mill continued to provide the bulk of the Rosencrantz family income. With this income and perhaps also part of the Dayton loan, Elijah and Killie were able to furnish The Hermitage and begin raising a family. They soon had three children, William Dayton born in 1852, John in 1853 and Mary Elizabeth in 1855. Mary Elizabeth was the first Rosencrantz girl born at The Hermitage. Killie also contributed to a shift in the cultural milieu in the family. She subscribed to Godey’s Lady Book, which focused on fashion and on Victorian women’s values. While, from evidence in the existing Rosencrantz library, the books that were preserved from the first half of the 19th century were bibles and devotional reading, those from mid-century were increasingly books of history and some fiction. In 1858 Samuel Dayton made a gift to Elijah and Killie of the land adjacent to The Hermitage that he had bought from Samuel Coe. The Hermitage property then totaled approximately 200 acres and extended south along and west across the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook from the homestead.
In the decade of the 1850s Killie and Elijah, as did others in Bergen County, made changes among the servants at The Hermitage that reflected the growing importance of immigration in the United States. By 1860 only one African American, Sylvia, now 50, remained at The Hermitage, but two immigrants had been added, Janie Cox, 35, a nurse, born in England, who was the nanny and would be with the family for 35 years and Eliza, also 35, born in Ireland, who was the cook.
The Daytons and Rosencrantz Were Involved in Ridgewood Becoming a Railroad Suburb
Meanwhile, Samuel Dayton, in 1853, bought a large section of land from the Van Emburgh estate, located just to the south of Hohokus. Not only did Dayton like the area, but as a good businessman he saw that with the arrival of the new railroad, real estate in land close to this new means of transportation would grow in value. He became the first developer in the village of Godwinville, which was soon afterwards to be renamed Ridgewood. At first, he attracted the families of his grandchildren, the Robinsons and the Graydons who were to become leaders in the area, and also Killie’s mother Cornelia who is credited with suggesting the name of Ridgewood. Later, lots were sold to other buyers, mostly from New York City, people who wanted to escape from the rapidly growing cities and live in the countryside, while still employed in the city. The Robinson and Graydon men and Dayton himself among other new residents of Ridgewood were commuters to New York. They helped to make Ridgewood into an early railroad suburb in which, fanning out from the stationhouse, not only new homes were developed, but also new stores, hotels, institutions, and activities. In at least some of these activities, some older residents of the area, like the Rosencrantzs joined with the newcomers in creating this new suburb. Ridgewood, and to some extent Ho-Ho-Kus, would be two among a growing number of such relatively affluent settlements that would spring up around stations on railroad lines leading mostly north and west in northern New Jersey from terminals in Hudson County (which was separated from Bergen County in 1840), a ferry ride across the Hudson from New York City. These suburbs would be forerunners of a much more extensive suburban growth that would come to change and dominate New Jersey over the next century and a half.
The Coming of the Civil War, the Rosencrantz Family, and the Home Front in Bergen County during the War
The relatively good economic conditions of the early and mid-1850s came to a sudden halt in the panic of 1857 which resulted in many business failures and high unemployment. The textile industry was hard-hit. The Ripka enterprises in Philadelphia were badly hurt, and Elijah Rosencrantz suffered a sharp cutback in his business and serious consequent fiscal problems. Already through the 1850s Joseph Ripka had been placing his sons as they reached their 20s and a nephew in top positions in his firm. The situation with John Rosencrantz is not clear. However, by 1858 he no longer is running one of the Manayunk mills. Instead, he was actively engaged in 1859 in establishing a cotton mill in Alexandria, Virginia, either in behalf of the Ripka operations or with other sources of capital.
John brought workers and their families to Alexandria from Philadelphia. This move seems to have manifested an optimism that belied the reality of the growing rift between the North and the South by this time. Antagonism between the sections had increased in the struggle between the slave and non-slave states for control of territories in the west, much of which had been forcibly taken from Mexico. At stake between the North and the South was domination of the federal government. The words and actions of northern abolitionists excited southern fears and psychologically deepened the gulf between the two sections of the union.
A letter from John Rosencrantz from Alexandria to Elijah in December 8, 1859 stated: The North as a body are the neighbors and friends and brothers of the South – but you cannot make the people believe it. Why do not the conservative people of the North get up and denounce this abolition foray and let the people here see that they are no mere supine spectators of such movements as this John Brown… who would burn our houses and murder us all to carry out his …universal emancipation.
This letter assumed a sympathetic response to its message by Elijah. The Rosencrantzes had strong connections with the south through their cotton manufacturing businesses, both in terms of it being the source of their raw material and of it being a market for finished textile products. They did not want the north to antagonize the south and give them a reason to secede from the union or engage in war. This letter indicated that the Rosencrantzes, among many others in the north, were not supporters of universal emancipation, and, in particular, they did not think that this cause was worth a war or a breakup of the union. Peace was vital in terms of their business interests and undoubtedly in what they thought was for the good of the country. At the same time a distant relative, W. S. Rosencrantz, a West Point graduate, was preparing to take a most active part in the coming conflict and would be an important general for the union side in the Civil War. This war, like the Revolutionary War, divided families.
Then in November 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president, the first Republican president, and the first president elected with electoral college votes from only one section of the country, the north. While Lincoln lost the state of New Jersey by 4,500 votes with 49% of the total, he lost Bergen County by a wider margin. There he received 1,455 votes to 2,112 for Breckenridge. In Bergen County the Rosencrantz family was with the majority who favored states’ rights and peace.
In December, South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed by several other states from the deep south. Following his inauguration on March 4, 1861, Lincoln ordered reinforcements for the federal Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. On April 12 the new Confederate States bombarded this fort and two days later the union forces there surrendered. On April 17 the Virginia state convention voted to secede. Two days later John Rosencrantz wrote from Alexandria: The temperature of the Southern people is fiendish just now. All the young men are military. The Southern people are as brave as any in the world, and they believe they can beat the world in arms… I am so full of these troubles in addition to our other hardships that sometimes I feel I must seem demented.
John held that the only way to avoid all-out war was a “full, natural separation” of the Northern and Southern states. He expressed the fear that Alexandria might be during a battle between “contending armies.” He noted that the women workers and the wives were packing to return to Philadelphia. The men stayed on and for a time the mill continued to operate. John was without his wife but had “the negro servants.”
Not long afterwards, John Rosencrantz felt it necessary to close his cotton mill in Alexandria. Then, cut off from its southern cotton source and its southern market, the large Ripka firm went into bankruptcy. John decided to stay in Alexandria, where he obtained limited employment with the United States Commissary Department and where he opened a medical practice. His association with hospital personnel led to his being put in charge of a hospital by 1864.
In Bergen County, while there was a large number of Peace Democrats often called Copperheads, there was also much enthusiastic support for the union cause. Shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, there was a large union rally in Hohokus on April 22.
Albert Terhune wrote: The manufacturing firms of White, Rosencrantz, Zabriskie, Terhune and Marinus, located along the Hohokus Creek had a great number of male employees who worked in their factories. All who were able to carry a torch, chopping ax, beatle and wedge, and a twelve-foot chestnut rail on his right shoulder were considered eligible to be drafted into the service of parading.
At this pro-union rally in Hohokus it was:
- Resolved that for the defense and maintenance of our country and its institutions we are prepared, if need be, to sacrifice our wealth, shed our blood and lay down our lives.
- Resolved that Bergen County will stand by our national banner, in the eventful crisis, and those who go out from among us to the tented field to uphold that sacred banner merit and will receive our warmest sympathy and aid.
At the Paramus Dutch Reformed Church, the pastor, Rev. E. T. Corwin, hung a union flag from the church steeple. Some members of the congregation demanded that the flag be taken down. Elijah Rosencrantz may have been among them. However, architect William Randall, a friend of Elijah, organized some 25 men to protect the flag. The Reverend Corwin stated: “I told you our flag should wave above us until the war is over. I have twenty-five men who will help me protect it. The first man who touches that flag to tear it down will be shot.” The political differences between Corwin and Elijah Rosencrantz would be a contributing factor to the latter’s leaving the Paramus church and the denomination in which his father for a time was a minister.
On July 22, 1861, Congress approved a Bergen County Regiment, the 22nd Regiment. On the same day a Woodbridge Hudson wrote to Elijah: “The news from Virginia is so discouraging today that I have no heart to write anything more. The U.S. army is reported to be in full retreat on Washington.”
In September 1862 the Bergen County Regiment with 939 men left for 9 months of service. Some left from the station at Hohokus. These men did not see battlefield action, but 24 died as non-combatants. There was great rejoicing on the return of the Bergen County soldiers.
While there were volunteers from Bergen County and people here who strongly supported the war, copperhead sympathies remained strong and almost only copperhead candidates were elected to the state legislature from Bergen from 1861 to the end of the war. At a copperhead meeting in Paramus in November 1863 strong attacks were made on Lincoln and on Democrats who supported the war. They described supporters of the war as having a “white man’s face on the body of a negro.” After a national draft was voted in 1863, the conscription call went out to 618 men from Bergen. The county freeholders voted for exemptions for all draftees in the county by providing $300 for substitutes elsewhere in the union for each of the drafted county men.
While the Rosencrantz boys were spared the dangers of the battlefield by age and perhaps also by family sympathies, Elijah would be put into great economic stress by the war. The raw material for his cotton warp factory was greatly curtailed and what was available was subject to a marked rise in cost – from about $35 a bale in 1848 to $53 in 1860 and to $166 by 1865. To meet costs and make a profit, Rosencrantz had to increase the price of the warp he produced which in turn resulted in a decrease in orders. His production slowed and for periods of time during the war his mill did not operate at all. Elijah and his family suffered financially throughout the war. Creditors continually hounded him from 1861 to 1865, including a threat to confiscate and sell the machinery in the mill. Despite dire fiscal problems, Elijah did not follow the path of the Ripka company into declaring bankrupcy. He held on by continued farming, renting some of his land, including to a storekeeper, and the obtaining of a loan of $4,800 from relative John C. Suffern. Elijah, slow to pay off business debts, did, though, pay the tuition for his children’s schooling.
During the war, Elijah’s brother George returned to The Hermitage, where, after two years of declining health, he died in 1864 at age 52. At this time Killie also suffered from periods of poor health. The war years also saw the formation of the Episcopal Christ Church in Ridgewood. It was initiated through a meeting at the home of Samuel Dayton in 1864. The organizers were mainly Dayton relatives and others who had settled in Ridgewood from New York. Elijah Rosencrantz and Killie were among the founding members of this new congregation. Here the old locally prominent Rosencrantz family melded with the affluent newcomers in the establishment of one of Ridgewood’s first suburban village institutions. The site of the church was North Van Dien near Ridgewood Ave. The church was designed by William Ranlett who resided in a house on Saddle River Road and was architect for a number of the new homes in Ridgewood. The cornerstone of the church was laid in March 1865. Unfortunately, Ranlett, who was bringing the body of a son killed in the war home from the railroad station, was thrown from a horse, and died in November 1865 before the church was completed. The first service in the new church was held in May 1866. Elijah and his three older children were confirmed in 1867. He would become a vestryman in this congregation.
Prosperity and Loss at The Hermitage in the Decade After the Civil War
With the end of the war and the reunion of the South with the North, there was a renewed source of raw cotton and demand for warp. Thus, in 1865, the Rosencrantz mill was back in full operation and the economic situation at The Hermitage improved markedly. In that year the Paterson and Ramapo Railroad, now a part of the Erie Railroad system with through trains from the west to the Hudson as well as local freight and commuter trains, decided to increase from a single to a double track through Bergen County. Elijah sold an acre and a half of his property to the railroad for this purpose. A sign of renewed income were improvements at The Hermitage – a new carpet and a coal burning grate for the dining room, new oil cloth, a repainted buggy, and a new corn crib near the pig pen.
In 1865 William was 13, John 12, and Bessie 11. William was sent to a boarding school near Albany. John and Bessie were in school in Ho-Ho-Kus, Bessie with Miss Jennie Eckert. The schoolbooks still in the Rosencrantz library from this period include such titles as The Euphonic Spelling Book and Reader (1855), A System of Modern Geography (1866), Thomson’s Practical Arithmetic, A Manual of History of the United States (1860), and Natural History (1870). Much of the emphasis was on drill, on memorization, and on questions and answers. Morality was transmitted through secular heros. One book, published in Massachusetts, specifically condemned slavery, but most supported the contention of one that held that: “The European or Caucasian is the most noble of the five races of men.”
At The Hermitage the children had pigeons, turkeys, and a lamb. John went rabbit hunting. Elijah took Bessie shopping in Paterson, and she spent two weeks with Aunt Ida in New York City and enjoyed visits to Central Park. Uncle John came up with his wife from Philadelphia, and he participated in autumn hunting. The Rosencrantzes were on friendly terms with the Orville Victor family that had a residence across Franklin Turnpike from The Hermitage. The father was an author and publisher of dime novels, and the mother also was a writer. The children were the same age as the three older Rosencrantz children. In 1868 Elijah was able to repay Captain Dayton $4,000 for his 1851 loan.
In 1865 Killie, despite illness gave birth to her fourth child, a son, George. She spent some time trying to recuperate with her sister’s family in Litchfield, Connecticut. At The Hermitage, Janie Cox continued her live-in service. In addition, there was Ellen, an Irish immigrant domestic. The presence of Irish domestics and farm workers at The Hermitage, in the families of Killie’s relatives recently settled nearby in Ridgewood and in other families in the area, as well as Irish workers in the mills and on the railroad, resulted in the establishment in 1865 of St. Luke’s, a Catholic parish in Ho-Ho-Kus, with a church built directly across Franklin Turnpike from The Hermitage.
Despite optimism on her return from Litchfield and the help of doctors, Killie’s tubercular condition only worsened, and she died in 1867. Killie in her sixteen years at The Hermitage made a large contribution to the Rosencrantz family. By her heritage she added status, and she brought a cosmopolitan style to the household. Then she brought forth four children for a third generation at The Hermitage. Killie was the key bridge person in bringing together the Rosencrantz and Dayton families who contributed so importantly to the founding of Ridgewood as a railroad suburb and to the establishment of Christ Church, one of the first status institutions in that suburb. Further, Killie was helpful in securing Dayton finances needed to rebuild the Rosencrantz cotton mill in the early 1850s, and she was a strong support of the family during the trying years of the Civil War. Killie’s youthful death from tuberculosis, which also took the lives of others of her relatives, exemplified the tragic effect of this disease in the 19th century America among the well to do as well as among the poor.
Since George was only two years of age on Killie’s death, Elijah obtained a guardian, the 21-year-old Charlotte Caroline (Lillie) Dennis from Richmond, Virginia, to help take care of him and the other children when they were home from school. Bess attended Passaic Classical Institute through most of the second half of the 1860s from age 12 to 15. She boarded in Paterson during the week and returned to The Hermitage on weekends. The school reported that she was one of the best behaved and painstaking students in the Institute. She had particularly good grades in history. Then in 1870, the family arranged for Bess to attend St. Mary’s, an Episcopal academy in Burlington, New Jersey. After only several months there, she had to return home with a serious infection.
Meanwhile, Elijah’s brother John, with the ending of the Civil War, returned from Washington to Manayunk. There, General Robert Patterson acquired and reopened the mills formerly owned by the Ripka family. John gained employment there at a salary that enabled him to accumulate a degree of financial equity. After his wife’s sister Amelia died of tuberculosis, John and Caroline took charge of her three children, Allan, Florence, and Harry. Their father, Captain John Quincy Adams (a relative of the country’s sixth president), was often away on extended duty with the United States Navy.
The relationship of John Rosencrantz with Captain Adams would have consequences for the Ho-Ho-Kus Rosencrantzes. The first of these was the gaining of admission to the United States Naval Academy in 1868 for William, age 16. Unfortunately, by December he became seriously ill and had to return home and withdraw from the Academy. After recuperating, he took a trip to England and France and witnessed some of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. He then, at the request of his father, returned to assist in Elijah’s mill operations.
William’s brother John took a position as a clerk in a fire insurance company in 1869 at age 16. His active social life and avid interest in girls caused much concern to his father. Elijah, thus, arranged that Captain Adams would employ John as a secretary on the USS Iroquois for a three year around the world cruise, starting in late 1871. In January 1872 Elijah wrote to John: “You must rather attempt to play the man, than play the lover, and be only the attendant of a lady, or allow the thoughts of them to occupy your whole time as it did too much while at home. I was desirous that you should see something of the world.” John did see much of the world with stops at Gibraltar, Malta (sightseeing and opera almost every night), and Port Said (with a visit to Cairo and the pyramids), through the Suez Canal, sick because of rough weather in the Arabian Sea, and then on to Bangkok, Singapore, and Hong Kong. John developed a good relationship with the midshipmen of the Iroquois and at the various ports of call at parties, balls, and other social activities. He thus was able to save much less of his salary than his father had planned for him. When the tour ended in San Francisco in summer 1874, John was short of funds to get him back to the east coast, but Captain Adams helped arrange the needed transportation for him. After a visit to the family at The Hermitage, John settled in Philadelphia for a few years.
In the meantime, at The Hermitage, Elijah in 1870 married his children’s guardian, Lillie Dennis. He was 55 and she was 24. Her father was a physician in Richmond. The census noted that Janie Cox, 45, was still at The Hermitage and that there also was May Cain, 45, a domestic servant born in Ireland, and her daughter, Mary Cain, 18, also born in Ireland. Charlotte and Elijah had one child, Henry De Witt (Harry) Rosencrantz who was born in 1872. Harry had health problems and nearly died just before he was one year old. While Lillie gained the respect and love of her four stepchildren and took a fully active role in the running of The Hermitage, she continued to keep in touch with her Virginia family and past. There continued to be membership in and donations to Confederate Veterans organizations, visits with Dennis relatives who had moved to Ridgewood in the 1870s, and visits to and from her family in Richmond.
In 1871 Elijah Rosencrantz joined with some dozen other of his more affluent neighbors to form the Educational Association of Ho-Ho-Kus. Dissatisfied with the level of education at the local public schools, they bought land on what is now Hollywood Avenue and constructed the private Valley School. It had one large room, a cloakroom, and a supply room. At times there were 25 to 30 students in Valley School. Tuition ranged from $20 to $30 per term. Elijah’s interest was probably stirred by the fact that in 1871 his youngest son, George, was six years of age. From 1879 there is an extant bill for $70 that Elijah paid for four quarters of tuition. The Valley School continued into the late 1880s.
With the revival of the cotton mill after the Civil War, Elijah returned to the old idea of adding a paper mill. He decided to put it in upstate New York, in Orange County, and to put son William in charge of this plant. In 1872 Elijah was still waiting for the arrival of needed machinery and worried that it all was costing more than he had expected. By 1873 the paper mill was running.
However, 1873 was to be a bad year for the Rosencrantz family and their enterprises as well as for the nation. At Ho-Ho-Kus, Elijah was ill through the first months of that year. For several weeks he did not go to his cotton mill because he could not bear the noise, a noise which the workers had to bear for long hours six days a week. Then as Elijah was recovering his health, he and his businesses were very negatively affected by the beginning of one of America’s most severe depressions.
By November, Elijah was reporting that times were hard, very hard. As business orders declined, he was caught with a lack of funds. The paper mill ceased operation and the cotton warp mill was kept going only because brother John expended some of his accumulated savings to meet its expenses. In the process John became the owner of the Ho-Ho-Kus mill, while Elijah remained the manager of its operation.
How did the Rosencrantz workforce in 1880 compare with that in the 1850 survey? Again, Marion Brown took the names of workers for one pay period from the mill ledger books and checked them with the 1880 census. The workforce was larger than thirty years earlier with 39 names listed. There was almost an equal number of female and male laborers. Child labor continued with nine children workers14 years of age or younger. John Babcock, aged 10, worked with his two teenage sisters, one of whom, Julia, was 12. James Munroe, aged 11, worked with his mother Mary. Edward Wanamaker was also 11 and David Wanamaker was 12. Again, the males were spread out in age from 10 to 67, but again none were between 15 and 19. An exception was Elijah’s son George, who worked during the summer of 1880 at age 15. For the females, while there continued to be a good number of teenagers, there were, unlike earlier, a considerable number above 24 and married. Monthly wages ranged from $72 for the foreman to $5.44 for the lowest paid work, probably a bobbin boy or a picker. Most of the laborers, as earlier, were born in New Jersey, but now there were some who had been born in New York, and there were several who were born in Ireland and one in Holland. Most of the workers had English and Dutch family names, with again a few Germans and now more Irish. One person, John Conklin, may have been a Ramapo Mountain person. Most of the workers still came from the neighborhood, but there were more families in the Rosencrantz tenant housing close to the mill and a few listed their residence as Paterson and Ridgewood and one as Newark.
With a return to better economic conditions in the nation in the 1880s, the Rosencrantz mill returned to profitability. This, together with the sale of some of The Hermitage property, enabled the Rosencrantz brothers to end their mill’s dependence on waterpower by installing steam power. It was reported that in 1882 the cotton mill had several carding machines and 2863 spindles, employed 42 hands, and produced 3,800 pounds per week. In the mid-1880s the mill was increased in size and production was converted from cotton warps to cotton wadding.
However, the second generation of the Rosencrantz family was coming to an end. In 1885 John died in Philadelphia and in 1888 Elijah died in Ho-Ho-Kus. These two sons of Elijah I followed their father’s initial steps in building a cotton warp mill as a rental by themselves, becoming engaged full time in manufacturing. They were two among early American industrialists. Both together, and then Elijah on his own, tapped the natural flow of the water of the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook to power machinery in a rural setting while obtaining raw material through middlemen in New York City and finding a market primarily in Philadelphia. John, following his early Ho-Ho-Kus experience entered the largest textile firm in that major city. Both brothers typified the challenges, the accomplishments and the failures of self-instructed early rural industrial entrepreneurship in the new America that was rising in the first half of the 19th century and which became increasingly dominant in the second half of that century – with its emerging mechanization of production, its changing sources of power, its new employee labor force, the fluctuation of national periods of prosperity and depression, problems with sources of raw material, changing markets, innovative transportation, the financial costs of natural disasters and of human accidents, and the personal rewards and community status from ownership.
Elijah further enhanced his status when, during a time of business upturn, he financed the reconstruction of his home, The Hermitage, in Gothic Revival style, a new direction in architecture in the 1840s. The house would include trend-setting technologies and comforts. He married and brought to the newly fashioned Hermitage Killie Dayton, and, in the process, became integrally involved with the early founding families of Ridgewood as a railroad suburb and with the establishment of the Episcopal Christ Church there. Elijah also was a representative of the considerable peace party sector of the Bergen County population in the era of the Civil War and he helped foster improved education in his community. He and Killie and his second wife Lillie also raised and educated four children for the third generation of Rosencrantzes at The Hermitage.
THE ROSENCRANTZ FAMILY AND THE HERMITAGE – 1807-1970
The Third Rosencrantz Generation at The Hermitage
John who was born in 1853 was 21 when in 1874 he returned from being secretary to Captain John Quincy Adams on an around the world cruise on the USS Iroquois. While in Philadelphia he met and married Lavina Miller of that city in 1884. John and Lavina then moved to Ho-Ho-Kus when he obtained employment with the Metropolitan Line, a steamship company. Samuel Dennis, a relative of Lillie, Elijah’s second wife, was an officer in this firm. Like Lillie, Samuel and his family had come from Richmond. They settled in Ridgewood and by 1878 were listed as members of Christ Church. John’s income with the Metropolitan Line enabled him to build a house in 1892 on Rosencrantz property just south of The Hermitage homestead. The property was sold to him for $1.00 by his sister, Mary Elizabeth. John and Lavina did not have children. He lived until 1914 when he died at age 61, and she died in 1943.
George Suffern, 1865-1934
George Suffern was born in 1865 and was raised by his stepmother, Charlotte. He attended the Ho-Ho-Kus Valley School since his father Elijah was one of the founders of this local private school. In 1887 George at age 22 was badly hurt in a bicycle accident at the Bergen County Agricultural Association Fair which was held annually since 1879 at the racetrack in Ho-Ho-Kus. He recovered, obtained employment as an insurance assessor, and, in this position, traveled extensively.
George met and courted Katherine Levick who lived at Hollywood and Maple in Ho-Ho-Kus. She was born in London of a British father and an Australian mother and was brought up in a family with two servants. During much of the courtship in the early 1890s, George, working for the Lancashire Insurance Company and the Mutual Fire Insurance Company, was assigned to assess properties in Knoxville, Memphis, Kansas, Arkansas and throughout Pennsylvania. He did find time to attend baseball games and the opera – sometimes three times a week – and to write long letters to Katherine. Katherine, in Bergen County, except for a visit to Montreal, spent her time playing tennis and croquet, fishing and sleighing, going to the theater, and playing cards, particularly cribbage. She spent much time visiting and being visited by friends. This included frequent visits to The Hermitage with Bess and Bessie Rosencrantz. Katherine did some sewing of garments for a “colored orphan asylum”. She does not seem to have had an interest in organizations or politics, but in 1892 she did express a liking for Grover Cleveland, despite her family’s strong Republican affiliation.
After their marriage in 1893, George and Katherine moved to Boston where George successfully engaged in insurance underwriting in his firm of Rosencrantz, Huzard and Co. He also was a general agent for the National-Ben Franklin Fire Insurance Co. and the Superior Fire Insurance Co. He prospered and the couple, with no children, moved to Ridgewood in the 1920s.
Henry De Witt, 1872-1890
Henry (Harry) De Witt Rosencrantz, the only child of Elijah and Charlotte, was born in 1872. Although he was very sick at age one, he recovered and had an active youth involved in schooling and games. In 1884 he received a certificate of merit from Grammar School #35. As a teenager he seems to have been very popular within the Rosencrantz family and in the neighborhood. Newspaper accounts reported that he was a key personage in social evenings at The Hermitage in the second half of the 1880s, and that he attended many social functions in Ho-Ho-Kus and surrounding area. Still ill health caused his mother Lillie to take residence with him in the more elevated and thought to be healthier Allendale, several miles north of The Hermitage. In early January 1890 Harry sent condolences concerning a deceased acquaintance and then ten days later died quite suddenly of rheumatic fever.
Mary Elizabeth (Bess), 1870s and 1880s
Mary Elizabeth, born in 1855, was the only daughter among the four children of Elijah II and Cornelia Rosencrantz. She would become a major personage at The Hermitage for much of the next 88 years. After returning to St. Mary’s Hall in 1874 to complete her studies there, she moved to the home of her Uncle John in Philadelphia. He had just lost his wife Caroline, another member of the family who died of tuberculosis. Mary Elizabeth helped care for the three children of the widower Captain Adams who resided in John’s home. She stayed in Philadelphia for much of the time until John ‘s death in 1883. During these years of her early adulthood, Mary Elizabeth socialized extensively, including with the Jewish Grotz sisters and others in Philadelphia. She kept mementos of her frequent attendance at plays, parties, and dances with many different men, including numerous naval persons with connections to her brother and uncle. From 1876 to 1878 she made a list of expenditures – gloves, velvet, dresses, hats, cuffs, ribbons – averaging $175 per year. Bess nevertheless kept in touch by visits and letters with her friends and relatives in Bergen County. She also traveled frequently and spent time in Boston and Washington.
Upon her return to Ho-Ho-Kus in 1883, Bess lived in a house near The Hermitage. She took painting lessons, played lawn tennis, croquet, billiards and golf, was an avid card player (cribbage was a big favorite), went to cricket matches and the races and other events at the Ho-Ho-Kus race track, boated and fished, gardened, shopped for clothing, did much reading and letter writing, and became Aunt Bess for her brother Willie’s two children. She traveled often to Paterson, New York, Coney Island, the Poconos, Cape May, Boston, Richmond, the Catskills, Long Beach Island, Mount Vernon, and for a month in Bermuda. Bess also visited and received friends with great frequency. Included was Joseph Jefferson, a nationally acclaimed actor who resided nearby in the former Ranlett home.
William (Willie) Dayton Rosencrantz Became Master of The Hermitage in the Last Decades of the 19th Century
After his return from Europe, William Dayton took charge of a short-lived paper mill located in Orange County, New York. It began to produce paper just as the 1873 depression came upon the country. When it ceased operation, Willie worked with his father in the Ho-Ho-Kus cotton mill. In 1873, William’s great grandfather, Samuel Dayton died at age 90. He left the four children of his granddaughter, Killie, including Willie, $2,500 each. In 1878 Willie married Carolyn Warner of Waterbury, Connecticut. They had two children, William Dayton, Jr., born in 1882, and Mary Elizabeth, born in 1885, the fourth generation at The Hermitage. During the 1880s William succeeded his father as the manager of the cotton mill. He converted it from water to steam power and in 1885 he enlarged it. In 1887, after a fire at The Hermitage, William had a new summer kitchen built of poured concrete with a billiard room on the second floor.
There was much social life at The Hermitage in the 1880s with George passing from his teens into his early 20s and Harry moving through his teens. Often on Friday nights there would be fiddling and dancing and many young people in the Rosencrantz home. During those days the two young children, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, made for a lively household. Aunt Bess would take Dayton to New York and to local places, and she sewed for Mary Elizabeth. Still the late 1880s was a time of loss for the Rosencrantz family. William Dayton lost his young wife, Caroline, in1886 at age 30. In the following year Janie Coxe, who had been with the family and given live-in service for 35 years, died. In 1888 Father Elijah passed away at age 78. Then in 1890 the young very popular Harry died at age 18. After his death, his widowed mother, Lillie, returned to her former home in Virginia.
The 1890s: Willie Sold the Cotton Mill and Became a Golf Pioneer in Bergen County
When Caroline Warner Rosencrantz was found to be seriously ill after the birth of Mary Elizabeth in September 1885, Elijah’s wife Lillie contacted her family in Richmond and arranged for Bessie Tyler, a 16-year-old niece, to come to The Hermitage to help Caroline and the family. On arrival the young teenager wrote in her diary: “What have I gotten into – two children.”
However, she proved to be a helpful and good spirited young person. Caroline would die in 1886, only a short time after Bessie arrived, but the young caretaker still had her hands full with Dayton aged four, and Mary Elizabeth aged one. Bessie did find a friend in Harry only two years older than herself, and she developed a good relationship with Aunt Bess.
Father William not only appreciated Bessie’s help with his young children, but he fell in love with her and proposed marriage. The wedding, held in Richmond, brought together William aged 38 and Bessie aged 20 and ushered in the 1890s at The Hermitage. Through most of this decade the Rosencrantzes at The Hermitage included William and Bessie, the two children, Dayton and Mary Elizabeth, and Aunt Bess. William’s brother George resided at the house, when he was not on the road as an insurance assessor, in the first couple of years in the decade with frequent visits from his fiancee, Katie Leveck, who lived nearby. John, William’s other brother, put up a house close to The Hermitage in 1892. Thus, he and his wife Lavinia, would be close neighbors.
For William the 1890s was a decade of changing focus and a search for some grounding, some personal and economic security. In his new marital relationship, when either he or Bessie were traveling, his letters expressed uncertainty as he sought assurances of love from his young wife. She seems to have been away on several occasions, usually for visits with her relatives in Virginia and in Washington, D.C.
William’s uncertainties extended also to his working life. In 1891, one year after his second marriage, he sold the cotton mill that had been in the family for some seventy years to Lyman Goff. William would, though, run it for the new owners until 1895. The mill was then sold to the Brookdale Bleachery which continued operations into the 1960s. The mill, considerably altered, is still standing in a small industrial complex at the end of Hollywood Avenue close to the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook.
William’s employment became less certain in the second half of the 1890s. In 1896 he briefly tried the ice business and spent time trying to improve some textile machinery. In 1897 Rosencrantz was awarded a patent for the invention of a take-up roller for carding machine condensers. It is not clear to what extent this invention was utilized in industry or to what extent it provided income for the family.
At this time William also became very interested in photography. Several of William’s friends had been members of a camera club in Ridgewood in the early 1890s. One of the officers in the club, Mr. Hales, started the Hales Camera Co., and Elijah became, for a time in the late 1890s, its secretary and treasurer.
In addition to his photography interests, William achieved some focus for himself and a place in the community as a pioneer golf enthusiast. He was one of the first to play and interest others in Bergen County in what was to become a status sport. Around 1890 Rosencrantz laid out two holes on land just east of The Hermitage. In 1893 he and a few of his friends founded the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club with six holes. Later, three additional holes and a clubhouse were added. Then with interest and membership increased, the members shifted locale and in 1901 founded the Ridgewood Golf Club. In 1910 it became the Ridgewood Country Club. William was probably able to devote time and outlay to golf through the income received in the sale of the cotton mill. Additionally, in the 1890s William showed increased interest in tracing his family’s heritage.
Meanwhile, at The Hermitage, much of the life was provided by the two young children, Dayton, and Mary Elizabeth, growing from 7 to 17 and 5 to 15 through the 1890s under the guidance of stepmother Bessie with whom there seems to have been a warm relationship. It is not known where they went to school. The private Valley School had closed in the late 1880s, but there were small public schools in Ho-Ho-Kus and Waldwick, and one near the Paramus Church. Since farm activity continued at The Hermitage, the children had a variety of animals and pets in their midst. There were dogs and cats and at times at least 85 chickens. In an increasingly consumer society, there was a growing variety of toys, games and books that were bought for them. There remains in The Hermitage collection, dolls, a large doll house, and tea sets that belonged to Mary Elizabeth and cast iron and wooden toys that were the possession of Dayton. Outdoor activities occupied much of their time. Dayton engaged in swimming, boating, fishing, skating, bicycling, and shooting. Mary Elizabeth participated in some of these, but would, under the encouragement and tutelage of her father, become an accomplished golfer. Socializing with neighbors and friends was important in their young lives.
Aunt Bess, aged 35 to 45 in the 1890s, remained at The Hermitage as an unmarried woman, independent in mind and movement, but dependent on the family for her financial needs. She continued to travel, read extensively, played tennis, billiards, and bridge, visited, and received friends, walked, took carriage rides, rowed, fished, and sailed, and went to plays, the opera, concerts, musicals and comedy shows. Bess continued to sew, including dolls outfits and skirts, shirt waists and dresses for Mary Elizabeth. She was also engaged in church activities. With the death of Janie Cox in 1888, the long practice at The Hermitage of live-in servants seems to have become more intermittent. There is a report of servants for some periods of time in the 1890s. In addition, the household did receive help by employing people in the neighborhood to do laundry and other domestic work. However, Bess and Bessie did engage in some household tasks.
Two newspaper accounts give an insight into the social life of the Rosencrantz family in the early 1890s. On September 4, 1891, a birthday party was given for Miss Virgie Carrigan on the grounds of Mr. Rosencrantz. “The affair was nicely gotten up and a most enjoyable day was spent. Ice cream was served in dainty little boxes. Mrs. Joseph F. Carrigan acted as chaperon for the party.” There then was a list of the 19 females and 11 males who were present. On February 9, 1894, there was a charity dance “at the residence of Mrs. John Graydon.” William, Bessie, and Bess Rosencrantz were among 43 plus listed as in attendance. The rooms were decorated with flowers and trailing vines, “the merry company” danced to “Prof Crook’s delightful music.” “Coffee, cake, and lemonade were served, after which little Miss Jessie Graydon made a collection in the interest of charity and found her little basket inadequate to the supply. Over forty dollars was realized on the occasion, and after a spirited Virginia reel, in which the elders distinguished themselves, the company dispersed shortly after midnight.”
The Early Years of 20th Century, 1900-1915: Willie’s Career Faltered, Bess Traveled, Dayton Became a Textile Technician, and Mary Elizabeth Became Proficient at Golf
The Rosencrantz family in the first two decades of the twentieth century lost much of its cohesiveness. Aunt Bess and Mary Elizabeth increasingly became the central figures at The Hermitage.
William Rosencrantz wrote in 1904 that the camera business was not very good. He then tried a different tact. After a trip to Europe in 1906, probably related to his son Dayton’s studies there, he followed the lead of his brother George, in Boston, and became an agent for an insurance company. He found a position in Enfield, Rhode Island where he remained for the next six years. In 1912 Willie returned to New Jersey and for a time worked in a mill in Paterson.
Meanwhile, Bessie continued to care for the children, Dayton who was 17 in 1900 and Mary Elizabeth who was 15. Bessie did, though, accompany Aunt Bess to local social events and took trips to Virginia through 1906. She did not go with her husband William to Europe, but she did join him in Enfield. Here she seems to have overseen the family finances, and she did give an interview to two young mill workers who were interested in becoming domestics. Bessie made trips to Virginia from Rhode Island and stayed there for a period when Willie was in Paterson.
Dayton, early, was introduced to the textile industry by his father. To enhance his learning in this field, he went to Manchester, England in 1905 and got a position in the Platt Works at Oldham. While there he complained that he did not have enough money to buy clothes needed to accept invitations to social events, but he does seem relieved to be away from The Hermitage. However, he did have the funds to attend a textile engineering school in Germany. There is record of his correspondence with his father and sister while in Europe. William didn’t like his stay in Germany and was particularly taken back by the militant spirit among the Germans he met, including their outspoken desire to take on and defeat England.
Dayton returned to the United Sates by way of Rotterdam. He then attended Lowell Textile Institute in Massachusetts, followed by some working experience in that state and in Rhode Island. He noted that 1912 was a bad year and inquired about job possibilities in Paterson. However, by 1916 he had found employment at the Riverside Mill in Augusta, Georgia. He wrote of the opportunities in the growing southern textile industry for northern-trained men. In Augusta he also played golf and shot quail. He wrote to his stepmother Bessie, expressing his gratitude for all she had done for him and the family.
Mary Elizabeth, in 1902 at age 17, graduated from Waldwick public school. She was very involved in golf and spent a lot of time at the Ridgewood Golf Club. Her father was a constant source of encouragement, and, in his letters, he always asked about her scores. She first competed in a tournament in the Oranges. She went on to win competitions and cups. Dayton in a letter in 1907 told Mary Elizabeth that she should be the world champion in golf. She also took singing lessons, and she had an active social life. She attended a masquerade at the local Young Peoples Social Club, went to barn dances at the Ridgewood Golf Club, and attended lawn parties and birthday parties in Ho-Ho-Kus, Ridgewood and Paterson. Mary Elizabeth went to auto races and dog shows, attended plays, watched tennis matches, played croquet, went fishing, swam, walked, took auto rides, and played cards – bridge and euchre. She frequently visited and was visited by friends, neighbors, and relatives.
Mary Elizabeth belonged to a variety of local groups, the St. Mary’s Guild, an alumnae group; the Mission, the beginnings of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal congregation in Ho-Ho-Kus, a local Social Committee, a Women’s Conference, and a reading club. Some of the events she went to were fund raisers for these and other causes. She was a letter writer, a reader and listened to music. She shopped in Paterson and Montclair, most often for herself – hats, clothing, a putter, and a camera – but did buy Christmas presents for others. Mary Elizabeth made cakes, pies, puddings, candy fudge and Saratoga chips. She sewed collars and waists and kept scrap books. Mary Elizabeth, in a non-reflective reportorial diary kept from 1905 to 1910, wrote about playing golf almost every morning, lunch at the club or with friends, afternoons visiting, evenings playing cards, and frequent colds and headaches. At 21 she needed glasses. Mary Elizabeth traveled some, mostly between Boston and Virginia and on short vacations to places like Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire.
On one trip with Aunt Bess to visit her uncle and aunt in Boston, she regretted that there were no young men on the train. In Boston she went to a dance at the Harvard Union but did not meet any good-looking fellows. Mary Elizabeth placed in her diary what she would require of a potential partner.
All the necessary requirements -
- He must be a man of decent height
- he must be a man of weight
- he must come home on a Saturday night
- In a thoroughly sober state
- He must know how to love me
- and he must know how to kiss
- And if he’s enough to keep us both
- I can’t refuse him bliss
- Man’s love is a man’s life a thing apart
- Tis woman’s whole existence
Mary Elizabeth visited her step-family in Virginia in 1905, and in 1907, with Aunt Bess, took a steamer to Virginia for a 15-day visit with these relatives. Later in that year, she and Aunt Bess spent several months in Rhode Island visiting with Willie and Bessie and with her aunt and uncle in Boston. When her brother left to study in Europe, Mary Elizabeth wrote: “I feel blue and shall miss him terribly…I wish I was going with him.” Nevertheless, and despite her brother’s encouragement, she did not travel abroad. In 1913 Mary Elizabeth stayed for a time with her father when he was working in Paterson and Bessie was in Virginia.
Aunt Bess, age 45 in 1900, spent much time through the next fifteen years corresponding with a wide range of relatives and friends. From 1899 to 1907 she kept a register of letters sent and received. With less service at The Hermitage, there was more domestic work to be done by her and Mary Elizabeth, including washing, ironing, cooking, cleaning, and tending the lawn. Still Bess continued to visit and be visited by neighbors, family, and friends. A new trolley that began operating in 1912 from Paterson to Suffern made travel in the local area more convenient. She also spent much time gardening, painting, sewing, fishing, going to the theater, and playing cards. Bess belonged to a sewing society and a reading group which met in members’ homes. She was also active with her church. In fact, she played a part in the establishment of a new Episcopal church in Ho-Ho-Kus, St. Bartholomew which branched off from the Ridgewood Christ Church in which the Rosencrantz family had been founding members. Bess participated in the church choir. By 1915 she was a member of a suffrage organization and attended a suffrage talk in Ridgewood. At various times she kept a diary, with daily weather and activities, but with no reflections or show of emotions. However, she also had two commonplace books for poems she liked. They focused on romantic notions, virtue, and respectability.
Much of Bess’s finances seem to have come through inheritance and from her brother Willie. She apparently, though, oversaw a sale of a right of way to the Erie Railroad which increased its line through Bergen County from 2 to 4 tracks. Bess somehow had enough money to expand her traveling from the east coast of the United States to Europe. She visited that continent in 1906 and 1912, and included England, France, and Germany. Then in 1914 Bess was in Rome for a month. Here she delighted in the antiquities and the afternoon English teas at her hotel. From the males in her family, from her finishing school and from society in general as well as from herself, there seems to have been no expectation or desire on the part of Aunt Bess to engage in a career or to work outside of the home in any way. The same was true for the younger Mary Elizabeth.
Bess, Bessie, and Mary Elizabeth spent much time reading. There are some 1,000 books that have survived from the Rosencrantz family library. While there are many histories and some travel and practical information books, there are a significant number of novels. They were given and received as gifts as well as purchased. There is a distribution of high, middle and low-brow fiction. The authors ranged from Dickens and Scott to Cooper and Bulwar-Lytton, to Kingsley, Doyle, and Wister. While these works transmitted a wide variety of values, there seems to be a preponderance of ones that focus on patient women, resolute men, outspoken heroines tamed by marriage, sweet and submissive heroines, class concerns, chastity, and standards of beauty. The books that can be identified with Bessie were more anti-typical and may have reflected a less than satisfactory marriage. There also were subscriptions to magazines like Harper’s, McCalls, and Scribners. One student of these books concluded that, particularly for Mary Elizabeth, reading was “an escape from modern reality into a world she better understood.”
The Last Males Leave The Hermitage, 1915-1917 -The Hermitage at the end of 19th century
Another turning point in the history of The Hermitage took place in 1915. William, the father, after a short stay working in Paterson, returned to The Hermitage, became ill and on December 22, 1915, died. At his death, it was discovered that William had no resources to leave for his wife, his sister, or his two children. He did have an investment, but it was found to have no value. Brother George paid for the cost of the funeral. Wife Bessie, although she would remain in contact and on good terms with Bess and Mary Elizabeth, decided to live in Virginia. She would make handkerchiefs to provide some support beyond what she could expect from her family there.
With the death of William Dayton Rosencrantz, the last male to leave a major imprint on the history of The Hermitage had departed. He was born into privilege, but as a teenager he had to suffer the loss of his mother and a withdrawal from the United States Naval Academy. As an adult William was unable to find a satisfactory career. He made numerous job changes but failed to find vocational success. He also suffered from the early death of his first wife and then a less than fully happy second marriage. He manifested particular interest in status recreation, in billiards, golf, photography, and family genealogy. William did provide his two children with education and his sister with some financial support. However, as he entered the 20th century, at age 50, he was unable to stem declining fiscal resources and a lessening place in the community for the Rosencrantz family.
Two Women, a Tea Room, Downward Mobility and The Hermitage, 1917-1970
Following William’s death in 1915, both George, still in Boston, and Dayton in Georgia, urged Aunt Bess and Mary Elizabeth to sell The Hermitage. George wrote in January 1917 that continuing to stay and support the costs of the house and property was “the height of folly” on the part of the two women. He, who had been sending them $50 a month, said that he would discontinue doing so after March. Aunt Bess and Elizabeth wrote to Dayton for assistance. He replied, on their refusal to sell The Hermitage which would give them an income and perhaps some inheritance for him, that “you are both the personification of selfishness. The place ruined Dad. Come and live with me in Atlanta.”
Bess and Elizabeth rejected the appeals of George and Dayton. They decided that they would continue to live in The Hermitage. This caused strained relations with George and a total cutting off of relations with Dayton. In 1917, Elizabeth who had met a man from England and thought that she might marry him, learned that he had moved to Australia and married there.
Thus, faced with dire necessity, the two women, aged 62 and 32, turned to work for money for the first time in their lives. They first tried to make and sell loaves of bread, but this effort provided little income. Then in May 1917, they decided to offer a tea service for the public at The Hermitage. The side porch and the drawing room were set with tables and chairs. The dining room was gated so visitors could peer in and see antiques and Native American items on exhibit there. The Tea Room was well received. It obtained favorable articles in the local papers. Open until October, the two women made $470 in its first season. The women got another $490 from the rent for the two tenant houses for the year.
In 1917 the United States was drawn into World War I. Dayton enlisted in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and was sent to France. He suffered from exhaustion and was awarded The Purple Heart. He met, courted, and married a French woman, but did not bring her to the United States. After the War, William obtained employment as a textile engineer in the Midwest, in Missouri and Ohio. He married an American woman and in 1933 they had a daughter whom they named Mary Elizabeth. In the 1950s he had a stroke, was in a Veteran’s Hospital, and died in 1958 at 66 years of age.
At The Hermitage the Tea Room grew in popularity in the 1920s. Open from 3 to 6 each day, it had a reputation for being a pleasant way to spend an afternoon for people who increasingly had cars in the growing suburbs of Bergen County. The grounds and the flowers were noted in articles in the local press. The menu’s cakes and cinnamon toast were favorites. Bessie came up from Virginia to help from May to October. Bess would regal the customers with stories of the Revolution and romance, secret rooms and tunnels, patriot soldiers and hidden Hessians, secret meetings of the Freemasons, and a history of many of the antiques.
In the mid-1920s, over nearly three years, Elizabeth developed a friendship with Donald MacIntire. He visited The Hermitage and there was considerable correspondence, but in March 1927 he wrote that he was “coming to say good-bye.” Elizabeth, age 42, lost her last chance for marriage. The Hermitage women, though, did keep in touch with female relatives, Katherine now in Montclair and Vinnie in Philadelphia.
By the end of the 1920s, a decade of prosperity for many, America had to face the onset of the Great Depression. The economic downturn resulted in a fall of customers for The Hermitage Tea Room. Bess and Elizabeth worked to keep it going as long as they could but were forced to close down in 1931. Faced with hard times, Bess sold lots on Franklin Turnpike and George and Katherine resumed sending them some money each month. They tried to sell old books, stamps, and antiques, and they kept their vegetable garden going. The Red Cross also brought them food, and they received coal from railroad workers. The Hermitage was mentioned in the Historic American Buildings Survey of 1934 and was shown in the New Jersey State exhibit at the 1939-1940 World’s Fair in New York
Bess became ill in 1942 and died at age 88 on January 26, 1943. She exemplified, in terms of class and gender, the life of a privileged upper middle class single woman in late Victorian and early twentieth century America. She was well educated for her time, but little was expected of her in the years immediately after she finished her schooling and then throughout life as an unmarried woman. However, she did live some aspects of the new emerging American woman in her independence of mind, her travels, and her participation in a growing range athletic and cultural activities: tennis, reading, the arts, music, and theatre. Bess also was a representative of growing American consumerism, although not on a grand scale. However, her education did not prepare her, in terms of desire or skills, to enter the world of work or public political engagement. Rather, hers was a life of active social and recreational activity, financed by the work of others, with little expectation, once marriage and motherhood had not become part of her life, that she needed to contribute much to society. Bess, though, did help with the children of her uncle in Philadelphia for a time and with her niece at The Hermitage. She did sew, and after the decline of services by others, she did engage in an increasing amount of domestic work at The Hermitage. In an expression of resentment, Mary Elizabeth’s nephew, William Dayton, in 1915, would accuse her of selfishness. This was on the occasion of his frustration at not gaining any inheritance on the death of his father, which he felt was due, in part, to his father’s support of his sister Bess over many years and of Bess’s unwillingness to sell The Hermitage.
Mary Elizabeth also faced other losses. In 1943 her Aunt Vinnie died. Vinnie’s long-time servant, the Irish-immigrant Kate Zahner, destitute, was welcomed by Elizabeth to The Hermitage. They would be companions for nearly three decades. In 1946, Elizabeth’s stepmother, Bessie Tyler died in Virginia at age 76.
Through the next two and a half decades, Mary Elizabeth and Katie Zahner held on to The Hermitage amidst dwindling resources. There were a few small inheritances which came their way, and they sold property and the two tenant houses. Elizabeth and Katie lived very frugally, eventually in just two rooms in the house. They heated and cooked with a coal stove in the sitting room. And they had to fight off trespassers and vandals.
Mary Elizabeth Willed The Hermitage to the State of New Jersey as a Museum in 1961 and Died in 1970
There were numerous offers to buy the house and property, but the women would have none of it. In 1961 Elizabeth wrote her will which stated: “I give & bequeath to the State of New Jersey the Historic Hermitage & all its furnishings & land upon which it stands…to be used as a museum & park.” The fact that they had no funds for improvement for more than a half century meant that the original Gothic Revival architecture of the house was not altered. Letters and other records, clothing, and artifacts from almost two centuries were not thrown out. But deferred maintenance also meant greatly overgrown grounds, a badly leaking roof, internal water damage, peeling wallpaper, crumbling plaster, and destruction by birds and animals in parts of the house. Only when the women became ill did social service install in one room the home’s first electricity in 1969. The illness, though, would result in death, for Elizabeth on March 10, 1970, and for Katie five days later, both at age 85.
The Founding of the Friends of The Hermitage in 1972
On the death of Elizabeth and Katie, Catherine Fetter, a distant Rosencrantz relative living in the area, together with her husband, both of whom had been in touch with the women for a number of years, took the lead in the difficult task of protecting the house and its contents. They gained the cooperation of the local and county police forces. Still there were break-ins, the ransacking and stealing of contents, senseless vandalism and even a small fire.
The Paramus Historical and Preservation Society engaged an expert, Loring McMillan, to appraise the historic value of The Hermitage. He declared it as an outstanding example of Gothic Revival architecture. The Society succeeded in getting it placed on the National Register of Historic Places. On October 23, 1970, fifteen people interested in saving The Hermitage met with state officials. Three days later state workers started clearing brush, installing security lights, and patching the worst apertures in the roof. On November 30 Governor William Cahill approved state acceptance of The Hermitage. In the following year, for protection, the state boarded up the house and put up a cyclone fence.
The Hermitage, 1972
On December 3, 1971, members of the Paramus Society met with the State Superintendent of Parks. He suggested that they help form a non-profit organization to raise funds for a new roof, since no state support was possible at that time. The Society and Congressman William Widnall sent invitations for a meeting to interested organizations. On January 21, 1972, in the Education Building of the Old Paramus Church some 200 people decided to form the Friends of The Hermitage. Janet Norwood of Ridgewood was elected president and Claire Tholl of Upper Saddle River vice president. The other members of the first Board of Trustees were: John Hill, June Bove and Mildred Murray of Ridgewood; Catherine and Gardiner Fetter and Phyllis Williams of Ho-Ho-Kus; Rosa Livingston of Midland Park; Fritz Krieger of Wyckoff; and Billie Wassmann of Emerson.
During its first year The Friends gained members, obtained donations from individuals and local organizations, gained newspaper and television publicity, and ran fund raising events. These various efforts netted $30,000 by the end of 1972. Janet Norwood and others continued to put pressure on the state government for financial assistance. The state did spend $9,000 and put $20,000 for capital improvements in the upcoming budget. With these funds a temporary roof was installed. Interior cleaning began. Clothes were sorted and restoration was begun. Every scrap of paper was collected. All moveable furnishings were sent to Ringwood for safe storage and needed repairs. A caretaker was employed. He lived in a mobile home on the property. A state-run archeological dig was initiated. In late September and in October costumed guides led the first of several house tours for more than a thousand visitors.
This, however, was only the beginning. Through the 1970s the Friends increased their membership so that it stood at 800 by 1980, and they continued successful fund raising. They reached $52,000 by August 1974, much of which was used for restoration work. Then, in the latter part of that year, they raised an additional $25,000 to move the 1892 John Rosencrantz house, saved from demolition, several hundred yards to The Hermitage property. These endeavors were supplemented by the vigorous efforts of Ms. Norwood and others of the Friends to move the state government forward and gain grants from the federal government. By 1977 the state had expended more than $100,000 on The Hermitage, which was enhanced in 1978 by a HUD grant of $65,000 and nearly $100,000 from the National Park Service. The Friends were thus able to obtain a total of some $250,000 for restoration by the end of the decade.
These funds resulted in a rehabilitation of the house’s foundation and a cleaning and pointing of the exterior by the end of 1974; the replacement of the roof, repair of the porch trim and windows and a rebuilding of the chimneys by 1977; and much interior work through 1980, including work on floors, ceilings and woodwork, replastering of walls, reproduction wallpaper, and repainting, plus the installation of wiring, lighting, heating, and climate control.
The archeological digs continued. June Bove and Norma Hensler worked on restoring clothing. They got training and help from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and they helped direct a sewing group that met weekly to effect repairs. Alec Hurst, a Tenafly High School teacher, began research in 1973, and, together with others, contributed significantly to knowledge about the history of The Hermitage. Leadership of the Friends passed to Kay Fetter in 1975, to Vincent Minetti in 1979, and to Nancy Gay in 1980. June Bove was curator and site director in the late 1970s, and Florence Leon was named executive director in 1981.