One of the most notable people in the neighborhood of Locktown in Hunterdon County was Daniel Rittenhouse. His life makes an interesting story, which we know something of thanks to the collection known as The Rittenhouse Papers, on file at the Hunterdon County Historical Society.
Rittenhouse was born on March 2, 1767, eight years before the Revolution began, and was the last of twelve children born to William Rittenhouse and Rebecca Harned. This made him the grandson of the first William Rittenhouse, who around 1720 settled in Amwell Township next to John Reading’s plantation. John W. Lequear wrote that William Rittenhouse Jr. and wife Rebecca moved to a farm just west of Locktown on the Kingwood-Locktown Road. This was property that William Sr. had acquired from an early proprietary owner.
On January 3, 1799, William Rittenhouse Jr. wrote his will, naming his second wife, Elizabeth and eleven of his children. To son Daniel, he left the remainder of his homestead plantation not disposed of by deeds, along with 24 acres bought from Andrew Heath, formerly of Amwell dec’d. This was the farm that extended along the Kingwood-Locktown Road and included the whole northwest corner of the village of Locktown. At the time, it was not much of a village. There was a Baptist Church there, and a cemetery, but nothing else. The nearest neighbors were Andrew Heath to the south and John Rockafellar to the southeast.
Previous to writing his will, William Rittenhouse had conveyed part of this large farm to his second oldest son Benjamin. This tract was located about a mile north of Locktown. Benjamin Rittenhouse was taxed on 127 acres in 1797, plus 3 horses and 6 head of cattle, while Daniel Rittenhouse was taxed on 50 acres, 3 horses and 4 head of cattle. In addition, their father William was taxed on 96 acres.
This same year, 1797, Daniel Rittenhouse gave a bond to William Rittenhouse for £97, with the first payment of £48.10 due on May 1, 1798. Interestingly, there was also a provision that if the first payment was made on time, the rest of the obligation would be void. Apparently, that did not happen, for on the back of the paper is a note that on February 13, 1800, Benjamin Rittenhouse, executor of William Rittenhouse deceased, had received a full three years’ interest on the debt. The loan may have been made to allow Daniel Rittenhouse to acquire the 50 acres he was taxed on in 1797.
Marriage to Jane Cartwright
By 1789, Daniel Rittenhouse was 22 years old, and beginning to think about marriage. There is a letter among the Rittenhouse Papers dated March 21, 1789 which appears to be addressed to Daniel Rittenhouse from Moses Rittenhouse (a cousin). It reads in part: “I have heard that you are going to be married to geny Cartwrite [Jane Cartwright]. But take my advise and go and fetch the gurl from far.”
This marriage did take place, probably around 1790, but there is no record of it. Jenny or Jane Cartwright might have been the daughter of Thomas Cartwright of Kingwood Township, who was baptized in the Kingwood Baptist Church in 1787. This was an adult baptism, following the Baptist practice of baptism by full immersion, which meant being dunked in a nearby creek. Although Thomas Cartwright lived in Kingwood Township, he was probably closer to Locktown than to Baptistown, so he was most likely baptized at the old log church there, and dunked in the Wickecheoke. Today the Wickecheoke Creek is a fast-moving but shallow stream. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was deep enough to swim in. It ran east-west through the farm of Daniel Rittenhouse along the Kingwood-Locktown Road before turning to run south.
Although baptism by immersion was an accepted practice, it was asking an awful lot to have someone baptized in December, which is what happened to Jane Cartwright on December 7, 1788, when she was probably 18 years old. We can only hope it was a warm December that year. But it probably wasn’t since this was still the “Little Ice Age.”
As for having children, that must have been put on hold for awhile. A letter written to Daniel Rittenhouse on December 5, 1792 by his brother-in-law George Dansdill read:
“am Glad to hear that you have Brook the Enchantment of Getting Children for I think It would Greaved you much if you had not don It.”
During her life, Jane Cartwright Rittenhouse is said to have had an amazing 18 children. But her life must have been tragic, since most of these children died as infants. Only three of her children grew to be adults, all of them daughters.
By 1805, Daniel and Jane Rittenhouse had children who needed an education. Their neighbors did too. A committee of four men was formed to purchase a small lot of land for a schoolhouse. They were Richard Heath and Daniel’s brother Benjamin Rittenhouse of Kingwood, and John Heath and William Lair of Amwell (now Delaware) Townships. Daniel Rittenhouse gave these men a lease for a lot of land near the Wickecheoke Creek measuring 20 feet by 33 feet. The lease was for 99 years, and cost the traditional one peppercorn. The school house, which was to be 20 by 24 feet, was nearly the size of the lot. The schoolhouse was not replaced until 1866 when a new stone building was erected on Locktown School Road. It is still standing, now used as a private residence.
Daniel Rittenhouse prospered as a farmer, but even more so as a distiller. On May 29, 1794, he bought a 36-gallon copper still from Andrew Eisenhut. Even though the government had put a new tax on whiskey, which led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, Rittenhouse must have known he could still make a profit. His account book for the years 1804-1805 found among the Rittenhouse papers, shows him selling “wiske” by the pint as well as “lodes” of “rie,” corn and buckwheat. In 1811, he sent a bill to Prall & Lambert, storekeepers in Stockton, for 607 ½ gallons of Apple Whiskey at 55 cents a gallon. Apple whiskey from New Jersey was highly regarded during the years leading up to the Civil War. On September 25, 1815, Daniel Rittenhouse registered a 40-gallon still, stating that he intended to be employed in “distilling spirits from domestic materials.”
If you are trying to sell a lot of whiskey, your best customers are tavern owners. But there was no tavern at Locktown until Daniel Rittenhouse built one on his property, probably around 1816. This must have saved him a lot of time and trouble delivering whiskey to taverns further away.
The reason I give for the tavern dating to 1816 is a property assessment made that year. On June 1, 1816, the Rittenhouse property jumped in value from $4,400 to $9,840. I doubt that wartime inflation could explain such an increase, but construction of a tavern house certainly could. The tavern was located at the corner of Locktown-Sergeantsville Road and Kingwood-Locktown Road, which was the southeast corner of Rittenhouse’s farm.
The first tavern keeper we know of here was a nephew of Daniel Rittenhouse, named Benjamin Hyde. He was born in 1786 to Daniel’s sister Hannah and her husband John Hyde. We know he got a tavern license in 1828 when he was 42 years old. There is a tavern license application for Benjamin Hyde for the year 1829, in which he states that he wishes to run a tavern in the same location, “by the new Baptist Meeting house,” that he did the year before.
Signature of Daniel Rittenhouse (Rettinghous) on the tavern application of Benjamin Hyde, 1829
In June 1828, Hyde inserted this advertisement in the Hunterdon Gazette (published June 18th):
“The anniversary of American Independence will be celebrated at the public inn kept by Benjamin Hyde, at the Swamp Meeting House, near the Kingwood line; Four Volunteer Companies, with appropriate music, will attend, and an oration will be delivered; a dinner will be provided for the occasion, Benj Hyde, June 18.”
The Swamp Meeting House was the local name for the Baptist Church in Locktown. Locktown is located in an area that has long been known as the Great Swamp (not to be confused with the better-known Great Swamp of Morris County). The Locktown-Flemington Road, which was recorded in 1779, was known as the road from Flemington to the Swamp Meeting House.
With all this production and sale of whiskey, Daniel Rittenhouse had a great need for good barrels to store his merchandise. I do not know who he purchased his barrels from, but apparently by around 1838, he had decided to make his own. About that time he received a letter from his son-in-law William Bonham, then living in Ohio, who wrote: “tell me how you and Francis Myers are coming on a coopering.” According to John W. Lequear, Rittenhouse was generally known as “Cooper Dan,” to distinguish him from other Daniel Rittenhouse’s living in the area. It would be good to know when that name first began to be used. The letter from William Bonham seems to suggest that the coopering operation was relatively new in 1838.
A Lot for the Swamp Meeting House
Jane Cartwright Rittenhouse died young, only about 47 years old, in May 1817. She was probably buried in the Baptist Cemetery, but her gravestone is missing. Of her many children, the two known survivors were Fanny (married Peter Snyder) and Jane (married Daniel Robeson). A daughter Catherine (possibly married Ezekiel Everitt) may also have survived her.
The Old School Baptist Church at Locktown
About a year and a half later, on January 27, 1819, Daniel Rittenhouse offered a small lot to the Kingwood Baptists for a new church in Locktown. There had been a church there since about 1750, but by 1819 there were enough congregants in the vicinity to justify construction of a proper stone building. At the same time he gave a small amount of land to enlarge the graveyard “to a hollow from the road to the Creek.” Daniel’s cousin Elisha Rittenhouse was an active member of this church and oversaw its construction, which was completed in October 1819. Elisha Rittenhouse may have been the one to convince Daniel Rittenhouse to sell a lot for the church, but Daniel Rittenhouse must have been the one to chose its location.
The lot he sold was wedged between the Wickecheoke Creek on the north and his tavern lot on the south. Having a church right next to his tavern was good business. In the early 1800s, Sunday sermons in Baptist churches went on for hours, both morning and afternoon. It was not uncommon for some of the congregants to sneak across the way to get some fortification for the day. Laws against selling alcohol on Sundays did not come into effect until the Temperance Movement got underway, in the 1830s and 40s.
Daniel Rittenhouse and Elizabeth Miers/Myers
Daniel Rittenhouse was not completely faithful to his wife Jane. In 1816, a year before she died, he had an affair with a woman named Elizabeth Miers of Kingwood. Elizabeth gave birth to a child on September 4, 1816, when Daniel was about 50 years old and Elizabeth was only 17. Elizabeth’s father, John Miers, insisted that Daniel Rittenhouse pay child support.
Evidence for this affair was found in the Rittenhouse Papers. First there was a promissory note dated September 20, 1816, in which Daniel Rittenhouse agreed to pay John Miers $50 by May 1, 1818.
“The trew meaning of this obligation is that if Elisabeth Miers Chile should die before the Expiration of the year then the above named John Miers to receive no more then in purportion to the time the Child lives other ways to remain in full force it being for value received as witness my hand and Seal this 20th day of September 1816. Witness Elisha Rettinghouse.”
This forcefully suggests that Daniel Rittenhouse was paying child support for a child born out of wedlock. The signature has been ripped off, to indicate that the obligation was fulfilled or voided.
On the same date (September 20, 1816), there was a bond of Elizabeth and John “Meyers,” both of Kingwood, to Daniel Rittenhouse for $600. It states:
“The Condition of the above Obligation is that whereas the above bounden Elizabeth Myers was on the fourth day of this instant delivered of a female Bastard child then born of her Body . . .” she and John Myers will “indemnify and keep harmless the Township of Kingwood and Daniel Rittenhouse from all expenses for bringing up said child.”
Elizabeth Myers signed her mark. The Township of Kingwood was held harmless because in the normal course of things the township would be obliged to support this unwed mother and her child. This was an expense all townships wished to avoid as much as possible, even to the extent of returning such a woman to the place of her birth, in another township. But it is surprising that Daniel Rittenhouse was also “held harmless.” This probably guaranteed that the amount he was paying would not be increased at a later date.
Elizabeth Miers seemed to enjoy certain privileges as the mistress of Daniel Rittenhouse. A receipt dated June 11, 1817 charges Daniel Rittenhouse for “Ladies Hoes, India Cluck” [cloak], lace, gingham, muslin and a teapot. This bill came only a month after the death of Jane Cartwright, but I have little doubt that the goods were intended for Elizabeth Myers. Another bill from William L. Prall dated June 13, 1818 was for ribbons, muslin, combs, etc. bought by “Miss Elizabeth Myers” at the Prallsville store.
The customary waiting period after the death of a spouse was one year. But it was four years before Daniel Rittenhouse married again, and his second wife was none other than Elizabeth Miers. They are supposed to have married on December 6, 1821. This date of marriage comes from Linton Love, a Rittenhouse genealogist, but I do not know where he got it from. There is nothing in Hunterdon Marriages or in the minutes of the Kingwood Baptists. This marriage was probably a little scandalous.
Their first child, Rebecca, born out of wedlock, married William Lair Bonham, the son-in-law who wrote to Daniel Rittenhouse in 1838. The next child, Amy, is also supposed to have been born about 1816, according to her gravestone in the Frenchtown cemetery (she died in 1892, having married John L. Brink). The third child, David was the first to be born after the wedding took place.
Altogether, Elizabeth Miers Rittenhouse had ten children (see Postscript below). They all lived long enough to grow up and marry. She was far more fortunate with her children than Jane Cartwright had been. What is really amazing is that when her last child was born about 1842, Daniel Rittenhouse, the father, was 75 years old. One can only wonder at the nature of their relationship.
Given that the youngest child was named Bateman, in honor of a much beloved pastor of the Locktown Baptist Church, Rev. David Bateman who died ten years previously in 1832, one would suspect that either Elizabeth or Daniel were congregants of the church. Jane’s death was noted in the minutes of the Baptists, but neither Daniel Rittenhouse nor Elizabeth Miers were ever listed as members of the church.
Death of Daniel Rittenhouse
A year after his youngest child Bateman was born, Daniel Rittenhouse wrote his last will and testament, on May 30, 1843. He declared that the 155-acre farm in Kingwood, “whereon I now reside” would be the home of “my wife Elizabeth Rittenhouse and all her children . . . untill her youngest child becomes 21,” which would be about 1852. The farm was to be under the care of his sons David and George Dansdill, who would divide it equally between them, “after the departure of my wife and most of my children from said farm” and when son Bateman turned ten. As for the tavern lot, he stipulated that a lot “of about three acres” on the south side of the creek,
“called the tavern lot, . . . with various buildings thereon is intended to be the residence of my said wife after she shall have left my homsted farm as before mentioned . . . as long as she remains my widow, Provided she accepts of the same in Lieu of her right of Dower out of my estate, and not otherwise.”
The will named all the children of both Elizabeth and of his first wife Jane. To the daughters of his first wife, Catharine and Jane, he left $1 each, they “having already received from me whilst they were young considerably more money than I can now give to each of the children now liveing with me.”
He left $1 to the children of his second child Fanny, who was then deceased. Regarding her husband Peter Snyder, who “has been for many years a tenant of a Kingwood farm bought from Jonas Waterhouse of 136 acres, this to be sold by executors and proceeds to pay his debts and [the] residue divided among children of 2nd wife.” This is a little unfortunate, as it left nothing for Fanny’s five children.
Daniel Rittenhouse named his brother-in-law Francis Mires and his son “Dansdill” Rittenhouse to be his executors. The will was recorded on May 29, 1848. His inventory, which was made on June 6, 1848 by A. B. Chamberlin and Joseph Lair, totaled $4767.83. This included a large number of notes due from several people, along with the equipment one would expect a cooper to own. He also had a copper still. His household goods were fairly typical, including an eight-day clock and a rug.
Daniel Rittenhouse died on May 19, 1848 at the advanced age of 81 years 2 months and 11 days, which was five years after making his will. There was an obituary notice published in the Hunterdon Gazette on May 31st to that effect:
“DIED, In Kingwood on the morning of the 19th inst. Daniel Rittenhouse, Sr. in the 82nd year of his age. He was much esteemed as a respectable and useful member of society.”
He was buried in the Locktown Baptist cemetery, although his stone is no longer standing. Several years ago, some children vandalized the cemetery and stole the gravestone. But it was later found and returned to the church. Unfortunately, it was broken in half, but you can still read it. It states that Daniel Rittenhouse was born on March 2, 1767, died May 19, 1848.
On May 2, 1850, Francis Rittenhouse, fifth child of Daniel and Elizabeth, executed a bond to the executors Francis Myers and Dansdill Rittenhouse, for $700, in which Francis Rittenhouse agreed to pay off any future debts of Daniel Rittenhouse’s estate that may become known if there are no other assets. The bond noted that $350 in goods and chattels had been allotted to Francis Rittenhouse in Daniel’s will, which had been received. Among the Rittenhouse papers is another bond by Francis Rittenhouse dated 1849-1852, this time as guardian of Sarah Ann Rittenhouse; there is also an account book for that purpose.
There was a Sarah Rittenhouse, of Delaware Township, who was married to John M. Chamberlin of Kingwood on November 1, 1851 by Rev. Israel Poulson. The Rev. Poulson did not serve the Baptist Church in Locktown; he was the leader of the German Baptist Church of Sand Brook. I am puzzled by this couple. John M. Chamberlin was a dry goods merchant and grocer in Locktown in 1880, but in 1860 he was a single school teacher, living in the household of A. B. Chamberlin. What happened to wife Sarah? In 1870 he was a tobacconist, still single, living in Kingwood in the household of M. M. Venable. Since Daniel Rittenhouse’s daughter Sarah was living in Kingwood in 1850, and still under guardianship in 1852, perhaps she is not the one who married John M. Chamberlin. But I do not know what happened to her.
The Widow Elizabeth Rittenhouse
As Daniel Rittenhouse had stipulated in his will, Elizabeth Rittenhouse was living at his farm in Kingwood in 1850 with his youngest children, Sarah 14, Elizabeth 11, and Bateman 8, when the census was taken. The Cornell Map of 1851 shows “G. & D. Rittenhouse” at the farm of their father. Elizabeth also had, under the terms of the will, ownership of the tavern lot, which she mortgaged in 1851. Interestingly, in the mortgage she was identified as “of Delaware Township,” which would make her a resident at the tavern lot instead; if she was living at the farm she would have been “of Kingwood.”
Elizabeth Myers Rittenhouse died on June 27, 1857. Her gravestone can be found in the Locktown Baptist cemetery. It reads: “Elizabeth Myers, wife of Daniel Rittenhouse, 2nd wife, June 27, 1799 – June 27, 1857, 58 yrs.” Her estate was administered by her son, Francis Rittenhouse, who put up a bond of $300, with Francis Myers and A. B. Chamberlin sureties. These last two also appraised the inventory of her goods on August 5, 1857. Along with household goods she owned a book (untitled), a clock, one pair of fowls, and rent due from M. Fields and John Rittenhouse. M. Fields was occupying the tavern. Elizabeth had been a rich lady for awhile, but when she died, she was very poor. Her inventory amounted to only $188.51.
As for her family, two of her children (Rebecca and Bateman) moved away from Hunterdon County, but the rest stayed on.
The Tavern Lot and the Rittenhouse Farm
The tavern lot was advertised for sale on November 25, 1857 by Francis Myers and George D. Rittenhouse, and described as an eight-acre lot with tavern house, horse shed, barn and other outbuildings occupied by Mahlon Fields. (All but the house and a couple small outbuildings are gone.) The lot was sold to Ely Brittain of Kingwood for $1,815. On the same day, April 1, 1858, Francis Rittenhouse, administrator for Elizabeth Rittenhouse deceased of Delaware Township, sold a 0.19-acre lot to Ely Britton of Kingwood. This was the corner lot, directly across the road from the tavern.
After the deaths of Daniel and Elizabeth Rittenhouse, their farm came to be owned by their son George Dansdill Rittenhouse. He left the farm sometime before 1877 and died in Frenchtown on March 29, 1889, age 66. I did not find an estate for him. In 1877, one John Ramsey sold the farm to Samuel Worthington, who sold it in 1889 to George R. Sherman.
Postscript: Children of Daniel Rittenhouse
by Jane Cartwright
i. Catharine (c.1785-aft 1843)
Two Cattron Ruttenhousenes were baptised in the Kingwood Baptist Church, one on 20 Sep 1783 and the other on 1 Oct 1785.[D’Autrechy, Some Records of Old Hunterdon, p. 84-85]
ii. Fanny (c.1790-aft 1820), married Peter Snyder
iii. George (c.1795-1808)
iv. Jane E. (23 May 1806 – 7 Aug 1852), married Daniel Robeson
None of the other children were baptised in the Locktown Baptist Church.
by Elizabeth Myers
i. Rebecca (4 Sep 1816 – aft 1843), married William Lair Bonham
ii. Amy (c.1817 – 1892), married John L. Brink
iii. David (c. 1822 – Aug 1860), married Ann or Amy Bird
iv. George Dansdill (c. 1823 – 29 Mar 1889), married Amy Wert
v. Francis (c. 1827 – aft 1873), married Miranda Heath
vi. Selina or Salena (12 Apr 1831 – 22 May 1903), married William Britton
vii. John (31 Jan 1833 – 5 May 1908), married Rebecca Murray
viii. Sarah Ann (c. 1836 – bef 1870), may have married John M. Chamberlin
ix. Elizabeth (c. 1839 – bef 1860), married Octavious Pearl Chamberlin
x. Bateman (c. 1842 – aft 1870), left Hunterdon County
Addendum, Nov. 13, 2013:
Here’s an interesting story on the politics of hard cider: “Hard Cider and the Election of 1840.”