Mr. Bush Traces Ownership of Place Long Owned
by Bray Descendants
The Bray Family Portraits

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published by the Hunterdon Co. Democrat, April 19, 1934

The following article was written by Mr. Bush about a farm many people think of as the Chet Huntley farm or the Douglas Knight farm. I have added footnotes to flesh out the story. 

The Andrew Bray House

This old farm and vicinity have been for several years a matter of much interest to me. The farm was known to have been in the Bray family for a long time, but whom or by whom it had been conveyed to them was not known. Careful search, supplemented by no little inquiry, has thrown much light upon the subject. It is found that by deed dated Sept. 1, 1821, Elisha Rittenhouse and Isabella his wife, in consideration of $3,100, conveyed to Andrew Bray, a son of General Daniel Bray, “All that tract or parcel of land formerly the property of Thomas Opdycke, deceased, and by him conveyed to the said Elisha Rittenhouse . . . October 20, 1801.”

“Beginning at a rock where formerly a sweet maple stood, corner to John Smith’s land and also corner to what was formerly called Montgomerie’s tract; thence along said Smith’s line South 86(?) degrees West, 60 chains to a stone in said line; thence North 4 degrees West, 10.65 chains to a hickory saplin for a corner, also corner to lands formerly Daniel Howell’s; thence North 21 degrees West, 18 chains to a stone corner;  thence North 4 degrees West, 83 (?) chains to a corner of other lands of said Rittenhouse (formerly Bellises), on the North side of the run; thence North 67 degrees East, 6.80 chains; thence down said run, North 2 degrees East, 6.40 chains, thence North 50 degrees East, 10.50 chains to a hickory for a corner in the road; thence South 70 degrees East 2.40 chains (?);  thence South 4 degrees East 20 chains to a stone;  thence North 86 degrees East, 33.50 chains to the middle of the Witchecheoak Creek;  thence down the same, South 35 degrees East 10 chains to the old line;  thence along the same South 4 degrees East 26.90 chains to the place of Beginning, containing 248 acres, be the same, more or less.1

This long description, tho abbreviated by us of figures and partly clarified by a little punctuation—yet a trifle obscure in spite of all—has been found advisable for checking the work.

Recital From Deeds

The deed by Thomas Opdyke, Oct. 20, 1801, says:

“Whereas Jacob Rouser stood lawfully seized in fee of a certain Tract of Land or plantation, situate in the Township of Amwell, aforesaid, containing by estimation 288 acres, being so seized thereof, the said Jacob Rouser died intestate on or about the 17th day of April, 1789; and Whereas administration of the goods of the said Jacob Rouser was, on the sixth day of May 1789, granted unto Mary Rouser and Jonathan Woolverton; and Whereas Peter Fox did afterwards become joint Administrator with said Mary Rouser and Jonathan Woolverton by his marriage with the said Mary Rouser; and Whereas the said Administrators obtained of the Judges of the Orphans Court, May 2, 1792 . . . by virtue whereof . . . Thomas Opdycke became the highest bidder for said plantation, whereupon the said plantation was cryed off and sold to the said Thomas Opdycke; Now therefore this Indenture Witnesseth that the said Administrators, in consideration of 1,333 Federal Dollars and 33 cents, did convey the said plantation to the said Thomas Opdycke, the 21st day of May, 1793”.2

A deed by Elisha Rittenhouse and Mabel, his wife, and Sarah Rittenhouse (widow of Peter Rittenhouse) to Thomas Opdycke, has this preamble:

“Whereas William Rittenhouse the elder had surveyed and located 240 acres of Land lying in the Township of Amwell on the Wickechaoak Creek (recorded in the Surveyor General’s office in Burlington, in Book A page 293). The said William Rittenhouse being so seized thereof, did, by deed dated August 3, 1760, convey 100 acres of the above tract to his son Peter Rittenhouse and Whereas the said William Rittenhouse by his last will and testament did devise the residue of said Tract of 240 acres to his aforesaid son Peter Rittenhouse and the said Peter Rittenhouse, by his last will and testament, bearing date of the 22nd day of August, 1791, did devise the above mentioned tract of Land to his son Elisha Rittenhouse, party of the first part to these presents;

“Now This Indenture Witnesseth that the said . . ., in consideration of the exchange of Lands to the full value of the Lands hereby intended to be conveyed, by Deed bearing even date with this Deed, by which said Thomas Opdycke conveyed a farm or plantation in full compensation for the Lands hereby intended to be conveyed.”

This may appear hardly necessary to our purpose; yet it clearly shows to whom these lands belonged in the early days.3

The Rittenhouse Will

The will of Elisha Rittenhouse dated April 29, 1839, and probated Dec. 28, 1846, has the following: “I give to my wife Isabella Rittenhouse the use of the homestead farm containing about 100 acres, during her natural life, Excepting the mills thereon erected and also as much of the land of said tract as will secure to the purchaser of the Mills the water power required for their use and benefit.” Evidently the Holcombe Mills of later date. “To my daughter Sarah, wife of Andrew Bray, to them I conveyed land several years ago, making as I conceive ample provision for them.4 I shall therefore add nothing to their legacy except six shares of my Centre Bridge stock, and this I give exclusively to my daughter Sarah, notwithstanding her marriage.” By this he evidently meant nothing against her husband, but wanted this stock to furnish Sarah with “pin money,” or money over which no one else should have any control.5

This will also says: “My son Allison Rittenhouse departed this life leaving six children, three of each sex. To them I hereby give and bequeath the farm or tract of land whereon they now live, situate in the township of Delaware,6 and also twelve shares of my stock in the Centre Bridge crossing the Delaware River. To my daughter Keturah, wife of John Risler, I give the farm whereon they now live, containing about 100 acres, to the said Keturah and John Risler and to their heirs forever”.7

This John Risler (generally written John T. Risler) was made executor of the will. He was the father of the late Cyrus Risler and of the John Risler who owned the farm adjoining that of Cyrus Risler, until he sold it to John Jungbludt, July 5, 1921: “Being the same which Keturah Risler conveyed to the said John Risler, April 5, 1870.”

Ancient Trees Felled

We find that by deed dated March 31, 1866, Anderson Bray and Sarah Bray conveyed 66 ½ acres of land to William L. Hoppock, Samuel C. Hoppock and John Finney, for the snug sum of $6,000. Also that the same tract was by the same parties conveyed to Anderson Bray April 22, 1867, in consideration of $1,000. This looks like a great and sudden depreciation in value. And such was the case. Any old citizen knowing the activities of the first purchasers—especially of John Finney—may readily recall or imagine the different aspect presented by that tract of land when it came into their possession, from that which it presented when they sold it back. The fine old oaks and graceful hickories all gone. Not one majestic beech or towering poplar remaining. Nothing but sickly saplings, perhaps broken and disfigured, struggling for life among stumps and briers and piles of blackening brush—the ghastly remains of last year’s grandeur and glory.8

Neither of these deeds has any recital. Whether it all came from the original tract or not is hard to tell without careful drafting. Another noticeable thing about them is that Sarah Bray is not designated as “widow.” And what is still more puzzling is that she is not mentioned in the later deed.9

By deed dated Jan. 24, 1857, Elisha R. Bray, in consideration of $5,000, released to Anderson Bray and Sarah Bray, “All his rights and share in the property of Andrew Bray, deceased, in all lands and personal {property} of all kinds, held and enjoyed by the said Sarah Bray, Elisha Bray and Anderson Bray as joint proprietors.” The deed speaks of the real estate as about 300 acres, with another lot adjoining. Elisha R. was a bachelor living with his mother and his brother Anderson.

The will of Sarah (Rittenhouse) Bray, probated Feb. 17, 1882, has this provision: “To my son Anderson Bray I give the use of the balance of my estate as long as he lives, and if he leaves legal issue to the time of his decease, it shall belong to them at the age of 21 years, both principal and interest remaining”.10

Anderson Bray Marries

Up to that time, Anderson Bray had been a bachelor, living with his mother and brother. Subsequently he married Amy, daughter of Britton Snyder (always known as “Brit Snyder”). They had but one child, a daughter Sarah R., who under the provision of her grandmother’s will, came into possession of the property at the age of twenty-one.11 She married Clarence A. Pyatt, a great grandson of that well-remembered Dr. James Pyatt, who came from the vicinity of Piscataway in 1805, and began to practice medicine at Croton. In 1808 he married Sarah, daughter of Jeremiah and Sarah (Rittenhouse) King, on her 20th birthday. In 1758  [Jeremiah] King had bought a tract of land near Quakertown, a part of the original 500-acre tract owned by John Stevenson. In 1776 he sold this and soon after bought the large tract of land above Croton, where they lived at the time of their daughter’s marriage to Dr. Pyatt. In 1778 King’s first wife died. In 1779 he married Sarah, daughter of Moses and Mary Rittenhouse.

The Pyatt Family

Dr. Pyatt’s activities, professional and otherwise, covered a period of about 60 years. Clarence Pyatt is a son of Albert and grandson of King Pyatt, who was burned to death in 1895, when the attractive old house known as the “Upper Boarshead Tavern” was destroyed by fire. A grewsome sight, indeed, was the search for the few remaining pieces of charred bone representing all that remained of the good old man.12

Clarence A. and Sarah (Bray) Pyatt have five children; namely, Albert S., Dorothy E., Robert, Ruth and Evelyn. While yet in high school, from which she graduated at the age of 15, Dorothy wrote for the D.A.R. a very creditable article on the Life and Services of Gen. Daniel Bray. The organization thought so well of the effort that both it and its author received appropriate recognition.

In these five youngsters is mingled the blood of at least four well-known families that mingled long ago: the Brays and the Rittenhouses on one side, and the Kings and the Pyatts on the other. In fact, we find the widely-distributed Rittenhouse family coming in on both sides.

The Bray Portraits

Unfortunately, there are no photographs of the elder Brays. A fine oil painting of Andrew Bray and one of his wife Sarah adorn one hall in the homestead dwelling. These were painted by William Bonnell and by him signed and dated, April 20, 1825. Who that old-time artist was is not known, but his works live after him.13

This Pyatt family, however, hold two photographs that were submitted to me some months ago for identification. They are fine pictures of Dr. James Pyatt and his wife Sarah. They are highly prized, and would doubtless be of interest to many people who have knowledge of this old couple, once so prominent in the affairs of their community.14

Dr. James Pyatt 1784-1864

Sarah King Pyatt, 1788-1874

[Note: The faces of Dr. and Mrs. Pyatt speak volumes about the challenges of their lives, but also reflect the state of photographic technology of the time. They had to hold still for many minutes while the exposure was being taken. Try staring into a camera, keeping perfectly still, for five minutes. You’d look somber too.]

Letters of administration of the estate of Dr. Pyatt were granted to his son King, Nov. 24, 1864. Sarah King Pyatt died in Flemington, April 9, 1874. The well-kept Bray records show:

Andrew Bray, born Dec. 12, 1789, married Sarah Rittenhouse Jan. 15, 1815, died March 27, 1849;
Sarah Rittenhouse Bray, born May 14, 1796, died Feb. 3, 1882; and that their children were:
Sylvanus Jackson Bray, born Oct. 27, 1815, died Feb. 16, 1827;
Daniel Bray, born Sept. 5, 1818, died March 10, 1842;
Elisha Bray, born Sept. 5, 1818, died Oct. …, 1891;
Anderson Bray, born Dec. 5, 1826, died June 6, 1913.15

 The nucleus of Andrew Bray’s extensive holdings, long known as the Anderson Bray Farm, has been at various times expanded or contracted. The latest change was made by Sarah R. and Clarence A. Pyatt and Amy Bray, Oct. 1, 1932, when they conveyed 75 acres from the western part thereof, to Henry E. Pardoc and Tiza Pardoc, his wife, leaving the present area at about 100 acres.

Buildings Very Old

Unfortunately, there are no dates or records to show when the older buildings were erected. In 1852 a new barn was built, as a stone in the foundation shows. The timbers from the old barn were used in another new structure, now serving as a cow barn; they remain hard, sound and massive as ever. The house is certainly old, but it has no distinctive features by which to fix even the approximate time of its erection.16

On these historic places the sturdy old farmers worked and prospered, tho the soil would never justify what was laconically said of rich Western land: “Tickle it with a hoe, and it laughs with a harvest.” But hard work and good management forced this soil at least to smile pleasantly, in spite of sternness. Here as elsewhere, what the soil did for the farmer depended very much upon what the farmer did for the soil. And it may be that this old law of compensation has never been repealed, however much some of us may have disregarded it. Be that as it may, this old Bray farm is still the home of thrifty people, fighting their way thru discouraging conditions, much as their ancestors were doing long ago.

 

  1. The bordering owners, ‘Montgomeries’ tract, and ‘lands formerly Daniel Howell,’ indicate that  this deed uses a much older description than 1801.
  2. This is probably more verbiage than is really necessary. The aforementioned Jacob Rouser inherited the farm from his father, Rev. Gideon Rouser, whose parents, Martinus Rouser/Rauscher and Maria Salome, emigrated from Holland or Germany around 1710 and baptized their children in the Dutch Reformed Church at Hackensack, NJ. When the Dunkard Church was being established in Amwell Township in the 1730s, Gideon Rouser was present, assisting the pastor, Rev. Bechleshammer. I have not yet discovered who Rev. Rouser married, but the marriage must have taken place about 1733 because his first child, Martin, was born in 1734. Gideon had at least 6 children, and Jacob was probably the third. Jacob’s sister Elizabeth (born 25 Sep 1748, died 22 Jul 1819) married Daniel Moore of Amwell in 1774, and had 11 children. His sister Hannah (born about 1755) married James Jones of Amwell. The other 3 children of Gideon Rouser disappeared from Amwell Township.
  3. The description of land once owned by William Rittenhouse is pertinent to another Bush article, concerning Holcombe’s Mill on Old Mill Road. But that was not the same property as the one Bush is discussing here.
  4. This was the tract of 248 acres conveyed to Andrew and Sarah Bray in 1821. The property was sold at “half its real value” for $3100, with the understanding that it would remove any other claim that Andrew and Sarah Bray might have against the estate of Elisha Rittenhouse.
  5. Bush has no way of knowing if this was merely ‘pin money’ or was meant to protect his daughter from profligate spending by her husband, as was usually the case. Andrew Bray, however, appears to have avoided falling into debt during his life, so perhaps in this case, Bush was right. As for Centre Bridge stock, it is hard to know how much value it had by this time. The bridge had been in operation since 1814. It was built by a private company which sold stock and collected tolls. See my article on Nathaniel Saxton’s efforts to get a bridge built at Saxtonville.
  6. This farm was located on Whiskey Lane.
  7. The Risler farm was on Upper Creek Road, north of Old Mill Road.
  8. This is a very eloquent description of the appearance of a field that has been clear-cut. Many people think of this as a 20th-century practice, but it was extensively used in the 19th century, either by people like John Finney, who ran a lumber factory in Stockton, in partnership with William L. Hoppock, or by farmers themselves, who even cleared trees in the hedgerows. By the end of the 19th century, the landscape was nearly bare, providing extensive views but little shelter for humans, animals or birds. Mr. Bush appears from his writings to have had an abiding love for the great old trees he remembered from his youth, before the days of clear-cutting.
  9. Andrew Bray died on 27 March 1849, so his wife Sarah was a widow for almost 20 years and was 70 years old when this transaction took place. The fact that the land was sold back to her son Anderson, and not to her, may simply be her way of conveying to her son her rights in the farm.  Otherwise, she would have had to record a quit claim deed, as son Elisha did in 1857. Or Anderson would have had to wait until his mother died, since he was her heir.
  10. So Sarah was leaving the balance of the 300 acres to Anderson for his life, which would amount to about 234 acres, unless other parcels had been sold off before this time. Sarah could not convey a life tenure to the lot that had been sold to Finney & Hoppock, but she still had rights in the remainder of the farm. As for Elisha R. Bray, he remained unmarried his whole life. When he conveyed his rights in the farm to his brother, he received in exchange the handsome sum of $5000. How Anderson Bray managed to pay that amount is an interesting question. Elisha R. Bray died in October 1891, at the age of 73.
  11. Anderson Bray was 63 years old when he married in 1889. Why he waited so long is a mystery. His wife Amy was born in March 1860, making her 29 years old when she married. She already had a daughter Margaret, born in 1881 to a father unknown.
  12. “Grewsome” was the way ‘gruesome’ was spelled in Mr. Bush’s day. The old schoolmaster would know. As for King Pyatt, it was certainly a tragedy for him and his family, but also for Delaware Township heritage that the old “Upper Boarshead Tavern” was burned down. It would have been an important landmark. The “Lower Boarshead,” which was the original tavern, was located on the Raritan Township side of Route 579, opposite the intersection with Boarshead Road. It too has been demolished. So today it is hard to imagine how active and important this area was in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  13. A study has been done on William Bonnell’s life and work. I will describe it and show his paintings of the Brays in a subsequent post.
  14. The portraits were not part of Mr. Bush’s article. I am delighted that descendants of King and Sarah Pyatt have made these photographs available to me. They are a little faint, so I have adjusted the images with Photoshop.
  15. There was another child, Matilda, born 28 Feb 1821, died age 12 on 30 May 1833. I do not know why her record was not included.
  16. According to a later resident, there was a stone in the fireplace that was transferred to a walkway. It read “GR 1752.” The GR must have stood for Gideon Rouser (see footnote 2), and may indicate either the date of construction for the earliest part of the house, or of an improvement.