While processing the reams of archived material at the Hunterdon County Historical Society, archivist Donald Cornelius came upon a handwritten diary composed during the years of the Civil War. He was stunned and thrilled by what he found, a personal journal from a resident of Locktown written during those stressful years, 1861-1863. I am equally thrilled that he shared his find with me. Since the Civil War officially ended 150 years ago on April 9th, I would like to share with you the first pages of this fascinating document, written by Benjamin Harvey Ellicott.

Cover of volume one of Benjamin H. Ellicott's Diary

Cover of volume one of Benjamin H. Ellicott’s Diary

Ellicott’s Diary is four volumes made by folding long sheets of paper in half and sewing them together, with a piece of brown paper for a cover (the third and fourth volumes are missing their covers, or perhaps never had them). Ellicott wrote in a very legible hand, managing to create even lines without use of a ruler, which indicates to me a very patient and methodical man. And as far as I can tell, he never missed a day.

But first, a note of explanation. The author was not a New Jersey native. He was born in Maryland on February 6, 1809.1 His parents were Jonathan Ellicott (1756-1826) and Sarah Harvey (1764-1840). The Ellicott family came from Bucks County and moved to Maryland during the Revolutionary War. They joined the local Friends Meeting and became very prominent, successful millers at Ellicott City, Maryland.2

Jonathan and Sarah Ellicott had twelve children, and Benjamin was the youngest of them. He worked in his father’s company, Ellicott & Sons for several years, but appears to have given that up when he married. Before that happened, he was disowned by the orthodox Baltimore Monthly Meeting, as recorded in the minute book for November 9, 1836. His fault was associating himself with “those who have separated from Communion with the ancient Society of Friends” and of “identifying himself with the Seceders.”3

Two years later, on February 22, 1838, Ellicott married Mary Ann Warford at the Episcopalian Christ Church in Baltimore. Ellicott was 30 years old when he married. His 23-year-old wife was born on December 11, 1815 in Kingwood Township, NJ, to Elisha Warford and Mary Arnwine. She was the only surviving child of this marriage. (In a later post, I will present a history of Elisha Warford written by Egbert T. Bush.)

Around the time that Elisha Warford married his second wife, his daughter Mary Ann Warford went to live in Baltimore with a distant cousin named Rachel Colvin. She was nine years old at the time, so this would have been about 1824. Miss Colvin was a wealthy spinster who gave Mary Ann a lady’s education, something she apparently could not get in Kingwood. Rachel Colvin herself was described in court testimony as very smart and shrewd, but lacking a cultural education. After Mary Ann was married, the Ellicotts lived with Miss Colvin, and Benjamin H. Ellicott became her agent and manager of her real estate investments, of which there were many.

For the first ten years of their marriage, the Ellicotts were childless. I have not found any explanation for that. Their first child was not born until 1848, but it did not survive childhood. Some years earlier, around 1845 there was a falling out between Miss Colvin and the Ellicotts, causing the Ellicotts to leave the Colvin house. Subsequently, Rachel Colvin suffered from some sort of senile dementia when in her late 70s, and in 1850, at the instigation of Elisha Warford, she was declared a lunatic. Benjamin H. Ellicott was named to oversee her affairs until Colvin’s death in 1853. Then it was discovered that her will, written in 1848, gave the bulk of her estate to another cousin, Richard Colvin Warford. The will was challenged in court, again at the instigation of Elisha Warford, on behalf of the “heirs-at-law,” which led to years of litigation—another subject for a future post.

As students of the Civil War know, life became increasingly tense in the late 1850s, especially in the South. After the war began, the Ellicott family, probably at the insistence of Mary Ann’s father, left Baltimore for the relative safety of Hunterdon County. The trip was not an easy one. The first pages of Ellicott’s diary provide a description of their journey, which Ellicott called a Hegira. Here is my transcription, with some annotations. I have taken the liberty of adding a few paragraph breaks to make reading easier.

First page of the Ellicott Diary

First page of the Ellicott Diary

Diary commenced on the 1st day of February 1862

Before proceeding with this Diary, as contemplated and commenced now with a view of preserving some Record of our Hegira from Baltimore, during the “Reign of Terror” there consequent upon the assault made upon the Massachusetts Troops on the 19th April 1861, it is proper to state – That B. H. Ellicott with his Wife Mary Ann W. – their Three Children – Rachel W – B. Warford, and Geo Washington Ellicott – Catherine Dorsey, as Nurse, and her Niece Mary Frances Grugaw[?] – left Balto. by the Steamer Lancaster for Havre de Grace, on Friday 26th of April 1861, that being the first opportunity for leaving the City, after the Riot of the 19th, either by Rail Road or Steamer in an Easterly or Northerly direction, by reason of the destruction of the Tracks and the Bridges of the Phila & N. Central R. Road and the Embargo of all S. Boats, by the orders of the Metropolitan Board of Police –

Upon the Steamboat we found a miscellaneous company of about 150 fellow passengers – most of whom were, like ourselves, seeking a refuge more secure from the turmoil and danger which , apparently were then _npended [?] over our beloved City –

After a run of about 7 Hours we arrived at Havre de Grace and being transferred, with our Baggage,  across the River Susquehanna to Perryville we were detained there until the Train was ready to start for Philadelphia, the Rail Road being then under the control of the military authorities and used chiefly for the transportation of troops &c then being forwarded to Washington City  as fast as possible. Whilst at Perryville we had full opportunity, during our detention there of 4 or 5 Hours, to witness the arrival of Troops and their Embarkation on board of several Steamers bound for the City of Annapolis –

We arrived at Phila and reached our Lodging  Then about Midnight having accomplished our journey thus far without accident or interruption, other than the detention above noticed. The Railroad Line for Flemington NJ leaving at 2 1/2 o’clock P.M. an opportunity was afforded to dispose of some Baltimore Bank Notes at 10 pr/cent Discount, that being the best rate therefore, for Phila funds owing to the disturbance, and precarious condition of affairs in our City at that time, and we also purchased some indispensable articles before the departure of the S. Boat for Tacony.

thence to Flemington, where we arrived about 7 o’clock P.M. of Saturday, 27th April 1861 – and took Lodgings at the Union Hotel, kept by Geo. F. Crater, who agreed to board and lodge our Party for 20 dolls per week. The accommodations and fare at the Union, we found to be quite as comfortable as we could expect and after meeting there with our Parent, and friend, Elisha Warford, we soon became settled down in our new quarters to await the development of the arrangements which he had in contemplation for our more comfortable and permanent location in New Jersey, which should have been hereinbefore noticed and mentioned as one of the main objects of our visit or removal to New Jersey, hastened now, by a Month or so, by reason of the unprecedented tumults in Baltimore, and the unparalleled condition of National affairs at this juncture.

Besides the calls made upon us by Mrs. Miller Kline. Mrs. Dr. Schenck and Mrs. Edmund Perry, and our introduction to several of the visitors at the Hotel, we experienced none of the hospitality of the good Citizens of Flemington during our sojourn of more than six weeks – of this lack of attention to us we ought not to complain, perhaps, as our reserve and disinclination to participate in the Society of the place may have tended to prevent some  advances on the part of the Aristocracy of this county Town of Hunterdon.

I expect that Mr. Ellicott, being a southerner, was not accustomed to Northern manners, which were not quite as gracious as the ones he grew up with.

Mrs. Miller Kline was probably Mary Roberson (1820-1890), wife of Henry Miller Kline (1807-1884), who was generally known as Miller Kline. (There were several Miller Klines, so caution is advised.) Miller Kline dabbled in real estate and moved from Klinesville to Flemington in 1859, where he was Justice of the Peace in 1860, and by 1870 was described as a land agent and commissioner of deeds.

Mrs. Dr. Schenck was the wife of Dr. John Frelinghuysen Schenck. She was born Annie M. Churchill and was Dr. Schenck’s second wife. Dr. Schenck was certainly qualified to be considered among the Flemington “Aristocracy.” He began practicing medicine in 1820 and was active in the county Medical Society.

Mrs. Edmund Perry was Elizabeth D. White (c.1825-1905), wife of Edmund Perry Esq. (they married on July 15, 1848). Mrs. Perry was important in her own right. She is described as “An accomplished linguist and musician, frequent contributor (under her maiden name) to magazines & periodicals, like ‘Columbia Magazine’. She also published an article against flogging in the US Navy that helped to end the practice.”4

Perry was an attorney who moved to Flemington in 1850. He probably did legal work for Elisha Warford, for in that same year, he was named one of three trustees to manage the half share of the heirs-in-law to Rachel Colvin’s estate; this was arranged by Elisha Warford after he had her declared a lunatic. (According to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the other trustees were residents of Maryland, G. M. Gill and F. W. Brune.) By 1861, Perry was serving in the State Senate of NJ, as Senate President. He was acting Governor and was one of the greeting party when Lincoln stopped in New Jersey on his way to his inauguration.

In spite of the Wintry and inclement weather of many days of May we all had more or less opportunity to enjoy the advent of Spring, and the quick progress of vegetation, before we left Flemington on the 20th day of June for Locktown.

The recent supply of Spring water and Gas Light introduced into Flemington has added so much to the comfort of living there, that, with the advantages attending the RailRoad thereto, much inducement is offered for the settlement thereof as large a population as can find any means of support from the trade & intercourse with the contiguous District of country. For it is difficult to discover any other means for the support of this Town. The population is said to be about Eleven (11) Hundred all told –

All the cost and charge of our entertainment having been assumed by our Parent and friend E. Warford He had provided accommodations for us at the Tavern House of Wm Nixon at Locktown, whither we removed on 20th June 1861 – and here we have remained up to the present time, in the enjoyment of comparative quiet, if without many of the comforts to which we have been accustomed at home, and blessed with a good degree of Health considering the change of climate & mode of living, to which we have been subjected since our transplantation to these parts.

Nixon’s Tavern House was the old Locktown Hotel, originally owned by Daniel Rittenhouse. (You can read a short history of the place here.) The tavern also featured in the naming of the village (which you can read about here: “Baptists Divided”). There is so much to say about William Nixon, and I am so confused about him, that I will publish his story in a separate post.

Since our domiciliation in “the Swamp” here all of our family appear to have gone through an acclimatizing more or less marked. About the latter part of August, B. H. E. [Ellicott is referring to himself] had an attack of Ersyphilus which confined him to bed for 3 or so weeks time. 5 Since which his health has been more regular and confirmed than for some time previously. In Sept. Rachel had a severe attack of Colic succeeded afterwards, by a spell of Gastric Fever, which confined her to bed for about 3 weeks, and the recovery of her strength thereafter was very tedious indeed. Warford, and George, each suffered from some indisposition showing dysenteric symptoms during the Summer; and Mother [Mary Ann Ellicott] has experienced some aggravation, rather than any relief to her rheumatic complaints during the Summer and Autumn-

The children of Benjamin and Mary Ann Ellicott were Benjamin Warford Ellicott (1853-1896), Rachel Warford Ellicott (1854-aft 1900), Charles Warford Ellicott (1857-c1860), and George Washington Ellicott (1858-aft 1930). It is surprising  that last child was not named George Warford Ellicott, given the established naming pattern. Clearly Elisha Warford had a great deal of influence over this family.

Catherine Dorsey with her niece left us the 9th of December 1861 and returned to Baltimore – She has corresponded with us regularly since she reached there, and Leans now to wish herself back again with us here –

During the Summer and Fall, prior to the last Election, Party Politics ran so high that some high handed and most unjustifiable proceedings were attempted to be carried out by the leaders of the Republican Party in this County. The secret arrest, at midnight, of several of their political opponents and their subsequent discharge from custody without any proof of the charges made against them brought matters to a crisis, and caused such a reaction in the Public sentiment of this County that the Election of Dr Blane as the State Senator, by a majority of nearly 1400 votes over Charles Bartles, the Union & Republican Candidate, showed the Democratic strength elicited by this struggle, and put a quietus upon the further intolerant intentions of the Republicans, against the peace, rights and persons of their fellow citizens in this section.

This matter of the midnight arrests and the election of John Blane is worth an article of its own, but it will take a little more research than I have time for this week.6 Being a Union newspaper, supporting the Republican Party, the Gazette said nothing of these arrests. However, the Hunterdon Co. Democrat is certain to have a lot to say about this incident. According to the Gazette, Blane won by 1279 votes, the totals being 3706 to 2439. (See Postscript, below)

From what we had heard of the severity of the climate here during the winter season, we were led to dread its approach, especially as it was heralded by several storms of rain, Hail, and high winds in November, and the early portion of December; but we have found the climate less severe, and more equable than we had anticipated; although Snow fell early in January, upon so strong an icy foundation, that the subsequent light falls added to it have afforded uninterrupted good Sleighing throughout “The Swamp” up to this day – say 6 or 7 weeks;

With the exception of an affection of the Bowels with which our little George has been troubled for three or four weeks past, and which we now attribute to the cutting through of 4 back teeth, the health of ourselves & children has been uninterrupted, except by ordinary but slight colds; and the rheumatic complaints to which Mother has been so long subjected; although her pain therefrom appears to be less severe than formerly, notwithstanding the unusual amount of exertion, and the onerous duties which have devolved upon her since the departure of Catherine.

This is the end of Ellicott’s tale of the journey from Baltimore to Locktown, and of the family’s early days settling in to their new home. The next entry is dated February 17, 1862, and all subsequent entries are in the form of a daily diary, always beginning with a comment on the state of the weather. There are frequent allusions to the business matters of Elisha Warford, and to the news of Civil War engagements.

The first volume runs 55 pages and ends with October 22, 1862. The next two are of about equal length, but the fourth is only about a third filled. It ends on August 19, 1863. A little over a month later, on September 24, 1863, Benjamin H. Ellicott died while in the process of remodeling the Warford home in Croton. It appears that during the previous month he had been suffering from typhoid fever, which kept him from making daily entries in his diary.

As a consequence of his death, we lost one of the best eye witnesses to life in Hunterdon County during the Civil War. If only he could have survived until its end, to tell us how people reacted to news of the peace on April 9th and then news of Abraham Lincoln’s death on April 14th. But it was not to be.

Postscript, May 19, 2015: On John Blane

My curiosity having been raised by this mention of John Blane’s arrest prior to the election of 1861, I went searching for a mention of this incident in the local papers. I checked the Hunterdon Co. Democrat, being certain that they would go on at some length about this outrage, as well as the Hunterdon Gazette, and Bill Hartman’s abstract of the Hunterdon Co. Republican. None of the papers had anything to say about this incident. Also silent was James P. Snell in his biography of Blane (p. 224). Snell was so silent, he neglected to say anything at all about Blane’s political career. I also did not find anything in the Trenton papers (using Genealogy Bank for a search).

Updates:

I added a reference to John Kuhl’s biography of Dr. Blane, and in the postscript noted my failure to find this incident in a search of Trenton papers.

Footnotes:

  1. Genealogical information on the Ellicott family comes from Biographical and historical accounts of the Fox, Ellicott and Evans families collected and compiled by Charles W. Evans, Buffalo, NY, 1882. Like most 19th century genealogies, it is mostly unsourced, so the information must be relied on with caution.
  2. The only entry for the Ellicotts in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, vol. 2, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is for Nathaniel Ellicott, received at Falls Monthly Meeting from Buckingham in 1757,, who married Latitia Harvey in 1760, and moved to Middletown in 1761.
  3. A copy of this minute was found on Ancestry.com.
  4. From “Capt. Samuel Edmund Perry, Lawyer, Legislator National Guard Officer,” by Mary Depue Odgen, ed. , Memorial Cyclopedia Of New Jersey, vol. 3, 1917.
  5. Ersyphilus is not a word that Google is familiar with. The closest it gets is “Ergyphilus” and that is only a nutritional supplement sold mostly in France. It’s not likely that Mr. Ellicott meant syphilis. I expect it was some kind of digestive disturbance.
  6. A good short biography of John Blane can be found in Hunterdon Historical Record, vol. 52, no. 2 (Spring 2016), pp. 1231, 1236 by John Kuhl: “John Blane, MD, A Singular Hunterdon Personality.”