Boarshead Tavern

by Marfy Goodspeed on August 9, 2013

in E. T. Bush, Historians Revisited

Boarshead Tavern
One of the Earliest to be Established

Efforts to Find How Long It Has Stood Have Been In Vain
Dr. Pyatt’s Varied Career

By Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, November 14, 1929

My annotations to Mr. Bush’s article are in italic font; Mr. Bush is in quotations.
I apologize if that makes it harder to read the Bush article on its own.

On the east side of the Trenton Road, less than a mile below Croton, stood the Boarshead Tavern. Efforts made many years ago to find how long it had stood there were all in vain. Nobody knew and no records could be found to settle the question. The building was venerable with age from the writer’s first recollection of it—about 1855. Tradition has all along maintained that it was the first tavern established in this community.

Detail of the Cornell Map of 1851, showing the location of the Boarshead Tavern (“Hotel”) and Dr. James Pyatt.

Detail of the Cornell Map of 1851, showing the location of the Boarshead Tavern (“Hotel”)

As a center it seems to have been well known from the earliest days of which we have records, being often mentioned in land titles and other documents. The first proprietor is said to have been one Joseph Smith. But what particular Joseph Smith is meant we cannot tell. It may have been any one or a number by that name. Anyhow, names in themselves have little value. Unless there is something distinctive about the name, it is as easily lost as any of our playthings.

Like Mr. Bush, I cannot say who this Joseph Smith might have been. There was a Joseph Smith who witnessed the will of William Forman of Amwell in 1775, and was taxed in Amwell in 1780. However, my research shows that the likely first owner of the Boarshead Tavern was Philip Bevin, born about 1730, and present at the Boarshead possibly as early as the 1750s. I will follow up this article by Mr. Bush with a history of the early tavern owners that I have been able to find. Mr. Bush observed above that the Boarshead may be the earliest tavern in the vicinity, and I believe he is right. It certainly predates Buchanan’s Tavern.

Among the later keepers of the Boarshead we find Samuel Trimmer; after him, Josiah Rounsaville was there down to 1833. In that year Andrew Emmons took possession, holding it until 1844. Sometime later he removed to Cherryville—the “Dogtown” of earlier days—served as postmaster for many years and died there in 1875. Emmons was followed at the Boarshead by David Geddes and Geddes by William Nixon in 1847. Jacob Bush kept the house in 1851 but how long is not known. William Mettler took charge in 1854.

Samuel Trimmer may have been the son of John H. Trimmer and Maria or Martha Thatcher, who was born October 3, 1795 and died March 29, 1880 in Franklin twp. Josiah Rounsavel (1786-1877), son of Henry Rounsavel and Elizabeth Clara Heath, married Margaret Bearder, daughter of Jacob Bearder and Elizabeth Trimmer. These families all lived in the vicinity of Route 579, the Locktown-Flemington Road, and Boarshead Road.

The Emmons family was numerous in 19th-century Hunterdon, but I have not yet linked this Andrew up with known members. His wife was Catharine Reed. In the 1820 manufacturing schedule of the census, he was listed as a cabinet maker, producing desks, bureaus, tables, etc.

David Geddes is another mystery to me; perhaps he was the son of James Gaddis and Hannah Wanamaker, who married in 1802. William Nixon is better known. He was the son of an innkeeper, William Nixon Sr., who ran the tavern at Point Breeze in the 1830s and died in 1839. William Jr. was all over the place. He was a hotelkeeper in Readington Twp. in 1860, and in Cherryville in 1870. By 1880 he was a veterinary surgeon in Locktown. Bush neglects to mention that Jacob Bush was his grandfather. I have no information on Wm. Mettler. (Note: When I state that I have no information on someone, I mean that I have not researched that person, and don’t plan on doing so anytime soon.)

Bar Closed in 1874

Moses Lake, for many years well known about Croton, is listed as being at the Boarshead in 1857. Quite likely he was, as a tenant. We find that he bought the property of Elisha Warford in 1857 and held it until 1874. He is said to have been the last licensed keeper of the house. Memory says, however, that various things were sold there after that — tobacco, cigars, soft drinks, etc. We had not yet reached the refinement of the cigarette.

Moses Lake was probably Moses Godown Lake (1823-1904), the son of Evan Godown Lake and Margaret Moore Petty. He applied for tavern licenses in 1859-61, but the census shows him living in Flemington in 1860. In 1861, the Annual Meeting of the Boars Head Vigilant Society was “held at the inn of Moses Lake.” I am confused by Bush’s statement that Lake was present at the Boarshead in 1857 and bought the property from Warford that year, and that he was “most likely a tenant.” Perhaps Bush meant that Lake was a tenant before purchasing the property.

Amos Robbins and Elisha Warford owned the place in 1830; after that it was shifted about, but how many times Warford owned it cannot be determined. He was always dealing in real estate. But the records afford little relief in tracing his holdings. Many deeds of those days were never recorded, and Warford seems to have been especially indifferent to this important precaution.

Amos Robbins was a great grandson of the original Daniel Robins.  In 1806, the heirs of John Robins petitioned for a division of land where Amos Robins lived. In Bush’s article on the Harmony School neighborhood (to be published here in the near future), he wrote that Amos Robins “occupied the old tan-yard, which he appears to have built up out of smaller tracts. Here he carried on tanning to the end of his days.” I believe his tannery was located on Boars Head Road.

Elisha Warford may have been indifferent to the precaution of filing one’s deeds, but he was not indifferent to those who bought property from him and failed to pay their mortgages. He quickly took them to court. A collection of his papers has recently been made available at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society, and the number of court actions Warford was involved in is extensive.

When Warford sold the property on March 5, 1858 , the description was as follows: “Bounded on the north by lands of James Pyatt, on the east by lands of James Pyatt, on the south by lands of James Pyatt and Theopholus Titus, and on the west by lands of Henry T. Housel and Hugh Webster.” This unsatisfactory description of the property containing 35 acres was used down through the various Gilrean deeds of recent years.

By unsatisfactory, Mr. Bush means that there was no metes and bounds given for the 35 acres, a highly unusual practice, but not surprising for someone like Elisha Warford, who was probably reluctant to spend money on a survey.

In 1873 the property was sold by John P. Rittenhouse, Sheriff, to Mary Ann W. Ellicott, administrator of Elisha Warford, her father. In 1899 it was sold by John Ramsey, Sheriff, to Peter Gilrean, and in 1912 by “John Gilrean, deceased,” to Frank Greco.  Soon after this date the old house was torn down and a modern dwelling was erected near the site of the famous old hostelry.

When I moved to Hunterdon County in 1976, a Greco still owned the house where the Boarshead once stood. Mr. Bush had previously written that Moses Lake owned the tavern lot from 1857 to 1874. Then he wrote that Warford sold it in 1858 (presumably to Lake) and then it was sold by the Sheriff to Mary Ann Ellicott in 1873. To find out which dates were correct, I made a visit to the Search Room and found the two deeds in question. The deed to Moses Lake was dated March 5, 1858, and the deed to Mary Ann Ellicott was dated Sept. 15, 1873.

Mary Ann Ellicott was Elisha Warford’s daughter, and widow of Benjamin Ellicott. She was suing Moses Lake as administrator of her father’s estate. Lake owed Warford something over $3000, and was sued in Chancery Court to recover the debt. Mary Ann Ellicott died in 1892 age 76. The Boarshead lot of 35 acres was sold in 1898 as the property of George W. Ellicott, Mary Ann’s son, who had also gone into debt.

Through all its “dry” years, the house was known as the Boarshead Tavern. The place is still known by that name and probably will be for generations yet to come. Let us hope so. For old historic and traditional names are valuable as well as pleasant. They help to keep alive something from the distant past and to recall old-time occurrences that would otherwise be forgotten.

I’m sorry to say that very few people today know that there was an old tavern at this location, let alone that its name was the Boarshead. The name is preserved in the road’s name, and I expect people do wonder how that name came about. For that matter, I wonder how the Boarshead Tavern was named. Given that it was such an early one, the name was probably borrowed from another Boarshead Tavern in a different location. As a tavern name, Boarshead is not uncommon. However, I doubt very much that there were any wild boars running about old Amwell back in the 1750s.

Rival Tavern Opened

About 1820 another tavern was opened to the public, scarcely a third of a mile north of the Boarshead. This was in the stately old farm house on the west side of the road built by Joseph Thatcher far back of 1800. Dr. James Pyatt was proprietor of the house known as the “Upper Boarshead Tavern.” The two houses seem to have been closely related in interest as well as in the name. Here the Dr. lived, dispensed the elixir and practiced his profession until about 1838. His son, King Pyatt, then married and took over the farm and the tavern. Dr. Pyatt moved to the corner afterward known as Pyatt’s Corner on the other side of the road and less than a tenth of a mile northward.

King Pyatt kept the Upper Boarshead Tavern open up to 1842, after which date it was never a public house. But it remained an attractive farm home till October 5, 1895, when it took fire in the night and burned to the ground.

The fire was accompanied by one of the most tragic events that ever occurred in this vicinity. King Pyatt, who still owned the place and lived there, was then 78 years of age. Being aroused by the fire, which had already made dangerous progress, he evidently became confused by smoke and flames, opened the wrong door and fell into the cellar instead of making his escape. That was the supposition as given to the writer a day later, as he stood sadly gazing upon the few pieces of chared [sic] bone which were all that could be found as the remains of the good old man so long active in the life of the community and always so highly respected.

King Pyatt was born Jan. 10, 1817 to Dr. James Pyatt and wife Sarah King. About 1830, he married Elizabeth Bellis, daughter of Matthias Bellis and Elizabeth Sutphen. She bore two children, Sarah and Emma, but died in 1842, only 24 years old. Pyatt then married, on Oct. 23, 1845, Elizabeth Laing of Quakertown in Bucks County, PA. She was born about 1818 to David Laing and Elizabeth Allen, and died on July 15, 1890. She had five children, from about 1846 to about 1855. Two were twins, Mary and Margaret, who had died tragically young, in 1872 and 1873. The other children were all living elsewhere at the time of King Pyatt’s death. Afterwards, his son Albert, who ran a livery stable in Flemington, moved onto the property1 and presumably rebuilt the house. Albert Pyatt and wife Henrietta had eleven children.

The “Old Fort”

The Thatcher homestead was a half mile east of the Upper Boarshead on the north side of the road from that place through “Bonetown” and thence by twists and turns to Flemington. This homestead was long known as the “Old Fort,” but why that name was ever given and why so persistently retained has not been explained to this day. Old people said in my boyhood “It has been so called for generations,” and that was all.

Mr. Bush is not referring to the ‘stately home’ built by Joseph Thatcher around 1800 on the west side of the road, but a much older dwelling, built by Joseph’s father Joseph. The road he refers to is now known as Plum Brook Road, formerly part of Everitts Hill Road, which did in fact twist and turn before arriving in Flemington, although it’s hard to see how it went through Bonetown today. The “Old Fort” is a beautiful stone house, still standing. In 1851, “M. King” was living there, as shown on the Cornell Map. That was Margaret Thatcher King, who died on Nov. 20, 1857.

Margaret Thatcher, daughter of Joseph Thatcher’s son Joseph, who was then a merchant in Philadelphia, married Albertus King in 1808.2 The young couple went to Philadelphia for a short time, then came back and King began his operations at Croton. He built a part of the Ellicott house, later the home of Elisha Warford, and lived there a few years. Then they settled at the ancestral Old Fort, where King died in 1845 and his widow in 1847.3

Tradition says that Margaret’s grandmother Thatcher had a pet deer roaming at pleasure about the Old Fort. One day the deer was missing and search was vain. At last it came bounding home accompanied by a fine specimen lured from the forest. Grandmother Thatcher was alone, but her pet was in danger of being contaminated by bad company. Besides, a well-dressed deer in the larder was more to be desired than a frisky wild one in the forest. Seizing the old flintlock, she blasted away and quickly reduced the noble animal to ignoble venison.

No Game Laws Then

Opportunity was the only game law then, and a long time thereafter—kill what you please and what you can. I remember when the open season for rabbits began at the third heavy frost. Rabbits were not fit for eating till properly ripened by three frosts. Then kill as many as you could without regard to dates. Yet it does not appear that there was more disposition to shoot them “out of season” then than now, though the only penalty was what our neighbors would think of us. And that is perhaps a fair illustration of the little-disputed idea that what our neighbors think of us—only another way of saying “public opinion”—is the basic law governing a large proportion of human actions.

The families already mentioned are far from being all that figured prominently in the community life of the Boarshead region. About the old place were scattered the Websters, the Robbinses, the Bearders and others, all active and important in that early life.

Of the Websters I know little except what was told me in early boyhood. Hugh Webster was reputed to be prominent as a farmer and leading citizen of the neighborhood. I remember that two Webster women had a millinery shop in their home on the north side of the road running west from the tavern.

Hugh Webster’s family has quite a history, which you will find at the end of this article.

Hiram Robbins lived on a farm south of that road.{south of Boarshead Road} He sold out in my early boyhood and moved to Flemington, where he spent the rest of his life.

The Cornell Map of 1851 shows that he ran a chair shop, and in 1852 he bought the old Besson sawmill from Daniel Carrell. In 1861, he was secretary of the Boars Head Vigilante Society. In 1873, his chair shop was still in business, as seen in the Beers Atlas for that year. Hiram Robbins was the son of John Robins and Elizabeth Risler. He married Catharine Trimmer in 1840, daughter of George Trimmer.

His son, George T. Robbins, who kept a store near P.R.R. station, and his son Sylvester who was station agent there both died between 40 and 50 years ago. Joseph Robbins owned a farm north of that road—a Robbins homestead as I have it in mind and the location of the old-time tannery of this vicinity. Later the farm came into possession of his son Ephraim.

This Joseph Robbins (1794-1858) was the uncle of Hiram Robbins, who was listed in the 1840 census as involved in manufacture or trade; that suggests the tannery. However, by 1850, he was counted as a farmer.

The Bearder Family

Many of the Bearders I knew very well. George T. owned the Old Ford property for many years including 1873. He was then an old man whose home farm was on the south side of the next road running westward below the Boarshead. His large tract of fine timber was a favorite place for holding picnics, harvest homes and outdoor meetings. William R. Bearder, a commissioner of deeds and fine insurance man, owned and occupied the farm for many years thereafter.

This is the Locktown-Flemington Road. The farm is now owned by the Timko family. A section along the Locktown-Flemington Road is still heavily timbered, even though there are now houses in the woods.

Jacob Bearder owned a farm at the junction of the road with the Trenton Road. His son Amos married Lina Dilts, daughter of John Dilts, who bought the Dr. Pyatt lot after the death of John Pyatt; their son Charles Jacob is the musical professor of Sand Brook. Jacob’s other son Andrew kept the Sand Brook store for a long time and died there a few years ago. I remember that the professor’s grandfather Dilts was locally accepted as an authority on music.

The Bearder family began with Andrew Bearder (1741-1829), a German immigrant, and his wife Margaret; they had a son Jacob (1768-1838) who married Elizabeth Trimmer (1769-1832), daughter of George Trimmer and Anna Hoppock. The five children of Jacob and Elizabeth Bearder were Margaret (1789-aft 1850), wife of Josiah Rounsavel; Andrew (1794-1865), husband of Mary Besson; Sarah (c.1796-1855), wife of Benjamin Horn; George T. (1803-1881), husband of Mary Hann; and Jacob Jr. (c.1810-1882), husband of Jane Aller.

Dr. James Pyatt

Dr. James Pyatt

Dr. James Pyatt

Dr. James Pyatt came here from Piscataqua in 1805 and began the practice of his profession. For sixty years thereafter he was to be found right here when needed for such services. We cannot find that in all that time he ever lived more than a few hundred yards from Pyatt’s Corner where he died in 1865.

We have seen that Dr. Pyatt was a tavern keeper as well as physician, and we must not forget that he was a merchant also for a few years. He and Lewis Dunn, his brother-in-law, kept  store in a house nearly opposite to the Upper Boarshead. Their last speculative venture was a large consignment of pork for the New York Market. The vessel went down and the young merchants were ruined. People used to tell with pride that later, as Dr. Pyatt became able, he paid all of their debts with compound interest. “Nobody lost a dollar,” was their emphatic approval of his way of doing business.

Sarah King Pyatt

Sarah King Pyatt

Dr. Pyatt married Sarah King, daughter of Jeremiah, who lived a mile north of Croton, February 6, 1808. They had two sons and two daughters. One daughter died in early childhood. Rachel, the other, married Daniel B. Rittenhouse, lived on the farm adjoining the Pyatt lot on the north, until 1871, when they removed to Flemington. Rachel died there in 1876 and Daniel B. in 1885. John Pyatt married Abby Miner in 1865 and died at Pyatt’s Corner in 1866, leaving no child. King Pyatt first married Elizabeth Bellis by whom he had two daughters. In 1845, he married Elizabeth Laing, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. He and his family lived at the Upper Boarshead until 1867 when they removed to Flemington. In 1880 they returned to the old home and lived there until his shocking death as elsewhere related.

The Lewis Dunn who kept a store with Dr. Pyatt was married to Dr. Pyatt’s sister Rachel. The Abby Miner referred to was probably Abby Hiner of Everittstown. King Pyatt’s first daughters were Sarah E. and Abigail; I believe there was a third daughter from this marriage, Ellen R. Pyatt, who married Gershom C. Hires in 1866, and removed to Austen, Texas. King Pyatt’s children by wife Elizabeth Laing were Emma, born 1847, married Nelson W. Lambert in 1862; twin daughters Margaret and Mary, born in 1848, both died in their early 20s, unmarried; son Albert, born July 6, 1850, and wife Henrietta, had 11 children; son John C. Pyatt Esq., removed to the Dakota Territory in 1881, where he set up a law practice. I have not yet identified a third son from this marriage.

A Varied Career

Dr. Pyatt’s varied activities and his sixty years of professional practice make his career truly remarkable. Perhaps not one professional career in a thousand covers so many years. While it may seem strange to us that a physician should do all this, we must remember that we are living in the now and they were living in the then. Things have changed. People were then no doubt just as scrupulous about doing the things proper for their day, as we are about doing the proper things for ours. If some of our approved customs and habits could be taken back to them for judgment, they might pronounce them not only unethical but grossly immoral. It is well to see past things as far as possible in the light of past days. Who can tell what our descendants are going to think about some of the things which we look upon as perfectly proper? We can all glibly tell when Lincoln’s proclamation emancipated black men from slavery, but no man shall ever tell within a million years the date of human emancipation from error.

*     *     *

Addendum: The Family of Hugh Webster and Jerusha Moore

Hugh Webster (c.1784-1869) had a farm on Boarshead Road. As Mr. Bush wrote, he was “a leading citizen” of the area. He was sometimes called on to assist with estates. He witnessed the will of Adam Risler in 1807 and made inventories of Christopher Lawbacher (1809), and John Robbins (1822). He was also surety for William Risler and George Trimmer, the administrators of John Robbins’ estate.

Hugh Webster married Jerusha Moore (1784-1869), daughter of Henry Moore and Mary Groff, on April 27, 1808. The marriage was performed by Risler, J.P., probably Peter Risler Esq., brother of Adam Risler whose will was written in 1807. These are the earliest records I have of Hugh Webster. There was a Hugh Webster who lived in Essex County and had a son Hugh, but that was someone else. No doubt there is a relationship, but the estate records found in New Jersey Archives do not shed any light.

Both Hugh Webster and wife Jerusha died in 1869, ages 85 and 84. They had three children: Abel (c.1810), Mary Ann (c.1811) and John S. (1813). Their daughter Mary Ann never married. She was one of the milliners Bush mentioned. The other milliner was her niece Charlotte (born about 1839), who worked with her from 1860 through 1880, though not always on the Boarshead Road. After the death of Hugh and Jerusha, Mary Ann and Charlotte moved their operation to Raritan Township (probably Flemington), where they were counted in 1870. In 1880, they appeared in the census for West Raritan Township. Living with them was Charlotte Webster Jr., age 11, the daughter of Charlotte’s brother John W. Webster.

Charlotte and John W. were the children of John S. Webster (1813-1857) and Jane Lair (1815-1890), along with Melissa, Abel, Charles C. and Emmaretta. Charlotte was named for Jane Lair’s mother, Charlotte Heath Lair.

After the untimely death of John S. Webster at age 43, his widow moved to Baptistown, where John’s brother Abel Webster was running a store. She was counted there in the 1860 census, with two of her children, Charles 9 and Emma 3.

This family had more tragedy in store. Emma died age 3 on Nov. 22, 1860. Then in July 1863, their son Abel was killed in action:

 “Death of a Soldier. Abel Webster, a member of Company G., 30th Regiment, N.J. V., died in the hospital at Washington, last week of fever. His remains were brought to the residence of his uncle, Abel Webster, Esq., and on Friday last interred in the burial ground at Baptisttown.” (Hunterdon Co. Democrat, July 8, 1863)

And in 1869, both Hugh Webster and his wife Jerusha died.

In 1870, Jane Webster was living with her half-sister Sarah Catharine Lair (1835-1917) and her husband (and Jane’s second cousin), Daniel Heath, merchant of Frenchtown. But soon afterwards, Daniel and Sarah Heath moved away to Kansas. In 1880 Jane Lair Webster was living with her son Charles and his wife Awilda on Fourth Street in Frenchtown, where Charles ran a tobacco store. Charles and Awilda did not have any children. She died on June 16, 1882, age 25. By 1888, Charles’ health began to suffer and he moved to California, hoping to recuperate, without success. Here is his obituary, which appeared in the Democrat on April 3:

 “Died Far From Home. Charles C. Webster died on the 25th ult., at Cannon City, Fremont Co., Colorado. February 1st he left his home in Frenchtown, for Los Angeles, California, with a view of regaining his health. He stayed but a short time there and then went to Cannon City. He was a son of the late John Webster and was born near Rosemont, in this county. He was married twice, first to Awilda Kitchen, then to Belle M. Fargo, and leaves a widow and a little daughter. He was engaged several years in the tobacco and confectionery business in Frenchtown. His remains will be brought East and buried in the Frenchtown cemetery.”

Like her long-lived parents, Mary Ann Webster lived to the age of 85, dying on Aug. 17, 1896. Similarly, her brother Abel Webster died at the age of 88, on Feb. 2, 1898.

Charlotte Webster, the milliner, did not die a spinster. In 1880 she married the widower Robert Holcombe Moore, miller of Sand Brook. They were both in their 40s. But in a twist of fate, Charlotte died only a year and a half later, on May 22, 1882, age 43.

  1. According to Mr. Bush, in his article “Croton and Vicinity,” published in the Hunterdon Co. Republican in 1896.
  2.  Albertus King turns up several times in previous posts. For a list of these articles, type his name into the search box.
  3. This may be a typo. Margaret King died on 20 Nov 1857, according to her obituary in the Hunterdon Gazette, Dec. 16, 1857

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