For three years John P. Rittenhouse owned my small farm in Delaware Township, although he never lived there. As I started to research his life I discovered that, among other things, he was a Hunterdon Co. Sheriff, managed a restaurant at the Union Hotel, and then ran the hotel in Ringoes. He had an interesting life.
In 1859 he sold my farm to Edmund Perry, a successful politician, but a failure as an investor. I published the beginning of Rittenhouse’s story in the previous post, ending with a situation in which Rittenhouse, acting as deputy sheriff, had to take possession of the very farm he had previously sold to his political ally, Edmund Perry, and sell it to the highest bidder. Awkward.
The Farm on Locktown-Flemington Road
After buying the 20.18-acre farm in 1859, Perry sold it, along with the neighboring property of 30.89 acres. The sale took place on April 2, 1860; the buyers were Hiram Shepherd and John C. Holcombe, who paid $2,500 for the two farms. Part of the purchase price went to pay off a $500 mortgage Perry got from William Sergeant. The next year, on August 19, 1861, Perry bought the farm back from Shepherd and Holcombe, paying only $2000.1
Hiram Shepherd was born March 1837, the last of the five children of Richard Shepherd, Jr. (1793-1873) and Deborah Rounsavel (c.1797-1878). In 1860, when he bought the Perry property, Shepherd was 24 and still living with his parents on their farm on Sandbrook-Headquarters Road in Delaware Township. Soon afterwards, he married Delilah Hartpence, daughter of Peter V. Hartpence and Delilah Everitt, who were living on Boarshead Road. (Their marriage was not recorded in Hunterdon County.) They had no children of their own, but adopted a son, Charles Oscar Shepherd, who was born about 1865. It seems odd that someone as young as Shepherd was in 1860 would be involved in a transaction to rid Perry of his mortgage. There is undoubtedly a story there. My suspicion is that Shepherd became Perry’s tenant.
During the Civil War, Perry went more deeply into debt. Among his many creditors was Daniel B. Ege, who took him to court to recover his loan. The court levied on the two farms on Locktown Flemington Road. On October 25, 1867, Sheriff, Joseph P. Lake held a public sale at the County House in Flemington, but no acceptable bid was made, so the sale was canceled.2
In 1869, a new Sheriff, Richard Bellis, again offered the two farms for sale at public vendue, this time to satisfy the debts owed to another of Perry’s creditors, Kinney, Weller & Co. The two farms were combined into one lot containing 51.07 acres. And once again, there was no sale.3 A third time, on May 9, 1870, Sheriff Richard Bellis tried to sell the two farms along with other property of Edmund Perry’s. This was at the suit of Runkle Rea and others, and yet again the sale was dismissed. A new sale was advertised for August 11, 1870, but still there were no takers. The property was finally conveyed to Edmund Perry’s son Samuel Perry of New York City on August 1874 for $1,000. He sold it a month later to Charlotte E. Refford of New York City.4 It is likely that this period of 15 years did no good to the property itself, unless Perry was fortunate in his tenant. It seems most likely that the tenant during those years was Hiram Shepherd. The Beers Atlas of Hunterdon County shows that Shepherd was living there in 1873.
Back to John P. Rittenhouse
Let us return to the life of John P. Rittenhouse. Although the first two and the last two of the Rittenhouse children died in infancy, the surviving three children did well in life. The name of the oldest surviving child gives us a clue to some of his parents’ relations. That child was Hawley O. Rittenhouse, who graduated with honors from Annapolis in 1870, third in his class. He then served three years in the Navy. Either before or during his service, he married Leonora A. Olmstead, daughter of the Rachel Olmstead who bought the Rachel Hoffman farm from John P. Rittenhouse in 1865, mentioned in part one. “The Republican” announced that Hawley Rittenhouse’s wife and children were living in Ringoes when his service was over and that he was expected to settle there with them.
Leonora Olmstead’s father was Hawley Clark Olmstead, hence the name. Since Hawley Rittenhouse was born in 1851, it seems clear that the two families were well-acquainted before that year. But in 1850 the Olmstead family was living in New York City; in 1865 they were living in Fairfield County, Connecticut.5 John P. Rittenhouse probably became acquainted with the Olmsteads during the time that he was in partnership with John Quick, whose office was in New York. This would be before Rittenhouse traveled to California during the Gold Rush. (I described this period in his life in part one.)
As if to reinforce the family connection, the farm that Rittenhouse sold to Rachel Olmstead bordered the farm that he had taken over from his wife’s mother, Rachel Hoffman. At the time of purchase Rachel and Hawley Olmstead were married, and the 1870 census for Raritan Twp. shows they were still living together. So why was the farm purchased only in Rachel’s name?6 The deed read: Rachel Olmstead, “to her sole and separate use as if she were a single female, not to be subject to the disposal of her husband nor be liable for his debts,” suggesting that she may have had her own funds to dispose of, or wished to protect herself from her husband debts, if he had any, or perhaps that he was not able to manage his affairs.7
Rachel A. Olmstead died on Dec. 29, 1873 when she was only 53 years old, and was buried in the Sand Brook Cemetery. Hawley Clark Olmstead survived until Nov. 7, 1890, dying at the age of 71, and was buried next to his wife.8
The second surviving child of John P. and Susan Ann Rittenhouse was Albert Huffman Rittenhouse, born on February 26, 1854. Egbert T. Bush wrote (in “Sergeants Mills Once a Prosperous Place,” an article I hope to publish here soon) that Albert became a cashier in the Hunterdon Co. National Bank. The census returns for 1900, when he was age 46, living in Flemington, state that he was a cashier at a bank. The couple had three children, one of whom died an infant. They named their second child Hawley.9 Albert Rittenhouse’s wife, Mary E. Risler died in 1897 of pneumonia when she was only 44 years old.10
The next Rittenhouse child was Claude D. Rittenhouse, born Sept. 23, 1857. His middle name is a whopper–“DuVal DeHart Ottiwell.” According “The Hunterdon Republican,” Claude left for the Dakota Territory sometime around 1878. He married Mabelle Williamson in Minneapolis in 1889. The Republican had several mentions of Claude Rittenhouse as a visitor to Hunterdon County over the years. He died in Wahpeton, Richland Co., North Dakota in 1937; wife Mabelle died there in 1949.
John P. Rittenhouse as County Sheriff
In 1871, John P. Rittenhouse won election as Hunterdon County Sheriff. On February 25, 1873, Sheriff Rittenhouse and his wife had a nasty accident. As “The Republican” reported it, the two were returning from a funeral riding in a sleigh.
“He was driving on the side of the road in order to get on the snow and the sleigh overturned and they were both thrown out. His injuries were quite severe and he will probably be confined for a few days.”11
If his recovery only took a few days, then we can assume there were no broken bones. I am discomfited to see that no mention was made of the injuries, if any, suffered by his wife.
As an aside, I was curious to know what funeral the Rittenhouse’s might have been attending. A careful review of the Hunterdon newspapers for this time period led me to conclude that it was the funeral of John Salter, father-in-law of John P. Rittenhouse’s sister, Martha, who was the wife of James Salter, John’s son. John Salter and his wife Elizabeth Wolverton lived near the covered bridge which made them neighbors of John P. and Martha’s parents, Samuel and Hannah Rittenhouse. (The Salter property is now owned by Harriet Fisher.) Salter had attempted suicide and died two days later, at the age of 83. Egbert T. Bush wrote that he was “old and despondent.”12 The Hunterdon Republican reported that “No one knew why he wanted to kill himself; He merely said he had lived long enough and was of no use.”
In November 1873, John P. Rittenhouse ran for a second term as sheriff. He was re-elected in a major landslide, 4,211 votes to 1,658 for his Republican opponent William S. Riley. His term lasted until Nov. 12, 1874 when his successor, Wesley Bellis was sworn in. The Hunterdon Republican wrote about Rittenhouse’s retirement:
Ex-Sheriff John P. Rittenhouse has now retired to private life and although we differ politically from his views, we will do him the justice to say that he has performed the duties of his office with much ability and has been an efficient sheriff. He has a host of friends in both parties and no man in the county is more popular with the masses than “Johnny P.”13
One of the many public sales that Rittenhouse conducted as Sheriff was one that took place on May 28, 1874. It was none other than the two small farms that had been seized, once again, from Edmund Perry. The sale was not concluded until August when it was purchased by Perry’s son Samuel, as previously described.
At another Sheriff’s sale, Rittenhouse auctioned off another property of Edmund Perry’s, this one being a lot in Flemington on Main Street bordering John H. Capner. It had been sold by Capner to Perry’s wife Elizabeth in 1867. The sale was brought about by the suit of one of Perry’s creditors, his old friend Mary Ann Warford Ellicott, widow of Benjamin Ellicott, and administrator of her father Elisha Warford’s estate.14
Rittenhouse in Retirement
One usually does not give much thought to the aftermath of holding the office of county sheriff. As it turns out, at least in the 19th century, ex-sheriffs found themselves spending quite a lot of time in court, following through on the legal proceedings that had been initiated during under their tenure. As Sheriff, there were several such sales recorded by “John P. Rittenhouse, late Sheriff of Hunterdon County.” In the 1870s he stayed involved with the courts by frequently serving as an assignee for the property of debtors.
I get the feeling that Rittenhouse was not the retiring type. After four years, he decided to try the restaurant business. This notice appeared in “The Republican” on April 25, 1878:
The Union Restaurant and Billiard Hall, next door to the Hotel of Lambert Humphrey, in Flemington, has changed hands and the new proprietors would respectfully announce to their many friends that they have remodeled and tastefully fitted it up and are now prepared to furnish Oysters in every style, wholesale and retail, ice cream and water ices, etc. By John P. Rittenhouse & Farley S. Taylor.
And in August, Rittenhouse’s name was bandied about as a candidate for sheriff, but nothing came of it. The restaurant and billiard hall partnership with Farley S. Taylor did not last long—it was dissolved in November 1878. But Rittenhouse had not given up the business; he found a new partner, one Jehiel Hassel (about whom I know nothing).15
In 1880, John P. Rittenhouse acted as executor of the estate of Jonas Sutton of Delaware Township, along with Amos Sutton. They offered the Sutton farm of 115.48 acres for sale on February 5, 1880. One of the bordering owners was Daniel Ege, who had been one of Edmund Perry’s creditors.
Rittenhouse also kept up his association with the Democratic Party, being chosen to attend the State Convention in Trenton in May 1880 as a delegate from Hunterdon, along with George W. Hyde, William E. Purcell, and Peter S. Dalley. The next year, Rittenhouse was again on a long list of candidates for sheriff, but did not get the nomination. It could be that he simply did not want the office.
The next year John P. Rittenhouse and his wife decided to go into the hotel business. They bought the Ringoes Hotel for $4,301 in 1881. The sale was announced in “The Hunterdon Republican” on December 8, 1881 when the editor wrote of Rittenhouse: “He is a genial, clever fellow, and if he proves to be as popular a landlord as he is a man, he will no doubt succeed.” The Republican also took note of when Rittenhouse and his wife moved into the hotel in its April 6, 1882 edition. However it was not until January 1884 that Rittenhouse was able to sell his house and lot on Branch Street in Flemington. Branch Street is now called East Main Street, and runs from the Civil War Memorial to Route 31.16
On April 13th “The Republican” reported that he had received his license to operate an inn. His yearly license renewal got a mention in the Republican for several years thereafter. These were the days when local news got a lot of attention in the Hunterdon papers, with local correspondents getting their own columns. The correspondent from Ringoes reported on July 20th that
“The main part of the building now owned by ex-Sheriff, John P. Rittenhouse, was built by Maj. Isaac Lowe, about the year 1830, who kept a public house in this village for many years. His successors were: Peter G. Lowe, David Boeman, Thomas Alexander, Amos Williamson, William L. Skillman, Wesley Morris, William Hall and Theodore J. Young.”
On March 8, 1883, The Republican reported on a celebration of the Bicentennial of the New Jersey Legislature held the previous week, in which the legislators were listed by age. With Rittenhouse being the fourth eldest former legislator, he had clearly reached senior status.
“The ex-Members and Senators from Hunterdon County, present at this celebration in the order of oldest to most recent, were: David Neighbour, David Van Fleet; Andrew Van Sickle, John P. Rittenhouse [my emphasis], John H. Horn, Richard H. Wilson, Simeon R. Huselton, Baltus Pickel, Theodore Probasco, John Kugler, David H. Banghart, James Bird, Henry Britton, James N. Ramsey, Eli Bosenbury, and Jacob Hipp.17
On September 12, 1883, The Republican reported that
“Lt. Hawley O. Rittenhouse, son of John P. Rittenhouse, of Ringoes, arrived in New York City, recently, after a service of three years on board the ship Galena. His wife and children, who reside in Ringoes, went to New York to meet him. He will return here soon.”
Hawley’s wife and children were probably living in the hotel run by John P. and Susan Rittenhouse. In November 1883, The Republican reported that “John P. Rittenhouse, our hotel keeper, has placed a large stone in front of his house to be used as a step to get in and out of carriages. It is a substantial one. In January 1884, Rittenhouse was reported to have stowed away a large quantity of ice. In September 1884, he had “engaged” a large enough quantity of stones sufficient to lay a walk in front of his hotel, which was finished by late October.18
In January 1885, the Vigilant Society of Ringoes was organized to catch horse thieves. John P. Rittenhouse was one of the officers, and future meetings were held at his hotel. On March 24, 1886, a curious item appeared in The Republican:
News from Ringoes: There is a tree in the back yard of the property of John P. Rittenhouse of Ringoes, that is said to be a native of Java. Its bark and appearance somewhat resemble the aspen, but its leaves are very peculiar and much different from those of our native trees. It is said there are only four trees of this species in all of the United States.
It was later decided that the tree was a Gingko Biloba. Rittenhouse must have kept up his interest in agriculture over the years. In 1887 he was named one of the directors of the NJ Fruit Exchange. That same year, on July 27th, the Republican announced that “John P. Rittenhouse is complimented on having one of the best country hotels to be found anywhere.” The reason his hotel was so successful turns out to be due to the efforts of his wife Susan, who died on November 30, 1888 at the age of 69. The obituary in the Republican was full of admiration, reporting that she
“had suffered for a long time with an affection of the heart. She was well known in Flemington, where she formerly lived and had many friends there. She was the landlady of the Ringoes Hotel and made the place a pleasant and popular resort for the travelling public.”
Being a well-respected person could make one vulnerable to scams. On May 21, 1890, The Republican reported that
“William J. Stires, a son of Jacob Stires, of Pittstown was arrested in Phillipsburg on Wednesday night, brought to the County Jail in Flemington and charged with the crime of forgery. A week or more ago, he gave a check for $14.80, signed with the name of John P. Rittenhouse. When the check was sent to the bank for payment, it was at once pronounced a forgery, whereupon Mr. Stires was arrested. He had also passed two other checks, one by Mr. Rittenhouse and the other with the signature of Levi Able, Sr., of Bloomsbury. When arrested, he had blank checks for a number of banks, mostly from Hunterdon banks. He admits his guilt and is about 21 years of age and was until recently a telegraph operator at Jutland on the Lehigh Valley R. R.”
Following the death of his wife, Rittenhouse probably realized he could not operate a hotel without her. He decided to give up the hotel in Ringoes and move back to Flemington. This decision was probably regretted by the citizens of Ringoes, but it was warmly received in Flemington. “The Republican” wrote on September 16, 1891 that
The many friends of ex-Sheriff, John P. Rittenhouse will welcome his early return to our village. We understand he will soon take up his abode at the hotel and assume charge of the pool room, which the late owner, Abraham Servis, has disposed of.
This pool room or billiard room was “connected with the Union Hotel.” But for some reason, Rittenhouse put off the move until late in 1896, when he went to live with his son Albert and his family instead of “at the hotel.” He was counted with the Albert H. Rittenhouse household in the 1900 census, age 80, with no occupation.
John P. Rittenhouse died on July 7, 1901, when he was 82 years old. He did not write a will. His estate was administered by his three sons, Hawley, Albert and Claude. His inventory was very limited. No personal possessions were reported, only a couple “bonds & Mortgages” owed to him by Charles E. Salter and William T. Hoffman. His total estate was valued at $3,426.24.19
He was buried in the Baptist Cemetery at Sandy Ridge next to his wife. His three sons survived him; Hawley O. Rittenhouse died in 1927, and sons Albert H. and Claude D. Rittenhouse both died in 1937.
- H. C. Deeds 122-949, 125-368. I have not been able to satisfactorily identify John C. Holcombe—there were more than one with that name at the time. I do know that the John C. Holcombe, born 1838 and buried at the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Lambertville, was not the one who partnered with Hiram Shepherd. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican 10/25/1867. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Aug. 5, 1869. That is the only reference to Kinney, Weller & Co. found in the Hartman Abstracts of the Hunterdon Republican. ↩
- H.C. Deed 158-238. ↩
- New York Census records for 1850; H. C. Deed 133-060, 1865. ↩
- H. C. Deed 133-060. ↩
- An answer to that question may be found in real estate and court records for Hawley Olmstead. I have not done that research. ↩
- Find-a-Grave, #11735525 and #11735523. ↩
- I have not been identify the Risler family to which Mary belonged. As it turns out, the family papers were donated to the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society, under the title of The Rittenhouse/Fuhrmann Papers, and can be consulted under Collection No. 131. Perhaps the answer there. ↩
- Obituary in “The Hunterdon Republican,” April 21, 1897. ↩
- The Hunterdon Republican, February 27, 1873. ↩
- Egbert T. Bush, Sergeant’s Mills Once a Busy Community, Jan. 16, 1930. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Nov. 12, 1874. ↩
- Sale by Capner to Elizabeth Perry in H. C. Dd 137-114; also see “Ellicott’s Diary, June 1863.” ↩
- I went through the Hunterdon Republican up to 1896 for mentions of the Hassel/Hassell family. I found lots of mentions, but am still clueless about Jehiel. I do wonder if Jehiel Hassel might have been related to the Harsel family, with whom Rittenhouse had some association. Another matter for further research. ↩
- The Beers Atlas of 1873 does not show any lot on this street belonging to John P. Rittenhouse, so presumably he purchased it after 1873. I have not been able to examine all of Rittenhouse’s deeds to see when he bought this lot, but none of the names on the Beers Atlas matches the names of people who sold real estate to Rittenhouse from 1874 to 1884. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, March 8, 1883. ↩
- “The Hunterdon Republican,” 11/28/1883, 1/16/1884 and 9/24/1884. ↩
- Hunterdon Co. Letters of Administration Bk 8 p. 69; Inventories, Bk 24, p. 534. ↩