Samuel G. Opdycke Esq., continued

For the first part of this story, please visit Samuel G. Opdycke Esq.

Samuel G. Opdycke was a young man of promise. Thanks to the Opdycke Genealogy, we have a description of what he looked like, and, even better, we have a portrait:

OpdyckeSG-2“Samuel G. was of medium height; and of remarkably amiable disposition. His portrait has passed down from the keeping of his eldest brother to a nephew who has recently died without children, and by the consent of the family it has now come into the possession of the author of the Genealogy. It is on wood, and represents Samuel in the full dress of his time, with a handsome intellectual face, and with features which might be considered perhaps the pure Opdycke (and Updike) type.”1

Death of Grace Thatcher McAtee

As mentioned before, Samuel G. Opdycke was the son of John R. Opdycke and Rebecca McAtee, and the grandson of James McAtee and Grace Thatcher. This grandmother, Grace McAtee, survived her husband by about 35 years, and wrote her will on May 7, 1826, when she was 60 years old,

“being sick and weak in body but of sound disposing mind and memory and considering the certainty of death and the uncertainty of the time thereof, and to the end I may be the better prepared whenever it shall please God to call me hence”2

To her son, James McAtee she left one feather bed, bedding and bedstead. All the rest of her personal estate was to be sold to pay her just debts and funeral expenses. She left her mortgaged farm in Kingwood where she was then living to Robert Welts, on condition that the rents and profits of the farm for the first year after her death be paid to son James McAtee. She also stipulated that if her personal property was insufficient to pay her debts, then Robert Welts and her other heirs were to pay the difference. This provision was to get them all into trouble later on.

Once the debts were paid, Robert Welts was to pay the profits of her farm to son James McAtee and daughter Rebecca Opdycke in equal shares. After the death of Rebecca, the farm was to be divided in half, with one half going to Rebecca’s children, excluding her son (and Grace’s grandson) Samuel G. Opdycke. The other half was to go to son James and his heirs.

Twice Grace McAtee stipulated that her grandson Samuel G. Opdycke was not to be included among the rest of the heirs in receiving this bequest. It sounds as if she had no good feeling toward her grandson, but in fact, she named him as her sole executor. Perhaps she gave Samuel some support prior to writing her will. It is clear, though, that she had faith in him to carry out her wishes. Grace McAtee died in Kingwood Township on May 28, 1826. On June 29, 1826, her executor, Samuel G. Opdycke held a sale of her personal property, as instructed in the will.3

While managing his grandmother’s estate, Samuel G. Opdycke continued practicing law in Flemington. One of his big cases, in July 1826, was that of Gershom Lambert v. Jacob, Hannah & Tunison Coryell and Asher Lambert in the N.J. Chancery Court. Opdycke was solicitor for Gershom Lambert.4

In 1827, Opdycke continued to administer his grandmother’s estate, and on January 10th advertised that all notes payable to the estate should be settled as soon as possible. In May, Opdycke appeared as a witness in the trial of Thomas Reading. Opdycke was one of several witnesses against Reading; the others were George Holcombe, Watson Heath, George Rea Esq., David Anderson, Abram Gulick, Nathaniel Saxton Esq. and Nathan Price. Reading was found guilty, but the court minutes do not say what he was charged with.5

Difficulties

Opdycke’s appearances in court were not always as a lawyer for plaintiffs and defendants. Sometimes he was the defendant. He was still being sued for debts, this time in the N.J. Supreme Court by Charles Bonnell and John Mattison.6 Financial challenges may have obliged Opdycke to move his office to a less expensive location. In September 1827, he published a notice of his change of address:

I have removed my Office to the room immediately over the office of the Hunterdon Gazette, one door above Mr. Smick’s hotel. – Entrance by the stairs on the outside of the building. S. G. Opdycke. Flemington, Sept. 1, 1827.7

Mr. Smick’s hotel was located where the Post Office now stands. It was owned by Charles Bonnell, but the hotel and tavern were run by Peter Smick for many years. It was an important location, and probably helped Samuel Opdycke’s business. But at the end of the day (literally), the place to be was at Neal Hart’s Hotel, opposite the Court House. As Charles W. Opdycke explains:

Those were the days when the Hunterdon Co. lawyers, during “court-week” at Flemington, used to meet every evening at Neal Hart’s hotel and sit together till after midnight, joking, telling stories and making speeches. These convivial unions were a great temptation to a young man straining every nerve in keen contests with men so much his seniors, and were probably not without an injurious effect upon the young lawyer’s strength and habits. 8

This is the genteel Victorian way of suggesting that Samuel Opdycke imbibed a little too much at these evening sessions, and suffered for it.

In November 1827, Samuel G. Opdycke put another notice in the Hunterdon Gazette, which was worded in his own peculiar style:

“NOTICE.  The books of account of the late firm of Atkinson & Bonnell have been placed in my hands for collection. Repeated invitations have been heretofore publicly made to the debtors to that concern to pay off their respective accounts, and very little attention paid to them. This is the only public request which I am authorized to make: those persons therefore, who are still indebted to that firm, are earnestly solicited to make payment before the first of December next, or give some kind of security; because, after that date private invitations will be delivered by one clad in authority, without distinction or reserve.  [signed]  Samuel G. Opdycke. Nov. 21, 1827.”

Apparently Opdycke was still considered an up and coming attorney. In fact, according to the Opdycke Genealogy, the highly respected Garret D. Wall Esq. invited Opdycke to join him in his law practice in Mount Holly.9 This move to Mt. Holly might have taken place in 1828. In September, Opdycke had trouble packing and inserted this plea into the Gazette:

 “Who has gotten my Portmanteau? – The person who has it will oblige me by returning it.  S. G. Opdycke.”10

Adding to my suspicion that Opdycke away from Flemington at this time, there were no other notices from him in 1828. In May 1829, Peter Smick and Nathan Price both applied for  tavern licenses. All the prominent Flemington attorneys signed their applications, but not Samuel G. Opdycke. Perhaps he was still in Burlington, but by July 4, 1829 he was back in Flemington, when he participated in the annual celebration by delivering this toast:

 “A wolf in sheep’s clothing. – The paramount slanderer, amenable to no law; who goes without punishment and yet most deserves it – the man who with affected sanctity assumes your praise, and yet with most meritorious reserve, and black-hearted piety insinuates your ruin. From all such, good Lord deliver me.”11

Who on earth was he talking about? I wish I knew. Presumably his fellow diners understood his reference, but there is nothing in the Gazette for this year to explain it. The answer might have been found in his papers, had they been saved and donated to the Historical Society the way Nathaniel Saxton’s were, but there are none to be found there.12 It appears that someone was spreading derogatory rumors about Samuel Opdycke, and they were probably hurting his business.

In the Court House

In April 1830, Samuel G. Opdycke had moved his office once again. He submitted this advertisement to the Gazette:

“Another Card—
And Sammy, what shall Sammy do, But notify the public too?
HAVING been put in possession of the south-west room on the first floor
of the Hunterdon Court House, (for which favor my bosom is not dangerously swollen with gratitude,) I crave permission to inform my friends and the public,
that I have converted that apartment into an Office;
NO MISTAKE about finding me at home.

P. S., Who has got my sitting chair and cushion? He, she or it that’s got them, if they consult my case and their duty, would do an act of equal justice to bring them back. This would be “doing as you would be done by:” a doctrine which appears to be little regarded in these cold water times; Samuel G. Opdycke.”13

Opdycke had been unwillingly removed from his room in Smick’s Hotel, and was now residing in a jail cell in the court house, basically in debtor’s prison. On May 5, 1830, Opdycke published a notice to William Bishop and Bartholomew VanCamp, two of his creditors, of a hearing at the Court of Common Pleas to be held on June 19, 1830, “to hear what can be alleged for or against my liberation from confinement as an insolvent debtor.” [signed] Samuel G. Opdycke.14 Also in May, he posted notices in the Emporium and True American, a Trenton newspaper, stating that the court would meet on June 19th “to hear what can be alleged for and against my discharge from imprisonment for debt. –That’s all!”

Then on May 19, 1830 he published the wonderful notice (seen at the beginning of part one):

“Ascending!
FINDING the room on the first floor of the Court House rather too much confined for an office, and the passage too much obstructed by lockage for the free ingress and egress of clients, I have selected, for a summer office, a beautiful airy chamber in the extreme front of the building. This pleasant apartment is situated immediately over the portico of this lofty edifice, and overlooks the main street of the village; After rising three inclined planes, clients will arrive at the summit level of my office; the door opens toward the east between two windows; No toll demanded until they arrive at the summit. – Passage back, free of expense; Samuel G. Opdycke, Flemington, May 19, 1830.”

It appears that Opdycke had charmed the sheriff into allowing him a certain freedom of movement not commonly permitted to insolvent debtors.

During the special term on June 19, 1830, the court remanded the case and Peter Smick “entered into stipulation” to pay 75 cents per week for Samuel G. Opdycke’s support.15 At first I thought this was some strange agreement between Opdycke and Smick, but as I read more about insolvency laws, I realized that this 75 cents went towards Opdycke’s maintenance while he was in jail. Sheriffs collected fees for provisioning prisoners in the early 19th century, but I did not realize they would collect them from a debtor’s creditor. The court met again on June 21, 1830:

“May Term. Hunterdon Pleas. Samuel G. Opdycke cometh before the court and saith that he ought  against his creditors to be discharged out of custody for Debt because he saith that he hath become according to the force form & effect of an act of the Legislature entitled “an act for the relief of persons imprisoned for debt” passed the eighteenth day of March in the year of our Lord 1795 and within the true intent and meaning of such act, an insolvent debtor ; and he hath well and truly complied with the said act in all things on his part for the benefit and to the use of his creditors to wit on the 19th day of June in the year of our Lord 1830 at this township of Amwell in the county of Hunterdon whereby good right and full title by virtue of the said act hath accrued to him against his creditors to be discharged out of custody for Debt and this he is ready to verify Wherefor he prayeth Inopment{?} of discharge out of custody for Debt according to the force form and effect of the said act. Dated June 21, 1830. {signed} Samuel G. Opdycke.”16

Peter Smick took issue with Opdycke’s claims. In his filing with the Court, Smick stated that

he is not satisfied with the truth and honesty of the Declaration and confession of the said Debtor nor with the truth and fairness of the account and inventory exhibits to the court __ – and the said Peter Smick doth hereby offer and undertake to the court to prove by the first day of the next term of this court that the said debtor has concealed and secreted some part of his Estate or property and has not fairly fully and honestly delivered up to the use and benefit of his creditors the whole of his estate real and personal – and the said Peter Smick doth hereby agree in writing under his hand to allow and pay to and for the support of the said Debtor Samuel G. Opdycke the sum of seventy five cents per week, to be paid at such time or times and to such person or persons as the law directs. dated June 19th AD 1830 [signed] Peter Smick, George Rea.17

so we do not know what assets Smick thought that Opdycke possessed.]

Following this contretemps, Opdycke displayed more of his sense of humor in the face of adversity with another advertisement in the Gazette:

“Still Ascending.  I had anticipated that after the 19th instant, I should have been reinstated with the power of locomotion. Owing however to a proposition made me by a particular friend of mine, thro’ their honors the Judges &c. to add a weekly allowance of $1 or less towards my support, their honors considering that 75 cents per week in these cold water times would be weakly enough, decided that I should accept that sum. I have therefore made up my mind to remain within the limits prescribed, &c. upon the terms aforesaid, a while longer – ’ca{u}se cant help it.’  S. G. Opdycke. June 23, 1830.

N. B. Office on the summit level yet.

P. S. – One word about business. “The subscriber returns his thanks to his customers for past favors, and desires a continuation of the same.” – That’s according to form now-a-days. But I don’t want the same – I want others of the same kind – that’s it.”18

Sadly, there was little ascending after this time—only more court appearances. In fact, this was the last time Opdycke published a personal notice in the Gazette. Peter Smick appealed the ruling, and Samuel G. Opdycke counter sued in August, by his attorney Charles Bartles. I cannot say exactly what the basis of the suit was, but probably it had to do with Smick’s claim that Opdycke was hiding assets. A jury trial was held and the verdict went in Opdycke’s favor. The court ordered judgment of discharge to be entered in favor of Samuel G. Opdycke and against Peter Smick with costs of 6 cents.19

Smick was unsatisfied with the court’s ruling and appealed the case to the N.J. Supreme Court, with Wm. Halsted as his attorney. The Court of Common Pleas in its August term, “in debt on certiorari to the court” ordered the clerk to “return to the Supreme Court all the proceedings had before this court,” on motion of Wm. Halsted, attorney for the defendant, who was Peter Smick.20

The Supreme Court heard the case in September 1830 and granted a rule of certiorari allowing Smick to have the case reheard by the Court of Common Pleas with “facts” that had not been included in the first trial. But no such trial took place.21

There was one final court case involving Samuel G. Opdycke. On February 12, 1831, in Chancery Court, Tunis Quick sued Opdycke as executor of Grace McAtee dec’d and also one Robert Wells (Welts). Quick filed his bill “for the foreclosure of the equity of redemption and sale of the mortgaged premises mentioned in said bill.” The notice stated that Robert Wells was absent from New Jersey, now living in New York. Grace McAtee had gotten a mortgage on her farm in June 1818 from Elizabeth Olden of Middlesex Co. When Elizabeth Olden died, her estate was administered by Emley Olden, who assigned the mortgage to Tunis Quick of Hunterdon County. Quick went to court in February 1831 to recover the unpaid mortgage.

Unable to locate Robert Wells/Welts, on April 12, 1831, the Court ruled in favor of Tunis Quick and ordered Sheriff Wilson Bray to sell Grace McAtee’s property, a farm in Kingwood of 40.66 acres and a 15-acre woodlot, to recover a debt of $423.66 plus court costs of $65.27. The sale was held on August 19, 1831, at which time John Opdycke (Samuel G. Opdycke’s father and one of those sued by Tunis Quick) bid $800. But he could not pay that amount, so he arranged to have the deed transferred to his son James Opdycke (who was only 21 years old), and the deed was recorded on December 27, 1831.22

Perhaps this farm was the asset that Peter Smick claimed that Samuel G. Opdycke owned in 1830. But Opdycke was only the executor of the estate; he inherited nothing from his grandmother’s will.

None of the notices related to this case stated whether or not Samuel G. Opdycke was alive or deceased. On April 1, 1831, the Gazette noted that a letter for Samuel G. Opdycke was waiting at the Flemington Post Office. I doubt that it was ever collected. We have come to the end of his story. Charles W. Opdycke wrote:

But, when all were predicting the most brilliant future for him, Samuel G. Opdycke was cut down in 1829, at the age of 26, by an attack of choler morbus. He was buried in Burlington, N.J.

This is incorrect. As we have seen, Samuel G. Opdycke was very much alive in 1830 when he published the above notices in the Gazette, and appeared in court. Besides, cholera did not arrive in America until 1832.23 I suspect that this version of his death was a story that was told by Opdycke descendants when Charles W. Opdycke was collecting material for his genealogy. It is not quite as embarrassing as dying in debtor’s prison.

So it seems that after his death, “Sammy” was either remembered incorrectly, or completely ignored. There was no estate recorded for him in the Surrogate’s Court, and I have found no record of where he was buried. There was no public notice of his death either. Both the Hunterdon Gazette and the Trenton Emporium & True American were silent.

The man deserved an obituary. I hope this article makes up for so many years of neglect.

 

  1. Charles Wilson Opdyke, Leonard E. Opdycke, Wm. S. Opdyke, The Op Dycke Genealogy. 1889, p. 354. The picture is a photograph of the portrait shown on p. 354. Apologies for the bad lighting. The reference to an eldest brother is confusing, since Samuel himself was the eldest in his family. Perhaps Opdycke was referring to the next oldest child, Joseph R. Opdycke, who died in 1875. The ‘nephew’ might have been Joseph’s son Samuel.
  2. Hunterdon Wills,  4: 385. The Opdycke Genealogy states incorrectly that she died in Nova Scotia.
  3. Gazette, June 14, 1826
  4. Opdycke was an attorney who could practice in a court of law. But in this case, he was a solicitor. The difference was that a solicitor could argue cases in a court of equity (the Chancery Court), but not a court of law. When the equity courts were subsumed under courts of law in the 19th century, the term solicitor became obsolete, although the term is still used in selected instances, such as the chief lawyer for some municipalities, or for certain departments of government. As for the outcome of the case, I cannot say without examining the Chancery Court records; there is nothing about this in the Court of Common Pleas for 1826.
  5. CPM 23:491. This case may have been related to an earlier one, in 1825, in which Reading was accused of larceny. He was defended in that case by Andrew Miller Esq., and was acquitted (CPM 23:269).
  6. NJ Supreme Court Case No.4357, NJ State Archives
  7. Hunterdon Gazette, 12 Sep 1827
  8. Opdycke Genealogy, p. 354
  9. Opdycke Genealogy, p. 354
  10. Hunterdon Gazette, 24 Sep 1828
  11. Hunterdon Gazette, July 8, 1829
  12. There were no papers of his in the Charles Bartles Collection at the Hunterdon Historical Society either; Bartles had acted as his attorney in 1830-31. The only item I found (Box 33 file 2089) was a promissory note of Samuel G. Opdycke and Charles Bonnell to John H. Wilson dated September 19, 1829 for $75 payable in one year.
  13. Hunterdon Gazette, 21 Apr 1830
  14. Hunterdon Co. Miscellaneous Court Records, file 1631, box A2-4-6, Hunterdon Co. Archives. Bartholomew Vancamp was the father-in-law of James McAtee, who was the brother-in-law of Samuel G. Opdycke.
  15. CPM 24: 376
  16. H.C. Misc. Court Records, File 1631, Box A2-4-6
  17. Hunterdon Co. Archives, Box A2-4-6, file 1631. There were no other records on file at the County Archives to show what assets Smick thought Opdycke possessed.
  18. Hunterdon Gazette, 23 June 1830
  19. CPM 24: 388
  20. CPM 24: 399
  21. See New Jersey Law Reports, vol. 12 (Google eBook) pp. 85-86, Peter Smick v. Samuel G. Opdycke. Very technical and opaque for a non-lawyer like me. The owner of Peter Smick’s hotel and tavern, Charles Bonnell, died on March 31, 1830. The tavern was put up for sale by his executor, Charles Bartles. The sale was advertised in the Hunterdon Gazette, Nov. 10, 1830 and the Emporium & True American on Jan. 1, 1831, but other notices in the Emporium show that Smick was still there in 1831.
  22. Deed 51-322. Grace McAtee’s Will and Inventory are recorded at the Hunterdon Surrogate’s, but nothing else except what is in the docket (#04064).
  23. The first mention I found of the cholera epidemic in the Hunterdon Gazette was March 23, 1831, when notice was taken of an outbreak in Taganrog, a port on the Sea of Azor in Russia. Later on that year, its appearance was noted in Egypt and Constantinople. By January 4, 1832, England was becoming alarmed. By the summer, it had arrived in America.

3 thoughts on “Samuel G. Opdycke Esq., continued

  1. Kathie Kirkpatrick

    Marfy,
    Your work is excellent, as always. I enjoyed reading the Opdycke story as the family is also in my line. Thank you for including the human interest story with all of the carefully researched facts.
    Great job,
    Kathie Kirkpatrick

    Reply
  2. faith opdycke

    I am very pleased with all of the above information. Having grown up in Hunterdon County, makes it all the more interseting. I have an original painting of Samuel G Opdycke in it’s original deep-dish oval walnut frame. I actually thought it was Johannes opDycke, but have been proven wrong. I have my father’s certificate from the Sons of the Revolution, but don’t know who it was for; the Eddy family or the Opdycke family. I’d love more information and I thank you for the illuminating information. Wonderful…Faith Opdycke

    Reply
    1. Marfy Goodspeed Post author

      Faith, thank you for the comment, and for letting us know you have the portrait. Are you a direct descendant of Mayor George Opdycke? He wrote that the portrait was in his possession, back in the 1880s.

      Reply

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