After John R. Hamilton diappeared, leaving James Major, Mindert Wilson and Geo. Holcombe with the mill lot on their hands, the State Bank at New Brunswick sued either James Major or Mindert Wilson (I’m still not sure which) in chancery court for the outstanding mortgage. The court ruled in the Bank’s favor, and issued a writ of fieri facias to seize the mill lot at Saxtonville “whereon Myndert Wilson formerly resided,” along with its appurtenances (dwelling house, grist mill and saw mills), and offer them for public sale. Sheriff John Cavanagh conducted the sale on March 17, 1820. John Bray Esq. bid on behalf of the bank, and the property was conveyed to the State Bank at New Brunswick on April 1, 1820 for $4000.1

According to the deed, the mill was still encumbered by Wilson’s mortgage of $6994.50 to George Holcombe. By this time, there should have been no connection between George Holcombe’s obligations and the mortgages on the mill lot. Perhaps James Major was having problems repaying Mindert Wilson after John R. Hamilton disappeared. At least we know where James Major went. By 1820, he and wife Fanny Major had left Hunterdon County behind, settling in South Brunswick. That year they sold their Kingwood property of 55 acres, and thereafter remained in South Brunswick until James Major’s death in 1837.

I doubt that the bank directors were pleased to have the mill lot on their hands. The Bank was unable to find a buyer for it until 1823, when Nicholas D. Baird, another “merchant of New Brunswick,” purchased the 10-acre lot and buildings for a mere $5,525. The deed stated it was the property on which Myndert Wilson had formerly resided in Saxtonville, but made no mention of either James Major or John R. Hamilton.2 On the same day, April 21, 1823, Baird and his wife Susan got a mortgage from the bank for the full amount of the purchase, at 6% interest.3 Security for the mortgage was John Baird of Montgomery Twp., probably the father of Nicholas D. Baird. The mortgage required that half of the amount be paid on March 1, 1824.

Nicholas D. Baird

Nicholas D. Baird was born in April 1797 in Griggstown, Somerset County, to John Baird and Catherine DuBois; hence the “D.” in his name. He was only 26 years old when he bought the Saxtonville mill, and just recently married to his wife Susan. They settled in the village and did their best to make the mill operation a success and to become part of the community. In 1825 Baird was named one of the Overseers of Roads for Amwell Township.

One item of special interest that year was a meeting of the county board of freeholders in May at which Baird applied to view the road where it crosses the mouth of the “Niaaglan Creek” to see if a bridge was needed there. The freeholders agreed to meet at the house of William Johnson on June 2nd.4 Johnson owned the tavern at Painter’s Ferry, and the fact that the freeholders met there rather than in the village at what we now call Saxtonville Tavern suggests the Tavern was not yet in operation. On the other hand, if “Niaaglan Creek” was actually the Lockatong Creek (which has a long history of odd misspellings), then it would make more sense to meet at Johnson’s Tavern, since it was closer to the creek.

Matters got a little complicated for Baird in 1826, when he took his neighbors, William and Joseph Dilworth, to court for non-payment of debts. Baird’s attorney was Peter I. Clark of Flemington. The Dilworths owned Bull’s Island and were constructing a sawmill there. Perhaps they failed to pay Baird for lumber to construct their mill. The Court ruled in Baird’s favor and ordered the Dilworth’s property to be sold. Notice of this decision appeared in the Hunterdon Co. Gazette on Feb. 16, 1826, but no advertisement for a sale of the Dilworths’ property appeared, and no deed of sale was recorded. The Dilworths must have managed to get some kind of settlement with Baird.

In 1827 Baird witnessed the will of Robert Nailor who lived near Saxtonville. On July 18, 1827, Baird announced in the Gazette that he and his partner, Oliver Creed, operating under the name of Baird & Creed, were dissolving their partnership “by mutual consent,” and requested all those who wished to settle business with them to visit them at Bool’s Island. Once again, there was nothing further in the Gazette and we are left to speculate. It was probably in the mid 1820s that Baird built a linseed oil mill on his property at Saxtonville, a separate structure from the grain and saw mills.5 Perhaps the business was run by Baird and Creed. Creed was from Trenton, and may have helped to market products from the Saxtonville mill. He appeared in the Trenton census records of 1830 and 1840.6

Baird tried other ways to earn money. In 1828, he got the patent rights for a cider maker which he advertised for sale in partnership with Isaac Lawshe.

 “Important to Cider Makers. The subscribers having purchased the patent rights of Farnham’s Greater Cider Mill, for the townships of Amwell and Kingwood, offer Rights for sale on reasonable terms, and to make machines, if required. Isaac Lawshe, Nicholas D. Baird.”7

In 1828, when John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson were facing off in the presidential election, Baird began to dabble in politics. In April that year he was listed as a candidate for the County Board of Freeholders, although he failed to get elected.8 In October, he joined the “Committee of Vigilance” of the National Republican party, which was the party supporting President Adams. Baird was named a delegate to the Republican state convention in Trenton for that month.9 Like Nathaniel Saxton, Baird wanted the federal government to spend more on canals, national roads and other improvements. But Saxton stayed away from party politics this year.

1828 was a year of optimism for Baird. On April 28, 1828, he expanded his holdings by purchasing 55 acres from James McAllister, a farm that was once owned by James Major. It was not far from Raven Rock, and Baird paid about $780 for it. He financed the purchase with a mortgage, co-signed by Charles Bartles, from David Johnes who lived near Headquarters. Shortly afterwards, on May 1, 1828, Baird bought another property once owned by James Major, the farm of 64 acres in Kingwood on the Delaware River, which included a share in the Green Briar Fishery.10

In 1829, a cloud appeared on Baird’s horizon, in the form of a suit by James B. Cox to recover $2088 plus damages for failing to pay the State Bank at New Brunswick for the mortgage on the mill lot. Despite this, Baird continued to be involved in politics. He was one of many nominees for the State Assembly in September 1829. The following year, he was named a substitute delegate for the State Convention to be held in Trenton.

Meanwhile, things were moving slowly in the courts. A writ of fieri facias was issued by the Chancery Court on April 6, 1830 to levy on the mill property, but Baird must have found a way to put things off, as no action was taken immediately.11

In 1830, Nicholas D. Baird was counted in the Amwell Township census with a household of 10 people. The oldest resident in the household was a man in his 60s, living with a female in her 50s; there was a couple in their 20s, some children, and one free colored male who was probably working in the mill. Baird should have been around 32 years old in 1830, and wife Susan 31 years old. I have found no record of their having had children. (It is a great frustration that the 1830 census only names the head of household and none of the other residents. The census of 1850 suggests that Baird might have been born in 1801 rather than 1797.)

Baird seems to have left no stone unturned in his effort to make a living from his properties. On March 26, 1831 he leased his sawmill to Richard Bennet.12 The lease required that available water should go first to Baird’s linseed oil mill before being run to the sawmill. But 1831 turned out to be a very bad year for Nicholas D. Baird. Tragedy struck on April 16th, when Baird’s wife Susan died in her early 30s. Her obituary was published in the Hunterdon Gazette on April 27th:  “Died at Bool’s Island, on the 16th instant, Mrs. Susan Baird, wife of Mr. N. D. Baird, aged 31 years.” With the loss of his wife and his debts piling up, Baird became another in a long line of failures at the Saxtonville mill.

Baird Loses the Mill Lot

In 1831, the mill lot was seized by the State Bank at New Brunswick, which placed this advertisement in the Emporium and True American on July 16, 1831:  “Seized as the property of Nicholas D. Baird, Defendant, and taken in execution at the suit of the President, Directors and Company of the State Bank at New Brunswick, Complainant.” (It is odd that the sale was not advertised in the Hunterdon Gazette.)13 Before the Sheriff’s sale was held, a private conveyance was made by Baird on July 23, 1831 to James B. Cox, conveying Baird’s rights in the mill lot for $1000. The deed noted that the payment was “to go in part satisfaction of the claim of the said James B. Cox secured by mortgage on the premises –and that the said James B. Cox takes the property hereby conveyed subject to the mortgage of the State Bank at New Brunswick on said premises.”14

By now it was clear to all that Baird was unable to pay his debts. On August 10, 1831, the Gazette announced that a hearing was scheduled for September 17 in which a decision would be made whether or not Nicholas D. Baird (and several others) should be imprisoned for debt. Six days later, Sheriff Forman held his public sale for the mill property, at which James B. Cox was the highest bidder, offering $7100 for the same lot he had paid Baird $1000 for.15 The deed was acknowledged before Thomas Gordon, master of the Chancery Court, on August 17. On August 23, James B. Cox and wife Frances N. Cox sold the mill lot to Robt. F. Stockton for $10,192.16 This covered Cox’s expenses of $1000 and $7100, leaving him a respectable profit of $2092.17

Nicholas D. Baird Departs

On August 27, 1831, the National Republicans of Amwell Township met to chose delegates to the county convention to be held on September 5th.18 Despite his financial troubles, Baird was one of those named, along with John Barber, who was the executor of David Johnes deceased. Baird’s hearing for imprisonment for debt was supposed to be held on September 17th, but it appears that he managed to avoid that indignity.

Instead, he had to face two lawsuits, one by his fellow-delegate John Barber to recover the mortgage that Baird had given David Johnes for a 55-acre farm in Kingwood Township, and one by James B. Cox for the mortgage on the 64-acre farm also located in Kingwood. The 64-acre farm and shares in the Green Briar fishery were sold at public auction to John Waterhouse Jr. of Kingwood for an amazing 25 cents.19 The deed was dated January 2, 1832. The next year Barber’s suit resulted in the public sale of Baird’s 55 acres in Kingwood, formerly the property of James Major. The Chancery Court ruled in Barber’s favor in February 1833, but the sale was not held until December 7, 1833, at the house of Richard Bennet, Innkeeper of Amwell, when Thomas Cherry of Kingwood paid $400 for the farm.20

During the time that Baird was waiting for the other legal shoe to fall, life in Saxtonville must have been messy and uncomfortable. Construction of the feeder canal had begun early in 1832. The feeder was the part of the canal that began at the northern end of Bull’s Island and used what had been Bull’s Creek, so the disruption extended the whole length of Bull’s Island.21

Along with the difficulties that canal construction must have created, there was something much worse. In the summer of 1832, cholera, which had traveled from Europe to America in 1831, finally broke out at Raven’s Rock and other sites along the canal. It’s victims were mostly the canal workers, who’s housing was less than adequate. Some of the workers died from the disease and were buried in unmarked graves north of Prallsville and other places along the canal. Ashbel Welch, who was in charge of canal construction at this time, acted quickly to establish public health policies that would contain the epidemic. These measures worked, so that by the following summer the epidemic was over.

Between the devastation wrought by the cholera epidemic and his own financial devastation, Nicholas D. Baird was probably not reluctant to leave Hunterdon County, just as so many other Raven Rock millers had before him. He was not that old by 1833, but he must have been much less ambitious than before. A man by the name of Nicholas D. Baird appears in the 1850 census for Mullica in Atlantic County, age 49, working as a schoolteacher and living in a hotel. It appears that by 1860 he was living in Hillsborough, Somerset County, but after that I cannot say. N. J. Death Records have a N. Dubois Baird, a married farmer, dying at the age of 57, but no date given, and a Nicholas D. Baird, single, dying on December 17, 1875 at the age of 82. Take your pick.

The Canal Company

As noted before, James Cox did not buy the mill lot for himself. He bought it to recover the debts owed to him and to the State Bank at New Brunswick by Nicholas Baird, but he may also have been acting in cooperation with the Delaware & Raritan Canal Company. Almost immediately after acquiring the mill lot, he sold it to Robert F. Stockton, the president of the company.

It is safe to assume that the Canal Company had no interest in running a mill. They advertised it for sale on December 2, 1834 in a newspaper I never would have found. Fortunately, Carter Litchfield did find the ad in The Camden Mail and New Jersey Advertiser. It advertised the “Bull’s Island Mill Property . . . with Grist Mill, Saw Mill, four Dwelling Houses, a Stone Building formerly used as an Oil Mill, and a building formerly used as a Saw Mill, and also the Machinery belonging to the two latter buildings.” With totally unwarranted optimism, the ad continued: “The above MILLS are at the head of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Feeder, and are well known to be among the best stands for business on the Delaware.” Those interested were invited to contact Ashbel Welch, Engineer, in Lambertville. According to Carter Litchfield, no sale ever took place. And no more milling either. The property remained in possession of Robert F. Stockton until long after his death in 1866.22

Postscript:  An important resource is missing from this discussion, and that is the court records available at the Hunterdon Archives. If I had taken the time to check them, this article would be much more detailed and accurate, but it would have had to wait much longer to be published. I have also neglected the newspapers published in Trenton during this period, and am therefore especially grateful for the work that Carter Litchfield did during his last years, compiling a history of the linseed oil mills in New Jersey. His book will be published this year, thanks to the efforts of his friend Paul W. Schopp.

 

  1. Deed 31-200
  2. Deed 36-006
  3. Mortgage 10-034
  4. Hunterdon Co. Gazette, 9 Jun 1825.
  5. see Litchfield, pp. 83-84
  6. In 1830, he was administrator of the estate of Nicholas Bellerjeau dec’d, who was probably related to his wife Achsah Bellerjeau, whom he married in Hunterdon County on April 17, 1826. See H.C. Marriages, vol. 2 p.321
  7.  Hunterdon Co. Gazette, June 18, 1828. Isaac Lawshe was another enterprising fellow who advertised his “Cabinet Making” business, on Jan. 30, 1828 in the Gazette. His shop was located a mile north of Ringoes on Co. Rte 579, where he specialized in “Bureaus, Secretaries, Tables {and} Chests,” but also “Wind or Fan Mills, Wheelbarrows, Sleighs, Sleds and harrows. Of wood work a general assortment you may see” at his shop.
  8. Hunterdon Co. Gazette, 9 April 1828
  9. Hunterdon Co. Gazette, 8 Oct 1828
  10. as described in Deeds 56-263 and 51-547
  11. As described in Deed 51-254
  12. NJDARM, Delaware & Raritan Canal Land Records, box 1, file 1-1, as cited by Carter Litchfield in The Linseed Oil Mills of New Jersey 1732-1955, co-authored by Richard L. Porter and Paul W. Schopp, Arlington, VA: Oléarius Editions, 2012.
  13. Deed 51-524
  14. Deed 51-252
  15. Deed 51-524
  16. Deed 51-256
  17. James B. Cox was James Bray Cox, born about 1798, died in North Brunswick at the respectable age of 84 on August 8, 1882. He was the grandson of John and Susannah Bray of Hunterdon County, and he was almost certainly related to the John Bray who acted as president of the State Bank at New Brunswick in 1820 when the mill lot was bought by the bank.
  18. Hunterdon Gazette, 31 Aug 1831
  19. Deed 51-547. The sale was held at the Trenton house of Benjamin South.
  20. Deed 56-263; The name Richard Bennet will be important in my upcoming posts on the Saxtonville Tavern.
  21. For Egbert T. Bush’s description of this interesting story, see “Passing of Canal Feeder Matter For Regret.
  22. Litchfield, 2012, p.84