A response to the article written by Egbert T. Bush on August 7, 1930 entitled
“Buchanan’s, A Tavern With A Long History”

Never, never assume. That’s a lesson I have just learned again. When I began looking into the history of Buchanan’s Tavern, I was operating on the assumption that the original 18th century tavern was the old stone house at the top of the hill on Route 579, just north of the intersection of County Routes 523 and 579. And the newer Buchanan’s was the old house on the northeast corner of the intersection, now owned by the Micek family. Turns out, I was wrong, but now I know why. And I’ve gotten a chance to write about one of my favorite early settlers, Daniel Robins. Here is the tale:

The Neighborhood

The first home in the vicinity of what became known as Buchanan’s Hill was the stone building at the northwest corner of the intersection of the Malayaleck Path, also known as the Trenton-Easton Turnpike (Route 579), and the road from Howell’s Ferry to Flemington (Route 523). Originally, the turnpike road ran up the hill at an angle that began in front of the Micek house.1 That route took the traveler up the steep hill where the old house sat at the top. (The old route can still be seen as a surviving driveway.) According to the datestone over the door, the stone house at the top of the hill was built in 1725. There is a third house at this location, which is prominent as you approach the intersection, driving north on Route 579. The house sits on the west side of Route 523, facing the intersection, with a lovely wide porch.

Other names for this area were “Buchanan’s” or even “Buchanansville.” In deeds and other records pertaining to this vicinity, references to Buchanan’s Tavern are very common. It served as a significant landmark for travelers. Those old travelers are gone, so they cannot tell me which of the three Raritan Township houses served as the tavern: the old stone house (on Block 60 lot 40), the frame house that faces the valley (Block 60 lot 34), or the Micek house on the corner (Block 63 lot 71).

The old stone house was especially noteworthy for its remarkable view. Jonathan M. Hoppock wrote:

“From this elevation the eye has a view of the Raritan valley as far east as Bound Brook. Also from this point a view can be had of the Sourland Mountain range from the Delaware on the west, extending through the counties of Hunterdon and Somerset, presenting to the view a greater scope ofcountry than can probably be seen from any other point in the county.”2

At some point, the route up the hill was moved over a little to the south. I’ve often wondered why the new route was preferable to the old one. The Indians wisely climbed the hill at a slant rather than straight up as the new route seems to do. But a closer look at the old route makes it clear that it was too narrow to allow for the truck and car traffic that uses the county road, being wedged in between a small cliff and the old house. In any case, it left the old stone house set back from the road, and today it is barely visible on the right as you climb the steep hill.

The old Robins house, c.1725, as seen from Route 579

As for my misunderstanding about the original Buchanan’s Tavern, I suspect I was partly misled by reading too much into the article by Jonathan M. Hoppock, in which he claims that Gen. Washington and part of his army made the stone house at the top of the hill their temporary headquarters in July 1777. Regrettably, Hoppock did not say (and probably did not know) who owned the place in 1777. Knowing that “Buchanan’s Tavern” was in existence as early as 1775, I assumed that this was the house. But more diligent research has proved me wrong.

Here is the photograph that accompanied Mr. Hoppock’s article, claiming it served as Washington’s headquarters. The picture can also be seen in the 1914 Hunterdon-Somerset Farmers & Businessmen’s Directory.

The 1723 house of Daniel Robins

The 1723 house of Daniel Robins

Many thanks to Carl MacDonald for sending me such a good copy of the picture.

In his article on Buchanan’s Tavern, E. T. Bush described the property now owned by the Miceks as the tavern lot. He said nothing about the old stone house or the handsome house that overlooks the valley and faces travelers on Route 579, which seems an ideal location for a tavern. To straighten this out, I had to go back to the beginning of European settlement.

Proprietary Owners

Surveys to the first English owners of land in this neighborhood were made around 1711/1712. One of the biggest tracts of land was surveyed to John Haddon of England. He was a properous man who purchased shares in West New Jersey. He became entitled to large acreage after 250,000 acres in Hunterdon County had been purchased from the Indians. This was the Lotting Purchase of 1703 and the Morris Purchase of 1709. The Proprietors announced dividends to shareholders of 5000 acres per share.

Before he even had his property surveyed, John Haddon, by his attorney (and son-in-law) John Estaugh, conveyed to Daniel Robins Jr. of Freehold, Monmouth County, 700 acres of unsurveyed land in Amwell Township, Hunterdon County. This transaction took place on November 19, 1709, and Robins paid only £35 for all that land. In 1722, Daniel Robins had 700 acres surveyed west and south of Sergeantsville. Records do not tell us if these were the rights that Robins had purchased from John Haddon, but they might have been. (Haddon received a warrant for his own survey on March 19, 1711 for 2000 acres.) In 1724 Robins had his 700 acres resurveyed, giving him a total of 707 acres.3

Robins got another tract of land surveyed in 1714. It was identified as Lot No.15, of 333 acres, located just east of John Haddon’s tract of 2000 acres.4 Just to the north of Robins’ tract was a similar one of 312.5 acres surveyed to Andrew Heaeth in 1712, and directly to the south, a tract of 800 acres surveyed to John Cook in 1714. North of both the Haddon and Heath tracts was the 5000-acre tract surveyed to the heirs of William Penn, which ran from here all the way to Flemington. The dividing line between Daniel Robins’ 333 acres and John Haddon’s 2000 acres ran between the old stone house and the two other houses at the intersection. That line will show up in future deeds, well into the 19th century.

At some point in time, Daniel Robins acquired a large portion of the northeast corner of the Haddon tract. This probably happened after the death of John Haddon. On July 16, 1723, Haddon wrote a will leaving the residue of his real and personal property to his two daughters, Elizabeth (wife of John Estaugh) and Sarah (wife of Benjamin Hopkins). John Haddon died not long after writing his will. It was probably between 1723 and 1726 that the two sisters and their husbands sold part of 700 acres to Daniel Robins. This is one of many deeds out of the Haddon tract that is not recorded in New Jersey. I’ve deduced the fact of this sale by examining a later sale. See Addendum below.

To be able to divide the property between them, Elizabeth and Sarah deeded all that remained of their father’s real estate to John Gill of Gloucestser County (where Elizabeth was also living) on June 18, 1726. On May 24, 1727, Gill conveyed the remains of the Amwell tract to Elizabeth Estaugh and her husband John, who wrote his will on Oct. 5, 1742, leaving all his property to wife Elizabeth. In 1748,5 Elizabeth Estaugh conveyed the remaining 1300 acres (“that remaining part of” the 2000 acres “unsold by the said John Estaugh and Benjamin Hopkins and their wives while held by them in common”) to Jacob Peter Sniter and Nicholas Sayn. The deed’s metes and bounds showed a tract of 700 acres that had previously been conveyed “to Daniel Robins and others.” It also indicated that the 333 acres that had been surveyed to Robins in 1714 was “land formerly Daniel Robins.”

Daniel Robins

Daniel Robins was born on November 27, 1666 in New Haven, Connecticut,6 one of ten children of Daniel Robins (1627-1714) and Hope Potter (1641-1687). Daniel Robins Sr. settled with his family in Woodbridge, Monmouth County by 1669. Daniel Robins Jr. and his wife Mary Parker had a son Daniel, born October 5, 1692. It is thought that Mary Parker Robins died shortly afterwards. Daniel married a second wife named Mary and had (among other children) sons John (c.1694-1777), Isaac (c.1700-1741), Job (c.1700-c.1756), and Elisha (c.1705-?).  Daniel Robins moved to Hunterdon County, and seems to have left his first son Daniel behind in Monmouth County, since he acquired property in that place. Sons Benjamin and Nathaniel and probably other children also stayed behind.

The most irrefutable evidence that Daniel Robins had moved to Amwell Township is the fact that he and “David” Howell were chosen freeholders from that town in 1725.7 At that early date, it was a challenge to find people to fill the positions needed for township government. Amwell Township was itself only 17 years old, having been created in 1708. Other 1725 officeholders were John Manners tax assessor, John Holcombe tax collector, Jacob Stull and Henry Ketchum “commissioners of highways,” and John Holcombe and John Vanorst Overseers of the Poor. Robins only served one year as freeholder; John Holcombe took the position in 1726.

More evidence of his move comes from Quaker records. On September 7, 1727, Daniel Robins Jr. and wife Mary requested a certificate from the Chesterfield Monthly Meeting of Friends to joing the meeting at Buckingham, Pennsylvania, which was the closest Friends Meeting to Amwell Township.8 The Quaker date was given as 7 mo. 7, 1727. In 1731, Daniel and his wife Mary were received on certificate at the Wrightstown, Bucks County Pennsylvania Monthly Meeting. Some have concluded that this meant that the Robins were living in Wrightstown, PA, but I believe that the Robins worshipped there and lived in Amwell.

I have already mentioned that Daniel Robins got rights to 700 acres in 1709. A survey made in 1712 of 437 acres for Dorothy Medcalf showed that Daniel Robins already owned a smaller tract of land southwest of Sergeantsville along Route 523. The Hammond Map does not show the piece of land owned by Robins in the southeast corner of the Medcalf tract, but the metes and bounds of Medcalf’s survey makes it clear he owned land there. Sometime later, in 1722, he had his tract of 700 acres surveyed, and then resurveyed in 1724.

With these two early tracts of land, one near Sergeantsville, and one at Robins’ Hill, the question becomes, where was Daniel Robins living? He could have lived in either place, but two items convince me he lived on Robins Hill. First is the datestone over the old stone house of 1725, and second is a later document referring to that property as “where Daniel Robins lived.”

When Daniel Robins arrived in Amwell Township, he had hardly any neighbors. The population of Amwell Township (Raritan, Delaware and East & West Amwell) must have been considerably less than 500 people. Building homes and clearing the land were strenuous endeavors. Barber & Howe wrote that a farmer named Robins who lived in Delaware Township in the 18th century, wanted to clear a field for planting, but was obliged to beat 90 rattlesnakes to death in “each of three springs successively.” To accomplish this, he and his helpers covered their legs with bark. This was  sufficient to protect them even though the snakes bit the bark frequently.9 This farmer Robins was either Daniel Robins, or else one of his sons.

Apparently Daniel Robins thrived in his new home. Some unknown traveler made his acquaintance and wrote a paragraph about him that got published in a Boston newspaper in 1733. It read:

Hunterdon County in New-Jersey, July 9 – To give an instance of the Health, Constitution and Fruitfulness of our North American born People, there is one Daniel Robins, aged about sixty six Years, born in North America, and is now living in the said County of Hunterdon, he is so Strong and Healthy, that he hath lately travelled oftentimes forty Miles a Day, rather than ride an easy Horse. He is the Father of thirteen children, Eleven of which are married, and by them he hath had Sixty Two Grand-Children, born in less than Eighteen years Time, which with his other children, makes Seventy Five Persons, besides Eleven Sons and Daughters in Law, so that though he is but about half the Age of Jacob, when he went down to Egypt, yet he hath more children and Grandchildren then Jacob then had, and with more remarkable Blessing, he never lost Child nor Grandchild, Son-in-law nor Daughter-in-law in his Life. And said Daniel Robins with every one of his Children and Grand-children, Sons-in-law and Daughters-in-law have their Health, perfect Senses and Limbs. Thus it appears, that said Daniel Robins hath successfully kept and fulfilled that Great and necessary Commandment of Multiply, by Fruitful and Replenish the Earth: In this Wilderness Country.  -The New England Weekly Journal, July 30, 1733.

This is a great taunt to a genealogical researcher. Only six of those thirteen children have been identified as living in Hunterdon County, and yet eleven of them married and had children. One of his sons, John, accounted for many of the grandchildren. He had at least three children by his first wife (name unknown), and nine by his second wife Eleanor. Son Isaac had at least five children, and son Job had about eight children, which makes 25 grandchildren that I know of, which is far short of the 62 mentioned above. That reference to “his other children” is even more tantalizing for a researcher. I suspect they were the ones who remained in Monmouth County.  The testimony of Daniel Robins’ hardiness is reinforced by the fact that he transferred himself and family to the wilderness of Amwell Township when he was about 60 years old.

Daniel Robins probably died just a few years after this article was written, at about age 70, without having written a will (or if he did write a will, it has gone unrecorded). His wife Mary survived him, as she was named in her son Isaac’s will of 1741. The reason we know that Daniel Robins died before 1737 is that his son Isaac mortgaged 200 acres in March of that year to the State of New Jersey, more particularly, the Hunterdon Loan Office, for £20. His land was described as bordering Gov. Penn on the north and John Haddon on the south, “being part of a large tract of land formerly surveyed for said Haddon, being that plantation that Daniel Robins deceased, father of the said Isaac Robins, formerly lived upon.”10

This brief description is extremely important, for it not only shows that Daniel Robins died before 1737, but also that his home, where he lived, was in the Haddon tract, rather than on the 333 acres to the east or the tract of land near Sergeantsville. And it makes it more than likely that Daniel Robins built and lived in the stone house at the top of the hill (Block 60 lot 40).

To be continued.

Addendum, 1/11/2013, added old picture of the Robins house.

Addendum, 1/19/2013, added information to footnote 7.

Addendum, 1/23/2013:  At the time I wrote this article, I had not seen the date stone on the house (pictured here: Daniel Robins’ house). The date was June 24, 1723, which means that Robins built the house before the death of John Haddon.

Footnotes:

  1.  Route 579 was never officially designated a turnpike; it got the title through common parlance.
  2. “Washington’s Headquarters, Raritan Township, 1777,” Democrat-Advertiser, 26 Sep 1901. Contrary to Hoppock’s claim, I have found no evidence that Washington ever stopped here.
  3. West Jersey Survey Book AAA p. 396 and Book M1 p. 404. Haddon’s survey was recorded in Survey Book A, pp. 144-145.
  4. Hammond Map F; see “Basic Sources.”
  5. West Jersey Deeds, HH-037; the deed left blank the day and month. The previous sales to & from Gill were recorded in Book D pp. 413 & 418.
  6. The Robins/Robbins Genealogy by John W. Taylor and Sara Robbins Hoffman, 2005; available at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society.
  7. James P. Snell, History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, 1881, p. 346. There was no David Howell living in Hunterdon at the time; only Daniel Howell. I’ve seen that mistake before. In fact, the entry in the Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas, vol. 2 p. 64, shows it was Daniel Howell, not David. This appointment was recorded at the session dated March 8, 1724/25.
  8. The Official Index for the Chesterfield Monthly Meeting cited in Robins/Robbins Genealogy.
  9. John W. Barber and Henry Howe, Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey, 1845, p. 241
  10. Hunterdon Co. Loan Office, N.J. Archives, 1737 p.20