Howell’s Tavern House and Ferry House

Detail of survey by Reading Howell, 1774 click to enlarge
Detail of survey by Reading Howell, 1774
click to enlarge

The dotted line in this picture is a survey line, drawn by Reading Howell in 1774, and as you can see, one of the lines goes right through the middle of the house, which is labeled “Ferry House.” Strangely enough, this house has long been known as the tavern house at Howell’s Ferry (Stockton) which I wrote about in “Jacob’s Path, an 1813 Shortcut.” So why was the tavern house called the Ferry House in 1774? And why did the surveyor run a line right through the middle? Therein lies a story.

As my article (“Jacob’s Path”) shows, for a very long time the building was known as Howell’s Tavern, after the family that first settled that area. The road that is shown on the survey map is the old route of Main Street (Route 29) in Stockton at the intersection of Ferry Street. What is odd is the way the road continues toward the west instead of wrapping around the ferry/tavern house as it does today, circling the old Baptist Church that now stands in its place.

The Stockton Baptist Church, photographed by Frank Greenagle
The Stockton Baptist Church, photographed by Frank Greenagle

You can see a description of this church on Frank Greenagle’s website, New Jersey Churchscape. The Baptist Church opened in 1861, and is thought to have been built on the foundation of the old tavern house.

Earlier this summer, I had the privilege of meeting Carl Cathers of Stockton, who has an incredible collection of old papers relating to the families who first settled in Stockton and Prallsville, many of them collected by Austin Davison.1 Mr. Cathers allowed me to browse through his collection, and there I found a small piece of paper dated 1774 that is quite remarkable. In fact, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It is a survey made by Reading Howell to adjust a boundary line between Benjamin Howell and John Ely. And as you can see, Howell really needed to get that adjustment made. Otherwise, he’d have to pay rent on half of his house. Here is the entire survey by Reading Howell:

1774 Survey by Reading Howell, made for Benjamin Howell
1774 Survey by Reading Howell, made for Benjamin Howell

Most researchers have assumed that the ferry house was the stone mansion house located close to the river on Ferry Street, and the house shown on this survey was always considered to be the tavern house. It was functioning as a tavern house as early as 1761.

It seems far more logical to put a ferry house close to the landing for the ferry, which was owned by the Howell family at least since 1717. That was the year that John Reading died, and he was the one who first set it up, as early as 1710. The place was originally known as “Reading’s Landing.” Daniel Howell was Reading’s son-in-law who took it over until his own death in 1733.

The stone house by the river, which is facing south, toward the river, predates a second stone house on Ferry Street which faces east, toward the road. Determining its age is nearly impossible because of the Flood of 1955, when the water rose nearly to the second floor and destroyed much of the original woodwork. I suspect it was built when Benjamin Howell took over the ferry in 1746. Dennis Bertland suggested that Howell may have built a new ferry house up the hill to avoid future flooding. He did wonder how well the ferryman could see from there to the other side of the river to know if someone wanted to cross over, but I suspect that all the trees had been taken down, and the view might have been quite good.

So what do we know about the Howells and the Elys, and how did this snafu come about? The story begins with Daniel Howell and his wife Mary Else Reading.

Daniel Howell and Mary Else Reading

Mary Else Reading was the daughter of Col. John Reading and his wife Elizabeth. She was born on September 26, 1688 at Gloucester in the Province of West New Jersey. That is where her family was living at the time, and where they stayed until her father decided to relocate to the new lands purchased from the Indians in 1703. John Reading selected an outstanding piece of ground for his new plantation, which he named Mount Amwell. It is southwest of Rosemont, overlooking the Delaware River, and not too far north of Prallsville.

The family came to Amwell Township sometime before 1708 when the township was created. By that time, Mary was 20 years old. About two years later, she married Daniel Howell, son of Daniel Howell Sr. and Hannah Lakin of Pennsylvania. The Howells had also lived in Gloucester before moving north. By 1690, Daniel Howell Sr. and family were living in Philadelphia, and in 1700 they moved to Solebury, Bucks County, where Daniel Sr. died in 1739, and wife Hannah sometime before that.

When Mary Reading and Daniel Howell married, her father, John Reading, granted them a one-square mile property, adjacent to Mount Amwell. It covered Prallsville & Stockton and the land surrounding these villages. (Of course, the villages did not exist in 1710.) Located on this property was Reading’s Landing, which Daniel Howell took over. The ferry brought travelers from New Jersey to a road in Pennsylvania that ran all the way to Philadelphia, later to be known as the Old York Road.

There are no records from this time to tell the story, but it is clear that Daniel Howell began making improvements to his property that would allow him to make a comfortable living from it. One of these improvements, besides the ferry, would be a road leading from the ferry inland toward other early settlements, like a village that was appearing on the South Branch of the Raritan River, known today as Flemington. This road is now today’s Route 523. Col. John Reading had plans for that road. It was his intention that it serve as the main artery connecting Philadelphia with New Brunswick, and from there with New York. Things didn’t turn out that way, but that is another story.2

Daniel Howell’s Will

As it turned out, Daniel and Mary Howell did not stay here very long. They both died in their early 40s, leaving six young children. According to the Reading family bible, Mary Reading Howell died on February 27, 1732.3 Her husband Daniel (yeoman of Amwell) wrote his will on September 9, 1733. He died sometime before October 24, 1733 when the will was recorded. To his daughters Elizabeth and Mary he left his tract of land on the Alexauken Creek, as tenants in common. I do not know exactly where that was or what the daughters did with it. Also to his daughters he left “household goods and utensils of housewifery which was their mother’s” as well as her “wearing apparel.”

After the death of their parents, Elizabeth and Mary Howell, who were only about 15 years old, went to live with their aunt Catherine Howell Rittenhouse, wife of William Rittenhouse, who lived just south of Rosemont.4 Mary Howell may have died young; there is no marriage record for her. Daughter Elizabeth Howell married Lucas Ryerson not long after her father died, probably about 1735. Ryerson was the brother of Mary Ryerson (1699-1774) who married John Reading Jr., brother of Mary Reading Howell.

Provisions for Daniel’s Sons:

Daniel and Mary Howell had four sons: Joseph, Daniel, John and Benjamin. In providing for sons Daniel and John, Daniel Sr. left them:

the “Grist Mill and land thereunto belonging with the Geers and Utensols, along with 60 acres to be taken from the upper side of the farm or plantacon whereon I now dwell fronting upon ye river so far down the same til a line from thence will include half of ye young orchard by the Barn and to run the sd Course to the next Hollow from thence (if it can be a straight line) to the rear of the Tract saving always the Improvements to the old farm; . . . To hold as tenants in Common.”

This is very suggestive with its mention of the farm where he lived “fronting upon ye river.” The mill was almost certainly near the Wickecheoke Creek in Prallsville. But Daniel Howell’s farm was huge (all of Prallsville and part of Stockton), so the will does not help us locate exactly where he lived.

John Howell

John Howell, born August 8, 1721,5 was also a minor when his parents died. He went to live with his uncle Benjamin Howell in Pennsylvania. He seems to have stayed there, and is buried with his wife Elizabeth Yerkes in the cemetery at Roxborough, PA. John Howell died on July 27, 1808; his wife died on March 11, 1793.

Daniel Howell, Jr.

Daniel Howell Jr., the eldest son, according to his father’s will, was born about 1720 or earlier. He and his two brothers, Joseph and Benjamin, went to live with their uncle, John Reading Jr. and his wife Mary Ryerson. The Readings already had seven children of their own by this time, and would have four more by 1741, so the addition of three more boys made for a large household. But it was no doubt the best place for the boys to be, given the wealth and social prominence of their aunt and uncle.

About 1740, Daniel Howell Jr. married Julia Anna Holcombe. She was the daughter of one of the other earliest families of Amwell, John Holcombe (1682-1743) and Elizabeth Woolrich (1683-1761). Daniel and Julia had three known children: John (c.1740-aft Apr 1804); Daniel (c.1740-aft May 1791); and Reading Howell Esq. (c.1743-1827), about whom there will be more to say.

In 1744, Daniel’s uncle John Reading, who had been named executor of his father’s will (along with William Rittenhouse who died in 1767) executed a deed confirming lands that had been left to Daniel Jr. in his father’s will.6 In 1750 Daniel Howell and brother John sold the grist and corn mills they inherited to Charles Woolverton.

In 1780, Daniel Howell was taxed on 276 acres. He died intestate in 1790 by which time his property was reduced to 206 acres. His estate was administered by son Reading Howell, and his real estate was divided between his sons. In 1800, Reading Howell offered the 206 acres for sale, located “about 3 miles from Prall’s Mills, on the Delaware.” It turns out that this property was nowhere near Prallsville or Stockton. It was up the hill near Hewitt and Sanford Roads, and the Kingwood-Delaware Township line. The property was sold by Reading and Catharine Howell to George Holcombe Jr. in 1802 for £1200.7 The recital states that the property was owned by Reading Howell’s father at the time of his death.

The Younger Sons

Daniel Howell’s will of 1733 continues:

. . . to sons Joseph and Benjamin the remaining part of the plantacon whereon I now dwell with the buildings improvements and advantages thereunto belonging to be divided between them share and share alike . . . as tenants in common, not joint tenants.

It is worth reviewing the meaning of those terms, tenants in common and joint tenants. The first means that each tenant has an independent share in the property, and can sell it without consent of the other tenant(s). This often happens in an estate whereby the daughters each get one share and the sons get two shares. Some of these sibling tenants in common will then sell their shares to another tenant enabling him to acquire full and entire ownership of the property.

Joint tenants owned the property as if they were one person. One could not act without the other; both names would have to be on any deed, and if one of them should die, the entire property belonged to the surviving tenant. Each of the joint owners has an equal share in the property. This was usually the case with husband and wife.

So, Daniel Howell was requiring his two sons to share the ownership of his homestead plantation as tenants in common. But this arrangement is often impractical, and the two sons eventually divided the property between them.

Joseph Howell

After spending his childhood living with the Reading family, Joseph Howell received his inheritance by means of a deed executed by his uncle John Reading giving him 250 acres in Amwell, bordering land of brother Benjamin Howell.8 The deed was dated December 23, 1749, and the property was described as

“. . . a certain Messuage, Tenement, Plantation or tract of land in Amwell beginning at the middle of the ferry road by the Delleware River side being the boundaries of his brother Benjamin Howell’s land from thence along the boundary thereof being part along the middle of the Road as it now is used . . .”

In 1761, Joseph Howell and wife Susannah sold this property to George Ely, and moved to the Headquarters mill and farm of John Opdycke. Joseph Howell failed to make a success of the mill operation, and went into bankruptcy by 1765. His property was seized and the sheriff offered it for sale, following a court order. In October 1765, Joseph Howell quit claimed to his brother Benjamin all his rights in a copper furnace that their father had bequeathed to the two of them for £5.9 What happened to Joseph Howell afterwards I cannot say. No estate was recorded for him. According to the Reading-Howell Family History, Joseph Howell died in 1821, but no source was given for that statement.

Benjamin Howell

Now we come to the person most concerned in the tale of the divided house.

Benjamin Howell (1725-1795) was the youngest son of Capt. Daniel and Mary Else Reading Howell. About 1725 he married Agnes Woolever (c.1735-c.1790), daughter of Jacob Woolever and Maria Elisabetha Schwitzeler. Jacob Woolever, yeoman of Amwell, wrote his will in 1774, providing for his six daughters. Apparently his wife Maria had predeceased him. To Agnes he left 19 acres, which, after her death, were to be given to her sons Jacob and Joseph. One of his executors was son-in-law Benjamin Howell.

It is not possible to say whether the ferry first established by John Reading and son-in-law Daniel Howell was still in operation after Daniel Howell’s death in 1733. But in 1746, Daniel Howell’s youngest son Benjamin, who then had ownership of the original ferry tract, petitioned for and was granted a patent for a ferry by Gov. John Hamilton. It was meant to run

“over Delaware river from a certain public Highway & landing in the township of Amwell at the mouth of a Spring of water about a quarter of a mile a little more or less below a grist mill on a stream of water commonly called in the Indian language Wickhecheoke & also three miles above and three miles below the said place on the said river from New Jersey to Pennsylvania.”10.

We know that in 1761, Benjamin Howell leased the Tavern House at Howell’s Ferry to John Horn; Horn reapplied on May 18, 1763 stating he had been living in the house for the past two years. Signers of the petition were Joseph Howell, Rich’d Reading, Morris Woolverton, Jno Woolverton, Edw’d Prall and Henry Lake.11 And in 1772, Howell leased the tavern house to Joseph Roberson who remained there until 1785 when he moved to the Ringoes tavern.12

It is not likely that Benjamin Howell and his family would remain in the Tavern House once it was being leased to other tavernkeepers. There may have been a tavernkeeper other than Howell as early as 1750, although we do not have a record of him. But even if Howell was himself running the tavern, he may have been wealthy enough to build a separate house for himself and his family.

Architecture of the House

The Tavern House which was occupied by John Horn in 1761 must have been functioning also as the Ferry House. It was a place where travelers using the ferry could refresh themselves with food and drink, and possibly sleep, if their crossing had to be delayed. I sent the survey map to Dennis Bertland to get his opinion. Here is what he had to say:

Although such drawings can be generic or almost icon-like, the representation of the “ferry house” appears to be individualized, suggesting that it had a bank cellar that was fully above grade on the west end of the front, chimneys within both gable ends, and was perhaps two stories high with an irregular 3 or 4-bay-wide facade, all in all a fairly substantial dwelling.

And as the map shows, an addition to the house was made before 1774. This was probably done to accommodate the tavernkeeper’s family, while providing rooms for travelers in the other half of the house.

To continue this story, I must now introduce

George and John Ely

This family can get very confusing—I think a chart is needed to keep us on track.

  • George Ely i (c.1682-c.1750), married Jane Pettit (c.1680-1750) in 1705
  • They had a son George Ely Sr. ii (c.1706-1793) who married
    1) Mary Prout (c.1700-c1736) d/o Ebenezer Prout and had son Joseph Ely (c.1735-1776)13
    2) Unknown, possibly Farley, possibly had five children, including
  • George Ely Jr. iii (c.1745-1820), married Susannah Farley (1746-1821) in 1768

George Ely (i) was born about 1682, probably in Nottinghamshire, England, shortly before his parents emigrated to West New Jersey. In 1705, he married Jane Pettit, daughter of Nathaniel Pettit and Mary Bailey.14 George and Jane Pettit Ely had at least seven children, one of whom was George Ely ii. George Ely (i) lived in Trenton, and wrote his will there on March 16, 1750, naming sons George and Joshua Ely his executors.

George Ely Sr. (ii), born about 1706, married Mary Prout, daughter of Ebenezer Prout, about 1730, and had a son Joseph (c.1735-1776). According to Eli P. Cooley’s Genealogy of Early Settlers in Trenton and Ewing Townships (p. 212), Mary Prout Ely died in 1736. George Ely had two more children, John born 1743 and George Jr. born about 1745. He may also have had a daughter Sarah who married Joshua Hunt, a daughter Mary who married Isaac Yard, and a son Caleb, who left for Shamokin Twp., Pennsylvania in company with his brother George Ely, Jr.15 Naming the last child Caleb is a hint that this unknown second wife might have been related to the Farley family, since Caleb Farley was a very common name in that family.

This second wife must have died in the late 1740s because George Ely married third Sarah Tunison, daughter of Cornelius Tunison and Neeltje Bogart. She was the widow of Emanuel Coryell, who had died in 1749. As far as I know, George Ely did not have any additional children.

George Ely Jr. (iii), born about 1745, married Susannah Farley on April 27, 1768. This was seven years after his father purchased the tract of 250 acres from Joseph Howell (as mentioned above) in 1761.16 This is the earliest record available for George Ely, Sr.’s presence in Hunterdon County. Previously he had been living in Bucks County. He was there in 1741 when he was granted Letters of Administration on the estate of his brother-in-law James Price. According to the Ely “Historical Narrative,” in 1748, George Ely Sr. was running the ferry on the Pennsylvania side that connected New Hope and Coryell’s Ferry.

The deed of 176517 included this recital:

“Whereas John Reading of Amwell by deed of 23 Dec 1749 conveyed to Joseph Howell a certain Messuage, Tenement, Plantation or tract of land in Amwell beginning at the middle of the ferry road by the Delleware River side being the boundaries of his brother Benjamin Howell’s land from thence along the boundary thereof being part along the middle of the Road as it now is used . . .

“to hold to him the said Joseph Howell his heirs & assigns forever (under certain priviledges to his Brother may more fully and at large appear . . . and the said Joseph Howell being invested in fee of & in the premises aforesaid, the said Joseph Howell and Susannah his wife by their deed dated 16 May 1761 conveyed the said tract to the said George Ely . . .”

It was probably at the time that Joseph Howell conveyed the 250 acres to George Ely in 1761 that all the trouble began with the survey line. But it may have been even earlier, when Joseph and Benjamin Howell divided their father’s bequest between them. But we have no recorded deed for that transaction. As for those “certain priviledges to his Brother” I believe that was a reference to Benjamin Howell’s ferry rights, which extended upriver, along the property conveyed by Joseph Howell.

Letter of 1764 from John Reading

We know that Benjamin Howell was aware of the problem as early as 1764 because of a letter addressed to his brother Joseph Howell, written by John Reading, who was then 78 years old. It was found among the Cathers papers, addressed to “Couz. Joseph,” and reads:

I Understand by your bro: Benjamin, That in running of the line between you & his fferry Tract, There is a difference of about five Chains in the length of Measure from the River, by which ex Division it takes part of the ffery house & makes Corners where never so much more once thought of before by any Persons that have heretofore been concerned in the land and premises thereunto belonging ; A mistake which perhaps may be rectified without injuring any person concern’d therein, I know not what writings has pas’d between you & Mr. Ely for a Title, but believe he was never put in expectation of having the line lengthened 5 Chains farther N. Easterly than what it was ever supposed to be, or can be thought to extend, by the express wording of the Corners in the Deeds on both sides ; for there is neither Spring nor meadow at that extent — My affairs nor health of Body will not permit me to attend upon the Spot without difficulty, tho’ I am obliged on another Journey to morrow if health & weather permit, which I cannot perform without the Assistance of a Waggon or Chair ; but your Unkle Rightinghousen {William Rittenhouse 1696-1767} & your Self, & perhaps others who have been upon the Spot when Settled, must correspond with the particularship of the Corners mentioned in the Deed, And if Mr. Ely has Land amounting to the quantity he bought, without that that little Spot, which I dare say was never Shewn to him as part intended to be Sold I see no reason but that he might therewith be Content ; I am
Loving friend
& Serv’t
Jno Reading
Oct’r ye 8th 1764

So it appears that this matter had been discussed with George Ely. On March 20, 1765, George Ely conveyed this property to his eldest son Joseph Ely for 10 shillings and natural love and affection.18 One wonders if this was a strategy for avoiding his creditors. In any case, Joseph Ely died intestate in 1776. The property seems to have reverted to George Ely sometime before 1771, because a deed of that date shows that the Sheriff had seized the property and offered it for public sale,19 at which time George’s son John Ely purchased the property.

The deed also included this interesting language:

in the respective original and Several Conveyances it appears that in describing the division line by and Between – – the said J. Ely and B. Howell they that is the several Conveyances extend the line from the River up the distance of Seventeen Chains passing the true and real and now affixed and Establish’d Corner at four Chains and sixty four links Including the new part of the dwelling of said ferry Lott to the great damage and detriment of the said Benjamin Howell running from thence as the respective Deed directs which see . . . {emphasis added}

So we know from this language that Benjamin Howell enlarged the ferry house not long before August 1771. It may have been that fact that convinced him it was time to get an adjustment to his boundary line.

John Ely (c.1743-1823) was the brother of George Ely Jr. He was still a single man when he bought the 250 acres from the Sheriff. He married Sarah Coryell (1743-1821), widow of Philip Atkinson and daughter of early settlers Emanuel Coryell (1797-1749) and Sarah Tunison (1706-1760) in 1778. Sarah Tunison was John Ely’s step-mother.

The Correction and the Aftermath

There must have been some interesting negotiations between Benjamin Howell and John Ely. They agreed to have Howell’s nephew, Reading Howell, draw up a survey to show a small lot of three-quarters of an acre to be attached to Benjamin Howell’s farm, which gave him full ownership of his own house. But Howell had to pay John Ely £50 for this lot, which seems a bit steep to me. The actual conveyance was recorded in Book AK, p. 607, and dated May 19, 1774. At that time, John Ely was identified as “millwright of Amwell.” The deed noted that the old dividing line ran through “the new part of Howell’s mansion house.” This is very suggestive—perhaps Benjamin Howell was living in this house after all.

Not long after the Benjamin Howell acquired complete and unchallenged possession of the ground underneath his house, the Revolutionary War broke out. The Continental Army did make use of Howell’s Ferry, probably in 1776 during the race to get across the river before the British caught up to it, and also in 1777 and 1778 when the army was again crossing the river, back into New Jersey. Most of the crossings took place at Coryell’s Ferry (Lambertville), but the most efficient way to move the army across the river was to take advantage of every ferry near their route. The impact on the little settlement must have been quite overwhelming.20

Reading Howell, Esq.(c.1743-1827) was the son of Daniel Howell (c.1720-1790) and Julia Anne Holcombe (c. 1720-after 1743). He married Catharine Yerkes in 1782, and moved to Philadelphia. After the Revolution, his surveying skills were required to produce maps needed by Pennsylvania and New Jersey to determine their boundaries.21

Probably in 1781, Benjamin Howell leased 83 acres out of his 250-acre farm to son Joseph Howell who was to give a whopping three-quarters of the harvest off that lot to his father, while Benjamin Howell undertook to pay for seed and teams. Also, Joseph Howell was to pay the “land tax” whenever it was demanded. The penal sum for non-performance was £50, to begin March 9, 1782.22 This was a very business-like arrangement for a father and son to make, and reflects a bit on the sort of person Benjamin Howell was.

After the war was over, in 1784, Benjamin Howell’s son Joseph Howell obtained a tavern license for Howell’s Ferry.23 At about the same time, Joseph Howell married Sarah (Sally) Rittenhouse, the daughter of Lot Rittenhouse & Hannah Higgins, who lived near Rosemont. They had six children: Mary (m. Mathias Case), Benjamin 1794-1886, Agnes (m. Samuel Hunt), Delilah and Clarissa.

Benjamin Howell died in 1795, age 70. Family tradition states that he died of a rattlesnake bite, while working on his farm on the hill above Prallsville.24 A list of Rittenhouse Burials states that his wife Agnes was born Sept. 27, 1734 and died Sept. 29, 1820.25 She probably lived with son Joseph while she was a widow. Benjamin Howell had not left a will, so his estate should have been administered, but there is none recorded for him in Hunterdon County.

In 1797, Benjamin Howell’s eldest son Jacob released his rights in his father’s property to his brother Joseph, excepting the tavern lot, which was for the use of his niece Delilah Howell. This seems rather odd, because Jacob Howell did continue living on a part of his father’s property, and built a home for his niece Elizabeth Scarborough Rounsavel. He never married and died in 1835, leaving his property to his niece.

Detail of survey by Nathaniel Saxton in 1801, for James Armstrong
Detail of survey by Nathaniel Saxton in 1801, for James Armstrong

Following the death of his father, Joseph Howell acquired the ferry rights. He was identified as a “ferryman” in a deed of 1799, when he bought an eight-acre lot near the Prallsville Mill.26 He kept the rights until 1813 when the Centre Bridge began to be built.27 He kept ownership of the ferry house and tavern lot until 1815, when he sold it to Ezra Schamp.28

There is some reason to think that Joseph Howell did not reside in the Ferry House. A survey made in 1801 by Nathaniel Saxton for James Armstrong29 shows a Howell house on the south side of Ferry Street, and also shows Barcroft at the Ferry (Tavern) House. John Barcroft was the innkeeper at that time, as shown by this notice in The Federalist & New-Jersey State Gazette, Oct. 14, 1800.

“PUBLIC HOUSE. The subscriber takes this method to inform his Friends and the Public, that he has taken the PUBLIC HOUSE at Howell’s Ferry, 20 miles above Trenton, where he hopes to be enabled to give general satisfaction to those who may please to favor him with their custom. September 25, 1800.”

I have one question left—when did the Ferry House stop being called that? Did it continue up until the time Joseph Howell sold his ferry rights in 1813? Probably not. None of the license applications after the Revolution identified it as a ferry house. We will never know for sure. I suspect that after the Revolution, the Tavern House at Howell’s Ferry became the accepted name.

CORRECTION, 9/29/14:  I originally gave footnote 24 as Book 24 p. 470. That was the wrong page number. In fact, it is Book 24, p. 377.

CORRECTIONS, 10/1/14: In my original version, I stated that George Ely had to be one of the first people born in West New Jersey, but that was incorrect. I jumped to that conclusion by thinking his parents had moved to WNJ before 1682, but I see now that there is no evidence that Joshua Ely was present there before 1686. I also stated that George Ely Sr. had five children with his second wife, but I should have written that he definitely had two sons, John and George, and may have had three more children, Sarah, Mary and Caleb, but no proof of that has yet been found. Thanks to Tim James for catching these errors.


  1. Many thanks to Tim James for introducing me to Carl. Funny story—Tim is a descendant of the Ely family. He drove all the way from Vermont where he lives to introduce me to Carl. I live about ten minutes away from Carl’s home, and should have met him on my own years ago. Tim was the one who called my attention to this 1774 survey. Happily, since that time, Carl has donated his collection to the Hunterdon County Historical Society—a treasure trove that archivist Don Cornelius and his volunteers will be working on for years.
  2. Evidence for this was discovered by Josiah Granville Leach, as found in his book Genealogical and Biographical Memorials of the Reading, Howell, Yerkes,Watts, Latham and Elkins Families, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1898, pp. 18-19.
  3. In the old cemetery on the bluff overlooking Prallsville, there is a stone that reads “IW 1732 DCDC5” The letters give no clue that this might be the grave of Mary Reading Howell. In fact, the W suggests a Woolverton, either an Isaac or a James (or a Jane or an Isabel). But I have not been able to identify a Woolverton who fits that bill.
  4. I don’t know the source of this claim; it comes from one of the many histories of this family.
  5. Most dates come from the Howell-Reading Family History by J. G. Leach.
  6. Recital in H. C. Deed Book 2 p. 35.
  7. H. C. Deed Book 6 p. 322.
  8. Recital in Deed 2-039. The deed included this passage: “under certain priviledges to his Brother may more fully and at large appear” suggesting that the property was partly owned by Joseph’s brother Benjamin.
  9. Manuscript found in the Cathers-Davison Papers.
  10. Commissions AAA 265, Oct. 25, 1746; Leach p. 158
  11. A copy of the tavern license application was found in the Cathers-Davison Papers.
  12. Boyer’s Inns & Taverns of NJ, pp. 216, 207.
  13. George Ely definitely had a son Joseph, but whether he was the son of Mary Prout or of another wife cannot be known for certain since we do not know Joseph’s exact birth date.
  14. From the Ely, Revell and Stacye Family History by Reuben Pownall Ely, 1910. The Pettit family is one of the most heavily researched of all Hunterdon County families, and those researchers are continually frustrated by the lack of records.
  15. HCHS Newsletter, Winter 2002, pp. 881-82.
  16. Recital in H. C. Deed Book 2, p. 39.
  17. H.C. Deed Book 2, p. 39
  18. Deed Book 2 p. 39. The metes and bounds of this deed contain the offending course, North 24 degrees East, 17 chains, which goes right through the middle of the house.
  19. Recital in H.C. Deed Book 2 p. 19. In order to pay for this purchase, John Ely mortgaged the 250 acres to William McDonald Esq. of Somerset County for £300 on August 15, 1771, Mortgage Book 1 p. 134.
  20. Iris Naylor, Stockton, New Jersey; 300 Years of History, p. 5, notes that Gen. Stephen and Gen. Lincoln brought their divisions across the river at Howell’s Ferry. See also James P. Snell, History of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, p. 67.
  21. I wrote about his map for Bull’s Island and Raven Rock in “Reading Howell’s Map of 1785.”
  22. Undated document found among the Cathers-Davison papers.
  23. Charles Boyer, Old Inns & Taverns of New Jersey, p. 216.
  24. Austin Davison, “A Brief History of Stockton,” 1964.
  25. Handwritten list found among the Cathers-Davison papers.
  26. H. C. Deed Book 24 p. 377.
  27. H. C. Deed Book 21, p. 198.
  28. H.C. Deed Book 24, p. 348, and recital in Deed 43-255. For the rest of the story of the tavern house, please visit my article, Jacob’s Path.
  29. H. C. Archives. This survey was featured in my article on The Anderson Farm.