Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the old John Anderson tavern on Route 31 south of Ringoes. The building is inconspicuous with its tall evergreen hedge along the road, but inside one can see it was once a fine 18th century building.

The owners (New Jersey Barn Co.) are lovingly and very carefully restoring it to the period of John Anderson’s tenure as innkeeper during the Revolutionary War. He did not build the house, however. There is reason to think it might have been built around 1740 or earlier.1

The First Tavern Owners

One of the curious things about the Anderson tavern is that it faces east instead of south the way almost every other 18th-century building does in Hunterdon County. The most likely reason for this aberration is that the old tavern is directly opposite the lane to “The Ancient Village of Amwell,” as described by Cornelius Larison in his pamphlet of that name.2 Larison described this village as both “mart and manufacturing center” for the whole surrounding area, with two grist mills, a rye and corn distillery, a brandy distillery, an oil mill, a cider mill and a sawmill. There was also a blacksmith shop, a wheelwright, and towards the west, a store run by Maj. John Stevenson. When Larison visited the place as a boy in the 1850s, the three mill dams were still there, but the mills were all in ruins.

Anderson's Tavern, view from the south
Anderson’s Tavern, view from the south

Not in ruins, but badly restored (according to Larison) and located “a hundred feet further west” of Stevenson’s store, was a tavern “which 150 years ago {1766} was the most important tavern in the township of Amwell—the tavern once owned and kept by Philip Ringo.” It appears Mr. Larison has confused the old Ringo’s Tavern with the tavern at Amwell Village. Research by David Leer Ringo has located Ringo’s Tavern “on the north east corner of the Wertsville Road, in the center of the village of Ringoes.”3 In the mid-18th century, the Anderson Tavern location may have been a better one than Ringo’s tavern. Not only did it benefit from the traffic generated by Dawlis’ Mill, it could also cater to drovers making their way up the long hill out of Ringoes.

The first resident owner of the property was William Dawlis, who acquired a tract of 260 acres, part of the Benjamin Field Tract, from Nathan Allen in 1727.4 When Dawlis wrote his will on January 22, 1740, “being very sick,” he left his grist mill plus a field behind John Mullen’s house to his son William Jr. Not long afterwards, William Dawlis Jr. sold a lot of 48 acres to John Mullen, and then left Amwell for Salem County.

Was the tavern located on this 48 acres? I cannot say. Later records show that John Mullen did indeed own the tavern lot, but exactly when he acquired it is not clear. John Mullen wrote his will on July 6, 1747. To his wife Elizabeth he left his land adjoining Peter Woollever, who bordered the tavern lot on the west, with the meadow bought from William Dawlis and wood from the plantation bought of the Stevensons of Rye in New England. He added a provision that if his wife were to remarry, then her share would go to their son William.

When John Mullen died in 1749, his children were very young. They were still minors in 1757 when they petitioned to have Samuel Tucker, merchant of Trenton, appointed their guardian. Perhaps it was around this time that the widow Elizabeth married a Mr. Stevenson.5 As a consequence, her portion of John Mullen’s estate passed to her son William.

When William Mullen (“Mullin”) wrote his own will on December 18, 1765, he was living in Trenton; he was only about 26 years old and almost certainly unmarried.6 He named his former guardian Samuel Tucker his executor, and ordered him to sell his property, including a house & land in possession of Joseph Reed merchant, a tavern house and land {emphasis mine}, a plantation in possession of Jonathan Reed, and lands left him by his father John Mullin. Profits from these sales were to support his mother, Elizabeth Stevenson, “late Elizabeth Mullen.” The remainder of his estate, went to his sisters, who were Rebecca, wife if George Reading Esq., Sarah, widow of Thomas Biles, Elizabeth and Mary Mullin. The will was recorded on May 21, 1766.

On May 15, 1767, a notice was published in The Pennsylvania Gazette announcing the sale of William Mullen’s property, to be held at the house of John Throckmorton, “Tavern-keeper in Amwell.”7

John Throckmorton

Throckmorton is the first known tavern keeper at this location. It is quite possible that the building served as a residence for the Mullen family until after the death of John Mullen, at which time the family removed to Trenton. Samuel Tucker, as guardian, is likely to have sought a tenant for this property, while William Mullen was a minor. The advertisement listed each property for sale:

one Plantation, situate in Amwell, Hunterdon County, containing 172 Acres, adjoining the Lands of Barnet Bellows, Henry Woolever, William Dawliss, and the King’s Highway, on which is a House, Barn and good Orchard, late in the Tenure of Jonathan Reid;

one small Tenement and two Acres of Land, fronting the Road will suit a Tradesman, also in Amwell.

Likewise one other large House, Store-house, Smoke-house and Stables, with about 60 Acres of Land, on which is a good bearing Orchard, and some good Meadow, now in Possession of Mr. Joseph Reid, Merchant; it will suit a Trader, as it has long been a well accustomed Place.

The Tavern House, with about 10 Acres of Up-land, and 5 Acres of Meadow, and large Stone Stable, now in the Possession of John Throckmorton, fronting the Road leading to the Union Iron Works, and adjoining the last mentioned Place.

Throckmorton had come from Monmouth County with his wife Sarah Holmes, whom he married on December 29, 1739, at Christ Church, in Shrewsbury, Monmouth Co.8  Prior to leasing the Mullen tavern, he was running one nearby, probably near Wertsville in 1761. On May 29, 1767, John Throckmorton, applied for a tavern license, in the house “where he now dwells.” Signers of the petition lived in the vicinity of the old Village of Amwell. In 1771, a John Throckmorton witnessed the will of Samuel Kitchen of Amwell with Obadiah Robins and Jane Deansdel {Dimsdale}.

Sometime before October 15, 1776, John Throckmorton of Amwell died intestate. His widow Sarah renounced administration of the estate on that date in favor of Jonathan Holmes of Freehold, Monmouth County. His inventory was taken by Mathias ‘Coul’ and George Coryell.9 But well before his death, he had given up tavern keeping, as it appears that John Anderson had taken over the position by 1773.

David Brearly

The next interesting bit of evidence pertaining to Anderson’s Tavern took place in December 1773, when David Brearly Jr. of “Allen Town,” New Jersey put a notice in the Pennsylvania Gazette:

“Whereas two DEEDS (one given by William Dawlis to John Mulin, dated the 16th day of April in the Year 1742, for a Tract of Land situate in Amwell in the County of Hunterdon, now in the Possession of Joseph Reed and John Anderson {my emphasis}; the other Deed given by Samuel Tredwell and his Wife, Edward Stevenson and his Wife, to the said John Mullin, dated the 6th Day of June in the Year 1737, for a Tract of Land, situate in Amwell aforesaid, now in Possession of Thomas Johns WERE, by Accident, destroyed with Fire. Now this is to give Notice, that the Subscriber intends to petition the Honourable House of Assembly of the Province of New-Jersey, at their Session, to be held at Burlington in February next, for a Law to establish the Title to said Lands, held under the above recited Deeds. {signed} David Brearley, junior, Allen-Town, New-Jersey, December 27, 1773.10

David Brearly’s house in Allentown was in fact consumed by fire in 1771.11 The reference to a lot sold in 1737 “now in the possession of Thomas Johns” is odd. The reference is to property purchased by John Thomas in 1708, as shown on Hammond’s Map G, bordering the Dawlis tract on the east.12 The language was probably taken from the older deed, in which John Thomas’ heirs conveyed the lot to John Mullen.

The property of John Mullen probably came to Brearly through his wife Elizabeth, the daughter of John Mullen and Elizabeth Edwards. After the death of Samuel Tucker, the estate of William Mullen must have become the responsibility of his sisters and their husbands. Presumably David Brearly got his deeds replaced by the legislature, but the property remained in the family until 1777.

David Brearly (1745-1790) was a contemporary of John Anderson, although far more prominent in New Jersey history. His life is nicely summarized by Roxanne Carkhuff in the article cited in footnote 11. His wife Elizabeth Mullen Brearly died at Allentown on August 3, 1777 “after a long and painful illness.” She was said to be “eminently beautiful.”13

The advertisement of 1773 suggests that John Anderson was at the tavern by that time, but since the notice did not specifically refer to the tavern, we cannot be certain of that. This seems to be the earliest reference to John Anderson in this location.

Interior of Anderson's Tavern
Interior of Anderson’s Tavern

John Anderson married sometime before 1773 when his first son Joshua was born, but the name of his first wife is not known. She may have been the daughter of John Brearly. His second wife may have been Rebecca Vannoy; there is record of a marriage of a John Anderson to Rebecca Vannoy in 1779,14 but this was six years after our John Anderson’s first son was born. John Anderson’s third wife was Ann Van Kirk, but they did not marry until 1783.

More evidence that John Anderson was running a tavern in 1773 or earlier can be found in his application for a tavern license in May 1775. It read: “whereas your petitioner has been favored with your honours Licence for keeping a Publick House of Entertainment for some years past in the township of Amwell.” [my emphasis] Signers of the petition were Benjamin Johnson, William Rockefellar, John Boss, Derrick Hogeland, Tunis Quick, Peter Fisher, George Sarvis, Jacob Serooss, Isaac Johnson, Tho’s Jones, Jacob Quick, Aaron Van Doren, and one other name not legible. All of them were residents of the area around the village of Amwell. This confirms that Anderson had taken over the tavern well before the death of John Throckmorton.

Mathias Simcock

Sometime between 1773, when David Brearly gave notice of his petition for new deeds, and 1777, Matthias Simcock purchased the tavern lot and adjacent land. There is no deed recorded for the sale, but on March 19, 1777, Mathias Simcock of Bucks County mortgaged a lot of 18 acres and another of 6 acres to John Mullen’s survivors (Sarah Petit, Isaac Decow and David Brearly Jr. of Monmouth County).15 As a reminder, John Mullen’s daughter Mary married Isaac DeCou; David Brearly married John Mullen’s daughter Elizabeth; and his daughter Sarah married first Thomas Biles (died 1754) and second John Ely (died 1769). It appears from the mortgage that Sarah’s third husband was a Petit.

Why would a yeoman from Bucks County acquire the Mullen property? It is a little hard to understand until we learn that his family and his wife’s family had connections with Amwell Township.16

Mathias Simcock was born in 1742 to Joseph Simcock and Mary Harvey of Lower Makefield, Bucks County, and in 1764 married Anna Whitson, daughter of Thomas Whitson Jr. and Elizabeth Abbott. Thomas and Elizabeth Whitson came from Long Island to Amwell Township in the 1740s. Thomas Whitson was dismissed from the Westbury, Long Island Friends Meeting to the Kingwood Friends Meeting in 1747. On November 13, 1758, Thomas Whitson of Amwell, yeoman, wrote his will, naming daughter Anna, who was to receive £100 when she turned 18.

Mathias Simcock had a sister Sarah, born 1744, who married John Ely in 1764 at the Buckingham Friends Meeting. The Ely family also developed interests in Amwell Township in the 18th century.17

From 1764 when they married through 1772, Mathias and Anna Simcock appeared in the records of the Buckingham Friends Meeting. Then on the 5th month, 1st day of 1776, Mathias Simcock was disowned from the Meeting for “disunity.” Given the date (Aug. 1, 1776), one cannot help but think that Simcock did not agree with the pacifist principals of the Bucks County Quakers when revolution was brewing in the colonies. I do not know if Mathias was later accepted back, but his wife Sarah and his children were granted certificate from Falls Monthly Meeting to Sadsbury Meeting in July 1784.18 Mathias Simcock died in Bucks County on June 20, 1784.

John Anderson

John Anderson, the tavern keeper from c.1773 to 1778, had an interesting life. After running his tavern, he became sheriff and then member of the legislature, and yet, like so many of his time, ended his life as a debtor.

He was born about 1740 into a prosperous family, the son of Capt. John Anderson and his wife Anne of Hopewell Township. He was the third of at least three children. On May 30, 1771, this Capt. John, then a widower in his late 80s, wrote his will naming eldest son Joshua, a daughter Rebecca Slaght, and his son John, to whom he left a plantation of 160 acres. He also named John Jr. his sole executor. The will was recorded 12 years later, in 1783. It had been witnessed by John Van Kirk and Anne Van Kirk.19 The plantation of 160 acres was described as “that land between Benjamin Brearley’s in Maidenhead and the Hopewell line.”

On October 5, 1775, when he was about 35 years old, John Anderson enlisted in the Hunterdon Militia, in the company of Capt. Joseph Beavers under Col. Charles Stewart.20 By February 7, 1776, Anderson was serving as a first Lieutenant under Capt. Thomas Reading in Col. Elias Dayton’s regiment. By June 14th of that year, he was a Captain, serving in Col. Stephen Hunt’s 4th New Jersey regiment. He should not be confused with his father, Capt. John Anderson of Hopewell (c.1695-1783), who would have been about 81 years old in 1776–not likely to be leading the militia into combat.

In December 1776, John Anderson found himself in the thick of things. As described in the wonderful book, Washington’s Crossing,21 John Anderson was commanding 150 men from the Hunterdon militia when the Hessian commander Johann Rall sent “a patrol of Jägers and dragoons four miles upriver [from Trenton] to Howell’s Ferry.” This Howell’s Ferry was located in today’s Mercer County, and should not be confused with the other Howell’s Ferry in present-day Stockton. (During the Revolutionary years, Mercer County was a part of Hunterdon County.)

Unfortunately, the Jägers prevailed and three or four Hunterdon men were killed. According to Brig. Gen. Philemon Dickinson, this was no great matter. In a letter to Gen. Washington dated December 21, 1776, and written at “Yardly’s Farm” in Bucks County, Dickinson wrote:

“Capt. Anderson with his Party returned Yesterday, with the loss of one man taken, & two or three missing, nothing material; The Snow hasten’d his return.”22

But the militia continued to harass the Hessians whenever they went on patrol, and gradually the Hessians lost control of the countryside around Trenton. Fischer noted that Rall and his men could defeat the county militia in “a stand-up fight,” but could not prevent their lightning strikes and rapid disappearance into the countryside. John Anderson was taking part in what Fischer called “the Hunterdon Rising,” a spontaneous effort by Hunterdon men to defend their homes and farms from British depredations. It was not authorized by Gen. Washington.

Capt. John Anderson was present at Valley Forge in February and March 1778. He served under Col. Ephraim Martin in the 4th Jersey Regiment of Foot. Documents on file at Valley Forge show that he was paid $40, and also was allotted (or deducted) £15 “due to sick, absent” in February.23 When he wasn’t fighting with the army, John Anderson kept busy running his tavern.

1778 was a turning point for John Anderson for two reasons. He gave up his commission in the army and he closed his tavern. Perhaps that experience at Valley Forge had something to do with it. In June 1778, Gen. William Maxwell sent a letter to Gen. Washington stating:

 “I have taken upon me to Receive Capt. Andersons Commission and Inclose it  he was put under an arrest by his Coll  he had his good & bad Qualifications and at his earnest desire to resign it was agreed by all that I should accept of his Commission.”24

As to John Anderson’s characteristics, that he had “good and bad qualifications,” we can only guess. I wonder if he might have been a big fish in a little pond while serving in the militia, but then found himself less important when serving in the Army, and chafed at the situation. Just a guess.

Sometime before resigning his commission, John Anderson closed his tavern. In May 1778, one Daniel Wikoff applied for a tavern license at his home in Rocktown, south of Capt. Andersons’s house, claiming that there was “no Publick house kept on the Road at this time.”25 Apparently Anderson was still living at his house on Route 31. He was named as in possession of the property in the 1777 mortgage of Mathias Simcock.26 And in January 1780, he was taxed on 20 acres belonging to Mathias Simcock (the list read “To Mathias Simcock”). He was also taxed on 194 acres in Amwell, which he may have just purchased. But by June 1780, Samuel Birdsall was the one who was taxed on Simcock’s 20 acres, while John Anderson was taxed on 191 acres.27

So it appears that John Anderson closed his tavern in 1778 before leaving the army, and moved to another property in Amwell in the spring of 1780.

Anderson’s Aftermath

There is much more to be said about the life of John Anderson, who served as High Sheriff of Hunterdon County (1783-85 and 1792-94). In 1784 he was still living near Rocktown; an advertisement stated he lived near Mr. Aaron VanDorn,” who owned property near Rocktown.28

Anderson was a member of the state legislature in 1786 and 1789 and 1794. In 1792, he and son Joshua purchased a large property of 291 acres near Brookville, south of Stockton, where he took up residence.29 There was some controversy over his tenure as High Sheriff, and in his later years he found himself sued for debts incurred while in office. He died on April 29, 1799, at the age of 59. Afterwards, his farm was sold at public auction to satisfy his creditors.


  1. Dennis Bertland studied the house when drafting the application for the Dawlis Mills/Spring Mills Historic District. He estimated the date of construction as 1760 or earlier.
  2. Published in 1916 by Hiram E. Deats.
  3. For more on this interesting area, see “An Ancient Village in Amwell Revisited,” by Roxanne Carkhuff, in A History of East Amwell, pp. 67-101 (listed in Basic Sources)This article relies heavily on research by Roxanne Carkhuff in her chapter on the old village of Amwell in A History of East Amwell; also by Dennis Bertland; and finally by one of the tavern’s owners, Alex Greenwood, who made sure I dug deeper than I otherwise would have.
  4. A map of his property is shown on p. 68 of the East Amwell History book.
  5. Roxanne Carkhuff was unable to identify what Stevenson this was who married Mrs. Mullen.
  6. NJA, Abstracts of Wills, 1761-1770, p. 302-03.
  7. Published on March 26, 1767 in The Pennsylvania Gazette. From History of East Amwell, Chapter 3, An Ancient Village of Amwell Revisited by Roxanne Carkhuff, pp. 67-104.
  8. Sarah’s father Jonathan Holmes of Middletown, Monmouth County, wrote his will on June 14, 1760, in which he named his daughter Sarah, wife of John Throckmorton. NJA Abstract of Wills, 1761-1770, p. 199.
  9. NJ Archives, Abstracts of Wills, vol. 5 p. 526.
  10. NJA, Newspaper Extracts, vol. 10 p. 201.
  11. Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, “One Delegate’s Family: The Brearlys,” vol. 23, no. 2 (Spring 1987), pp. 520-21.
  12. This is where things get very confusing when trying to establish what properties John Mullen acquired. I hope to publish more on this subject, once I’ve gotten over some research hurdles.
  13. Carkhuff, citing The Pennsylvania Gazette, Aug. 13, 1777.
  14. NJ Marriage Bonds, Book A p. 224, March 30, 1779.
  15. Hunterdon Mortgage Book 1 p. 235; also mentioned in East Amwell, p. 93. A pamphlet titled “Old Ringoes” states that Simcock was the owner in 1775, but I have not found evidence of that.
  16. While doing this research, I realized that this Mathias Simcock was my ancestor—a pleasant surprise. His daughter Hephzibah married John Mercer in 1798; she was my great great great great grandmother.
  17. More research may be needed on this marriage. I have John Ely, son of William Ely and Jemima Hunt, married to Sarah Mullen sometime after 1765. And John Ely, son of Joshua Ely and Elizabeth Bell, married to Sarah Simcock in 1764. Two contemporary John Ely’s, both marrying women named Sarah, raises a flag of warning. I need more documentation for these people.
  18. William Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy, vol. 2, Pennsylvania, New Jersey. Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994, , p. 1026.
  19. Nelson, NJA Abstracts of Wills, vol. 4, p. 16-17, #1191J.
  20. History of East Amwell, p. 93.
  21. David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing, Oxford Univ. Press, 2004, p. 193.
  22. The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series (16 June 1775–14 January 1779), Volume 7 (21 October 1776–5 January 1777), p. 394.
  23. Records found by Alex Greenwood while visiting Valley Forge.
  24. Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series (16 June 1775-14 Jan 1779), vol. 15 (May-June 1778), pp. 326-27. It should be noted that the footnote to Gen. Dickinson’s letter of 1776 stated that Anderson resigned in 1780; that is incorrect. It also stated that Anderson began as a captain in the Hunterdon Militia in February 1776, and was later serving as a captain under Col. Philip Johnson. I should note that all of the information pertaining to Anderson’s military career was provided to me by Alex Greenwood.
  25. Information from the National Register Application by Dennis Bertland.
  26. Mortgage Book 1 p. 235.
  27. Amwell Tax Ratables, Books 865 and 866, NJ State Archives; published in GMNJ vol. 47, p. 56.
  28. Thomas B. Wilson and Dorothy A. Stratford, Notices From New Jersey Newspapers, 1781-1790, vol. 1, Records of New Jersey, Lambertville, NJ: Hunterdon House, 1988, pp. 55, 188. According to “Old Ringoes” (p. 4), Mullen’s store at Old Amwell was being run by Aaron Van Doren after the death of Joseph Reed.
  29. See The Anderson Farm