It has been a long time since I published my last installment in the saga of Raven Rock. The last post described Moses Quinby’s purchase of the 75 acres adjoining Bull’s Island. This one will discuss the millers Mahlon Cooper and Robert Curry, whose 10-acre mill lot was adjacent to the 75 acres and to Bull’s Island.
According to a later deed, the mill lot contained a grist mill, a saw mill and two dwelling houses. I think we can assume that the “two dwelling houses” on the property were inhabited by the Cooper and Curry families. I have no evidence that they lived elsewhere at this time. The ten-acre mill lot is at least partly covered by Highway 29 today. Did either of those houses survive to the present day? An intriguing question.
Cooper and Curry had several creditors. By 1807, they owed $165.05 to John Beatty and $181.96 to Nathan Combes, who assigned the debts to William Moore. But worst of all was a debt of $6,375.16 to George Holcombe Jr. This is a huge amount of money for the time. I have not found a record of the purpose of the loan, and can only assume it was intended to pay for improvements to the mills.
Although I have not done a study of all the millers of Hunterdon County, I have been getting a strong impression that many of them who were in business at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries had a hard time staying out of debt. Perhaps it was the nature of the business in which people were always buying on credit. Local merchants were often reluctant to collect what was owed them from their neighbors, but that made it hard for them to pay their own debts.
Whatever the case, the creditors of Cooper and Curry were not so patient and took them to court in 1807, at which time the Court of Common Pleas at Flemington ruled that the sheriff should levy on their goods and chattels to produce the sums needed, and if that was insufficient, to levy on their lands and tenements. Sheriff Nathan Price advertised the sale of two lots in the Trenton True American. 1
The Sheriff levied on “30 acres of land on the river Delaware, being part of an island called Bulls Island and also on ten acres of land adjoining Robert Nailor with a Grist mill and a saw mill and two dwelling houses, all in the twp. of Amwell.”2 What was offered for sale on the first Tuesday of March 1808 was the moiety or one-half interest of Robert Curry in the mill properties. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, no decent bid was made. The sale was adjourned to March 15, 1808, when the Sheriff accepted a bid of only $7 from Nathaniel Saxton, Esq.
All sorts of questions are raised by this deed. For instance, why was only Robert Curry’s moiety sold and not Cooper’s also? In fact, Cooper’s moiety was sold about 45 days later, on May 1, 1808, to the largest creditor, George Holcombe Jr., for only $50.3
Here is a description from the first deed of the 10-acre mill lot:
Beginning on the bank of Bull’s Creek thence by land late VanCamp’s now Martin Johnson’s
1) North 6 chains 46 links
2) North 48 degrees East 5 chains to line of said Johnson’s land, thence by Isaiah Quinby
3) North 65 degrees West 14 chains 66 links to a black oak, then along a road
4) South 63 degrees West 4 chains to a butterwood bush on the bank of Bull’s Creek,
5) thence down the same in a direct line to place of beginning.
So we have Nathaniel Saxton and George Holcombe purchasing half shares in the mill lot and 30 acres at around the same time. Saxton got there first, but by just a bit. Saxton’s correspondence suggests he was the one in charge of the mill, even though Holcombe had more milling experience, having acquired the mill at Headquarters by this time.
Before moving on to describe these two new mill owners, I must tell the rest of the Cooper-Curry story.