Three Great Hunterdon Co. Historians Try to Find the Opdycke Cemetery

Over five years ago, I published an article about the Opdycke Cemetery in the Delaware Township Post. It has now been revised as “Opdycke Cemetery Revisited.” More recently, I came across some letters exchanged by Egbert T. Bush and Hiram E. Deats regarding their attempts to find this burying ground and to identify who was buried there. These letters can be found in the Egbert T. Bush Papers at the Hunterdon County Historical Society.

Cyrus Vandolah, Jr., 1852-1931
Cyrus Vandolah, Jr., 1852-1931

Interest in the cemetery was initiated by a letter written in 1924 by Mr. Bush to his neighbor Cyrus VanDolah, who was then 72 years old. Mr. Bush was then 76 years old. Their letters indicate that by this time, bushwacking through the underbrush was no longer to their liking. The letter from Mr. Bush to Mr. Vandolah was not among the Bush papers, but the handwritten response from Mr. Vandolah was. The references in his letter to people buried in the cemetery can get confusing, so I have copied an Opdycke family chart from the previous article at the end of this one to help sort things out.

Here is Mr. Vandolah’s letter, with spelling and punctuation intact:

[page 1]
Sandy Ridge N J Feb 9th / 24
Mr E T Bush  Stockton N J

Dear Sir & Bro

you letter of Feb 8th received. would say I think the Graveyard you are trying to locate is on the Higgins farm. the arnwines and Opdyckes early setlers at Head Quarters and kept Store in the building occupied by Joseph Carroll. I was up to sergeantsville several years ago and an agent by the name of Opdycke was in Ed Shepherds Store. he lived in New york and he said the John Opycke [sic] was his great grandfather and he was going to move to Flemington and as soon as he got settled he was going to make an effort to have the yard cleaned up but he did not live long died very suddenly. This yard has a stone wall around it but I don’t think there is an acre in it. years ago Samuel Higgins used let his sheep run in it and kept it cleaned up. but now it is a terrible wilderness. I am enclosing one of John Opdyckes receipts for you to look at will get it some time when I am in stockton. I have not been off the place in several days am not feeling well by any means. I make out to get to the barn and look after my horse and the stock and that is all. Hoping you and the folks over the river are all well.

Yours Fraternally &c
Cyrus Van Dolah

[page 2]

I think I am right on the location and among those buried in this yard are Elisha Warford and two or three of his wives. John Gordon and wife he was the Grandfather of Mrs Lizzie Fisher and owned and lived on the farm at Pine hill where Mrs Fisher resides. Then there was the Yarkses. If my memory serves me correctly Elisha Warlords wives were connected with the arnwines and Opdyckes and for that reason they were buried there. I presume you saw Mr Warford many times I never saw him but one  he died in 1872. a few years ago George Ellicot and Jerry slack come down and took up Georges father and took him up country I think Quakertown. There is also some of the Buchanans. Perhaps this does not interest. The parties you are seeking the Information for . . . [nothing further]

This letter raises all sorts of questions. For instance, why did Vandolah refer to Bush as “Bro” and “fraternally”? Because they were both members of the Orpheus Lodge No. 137, F. & A. M., established in Stockton in 1873. Vandolah was “a Past Master and enthusiastic member” of that lodge, as Mr. Bush wrote in Vandolah’s obituary, published in the Democrat on July 2, 1931.

The Opdycke who visited Sergeantsville was not George Opdyke, Mayor of New York, who wrote the Op Dyke Genealogy—he died in 1880. And besides, Mayor Opdyke was not directly descended from John Opdycke. Who it was I cannot say. Out of curiosity I pulled up a list of descendants of John Opdycke of Amwell to the 5th generation—it was 14 pages long! and is not even complete.

Edward Shepherd, son of John Farley Shepherd and Catharine Mary Anderson, was born March 17, 1849, died October 2, 1916. He married Emma W. Hoppock, daughter of George H. Hoppock and Jane Elizabeth Wolverton, on Nov. 26, 1879. His father bought a store in Sergeantsville from Henry H. Fisher in 1868 (now known as the Sergeantsville Inn) and operated it until about 1886 when he sold it to son Edward and moved to Rosemont. (The history of storekeeping in Sergeantsville is a topic I hope to cover some day.)

The Samuel Higgins who owned the farm and ran his sheep in the cemetery was almost certainly Samuel M. Higgins (1811-1877), son of Nicholas Britton Higgins and Hannah Hill. Samuel Higgins got the farm from his father, who bought it from the estate of Benjamin Tyson dec’d in 1807. Tyson got it from Thomas Opdycke, son of the original John Opdycke, in 1790. This was after Tyson had failed at managing the mill and store at Headquarters. It is somewhat surprising that Thomas Opdycke was willing to sell this property that was part of his parents’ homestead, but he had taken up residence on Old Mill Road and was operating a mill on the Wickecheoke there.1 

I have looked through the papers of Egbert T. Bush on file at the Hunterdon County Historical Society and do not recall seeing that receipt from John Opdycke. Presumably, Mr. Bush returned it to Mr. Vandolah.

What did Vandolah mean when he wrote: “Hoping you and the folks over the river are all well.” ? Egbert T. Bush and wife Sarah Eleanor Wilson had a daughter Evelyn who married Edward Johnson in 1909. They lived in Centre Bridge, PA. The Bushes also had a son Percy who remained in Delaware Township.

Mr. Vandolah made a passing reference to “the Yarkses.” I am confused by this as there is no one of the Yerkes family connected with the Opdyckes that I know of. However, there were Yawgers. Could Mr. Vandolah have meant them? But as far as I know, there are no Yawgers buried in the Opdycke cemetery either, although they were related. John P. Yawger (c.1802-1858) married Catharine Buchanan (c.1815-1889) daughter of Samuel Buchanan and Margaret Arnwine, granddaughter of John Arnwine Sr. and Elizabeth Odpycke.

Vandolah wrote: “John Gordon and wife he was the Grandfather of Mrs Lizzie Fisher and owned and lived on the farm at Pine hill where Mrs Fisher resides.” This John Gordon was born to Agesilaus Gordon and wife Mary Opdycke, making him the grandson of the original John & Margaret Opdycke. He was born July 31, 1786, died Dec. 8, 1865, and buried in the Opdycke Cemetery. His wife was Sarah Fulper (1795-1866). They had one child, a daughter Lucinda (1817-1897), who married John Woolverton Reading (1812-1898). Their daughter Sarah Elizabeth (1852-aft 1910) married Charles T. Fisher, and was the Mrs. Fisher with the farm on Pine Hill.

Mr. Vandolah observed that Elisha Warford was buried in the Opdycke cemetery, and seemed to imply that his Arnwine wives were also. But only Warford’s grave has been found. “I presume you saw Mr Warford many times.” Elisha Warford lived from 1785 to 1872, so I doubt that Mr. Bush saw him all that many times. His grandson George Warford Ellicott (1858-aft 1930) was the son of Elisha’s daughter Mary Ann and her husband Benjamin Ellicott. But it doesn’t make sense that George Ellicott took his father Benjamin ‘up country’ ‘a few years ago,’ since Benjamin Ellicott died in 1863. What did Mr. Vandolah mean? Perhaps that he took Elisha Warford there?

It delights me when I read Mr. Vandolah describe Quakertown as “up country,” and talks about how rarely he gets to Stockton or Sergeantsville from his home at Sandy Ridge. This is hard to understand in our days of easy transportation. But saddling up a horse, or attaching one to a carriage or wagon is a whole ‘nother matter, especially when a person is in his 70s.

Hiram E. Deats, 1870-1963
Hiram E. Deats, 1870-1963

Soon after receiving Mr. Vandolah’s letter, Mr. Bush forwarded it to Hiram E. Deats (1870-1963), along with a letter of his own. This was not preserved, but Mr. Deats’ response was.

Feb. 13, 1924
Dear E. T. Bush:

I have yours of 12th, with two notes from Cyrus. Did you want them returned ? I am afriad [sic] Cy is right. I have read over the account in Opdycke Gen. again, looked at the picture, and thought it over. But Opdcyke Gen gives names of Opdyckes buried there, and picture presumably shows a group of family stones. Do you know of some fellow up near there who would “for and in consideration of the sum of one dollar (or more) to him in hand paid” go in the so called Higgins yard and copy the stones ? At this time of year they would all be visible. I shall not be in condition to do it at any time soon, and probably by the time I am able, the leaves will be out.

     I am feeling better, no pain now, but still taking rheumatism medicine. In fact I am so much better that Ma is going to Phila. this P.M. to spend a few days with out boy who is now living there.

     I am told that John Buchanan (husband of your sister Edith) had two daughters, one m. Sheppard, and the other Theodore Mount. In petition for probate of his will, it would appear that latter was a daughter of Mrs. Sheppard. I have written Alfred Harsel, sexton at Cherryvill [sic], asking him to copy the stones. Of course shoemaker’s children go barefoot, and I have not copied the inscriptions at my own church.

Very truly   [Hiram Deats]

Edith Bush was the second wife of John Hoppock Buchanan (1830-1907). His first wife was Elizabeth Carkhuff, whom he married on Jan. 29, 1853. (I have not identified her parents.) They had three children, two daughters and a son who died an infant. Daughter Margaret Ann, born July 17, 1856, married George W. Shepherd. Daughter Mary Augusta, born August 6, 1866, married Theodore Allen Mount.

Deats wrote: “In petition for probate of his will, daughter Mary Augusta Mount was a daughter of Mrs. Shepherd.” This has me very confused. Who’s will? John Buchanan’s? Did Deats get his names wrong? I do not know what this family has to do with the Opdycke Cemetery, since none of them were buried there, as far as I know, and only distantly related to those who were. Perhaps this was just Mr. Deats’ practice of collecting genealogical information.

Egbert T. Bush in the 1920s
Egbert T. Bush in the 1920s

On Feb. 16, 1924, Mr. Bush answered the letter from Hiram Deats:

Stockton, N.J.  Feb 16, 1924
Dear Mr. Deats:

I [sic] looks as if the Higgins yard was the one intended, but I cannot so far confirm the option. May be able to do so later.

As to the copying of names, I cannot think of any one thereabout competent and probably willing to do the work. I should be glad to do it myself, but have no means of getting there except the means which nature provided. I have reached a conditioning which I do not like to trifle too much with nature’s generosity. May possibly be able on some decent day after awhile to get out into that neighborhood. If so, there will be no “dollar to him in hand” &c. in consideration or to be considered. Meanwhile, if I find anyone will report.

I hope you are still “mending.” Better still, “mended.”

The book has arrived. Have had no time for reading  shall read it with pleasure and no doubt with profit.

Yours truly,  E. T. B.

Apparently in the 1920s there were not many people interested in hunting up old cemeteries and reading the gravestone inscriptions. As for the book that Mr. Deats sent to Mr. Bush, it is hard to say what book that might have been. But Deats did publish several interesting pamphlets on Hunterdon genealogy, his own work and that of others; it might have been one of them.

Eventually, Mr. Bush finally did visit the cemetery. He wrote about it in his article titled “Old Headstone and Headlines,” published in the H. C. Democrat on June 26, 1930, in which he was describing the neighborhood of Sandy Ridge—his own neighborhood. He knew it well.

Directly in front of you as you reach the end of the Ridge Road [Sandy Ridge Road], lies the old Samuel Higgins farm, owned still earlier by Britton Higgins. In Samuel’s day, this was considered one of the best farms in the township, but it is now badly neglected. Nobody lives on it, and seemingly nobody cares anything about it. On this farm is the old Opdyke burying ground, where many of the early settlers about Headquarters are sleeping. This is so much neglected that a recent attempt to find some of the inscriptions had to be abandoned. The plots are so overgrown by briers and bushes that not a stone can be seen without entering and fighting one’s way through, and entrance seems impossible except at the cost of torn clothing and lacerated skins. Sad indeed that the final resting place of those so active in the past centuries should present such a sight in this, our “more aesthetic age.”

An early inventory of the graves in this cemetery has been made, but whether Mr. Bush was the one to make it seems unlikely from this passage. But as Deats wrote, there is an inventory included in the Op Dyke Genealogy. Most likely, the resourceful Mayor George Opdyke made the visit.

For those of us who struggle to find the old cemeteries and identify who was buried in them, it is reassuring in a sense to realize that these two great gentlemen, Egbert T. Bush and Hiram Deats, experienced the same frustrations. In fact their frustrations must have been much worse, since they were working without the assistance of Google Maps, and were still traveling by horseback or on foot. On the other hand, people were available back then who could answer questions that cannot be easily answered today.

The good news is that the Hunterdon County Historical Society now has an active cemetery committee, attempting to finish the work that these gentlemen began.

Chart of the Opdycke Family, indicating those with gravestones in the Opdycke Cemetery (in bold) and those who might be buried there (underlined).

(1) John Opdycke Esq. (1710 – 1777) & Margaret Green (1711 – 1775)
|     (2) Elizabeth Opdycke (1738 – 1837) m. John Arnwine Sr. (~1735 – ~1819)
|     |     (3) John Arnwine (~1760 – ~1831)
|     |     (3) Samuel Arnwine (~1762 – ~1821) & Sarah Jones
|     |     (3) George Arnwine (~1764 – ~1832) & Catherine White (~1775 – <1837)
|     |     (3) Margaret Arnwine (~1770 – >1850) & Samuel Buchanan (~1764 – 1846)
|     |     (3) Mary Arnwine (1775 – 1818) m. Elisha Warford (1785 – 1872)
|     |     (3) Elizabeth Arnwine* (~1781 – 1867) m. Daniel Carrell (~1765 – 1817)
|     (2) Sarah Opdycke (1741 – <1786) & John Buchanan (~1740 – 1818)
|     |     (3) Margaret Buchanan (1761 – 1808) & Johann Matthias Case (~1728 – )
|     |     (3) Samuel Buchanan* (~1764 – 1846) & Ann Case (~1765 – ~1800)
|     |            m. 2d Margaret Arnwine (~1770 – bef 1850)
|     |     |     (4) Jacob Fulper Buchanan (1804 – 1894)
|     |                  & Mary Gordon (1807 – 1882)
|     |     |     |     (5) George Buchanan (~1845 – ~1851)
|     |     (3) John Buchanan Jr. (~1772 – 1818)
|     |           & Elizabeth Rockafellar (~1778 – 1853)
|     |    |     (4) John Buchanan iii (1800 – 1890)
|     |    |           & Catharine Williamson (1803 – 1891)
|     |     |     |     (5) Harriet S. Buchanan (1832 – 1885)
|     |     |                 & John C. Hellier (1828 – 1883)
|     |     |     |     (5) Amie Buchanan* (1839 – 1904) & Izer G. Rake (1837 – 1875)
|     |     (3) George Buchanan (1773 – 1826) & Elizabeth Fulper (1781 – 1846)
|     |     |     (4) Amy Buchanan (1808 – 1868)
|     (2) George Opdycke Sr. (1743 – 1795)
|     |     & Zeruviah Sophie Baker (~1740 – 1843)
|     (2) Catharine Opdycke (1745 – ~1813) & Abraham Larew (~1725 – 1789)
|     (2) Mary Opdycke (1747 – >1830) & Agesilaus Gordon (1745 – 1815)
|     |     (3) John Gordon (1786 – 1865) & Sarah Fulper (1795 – 1866)
|     (2) Samuel Opdycke (1749 – ~1801) & Susannah Robeson (~1750 – <1796)
|     (2) Margaret Opdycke (1751 – 1820) & John Besson (1750 – 1842)
|     (2) John Opdycke (1753 – 1773)
|     (2) Thomas Opdycke (1756 – 1805) & Anna Cowell (1757 – 1830)


  1. I have written about the farm where Thomas Opdycke lived before buying his mill farm in “Andrew Bray and Sarah Rittenhouse.” You can learn about Benjamin Tyson in Bush’s article “Faded Old Paper Tells Little About Benjamin Tyson,” and my article, “Tyson’s Mill at Headquarters.”