Disturbing news of late, somehow reminiscent of the lead-up to America’s first Civil War. Whilst scrolling through the Hunterdon Gazette recently, I came across an item that caught my attention, published on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1859:

TO THE PEOPLE OF THE COUNTY OF HUNTERDON.

The lovers of the Union and the Constitution, and of the rights of the States and of the people under this hallowed charter, all who entertain feelings of fraternal regard to our brethern [sic] of Virginia, in this, their day of darkness and peril, and to all our brethen [sic] of the South, all who are opposed to the ceaseless agitation of Slavery and Sectionalism, the fruits of which have been only evil, and that continually, till the dissolution of the ties that unite and bind us together as one people in these United States, is seriously threatened, all who are willing to leave the rights and duties of the Master and the Slave where our forefathers left them under the guarantees of the Constitution, and all who love the peace, union, and harmony of the great American family, are hereby respectfully and earnestly requested to meet in the COURT HOUSE IN FLEMINGTON, ON WEDNESDAY, THE 14TH INST., and at 7 o’clock, P. M., then and there to take such course as duty and patriotism may demand of us in this emergency of our history.

There followed a long list of signatories printed in one paragraph, which is hard to read, so I’ve alphabetized them at the end of this article.

But what did this declaration mean and why was it published on December 14th?

My first reaction on reading this and the reference to a “day of darkness” was that it was an expression of sympathy for those fighting for abolition. But no—their sympathies were with the slaveholders of Virginia, who were being attacked by abolitionists and “the ceaseless agitation of Slavery and Sectionalism.”

The raid on Harper’s Ferry had taken place October 16-18, 1859, leaving 14 dead and 9 wounded. John Brown was arrested and tried almost immediately, and on December 2, 1859 he was executed.

Sketch of the day John Brown was Hanged, Dec. 2, 1859, Virginia Military Institute; copied from the Washington Post, Dec. 2, 2017

The events at Harper’s Ferry were certain to catch people’s attention, and one Flemington merchant knew how to make use of that fact, as shown in this advertisement:

NO MORE HARPER’S FERRY INSURRECTION!

Capt. Brown has suffered the extreme penalty of the law.─ The excitement, however, still continues, caused by the large arrival of─ of ─ Clocks, Watches, Jewelery, [sic] Silver & Plated ware, Musical Instruments, Stationary, and fancy articles, at the “GOLDEN OPHIR,” Flemington. (opposite the COUNTY HOUSE.) . . . [signed] Samuel V. Egbert

How bizarre, to suggest that clocks and jewelry were exciting enough to overcome attention to the disaster in Virginia. No doubt it never occurred to Mr. Egbert that the execution presaged a full-scale civil war.

Hunterdon Newspapers

The Hunterdon Gazette considered itself an independent newspaper, as John Kuhl so aptly explains in his book Hunterdon County in the Civil War: The Times, The Men, Their Stories.1 On Dec. 7, 1859, the Gazette’s editor, Alexander Suydam, wrote: “The execution of John Brown occupies considerable space this week, to the exclusion of other affairs.” He then demonstrated this effort at even-handedness, as well as the deplorable attitude toward African Americans that generally prevailed, by publishing this editorial:

DISSOLUTION.─ The threats of dissolution made by our Southern brethren, are very ridiculous. If the Union was dissolved, the south, in ten years would be as contemptible in power, and as weak in resources, as any of the other Southern governments. Its negroes could not be kept in subjection without an enormous police force which would cost more than could be paid it. The principal produce of the South is cotton. The crop averages about eighty millions a year. The expenses of our present government, under Mr. Buchanan, are eighty millions annually. The expenses of a Southern government would be fully as much, taking into consideration the expense of keeping the negroes in subjection, and the inordinate love of the southerners for office. It would, therefore, take their whole cotton crop to pay the expenses of their government. The whole thing of a southern confederacy is absurd, and a new light has been thrown on the absurdity by old Brown’s raid upon Virginia. If thirty men could put that section in a ferment of terror, when the United States troops were on hand to protect it, what would become of it, when it would have to defend itself, and any foreign power should invade it?─ Let us hear no more of such inexcusable nonsense.

As Mr. Kuhl points out in his first chapter, the war was about slavery, no matter how much people tried to disguise the fact. Slavery was not a major issue in Hunterdon County, as there were very few African Americans living here at the time. The 1860 census for Hunterdon did not even include a schedule for slaves as it did in previous years.2 However, on November 30, 1859, the Gazette included this advertisement:

TO BE SOLD─ A NEGRO MAN.─ About 23 years of age, brought up to farming, in full health and strong. Enquire of John Stryker at Six Mile Run.

Stryker may well have been one of the last slave-owners in Hunterdon County.3 But just because slaves were rare did not mean Hunterdon residents were indifferent to the subject. During this time, they had access to several newspapers and could choose which one suited their own attitudes about slavery and the south. According to Mr. Kuhl:

The Gazette, as an independent, could avoid taking a stand on serious issues, and wrote about the war and the home front with a somewhat detached viewpoint. In general, both [editors] Suydam and Schenck supported the war and Lincoln’s policies. Not so, Bellis and his Hunterdon Democrat.4

As editor of the Democrat, Adam Bellis took a completely different approach. Quoting Mr. Kuhl:

Bellis gave considerable space to war news and events at Washington, often to the extent of crowding out local news. . . . In his own way, like Hunterdon County itself, he was loyal to the Union, but from first to last he thought that the conduct of the war was very bad. In the election of 1862, he fought very hard for the local and state Democratic slates and had the satisfaction of seeing his party sweep Hunterdon by nearly two to one and the State by a considerable majority.

Keep in mind that the Democratic Party of the 1860s was very different from the party of today. And the same is true of the Republican Party. Thomas E. Bartow was editor of the Hunterdon Republican newspaper and was a strong supporter of the Lincoln administration. However, Schmidt notes that the Republican’s coverage of the war was somewhat haphazard. Instead, it provided “a fairly good picture of the home front,” focusing on letters by soldiers to their families. Bartow would tease his fellow editors, but refrained from the bizarre name-calling that Adam Bellis indulged in.

Despite their differences, it appears that the December 14th address “To the People of the County of Hunterdon” was one thing that all three editors could agree on, as all of them, A. Bellis, T. E. Bartow and A. Suydam, signed the document.5

Here are the gentlemen of Hunterdon who signed the declaration, names rearranged alphabetically and first names supplied where possible. (As far as I can tell, no woman signed this statement.) I have also added a little biographical information where I had it, but there are many names on the list that I do not recognize, or cannot distinguish from the many others with the same first initial.

Abel [Enoch Abel, H.C. Sheriff 1854-1863, and father of the William Abel who partnered with Alexander Suydam to publish the Gazette]

Jno. B. Alpaugh [?]

Jos. K. Arndt [Joseph King Arndt, 1821-1880, Justice of the Peace in Warren Co.]

O. Arwine [Opdycke Arnwine of Kingwood, farmer, 1810-1884 ]

George H. Bartles, Joseph Bartles and William Bartles [all sons of Charles Bartles, Esq., well-known Flemington attorney, who did not sign]

Thos. E. Bartow [editor of the Hunterdon Republican]

L. Bearder [Lafayette Bearder, c.1825-1888, farmer of Franklin twp.]

A. Bellis [Adam Bellis, editor of the Hunterdon Democrat from 1852 to 1866]

D. S. Bellis [David S. Bellis, 1819-1899, second cousin of Adam Bellis]

J. M. Bellis [possibly Jacob Miller Bellis]

J. Besson [can’t tell which Besson this is]

Jas. H. Blackwell [James H. Blackwell, c.1796-?, farmer of Raritan twp.]

B. Blue [?]

K. H. Blue [Jonathan H. Blue 1810-1861, shoemaker of Lambertville, ?]

A. Bonham [possibly Alpheus Bonham, 1821-1898, farmer of Kingwood]

A. V. Bonnell [Alexander V. Bonnell, 1809-1872, NJ State Senator, 1853-55]

A. Bosenbury [Asa Bosenbury, 1814-1872, farmer of Delaware twp.?]

Jos. C. Bowne [probably Joseph Gardner Bowne, 1804-1888]

A. Brink [Aaron Brink 1785 -1862, farmer of Kingwood]

B. Brink [Bateman Brink c.1815-1865, of Kingwood]

J. Brown [Judge Joseph Brown of Flemington, 1790-1865]

Sam’l Brown [c.1780-c.1845, father of John S. Brown, ed. of the Gazette in 1840]

Peter W. Burke [1814-1879 tailor of Flemington, brother-in-law of Adam Bellis, ed. of the Democrat]

Ralph Burroughs [1832-after 1900, farmer of West Amwell, moved to VA]

Ishi Butler [c.1838-1899, blacksmith and continual township committee person for Franklin Twp., until he moved to Union Twp. in 1887]

Hugh Capner [1801-1870, prominent man in Flemington]

Thos. B. Carr [1811-1860, of Lambertville]

John R. Case [1840-1919, of Quakertown]

A. B. Chamberlin [Ampleus B. Chamberlin, Shf of H.C. in 1844-1848]

C. P. Chamberlin [?]

J. M. Chamberlin [John M. Chamberlin, 1830-1895, son of Ampleus Chamberlin]

John J. Clark [ c.1827-1891, Town Clerk of Raritan Twp.]

Peter I. Clark [1790-1863, First to sign this document, member of the NJ State Council in 1831]

John C. Coon [1830-1887, clockmaker and merchant of Flemington]

M. Corsen [Mahlon Corson 1810-1881, of Locktown]

Wm. Corwin [? – perhaps that was William Cowin of Lambertville]

I. Coryell [Ingham Coryell 1821-1884, Mayor of Lambertville]

George F. Crater [owner of the Union Tavern/Hotel from 1857 to 1875]

Peter S. Dalley [1816-1884, Democrat of Readington Twp.]

Daniel Dilts [c.1837-after 1900, freight agent of Stockton]

Samuel W. Dilts [1809-1874, Freeholder for East Amwell]

David Dunham [1813-1881, Raritan Twp. Assessor, Democrat]

Wm. P. Emery [1810-1888, Flemington merchant]

L. Emmons [Andrew Emmons c.1810-1875 ?]

Enoch Ent [c.1814-1889, of Rosemont]

John Foley [c.1822-1884, Lambertville]

Abrm. Fox, Jr. [?]

A. Fox [?]

P. Fox [Peter Fox of Union Twp., 1797-1874 ?]

A. W. Grant [Abraham W. Grant c.1820-1881, hotel keeper of Lebanon Twp.]

John V. Gray [1832-1903, son of Thomas Gray]

Thomas Gray [1797-1862, Flemington butcher]

Aaron Griggs [1817-1888, Raritan farmer]

John Griggs [1800-1872, brother of Aaron, neither of them political]

A. Gulick [probably Abraham Gulick, 1798-1866]

Thomas Haward [1819-1901, son of Peter Haward & Sarah Van Neste]

F. Heath [Francis Heath, c.1814-1873]

L. D. Heath [possibly Lewis A. Heath, 1833-aft 1900]

J. N. Hice [James N. Hice, merchant of Milford]

Jos. H. Higgins [1820-1884, Flemington druggist]

Judiah Higgins [1799-1890, Director of HCNB]

William N. Hoagland  ????

John S. Hockenbury [1821-1914, merchant of Croton]

Wm. H. Hockenbury [1820-1898, of Readington]

Alexander H. Holcombe [1821-1885, of Lambertville]

Geo. B. Holcombe [1815-1893, Sheriff of H.C. 1856-59]

Jacob Holcombe [1795-1873, of Readington]

Richard Hope [m. Adeline Runkle, 1839]

John C. Hopewell [1814-1887, banker, very prosperous]

John H. Horn [1813-1895, J.P. & “lifelong Democrat]

Wilson Horn [c.1838-?, worked for Adam Bellis at the Democrat; fought in the war]

I. Housel [?]

H. C. Howel [?]

Robeson Hyde [1818-1901, Minister of Delaware Twp.]

Samuel Johnson [?]

Asa Jones [1792-1871, Shf of H.C. 1833-36]

John L. Jones [1822-1904, son of Asa Jones & Elizabeth Servis]

Miller Kline [Henry Miller Kline, 1807-1884]

Lake [probably Jacob Lake 1807-1880 of Delaware Twp., Democrat]

John Lambert [1791-1882, former Assemblyman from Lambertville]

Uriah Larue [1822-1898, on Franklin twp. committee]

Jno. Lewis [?]

Daniel Marsh [c.1791-1866, wealthy man]

George H. Mathews [1834-1897, Committeeman from West Amwell]

Jonas Moore [1799-1880, Freeholder from Raritan Twp.]

Luther Opdycke [c.1810-1872, Member of the Assembly 1849-50]

R. Opdycke [?]

Edmund Perry [1825-1878, Flemington real estate investor]

Jonathan Pickel [1798-1869, Member of the Assembly, 1840s]

Jacob S. C. Pittenger [c.1821-1864, Member of Assembly, 1855]

James N. Ramsey [1826-1884, Tewksbury, Member of the Assembly]

Rob’t Ramsey [1840-1875, barber of Flemington]

Geo. A. Rea [1820-1892, Flemington merchant and builder]

Jacob Trimmer [?]

John G. Reading [1812-1891, a director of the Flemington RR Co.]

Geo. W. Risler [1817-1894, Flemington merchant]

Mahlon Risler [1821-1878, brother of George W., Flemington merchant]

Rittenhouse [too many A. Rittenhouses]

G. T. Rittenhouse [?]

J. Rittenhouse [too many J. Rittenhouses]

L. Rittenhouse [?]

R. Rittenhouse [?]

S. Rittenhouse [?]

Samuel B. Rittenhouse [?]

R. Robbins [?]

Chas. Roberts [1820-1909, of Lambertville]

William M. Robinson [?]

J. B. Rockafellow [?]

Rynear Rowland [?]

John Runk [possibly John 1791-1872, a Whig politician, member of Congress 1845-1847, moved to Lambertville in 1850]

Lewis R. Runkle [possibly the future editor of the Democrat]

A. E. Sanderson [Augustus E. Sanderson, no info]

John F. Schenck [1799-1881, Flemington doctor]

Gershom C. Sergeant [1807-1881, Raritan Twp. freeholder in 1861]

L. S. Servis [?]

John Shepperd [?]

Michael Shurts [1807-1895, Twp Committee of Clinton, failed candidate for Assembly in 1859.]

J. Smith [?]

Jos. C. Smith [possibly 1809-1886, Democratic Freeholder]

Mahlon Smith [1793-1889, blacksmith of Flemington]

William T. Srope [1830-1906, prominent man in Frenchtown]

J. Snyder, Jr. [?]

Geo. B. Stothoff [1813-1894, farmer of Raritan Twp.]

Robert N. Stout [1786-1867, farmer of Flemington/Raritan]

William Stout [1835-1915, son of Robert N. Stout ?]

Strimple [Calvin G. Strimple, 1833-1921, Delaware Twp. farmer]

J. Strimple [?]

Strimple [Mahlon Strimple, 1805-1871, farmer of Kingwood]

Sam’l D. Stryker [1790-1863, wealthy lumber merchant of Lambertville]

Wm S. Sutton [1817-1862, veterinarian of Kingwood]

Alex. Suydam [1831-1867, proprietor of the Hunterdon Gazette]

Charles Thatcher [1812-1893, Hunterdon Surrogate 1854-59, Independent]

Rob’t Thatcher [1819-1894, Sheriff of H.C.]

Charles Tomlinson [1819-1875, County Clerk 1855-59, American Party]

Aaron T. Trimmer [1821-1884, Franklin Twp. Democrat]

David Van Fleet [1819-1890, Assemblyman 1848-49, lost to Chas. Thatcher for Surrogate in 1854, won in 1859, Democrat]

Thomas Van Fleet [1824-?]

B. [Bennet] Van Syckel [1830-1921, Flemington lawyer]

Jno. Voorhees [John Newton Voorhees, 1835-1897? Flemington lawyer]

J. West [?]

Peter R. Williamson [1808-1878, Freeholder from Union Twp.]

Andrew Wolverton [1809-1881, Delaware Twp. committeeman]

Joseph W. Wood [1820-1874, Democratic Assemblyman in 1861-62]

Alexander Wurts [1799-1881, Democratic officeholder & Flemington atty]

Footnotes:

  1. Published by the Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission in 2013.
  2. Another very helpful source for those interested in the subject is a pamphlet written by Hubert G. Schmidt in 1941 for the Hunterdon County Historical Society titled “Slavery and Attitudes on Slavery in Hunterdon County New Jersey.” Especially recommended Jersey Blue: Civil War Politics in New Jersey, 1854-1865 by William Gillette.
  3. To see what the Democrat and Republican newspapers were saying about this, you’ll have to look at the original papers. Abstracts of the Hunterdon Democrat by Dennis Sutton are limited to marriages, deaths, etc., and William Hartman’s abstract of the Hunterdon Republican provides not much more. Editorials were generally omitted from the abstracts.
  4. For more on the history of Suydam’s newspaper, see The Hunterdon Gazette 1838-1866. And note that the editor’s name was Alexander Suydam, not Adam Suydam, as Herbert G. Schmidt wrote in his otherwise admirable The Press in Hunterdon County, 1825-1925. Also, the Schenck Mr. Kuhl refers to was the editor who took over from Alex. Suydam, J. Rutsen Schenck, who bought the paper around 1863.
  5. I have not been able to examine original copies of the Democrat and Republican, so I cannot say whether Bellis and Bartow also published the notice.