My next article on the proposed route of the Delaware Flemington Railroad is not ready for publication. However, a few years after the railroad company collapsed, one of the company’s directors found himself confronted by an angry man.
The Director I am referring to was Alexander Higgins (1833-1905), son of Nathaniel B. Higgins and Hannah Hill. He was a large landowner near Sandbrook, a successful peach farmer and owner of an important distillery nearby. On March 30, 1862, he was married to Christiana Hope (1843-1930), daughter of Adam Hope and Nancy Lomerson. The Higgins had nine children, one of whom died an infant.1
In an effort to learn more about Alex. Higgins, I searched the Hunterdon Republican, and found this item published on January 2, 1896 (long after the railroad company had folded):
Threatened to Kill a Farmer.
On Wednesday of last week, Constable John Ramsey arrested George Servis of Sand Brook, on a warrant sworn out by Alexander Higgins, also of Sand Brook, before Justice of the Peace, Abraham C. Hulsizer. The defendant is charged with threatening the life of Mr. Higgins. At the hearing on Monday, several witnesses including Mr. Higgins, were examined and much evidence of a damaging nature was taken. It was shown that Mr. Servis had at various times threatened the life of the complainant. Mr. Servis was held to await the action of the Grand Jury, fixing the bail at $300. Being unable to secure a bondsman, he was locked up.
Oddly enough, the Republican had no more to say about the case. Another oddity is that “Wednesday of last week” happens to have been Christmas day. I have not yet been able to scour the court records in Flemington to find out if Servis was convicted, or anything about that “evidence of a damaging nature,” but hope to do so sometime in the future.
What was it about Higgins that angered George Servis so much? Perhaps Mr. Higgins was not all that easy to get along with. A contributing factor may have been the fact that George Servis was the complete opposite of Alex. Higgins. He was unmarried all his life, he never owned any property, and he never amounted to anything more than a day laborer.
George L. Servis
George Lair Servis was born in June 1856 to Austin C. Servis (c.1822-1878) and Elizabeth R. Lair (1826-1913). Austin Servis was a master harness maker in 1860, when his only son George was just four years old. But I have been unable to pin down where the Servis family was living because, like his son George, it appears that Austin Servis never bought any real estate.
We know the Servis family was living in Delaware Township because they were counted in the township census records for 1850, 1860 and 1870. George Servis was counted with his parents in 1870 when he was 14. After his father died in 1878, George went west, where he was counted in 1880 at Norman, Grundy County, Illinois. He was listed as a single, 24-year-old farm laborer, born 1856 in New Jersey. It appears that soon afterwards he gave up on Ohio and returned to Delaware Township, as is shown in this item from the Hunterdon Republican (January 19, 1884):
A shooting match between our noted sportsman, William Bellis [of Copper Hill] and George Servis, a crack shot of Sand Brook, took place near Headquarters last Friday. Mr. Bellis won the match.
Perhaps that is why Higgins interrupted his Christmas to get a warrant against “crack shot” George Servis. When Servis made his threat against Alexander Higgins, he was 40 years old, still single, and probably living with his widowed mother Elizabeth in or near Sandbrook. The two were sharing a house in 1900 and in 1905.
George Servis died in 1909 when he was only 53 years old. Despite his shortcomings, he was given an obituary in the Hunterdon Democrat published on September 7th:
George Servis, of Sand Brook, died at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Holcombe Johnson, of that place on Tuesday evening. The deceased had been working for Mr. John Miller and in some way, he wore a blister on his heel. Nothing was thought of it and he went to the home of Mr. Johnson to do some work and his foot began paining him so badly that the aid of Dr. J. Chamberlain was summoned, and he pronounced it blood poisoning. All that could possibly be done was done to save his life, but death claimed him and on Tuesday evening, the death angel hovered over the chamber door and took him away.
The deceased was 53 years old. He is survived by a beloved mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Servis, three sisters and two brothers, Mrs. Sylvanus Gordon, Mrs. Hyde Holcombe, of near Sand Brook, and Miss Ella Servis of Philadelphia; Mr. Jonathan Servis and Mr. Albert Servis, of Chicago, who have the heartfelt sympathy in this sad affliction of the entire community.
Funeral services were held on Saturday at 10:30 a. m. from the home of his sister, Mrs. Hyde Holcombe of Sand Brook, interment in the Sandy Ridge Cemetery under the direction of Wm. E. Green, of Flemington.
It seems that despite his threats against Higgins, George Servis had made himself a well-regarded member of the Sandbrook neighborhood.
“Mrs. Hyde Holcombe” was George’s sister Mary Catharine Servis (1849-1930) who was married to Hiram Moore Holcombe (1842-1923), son of George N. Holcombe and Matilda Case. I found no mention of a “Hyde Holcombe” in either the Hunterdon Republican or on Ancestry.com. Presumably ‘Hyde’ was a nickname for Hiram.
George Servis had survived his old enemy, Alexander Higgins, by four years. Here is the Higgins obituary, as published in the Hunterdon Democrat on June 20, 1905:
Alexander Higgins, Sr., a prominent and well-known resident of Delaware township, dropped dead while at work on his farm, near Sand Brook, about 3 o’clock last Wednesday afternoon, aged 72 years and 3 months. Heart disease was the cause of his death, with which he has been troubled for some time. Funeral services were held from his late residence on Sunday morning. Interment at Sandy Ridge. He is survived by a wife, three sons and two daughters.2
A Note on the Parents of George Servis
Austin C. Servis (1824-1878), son of Tunis Servis and Elizabeth Horn, married Elizabeth R. Lair (1826-1913) on October 11, 1845. I have not been able to identify Elizabeth’s parents; some have claimed she was the daughter of Garret Lair and Hester Rittenhouse, but their daughter, Mary Elizabeth Lair, who was also born in 1826, died in 1833.3
Although he never owned property in Delaware Township, Austin Servis was elected Constable and Overseer of the Poor at the annual Delaware Township meeting in 1860. But by 1862, he had fallen out of favor, as was indicated in a note by Benjamin H. Ellicott dated April 14, 1862:4
“Town Meeting held to day at Sergeantsville for Delaware Township. Not being a Voter, & having no invitation to attend, I was not there, but understood that some excitement attended the proceedings owing to the contests for some of the offices – The result left Austin C. Servis out of all the offices to which he aspired by overwhelming majorities – The contest between Nixon & Moore for Constable was a close one – 79 for N and 81 for M.”
This leaves us to speculate about Servis’ politics during the Civil War. He was registered for the draft, but that does not tell us much. The newly elected Constable was John Moore (1824-1902), son of Jacob Moore and Elizabeth Sine. “Nixon” was William L. Nixon (c.1820-bef. 1900), hotelkeeper in Locktown. Since Locktown was well-known as a haven for Copperheads (see “Copperheadism in Locktown”), I presume that Moore would have been sympathetic with the Union cause. But that does not shed light on why Austin Servis was left “out of all the offices to which he aspired by overwhelming majorities.”
Austin C. Servis died in 1878 at the age of 54 years, 2 months and 28 days.5 Elizabeth Lair Servis, on the other hand, lived to the age of 86, surviving both her husband and four of her seven children, including George L. Servis. She was given an effusive obituary in the Hunterdon Democrat (published January 7, 1913):
Elizabeth Servis died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Hiram M. Holcombe, at Sand Brook, on Monday morning at one o’clock, after an illness of about three weeks from the effects of the grip. Mrs. Servis was a well-known and highly respected old lady for her sweet and pleasant disposition, and she always had a kind word for every one. Her age was about eight-seven years. She bore her illness without a murmur of her sufferings. She is survived by five children, Mrs. Hiram M. Holcombe, with whom she resided; Mrs. J. T. Snyder, of Hightstown; Miss Ella Snyder [sic], of Philadelphia; Mr. Jonathan Snyder [sic], of Chicago, Illinois, and Mr. Albert Servis, of this vicinity. She also leaves several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a large circle of friends. We extend to the bereaved ones our heartfelt sympathy in this sad affliction.
“Mrs. J. T. Snyder” was Emma Snyder (1856-1929), wife of Joshua Thompson Snyder. The reference to “Miss Ella Snyder” and “Mr. Jonathan Snyder” is clearly a mistake. Emma Servis Snyder never had children by that name, but Emma’s sister was Ella Servis (c.1859-1946), who never married.
Austin and Elizabeth Servis did not have a son Jonathan. They did have a son named Johnson Lair Servis (1862-1935), who moved to Illinois. I am aware of two men named Jonathan Servis, but both of them died before Elizabeth Lair Servis did.
This should serve as a reminder to family researchers—it’s a good idea to double check all our sources, even such valuable ones as obituaries.
- I have published along with this article an attempt at a Higgins Family Tree. ↩
- Many thanks to John W. Kuhl for finding this obituary for me. ↩
- The portrait photographs of Austin C. Servis and wife Elizabeth can be found on Ancestry.com, in the Bonnie Sullivan family tree. ↩
- HCHS Collection 110, box 2. ↩
- Dennis Sutton, Abstracts from the Hunterdon County Democrat. ↩
October 6, 2019 @ 5:35 pm
I think there is another difference. Alexander Higgins was the third youngest child of his fifteen siblings. His mother died when he was around 13, and by the time his father died Alexander was 18. During this time he witnessed 9 of his siblings die, many in just one year: 1846.
Alexander inherited very little, if anything, and became a self made man. He had extensive landholdings in several locations in Delaware Township. His crops were diverse (as can be gleaned through various state census records), and he had an applejack distillery. To that extent, you are probably correct to note that the two men appear to be complete opposites. Mr Higgins died not have an easy beginning to his life, and by all accounts he worked hard and was moderately successful. Mr. Servis did not appear to have much financial success.
There is also a substantial age difference at the time of this conflict: Alexander Higgins was 63 and George Servis was 40.
The article states that there were several witnesses and “evidence of a damaging nature was taken.” I would therefore disagree with the premise that perhaps Mr. Higgins was not easy to get along with. To defend my ancestor, it would appear that Mr. Servis was the agressor. I would argue that this can be seen from the article which noted several people testified (hence, the ”damaging evidence“). And this was not a one time occurrence by Mr. Servis. At this point, Alexander Higgins still had several children living with him in addition to his wife. We can guess as to what could have caused the rift, perhaps Mr. Servis was one of the laborers (or former laborers) on his farm and there was a disagreement about salary? We will probably never know.
Interestingly, they were interred at the same cemetery, Sandy Ridge. Maybe they mended fences. 10 members of the Servis family and 41 members of the Higgins family are there. They worshipped together, let’s hope they forgave each other.
October 7, 2019 @ 7:33 am
Interesting point about Higgins being a self-made man. That whole family is fascinating. And it certainly seems as if Mr. Servis had a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps he had imbibed too much of the distillery’s products on that Christmas day. I really need to look for those court records–someday.
February 14, 2020 @ 11:18 am
I’d like to know more about Alexander Higgins. I am researching the history of the house he lived in
August 5, 2020 @ 2:25 am
Was the Higgins house on Yard Road? I lived in the old Isaac Rounsavell house when I was a child. I’d love to find to find out more about that old place.
August 6, 2020 @ 8:15 am
John, the Higgins house was/is indeed on Yard Road, just west of the sharp bend in the road. It is a very old house; it has been dendro dated back to 1760, and was probably the homestead farm of the family of John Sine, before it was owned by the Holcombes, who sold it to Higgins in 1856. Is that the “old place” you were referring to or was it to the Rounsavell house?
Goodspeed Histories: A hot temper lands George Servis in jail
October 7, 2019 @ 4:07 pm
[…] Sandbrook Hostilities […]
October 17, 2019 @ 4:16 pm
Marfy: Once again, absolute excellence — as is the case with all your research and posts. I saw the name Servis and it struck a chord in my mind relative to the first iteration of the New Hope Delaware Bridge Company and its illegal banking endeavors in Lambertville during the 1830s, 1840s and early 1850s. Years ago, I came across a citation somewhere that the illegal bank was housed at the corner of York and Union streets in Lambertville. The mention, however, didn’t say which corner of that intersection the banking operation was quartered. Jeff McVey of the Lambertville Historical Society passed on to me a copy of an 1851 town map (Lambertville was incorporated as a town at that time) and it shows an A Servis as the owner of the structure on the southeast corner of York and Union. This property directly abutted to a structure owned by Ashbel Welch. I believe that this was Welch’s home at the time. There also is an A Welch on Church Street, and that may have been his office at the time — when he worked as an engineer and top executive for the Joint Companies (Camden & Amboy R.R. and Delaware&Rartian Canal), which leased and operated the Bel-Del RR. (Note: The map shows the railroad extending only as far north as Bridge Street on the map.) My guess is that Welch later acquired the Servis corner property for purposes of expanding the Welch home. It’s also possible that this Servis structure housed the NH-Del Bridge Co. bank. The entire parcel is now the Van Horn-McDonough Funeral Home. The 1851 map was from VanDerveer & Cornell Publishers. I have the map, if you don’t have it. JD
October 17, 2019 @ 4:23 pm
Two corrections on my comment: 1. The 1851 map says the Welch structure on York Street was his office. 2. Welch’s other building was on Coryell Street, not Church Street. That may have been his home at time.
October 19, 2019 @ 3:05 am
A reader called to my attention the Quick-Servis Burying Ground located in East Amwell. The Servis family members buried there are all related to William S. Servis (1790-1869) and wife Elizabeth Ann Eliza Quick (1803-1845). Four of their five children are buried there. Austin Servis was not directly related to this family. I have not found a relationship (yet).