Saxton’s First Appearance in Raven Rock

In 1802, Nathaniel Saxton witnessed the will and codicil of Guilbert Van Camp, who lived just east of Raven Rock. In 1807, he witnessed a deed from the estate of William Reading deceased, whose property was in the same vicinity.1 These two events, and probably others I have not found yet, may have served to acquaint him with the neighborhood of Raven Rock.

He became acquainted with Sergeantsville in 1804 when he witnessed a deed between Agesilaus Gordon and Godfrey Rockafellar for sale of the 51.5-acre tavern lot.2 The deed gives an extensive recital of the previous ownership, which makes me wonder if Saxton had a hand in drafting the deed.

The first time that Nathaniel Saxton bought property for a long-term investment was in 1808. Saxton was one of the two purchasers of the Cooper-Curry mill lot in Raven Rock. Saxton bought his share on March 15th for $7, while George Holcombe, merchant of Amwell, bought his share on May 1st for $50.3

In Search of a Miller

George Holcombe was busy running the Mill at Headquarters, and had probably bid on the Mahlon Cooper share in order to salvage something from his failed loan to Cooper. Saxton appears to have been the active manager of the Raven Rock mill. In the summer of 1809, Saxton wrote to his father Charles Saxton, then living at Shamokin, Pennsylvania, asking him to come to New Jersey to run his mill on the Delaware River. Here is part of the letter that Charles Saxton wrote back to his son Nathaniel on July 29, 1809 (with apologies for my flawed transcription):

“A few lines[?] From you. By Mr Lawshe [?] which Informed us that you was in Health  and also that you had purchased Mills on the Delaware, and that you wisht either N__[Nehemiah?] or my self to come Down and assist in taking care of them if you think it would be any advantage to you or to us I rather think one of us could come Next spring but I wish you to come up and see us as soon as you can and stay some time with us . . .”

There were other letters referring to the mill, but none of them show that Charles Saxton actually complied with his son’s request.4 One of those letters was dated September 24, 1809. It was mostly about money matters, but at the end he wrote:

“I have nothing more to write to at present only if you think that Nies[?] or my self would be any advantage to you in taking care of your Mill  we would one of us come Nies[?] would be a good careful hand in the mill  and would Like the sawmill very well I think . . . “

I have no idea who this Nies is. Perhaps he was a brother of Nathaniel’s. Since I know little of the Saxton family, Nies may remain a mystery. Census records are of no use for this time period. Charles Saxton’s persistent requests to his son Nathaniel to come visit were probably inspired not only by fatherly devotion but also by respect for Nathaniel’s legal abilities.

Making the trip would have been an ordeal since Shamokin is 126 miles away from Flemington, going by Google Maps. Communication between families who were separated the way the Saxtons were was extremely difficult. Without an efficient post office, people had to depend on unreliable travelers, as shown by this letter, written on September 26, 1809:

“Dear Son I send you a few lines to let you know that I wrote you last week by John Wolverton  I have nothing particular at present only garet Williamson called to see my Mare and told me that he had seen you Lately and told me that you was well and told me also that He had a letter from you to me But he Had lost it . . .”

I did not find any document in the Saxton Papers that identified a miller for Raven Rock. A road return of 1818 mentions John R. Hamilton as miller there, but that was three years after Saxton had sold his interest in the mill to George Holcombe.5 I have no other information about Mr. Hamilton.

Albertus King of Philadelphia

Among the Saxton Papers are letters from Albertus King that are worth including here for the light they shed on Saxton’s business practices. King was born in Amwell Township, in 1781, to Jeremiah King and Sarah Rittenhouse. In 1808, he married Margaret Thatcher, daughter of Joseph Thatcher of Amwell. Shortly afterward, the couple joined Margaret’s brother Joseph Thatcher in Philadelphia, but returned to Hunterdon in 1811 when King started a mill of his own in Croton.6 Once again, apologies for my faulty transcription:

May 30, 1809 Philadelphia, Letter to Nathaniel Saxton Esq. “D Sir  agreeable to promise, I bought 137 long potatoes for you on Saturday last but could not get to see Arnwine, he being constantly on the Easn ble? with his colleague I Waterhouse.  I find Elisha Reading in town with a Boat, which take him directly to your Mills. They cost eight pence P lb. I wish you great luck in East? ing from them   If there should come a run in the river I think you had better send what Board you have ready. — Do not forget the strips for piling as my stock is nearly worked up with Dusenberrys boards

Yours most respectfully, A. King

P.S. the method for planting of the potatoes for to raise the ground about a foot and form a hill of them put in diameter and bury them about two inches.”7

This suggests the breadth of Saxton’s interests. In addition to his law practice and surveying, he was concerned in finding a market for the products of his mill, and he was experimenting with, apparently to him, a new vegetable, to be grown for market. We take potatoes for granted now, but they were not so widely planted in 18o9.

Here’s another interesting letter:

 Jun 30, 1809, Letter from A. King, Philadelphia, by way of Mr. Robbins, to Nathaniel Saxton Esq., Flemington, NJ: “D Sir, Yours __ J. White [Jabez White] with the Raft came to hand this day. I hope to sell the Boards to good advantage. The boards sent to me last week were handsome and saleable, and run 2500 feet pannel and 1690 feet common worth 14 colls p thousand. A sap stained board will not pass for pannel — they were pretty well sawed and were what we call half inch; which is a saleable size, and I wish you to send as many as you can of that description, thhd [?] in 5/8 inch thick  so that they will be full half inch when seasoned. Inch cullens will bring from 10 to 12 Dolls at this time, and if you cannot do better with then send them in a Raft if the __ water keeps high enough.– it will not do to Boat them. 3/4 in cullens well not answer at this market inch is used for scaffolding & fencing. I did not get your letter sent me by mail until after I had returned from Jersey. I went in haste to bring down a Horse and having got hurt from a fall, I returned as soon as possible. I kept some money for you for some time, but as you did not come nor send last week I let it go, however, if you want more I will try and let you have some next week. Wishing you great success I remain yours &c. King.”8

I would be grateful to hear from anyone who can translate some of the words, like ‘cullens,’ Clearly, Saxton had an active sawmill going in 1809, and was shipping his boards to Philadelphia. The Bull’s Island location was perfect for this sort of thing, and Saxton appears to have had a good business partner in Albertus King.

Next post: Saxton Buys Up Land in Raven Rock

Addendum to Saxton in Raven Rock, 5/19/2012:

Recently I was given a copy of an advertisement by Nathaniel Saxton in “The Pennsylvania Correspondent and Farmer’s Advertiser,” published at Doylestown, PA in June 1809, that expands our understanding of what he was up to in Raven Rock. This information was provided by Betty Davis, daughter of Anton and Bertha Schuck, formerly of Raven Rock. She found it in the Bucks County Historical Society in Doylestown. It reads:

“Wool – Carding / The subscriber has commenced and will carry on the Wool-Carding business the ensuing season at his mills, on BULL’S ISLAND / In the Delaware, Amwell township, New-Jersey. Having a pair of excellent machines, one calculated for breaking the wool, and the other for carding it into rolls, both now in complete order, and an experienced hand to attend them, he trusts he will be able to give entire satisfaction to those who may favor him with his custom. Employers will please to have their wool carefully assorted, picked, and greased, with one pound of soft grease to ten to twelve pounds of wool; and to send a sheet or other large cloth, to every ten or twelve pounds to wrap the rolls separately and also to send such directions as they may think proper, for carding. To accommodate customers, wool left at Mr. George Wall’s tavern, on the Pennsylvania side of the river, opposite the island, will be brought over to the mills, carded and returned, once a week or oftener; or any person coming with wool, will be taken over to the mills, if desired. [signed] Nathaniel Saxton. June 12th 1809.”

I find this fascinating for many reasons. First it shows how ambitious Saxton was to make a success of his ventures at Bull’s Island. It shows that he understood that his customers lived on the Pennsylvania side of the river as well as the New Jersey side. The advertisement tells us something about cross-river traffic, and it gives us a better idea of what was expected of farmers when they brought their wool to be carded. Today, a healthy wooly sheep can produce ten to twelve pounds of wool, but that may not have been true of early 19th century sheep. The is the earliest mention of wool carding in Amwell Township that I have seen so far. A later miller, Green Sergeant, offered the same service in 1836.

Carding wool was necessary before the wool could be spun into yarn and then woven into fabric. After wool is shorn from a sheep, it is loose and dirty. The grease referred to in the ad is the natural lanolin that sheep produce to protect their wool from the elements. The lanolin must be removed from the wool to make it usable for spinners and weavers. The wool fibers themselves must be combed or aligned to prepare them for spinning. This process used to be done by hand using ‘cards’ or small boards with wire combs protruding, until the 18th century when English inventors came up with a machine to do the work. But it would have still been powered by hands when Nattie Saxton advertised his machines.

As for the machine that breaks the wool, I am not familiar with that process and was unable to find any useful information with a Google search. The breaks in wool caused by stress to the sheep are not what Saxton was talking about. Breaking wool as part of the process of preparing it for weaving or spinning is something else.



  1. HCDeed 14-483
  2. Deed 10-153
  3. Deeds 014-567, 23-110, 25-060
  4. The Nathaniel Saxton Papers, c.1800-1830s. Hunterdon Co. Historical Society, Ms. 0005
  5. Deed 23-124
  6. Egbert T. Bush, “Old Time Sawmills Were A Joy To Watch,” Hunterdon County Democrat, 17 Oct 1929
  7. Saxton papers 0005 HCHS
  8. Saxton Papers 0005 HCHS