Myndert Wilson, who purchased the mill lot from George Holcombe for an outrageous $13,000, was smart enough to hand it off a year later to someone else. On March 22, 1815, two months after the Battle of New Orleans, he sold it to James Major of Kingwood.1
I know very little about the origins of James Major. The earliest fact I have about him is that he married Elizabeth Kerr on April 4, 1792 at the Presbyterian Church in Abington, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In 1803, he purchased a tract of land in Kingwood Township from Samuel Heritage who lived in Bucks County. This is another hint that Major’s family came from Pennsylvania. In 1806, he purchased more land in Kingwood from Henry L. Wilson and wife Ann. These two purchases became part of his farm in Kingwood Township which bordered the Isaiah Quinby plantation to the south.
James Major must have been close to the Quinby family, not just as a neighbor but as a friend, because in 1807, he witnessed the will of Isaiah Quinby, along with other neighbors Mahlon Cooper and Isaiah Vancamp. In 1811, he witnessed the will of Isaiah Quinby’s widow Miriam. His own daughter, born about 1805, was also named Miriam. He and another neighbor, John Burket Jr., made the inventory for Miriam Quinby’s estate. In 1807, James Major had made the inventory for John Burket Sr.’s estate, with Samuel Reading.
On March 22, 1815, James Major of Kingwood and his second wife Frances exchanged properties with Mindert Wilson. Wilson paid Major $3,471 for his Kingwood Township farm, and Major paid Wilson $13,000 for the mill at Saxtonville. There is little doubt that Wilson got the better part of the deal.2
Some financing was necessary to come up with $13,000. Mindert Wilson gave Major a mortgage of $3,357.50 on the mill lot plus another lot of ten acres, and George Holcombe, formerly of Amwell Township but now living in New Brunswick, gave Major a mortgage of $6,000 on the mill lot. On May 10, 1815, Wilson brought the first note to the Clerk’s office, which was then cancelled. On June 10, 1815, the second one was also brought in and cancelled. This was done as part of a refinancing, because on June 12, 1815, Mindert Wilson gave to James Major and wife Frances of Amwell a new mortgage of $6,000 on the mill lot, and this one had no note of cancellation.3
It did not take long for James Major to realize his mistake. On February 2, 1817, he sold the mill property to John R. Hamilton of Princeton4 for the same price he paid Wilson, $13,000. This was also the same price that Mindert Wilson had paid to George Holcombe in 1814. I cannot say how Hamilton financed this purchase; there is no record of a mortgage from Hamilton to Major or anyone else in the Hunterdon records.
There is evidence that John R. Hamilton took possession of the mill, for in 1818, a petition was made for a road from Prallsville to Saxtonville, which began at the mill race for the grist mill owned by John R. Hamilton.5 Oddly enough, I could find no deed recorded for a sale of the mill by Hamilton. He seems to have disappeared from the records. Perhaps it was the “Panic of 1819” that convinced Hamilton to depart. He seems to have left James Major holding the bag, just when everything came crashing down.
In the 1819 October term of the New Jersey Court of Chancery, the State Bank of New Brunswick, which was founded in 1812, sued James Major to recover the sum of $6,994.50, principal and interest on a certain mortgage given by Mindert Wilson Jr. to George Holcomb bearing date July 3, 1814. Court costs were set at $77.10. This information came from a deed of April 1, 18206 when the mill lot was sold at public auction. The deed strangely failed to mention the refinancing of the mortgage in 1815.
The Convoluted Finances of George Holcombe Jr.
Why was James Major being sued by the State Bank at New Brunswick instead of by Mindert Wilson? It is not entirely clear, but a hint lies in the financial saga of George Holcombe, who moved from Amwell Township to New Brunswick in 1812 and crashed into bankruptcy in 1815. I will not attempt to recount the whole saga here, but we must take some of it into account.
Holcombe began his real estate career in 1793 when he purchased the mill property at Headquarters from Thomas Opdycke. Soon afterwards, Holcombe began buying and mortgaging other properties in Hunterdon County. He was being sued for debts as early as 1811 when he had to sell some land in Trenton.
George Holcombe bought his half share in the Raven Rock mill at a sheriff’s sale in 1808, after failing to recover a debt of $6375.16 from Cooper and Curry.7 This was the original mistake that triggered years of default by future mill owners. Why would Cooper & Curry borrow such a large sum, and why would Holcombe lend it to them? Oddly enough, that loan, which must have been a mortgage on the mill property, does not seem to have been recorded.
Then in 1814, Nathaniel Saxton sold out his half interest in the mill to Holcombe for an amazing $7000. Where was Holcombe going to come up with that amount? From the resale of the undivided mill property, for $13,000, which would cover the amount due to Saxton plus the amount Holcombe lost on his mortgage to Cooper & Curry. But I have to wonder—was Saxton really that greedy and Holcombe that over-confident? Perhaps what affected their thinking was the economic boomlet created by the war economy, a very short-lived boomlet.
Here’s another example of Holcombe’s over-confidence. His most important property in Amwell Township (and he owned many others, all mortgaged) was the mill at Headquarters with almost 200 acres. On June 28, 1814, George Holcombe, merchant of New Brunswick, mortgaged 3 lots comprising the whole mill property to the State Bank at New Brunswick for an outrageous $30,000.8 Holcombe then turned around and gave a mortgage to Mindert Wilson on July 3, 1814 for $6,994.50, on the purchase of the mill lot in Saxtonville.
By 1815, it was clear that Holcombe could no longer maintain his balancing act. The impossibility of repaying a $30,000 mortgage must have quickly become obvious. And one has to wonder what the bankers were thinking to allow such a loan. Holcombe moved back to Headquarters, taking up residence in the White Hall Tavern,9 and on October 17th, assigned all his real estate and personal property to some friends, including Nathaniel Saxton, and his brother Samuel Holcombe Jr. (who was living in New Brunswick).10
The Bank sued Holcombe for his unpaid mortgage, as should have been expected, and the court ordered the sale of the Headquarters property. Ironically, at the sale, the Bank was the highest bidder, at $11,075.11 This was followed up with a deed of Feb. 1, 1817 from Holcombe’s assignees conveying their (and Holcombe’s) rights in the property to the Bank for $8000.12 By that time, Holcombe was sitting in debtors’ prison in New York City, writing letters to his attorney, Nathaniel Saxton in Flemington, looking for a way out of his predicament.
Holcombe still had one property left, a farm in Kingwood, to which he retired until his remaining creditors hounded him again, and the court took the farm for still unpaid debts. Holcombe ended his days, penniless and blind, at the home of his nephew, Judge Theophilus Holcombe, in New Brunswick. He died on February 13, 1845.
I shall return to the mill at Saxtonville, one last time, in the next post.
- Deed 23-527; Note—B. A. Sorby wrote that Wilson sold it at a sheriff’s sale, but the deed gives no indication of that. ↩
- For Mindert Wilson’s history at Saxtonville, see Saxtonville Mill Changes Hands. ↩
- H.C. Mortgages 6-061, 062, 129. ↩
- Deed 27-254 ↩
- Hunterdon Co. Road file #19-6-1 ↩
- Deed 31-200 ↩
- Deed 23-119 ↩
- H.C. Mortgage 5-548 ↩
- A deed of 1819 (Deed 29-471) for the Headquarters mill property describes it as beginning in the junction of the road near the stone house called the White Hall now occupied by George Holcombe. ↩
- Deed 24-458, 460 ↩
- Deed 27-141 ↩
- Deed 29-471 ↩