And a Farewell to Nathaniel Saxton

Here is Egbert T. Bush’s description of the Saxtonville Tavern:

“This community was well supplied with taverns in the old days and somewhat later. Far up in old Saxtonville stands an interesting tavern house, with its four stone chimneys and low stone walls. It seems to be at least 150 years old, but has no date stone to prove its age. The builder is unknown, as are also the early keepers. It was no doubt built expressly for that purpose, everything about it seeming to spell tavern. This was evidently included among the Nathaniel Saxton properties. Bryan Rogan is known to have kept the old tavern 75 years ago. After him came one—Kiley, and then Austin Bray. Thomas McAlone bought the property later. It is now owned and occupied by his son Wallace W., teacher of the Sergeant’s School. No tavern has been kept here for about 60 years past.”1

The time has come to write of the Saxtonville Tavern. Ironic in a way, since I began this whole series on Raven Rock because of the tavern, and all this time I have had little to say about it.

The Saxtonville Tavern, photographed for the Historic American Buildings Survey


Perhaps that is because it has been very difficult to find evidence of when the tavern first came into use. It was the home of Moses Quinby as early as 1785, and quite possibly used by him as a store during his tenure, which ended in 1815. After Nathaniel Saxton took possession, most people assume he had a tavern established in the building, since it was known as a tavern for a very long time, and the location was perfect for that use. It was also the last, or nearly the last property Saxton owned in Raven Rock. But there simply is no evidence that he established a tavern, or that he rented to someone else until 1836.

I went searching for evidence at the County Archives where county tavern license applications can be found for years 1780 to 1900. Unfortunately, the records are very incomplete; some years have no records at all. But records for 1821, 1829 and the 1830s are very good, and no where can an application be found for a license at Saxtonville. However, I did find applications for taverns at Centre Bridge (Stockton), for Johnson’s tavern at Painter’s Ferry and the Rittenhouse tavern in Rosemont. This makes me suspect that there was no need for a tavern at Raven Rock until plans for the canal feeder were being made. It is more than likely there never would have been a Saxtonville Tavern if it weren’t for the canal.

Correction (April 2014):  I had earlier written that there is no evidence of a tavern at Saxtonville until 1833, but that should be corrected to 1836. Dennis Bertland located tavern license applications for Richard Bennet in 1832 and 1833 that indicate he was running the tavern in Rosemont in those years, not at Saxtonville. I had written that “the earliest mention of the building being used as a tavern comes in 1833, when a sheriff’s sale was advertised to be held on December 7th of that year at the house of Richard Bennet, Innkeeper of Amwell.2 But Richard Bennet was then at Rosemont, so the sale did not take place at Saxtonville.

Richard Bennet (or Bennett) was the man who leased the sawmill at Saxtonville from Nicholas Baird in 1831. When it appeared that Baird was losing control of the mill, Bennett must have looked for another opportunity, and found one in the old stone house belonging to Nathaniel Saxton. During construction of the D&R Canal feeder in 1832 and after it was finished in 1834, the village of Saxtonville must have been a busy place, which was good news for the local innkeeper. Canal workers were notorious for seeking relief from their labors with large doses of whiskey.

During this energetic period, things must have come to an abrupt halt in the summer of 1832 when cholera struck. Mr. Bush gives us a glimpse of the experience in an article on the Hunt Farm in Stockton, which I will publish here soon. He wrote:

When the canal was coming through, he {Eden B. Hunt} took a contract for excavating a section here {at Stockton}. Labor was scarce, so he secured from New York 75 Irishmen, who bunked in cabins on the lowlands of his farm. Cholera broke out. One man, taken sick in the afternoon, died before morning. The workers all quit, some going to Lambertville and some to Raven Rock. Hunt could get no help to bury the victim. At last, to prevent spread of disease, he piled straw about the building, set fire to it, and successfully cremated the body. Most of the men returned, and no further trouble developed.3

I assume Bush got his information from descendants of those present at the time, since there is nothing else written about this incident, as far as I can tell.

By 1834, when Thomas Gordon was compiling his wonderful Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, Bull’s Island merited an entry, although Saxtonville did not. Much to my frustration, Gordon did not list the businesses and houses and other amenities to be found here the way he did with other locations. This is all he has to say:

“Bull’s Island in the Delaware River, 23 miles above Trenton, near Saxtonville. The feeder of the Delaware and Raritan canal communicates with the Delaware here.”

Sidetrip: Saxton’s Brief Political Career

In 1834, Nathaniel Saxton became more visibly involved in politics. On May 14th, a meeting was held by the Hunterdon Co. Democrats to chose delegates to the state convention to be held in Trenton a week later. Saxton was also named to a committee to draft a resolution for the meeting, which was a lengthy opposition to re-chartering the Bank of the U.S.4

In August, Saxton was invited to speak to a meeting of the Democrats of Hopewell Township at which William Marshall was nominated for the Assembly.5 Soon afterwards, when nominations were submitted for the Council (today’s State Senate), Saxton’s name was submitted by the “Jackson Democratic Caucus.” Saxton won the nomination with 340 votes, beating Benjamin Egbert (83 votes) and Robert K. Reading (71 votes).

Saxton’s opponent in the election was John Barber, resident of the future Delaware Township (at that time still part of Amwell). Barber had been the executor of David Johnes dec’d who pursued Nicholas D. Baird in court for an unpaid mortgage. Saxton won the election with 3,046 votes, while Barber got 2,039.6 Saxton now was not just Nathaniel Saxton, Esq., but the Hon. Nathaniel Saxton. At the same time, Saxton was also known as Col. N. Saxton, Brig. Gen. of the Hunterdon Militia.

Something happened in 1835 to sour the Democratic caucus on our esteemed friend, Nathaniel Saxton. In May of 1835, he was named to a committee to draft resolutions for the Hunterdon Democratic Meeting. But in September, the Democratic Convention named William Wilson to run for the Council seat held by Saxton. Saxton was also nominated, but by others outside the caucus.

On October 7th, an interesting item appeared in the Gazette:

“COMMUNICATION.  THE ELECTION. – The election for members of the legislature, sheriff and coroners, takes place in this county on Tuesday and Wednesday next, the 13th and 14th instant. It was expected that the necessity of an election in this county would have been entirely superseded by the large meeting held at this place on the first Saturday in September last; but we hear, from various parts of the county, strong expressions of dissatisfaction with the proceedings at, and previous to that meeting, and particularly with the selection of a candidate for Council unknown to the county; and we understand a respectable portion of the prevailing party, considering themselves imposed on in this respect, are determined to run another candidate for that office. – The name of Col. Saxton is spoken of for that purpose. We have heard of no opposition to the other candidates on the Caucus nomination.

What was the problem? If only Saxton had left a diary. I found nothing to explain this situation among his papers collected at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. It should be kept in mind that the Gazette leaned toward the Whigs, so the paper was always happy to portray disagreement among the Democrats. As it turned out, the Caucus was too powerful a force for Saxton to overcome. On October 21st, the vote was reported: Wilson 1,385, Saxton 1,145.

The following year, in September, 1836, the Gazette reported that the Democratic Caucus had resolved that no one be nominated who did not endorse the caucus system at the joint meeting of the legislature.7 This may be a hint to explain why the Hunterdon Caucus was dissatisfied with Nathaniel Saxton. Perhaps he had expressed less than fervent support for the caucuses held at the state legislature.

Saxton was on the list of nominees in 1836, but nothing came of it. In September 1837, he was named to attend the County Democratic Convention, representing Amwell Township. Once again he was on the list of nominees for Council, but the caucus nominated Joseph Moore of Hopewell, who won the election. So ended Saxton’s political career.

Subsequent notices in the Gazette show that Saxton returned to his legal career, with this difference—he was now representing defendants as well as plaintiffs. And he decided that the time had come to sell the tavern lot at Saxtonville, perhaps as a way to supplement his income. On May 1, 1836, Saxton sold “All that certain Tavern House and lot of 11 acres” fronting on Bull’s Creek to his tenant, Richard Bennet of Amwell, for $1,100, including frontage of 495 feet on Bull’s Creek.8

Saxton was either extremely shrewd or extremely lucky. At the time of the sale, properties were valuable in Saxtonville, with the canal functioning well, bringing lots of business to the hamlet. But soon afterwards, everything came crashing down in the Panic of 1837. Had Saxton waited until then, he would have gotten very little for his tavern lot. The sudden drop in business must have hurt Richard Bennett. It would be several years before the economy rebounded.

Richard Bennet/Bennett

There is reason to think that Richard Bennett was the son of Isaac Bennet, who was resident in Greenwich Twp. Sussex Co. in 1798 (when he signed a petition there), and who moved to Alexandria Township in 1837. A deed of 1842 lists his heirs (he had nine children), including Richard Bennett of Amwell.

There are several references to Richard Bennett’s “house” (meaning tavern) in the Gazette.

Addendum, April 2014:  Bennet could have been running a tavern at Saxtonville in 1834 and 1835, although license applications for those years have not been found. He certainly was the innkeeper after he purchased the tavern property from Nathaniel Saxton on May 1, 1836.[# Deed Bk 64 p. 113.]


On June 15, 1836, the commissioners of the Lumberville Bridge Co. (which was at one time a dream of Nathaniel Saxton’s, now become reality) advertised that they would be selling stock in the company and the books would be open at the house of Richard Bennett in Kingwood Township. This was a mistake, probably due to the fact that Saxtonville is very close to the township line between Amwell and Kingwood.

A public sale of real estate ordered by the Court of Chancery was advertised to be held on March 10, 1838 “at the inn of Richard Bennett in the township of Amwell.” And on December 5, 1838, a sale was advertised to be held again at the “inn of Richard Bennet,” only this time, the location was Delaware Township, for in the interval, Amwell Township had been divided by the state legislature into three new townships, Delaware being one of them.

On January 8, 1839, a property was advertised for sale by James N. Reading “at the house of Richard Bennet Innkeeper at Bool’s Island.” It is surprising that none of these announcements used the name of Saxtonville for Bennett’s location. The term was still in use, but now that Nathaniel Saxton was no longer the primary landholder, it was fading away.

It was probably during the tenure of Richard Bennett that additional rooms and a wonderful two-story porch were added to the house. Fortunately for us, the WPA chose the tavern house for one of its HABS projects. Their remarkable drawings can be viewed at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. Sadly, in 1959, engineers decided the porch infringed on the right-of-way for Highway 29, so, after 100 years of use, the porch was removed, and the old tavern lost much of its personality. I fervently hope that someday someone will put it back.

By 1839, Richard Bennett began to think of moving on. On November 19th he published this advertisement in the Hunterdon Gazette:

“LOOK OUT !   Tavern  and  Store  House  for  Sale.
THE subscriber being desirous to go to the West, will offer at Public Sale, on the 13th day of January next, at 10 o’clock, on the premises, that valuable Tavern and Store Stand where he now lives, situated in the township of Delaware, in the county of Hunterdon, and on the bank of the river Delaware, 24 miles from Trenton, and 24 from Easton, 3 miles above Centre Bridge, and immediately at the head of  the Delaware and Raritan Canal Feeder. The improvements are a large and commodious Tavern House, Store House, an excellent Shed and Barn all newly built, and every other out building necessary; a good well of water at the door, together with ABOUT 11 ACRES  of first rate low land, on which is a variety of fruit trees of all kinds. This property is well worth the attention of any one who would like to go into public business, as the railroad from Belvidere to Trenton must pass through the same, and in short time the outlet lock from the Pennsylvania Canal, at Black’s Eddy, will be made, which will much enhance the value of this property. Bool’s Creek is now becoming one of the best harbors for rafts on the river, which will afford a good opportunity for the lumbering business. Any one wishing to view the property before the day of sale, will be shown the same by the subscriber, on the premises.  RICHARD BENNET.  Bool’s Island, Nov. 15, 1839.”

It is a bit troubling to see the Tavern House included among the “newly built” structures. Examination of the building has shown that parts of it it are clearly much older than 1839. Bennett should be credited with additions made to building to the west of the original structure. His advertisement sheds light on activity at “Bool’s Island,” and makes me wonder why Bennett would want to leave.

Apparently no satisfactory buyer responded to the ad, so Bennett continued as innkeeper, and gave up his plans to “go to the West.” He was listed in the 1840 census for Delaware Township, but unfortunately, the census does not supply us with people’s occupations.

It was nearly ten years later when Richard Bennett finally found a buyer for his tavern lot. On May 21, 1848, he and wife Eliza of Amwell Township (this must be another mistake; it should be Delaware Township) sold the tavern house and lot to Bernard Rogan of Tinnicum, Bucks County for $2000.9 The Bennetts removed to Solebury where they were counted in the census of 1850: Richard Bennett age 52, merchant, Eliza 48, and probably their son Tinsman Bennett age 25 (born 1825 in Pennsylvania), clerk. Bennett was also counted in the 1860 census, this time living in New Hope, PA, but using the Lumberville post office. He was 62, a storekeeper, living with wife Eliza 58, and an 18-year old Irish servant named Julia Featherstone. Bennett died sometime between 1860 and 1870.

Postscript: The Last Days of Nathaniel Saxton, Esq.

As attorney, Saxton had some interesting cases, in particular his defense of a man named Joseph Kater, who was accused of murdering Samuel Jackson at Lambertville. The case became notorious when Kater, who pleaded his innocence, managed to escape from the county jail and eluded recapture, much to the chagrin of the sheriff, Asa Jones.

Saxton was also concerned about the faltering economy. In November 28, 1837, while the Panic was still going strong, he addressed a meeting held to petition the legislature to repeal the act prohibiting the banks of this state from issuing bills of less than $5.10 This reflected a liquidity problem that hit small farmers and business people especially hard.

Saxton had other irons in the fire; he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Flemington Mining Company, which was organized to take advantage of copper deposits near the village, and he was a director of the Delaware Manufacturing Co. at Lambertville. Whether or not he was still Reporter for the Chancery Court in Trenton, I am uncertain. One historian wrote of Saxton’s time there:

 “Nathaniel Saxton, the Chancery reporter, generally called Natty” was one of the leaders in the fun at the little social gatherings at the Rising Sun Tavern in Trenton, where the American Hotel now stands, where “songs were sung, old stories revived, and flashes of wit sparked, each one deeming it a duty to contribute as well as he could to the general amusement.11

Saxton also continued active with the Hunterdon Militia. Here is a report of a training day held in June 1842:

Hunterdon Brigade Training. Col. Saxton with Maj. Sutphin and the Hunterdon Squadron, by arrangement, remained on the field sometime, and amused the spectators present with rapid Cavalry Evolutions, until the line of Infantry was clear of the crowd which would otherwise have thronged around them, and then returned to town in good order, where the military and citizens obtained comfortable meals and refreshments for themselves and horses . . . . The Commandant of Brigade cannot omit to notice with commendation the appearance of the cavalry; who came into the field under Col. Nathaniel Saxton, in greater force than was expected.12

Following this splendid event, it appears that Nathaniel Saxton went into a steep decline. He gave up his law practice, and, as was stated in a tribute to him by members of the Hunterdon Bar, “the last years of his life were clouded with mental and physical suffering.” As a lifelong bachelor, without any family nearby, he spent his declining years alone and unsupported. A year before his death, an anonymous writer observed that he had become “a poor miserable man.”

Sketch of Our Lawyers:  . . . we have men {in Flemington} gifted men, men who are an honor to their profession, and who, in their private life, command the respect of the community. I might particularize, I might pass over in turn the names of Messrs. A. Wurts, J. N. Reading, Wm. H. Sloan, C. Bartles and G. A. Allen, but deem it unnecessary, and will therefore only call your attention to one. I refer to N. Saxton, Esq., who is the oldest lawyer, I believe, now living in New Jersey. Mr. Saxton was licensed in the year A. D. 1804, some forty-five years since, and from those who knew him whilst at the Bar, I have learned that he was considered a man of superior judgement and legal knowledge, one whose opinion was considered worthy of consideration; but, alas, what is he now?, a poor, miserable man who lingers out a wearisome existence.

“He seems like one, who stands alone,
Some banquet hall deserted;
Whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead,
And all, but him, departed.”13

After what must have been a very difficult ten years, the Gazette reported on July 24th, 1850:  “Died, In this town, on Tuesday night, the 16th inst., Col. Nathaniel Saxton, Attorney and Counsellor at Law, aged 76 years.”14


7/20/2012:  I have learned from Dennis Bertland that the home of Charles Miller (see footnote 14) where Nathaniel Saxton was living in 1850 was in fact the “Fleming Castle” on Bonnell Street. He also reminded me that the HABS drawings and photographs can be found on the Library of Congress website.


7/20/2012:  Bill Hartman has reminded me that the newspaper I so frequently have referred to as the “Hunterdon County Gazette” was never called that. It began life as “Hunterdon Gazette and Farmers’ Weekly Advertiser,” but the title was soon shortened to simply “Hunterdon Gazette.”

  1. E. T. Bush, “Raven Rock Was Once Bool’s Island,” Feb. 12, 1931
  2. Deed 56-263.
  3. E. T. Bush, “Old Hunt Farm A Place Of Interest,” Hunterdon Co. Democrat, June 4, 1931.
  4. Hunterdon Gazette, May 14, 1834
  5. Hunterdon Gazette, August 27th, 1834
  6. Hunterdon Gazette, Oct. 22, 1834; Snell, History of Hunterdon & Somerset Counties, pg. 207.
  7. Hunterdon Gazette, Sept. 7, 1836
  8. Deed 64-113
  9. Deed 91-092
  10. Hunterdon Gazette, Dec. 6, 1837
  11. Lucius Q. Elmer, Reminiscences, pg 193
  12. Hunterdon Gazette, June 15, 1842
  13. Hunterdon Gazette, Aug. 1, 1840
  14. There is just one little anomaly. The Raritan Twp. Census for 1850, dated Sept. 7, lists Nathaniel Saxton 73, Lawyer, living in the household of Charles Miller 53 laborer, Deborough 48, Martha 24, Lucy 19 and Jane 16. In the same household were Sarah Coats 85 and Lucy Coats 58, probably boarders like Saxton. This was two months after Saxton died. The explanation for this oddity is that the census asked for names as of June 1, 1850, and Saxton died in July, which explains why he was counted.