In my last post I wrote about how the town of Clinton came to be. The man who made it happen was John W. Bray, with the financial backing of his brother-in-law Archibald S. Taylor. Building lots were laid out and sold, merchants and residents moved in and a new town came to life. In 1832 The Newark Daily Advertiser referred to Clinton as “a flourishing manufacturing village.”
However, Bray took some shortcuts that had dire consequences for his financial backer, and for himself.
In 1835, the village was described in more detail:
The VILLAGE OF CLINTON is situate on the great Turnpike Road leading from Easton to New Brunswick; the stage road from Belvidere to Trenton passes through it. Clinton is situate 17 miles from Easton, 28 from New Brunswick, 20 miles from Bound Brook on the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and 10 from Flemington. The contemplated Elizabeth Town, Somerville and Belvidere Rail Road passes through it. – 18 stages pass through Clinton weekly. – The Water Power at Clinton is surpassed by but few places in the state: the surrounding country is very fertile and pleasant, and the great natural advantages it possesses for trade must in time render it a place of consequence.1
As described in the previous post (The Town of Clinton Is Born), John W. Bray could see that this location was ripe for development, and used all his skills to talk Taylor into purchasing the tract. As part of his argument, he had a plan for financing this endeavor. Taylor wrote:
“to raise funds to defray their expenses he [J. W. Bray] proposed indorsing the notes of the firm & getting them discounted at a bank, which as the money was to be laid out on my own property I readily consented to do. There commenced the system of indorsements and such was my confidence in him that at that time I kept no account of the number or amount of the notes indorsed.”2
I’ve never been very good at understanding the system of promissory notes that was used in the early 19th century, but it appears to me that Bray was having Taylor sign over to the banks and other creditors notes for moneys loaned by A. S. Taylor to Bray & Taylor, in exchange for an amount of cash that was less than the value of the notes. What a mistake! (If someone can come up with a better explanation, please add it to the comments section.)
When A. S. Taylor referred to “the firm,” he meant the partnership of his son John B. Taylor with John W. Bray. Back in 1828 when Bray was persuading A. S. Taylor to invest in the Clinton property, he also persuaded him to advance John B. Taylor the sum of $3,800, to purchase half of J. W. Bray’s ‘stock of goods,’ which would allow Bray to take John B. Taylor in as a partner. The elder Taylor later wrote that the money “went into the firm and has been dissipated.” And somehow it was A. S. Taylor who was made liable for the debts of “the firm.”
Meanwhile, John W. Bray appeared to be prospering and was very active in politics and civic affairs. In 1830, John W. Bray was chosen to serve on the Lebanon Twp. school committee and to be Commissioner of Deeds. And in 1831, he was named to a committee to promote the creation of a Hunterdon County Railroad.
The earliest mention of him I found in the Hunterdon Gazette was the edition of July 14, 1825, when the 37-year-old Bray raised a toast for the Fourth of July dinner held in Lebanon Township. The editor wrote that “This toast was unfortunately mislaid—is believed the scope of it was as follows: the State of New Jersey “may her natural advantages, of water Powers, &c. &c. render her to the U. States, what the great manufacturing towns Birmingham and Manchester are to great Britain.” The paper identified him as John W. Bray, Esq., even though he was not a practicing attorney.
His toast shows clearly that his interests were with those merchants and businessmen who subscribed to the “American System” of John Q. Adams and Henry Clay. But in politics, Bray was a supporter of Andrew Jackson. That changed after Jackson was elected in 1828. On September 3, 1832, the Hunterdon branch of the National Republicans, forerunners of the Whig political party, held their convention in Flemington, at which they nominated their ticket for Council—Oliver W. Ogden; and for Assembly—David Johnson, William Roscoe, John Burlen, Leonard Bowman, and John W. Bray.3 Only one of these candidates merited notice:
Col. Bray is in extensive business at Clinton, a flourishing manufacturing village in this county, and has heretofore been a Jacksonman of influence and activity, but the late measures of the government have induced him to secede from the party, in company with his neighbor and friend, the President of the last Jackson State Convention, and many others in this and other parts of the State. Our friends are much encouraged with the prospect of success.
Instead of Esq., he was now “Col.” Bray, a title he earned from his service in the Hunterdon Militia. That “neighbor and friend” was Asa C. Dunham, who was secretary of the Jackson Convention in 1829, and in 1832 “President of the last Convention.” In 1831, Dunham and Bray were participants in a meeting called to organize a petition to the legislature to create a new railroad to run from Clinton to Somerville; Dunham was chair of the meeting and Bray was secretary. Bray was a railroad enthusiast. In 1833, he joined with Nathaniel Saxton, Garret D. Wall, Oliver W. Ogden, John Kinney, Jr. and Thomas Salter to promote the creation of the “North Western Rail Road,” and to sell stock in the new company.4
Despite the town’s attractiveness, prosperity proved to be as elusive for Bray & Taylor as it had been for David McKinney and Daniel and Ralph Hunt, the original merchants of Hunt’s Mills. After four years had passed, Taylor became desirous to know what his debts amounted to. Bray reassured him that everything was fine, but Taylor began to have his doubts when banks began communicating with him.
Taylor wrote in his memorandum that he did not know how his money had been spent, for “although I lived but four miles from him [at Solitude House in High Bridge] I have never been on the property [Clinton] but once “when passing through it, “on the occasion of a funeral.” As an example of what was going on, Bray had built a second store house in town, representing to Taylor that it would cost $1,000. But the days of cost overruns had already begun, and the store ended up costing $4,000, according to Taylor. J. W. Bray claimed the building was worth $5,000, but when it was sold on behalf of Taylor’s creditors, it only brought in $2,080.
Taylor wrote that back in 1828, when Bray persuaded him to set up his son John B. Taylor in a partnership with Bray, it was for the benefit of the family. Taylor and Bray were brothers-in-law. The family connection was strengthened on March 29, 1830, when Archibald Taylor’s son John Bray Taylor married John W. Bray’s daughter Susan Adeline Bray.5 But after Taylor became suspicious about Bray’s dealings, he concluded “that in all this apparent anxiety for my interest [and] in the interest of my family there was deep design on his part.” As Taylor wrote in 1835:
I had known him [John W. Bray] for many years before leasing him the Clinton property and had been led to consider him a man of integrity and honor. This with his apparent capacity for business the nearness of our family connexion & his [illegible] profesion of friendship gained him my entire confidence and esteem, and he acquired almost unlimited influence over me From this period I date the gradual decay & final ruin of my Estate. It began with the purchase of the Clinton property.
In 1830, Bray & Taylor sold their store business to a partnership consisting of Taylor’s other son, George W. Taylor, and his soon-to-be son-in-law James R. Dunham. (Dunham married Taylor’s daughter, Sarah Ann Taylor, in 1833.) In 1834, Bray & Taylor “abandoned the mill business” to Dunham & Taylor.6
Several times Archibald Taylor asked Bray for an accurate accounting of their liabilities. Bray was always very reassuring and optimistic, but never gave Taylor an actual report. By 1832 the cost of improvements to the Clinton property made by Bray & Taylor came to $18,800. Yet Taylor was still not suspicious. He trustingly paid the bills and did not ask for any vouchers or receipts.
After giving my own bond & mortgage to the Easton Bank & taking up their paper to the amount of $18,800 for these improvements which I considered my own debt & which form no part of the claims above stated I found I was yet liable for J. W. Bray to the Easton bank on other paper to the amount of $3000 & for other [illegible] at other places. A few months afterwards I required of him a statement of my liabilities for them. He enumerated to me various sums due at the Easton Bank, the bank in New Brunswick and I think a small note or two in the Bank in New York & the debts due to Elizabeth Johnson, Clement Bonnell, Anderson Johnes and the Estate of William Johnson making an aggregate amount at that time of about $10,000 and gave me his word that these confirmed all my liabilities.
Gradually Taylor became aware of even more debts outstanding.
About two years prior to the failure of Bray & Taylor I began to keep a memorandum of notes signed or indorsed for them but even then did not alert me as by the artful management of J. W. Bray of the notes got for renewals my liabilities were increased.
Upon my remonstrating with him [Bray] for his want of candor he excused himself with the upmost coolness and reiterated the assurances that now I was acquainted with all my liabilities.
And yet shortly afterwards, Taylor learned that some of the debts that Bray had assured him had been paid, were in fact still outstanding. Taylor’s creditors began filing suit for payment of debts that Taylor never learned of until the suits were filed.
Why was A. S. Taylor so credulous? Besides his long-standing family relationship with John W. Bray, he confessed that he was himself generally out of the loop.
“My peculiar situation, infirm & retired (not having been off my farm but twice in the last twenty years) & the absence of my children & the confidence I had placed in him greatly favored his designs.”
Never left his farm for twenty years, except on two occasions? That is nearly incomprehensible. He obviously had servants to run errands for him. But to describe himself as “infirm and retired” when he was only middle-aged seems odd. Perhaps he had some form of agoraphobia.
When the 1830 Lebanon Township census was taken, Archibald S. Taylor was in his 40s, living with his wife and four of his eight children (George, Lewis, Sarah and William). Three of the other children had died previously. Daughter Susan died an infant in 1819, son Robert died in 1823 age 20, and daughter Emily died in 1826 age 21. Son John B. Taylor, age 29, was living in his own household, raising a family with wife Susan Bray.
1835 was a terrible year for Archibald S. Taylor. It began with the death of his wife Nancy on March 11, 1835, at the age of 54. According to the Gazette (March 18th), she died “of a decline.” Her obituary in the paper was probably written by her grief-stricken husband.
Kind, gentle, amiable and affectionate, as a wife, a mother, and a friend, she is deeply mourned, and her loss regretted. Though no more found amongst the living in this world, she will live long in the hearts of all who knew her. She was long an humble follower of the Lamb, and her Redeemer did not forsake her in the trying hour. Her end was peace. ‘Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord.’
Some family researchers have speculated that the shocks caused by her husband’s financial troubles hastened her end. The worst shock of all was one she escaped—the loss of her own home. In 1835, Archibald S. Taylor was forced to give up all his properties to satisfy his creditors. He wrote:
“Convinced that my situation was hopeless I resolved to place myself at the disposition of my creditors (& after calling them together made the assignment for their benefit).”
This happened on July 28, 1835, when A. S. Taylor assigned all his real and personal estate to John Kinney Jr. and John J. Blair Esq. His debts totaled $30,404 by his own accounting, and the firm of Bray & Taylor was dissolved. The assignees arranged for a public sale of the real estate, as described in this notice in the Hunterdon Gazette, published Oct. 27, 1835.
GREAT SALE OF REAL ESTATE.
The subscribers, by virtue of a deed of assignment made to them the 28th day of July, 1835, by Archibald S. Taylor of the township of Lebanon, in the county of Hunterdon and state of New Jersey, in trust for the benefit of all his creditors, will expose at PUBLIC SALE, On Thursday the 3d day of December next, At the house of Israel Smith, in the village of CLINTON, county of Hunterdon and state of New Jersey, the following described FARMS and LOTS OF LAND, etc.
1st, Is the large White House, and Lot attached to it, whereon John Taylor now lives, situate in the village of Clinton. The house is 65 feet by 24 feet with a large porch on each side of it; has five rooms on the first floor, and well finished, with a cellar under the whole house and a cellar kitchen. There is also a good Barn and other out buildings upon the said lot; a pleasant yard on each side of the house with an excellent garden. The yards are set out with trees of various kinds, and is considered the most pleasant situation in the village.
2d, Is the large Yellow House, and Lot, upon which John W. Snyder now lives; situate in the village of Clinton. – The house is 54 feet by 38; has four rooms and entry on the first floor and cellar under the whole; the building is nearly new and well finished. The garden is of the first quality, the yard ornamented with different kinds of trees, and the situation pleasant.
3d, Is the large Three story Stone STORE HOUSE, and Lot situate in the village of Clinton, now occupied by Messrs Dunham & Taylor. This building is nearly new; in size 50 by 45 feet, and is built and finished in the most superior manner at a cost of $4000. It is considered one of the best store-houses in Hunterdon county.
4th, Four Building Lots situate in the village of Clinton, southwest of Israel Smith’s, across the road, each Lot have a front of 70 feet and runs back from 100 to 160 feet. These Lots are pleasantly situated, being on high ground, and are considered very desirable for stands for stores or residence.
There were more properties described, but the saddest one of all was this:
8th, Is the Homestead Farm, upon which Archibald S. Taylor now lives; situate in the township of Lebanon, about 2 miles from Clinton, containing about 100 acres of Land. The buildings upon it are of the first order: – The Dwelling is a large and commodious one, having nine rooms on the first floor, and well finished, and a cellar under the same. In the front of the house is a large yard and garden, set out with a great variety of trees and shrubbery, grapes, &c. There is a never failing spring of water near the house and a large stone milk house; also a stone farm house, near the dwelling a large barn (24 by 80 feet), a wagon house with corn crib within, with other suitable out buildings. There is also a large Apple Orchard with grafted fruit of choice kinds, a large collection of peach, cherry and pear of the choicest kinds in abundance. The land is pleasantly situated – in a high state of cultivation – with sufficient quantity of woodland. The place is remarkable [sic] healthy and is certainly not surpassed in many things by any situation in the state.
The amount owed to his creditors, according to the tally that Taylor made in 1835, came to $30,404. Here is the list of creditors that he included in his memorandum:
The Easton Bank $2500; The Trenton Banking Company $3,000; James B. Cox $4898; Wadsworth & Smith whol amo, $5,757 (compromised for less & the notes taken up by AST); Caleb O. Halsted $2,347; Jacob Fishers debt & cost $1530; Elizabeth Johnson $1600; Anderson Jones claim $500; Clement Bounde[?] $700; Exec’s of William Johnson $920; C & J Hutchins $400; Charles Dunham $678; __d Bank of New Brunswick $600; Co[l]. E. CeRussy $400; Sam’l Dickinson $875; O. W. Ogden [amount left blank]; The Post Master General $184; Bray & Taylor notes to AST $426; amo due AST on Rent of 1834, $1000; Do Do part of 1835, $203; Do for coin, $432.
According to Taylor, these debts were all incurred by Bray & Taylor or by J. W. Bray acting as agent for Taylor, and no payments had ever been made by Bray to reduce the amounts owed.
What seemed to hurt Taylor as much as anything was the fact that after he had assigned all his property to his creditors and had learned of even more debts incurred in his name, Bray went about claiming that “he was not the cause of all my misfortunes that I lost little or nothing by him.” Several times A. S. Taylor made reference to derogatory reports that Bray had been circulating about him. They weren’t published in the Hunterdon Gazette or the Trenton Emporium. Taylor wrote his memorandum or Statement to the Public primarily to correct
the faulty statements made in his [Bray’s] publication & in his written circular & statements distributed far & wide, & in his verbal communications to his friends with a view to injure me, and deprive me of my last consolation an unblemished character.
I could not have expected that the man who under the mark of friendship had stript me of a fortune (which though he might not consider it affluent was nevertheless competent to all my worldly desires) should still unsatisfied seek to filch from me my good name. But it was incompatible with the man [illegible word] to suffer the character of his victims to remain untarnished . . .
Meanwhile, Bray managed to sell what little property he owned to a friend, to protect it from Taylor’s creditors. And then he took new notes of hand, even sending one of them to Taylor, and skipped town, moving to New York City.
In February 1835, Benjamin Chew sued John W. Bray and his wife Mary in NJ Chancery Court, probably on a matter of one of Bray’s unpaid notes. The court took notice of the fact that the Brays had removed to New York City, and ordered that they must appear in court before the following April. There was nothing else in the Gazette about this case. But I did notice that letters for Bray, and also for Bray & Taylor, were left uncollected at the Clinton Post Office that year and in 1836.
One might think that with the collapse of Bray & Taylor and the insolvency of Archibald S. Taylor the story had come to an end. Far from it! There is so much more to say about these interesting characters that I am saving the rest of the story for the next post.
Corrections: I have removed two observations that have been proved by Stephanie Stevens in the comments below to be incorrect.
- This description came from an advertisement published in the Hunterdon Gazette on Oct. 27, 1835. ↩
- HCHS Ms. Collection #27, Taylor Papers. ↩
- As published in The Newark Daily Advertiser, Sept. 7, 1832, and titled “Letter from Trenton, Sept. 6, 1832.” ↩
- The Newark Daily Advertiser included a long article on this new rail road, in the July 25, 1833 issue. ↩
- The marriage was performed by Rev. Jacob I. Schultz, a Dutch Reformed minister who became the first pastor of the Middlebush Reformed Church in Franklin Township, Somerset County in 1834. I do not know what church he pastored in 1830, but presume it was another Dutch Reformed Church. ↩
- Snell p. 545. James R. Dunham was the son of Jacob Dunham and Elizabeth Lawson. He was distantly related to the Asa C. Dunham who had once been a friend of John W. Bray. ↩