A response to the article written by Egbert T. Bush on August 7, 1930 entitled “Buchanan’s, A Tavern With A Long History

The three previous articles on this subject and Mr. Bush’s article can be found by clicking on the topic “Buchanan’s Tavern” in the right-hand column.

The Second Buchanan’s Tavern

The landmark house at the intersection of Routes 523 and 579, familiar to all who pass that way (especially in the summer when fresh corn and tomatoes can be had from the Micek farm), was once known as Buchanan’s tavern. It was, in fact, the second Buchanan’s tavern, owned by Archibald Buchanan and his wife Delilah Sutton. But before writing about them, I must return to the Robins family.

The property, which originally amounted to 333 acres, was first owned by Daniel Robins in 1714, and was passed on to his son John Robins around 1737. Mortgages made with the Hunterdon County Loan Office in 1744 show the Robins tract bordering Jonas Sutton and John Taylor, confirming that the 333 acres remained in the family. But what happened to it after that is a little complicated, and somewhat uncertain.

John Robins

One reason for the confusion is that we must sort out three generations of men named John Robins. The first John Robins (i) was born in 1694 to Daniel Robins. The second John Robins (ii) was the son of John Robins (i), born about 1725. And the third John Robins (iii) was the son of the second John, born about 1750. This family was not good at recording family events, so the birthdates are vague. (What I would give for a Robins family bible.) To make things worse, there were other ‘John Robins’ who were cousins of the three I’ve mentioned. Trying to figure out who did what is very difficult. What follows is my best guess.

The Robins House in 1760

The 60.5 acres in two lots, sold to Daniel Robins by Samuel & Mary Kitchen on July 1, 1760, from Ms. Deed Collection 18, No. 15 in oversize deeds, Hunterdon Co. Historical Society
The 60.5 acres in two lots, sold to Daniel Robins by Samuel & Mary Kitchen on July 1, 1760, from Ms. Deed Collection 18, No. 15 in oversize deeds, Hunterdon Co. Historical Society

The earliest hint that a John Robins was living on part of the 333 acres is the deed described in a previous post (Two Taverns, part three), in which Daniel Robins, grandson of Daniel Sr., bought 60.5 acres from Samuel Kitchen. The metes and bounds of the property described in this deed show that before 1760, parts of the 333 acres had been sold off, but most importantly they show that John Robins had a house on the remains of the tract, which included the lot where the Micek family now lives. But the Robins house was not the Micek’s house. The map shows that the Robins house was set well off the road. (Click to enlarge the map.) The question is, which John Robins was living there in 1760, the first John Robins (1694-1777) or the second (c.1725-1802)?

The First John Robins

Daniel and Mary Robins had a son John (i) born on December 23, 1694 in Woodbridge, New Jersey. He came to Amwell Township with his parents, probably around 1715. This John Robins probably married around 1720, but his wife’s name is not known. They had three children: Elizabeth, John (ii) and Daniel. The first wife probably died before 1750, about when John Robins married his second wife, a woman named Eleanor. I have no exact dates for the births of any of the children of either marriage. John (i) and Eleanor had nine children (Anna, Mary, Hannah, Catharine, Jane, Rachel, Lydia, Cornelius, and Job).1

The earliest record I have for John Robins (i) is in 1725 when he served as security for Andrew Heath, administrator of the estate of John Heath deceased. John Heath had owned the tract of land just north of the Robins 333-acre tract on which I think John Robins (i) was living. In a mortgage of 1733, John Robins appears there (on “land formerly Daniel Robins”), bordering the Heath tract which was then owned by Thomas Hunt. The next record I have is in 1745 when James Kitchen named John Robins as trustee for his son Benjamin. These dates are too early for John Robins (ii) to be the owner of the property, so I think we can safely conclude that John Robins (i) was living there in 1760.

In 1755, a John Robins bought 155 acres from Richard Lanning. This was located near Boarshead Road and the Wickecheoke Creek. Robins conveyed that property to his son Daniel Robins, who then sold it to Jeremiah King in 1761. This Daniel was the son of John Robins (i), and should not be confused with Daniel, son of Job Robins, who bought the old tavern lot in 1760.2

The Will of John Robins (i)

John Robins (i) wrote his will on June 29, 1775, leaving the plantation on which he lived to his wife Eleanor for her life, and then to his son John (ii), who was to pay sums to his brothers Job and Cornelius. John (ii) and Daniel Robins were named as his executors.

The daughters named in his will were Anna Robins, Mary Robins, Elizabeth Woolverton, Hannah Robins, Jane Kitchen, Rachel Reily, Lydia Parlee and Catherine Robins. The will was witnessed by James Furman, Israel Chidster and David Chidster. It was recorded on September 16, 1777, so presumably John Robins (i) died about August or September 1777, while the Revolution was distressing the countryside. The inventory was made by Samuel Furman and John Trimmer.

Here are the children of John Robins (i), as far as I know.3

Elizabeth Robins (c1718-c.1800) m. Joel Wolverton (1715-1795)
John Robins (c.1720-1802) m. Elizabeth Taylor, Catharine Pegg
Daniel Robins (c.1725-aft 1776?) m. Ann ___
Jane Robins (c.1750-?) m. __? Kitchen
Rachel Robins (c.1750-?) m. __? Reily
Lydia Robins (c.1750-?) m. Edward Parlee (c.1750-1816)
Mary Robins (c.1755-?) m. William Sutton (c.1755-bef 1797)
Catharine Robins (c.1760-bef 1830) m. Derick Hoagland (c.1750-1835)

The Second and Third John Robins

There were two John Robins owning property in Amwell Township in 1780. One was taxed on 100 acres, 4 horses, 6 cattle, and 4 pigs, and was identified as “John Robins Sr.”  The other was John Robins “Junr” living on 150 acres, with 1 horse, 4 cattle, “belong {sic} to the widow;” in June, he was taxed on 150 acres only, no reference to a widow.4

I believe that “John Robins Sr.” was John Robins (ii), the son of John Robins (i) dec’d, and the other was the son of John Robins (ii) and his first wife Elizabeth Taylor. But Elizabeth Taylor Robins died before 1777. So, who was the widow in 1780? John Robins (ii) did not die until 1802. John Robins (i) named his wife in his will of 1775 and died in 1777. It is likely that his widow was still living in 1780. So, it would appear that John Robins (iii) “Jr.” had property from his grandmother. Also, I believe, but cannot be sure, that John Robins (iii) was the John Robins who married Grace Runyon on June 28, 1780.5

This Elizabeth Taylor, first wife of John Robins (ii), daughter of John and Sarah Taylor, who owned property to the south of the Robins 333 acres. Elizabeth Taylor Robins died before May 1777, when her father John Taylor of Kingwood wrote his will, leaving the residue of his moveable estate to the children of his daughter Elizabeth Robins deceased. John Robins married his second wife Catharine, former wife of Daniel Pegg, on May 15, 1778. In 1771, when Daniel Pegg and his wife Catharine mortgaged the Boarshead tavern, at the intersection of Route 579 and Boarshead Road, John Robins appeared as a bordering landowner.6

Was this landowner of 1771 John Robins (i) or John Robins (ii)? Perhaps it was John Robins (ii) who owned land on Boarshead Road. That would mean that in 1780 the old tract near Buchanan’s Tavern was owned by his son, John Robins (iii).

Daniel Pegg died without a will in 1778. On September 19, 1778, Administration of the estate was granted to his son Daniel Pegg Jr. Some Pegg descendants believe that Catharine and Daniel Pegg were divorced. This would explain the fact that Catharine Pegg married John Robins on May 15, 1778,7 several months before the death of Daniel Pegg. Additional evidence comes from the will of Catharine Pegg Robins, which she wrote on May 22, 1806. She identified herself as the widow and relict of John Robins of Amwell, but made no mention of the children of John Robins; the children and grandchildren she named belonged to her previous marriage with Daniel Pegg.

The John Robins (ii) who married Daniel Pegg’s widow had nine children by his first wife Elizabeth Taylor. By 1778, when John Robins married Catharine Pegg, at least three of his children were still minors. Daniel Pegg’s children were born from 1754 to about 1775. By 1778, when Pegg died, there were at least 3, maybe 4, children who were still minors. Some of the older children of both marriages were probably also living with the new family. This made for a large household. It would have been a logical time to make an addition to the new early houses that can be found on John Robins’ 150 acres near Buchanan’s Tavern. In both houses, the original section is a small stone one-room house, too small to accommodate a really large family.

One of the children of John Robins (ii) and Elizabeth Taylor was Jane, born about 1765, who married Amos Sutton in 1785. Amos Sutton’s family lived on land a short distance south of the Robins tract near Buchanan’s Tavern. Jane Robins and Amos Sutton were the parents of Delilah Sutton who married Archibald Buchanan. The next post in this series will describe the odd history of this family.

A Confusion of Estates

John Robins (ii) died intestate in 1802. On December 20, 1802, his widow Catherine renounced administration of his estate. One of the witnesses was John Buchanan, suggesting John and Catherine Robins lived near Buchanan’s tavern. In fact, John Buchanan made the inventory, along with William Merrill. Administration was granted to John Robins and Amos Sutton; sureties were John Buchanan and William Merrill.

Here’s the problem. A later document stated that John Robins (iii) also died in 1802, before his father did. And to make matters worse, there are no estate documents for John Robins (iii), only for John Robins (ii). So who was the John Robins who administered the estate of John Robins (ii) if his son John (iii) had predeceased him? I am baffled.

On October 27, 1803, Jonathan Robins, one of the children of John Robins (ii), applied for a division of the real estate of his father. The Commissioners to divide the real estate (Paul Kuhl, John Lequear and John Covenhoven) made their report on February 8, 1804, listing the names of the heirs. First were the grandsons and granddaughter of “sd John Robins and children of John Robins Jr. who died before his ancestor John Robins the elder.” Those children were John (iv), Joseph and Elizabeth (married to Barzilla Dunham). The rest of the children named were the children of John Robins (ii): Amos Robins, Job Robins, Jonathan Robins, Anne (wife of Samuel Vanaumer/Vanorman), Jane (wife of Amos Sutton), Mary (wife of William Smith) and Elizabeth (wife of Nathan Sutton).

Two Divisions, Two John Robins

As it turned out, the partition made on June 20, 1804 that was recorded in the Hunterdon Co. Clerk’s Office on October 16, 1804 was for a farm of about 115 acres located on Boarshead Road, bordering Jeremiah King and Joseph Thatcher, and in the possession of Amos Robins.8  John Robins (iii) was listed among the heirs to receive lots out of this partition, but was not identified as deceased.

Neither a Partition nor a Division was recorded for the tract of land near Buchanan’s Tavern. It appears that the heirs of John Robins first attempted to sell the farm in one piece. They placed an ad in a Trenton Newspaper that tells us much about what the John Robins farm was like:

“Public Vendue. To Be Sold on Thursday the 26th day of this instant, May, between the hours of two and six o’clock in the afternoon, on the premises, that Valuable Plantation, Late the property of John Robins, of the township of Amwell, in the county of Hunterdon, dec. containing one hundred and 54 acres, whereon is a stone dwelling house and a large frame barn, about twenty acres of good meadow well watered, about twenty five acres of timberland, and the remainder good arable land, with a sufficiency of water in each field and a number of good fruit trees, such as apple, peach, pear and cherry trees, &c. The plantation is adjoining lands of John Buchannan and others, about 3 miles from Flemington, and about seven from Howell’s Ferry. An indisputable title will be given and the conditions of sale made known on the day of sale, by us, whose names are hereunto subscribed. Amos Robins, John Robins, Job Robins, William Smith, Jonathan Robins, Amos Sutton.”9

As for the exact boundary of this farm, the only way we can learn of it is through deeds from the children who were given lots from the division. These lots have something in common; they nearly all were bordered on the south by George Trout. Lots No. 1 and 2 were bordered on the north by George Kuhl. By piecing the lots together, we get a tract of land running east from the intersection of Routes 523 and 579, amounting to about 150 acres.10

from U.S.G.S. Stockton, NJ - PA, 1954, revised 1970
from U.S.G.S. Stockton, NJ – PA, 1954, revised 1970

What seems really odd to me is that the heirs who benefitted from the Partition of the 155 acres on Boarshead Road were the same heirs who were given lots out of the farm near Buchanan’s Tavern. The most likely explanation is that John Robins (ii) owned both tracts when he died. But the records do not make that clear.

One of the deeds was made on April 30, 1804, in which Amos Robbins and wife Ruth sold to Elijah Carman a lot of about 29 acres bordering George Kuhl on the north, George Trout on the south, Lot 1 on the east, Lot 3 on the west. They also conveyed lot 12, which ran south of the intersection of 523 and 579, and is now the Micek field.11

Another deed, dated June 2, 1804, was made by John Robins of Amwell and wife Catharine and Barzilla Dunham and wife Elizabeth who sold to Elijah Carman a lot of 35 acres 13 perches, being Lot No. 1 bordered on the north by Geo. Kuhl, on the south by George Trout, and on the east by “an old line.” They also sold Lot 9 of 3.5 acres 35 perches in the Miceks’ field.12 In this deed, John Robins and Elizabeth Robins Dunham were identified as grandchildren of John Robins (ii) deceased, and their brother Joseph Robins was said to be a minor.

The deed from Jonathan Robins tells us more. He was the son of John Robins (ii) who petitioned for a division of the real estate. He was assigned Lots No. 4 & 9. He bought Lot No. 5, the lot assigned to his sister Jane Sutton, on May 1806, and Lot No. 3, the lot assigned to brother Job Robins, on June 8, 1807. On April 14, 1813, he sold lots 3, 4, & 5 to Isaac Huffman, who already owned property to the north of John Buchanan’s tavern lot.13 These three lots were all bordered along the south by land of George Trout. Lot No. 4 is now Raritan Twp. Block 63 lot 53, and is the location of the John Robins house of 1760, pictured below. The smaller section on the left is the original house. The larger section was probably added after 1802.

The John Robins House
The John Robins House

By far the most important of the lots for our story was the one that came into possession of Mary Robins, daughter of John Robins (ii) and Elizabeth Taylor, who was born about 1768. She married William Smith, son of Herbert Smith and Charity Deremer. On November 30, 1804, William Smith and wife Mary sold to Elisha Rittenhouse Jr. for $800 a lot of 16 acres 30 perches, which came to be known as Buchanan’s Tavern lot. The key clause in this deed (after naming the heirs of John Robins) read: “and praying for division of the farm whereon the said John Robins Lived and Died.”14

This deed is a sort of smoking gun, in that it tells us that it was John Robins Sr. (ii) who lived and died on the 333-acre tract. I had previously concluded that John Robins (ii) was living on Boarshead Road. He may have lived there at one time, and later allowed his son Amos to live there.

Original section of the Micek house, which faces south down Route 579
Original section of the Micek house, which faces south down Route 579

As for the two 18th-century houses on the John Robins farm, we have documentation of the one standing on bock 63 lot 53, and as for the Micek house on block 63 lot 71, we have support from architectural historian Dennis Bertland, who considers the original section of the house to be 18th century. Circumstantial evidence comes from a comparison of prices for the lots. The lot where the Micek house stands was sold for about $40 per acre, while Lots 1 & 2 sold for only $28.50 and $12.24 per acre. The three lots sold by Jonathan Robins to Isaac Huffman (No.’s 3, 4 & 5) sold together for $42.32 per acre, suggesting that somewhere on those three lots there were substantial improvements. 

One house must have belonged to John Robins (ii) and the other to one of his sons, John (iii), Amos or Job. Amos Robins lived on the Boarshead Road property. I have no information on what happened to Job Robins, and think it most likely that the Micek house was the home of John Robins (iii), his wife Grace, and their three children, who were born in the 1780s. Since Grace was never mentioned in the deeds following division of the farm, I assume that she died before 1802. The only problem with this theory is that in the division, the lot with the Micek house was given to Mary Smith, daughter of John Robins (ii), while the children of John Robins (iii) were given Lot No. 1. But as far as I can tell, there was no house on that lot.

Elisha Rittenhouse, Jr.

Elisha Rittenhouse (1768-1846) has a long history in Delaware Township; he was a man of some importance, with considerable real estate holdings, and an active mill. But he was not the Elisha Rittenhouse who purchased the lot of 16+ acres in 1804. That purchaser was Elisha Rittenhouse Jr., which means not necessarily a relative, but someone with the same name who happened to be younger than the better-known Elisha.

This other Elisha was the son of Lot Rittenhouse and Hannah Higgins, a family that lived near Rosemont in the 18th century. He was born about 1768/1769 (the same year as Mary Robins Smith). This younger Elisha Rittenhouse was prone to trouble. In fact, his life was something of a mess.

Mary Smith

In August 1804, one Mary Smith of Kingwood accused Elisha Rittenhouse Jr. of being the father of a male child born to her on February 2, 1804. Apparently Smith and Rittenhouse could not agree on the proper amount for child support (a term that was not used at the time), but they did agree to let arbitrators decide. The court appointed David Bishop and Nathan Price to arbitrate, but nothing further from them was recorded in the court’s minutes. Elisha Rittenhouse was defended in this suit, and in his many many other court cases, by Nathaniel Saxton. Soon after hiring Saxton, Rittenhouse pleaded that the proceedings so far had been irregular and illegal.15

Apparently this strategy did not work, for in February 1805, Elisha Rittenhouse agreed to the judgment against him, and the case was postponed. But Saxton must have come up with new arguments, because in May 1805, the court, referring to the Agreement of Aug. 8, 1804, and the award, which was dated Oct. 2, 1804, set the award aside.

Could this Mary Smith have been the same as Mary Robins, wife of William Smith, who sold the tavern lot to Elisha Rittenhouse in November 1804? It is a little mind-boggling to think so. But Mary Robins and her husband William Smith were indeed residents of Kingwood, and they had a son named Asa R. Smith, born, according to his gravestone, on February 27, 1804, died October 20, 1831.

Before we get led astray, it turns out Mrs. William Smith was not the Mary Smith who was suing Elisha Rittenhouse after all. On August 5, 1805, Elisha Rittenhouse Jr. was again in court, accused of being the father of a child of Mary Smith, whom he had promised to marry (my emphasis), but was refusing to maintain the child.”16 Since Mrs. William Smith was married by about 1797, she must be ruled out. The court awarded Mary Smith $500, and set a bail for Elisha Rittenhouse of $300.

Who the Mary Smith was who was suing Elisha Rittenhouse, I cannot say. The case was again on the calendar in October 1805, but nothing further is recorded, suggesting that either Rittenhouse paid the amount that Mary Smith demanded, or she decided not to pursue the matter further.

Elizabeth Rake

Mary Smith was not the only one to take Elisha Rittenhouse to court for child support. In August, 1806, Elizabeth Rake, by her attorney, George C. Maxwell (who happened to be the law partner of Nathaniel Saxton), sued Elisha Rittenhouse for $1000.17

It quite likely that this was the daughter of John Rake Sr. of Sand Brook. She was born about 1773, she never married, and in her later years removed to Doylestown, PA, where she died in 1834.

This case went on and on, and could involve a separate post all its own. It ended up that the court ordered the sheriff to levy on the goods & chattels of Elisha Rittenhouse in August 1808 (4 horses, 4 cows, store goods and farmers utensils), but he could not levy on the tavern lot because by that time, Rittenhouse had already lost it.

The Sale of the 16 acres and 30 perches

In a court cast of May 1808, William Smith sued for payment of the mortgage he had given to Elisha Rittenhouse; he was asking for $800, with interest from May 1805. The the Court had already ordered the sherriff to levy on the lot of 16 acres 30 perches bordering “John Bohannon,” and also on 1 horse, store goods, house furniture, valued at 50¢.18

Sale of the property was to be held on July 25, 1808 “at the house of Elisha Rittenhouse Jr.” in Amwell Township. We must stop right there. The expression “at the house of” used in early 19th century deeds nearly always meant a tavern house or inn. If in fact Elisha Rittenhouse was keeping a tavern on this lot, it is the first record of such a thing. Unfortunately, there is no record that Elisha Rittenhouse applied for a tavern license.19

No buyers came forward, so the sale was postponed to August 1, 1808, at which time George Holcombe bid $900 and the sale was made.20 The property bordered the Great road leading from John Bohanons to Trenton and in a Line of George Trout’s land, also the road leading from sd Bohanans to Flemington, and Lot No. 7 in the division of the real estate of John Robins dec’d.

What happened to Elisha Rittenhouse after this sale? I do not know. He continued to appear in the court records through 1811, and a few years longer.21 The Sheriff levied on his property more than once, and when he no longer had property to satisfy his creditors, the Sheriff levied on land belonging to his father Lot Rittenhouse and his brother John Rittenhouse. After that he disappeared from the records. I imagine his family was pretty fed up with him. Most likely he moved west, as so many young men did when things went badly for them in Hunterdon County.

George Holcombe

The George Holcombe who purchased the 16+ acres from Elisha Rittenhouse was the very same George Holcombe who was so involved in the development of Raven Rock. To learn more about him, please do a search for his name on the website. You will find that Holcombe was always ready to invest in whatever property seemed available. He apparently had no interest in running a tavern on this particular property and probably rented it out while he owned it.

On May 1, 1813, George Holcombe sold the 16+ acres to Archibald Buchanan for a whopping $3500, or over $218 per acre.22 This was considerably more than Holcombe paid for it. The deed made no mention of a tavern. One wonders if the price reflected substantial improvements to the lot after Holcombe bought it or if it was caused by wartime inflation. On the same day as the lot was sold, George Holcombe gave Archibald and Delilah Buchanan a mortgage on the property for $2625.23 Thus, the Buchanan’s were able to pay Holcombe nearly $900 outright at the time of the sale.

Archibald Buchanan and his wife Delilah Sutton deserve a post of their own, which will be the next (and I hope the last) chapter in this story.

  1. I cannot give a specific citation for this information; it is gleaned mostly from later deeds.
  2. Two Taverns, part three.
  3. I do not know if or who the daughters Ann and Hannah or the sons Cornelius and Job married.
  4. Neither of these men was John Robins, the son of Vincent Robins and Ann Kitchen, because that John Robins moved to Alexandria Township, where he was taxed as a householder in 1785, and died in 1789.
  5. “Rev. William Frazer’s Three Parishes” by Henry Race, PMHB 1888, p. 227
  6. Hunterdon Co. Mortgages, vol. 1 p. 157.
  7. Wm Frazer marriage records
  8. Partitons, vol. 1 p.27, Hunterdon Co. Clerk’s Office. Commissioners to divide this land were John Lequear, Paul Kuhl and Andrew Bearder. This was a very strange partition, since the house was divided in half between Mary Robins Smith and Amos Robins. There were 18 lots, but the partition and map do not give the total acreage.
  9. The Trenton Federalist and New-Jersey State Gazette, May 2, 1803. My deepest thanks to Dennis Bertland for sharing this little gem with me.
  10. See deeds 9-401; 9-404; 10-359; 21-186Also, lots sold by Amos and Jane Sutton to Joseph Housel in 1820, recorded in Deeds 30-660 and 661.
  11. Deed 9-401.
  12. Deed 9-404
  13. Deed 21-186.
  14. Deed 10-359; Mortgage 3-288.
  15. References to this case can be found in the Minutes of the Court of Common Pleas, vol. 17-100, 124, 141, 150, 193, 206, 237.
  16. Hunterdon Co., Miscellaneous Court Records, Affidavit 701; cited in D’Autrechy, More Records of Old Hunterdon Co., vol. 2 p. 198. The Bastardy cases cited by D’Autrechy in her book were only the cases for which there were manuscript court documents in the County Archives. She did not include cases that appeared in the minutes of the Court of Common Pleas.
  17. References to Elizabeth Rake are found in Common Pleas Minutes vol. 17-326, 354, 360, 410; vol. 18-007, 012, 113, 118, 155, 162, 184, 194, 208, 266, 371, 374, 404, 472, 494.
  18. CPM 18-081, 092
  19. This is not to say he did not apply, just that there is no application on file at the state archives or the county archives or in the minutes of the Court of Common Pleas.
  20. Deed 20-113
  21. I stopped when I came to the end of Vol. 18, where most of the entries were, but there were a few more in subsequent volumes.
  22. Deed Bk 21 p. 147
  23. Mortgage vol. 5 p. 368