Who Collected The Boats?

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze

I must begin by congratulating all those who worked so hard to save the Christopher Vought house in Clinton Township. The building is a living reminder of the passions that so profoundly moved Americans of all persuasions during the Revolutionary War. To lose that building would have been a tragic loss through demolition by neglect.

I learned of this happy occurrence through an article on NJ.com in which some of the history related to the house is recounted. As has often happened before, credit is given to Thomas Jones, innkeeper of Clinton, for helping to collect the boats that Washington needed to transport his army across the Delaware River in December 1776. Once again, I must rise to the defense of Capt. David Johnes of Amwell, who is probably the real Jones who worked with Daniel Bray to collect those boats.

Correction, 8/20/16:  I have since learned that David Johnes, Captain of the Amwell militia, was not involved in collecting the boats. It was Thomas Jones after all. For my complete retraction, please visit: Who Collected the Boats?

Back in 2009, I wrote an article complimenting Grace Bennet, a Delaware Township eighth grader, for her essay on the crossing of the Delaware. She too gave credit to Thomas Jones of Clinton, not realizing that the credit belonged to a fellow resident of Delaware Township. Here is part of my essay on that subject, as published in the Delaware Post:

At the end of her essay, Grace included a bibilographic note that referred to a poem by Joseph Folsom titled “The Ballad of Daniel Bray.” I had never seen the poem before, so I took advantage of Google Scholar to look it up. It was taken from a book titled Patriotic Poems of New Jersey, compiled by William C. Armstrong in 1906. For Delaware Township residents, it is an entertaining poem to read because of the many references to local places. There is, for instance, the first stanza–

“The Delaware, with stately sweep,
Flows seaward as when armies fought:
But they who struck for freedom sleep
Beneath the soil their valor bought.
At Rosemont, inland Daniel Bray,
In lonely grave, with rest hard won
Waits for his country’s voice to say:
“He brought the boats to Washington.”

As you can see, the poem is written in the stately, sing-song cadence of 19th century poetry. Corny, but sweet. After a messenger wakes Bray in the night, he races from his Kingwood home to meet Washington in Lambertville–

Down Stony Batter Hill they sped,
Across Duck’s Flat; then up the slopes
To Rittenhouse (where sleep the dead)
Their coursers climbed with steadier lopes;
The ten-mile creek is left behind,
Gilboa’s slant is swiftly run;
At Coryell’s the inn they find,
And waiting them, great Washington.

Duck’s Flat is the area between Strimples Mill Road and Sanford Road. The dead that sleep at ‘Rittenhouse’ are in the Rosemont Cemetery.

Addendum, 8/20/19:  “Rittenhouse” was the name used for Rosemont up until the 1850s when the name Rosemont came into use. Before then it was identified by the name of the tavern at the main intersection, the Rittenhouse tavern.

The ten-mile creek is the Wickecheoke, and Gilboa is the hill overlooking the Trap Rock Quarry. Finally, Coryell’s inn was in Lambertville. As we all know, Washington ordered Bray to secure enough boats to get his army across the Delaware. For this, Bray needed help, and this is where I have a problem. The poem reads:

“Ere gray dawn paled o’er Hunterdon,
He ranged a circuit twelve miles wide,
For brave Gearheart of Flemington,
And Johnes of Amwell countryside [my emphasis].
To foil the Tory’s cunningness
With squads in hunter’s garb uncouth,
They pierced the Jersey wilderness,
From Ringoes to the Lehigh’s mouth.”

As Grace wrote in her essay, Bray was assisted in his task by Captains Jacob Gearheart and Thomas Jones. Perhaps she got the name Thomas Jones from the postscript written by the book’s compiler, Mr. Armstrong. He wrote:

“Associated with Capt. Bray in this undertaking were Capt. Jacob Gearhart and Adj. Thomas Johnes; these three met at Baptistown, about three miles inland, to make their plans . . .”

Although the spellings of Jones and Johnes were used somewhat interchangeably in the 18th century, Thomas, who was an innkeeper at Clinton, usually spelled his name Jones. I think Mr. Folsom, the poet, had someone else in mind, namely David Johnes, not Thomas. As you can see from the highlighted portion of the poem, Mr. Folsom thought it was Johnes of Amwell, and I agree with him. To Grace and everyone else who loves Delaware Township (which once was a part of Amwell), we have a special reason to be proud, for it was our own Capt. David Johnes who helped Bray collect the boats that critical evening in 1776.

Correction, 8/20/16: Just to be clear, I was mistaken about David Johnes’ role in collecting the boats. It was in fact Capt. Thomas Jones.

David Johnes lived near Headquarters on a farm accessed from Bowne Station Road. He was a captain in the Amwell militia who actively recruited members for the militia from an inn at the intersection of Route 604 and Lambertville-Headquarters Road. I believe that is how the area came to be known as Headquarters. The inn was called the White Hall, a large stone house that has since been demolished. It stood on the southwest corner of the intersection.

David Johnes was born on July 15, 1746 in Lawrenceville (then known as Maidenhead) Twp. and married Deborah Phillips about 1765. He probably acquired his large farm near Headquarters soon after marrying. David and Deborah had 14 children.

When the war came, David volunteered and was well-known to Daniel Bray (who did not become a general until after the war). Even though historians like George S. Mott and William S. Stryker have written that Thomas Jones was the one who assisted Bray, it was Daniel Bray’s own grandson, Stacy B. Bray, who wrote that it was really David Johnes. He wrote that after meeting with Washington, Bray first rode four miles inland to the home of Capt. David Johnes, and from there to Flemington where he roused up Capt. Gearhart.

Addendum, 8/20/16:  Stacey B. Bray was relying on an affidavit made by John Clifford in 1838 on behalf of his grandmother, Mary Bray’s, application for a widow’s pension. Clifford made the error of naming David Jones rather than Thomas Jones.

Unfortunately, David H. Fischer in his book Washington’s Crossing, also wrote that it was Thomas Jones who collected the boats. His source was Maj. James Wilkinson’s Memoirs of My Own Time (Vol. 1 pg 128), published in 1816.The early date makes this an important source, but I am not convinced, especially since Wilkinson was the one who conspired with Aaron Burr to set up an empire along the Mississippi, but that’s another story.

Addendum, 8/20/16:  I still think Wilkinson is unreliable, but he was right about Thomas Jones.

David Johnes lived on in Delaware Township for many years, long enough to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. He died on Dec. 26, 1828 at the age of 82, and is buried in the Mount Airy Presbyterian Cemetery, next to his wife.

No one should think less of Capt. Thomas Jones of Clinton. He too was a patriot and suffered greatly at the hands of a Tory mob that attacked his home at night. You can read more about that incident in Phyllis D’Autrechay’s Some Records of Old Hunterdon, 1701-1838.

That is the end of my article in the Delaware Township Post. I would like to add that I am perfectly willing to consider any evidence that anyone can present to show that it was Thomas Jones after all, and not David Johnes who worked with Capt. Bray in 1776. Also, under Historians Revisited, I have posted a very interesting article that Jonathan M. Hoppock wrote about David Johnes.