Modified from part of an article first published in The Delaware Township Post, July 21, 2006, as “A History of Headquarters Mill.”
John Opdycke sold Headquarters Mill to Joseph Howell in 1763, at the end of the French and Indian War. This was probably a shrewd decision on Opdycke’s part, since demand for flour would certainly drop off with the end of the war.
Joseph Howell (born about 1715) was the son of Daniel and Mary Reading Howell, and grandson of John Reading, one of the first settlers in Amwell Township. In 1733, Daniel Howell bequeathed to sons Joseph and Benjamin a “copper furnace,” together with
“the remaining part of the plantacon whereon I [Daniel Howell] now dwell with the buildings improvements and advantages thereunto belonging to be divided between them share and share alike . . . as tenants in common, not joint tenants.”
In 1749, Joseph Howell confirmed by a deed from his father’s executor, John Reading Jr., his ownership of a 250-acre farm near Howell’s Ferry (Prallsville/Stockton) that had been part of his father Daniel Howell’s estate. Joseph Howell owned this farm until he was 45 years old. He sold the farm in 1761 to George Ely [HCDd 2-039].
Not long afterward, he bought the Opdycke Mill property, and apparently mortgaged it to Thomas Pryor. But milling was not as lucrative as he hoped, and soon he was taken to court for debts unpaid. The mill property was sold at public auction by the Hunterdon County Sheriff. He advertised the sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette, and described the property thus:
“148 Acres of Land, situated in Amwell, noted for the best Wheat Land in the Province, bounded by Lands of John Opdike [sic], Richard Kitchen, . . . on which is a large Stone House, two Stories high, four Rooms on a Floor, a large Entry through the House, with Cellars underneath the whole; also two Overshot Grist-mills, supplied by Water from living Springs, a good Barn, Stable, Cowhouse, Milk-house, a fine young Orchard, an excellent Piece of Clover Meadow in front of the Dwelling-house which may be watered by the Water from the Mills in the driest Seasons; there is also a Frame House on the said Lands.”
Along with the mill property, the Sheriff sold the personal belongings of Joseph Howell, including beds, furniture, livestock “and sundry other Things too tedious to mention here.” It’s hard to imagine how Howell managed to cope without these very basic possessions. It appears that he did not cope well, for he died the next year, at about age 55, probably broken-hearted and still in debt. I do not know if he had children; his wife’s name is said to have been Priscilla.
I have not yet gotten a copy of Howell’s estate records, but will update this post as soon as I do.
The new owner of the mill property was Benjamin Tyson, who purchased it on May 1, 1765. Some writers have confused the Headquarters mill with the one located on the Wickecheoke Creek. They were both at one time known as “Opdycke’s Mill,” but only up to 1763. The mill at Headquarters was known as Tyson’s Mill from 1765 to 1790. The earliest record available of Benjamin Tyson is his mortgage of the mill lot and two other lots in 1768. In 1770, “Tyson’s Mill” appears in the survey of the Sandbrook-Headquarters Road. Tyson’s Mill was a landmark. The Sergeantsville-Rosemont Road was often described in old records as “the road from Tyson’s Mill [Headquarters] to Opdycke’s Mill [at the Covered Bridge].”
Benjamin Tyson’s family background remains a mystery. There were many Tysons living in Monmouth County at this time, and there may be a family connection there. I have also wondered about his wife, Elizabeth, whose maiden name is unknown. Did she also come from Monmouth County? She and Benjamin may have had a son Jonas, born about 1760, before they came to Amwell.
Unfortunately Tyson was not able to weather the financial storms that accompanied the Revolution, and had to mortgage his three lots a second time in 1776. He was frequently sued for debt between 1775 and 1796. In 1780 Tyson was taxed on 148 acres, 7 horses, 3 cows, a saw mill and a gristmill. The gristmill was the existing building near the house, and the sawmill might have been the ruined stone structure that stands by the Creek about 150 yards east of the gristmill, although it may later have been used as a distillery. The remains of the building show remarkably fine stonework, more than likely the work of John Opdycke.
According to Fanny Carrell, during the Revolution,
“The neighborhood [of Headquarters] was full of scouts and at one time British and American troops were within three miles of each other there. The miller, who leased John Opdycke’s mill, carted flour and kegs of powder concealed in the flour-barrels to the British, driving six horses tandem. John [Opdycke] suspected him, discovered him starting during the night, summoned the neighbors and had him arrested and court-martialled; the miller was imprisoned, heavily fined, and died a poor man, in universal contempt in his old age” [Opdyke Genealogy, pg. 219].
Was she talking about Benjamin Tyson? Tyson did not lease the mill—he owned it. There has been no indication that Tyson leased his mill, and I have not found a record of Tyson’s “court-martial,” but it is true that Tyson died impoverished. This was not uncommon for millers in 18th-century Hunterdon. Tyson’s name does not appear in the records of Loyalists, so we cannot be certain that he was the man that John Opdycke “had arrested.” Like so much else in the Opdyke Genealogy, we are left with tantalizing questions.
In 1786, Tyson was sued for debt by Franklin Gordon, executor of the will of his father Thomas Gordon, in the N.J. Supreme Court [#14806]. In 1787, Tyson was again sued for debt by Franklin’s brother, Agesilaus Gordon (son-in-law of John Opdycke, Esq. and also rumored to have had Tory sympathies) [#14767]. Tyson was obliged to sell two of his lots. The purchaser was Gabriel Covenhoven [WJP Deed Book AO pg 345].
But things continued to get worse, until finally in 1790 the mill lot (reduced from 46 acres to 26 acres) was auctioned at a Sheriff’s sale and purchased by Thomas Opdycke (1756-1805), son of John Opdycke, Esq. A deed confirming this and conveying the dower right of Benjamin’s wife Elizabeth Tyson to Opdycke for 5 shillings is dated April 29, 1790 [HCDd Bk 1 pg 405]. The same day, Opdycke conveyed to Tyson a 107-acre farm taken from the southern part of the old John Opdycke farm of 260 acres. I am a little surprised at this, and it makes me suspect that there might have been a family connection between the Tysons and the Opdyckes. Otherwise, Thomas Opdycke could have let the Tysons struggle on as best they could. In 1790, Benjamin Tyson was only about 50 years old, too young to just retire.
The same day that these transactions took place, Tyson and Opdycke mortgaged their new properties to John Prall, who would soon become proprietor of the mill at Prallsville. He had already become wealthy enough to act as a local banker.
In 1792, Thomas Opdycke sued Benjamin Tyson in the New Jersey Supreme Court for “trespass and ejectment” [#28915]. I have not yet looked up this case, but suspect it was related to Tyson’s inability to pay debts owing to Opdycke. Perhaps the swap of the mill property with the 107-acre farm was not an even one.
Benjamin Tyson died in 1807 without writing a will and left a meager estate. What remained of his real estate, a farm of 94 acres, was sold under order of the Orphan’s Court to satisfy remaining debts. It is not known when his wife Elizabeth died, but it was after 1808, when Jacob Holcombe paid Dr. John Bowne for treating Elizabeth Tyson. Jacob Holcombe was administrator of Benjamin Tyson’s estate and probably father-in-law of Tyson’s son Jonas (c.1760-c.1785), who married Mary Holcombe about 1780, and died not long after. Following the sale of the Tyson farm, there remained to his heirs a balance of $764.93, according to the account filed by Jacob Holcombe.
As for the mill, the next owner proved to be just as unfortunate as Joseph Howell and Benjamin Tyson.
Be sure to visit “Historians Revisited” on this website
for articles on Headquarters by Egbert T. Bush and Jonathan M. Hoppock.