And he probably didn’t visit either. But the notion that he spent a leisurely afternoon drinking fresh water under a shady tree in the company of John Opdycke just won’t go away. It probably never will.
Awhile back I tried to put this idea to rest with a post describing how the idea got started (you can read it here). To no avail. In the latest issue of Delaware Township’s “The Bridge,” Jim Drummond has written a nice article on John Opdycke, one of the most important people in our township’s early history. But part of that article can only be described as wishful thinking.
First, Jim stated that there is “strong documentary evidence” that George Washington “did indeed ‘headquarter’ in Delaware township for a short time.” In fact, there is no documentary evidence that he did. So far, the only evidence found is the reminiscences of the granddaughter of John Opdycke, an old lady who was flattered with the attentions of Charles W. Opdyke, author of The Op Dyke Genealogy.
As far as I can tell, she wasn’t even around during the late 1770s, and must have been relating a story she heard from someone else. A charming story, but so far, just that and nothing more.
As part of my research into this question, I checked with Frank Gizzard, Associate Editor of the Papers of George Washington, to see if there is any mention of Washington’s stopping in or near Delaware Twp. (then part of Amwell Twp.) either in December 1776 or in July 1777 or in 1780 on the way to Monmouth, or any other time he traversed the state. He found nothing. Nothing appears in Washington’s diaries or papers to suggest he came anywhere near Opdycke’s residence. The closest he seems to have come is an encampment at Mt. Airy, a visit with Richard Holcombe in Lambertville, and the crossing at Coryell’s Ferry.
Another problem I have with Jim’s article is the lack of records pertaining to John Opdycke’s service during the Revolution. At that time he was a 66-year-old Justice of the Peace. He was not likely to go off to serve with either the Amwell militia or the Continental Army. Whatever service he provided was done in his capacity as Justice of the Peace. Opdycke was not listed in William Stryker’s Index of Revolutionary War veterans, perhaps because he died in 1777. Charles W. Opdyke, author of The Op Dyke Genealogy, was eager to promote his Revolutionary War ancestors as fervent patriots in the Revolutionary cause—a little too eager to check on the stories he was told.
Another observation taken from The Op Dyke Genealogy is that John Opdycke built four stone houses and mills which he bequeathed to his four sons. That is not exactly true either.
Opdycke can certainly take credit for the mill in Headquarters,which may have been intended for his son, John Opdycke Jr. But John Jr. died an untimely death, in 1773, at the age of 20. So the Headquarters mill was sold to someone outside the family. John’s son Thomas came into possession for a brief time several years after John Sr.’s death.
The mill on the Wickecheoke that was later owned by John Opdycke’s son Samuel was first run by a man from Pennsylvania named Edward Milnor, in the 1740s. I learned this while researching the miller’s house across the road many years ago.
The mill on Old Mill Road was first built by William Rittenhouse in the 1720s or 1730s, making it about as old as the Opdycke mill in Headquarters. He bequeathed it to his son Peter in 1761, who bequeathed it to his son Elisha in 1791, who sold it in a property exchange to John Opdycke’s son Thomas Opdycke in 1801.
Jim wrote that John Opdycke’s son George “had the house and mill at Milltown,” but research done on that property by Egbert T. Bush failed to turn up the name of George Opdycke, or his father John. Snell’s History of Hunterdon does not identify George Opdycke as the miller of Milltown either. George Opdycke did live nearby, however. He bordered John Snyder, the miller of Milltown, in 1774, and also Federal Twist Road when it was put through in 1775. But there is no mention of a mill in his estate records.
It just goes to show–we should enjoy the old stories, but we should also take them with a grain of salt.
A friend asked me to consider when it would have been possible for Washington to meet up with John Opdycke. I decided to answer him here, since my researches have turned up the possibility of a meeting.
It is highly unlikely that a meeting would have taken place in December 1776 when Washington and his army were racing across the state to escape the British. Washington left New Brunswick on December 1st and arrived at Trenton the next day. By December 8th the entire army had been moved to the Pennsylvania side of the river. It seems doubtful that Washington would have taken time out from this major maneuver just to visit an old patriot in an out-of-the-way village.
But it might have happened in July 1777. John Opdycke died on August 10, 1777, so the meeting would have had to take place before then. As it happens, Washington and his army did cross the state between July 23rd and July 29th, 1777. Once again, they were moving pretty quickly because Washington needed to be in position to defend Philadelphia if Howe decided to sail up the Delaware River. The question is, exactly where was Washington during those days?
According to Frank Gizzard, whom I mentioned above, Washington was in Morristown on July 27th. On the next day he was four miles east of Flemington when he wrote a letter. The day after that, on July 29th, he was at Coryell’s Ferry. I expect that Washington spent the night of the 28th at the home of Richard Holcombe in today’s Lambertville. So we’ve narrowed it down to the afternoon of July 28th.
John Opdycke probably had health problems the previous spring, for he wrote his will on April 11, 1777. Only two weeks after Washington’s passage through Amwell, John Opdycke died. If he did have the honor to meet the General on July 28th, it must have made Opdycke’s end a little easier. But until we have a specific reference to Opdycke on that date in Washington’s papers, or any other original record, we can never be sure if the meeting took place.