In 1878 when the bridge on Raven Rock Road was built, the Freeholder Director of Hunterdon County was Joseph H. Boozer of Lambertville. He was one of the six freeholders who were charged with overseeing construction of the bridge spanning the Lockatong Creek. With such an unusual name, he certainly stands out, and I could not resist the urge to learn about him and his family.
Joseph Boozer & Rachel Fenimore
I have not identified Joseph Boozer’s English ancestors. It is hard to say when the name came into use. The word ‘booze’ goes back to the Middle Ages as a Dutch or English term for drinking intoxicating beverages. The name could also derive from several locations in Essex, England. But the use of boozer as a name for a heavy drinker does not show up until the early 19th century, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (in 1819 and 1835). As a family name, it was in use long before that. I doubt that the name would be kept if it actually branded people as heavy drinkers. But despite its negative connotation, the name is still in use today.
Joseph Boozer was born about 1780 or 1785; he may have emigrated to America around 1800, arriving in Burlington County. There he met and married Rachel Fenimore (1782-1870) and had at least two children: William, born about 1805, and James, born about 1810. Both children moved north from Burlington County when they became adults. Locating records for Joseph Boozer Sr. is not easy. There was a Joseph Boozer who died during the War of 1812, specifically on December 31, 1814 at French Mills, New York. I have not found evidence to confirm it was the same Joseph who married Rachel Fenimore.
She is thought to be the daughter of Jonathan Fenimore (1756-1829) and Mrs. Sarah Watson (birth name not known), which makes her the great great granddaughter of one of the original settler families in West New Jersey: Richard Fenimore (1632-1713) and wife Mary Shinn.1 I could not find any definite record of the death or burial of Joseph Boozer. Rachel Fenimore died March 5, 1870, in Burlington, NJ. Her death record identified her as the wife of Joseph Boozer, suggesting that she was not a widow.
William Fenimore Boozer & Susan Pittenger Maxwell
William Fenimore Boozer was probably born in Burlington County where his parents are known to have been living. He was the oldest son of Joseph Boozer and Rachel Fenimore, and was born on Oct. 10, 1805. On October 11, 1827, in Hunterdon County, William Boozer married Susan Pittenger Maxwell (c.1804 – 1867), daughter of George Maxwell Esq. (~1774-1834) and Naomi (~1780-1826). Their children were: 1) Henrietta Boozer (1835-1914); 2) Hon. Joseph H. Boozer (~1836-1887); 3) Charles M. Boozer (~1837- ?); and 4) Mary H. Boozer (~1846- ?).
William F. Boozer must have come to Hunterdon County before his marriage in 1827. It would have taken some time to become acquainted with and acceptable to the Maxwell family, an important one in the Flemington area. George Maxwell had served in the Assembly (1819-1822), and was Chosen Freeholder for Alexandria Twp. in 1823. That same year he served as County Surrogate. And in 1827-29 he served on the Governor’s Council, representing Hunterdon. He was elected to that position one week after his daughter Susan’s marriage to William Boozer.
I do not know the occupation of Wm. Boozer’s father Joseph. Perhaps it involved a pottery, for that is the line of work that William took up. The first notice of him in the Hunterdon newspapers was an announcement in the April 1, 1835 edition of the Hunterdon Gazette:
Lambertville Pottery. The subscriber having established the Potting Business in Lambertville, takes this method of informing the public that he has now on hand for sale a general assortment of EARTHENWARE of a superior quality, such as Pots, Milk Pans, Pitchers, Jugs, and every other article in his line of business, cheap for Cash, or Country Produce. Merchants and others, wishing to purchase, are requested to call and examine for themselves. Orders thankfully received and carefully attended to. William Boozer.
Note that William Boozer had established his pottery business shortly after the D&R Canal was opened in 1834. Lambertville was booming at the time, so it made sense to open a shop there. Exactly where he was in 1830, I cannot say, since I failed to locate him in the census records. Since his sons Joseph and Charles later claimed they were born in Pennsylvania, it is possible that while Boozer had his pottery business in Lambertville, he was living across the river in Pennsylvania.
By 1840, the family was relocated to Hillsborough Township, where William Boozer was engaged in manufactures. It appears that his brother James came with him, or else William hired a laborer to work in his pottery.
The 1850 census presents something of a challenge. I did not find an entry for William Boozer, but I did find his wife Susan “Boozar” age 43 living in Hillsborough Township with “William F. Brown 44, school teacher, with property worth $360.2 The following Boozars were living with William Brown and Susan Boozar: George M. 22 (1829) pottery baker, Joseph H. 17 (1833), Henrietta A. 15, Charles M. 13, and Mary Frances 4. Also in the household was Jonathan F. Frances 35 hatter, probably a tenant. Despite the statements made by Joseph and Charles Boozer when they were adults, that they had been born in Pennsylvania, all members of the 1850 household were born in New Jersey.
Could this Wm. F. “Brown” actually be William Boozer? The writing clearly shows ‘Brown’ and ‘Boozar’ But the similarity of names and ages makes me wonder if perhaps William Boozer had changed his name temporarily. The 1850 census does not include relationships, or marital status, leaving us to guess. Given that son George was working as a “pottery baker,” it seems pretty certain we have the right family.
By 1860, William F. Boozer had reappeared under that name in Hillsborough when the census was taken. He was a 52-year-old potter with property worth $1000, and personal property worth $400. With him was wife Susan age 52; also Charles N. Boozer 23, laborer, and Mary H. Boozer 14.3
Susan Pittenger Maxwell Boozer died on June 7, 1867 at the age of 63 in Newark, NJ.4 Her husband William survived her by several years. On June 2, 1880, he was living in Trenton with his daughter, Henrietta Boozer Barker, and identified as William F. Boozer, age 74, widower, potter.5 Only about 5 months later, William F. Boozer died, on Oct. 28, 1880, age 75.
Daughter Henrietta Boozer, born Dec. 4, 1835, married Milton Baker (1833-1907), and died in 1914. Charles Boozer, Henrietta’s brother, was born about 1838, and was living with his family in Hillsborough in 1860, when he was a 23-year-old laborer. By 1880 he had moved to Philadelphia, where he worked as a “dish peddler,” possibly selling the merchandise produced by his father the potter. He was married to Mary Elizabeth Wyckoff, daughter of James and Charlotte Voorhees Wyckoff, and had three children. William and Susan Boozer also had a daughter Mary, but I do not know what became of her after 1860.
Hon. Joseph H. Boozer
Joseph H. Boozer’s first appearance in the records was in the Hillsborough twp. 1850 census, when he was 17 years old, living with his mother Susan Boozer and possibly his father William F. Brown. He was born in Pennsylvania, but his parents were born in New Jersey. By 1860, Boozer was 26 years old, living in Lambertville in the household of Philip H. & Caroline Williamson, and working as a clerk.6
During the Civil War, Boozer attended the Great Union Convention held on Oct 17, 1861 in Flemington.7 He was present in 1862 when a “Meeting of Citizens” was held at the Court House in Flemington regarding the Civil War, and Boozer was named to an executive committee.8 Boozer was on the list of draftees in 1863 and 1865, but did not serve in the military. Instead, he was elected Clerk of Lambertville from 1864 to 1867.
Apparently, Boozer inspired confidence. In April 1868, he was elected Mayor of Lambertville, and elected every year thereafter through 1871. By 1870, Boozer was 34 years old and probably working in his uncle’s hardware store. He was still single, and, like his uncle, would remain single the rest of his life. (A biography of James Fenimore Boozer, uncle of Joseph H. will follow, below.)
Boozer finished off his career as Mayor by shepherding the borough through the process of establishing Lambertville as a city, which became official in March 1872. The next month a new mayor was chosen in an at-large election—Richard McDowell. I doubt that the citizens were dissatisfied with Boozer, but rather that Boozer had served for long enough and wanted a break.9
Boozer did not stay retired for long. It appears that he had caught the politics bug, and in April 1875, he was elected Freeholder for Lambertville. He was elected again in 1876, and was named assistant freeholder director. That year he was also listed as one of the Democratic candidates for State Senator, although he did not win that election.
In 1877, Joseph H. Boozer was again elected Freeholder, and was elected to the City Council from the second ward. This was a busy year for Boozer, for he also became vice-president of the newly-formed Delaware Valley Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Agricultural Society, to which he was re-elected the following year, and in 1879 and 1880.
On April 26, 1877, it was reported that Boozer was named to a freeholder committee to study the need for a bridge at Rockafellow and Ent’s Mills. And in August the committee offered for sale the covered bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River, near Chamberlain’s Mills, in preparation for construction of a new bridge at that location.
In 1878, Boozer was re-elected to the Lambertville Common Council, and was named to served on a freeholders’ committee to examine poorhouses in other counties. He was one of the first officers elected to the “The St. Elmo Commandery of Knights Templar,” a Lambertville men’s club. And finally, as Freeholder Director, he got his name on the cast iron sign that was erected over the newly-built metal truss bridge over the Lockatong Creek on the Rosemont-Raven Rock Road.
In 1879, Joseph H. Boozer retired from the Freeholders’ Board and from the Lambertville Common Council. It was not unusual for elected officials to serve for only a year or two in those days, so this was no particular reflection on him. In the 1880 census, Boozer was 44, single and a hardware merchant, living in the household of Henry Mathews at 16 Coryell Street.
Sometime after 1880, Joseph H. Boozer moved to Trenton. Perhaps he moved to the same residence as his uncle James F. Boozer, who had to retire from the hardware business due to illness. Joseph H. Boozer was listed in the Trenton City Directory in 1893 and 1894, first as a rubber worker, and then as a clerk. Sadly, by 1910, he was living in the Trenton almshouse, age 77. Like his uncle, he must have exhausted his financial resources by that time. I have not found a record of his death, but it probably took place not long after the census of 1910. Unlike his uncle James, he was not buried in the Mount Hope Cemetery in Lambertville.10
James Fenimore Boozer
I would like to backtrack a bit here, and say something about the life of Joseph H. Boozer’s uncle, James Fenimore Boozer (c.1810- Sept. 5, 1887).
Like his brother William Boozer, he probably was born in Burlington County, and also like him, he came to Lambertville probably in the 1830s, although I did not find him in the census records before 1860.
The earliest record I have of him comes from a notice in the Hunterdon Gazette for July 15, 1857, in which A. T. and T. D. Schenck advertised their harness & saddle shop opposite Boozer’s Hardware Store in Union St., Lambertville. And later that year, J. Fenimore Boozer was listed as a petit juror. In 1858, during that year’s agricultural fair, J. F. Boozer won the best display of hardware and edge tools; also best manure forks, hay forks, and square pointed shovels. He repeated this in 1859, and also won the best display of broad and picking axes, manure forks, hay forks, and square pointed shovels. Such displays would never show up in agricultural fairs today.
In the 1860 census for Lambertville, J. F. Boozer, age 49, merchant, born in Pennsylvania, was listed with $8,000 worth of real estate and $10,000 of personal property. It appears his hardware store was thriving. Boozer was a single man, living in the household of Jane Vanhorn (age 59), probably as her tenant. Another tenant of hers was J. H. Studdiford, physician, age 27.11
Like his nephew, J. F. Boozer dabbled in politics. He was named a delegate to the NJ Democratic convention in 1860. Boozer drops from sight during the Civil War, but in 1864 he was back at the county fair, this time as a judge of manufactured articles. During the later years of that decade (1865, 66, 67 and 69), James F. Boozer was listed among Hunterdon taxpayers. In 1865, J. Fenimore Boozer was taxed $25.57 on income of $511.42, and an additional $10 as a “retail dealer.” He was also taxed on a carriage and a watch, while J. H. Boozer was only taxed on a watch.12 This leads me to conclude that Joseph H. Boozer was employed in his uncle’s hardware store.
By 1870, J. Fenimore Boozer was still in the hardware business. (The census listed him as “John F. Boozer.) He was living in a hotel owned by Amos Moore, and had real estate of his own worth $9,000 and personal property worth $4,000. In 1876, when the Centennial was being celebrated, James F. Boozer signed up to help organize the Fourth of July celebration in Flemington.
Here is what makes James Fenimore Boozer a notable character. Around about 1860, he began a Christmas tradition of giving gifts to any child who showed up at his store on Christmas morning. We know this because a story about him published in January 1878 stated he had been doing this for 17 years. A notice of 1873 said that Boozer “has long been known as the children’s friend.” That year he might have set a record; the paper reported he had given gifts to 1260 children. Each package contained “nuts, candies, raisins and cakes, and a new two cent piece.” Boozer used up “seven bushels of peanuts, fifty pounds of candy, one hundred and fifty pounds of raisins, and ninety pounds of cake.”13
As mentioned, his gift-giving for December 1877 was reported on in the Hunterdon Republican:
“On Christmas morning, J. Fennimore Boozer, of Lambertville, made his 17th annual gift offering to the children of that city and vicinity. 1,450 children, called on him and received each a present of a bag containing 2 new pennies, cakes, nuts and candies. He apparently derives as much happiness from the event as the children do.”14
According to the Lambertville Beacon, Boozer would install a model ship in the window of his hardware store three weeks before Christmas, and fill it with pennies dated for the coming year. On Christmas morning, his door would open at 9:00 a.m., and children would file in under a banner than read “Merry Christmas – Obey Your Parents.”15
Another example of J. F. Boozer’s benevolence towards Lambertville children, is the Boozer’s Cadets. These were boys that Boozer organized and had them trained in drill exercises by a veteran of the Civil War. In 1880, at the fourth annual Delaware Valley Farmer’s and Mechanics Agricultural Society fair, “twelve of Boozer’s Cadets gave an exhibition drill.”16 In 1881, invitations went out for the “Boozer Cadets, Budget of Fun” night entertainment with music and skits, to be held on March 1, 1881 at Lyceum Hall. Also sent out was an invitation to the “Boozer Cadets complimentary Dress Drill and Reception.”17 The Lambertville Historical Society has a photograph of several boys wearing uniforms of the Union Army, holding guns and drums. It was taken in front of “Boozer’s Hardware House.”18
In the Lambertville census of 1880, Boozer was 67 years old, a hardware merchant boarding at the hotel of George R. Gaddis at 32 Bridge Street. Once again he stated that he was born in Pennsylvania and his parents were born in New Jersey. 1880 was the only year in the 19th century when people were asked to state if they had any serious health problems. Mr. Boozer certainly did—he was “suffering from cancer.” By this time it was so serious that it brought an end to Boozer’s Christmas tradition. In 1882, this notice appeared:
“J. Fenimore Boozer, of Lambertville, who has distributed gifts to the children on Christmas, for many years, did not observe the usual custom this past Christmas Season, owing to ill health. “Uncle Fenny,” as the children called him, has for twenty years made Christmas gifts to the children of Lambertville and vicinity, and he will be gratefully remembered by hundreds of this generation. His fame has spread throughout the State.” 19
By 1884, Boozer was no longer able to carry on his business. His illness was getting worse and he had gone into debt. Without an income, and no savings left, he was forced to leave the town he loved and move in with relatives living in Trenton. Boozer’s sister Henrietta Baker was living there with her family in 1880 along with their elderly father. Despite his absence, he was not forgotten by all those children he had delighted for so many years, as this news item demonstrates:
“J. Fennimore Boozer, for many years a resident of Lambertville, where he was known as the “Children’s Friend,” recently moved to Trenton to be with relatives due to his failing health. On Decoration Day, the children of Lambertville got up a collection and sent a gift of $100 to him. He sent a thank you which in part was, “Words cannot express my feelings on this occasion; nor my thanks for such a sympathetic remembrance. I love my old home and its generous hearted citizens. The children of Lambertville are dear to me. All I can say, I thank you all, especially the children and the grandest monument I ask is that I may be cherished in your memory.”20
On November 17, 1884, J. F. Boozer’s Lambertville property was auctioned off at a Sheriff’s sale.
The brick hall at the corner of Union and Coryell Streets, was purchased by the Lambertville National Bank for $4,000 and the 2 dwelling houses on Coryell Street at $1,300. The Grain House on Clinton Street, was purchased by the Stryker Estate for $500.”21
Shortly afterward, Stephen B. Hill, “formerly of Flemington,” and lately running a hardware business in Stockton, advertised that he would run the same kind of store in the old Boozer location. The paper noted that Hill was “thoroughly posted in the business and is also a genial gentleman.”22
In December 1886, Boozer was once again remembered with fondness:
“J. Fenimore Boozer, long known in Lambertville, as the “Children’s Friend,” but who for the past few years has been residing in Trenton, a severe sufferer with a cancerous sore on his face, was made the recipient of a Christmas present. A purse of $65.85, which was contributed by those in Lambertville (mostly young people) who had not forgotten “Uncle Fenny’s” great generosity to the little ones in years past. James Gregg, who was the father of the movement, Joseph N. Hazen, Walter Williamson and Frank Lewis, were the collectors of the contributions. He was very grateful to know that he is favorably remembered in the city where he lived for so many years.”23
Finally, on September 5, 1887, James Fenimore Boozer died at the age of 77 in Trenton. His obituary read: “―Uncle Fenny Boozer is dead! The genial children-loving old bachelor, who for so many years had made happy the children of this town by his kindness and his presents!”24 I’m sure there were many sad faces in Lambertville when Uncle Fenny was laid to rest in the Mount Hope Cemetery.
Correction, 9/6/14: I had originally written ‘bread’ axe, based on someone else’s transcription. A reader quickly figured out the mistake.
- I did not find any mention of the Fenimore family in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy. ↩
- U.S. Federal Census, Hillsborough, Somerset, NJ, family #224-224. ↩
- U. S. Federal Census, Hillsborough twp., Family #52-52. ↩
- I cannot say what she was doing there; the information comes from an Ancestry.com database, and seems to originate from a gravestone, but her burial seems not to be recorded. ↩
- U.S. Federal Census, Trenton, NJ, family #55-55. ↩
- U. S. Federal Census, Lambertville, family #430. ↩
- Hunterdon Gazette, Oct. 9, 1861. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, July 24, 1862. ↩
- For more on the City’s incorporation, see Bisaha, p. 135. ↩
- Find-a-Grave has identified him as the person buried there, but I am pretty certain it was his uncle James instead. ↩
- U. S. Federal Census, Lambertville, family #23. It is odd he would say he was born in Pennsylvania, since his parents were living in Burlington County. ↩
- These records can be found on Ancestry.com under “U.S. IRS Tax Assessment Lists, 1862-1918. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Jan. 2, 1873. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Jan. 3, 1878. ↩
- Sharon Bisaha, In the Beacon Light; Lambertville, N.J. 1860 to 1900, Philadelphia, 2013, p. 54. Ms. Bisaha included the number of presents given out from 1859 to 1880 as follows: 1859 – 601 gifts; 1868 – 987; 1870 – 1314; 1875 – 1420; 1880 – 1500.↩
- Lambertville Beacon, cited by the History of West Amwell.↩
- These records are on file at the Lambertville Historical Society, Box 3, #I-80 and I-79. ↩
- Lambertville Historical Society, Box 36, #36-2240.↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Jan. 5, 1882. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, May 7, 1884. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Nov. 26, 1884. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Jan. 7, 1885. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Jan. 12, 1887. ↩
- Lambertville Record, Sep. 13, 1887. ↩