Sunday, January 18, 2015

Marlpit Hall

Marlpit Hall
137 Kings Highway
Middletown, NJ 07748

If you are looking for a town that is loaded with Early American and American Revolution history in Central New Jersey, then look no further then Middletown, NJ. Middletown is a location that saw a great deal of American Revolution history in large part due to the town's location in New Jersey. Marlpit Hall sits on a stretch of highway called Kings Highway in Middletown. A trip down this road enables the traveler to see a number of historic sites that are associated with the American Revolution. During the war, the residents were divided over whether or not to remain loyal to Great Britain. The Taylor family who owned Marlpit Hall at the time of the American Revolution was a prominent Tory family in the area. As the war progressed, the family was targeted by local residents with Patriot leanings.

Below is a write up on the home from the official Monmouth County website, along with some photos that I took of the home:

"Marlpit Hall, built circa 1756, was home to the prominent loyalist Taylor family at the time of the Revolution. Edward Taylor endured house arrest for his political position and the family lost much of its fortune and influence. The house was restored, furnished and donated to Monmouth County Historical Association by Margaret Riker Haskell in 1936 when it became the first restored house museum in the region. Mrs. Haskell was one of the most significant collectors of Americana, notably decorative arts, in the United States. Currently it is restored to reflect Mrs. Haskell’s colonial revival plan in half of the rooms and to reflect the Taylor’s 18th century furnishings in the rest of the house. It is a key property in the National Register of Historic Places, Middletown Village district and is listed on the NJ Women’s History Trail in honor of Mrs. Haskell’s preservation work."


Saturday, January 17, 2015

Abraham Staats House

Abraham Staats House
17 Von Steuben Lane
South Bound Brook, NJ 08880

I had the opportunity to visit the Abraham Staats House in South Bound Brook in December 2014 while visiting other American Revolution related sites in the area. The Abraham Staats House is another home that is associated with the Continental Army's encampment at Middlebrook from 1778-1779. This home is known for being the quarters of one of my favorite figures in American Revolution history, the Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben. Von Steuben is best remembered as being the Inspector General of the Continental Army who created a model to drill and discipline the Continental Army. This model helped the Continental Army to improve as a fighting force and defeat the British in the war. If you are interested in learning more about the Baron Von Steuben, I recommend checking out the book, The Drillmaster of Valley Forge: The Baron de Steuben and the Making of the American Army by Paul Lockhart.

The Abraham Staats House like many other period homes sits in a residential area that consists of mostly modern homes. This blending of historic homes and modern homes is one of my favorite things to see while I am out and about exploring historic sites. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to this wonderfully preserved home!

Below is a write up on the Abraham Staats House from the official Abraham Staats House website, along with some photos that I took during my recent visit:

"The settlements in Southern Somerset County were some of the earliest in the State of New Jersey. The name Bound Brook appears in deeds and documents as early as 1660. In 1681, John Inian purchased "1,280 acres of land ... on the southern banks of the Raritan River ... extending from Bound Brook to Lawrence Brook and included one-third of present day Franklin Township", according to the Borough of South Bound Brook. Sometime between 1681 and 1686, most of John Inian's land was purchased by William Dockwra. That included most of the area which is currently South Bound Brook. Dockwra subdivided his land into rectangular plantations, each with valuable river frontage. By the early 1700's, all of the plantations had been sold to settlers.

There is some uncertainty as to when Abraham Staats acquired his plantation. According to a HABS analysis based on a family manuscript written by Elizabeth Wyckoff, a descendent of Abraham Staats, Dockwra sold some of his land to Garret Beekman and Leffort Peterson. In 1722 , Beekman left half the property, 305 acres, to his daughter Cornelia Van Dam. Van Dam then sold the land in 1738 to Peter Staats. The land then passed by consignment to Hendrick Staats. Hendrick Staats in turn gave the property to his brother, John, in 1769. The property was either given or sold to Abraham Staats in 1770, but the exact amount of the acreage he acquired is unknown.

Abraham Staats was born in Hillsborough Township on May 25, 1743. He married Margaret DuBois on November 8, 1770. At the time of the Middlebrook encampment in 1778, the Staats had six children: one boy, Isaac and five girls, Margaret, Mary, Sarah, Phebe, and Jane. Besides farming, Staats was a surveyor, and taught surveying, navigating , and mathematics. He was an active patriot and was very involved in the revolutionary efforts. When the British occupied New Brunswick, Staats and his wife hid valuables in the floor of his barn. Staats was considered to be an arch traitor by the British. He was denied the general amnesty offered to other rebels by the British who threatened to hang him on sight. Why Staats deserved the status of "arch traitor" is not known, but local legend suggests that Staats was involved in a spy network.

The Staats plantation was a important location during the second Middlebrook encampment. In March of 1779, the inspector general of the Revolutionary army, Baron Von Steuben, was quartered there until the Continental Army moved on in June. During his stay, Von Steuben occupied the north and south parlors of the house, while the rest of his staff was quartered in a marquee which was located in the orchard behind the house. He often entertained important dignitaries, like George Washington and the other senior generals. Von Steuben came to the Middlebrook encampment for the purpose of training the eight-to-ten thousand men that made up the bulk of the Continental Army. In May, Von Steuben conducted a ceremonial review of the troops in honor of Washington and the French minister, M. Girard. There were eight regiments with sixteen guns present. After the ceremony, a reception was held in Staats House orchard for the visiting French minister.

After the Revolution, the Staats settled back into their normal lives. In 1792, Abraham Staats became the tax collector for Somerset County, a position he held until 1820, shortly before his death in 1821. His daughter Sarah married William Bayles and had one child, Margaret Ann. In his will, Staats left half of his farm, which at that time was one hundred and thirty acres, to his son, and the other half to his five daughters. "Bequeath to my son Isaac Staats the one half of my farm and plantation ... Provided that my daughters that may be single at the time shall occupy (the farm) for their use only. One half of my dwelling house and garden. One third of my other buildings. One third of the fruit of my orchard."

What happened to the house in the following years is still uncertain. Isaac Staats remained in the house, presumably with his four sisters, until 1825. After the addition of the east wing, his name is not recorded in the Archives, and he is not mentioned in any of his sisters wills. According to the Staats Genealogy, Issac's share of the farm was bought by his sisters, and Isaac moved to West Virginia where he founded the West Virginia branch of the Staats family. However, in the Staats Genealogy regarding West Virginia, Isaac's name is listed as Abraham. The rest of the information in the Staats Genealogy regarding Isaac is consistent with other documents.

After 1825, certain parts of the farm were sold. The Delaware and Raritan Canal cut through the property along the river requiring the relocation of some of the outbuildings and a new access road. One tract of land from the from was either sold or given to David Mack, and the "Mack" line became part of the present boundary of the property. All subsequent deeds mention "David Mack's lot." A second tract was sold to R. H. Freeman, who may have been related to the Staats family. The Somerset saw mill was also located on a portion of the Staats farm; however, the main house remained in the possession of the four sisters.

As each of the four sisters died without heirs, each left their share of the real estate to Sarah's daughter Margaret Ann who married Cornelius Wyckoff LaTourette. A 1877 deed transfer between John Van Dike and Margaret Ann LaTourette contains a 1873 map that identifies the Staats House as the "LaTourette house." John Van Dike's relationship with the Staats House is unknown. The Staats house is said to have been in continual possession of the Staats heirs until 1935 when Eugene LaTourette sold the house to R.J.Riddell. It is entirely possible the deeds concerning Margaret and John Van Dike involved a mortgage or other parcels of land sold off after 1825.

R.J. Riddell owned the house until 1938, when he sold it to Amy Bassett. Amy and Prentiss Bassett sold the house in 1946 to Charles C. Hollister. Charles C. Hollister, in turn, sold the house to Walter Bielicky in 1957. In the early sixties, Bielicky also bought David Mack's lot and the lot belonging to the Somerset saw mill. The Borough of South Bound Brook acquired the Staats House in 1999 from Bielicky and gave him life tenancy." (


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fort Guijarros

Fort Guijarros Site
Naval Base Point Loma - Ballast Point
San Diego, CA 92106
(Next to Building #601)

While visiting family in San Diego, CA, I had the opportunity to see a little southern California history. Markers dedicated to an early Spanish fort in California, Fort Guijarros, are currently located on Naval Base Point Loma. Naval Base Point Loma is arguably one of the most beautiful military duty stations in the nation. The land upon which Fort Guijarros once stood not only provides a great water front view, but it also saw a great deal of early European and American history in San Diego. 

Below is a write up on Fort Guijarros from the Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation website, along with photos that I took during my recent visit to San Diego:

"The Legacy of Fort Guijarros

The ruins of Fort Guijarros, San Diego's Old Spanish Fort, symbolize a shared legacy between modern Spain and the United States that everyone can enjoy. This legacy remains as a reminder of Spain's dominion over California during the eighteenth century. By that time the Spanish empire ranged from Mexico to the southern third of the current United States.

As Spanish explorers colonized California with a network of religious missions and military presidios, threats of war with England and Russia in the 1790s also spurred the Spanish crown to fund a system of coastal fortifications in California. Spain's successful system of defense included fortifications at rivers and harbors, regional forts that ringed fortified cities, as well as fortlets and cannon batteries.

San Diego's defense scheme centered on its "fortified city," known as "The Royal Presidio." The outer defense was "Fort Guijarros," a cannon battery located on Ballast Point at the entrance to San Diego Bay. Archaeological excavations by the Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation reveal that the fort's massive walls were twenty feet thick and fronted by a sloping mound of cobbles. Historical records indicate that the fort boasted at least ten cannons mounted high to overlook the fort's sloping walls.

Fort Guijarros was designed by Alberto de Cordoba, a Spanish engineer who oversaw the fort's construction by forty-nine Native American laborers.  Completed in November of 1796, the fort later became known as Fort Guijarros - "Guijarros" means small cobblestones, an apt term for the abundant ballast stones found on Ballast Point.

They Came to Defend San Diego

History singles out the soldiers of Fort Guijarros for two dramatic battles fought in defense of Spain's newly acquired territory. On March 22, 1803 the "Battle of San Diego Bay" pitted the American brig Lelia Byrd against the Spanish soldiers of Fort Guijarros. This event is the only ship-to-shore battle on the Pacific Coast between Spain and a ship of the United States.

Caught attempting to smuggle sea otter pelts out of San Diego Bay in violation of Spain's blockade against foreign trade, the Americans and Spaniards exchanged a spectacular cannon duel across the waves. With only minor damage, the crew of the Lelia Byrd escaped serious injury when favorable winds escorted them away from the line of fire.

In 1828, six years after Spain surrendered control of California to Mexico, the American ship Franklin dueled a similar battle at Fort Guijarros with the newly installed Mexican army. Caught in the act of illegal trade, the captain of the Franklin sustained injuries from the fort's cannon fire, but no deaths were suffered in the exchange.

Then Came The Yankee Whalers

Mariners bound for the South Pacific first began visiting San Diego in the 1820s. Brothers Alphaeus and Prince William Packard arrived in San Diego in 1857 and began shore whaling from Ballast Point in 1858. These Portuguese-Americans were joined by people of African, Irish, Asian, Spanish, Mexican, as well as English and New England American heritage.

Before long, Ballast Point became a major whaling station served by camps in Baja California. Packard's sloop, "New Hope", shipped whale oil and supplies; the oil was sold in San Francisco. Chinese fisher folk also lived with the whalers on Ballast Point. Ah Low cooked for the Packards in 1870 and Juk and Ah Sing sold fish all around San Diego.

In the 19th century, whale oil served as the primary lighting fuel in America; baleen "whale bone" served as the "spring steel" for tools and clothing. In San Diego, whaling developed into a major industry and the whaler's camps and a sight-seeing attraction for the local residents.

At the height of whale oil production in 1873 however, the American government evicted the whalers from Ballast Point. Point Loma had been selected by the U.S. Congress to become a major artillery fort.

American Military Years

The United States government has controlled Point Loma and Ballast Point since 1873. Following the eviction of the whaling companies from Ballast Point, the U.S. Government began to develop "Fort San Diego," a huge artillery bunker on Ballast Point. Shortly thereafter, Europe designed artillery shells that could penetrate brick walls. Fort San Diego closed in 1874 and the partially completed bunker was abandoned.

In 1898, American soldiers returned to Ballast Point to build "Fort Rosecrans." During the Spanish American War in that year, the U.S. Army sewed mines in San Diego Harbor. Between 1898 and 1918, the military constructed huge artillery batteries in the canyons off Point Loma. Underground tunnels connected l0-inch diameter rifled cannons and munition bunkers.

During the First World War, the Coast Artillery Corps developed a complicated system of search lights, communication lines, and cross-fire artillery to defend San Diego Harbor. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 resulted in closure of Fort Rosecrans in 1923 and the soldiers transferred to Washington state.

Fort Rosecrans became a tourist attraction through the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1939, Congress began to rebuild America's defenses. When war broke out on December 7, 1941, the Point Loma radio station served as the only communication link with the western Pacific. A new U.S. Army used Fort Rosecrans to train soldiers for war in Europe and the Pacific. Fort Rosecrans was decommissioned after victory in Europe and the Pacific in 1945. The U.S. Navy built the Submarine Base on Ballast Point in 1962. The old Fort Rosecrans buildings are now administrative offices for the U.S. Navy.

Unraveling the Mystery

Since 1981, researchers from the Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation, through the generous support and permission of the United States Navy, have excavated what remains of the Old Spanish Fort. Located on what is now the United States Naval Submarine Base, San Diego, the fort has been the focus of archaeologists who have sifted through 150 years of history layered under a modern parking lot. These layers tell a fascinating story, revealing that the ruined fort was buried by debris from Yankee whaling companies, which used Ballast Point for their fishing industries in the nineteenth century.

Today, the Fort Guijarros Museum Foundation functions to excavate the ruins and promote the history of Ballast Point as well as Spain's legacy in the United States. The Museum Foundation's all-volunteer excavations and research continue in search of more clues to better understand the mystery of Fort Guijarros." (

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Washington Rock State Park

Washington Rock State Park
355 Milltown Rd
Bridgewater, NJ 08807
I visited Washington Rock State Park last month while exploring some American Revolution sites in Somerset County, NJ. Washington Rock provides visitors with a million dollar view of surrounding towns. It is no wonder that many historians and local citizens have claimed over the years that the rock was once used by General George Washington to observe British army movements in the area. On the Sunday afternoon I visited, it was evident that the park is very popular amongst residents of the area. There was a steady stream of visitors pulling into the small parking lot over the span of the hour I spent at Washington Rock exploring the park.
Below is a write up on the state park from the Somerset County Park Commission website, along with some photos I took during my recent visit to Washington Rock:

"One of the oldest parks in New Jersey, Washington Rock was originally purchased by the state of New Jersey in 1913 to commemorate the historical events of June 1777. The strategic location of Washington Rock made it a valuable lookout point during the American Revolution for General George Washington when the British army under General William Howe was moving toward Westfield. From the vantage point of this natural rock outcropping, General Washington was able to instruct his troops to circle behind Howe’s troops and cut off their retreat.  Today, the park still offers panoramic views and offers family picnic sites."

Friday, January 2, 2015

James Braddock's Grave

James Braddock's Grave
Mount Carmel Cemetery
10 Serpentine Rd.
Tenafly, NJ 07670
(The grave is located along the black fence on East St. near row 47)

James J. Braddock was the World Heavyweight Champion of boxing from 1935-1937. The film "Cinderella Man", starring Russell Crowe, was based on his life. He is best remembered for his upset unanimous decision win over Max Baer in 1935 to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Braddock would later go on to fight boxing legends Joe Louis and Tommy Farr. The "Bulldog of Bergen" was not only a hero of New Jersey boxing fans, but also a symbol of overcoming poverty. Braddock worked and fought his way out of poverty to become World Heavyweight Champion. Braddock served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and later worked on the construction of the Verrazano Bridge in the 1960's. Braddock was inducted in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY in 2001.

Below is a write up on James J. Braddock from the official James J. Braddock website, along with some photos that I took of Braddock's gravesite:

"James J Braddock earned his nickname, Cinderella Man, from his seemingly fairytale like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Braddock, born in New York City, had a powerful right hand and a successful amateur career. He turned pro in 1926. Braddock had victories over fighters like Jimmy Slattery and Pete Latzo. Braddock fought light heavyweight champ Tommy Loughran in 1929 for the title, but was defeated in a heartbreaking 15-round decision. Following the Loughran fight and the stock market crash of 1929, Jim Braddock was down on his luck. He had a hard time struggling to win fights and put food on the table for his young family.

Eventually Jim's luck began to change. In 1934 he had upset wins against Corn Griffin and John Henry Lewis. With these two wins, Braddock set himself up for a shot for the title against heavyweight champion Max Baer.

On June 13th, 1935, in Long Island City, N.Y., Braddock, as a 10 to 1 underdog, won the heavyweight championship of the world from Max Baer. The general reaction in most quarters was described as, "the greatest fistic upset since the defeat of John L. Sullivan by Jim Corbett". Braddock would lose his heavyweight title two years later in an 8 round KO to "The Brown Bomber", Joe Louis. He retired after a final win over Tomomy Farr in 1938. Jim was inducted into the Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1964, the Hudson County Hall of Fame in 1991 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001." (


Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from the Matt Ward History Experience! 
May your new year be filled with exploring national and world history!