*Note: Some of the language below may be a little antiquated because its excerpts and transcriptions from a the book -Transcription from Historic Houses of New Jersey By Weymer Jay Mills .J. B. Lippincott Company – written in 1902 = The original words provide a unique glimpse of the people and early times in New Jersey.
On the foundation of his paternal mansion, which was the first house in Freehold burned by the British soldiers on the day of the battle of Monmouth, Dr. Thomas Henderson built, shortly after the Revolution, a large frame dwelling of a much plainer style of architecture than that of his former home. In honor of the newly-organized Society of the Cincinnati * he named it Cincinnati Hall, and by that name it became noted as one of the most hospitable of New Jersey homes.
Dr. Henderson was very prominent among the men of old Monmouth. He served on the Committee on Safety, a member of the Provincial Congress, Lieutenant-Colonel of David Forman’s company of State militia during the Revolution, and after the war became a member of the New Jersey Legislature. As vice-president of the Council, he was acting governor of the State during Governor Howell’s absence from Trenton in quelling the Pennsylvania whiskey insurrection in 1794.
Like that of other patriotic and high-minded Jerseymen, his fortune had been exhausted by the inroads of the Revolution, and his new Cincinnati Hall was not as elegant as many of the homes of his neighbors,—although his sister, Mrs. Tinney, who lived in a great house on State Street, off Bowling Green. New York City, wrote of it to a friend as ” both commodious and genteel.”
The Henderson family in Scotland and America was noted for its piety and deep religious feeling. One of Dr. Henderson’s ancestors was Alexander Henderson, of catechism fame, who sleeps in the kirk-yard of old Grey Friars, in Edinburgh, not far from the path where Sir Walter Scott used to walk with his first love, the beautiful Miss Stuart.*
Dr. Henderson followed in the footsteps of his illustrious progenitor, and it is written of him that he was never missed from the Henderson pew, well up in the front of the quaint Tennent Church, on Sabbath-days.
In his library at Cincinnati Hall the doctor compiled for his friend Elias Boudinot the interesting account of the life and trance of the Rev. William Tennent which created such a sensation when published in “The Assembly’s Missionary Magazine,” and brought about renewed discussion of that famous divine’s mysterious journey to the unknown world, which is said to have occurred in the home of his brother, the Rev. Gilbert Tennent, then living on Burnet Street, New Brunswick.
It was the terror of all the bad children of the village, who were told when they passed there that Satan was liable to come out and carry off one of their toes.
Cincinnati Hall in the old days was the social centre of the community and the recognized hearth for consociation. Many a lumbering family coach, bearing some state official and his family, journeyed in the first part of the past century through Hunterdon County to Monmouth, and finally took the road to Dr. Henderson’s.
Freehold hospitality then was very much like that to be found in the Southern States before the Civil War. No traveller of good appearance and address knocked at the door of the home of any of the first families without obtaining a cordial welcome from master and mistress, the cheerful slaves of the household ever ready to enjoy the excitement of guests.
A Philadelphia gentleman, visiting Freehold eighty years ago, dwelt with rapture on the charms of the young ladies. He wrote of them as fine dancers, good horsewomen, and skillful in all womanly accomplishments.
At one of the houses where he rode to spend the morning with a “Freehold beauty,” he found his fair inamorata sewing little silver spangles in love-knot designs on a “palampour gown,” to be worn at an assembly that evening. He wrote that the material was so thin and fine he could have held the length of it in his closed hand. It is to be regretted that he did not describe the assembly, where the company no doubt played whist and trump, and Mrs. Freneau, who was then living in Freehold, sang, as she always did,”Diana’s Lament,” or some other sentimental song, and the beauty in the silvered gown, and the other beauties of the neighborhood, danced until midnight to the music of the negro fiddlers.
The old Freehold tavern on the main street was one of the meeting-places for the devotees of fox-hunting in Monmouth. “Next to fine raiment, a good horse becomes a gentleman,” was a Freehold fetish, and many of the neighborhood owned blooded horses.
Historic Print of Old Freehold, New Jersey
When the green luxuriance of the town grew monotonous, the first families would journey to the Branch for a breath of the sea. Long Branch at that time was a miniature hamlet, with only a few houses.
A journey in the twenties from Freehold to the spot which became so famous during General Grant’s Presidency was then looked upon like a journey to Bath. It is true there was no Pump Room to display finery, but there were the admiring eyes of handsome officers in blue coats and glowing buttons, and the Jersey maiden packed her boxes with much of the delight of the earlier Mayfair belle anticipating a minuet with the peerless Nash.
Dr. Henderson in early life married Rachael Burrowes, a daughter of John Burrowes, of Middletown, and their union was blessed with several daughters, all of whom were Jersey belles. Perhaps the most noted was Eliza, who married Angus Bruen.
Eliza was twenty-one at the outbreak of the War of 1812 and was still gracing her father’s mansion. She was a very beautiful girl, and of a sunny, vivacious temperament. Old letters abound with eulogistic tributes to her personality. Her sister Hope was nearly her age, and they were the life of the Hall. Their correspondence is full of gay badinage and feminine raillery. On the occasion of some entertainment at their father’s mansion, Hope wrote to her “sister of the heart:”
“Eliza do skip over the floor with the agility of a reindeer and talk with the eloquence of Cicero, and do not forget the retaliation that the Pines deserve, speak of the society as you did to sister Anna, and as much more as you please.”
Eliza most likely skipped over the floor that evening, her face wreathed in smiles and her coy head covered with hundreds of little Josephine ringlets, which dangled entrancingly at the gentlemen when she talked politics. Politics always came before neighborhood gossip in those days.
In a charming letter written to her from her friend and cousin, Jane C. Green, of Cherry Grove,* Maidenhead, now Lawrenceville, which breathes the spirit of the time, one can see the great interest Jersey girls of the period must have taken in the welfare of their country. It reads:
“cherry Grove, Feb. 21, 1813.
“You say, my dear Eliza, that you fear there are causes for my silence of which you are totally ignorant.
“There are none, dearest girl, in which you are implicated, nor any that I wish to conceal from you, but they are too numerous to be related here.
“I have been greatly disappointed in not receiving a visit from you this winter. I looked for you every day during the fine sleighing, and delayed making visits to many of my friends from the expectation of having you to accompany me. I entreat you not to let me weary myself with fruitless watching any longer, but come and gladden the heart, and enliven the spirits of your Jane.
” I suppose you will be pleased to hear that the gloom of the Democratic war is again lightened by a Federal victory. The Constitution, Commodore Bainbridge, has made prize of the British frigate Java. The Commodore was wounded, but has recovered. The Java was so much injured that they were forced to sink her. Her commander died after the action, of his wounds: He left a wife and two children to mourn his loss.
Commodore B. describes him as a brave officer and an amiable man. Miss Bainbridge gave me this account, and as she received it from her brother, who wrote to her by the same express that carried his messages to Washington, I therefore think it must be nearly correct. I rejoice the more in the success of our Commodore as he has, tho’ courageous, been hitherto very unfortunate. My fingers are stiffened with the cold, I must therefore conclude by assuring you that
“jane C. Green.
“My best love to your mamma and sisters, not forgetting my friend Eliza.”
Again, in April, when the cherry-trees were making Cherry Grove a place of loveliness, Jane C. Green sent to her friend Eliza and her sisters another of her chatty letters:
“I have just had one note from you, and I hear there is another following. That is doing very well, and I trust you will not let me suffer again for the want of letters, as I am less able to endure famine now than ever.
“I have nothing new to inform you of—politics is the topic of the day, and so completely does it occupy the attention of the community, that I begin to fear that it will not be admissible to introduce any other subject of conversation. That will be a sad stroke to me, as I generally keep silent in political discussions. I have read in an old tome that they were very bad for the complexion, symmetry of feature, sweetness of expression, etc.
“Aunt Churchill was here to-day. Charles Gustavus is getting better. I have been some time engaged in reading Pope. His poetry is highly polished, but I think it sometimes appears overstrained. * Windsor Forest’ and ‘The Temple of Fame’ I admire exceedingly. His pastorals are sickening. The ‘Iliad’ and ‘ Odyssey’ I have not seen, and I anticipate much pleasure in perusing them.
“Tell my dear Matilda that I know her Johnny has too much generosity to wish to engross her entirely, but tell him that to preserve this good opinion of his cousin, he must see that his partner is kind to his friends. Now, my dear girl, you know that I must be nonsensical sometimes, and as I keep apartments in the fourth story to-day, you must make great allowances for exuberances.
“Given under my hand and seal this first day.
“jane C. Green.”
Those days of the War of 1812 were often full of dreariness for the old-time Jersey girls. The praying for sweethearts and brothers away. The weeks of doubt and uncertainty, owing to the slowness with which news travelled.
No gay silks and calimancoes from London delighted their simple hearts then. The “Freehold beauty” most likely gave up sewing silver spangles on her gauzy gowns. All was gloom and talk of the latest victory or defeat. No wonder Jane Green, in her Cherry Grove, longed for her “dearest Eliza” to gladden her heart and enliven her spirits. Later the Henderson sleigh was brought forth from the Henderson stable, and “dearest Eliza” departed on the long journey to Maidenhead, warmly wrapped up in a great tippet and carrying a huge muff, while her little feet rested on a foot-warmer, and her mitted hands held a hot stone to protect them from the winter winds.
It has been said all the Freehold neighborhood was entertained at Dr. Henderson’s, regardless of station. General Washington, Governor William Paterson, and Judge Symmes honored it, the first having been a frequent visitor at the Henderson house burned by the British.
Many of the pieces of furniture which graced the Hall are still in existence. The well-known Mrs. Flavel McGee (Miss Julia Randolph), a great-granddaughter of Dr. Thomas Henderson, numbers several among her priceless collection of heirlooms, which includes specimens of Sheraton, Hipplewaite, Chipendale, and the French periods.
On Dr. Henderson’s little tea table, where General Washington was once served cake and wine, Mrs. McGee has poured tea for almost every one very distinguished in New Jersey society. Many retain a pleasing picture of her bending over her antique silver in the salons of the McGee mansion. Her gown always a copy of a Romney, a Le Brun, or a Reynolds portrait, and she herself a beautiful vision in an eighteenth century environment.
Cincinnati Hall, the abode of hospitality, is rarely called by that name now. It still retains much of its old-time appearance, although it long ago passed out of the possession of the Henderson family and its happy period of prosperity. The Henderson girls are often spoken of in Freehold to-day, and the highest compliment a Monmouth octogenarian can pay a moder n belle is to compare her to the doctor’s lovely Eliza.
* The Society of the Cincinnati is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization, founded in 1783 by officers of the Continental Army and their French counterparts who served together in the American Revolution
* This Miss Stuart is said to have nearly broken Sir Walter Scott’s heart by refusing his suit. She afterwards married Sir William Forbes, a wealthy banker.
* Cherry Grove, at Lawrenceville, the home of Jane C. Green, waa erected by Colonel John Dagworthy. Before the Revolution it came into the possession of the Green family. About the time of the battle of Trenton, Colonel Dagworthy and his men quartered themselves on George Green, then its occupant, compelling his household to vacate the mansion. It is standing to-day with its exterior entirely unchanged, and is a beautiful specimen of a colonial house. Harmony Hall, another Lawrenceville house connected with the history of the same family, was torn down and rebuilt in 1813. Under a large willow-tree on its lawn Whitfield preached to an assemblage of five thousand Jerseymen
- Historic Houses of New Jersey By Weymer Jay Mills .J. B. Lippincott Company – written in 1902
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