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Vanderveer House - The Jacobus Vanderveer House
The Jacobus Vanderveer House
Due to its
popularity last year, the Tenth Colonial Christmas was held over two weekends instead of one in Bedminster Township at the Jacobus Vanderveer House. Leslie Molé, President of the Board of Trustees, said that it is their biggest fundraiser which helps fund interactive exhibits and period furnishings. This year Leslie expected more than 1500 visitors to the Jacobus Vanderveer House, and Colonial Sense while on its trip to New Jersey decided to investigate the historic significance of the house and area. Admission was $10 for adults with children 12 and under free.

Jacobus Vanderveer Sr. was a wealthy Dutch miller who purchased 439 acres May 10, 1743 along east side of the North Branch of the Raritan River from Lewis Johnston. About the same time he also purchased a large tract of land on the west side from Major Daniel Axtell. It was on the east side that Jacobus built a house in 1745. Prior to 1762, he built a saw mill which was mentioned in an advertisement for a local property sale. A grist mill was also constructed. The saw mill would have been in operation during the winter of 1778-1779 when the hamlet of Pluckemin welcomed a famous Revolutionary War figure we will mention later. The mill burned in the 1870's.

Vanderveer House - Inside the newly constructed kitchen wing of the JacobusVanderveer House completed in 2007.
Inside the newly constructed kitchen wing of the JacobusVanderveer House completed in 2007.
Jacobus Vanderveer Sr. was an active member of the Dutch Reformed Church and a Justice of the Peace in Pluckemin. In 1759, 1752, and 1768 he was Justice of the Quorum. From 1766 to 1768, 1770 to 1771, and 1774 he was Judge of Oyer and Terminer. Finally in 1768 he was Judge of Common Pleas.

After the death of Jacobus Sr. November 17, 1776, the house and property was split between Jacobus Jr. and his brother Elias. In his will he wrote: "Son, Jacobus, the land over the river of 560 acres... Son Ellas, plantation I lie on, and bounded north by by Peter Perne, south by Jacob Offs, being 435 acres."

Elias wasn't able to live in the house for very long. At age 33 he was taken prisoner without a coat and hat on during the second British raid in the area and died in the Revolutionary War on November 29, 1778. The house was eventually moved and the Kitchen Wing was reconstructed in 1976 at East Jersey Ole Town in Piscataway.

Vanderveer House - Elissa Parish demonstrating tape loom weaving in the Bed Chambers on the second floor
Elissa Parish demonstrating tape loom weaving in the Bed Chambers on the second floor
Jacobus Vanderveer Jr. constructed his house on the west side of the Raritan in 1772. It is the last remaining site in Somerset County to have been associated with the locally prominent Vanderveer family. Jacobus Jr. was a Private in Captain Simon Duryee's Company, 2nd Regiment, Somerset County Militia. Vanderveer was in active service in the alarm at Raritan Landing on January 3, 1781.

The house is a typical Dutch-American vernacular frame house with a Federal style addition added in the 1800's. The house was extended to the east in 1813 by Mary Hardenburg, Henry Vanderveer's daughter. Two windows were removed on the east wall and a south porch may have been added at this time.

Vanderveer House - A small room upstairs on the second floor. Notice the wide plank floors.
A small room upstairs on the second floor. Notice the wide plank floors.
The wide plank floors in the two west rooms and center hall on the first floor and in the two west rooms on the second floor are original to the 1770's construction. The exterior walls and part of the interior walls are original, but much of the plaster had damage.

What makes the Jacobus Vanderveer House important historically took place during the winter and summer of 1778-1779 as mentioned earlier. In late November 1778, Captain Benjamin Frothingham, Deputy Commissary of Military Stores, took a pre-scouting expedition of Pluckemin and the Watchung Mountains. He reported back to Brigadier General Henry Knox, Chief of the Artillery who chose Pluckemin to be the first formal officer training and military academy. It was known as the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment or The Academy and was the predecessor to West Point.

Vanderveer House - Private Ray Anderson of the John Lamb's Artillery talking to Leslie Molé, President of the Board of Trustees
Private Ray Anderson of the John Lamb's Artillery talking to Leslie Molé, President of the Board of Trustees
Brigadier General Knox had found the need for a better educated officer corps and had asked for an artillery training facility since before the war began. At the age of 28, he trained 1000 soldiers with low morale at the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment during the winter of 1778-1779. General Washington issued an order on December 17, 1778 that all artillery unite with the Main Army at Middle Brook to join the Cantonment at Pluckemin which brought the total to 22 companies including Colonel John Lamb's Artillery. Also joining these companies were two companies of craftsmen such as wheelwrights, joiners, carpenters, and blacksmiths and continental armors such as weapons specialists and gunsmiths.

Brigadier General Knox sent for his wife, Lucy and daughter, Julia who left to join him November 27, 1778. It would be the Jacobus Vanderveer House where they would call their quarters during the winter. It can't be certain that the Vanderveer House was the house Henry and Lucy lived in. Remember the house where Elias lived in to the east was available. However, the nineteenth century of Somerset County identifies the house owned by Jacobus as the house they lived in. His pay at the time to support his family was $3 per day.

Vanderveer House - A decorated Christmas tree behind a windsor chair and a claw foot drop leaf table.
A decorated Christmas tree behind a windsor chair and a claw foot drop leaf table.
Knox arrived at Pluckemin December 7, 1778. He had furniture sent from Boston and paid for the use of the Vanderveer furniture. He lived at the Vanderveer House with his pregnant wife, Lucy, daughter Lucy and Jacobus Vanderveer's family which consisted of his wife and five children. There were also six slaves in the household.

Sadness reached the Vanderveer House when Lucy lost her newborn daughter, Julia to fever July 2, 1779. Knox's daughter was refused burial in the Dutch Reformed cemetery because Knox was a Congregationalist. The Dutch Reformed church also denied burial of Jacobus Vanderveer's insane daughter in the same cemetery. Instead she was buried

in a field just beyond the line of "God's acre." It is said that Jacobus took Knox by the hand and lead him to the grave of his daughter saying, "Gen'ral, this is my ground, bury your child here."

This area was twenty-five west of the Reformed Church. A few years later, the Dutch Reformed Church softened its stance and removed the fence that separated the excluded graves. The inscription of Julia's tombstone reads,

Under this stone are deposited the remains of Julia Knox, an infant who died the second of July, 1779. She was the second daughter of Henry and Lucy Knox, of Boston, in New England.


Vanderveer House - Visitors in the Back Parlor of the Jacobus Vanderveer House
Visitors in the Back Parlor of the Jacobus Vanderveer House
Lucy Knox had ten children, although seven of them died in infancy. Their next son, Marcus Camillus Knox was born December 10, 1781 with General Washington being the godfather. When Knox took command of West Point in 1782, tragedy hit the Knox family again. Knox wrote to General Washington September 10, 1982, "I have the unhappiness my dear General to inform you of the departure of my precious infant, your Godson. In the deep mystery in which all human events is involved the Supreme Being has been pleased to prevent his expanding innocence, ripening to such perfection as to be a blessing to his parents and connections, when by their advanced Years they may find every comfort necessary to sweeten Life rendered bitter by a thousand stings."

Brigadier General Knox traveled along the road south from the Vanderveer House across the Raritan River to meet up with his troops at the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment which design was shaped like the letter "E" on its side. In the center was the thirty by fifty foot academy building with a cupola with the headquarters building on the left and a line of barracks on the right. On top of the hill to the left of the line of barracks was the officer's barracks. To the north and stretching from the top of the hill down 450 feet was a line of individual barracks. The field officer's quarters were on the top of the hill overlooking the entire cantonment site.

Vanderveer House - Drawing completed by Captain John Lillie in 1770 showing the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment
Drawing completed by Captain John Lillie in 1770 showing the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment
Although Captain John Lillie made a 1770's drawing which showed two large buildings, the construction would have been impossible since the ground drops by sixty feet in elevation from the top of the hill to the bottom. Instead individual two room living quarters with a common chimney in the center were most likely constructed with a central door. There would have been twelve to twenty men in each room based on company rosters. Bunks would have been stacked three high. Windows were ordered by company commanders to cut in the rear of the rooms as warmer weather arrived. To the north of the barracks was a scatter of log cabins that housed sutlers or were used for storage.

The south end of the cantonment was dedicated to supply and logistics and consisted of buildings which housed the artificers and their workshops. The chimneys were in the rear of the building. Some of the new goods that would have been made were muskets, bayonets, canteens, and cartridge boxes. Repairs to existing equipment would have been done in this area. Although Captain John Lillie's map shows these buildings, no archaeology dig has ever found any evidence of these buildings. They were most likely lightly built structures.

Vanderveer House - Volunteer Hunter Stiles representing young George Washington inside the Front Parlor
Volunteer Hunter Stiles representing young George Washington inside the Front Parlor
The Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment was an ambitious project and nothing like the miserable log cabins that housed the Continental Army during the frigid winter at Valley Forge the year before. General Knox noted in the Regimental Orderly Book 3 on February 23, 1779,

"The Academy is to be opened on Monday next when Mr. Colles the preceptor will attend every day in the wee Sundy excepted for the purpose of teaching the Mathematicks & cc. ... As the Officers of the Corps will be those means have an opportunity of acquiring a more particular and expansive knowledge of the profession and making themselves better qualified to discharge the duties of their respective stations - The General expect that they will apply themselves in good earnest to the study of this so essential & necessary Branch of Science - The duty they owe themselves - a regard for their own reputation and the just expectations of their Country: The General hoes will induce every Officer to pay the closest & most diligent attention."


Vanderveer House - Front Exhibit Area decorated for Christmas.
Front Exhibit Area decorated for Christmas.
The French Alliance Ball was held February 18, 1779 which celebrated the first anniversary of the alliance of the American colonies with the French government. It was attended by General Washington and his wife and other major military figures. Much of the artillery captured from the British at Fort Ticonderoga was on display. The proceedings started at 4 p.m. with the firing of thirteen cannons. After dinner fireworks were set off over the mountains.

There has been various archaeological digs since 1916 that have uncovered over 300,000 objects. The only building still standing in relation to the cantonment site is the historical Vanderveer House. There are plans for establishing a museum for exhibiting artifacts from the Pluckemin cantonment. With its historical significance, the Vanderveer House was listed in 1995 on the National Register of Historic Places.

Vanderveer House - Artillery Officer's sword belt tip found in the excavation of the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment site.
Artillery Officer's sword belt tip found in the excavation of the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment site.
The colonial holiday decorations were done by David Mitchell. The colonial and federal antique furniture was on loan from the Newark Museum. The artwork shown so elegantly in the house was done by John Phillip Osborne. There was an unveiling of a new painting, "General Knox at the Pluckemin Artillery 1779" painted by Osborne which was commissioned by the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House.

The Vanderveer House was decorated in the holiday tradition in the kitchen hearth, the parlor, Knox bedroom, and the Lumber Room. There was holiday shopping on the second floor.

We spoke with Private Ray Sanderson about the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment and the more than 300,000 artifacts uncovered. Out of his pocket he pulled an artillery officer's sword belt tip which shows a cannon and a flag. He stated that this was the earliest artifact known to be pulled from any archaeological dig which shows the first American flag. It was believed to have been engraved by a Philadelphia silversmith. The flag would have represented the actual flag which was present at the Pluckemin cantonment.

We wish Merry Christmas to all our readers for 2012 and hope you help out the Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House next year with their fundraising. They have plans already in the works.

Source: Text and Photos by Bryan Wright

Related Links:

John Lamb's Artillery Company
The Jacobus Vanderveer House
The Jacobus Vanderveer House on Facebook

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