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Pioneer Settlers on the Hermitage Property

Indian artifactsThe Hackensacks, a group within the Lenni Lenape, were living in the area that is now central Bergen County when European settlers arrived in the seventeenth century. A considerable number of Native American artifacts have been found along Ho-Ho-Kus Brook, which bordered the Hermitage property. A stone ax, bowl, and arrowheads were found on the Hermitage property itself, indicating that various Native American people hunted and fished-and possibly lived-on the land.

The Dutch were the first Europeans to claim the land that is now Bergen County as part of the New Netherlands colony. When the English conquered New Netherlands in 1664, New Jersey became the domain of the Duke of York. He, in turn, granted "East Jersey" to Lord Berkeley, and after Lord Berkeley's death, his widow sold the territory to a group of twelve men who called themselves the East Jersey Proprietors. Some of the Proprietors were English, but most were Scots. Their base of operations was Perth Amboy.

Despite the claims of the Proprietors, a group of French Huguenot merchants and land speculators in New York City under the leadership of Peter Fauconnier purchased the Ramapo Tract, a large section of what is now northern Bergen County, from the Hackensacks in 1709.

Hermitage Patent MapThe first recorded owner of the Hermitage property was Johannes Traphagen. He was born in Esopus, New York, and was one of ten children in his family. Little else is known about his origins. He married Marrieti Laroe of a prominent Huguenot family in Paramus in 1734. A report to the East Jersey Proprietors by the surveyor John Forman in 1744 mentions “John Traphangle's mill” and notes that Traphagen owned 100 acres of land near “Hopper” and “Oldes.” The Proprietors’ records for 1735 state that Traphagen and his heirs owned 102.79 acres.

As the first settlers on what would become the Hermitage property, Johannes and Marrieti Traphagen faced the pioneer challenges of creating a home and supporting farm out of the forest wilderness they had acquired. Before the land produced, and even afterward, food was obtained by hunting, fishing, and gathering.

In 1757, the area suffered a massive flood. However, the Traphagens did succeed in creating a home, a producing farm, and a family. They altered the environment and began to establish a new type of social and economic life in the region.

Sometime before 1760, Johannes Traphagen’s oldest son, Henry, married Claaritje Hopper of Hopperstown at the Paramus church. When Johannes died in 1760, Henry petitioned the Proprietors for his half-share of his father's 100 acres, with the other half-share to be divided among his siblings.

English Settlers

As Henry Traphagen was petitioning the Proprietors, another settler, Henry Lane, also claimed the land that would become the Hermitage property. Lane, an attorney, appears to have been an affluent land developer who had a house in New York City. Around 1760, he purchased Johannes Traphagen’s land from an intermediary who, in turn, claimed he had purchased it from Traphagen. In all of these dealing, the title claims were disputed.

Lane and his wife, Elizabeth, quickly improved their 105 acres of Bergen County property by building a new stone house, a small barn, a gristmill, and a sawmill. They also planted an orchard and cleared arable land. It is not known whether the Lanes’ house was entirely new or incorporated the Traphagens’ home. However, it is believed that their house is the one that, within the decade, would become known as the original Hermitage.

The Lanes added a new ethnic and social dimension to Hopperstown. They brought to a farming neighborhood dominated by the Jersey Dutch and not far removed from frontier conditions a more well-to-do, cultivated English way of life. The Lanes were members of the Paramus Reformed church, where their son William Henry was baptized in 1762. They also had a daughter named Greesle Lena. Henry Lane made out a will on December 27, 1762. Following his death shortly thereafter, his wife put both the Bergen County and the New York City properties up for sale. An advertisement published in the New York Gazette on February 28, 1763, described the Bergen County property:

TO BE LET, or SOLD,

A choice Plantation at Ancocus Brook, (or a Place called Peramos) in the county of Bergen, and Eastern Division of the Province of New Jersey; containing about 105 acres of good arable land, part of which is cleared, the remainder well wooded; there is on the same a good new Stone Dwelling House 40 foot front, and 23 foot back, the front is all of hewn stone, a Cellar under the Whole, and a Well of good Water before the Door; the Walls are near two Foot thick, and good Sash Windows to the House; there is also a good Kitchen 23 Foot one Way, and 20 Foot the other Way, and a good Fire-place therein; The House contains four Fire-places and is two Story high, is pleasantly situated between two Main Roads, and has an entry through the House into the Kitchen, all very beautifully contrived: There is also on the said Tract a small Barn, a good Gristmill, and a good Sawmill, all in good Order, and has not wanted for Water in the driest times; there is likewise a thriving young Orchard on the same, ‘tis as publick and pleasant a Place as is in the Country fit for Merchant’s business, a Tavern, or any other business.

The Proprietors warned people not to buy land advertised in this way because they still held title to it. Nevertheless, Elizabeth Lane advertised the property again in 1766.

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