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The Prevost Family

James Marcus Prevost

James Marcus Prevost was born in 1736 in Switzerland to a family that had earlier roots in Savoy (now part of France). His parents had nine children, including three sons who chose military careers that would bring them to North America. James's two older brothers, Augustin and Jacques, entered the service of the King of Sardinia and then of Sardinia's ally, the Netherlands. James appears to have joined his brothers in Holland.

James had been stationed in North America as a British military officer since the 1740s and was in active service during the French and Indian Wars. With the decrease in military activity after the French were defeated, he and other British officers in America were put on inactive duty at half-pay. While he was in New York, James courted and married Theodosia Stillwell Bartow. By then, he was a well-traveled and seasoned military officer in his mid-twenties. [Tell me more about James Prevost's military career.]

Ann StilwellTheoodosia Stillwell Bartow

Theodosia Stillwell Bartow was the only child of Theodosious Bartow and Ann Stillwell. Ann Stillwell was brought up on her family's estate in Shrewsbury, New Jersey, amid a large, affluent family with extensive social connections in New York City. She seems to have had the advantage of an extensive private education. Shortly after 1742, when she was about 30, she married 32-year-old Theodosius Bartow, an attorney in Shrewsbury who owned a 500 acre estate and additional land. Bartow was a leader in the Episcopal church; his father was a minister who had been sent to the American colonies to put the Church of England in Westchester County on a sound footing. Theodosius's mother, Helena Reid, was the well-educated daughter of John Reid, surveyor-general of New Jersey and a member of the Assembly.

The marriage was short-lived: Theodosius died in a carriage accident in Shrewsbury in 1746 while Ann was pregnant with Theodosia. For five years, Ann raised Theodosia as a single parent in Shrewsbury and in New York City, where several of her sisters and brothers were living. Two of Ann's sisters had married men with military backgrounds; it is likely that through them she met Captain Philip De Visme, who had served in the British Army but subsequently became a merchant in New York City. She and Philip were married in 1751 at Trinity Church in Manhattan, and the couple had five children between 1752 and 1768.

Theodosia grew up in New York City and on the country estate in Shrewsbury. Her mother transmitted to her the traditions of several generations of an upwardly mobile colonial family; her stepfather, Philip, brought a transatlantic cosmopolitanism into the home. There is no record that Theodosia had extensive schooling, but her knowledge of languages, her analytic abilities, and her reading habits indicate an education that was beyond that received by most privileged women in colonial New York and New Jersey.

Philip De Visme died in 1762, leaving the forty-nine-year-old Ann a widow once again, but now with six children to raise. Theodosia was sixteen and may have been expected to help her mother, although Ann's financial situation probably enabled her to hire many servants. A year later, Theodosia married James Marcus Prevost at Trinity Church in Manhattan. She brought to the marriage-and soon afterward, to The Hermitage-a rich, varied colonial North American heritage that stretched back more five generations. [Tell me more about Theodosia Prevost's ancestry.]

Within months of their marriage, James's regiment was ordered to leave New York for Charleston, South Carolina. Theodosia accompanied him; however, she soon became pregnant with their first child. James arranged for a change in assignment to take Theodosia back to New York, where she stayed with her mother. Despite the move north, Theodosia appears to have miscarried or lost the child at birth, because there is no record of a child born to the couple in 1764. Meanwhile, James was assigned to Fort Loudoun on the Pennsylvania frontier. He was accompanied on the expedition by Lieutenant Augustin Prevost, an illegitimate son of his brother Augustin. [Tell me more about James's nephew Augustin Prevost.]

James returned to Theodosia in New York in 1765. Two years later, he bought about 150 acres of apparently unoccupied land, part of which fronted Ho-Ho-Kus Brook and part of which adjoined the property advertised by Henry Lane's widow, Elizabeth, in the New York Gazette. Later that year, he bought 98 acres from Elizabeth Lane, but only after all of the title claims by Johannes Traphagen's heirs, the Lanes, and the East Jersey Proprietors had been settled.

James and Theodosia at The Hermitage

In Hopperstown, James took up the life of a gentleman farmer with Theodosia and their growing family. Between 1766 and 1771, the couple had five children-two boys and three girls-who spent their childhood at The Hermitage. The sons, John Bartow Prevost (born in 1766) and Augustin James Frederick Prevost (born in 1767), grew up to lead active and illustrious lives. The three daughters-Anna Louisa (born circa 1770), Mary Louisa (born circa 1771), and Sally-died before adulthood. To help the family with farming, milling, and care of the house, the Prevosts, like many of Theodosia's affluent relatives and a considerable number of their Bergen County neighbors, obtained at least two African American slaves. [Tell me more about slavery in early Bergen County.]

While they were living in the house that Henry Lane had built, James and Theodosia had a second house constructed, along with with a number of mills, near Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. When construction was completed around 1770, the family moved to the new house and sold the Lane house, now known as The Hermitage, and 68 surrounding acres to Theodosia's mother, Ann De Visme, who still had five children at home. The Prevost's home on by the brook was called the Little Hermitage. Theodosia's stepbrother Peter De Visme also bought 25 acres of land nearby.

After several years of relative quiet, the Royal American Regiment was ordered to the West Indies. In November 1772, James Prevost sailed from Perth Amboy to Jamaica to take command of a battalion. However, he seems to have returned to New York by 1773, when he advertised his property, mills, and home, for sale:

A well situated and valuable farm, in the county of Bergen, about twenty-five miles from New-York, on the post road to Albany; there is on said farm a new, well finished house, fit for a gentleman, a large barn, all the outside of which is cedar, and sundry convenient outhouses. Also a compleat sett of new mills, on a lively and never failing stream, with two pair of stones, bolting mills, and conveniences for working them by water; also one or two saw mills, as may best suit the purchaser, who can be accommodated with about ninety acres of land, or more, to the quantity of 240 acres, all round the house. There are several young orchards of grafter fruit, a good garden, and the clear land in excellent new fence, a great deal of it is of stone. An undoubted title will be given for the same, and the terms of payment made easy. For further particulars enquire on the premises, or of Captain PREVOST in New-York.

The advertisement appeared again in a New York newspaper in 1774. The ads provide valuable information about the Prevost property just before the start of the Revolutionary War.

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