The Fight to Keep The Hermitage
Theodosia and her mother, Ann, kept their homes open to relatives and friends throughout the 1770s. Mary Smith, the daughter of Ann's sister Deborah, took particular advantage of this hospitality. During what was probably a long stay at The Hermitage, she developed a relationship with Samuel Bradhurst, the American officer placed under house arrest there by the British. They were married at The Hermitage in December 1778 and remained through the births of their first two children: Samuel Hazard Bradhurst (born in November 1779) and John Maunsell Bradhurst (born in August 1782).
Starting early in the war, Theodosia Prevost sent petitions to Patriot authorities in New Jersey and asked leading officials to advocate on her behalf. In her effort to protect her home from confiscation, she made The Hermitage a place that also welcomed officers of the Continental Army, officers in the local Patriot militia, and other Whigs of rank.
James Monroe, who was a guest at The Hermitage, became a confidante in correspondence. In a letter dated October 31, 1778, Monroe wrote that he and other friends had spoken on her behalf against those in New Jersey who criticized her British connections and would move against her property. On November 8, he wrote to Theodosia again to ask for advice regarding a female friend. [Tell me more about James Monroe's letter of November 8.]
Visits and the Bradhursts' wedding brought some joy to The Hermitage during this time, but Theodosia continued to worry about the fate of her family's Hopperstown properties. In late 1778, the New Jersey Legislature passed a law calling for the confiscation of land owned by Loyalists and others who were acting against the Patriot cause. Theodosia continued to cultivate people with influence. In September 1778, she met twenty-year-old Aaron Burr, a lieutenant serving with the Continental Army regiment stationed to the north in New York State who had stopped at Paramus before and after a daring and successful raid on a British position near Hackensack. Her association with Burr came to include two of his closest friends: William Paterson, then the attorney-general of New Jersey, and Colonel Robert Troup. [Tell me more about Robert Troup.] Both men were friendly with Governor William Livingston and his family, as well as with State Supreme Court Justice Robert Morris.
In the spring of 1779, Theodosia received the unhappy news that her half-brother Peter de Visme, a British seaman, had been taken prisoner of the American navy. Again turning to connections she had made, she wrote to Washington to obtain his release. He replied kindly but stated that he had no authority relating to the release of maritime prisoners. [Tell me more about Theodosia's letter to George Washington.]
James Marcus Prevost and the Southern Campaign
As these events were under way at The Hermitage in 1778–79, 5,000 British troops under the command of Major-General Augustine Prevost and Lieutenant-Colonel James Marcus Prevost attacked rebel positions in Georgia and the Carolinas. James led his troops to important victories in the battles at Sunbury and Briar Creek in Georgia. The Prevosts’ regiment then took Savannah and Charleston and in the early fall defended the Savannah against siege by the French under Admiral Comte d'Estaing and the Rebels under General Benjamin Lincoln.
James was appointed lieutenant-governor of the Royal Administration in Georgia and urged Theodosia to join him there. Her half-sister Eliza, whose husband was also serving in the campaign, tried to persuade Theodosia to travel to the south. Theodosia decided not to leave The Hermitage, however, citing her poor health, the best interests of their daughters, and her need to continue protecting their property. She sent her husband a ring and a lock of her hair.
The Prevosts' success against the Rebels increased the efforts of the Bergen County Commissioners for Forfeited Estates to take action against The Hermitage holdings. Despite efforts on her behalf by William Paterson, the commissioners served Theodosia with notice that procedures had begun for the seizure of the holdings in her husband’s name. On December 24, 1779, Theodosia sent a letter to the New Jersey Legislature seeking its support against the commissioners. They deferred action until their next meeting, to be held on March 9, 1780, when it was read and ordered to be filed.
Another indictment was issued against the property—this time by the New Jersey Court of Common Pleas in Bergen County. In a letter to Burr dated August 31, Paterson again pledged his service on Theodosia's behalf. She was right to be concerned. Despite the advocacy of influential friends, threats to her property continued. In November 1780, she was informed that “Inquisitions [had been] found and returned in the Court of Common Pleas, held for (Bergen County) on the fourth Tuesday in October last, against the following persons, to wit, James Marcus Prevost.” The final judgment was to be rendered in January 1781. [Tell me more letters written on behalf of Theodosia's fight.]
However, after 1780, the issue of confiscation disappeared from the records and letters of all concerned parties. The indictments against The Hermitage properties were never executed. Theodosia's cultivation of influential friends in New Jersey, such as Burr, Troup, and Paterson, seems to have been crucial in retaining her home and property. It also may have been helpful that James Prevost was no longer in the field against American troops after the spring of 1780.