Dr. Elijah Rosegrant (Rosencrantz) Bought The Hermitage in 1807.

Elijah Rosegrant who bought The Hermitage in 1807 was a fourth generation American.  His grandfather, Harmon Rosenkrantz, a member of a Dutch family engaged in fishing work in Bergen, Norway came to New Amsterdam around 1650.  Here he married the widow, Magdalen Dircks in 1657, and together they moved north to the  Hudson River village of Catskill.  They had nine children, and by 1680 the family had moved some miles west to the Ulster County township of Rochester where they developed a pioneer farm.  Their first son, Alexander, married Marietjen Dupuy, a French Huguenot, and together they had seven children.  In 1731 this Rosencrantz family bought fertile frontier land in the Delaware River Valley near Walpack in Sussex County, New Jersey.   Their son, John, Elijah’s father at age 21 was given a farm of over 500 acres.

John Rosencrantz became a community leader and a colonel in the Revolution.  He and his wife Margaret De Witt, from an influential New York State family had 14 children and a number of slaves.  One of John and Margaret’s sons, Elijah attended and in 1791 graduated from Queens College (Rutgers) in New Brunswick, the only one in his family to do so as far as is known.  He, in some way became involved with Bergen County, and he would use as his family name, Rosegrant.

After graduation, Elijah decided to study theology and attained his license to be a minister and preach in the Dutch Reformed Church in 1894.  He preached at the Paramus church, but did not get a call.  While he could have found employment as a traveling minister, he decided that he did not like that style of life and that it would not bring him an adequate income and stability.  He then accepted a position as head of an academy in Bergen (Jersey City), for a year, following which he decided to train to be a physician, a profession in which he felt he could also serve people.  After two years of study and apprenticeship, two New Jersey doctors examined him, and judged that he was qualified to practice as a physician and a surgeon.  Two judges of the New Jersey Supreme Court in October 1799 issued his license to practice in the state of New Jersey.

The new doctor decided to reside and practice in Bergen County.  Here, he at first lived with a younger brother, Simeon  who had come there with his 19 year old wife, Sarah Shoemaker, both  from Walpack.  Simeon would apprentice with Elijah and after 1807 would return to Sussex County as a physician.  Before leaving, Simeon and Sarah had a son who in 1807 was christened in the Paramus Reformed Church.  They would keep in touch with Elijah, and one of their sons, Charik, born in 1811 in Walpack, would marry Mary Ann Hopper of Ho-Ho-Kus.  This new family would reside and raise their family there close to The Hermitage.  

In 1803 Major William Bell who had been county sheriff and had lived in The Hermitage appointed Dr. Rosegrant as Surgeon Mate of the Bergen County Militia.  This appointment was confirmed by New Jersey Governor Joseph Bloomfield.   From 1804 forward Elijah began to borrow money to buy pieces of land, culminating with the purchase of The Hermitage from James Laroe on June 20, 1807.  Laroe did not include the mill sites on the property, but kept them for his own use.


Elijah Rosegrant Married Caroline Suffern from Leading Local Family

Just before his purchase of The Hermitage, Elijah married Cornelia Suffern, daughter of John Suffern, the leading figure in the area of New York (Rockland County) adjoining northern Bergen County.  The wedding on June 14, 1807 was held in New Antrim (part of a patent earlier owned by James Marcus Prevost and which later came to be called Suffern) and the signed witnesses were Judge John Suffern, Simeon Rosencrans, John Hopper, Christian Wanamaker, and George Brinkerhoff.  At the time of the marriage Elijah was 41 and Cornelia was 34. 

Elijah Was a Country Doctor in Bergen County

Elijah was one of relatively few physicians in Bergen County in the early decades of the 19th century.  He cared for families, mostly through house visits to their farms or their homes in villages in the area surrounding Ho-Ho-Kus.   Dr. Rosegrant treated persons suffering from accidents, set bones, purged patients, gave medicines for fevers and delivered babies.  For the latter, the charge was $2, larger than the charges for any of his other services. To reach his patients, Elijah had a gig and a brown horse which was also used  for the family’s pleasure sleighing in the winter.  Elijah ordered his medicines usually from New York City, and he made efforts to keep up with his profession.  He bought books, and we have record of his ordering in 1826 a medical dictionary and Dr. Benjamin Rush’s version of Thomas Sydenham’s (the “British Hippocrate”) textbook on medicine.  In 1818 Abram Hopper, 21, of Ho-Ho-Kus, after gaining an academic education in New York City, studied medicine with Dr. Rosegrant for a year.  Hopper then began a practice in Hackensack.    Also in 1818 Elijah met with 11 other doctors in an unsuccessful effort to form a Bergen County medical association. An ongoing association was established only in 1854. 

According to an account book of Dr. Elijah,  in a one year period (1830), he made 549 house visits to 110 local families.  His income from these visits was $538.  It is not certain that this was his entire income from his medical practice, but if it was it indicates the middling income and status of a country doctor at this time and indicates why Elijah became engaged in other revenue producing activities.  Studies show that $538 would have been about equal to the income of a trades foreman.  Thus it was above the average of a wage-earning worker, but did not make one wealthy, comfortable or even “middle class.”  But Elijah did search out other sources of income.  He not only needed finances to take care of his house, family and servants, but he did incur expenses in the education of his sons, particularly John who studied at least three years away from home, one year at an academy for classical studies and two years at Rutgers Medical College.  At the latter the cost for lectures, books, board and clothing was about $400 per year.  Additionally Elijah, at least to some extent, took part in the social life of his community.  It was noted in an 1828 correspondence that he attended the Washington Ball at the Zabriskies. 

Elijah also Farmed, Bought Land and Built a Cotton Mill

For one thing, Elijah continued a working farm and a saw mill on The Hermitage property.  He had several cows, some 20 fowl, a yoke of oxen, and produced a considerable amount of buckwheat, rye, hay, corn and potatoes among other products.  This endeavor would go far to feed the household and probably provided produce for the market.  He had a gun and did hunting.  Elijah bought additional pieces of land for The Hermitage and then rented part of these out for added income.  He also was drawn to  gamble – he often bought lottery tickets – and he bought two 160 acre tracts of land in Illinois in 1818, one for $50, as a speculation.   In 1828 he bought some land in Tioga County in upstate New York from a Suffern inlaw and then sold it in 1830.

Then , after Elijah’s neighbor, James Laroe, had converted an old bark mill on the Ho-Ho-Kus Brook into a paper mill in 1826 and Andrew Zabriskie had built a cotton mill downstream, Elijah in 1828, acquired property between them with the thought of building a cotton mill.  Despite the fact that Laroe had enlarged his mill and built a new mill race upstream from Rosencrantz in 1829, Elijah went ahead in the following year with the construction of a mill race of his own, a wheel pit and a cotton mill as a rental property.  This strained Elijah’s resources, because as son John noted in a letter to his brother George, “we cannot raise cash enough to pay the shoemaker bill.”  Nevertheless, Elijah did succeed in finishing the mill by 1830, and in that year signed a 10 year lease with Abraham, Henry and Peter Prall to operate the mill as the firm of Prall and Brothers for $400 a year rent.  They began operation around December 1830.  In April 1831 a flood damaged the mill, it temporarily ceased operation, but was restarted by 1832.

As both Rosegrant and Laroe, together with others in Bergen Count, were enticed by the possibilities of economic gain through the just emerging industrial revolution, their endeavors brought them into conflict in the years between 1825 to 1830.  Elijah brought Laroe to court over road obstructions and the changing of the direction of the flow of water in Ho-Ho-Kus Brook.  Although he obtained the legal services of Philemon Dickerson, one of the top lawyers in New Jersey, the court judged that Laroe’s obstructions did not prevent Rosegrant from moving around his property nor deter his mill interests.  

Elijah and Cornelia Rosegrant Family Life

Elijah and Cornelia, though married relatively late in life, had four children, all sons.  This family, however, had a markedly smaller number of children than the families from which they came (14 and 12).  The sons were John born in 1809, George Suffern in 1812, Elijah II in 1814 and Andrew in 1817.  Andrew died young at age of 2 in 1819, not an unusual occurrence at this time, even in the family of a doctor.  While the other boys received a classical type of education at home, John,  for a short time, and George, for a longer period of time, were apprenticed to their second cousin Tom Suffern who ran a retail store in New York City. 

John who seems to have been favored by the family, at least in terms of education, was enrolled in a classical academy, probably in New York City, and then at the Rutgers School of Medicine also in New York.  This required an outlay of money from Elijah, not only for John’s tuition, but also  for his room, board and other expenses.  The years were 1824-1827.

For these years when John was in New York, there are a number of extant letters from Elijah to his son.  They give us some idea of Elijah’s values.  He constantly urged John to put sustained  efforts into his study and to read.  He thought highly of a classical education, and when this was no longer possible for John, he accepted a medical education as second best, but still valuable.  While Elijah recognized the need for exercise and recreation for his son, he strongly warned  that “bewitching frolics,” the pleasures of youth, the diversions of the city, and attractive company should not interfere with his primary task of study.   In addition to learning from lectures and books, the father frequently reminded his son that knowledge of the world was indispensable to his becoming useful to himself and to society.  John was to derive useful information from everything he saw and heard.  Elijah approved his son’s spending some time in dancing school, as long as it was proper, probably for its social utility.  The father urged John to attend church, give respectful attention to religious instruction, express no critical ideas or opinions, refrain from arguing on religious subjects, but reserve to himself the right of private opinion.   At church he could meet good company and observe good manners.  Elijah encouraged John to respect others, his equals and his superiors.  The cardinal virtues that Elijah urged on his son were honesty, justice, temperance, and prudence.

Another concern of Elijah was the countering of the prevalent focus of many in the country on “ghosts, specters and hob goblins.”  In a statement “If the Hangings Flutter” in 1828, he gave  examples of current “supernatural” beliefs and judged them as absurdities.  He put the blame primarily on persons of the lower classes and from poor early education.  “Tis education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent the tree inclined.”

We do not know much about Elijah’s wife, Cornelia, but she did have three sons to raise and a household to run.  She had help from servants.  In the letters from Elijah to John, there is mention that Cornelia did get to Paterson, but a promised trip to visit her sons in New York City was  continually postponed.  She seemed increasingly unwilling to leave her home.

African Americans at The Hermitage

For most of one hundred years, African Americans contributed significantly to life at The Hermitage.  They did much of the physical farm labor and domestic work here.  Usually in small numbers, one to four, of related persons, a husband and a wife or a mother and a daughter or a son, they planted and harvested crops, took care of animals, worked the saw and grain mills, were masons, were butlers, cooked, cleaned, did the laundry and helped care for children.  These African Americans, as slaves, were key to the economy of the Prevost’s “Gentleman’s Farm” before and during the Revolution and perhaps also earlier for the Lane family in the 1760s.  Even in involuntary servitude, at least some of these slaves were able to exercise some independence as indicated by an ad in 1774 when a slave husband, Mark, and his wife ran away from The Hermitage.  Still during the Revolution, when Theodosia Prevost had the opportunity to travel to New York City under a white flag, she did so with a man servant, probably an African American slave.  In the latter years of the Revolution, as the friendship between Theodosia and Aaron Burr developed, Burr’s personal slave Carlos was often at The Hermitage.

Elijah Rosegrant came from a slave owning family in Sussex County and his wife Caroline from a slave owning family in New Antrim, and Bergen County into which they moved had the highest percentage of African Americans and of slaves of any county in New Jersey in the first years of the 19th century.  Further, in Hopperstown, many members of the dominant and extended Hopper family had slaves in their households.  Thus, it was not unexpected that Elijah decided to acquire slaves after he bought The Hermitage in 1807.  This was after gradual emancipation had become law in New Jersey in 1804, despite the opposition of many of the slaveholders in Bergen County.  The New Jersey legislation did not free those who already were slaves, but only those born after the  passage of the 1804 law, and then only after they became adults.  In 1808 Elijah and his wife Caroline were witnesses to the purchase of a 16 year old slave boy, Tom, by Elijah’s brother Levi Rosencrantz of Sussex County from Henry Van Emburgh for a sum of $250.  In the same year Elijah himself bought, Gin, an adult African American woman slave and her young son Ceasar from Elsie Hopper for $175.  Since Gin was born before the gradual emancipation act, Elijah could continue to hold her as a slave.  However, Caesar, aged 3, born after the act, would become free at age 25.  In 1810 Elijah, as did other slave holders in New Jersey, arranged for Caesar to be accepted as a ward of  the local Overseers of the Poor, one of whom was Henry Hopper, who then in turn indentured Caesar to Elijah with an annual sum for his care.  The indictment required Elijah to provide Caesar with food, clothing, learning to read and write, and farm or other skill and in return he could utilize his labor until he was 25.  However, Elijah in 1811 bound Caesar to Garret Zabrieski, a carpenter in Harrington.  Meanwhile, Gin, Elijah’s female slave, had at least three births.  It is not clear if the father was a male slave acquired by Elijah or perhaps one who was owned by the Hoppers or some other neighbor.  In July 1808 Gin had Harry and in November 1810 Gin gave birth to Jack.  Then in 1813 she had Phebe.   Elijah also sold a Negro boy to his brother Levi in 1810.

By 1830 Elijah Rosencrantz no longer had slaves.  The African Americans in his household were listed by the census of that year as “‘Free’ colored persons: 3 males, 24-36, 10-24, under 10; 1 female 24-36.”  Elijah II, aged 13 writing to his brother John, aged 17 in 1827 stated: “Harry says he has blacked your boots so often for nothing that you could afford to buy him a pair second hand, Harry also says that you must not forget his flute.” Then in 1832 Elijah wrote: “Harry and I are building a house.  I had to do all the ploughing and Harry had to do all the mason.: Harry was then 24 years of age.

According to the census Gin was no longer at The Hermitage in 1830.  During the 1820s Silva (Sill) became a member of the household.  In late 1826 she had a son.   In 1840 the census listed 1 male 10-14 and 1 female 24-36 African Americans at The Hermitage.  The census ten years later listed “Silva Rosencrant, black, 40, born N.J., illiterate” and “Pompey A. Rosencrant – black, 22, laborer, born N.J., illiterate.”  Sylvia was listed in 1860 as “50, black, servant, born N.J.”  She was the last African American recorded as a member of  The Hermitage household.  It is evident that for the Rosencrantz family African Americans contributed importantly to the running of the household and the agricultural activities through more than half a century at The Hermitage. 

Additionally it was noted in the 1850 census that in the neighboring household of Henry and Charity Hopper there resided also a Rosencrantz relative, Charick Rosencrantz with his wife Marianne, both age 35 and African Americans workers with the Rosencrantz name; Jane Rosengrant (black female 18), Thomas (black male 24), Benjamin (black male 22), Susan (black female 14), and John (black male 2).

Further, at least two African Americans were in the Rosencrantz mill workforce in the 1850s, Nancy Kipp and Anne Johnson, both of whom lived nearby.  Anne’s daughter Fanny would work as a laundry lady for the Rosencrantz family in the 1890s.  There may have been other African Americans in the area who did non-live-in work at The Hermitage in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Elijah Died in 1832

In 1831 Elijah began to suffer from poor health and then died in 1832.  He left a will, showing an inventory of his assets, mostly related to farm equipment and produce, as well as the cotton mill, but not including the value of the house, outbuildings and land.  It equaled $1,048 in the value of the day.  In the will, Elijah directed that $500 in income from rent be set aside for the payment of all his debts.  He designated 1/3 of the property for Cornelia together with $100 a year from the mill rent for the rest of her life or widowhood.  John and George received land.  Elijah received the house, mill, barn, outbuildings, and orchard and Cornelia’s share when she died.

Elijah Rosegrant was a man of the new United States.  While he held on to many traditional values in terms of religion and service, he like other young men in this early national period who was open to multiple new possibilities.  He was the first in his family to go to college, he moved from his agrarian background, the background of most Americans at this time, into the professions, first as a minister and then as a doctor.  He married into an entrepreneurial family some of whose members were in commercial and new emerging industrial enterprises.  Elijah would stack out an interest in this nascent industrialism by establishing a cotton warp mill.  He also invested, if on a limited scale,  in western land as the nation expanded beyond the Alleghenies.  He was a leading personage in his community, had strongly held moral values, was practiced in rational thought, believed in “bourgeois” respectability, and engaged in litigation to protect what he thought were his rights.  In opening himself to the new America, he provided a model and incentives for his sons to enter Americas growing industrial and commercial life.  In the process he firmly established the  Rosencrantz family at The Hermitage.