The Staats Family: An Overview

In 1738, Peter Staats of Long Island made a purchase of 304 acres of land in what is present day South Bound Brook. A long, narrow piece of property, with access to the Raritan River, this is the property that soon thereafter, in 1740, saw the building of the first phase of the Staats’ home, which the family inhabited for nearly 200 years. The original two-room house built by Hendrick Staats, who had purchased the property from his father, Peter, still exists and can be seen within the expanded home that evolved through the centuries, housing generations of Staats, to be followed by other private owners and finally, today, as a house museum owned by the Borough of South Bound Brook.

Portrait of Abraham Staats.

Portrait of Abraham Staats.

Hendrick Staats and wife Maghtel were the first of many Staats to live in the home. After two decades, however, they sold the home to Hendrick’s brother, John Staats, in 1769. John in turn, gave the property to his son Abraham, shortly after Abraham’s marriage to Margaret DuBois, in 1770 — and the newly married couple began their family life on the farm. Soon after, the American Revolution would erupt, enveloping the Staats in eight years of scattered warfare on New Jersey lands. Abraham and Margaret would ultimately have five daughters, Jane, Phebe, Margaret, Sarah and Mary, and a son, Isaac, who survived to adulthood, most of whom remained at the family homestead.

Portrait of Margaret Dubois Staats.

Portrait of Margaret Dubois Staats.

After their parents’ deaths – Abraham in 1821 followed by Margaret in 1822, and that of daughter Margaret, who also died in 1821 – the remaining siblings and their children continued to play important roles connected to the home and property. Through the 19th century, the household waxed and waned with Staats family members, farm hands, enslaved and freed African-Americans and others who inhabited the home and ran the farm. The house itself continued to expand, with the growth of the family, as each generation added its own improvements.

The last of the Staats family by marriage, the LaTourettes, occupied the house from 1869 through 1935. Sarah Staats’ daughter, Margaret Ann, had married Cornelius LaTourette, who acquired the property in 1869. They had two sons who survived to adulthood, Lewis and Eugene. Eugene and his first and second wives, Florence DeCamp and Helen Craven Cook, whom he married in 1932 after the death of Florence in 1929, lived in the house through 1935, when it was sold out of the family, ending the nearly 200 years of Staats family life at the home.

The Abraham Staats House - Staats Family Tree

The following research is excerpted from: Jacquetta M. Haley: Furnishing Report/Rooms 102 & 104/Abraham Staats House, November 2017.  A 2017 grant from the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission State/County History Partnership Program [SCHPP] to the Borough of South Bound Brook Historic Preservation Advisory Commission funded this Furnishings Plan.

1738 – 1770
EARLY YEARS: The Staats Come to New Jersey

Introduction, History of the Staats House and Family: Any house that has existed for nearly three hundred years will have undergone numerous changes. The Abraham Staats house certainly falls into this category. As a house its history begins c. 1740. The property itself has a much longer history, starting with the indigenous peoples that lived in modern Somerset County. European settlement of the area came fairly late in the colonial period. The South Bound Brook region was part of Lord Baltimore’s Proprietary Colony of East Jersey, meaning that it was a gift from the Duke of York to Lord Baltimore in 1664. Lord Baltimore’s heir, Cecil Carteret died in 1675 and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Carteret took control of East Jersey as guardian of their children. The establishment of East Jersey was essentially a speculative venture, the Carteret’s making little effort to see it settled.

Lady Carteret sold the Province of East Jersey to the Twelve Proprietors in 1682. The Twelve Proprietors quickly expanded their numbers and in 1685 William Dockwra purchased the tract of land which included the later Staats property. Dockwra held the land for 17 years but again made little effort to see it settled.

In February 1702 he sold 1800 acres of land to Gerardus Beekman, a New York City merchant, and Leffert Peterson for £366. Beekman held his land for 20 years, then in April 1722 conveyed one third of his holdings to his daughter Cornelia Beekman. During Cornelia Beekman’s tenure settlers of Dutch ancestry, largely drawn from Long Island, began to settle on South Bound Brook lands.

In September 1738 Cornelia Beekman Van Dam [Gerard’s daughter] sold 304 acres of land to Peter Staats for £350. Peter was a resident of Long Island. With this purchase we see the beginning of nearly two hundred years of continuous Staats family ownership of the homestead in South Bound Brook, NJ.[2] At the time Peter Staats purchased lands along the Raritan River, the family had been in the New World for nearly a century. The progeniture of the family is believed to have been Jan Pieterse who settled in Brooklyn, Long Island before 1640, then part of the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. His son Pieter Jansen [b. c. 1640] was the first native born member of the future Staats family. Pieter Jansen’s son, Pieter Pietersen [1663-d. after 1725] was the last member of the family to be born under Dutch rule.

In 1687 residents of the colony of New York were required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the current English colonial government. At this time both Pieter Jansen and Peter Pietersen used the English style surname “Staats.” [3] Peter Staats, the son of Peter Pietersen and Lysbet Aersen Middagh was baptized in 1690. He married Lummatje Vegte on August 29, 1712. Their children will make the move away from Long Island to settle along the Raritan in the 1730s and 1740s.

After over 100 years of settlement little open land remained around Flatbush. The Dutch practice of partible inheritance, each child being given an equal share rather than the primogeniture practiced by the English, meant that family lands were repeatedly divided into smaller and smaller parcels. This land scarcity encouraged three of Peter’s children, Hendrick Staats (b. c. 1715), John Staats (b. c. 1718) and Geeretie Staats (b. c.1720) to move to undeveloped lands in New Jersey, probably with a financial assist from their father.[4]

Hendrick Staats, Peter Staats’ son, had married Maghtel van Duyn in November 1739. Five months later Hendrick paid Peter 5s. for the 300+ acres acquired from Cornelia Beekman Van Dam in 1738. That property appears to have been undeveloped although Peter Staats had leased it for at least a year prior to his purchase. There is no indication that there was a house on the property at the time Hendrick took possession. The deed does refer to “houses, edifices, buildings” but this is simply 18th century legal boilerplate.

Hendrick Staats Two-Room House: The story of the future Abraham Staats house begins with Hendrick Staats. It is believed that Hendrick built the initial two room house shortly after he and his new wife took possession in 1740. It was a small house, roughly 20’ x 28’ and following Dutch tradition, it was two rooms deep with the front room significantly larger than the back room. A narrow stairway in the back room gave access to the garret, an open storage space. By 1745 Hendrick Staats paid 9s.4d. taxes on his 250-acre Franklin township farm and had a reasonably large herd of 10 cattle.[5] That same year his son was baptized at the Harlingen church and he received his certification as a member in 1746.[6] Hendrick and his family remained on their Franklin farm for the next two decades.

Just as Hendrick had left Long Island to create a new farm in New Jersey, his brother John also moved to Somerset County. John Staats married Femmetje Brokaw of Raritan, NJ in the late 1730s. He left the family home in Flatbush and acquired a 300-acre farm at Sowerland in Hillsborough, NJ about the same time that Hendrick set up his household in Franklin.[7]

Abraham Staats, John’s third son, grew up on the Sowerland farm. When he married Margaret Du Bois, also of Hillsborough, late in 1770, he would need land of his own to support his new family.

1770 – 1822 ABRAHAM & MARGARET STAATS:
A Dutch-American Family and an American Revolution

For unknown reasons Hendrick Staats sold his Bound Brook farm to his younger brother John on April 5, 1769. John Staats paid Hendrick and Maghtel £1,450 for the 272-acre farm.[8] A year and a half later, on November 8, 1770, Abraham Staats married Margaret Du Bois. John Staats gave Hendrick’s farm to Abraham and Margaret shortly after their marriage and they began making significant changes to their new home. It should be noted that while Abraham and Margaret lived and worked Hendrick’s farm, actual ownership remained with John Staats. Abraham could not claim to be a freeholder of the Town of Franklin until he became the actual owner, something that would not occur until John’s death in 1781.

Abraham and Margaret enlarged their new home, turning Hendrick’s two room house into a four-room house with a stair hall on the west and living spaces to the east. They slightly decreased the size of the two original rooms and installed corner fireplaces in each of the east rooms. For the first time both the front and back living spaces on the east side had heat. The original stair leading to the garret was removed from the back room and installed in the new stair hall. The small space behind the stair hall probably became a fourth room.

The transformation of Hendrick’s 1740s house went beyond adding new spaces. Abraham and Margaret removed the original fireplace replacing it with two corner fireplaces on the east side, so that both the front and back rooms had heat. Georgian style paneling embellished the new fireplaces. A stylish Georgian corner cupboard was installed in the southeast corner of the front room. The two new rooms on the west side remained unheated. The earlier stairway in the back room of Hendrick’s house disappeared and a new stairway to the garret runs up the east wall of the stair hall. At this point, the kitchen wing remained a separate structure.

General Von Steuben's Headquarters

General Von Steuben’s Headquarters

The American Revolution Comes to Stay ~ Gen. Von Steuben: This is the house that was raided twice by British troops during the war, once in 1777 and again in 1781. Although Abraham did not enlist in the American forces, he supported the drive for independence. He did not sign Lord Howe’s November 1776 offer of a full pardon for those who would swear allegiance to the Crown.[9]

On April 13, 1777 British forces raided Somerset County and removed a cow, 5 calves, 10 articles of clothing, a pewter teapot and a coffee pot from the Staats homestead. They were valued at £22.5s.[10] A second raid in 1781 by the Queen’s Rangers led the family to bury their china and silver under the barn floor along with the china of a New Brunswick merchant. After the war the merchant presented Mrs. Staats with two china figurines as a mark of his appreciation.

This is the house that Major General Baron Von Steuben and his staff occupied from March 26, 1779 to June 19, 1779. While it is possible that Abraham, Margaret and their three daughters remained in the house during the Major General’s tenure, it is equally possible that they stayed in another location near at hand. Jane Staats Doty was a child of six and recounted her recollections of Major General Von Steuben in 1848:

Three sisters survive, one of whom (Mrs. Jane Doty), nearly eighty years of age, who resided there during the Revolution, has a clear recollection of many events connected with Baron Steuben’s occupancy of the house. Although she was then a child eight or ten years old [she was six], she remembers the dignity of his appearance, the urbanity of his manners, for which he was noted, and the elegance and richness of the ornaments with which he was adorned. She spoke of a brilliant medal that hung by a ribbon upon his breast. Mrs. Doty recollected two visits made to the baron by Washington and his lady, one to dine and the other to take tea with him. On the latter occasion several ladies were present. She also remembers an entertainment given by the baron to the American officers and their ladies, on which occasion the table was spread in a grove nearby.[11]

After the War: The Staats family continued to grow during the post war years. The family of five present during Baron Von Steuben’s occupancy grew to a family of eight by 1791. In addition to daughters Jane (b. 1773), Phebe (b. 1775), and Catherine (1778-1779) Abraham and Margaret added five more children, Margaret (b. 1781), Mary Smith (b. 1784), Sarah (b. 1787), Magdalene (1789-1790) and finally Isaac in 1791.[12] In addition to family members there would have been an unknown number of slaves and seasonal farm workers who lived on the homestead property.[13] Family tradition says the slaves lived in the above the kitchen but it is equally possible that they had a space in the garret of the main building.

Abraham’s position and prestige in Bound Brook and wider Somerset County grew as his family grew. During the 1770s, both prior to the war and during the war, his status as a non-freeholder limited his availability for public office. It wasn’t until his father, John’s, death in October 1781 that Abraham inherited fee ownership of his farm and the status of freeholder.[14] Prior to this he had taken a census of the Eastern Precinct in 1775 and became one of two “managers” of the bridge across the Raritan at Bound Brook in the spring of 1781. As a manger he and Jacobus Veerdine were to “Put the Said Bridge in Good Repair and from Time to Time keep her in Repair and lay the accounts of expenditures Before this Board for Allowance and Settlement.”[15] Both were positions of trust but not government positions.

Following John’s death in October 1781, Abraham took on increasingly more important and visible positions in Somerset County. From late 1781 through 1786 he served as one of three adjusters for claims of property lost in Somerset County during the war. In 1787 he and Joseph Annen were Commissioners of Loans for Somerset County, a position that he held until 1792. By June 1789 he was one of the elected freeholders attending meetings of the “two Justices and the Chosen freeholders of Hillsborough, Bridgewater, and the Eastern Precinct.” He represented the Eastern Precinct. He continued to serve as a chosen freeholder until May 1794.

Abraham attained his highest office in May 1792 when he was selected to be the Collector for Somerset County. He replaced Jacque Voorheis who had served as County Collector since before the war. Voorheis had died earlier in 1792. In 1798 Abraham was required to pay security of $3,000 for the post of Collector. This marks the transition from payments in pounds, shillings, and pence to payments in the newly created dollars. Abraham continued to provide security of $3,000 to $5,000 each year for the remainder of his tenure as Collector. He was re-elected Collector until his death in May 1821.[16]

Abraham and Margaret Staats c. 1800 Expansion: The four-room home where Abraham and Margaret began married life seemed increasingly cramped, physically and socially. By 1800 the family numbered two adults and six children, four daughters in their mid-teens and twenties as well as two younger children. In addition, Abraham owned an unknown number of slaves, but presumably one or two at this point. To accommodate a growing household it is likely that all the first floor rooms, except for the stair hall, contained beds.[17] Some of the children may have slept in the garret. The small house also failed to properly represent the growing social and economic position of the Staats in post war Somerset County. The addition of two new first floor rooms, a large parlor in the front and a bedroom in the rear gave the Staats family a home that more accurately reflected their enhanced position in the community. It allowed the family to more clearly delineate public/living spaces, the two front rooms, from private spaces in the back and on the second floor. The new front room had a smaller, federal style fireplace with pilasters and an oval shaped frieze, typical of the period 1790-1815. Once again, the back room was unheated.

The 1821 Inventory: Abraham Staats’ 1821 inventory provides the clearest picture of the house at the time of his death. It identifies the seven rooms of the first floor. Hendrick’s original front room, the largest room in the house, is the “dwelling room,” comparable to our living room or family room. This would have been the room in which the family carried out most day to day activities. The smaller room behind is a bedroom, containing the second most elaborate bed, bedding and bed curtains, valued at $30. The stair hall is referred to as the Entry.

The new front room is the Parlor, a formal room meant for entertaining and display. The room behind the parlor is another bedroom, this one with the most elaborate bed, bedding and bed curtains in the house, valued at $50. The room behind the Entry is identified as a bedroom although there is no bed in the space at the time of Abraham’s death. The Kitchen is dealt with following a tour through the upstairs and cellar of the main house, indicating that entry into the kitchen was from the outside, rather than through the house itself. The inventory also lists four additional beds/bedsteads upstairs. These are far less valuable than the two showpiece beds on the first floor.

Even though Margaret and Abraham successfully increased the size of their Bound Brook home, installing more fashionable interiors, they undoubtedly anticipated the size of the household to diminish over time. They could expect their daughters to leave the house and set up their own households. They would have planned to set up a new farm and household for Isaac when he married, just as John Staats provided Abraham with a farm upon his marriage in 1770. As it turned out however, few of the children left to set up new homes, and of those that did, most returned.

The Staats’ Children Grow Up: As was fitting, the first to leave the family home was Jane, the eldest. On December 21, 1808, at the age of 35, she became the third wife of Joseph Doty. A year and a half later she gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. The marriage however, was short-lived. Joseph Doty died in 1811, leaving several minor children by his second wife in addition to Elizabeth. In his will Joseph returned Jane’s original dowry: $250 and “all the clothes & beds & bedding she brought also the china ware she brought,” plus the additional sum of $500 and a cow, in lieu of her right of dower. He set aside $800 for Elizabeth, the interest of which was to provide “maintainance [sic] until she arrives to the age of eighteen years then to receive six hundred dollars.” He designated Jane as Elizabeth’s guardian. This inheritance meant that Jane and Elizabeth Doty could maintain an independent household.[18] Jane eventually returned to the Bound Brook homestead, but this doesn’t occur until after 1830. She does not appear to be in residence on the 1830 census. Her daughter Elizabeth married Benjamin Bonney in 1829 and she may have been living with them at this point. She had returned to the family homestead by 1840.

Isaac was the next to leave the house. He married Martha A. Ross, presumably sometime in 1811-1812. Their daughter, Margaret, was born February 17, 1813. He appears on the 1815 Somerset County tax list on the same page as his father, but in a separate household.[19] Abraham had provided the young family with a small farm near the homestead farm. Isaac, Maria and their young daughter maintained this separate household until the deaths of Abraham Staats in 1821 and Margaret DuBois Staats in 1822.

1822 – 1870 A NEW GENERATION:
The Staats Siblings’ Households

These restrictions came into play following the deaths of Abraham and Margaret DuBois. In accordance with Abraham Staats’ will, dated August 20, 1819, Margaret DuBois Staats had a life interest in the entire estate following Abraham’s death on May 4, 1821. She died less than a year later in April 1822. Upon her death the Bound Brook house and property was divided between Isaac and his sisters. Isaac received half of the farm and all farm buildings and a half interest in the house.

The remaining unmarried daughters, Phebe and Mary Smith, and Sarah Staats Bayles [as long as she remained separated from her husband William Bayles] received a life interest in the other half of the house and 1/3 use of the other buildings, garden and orchard. The house and farm buildings, etc. were on Isaac’s half of the farm. All the sisters, including Jane Staats Doty, received an equal share in the other half of the farmlands, and the remainder of Abraham’s personal estate. Phebe and Mary Smith Staats each received an additional bequest of $300. The married daughters, Jane and Sarah, would have received a comparable amount as part of their dowries when they married.[21]

While Isaac did not inherit any of the furnishings, Abraham compensated him with the bequest of “my Negro boy Frank” [valued at $125] who still had 11 years to serve before he would be legally manumitted, a long musket [$5.00] and turnpike stock valued at $200.[22]

Isaac Staats 1820s Expansion-Creating a Second Household: Isaac Staats is generally credited with the final major expansion of the family homestead. In 1823 Isaac and his sisters formally split the farmlands. Isaac’s half of the farm included the homestead lot. Once the land was legally divided Isaac took some of his inheritance and expanded the old homestead, essentially creating two separate households. It is possible that the sisters contributed money toward the construction of the East Addition. It would have been to their benefit to have the original house clearly under their control while Isaac and his family claimed the newly constructed East Addition.

The new wing included a first floor with a fashionable entry hall, one large room at the front of the house and one or two smaller back rooms which may have served as a kitchen or other work space. The large front room had a fireplace. The second floor contained the stair hall, a small bedroom and the large heated front bedroom.

Bursting at the Seams: By 1830 the enlarged homestead was packed with people. The federal census shows two separate households, each with ten people. Isaac Staats, wife Martha and daughter Margaret lived in the east addition along with an unidentified white female, age 10-14, and six African-Americans. These included two free “colored” males under 10, possibly Jack Staats and Dick Staats, one free colored male age 24-35, one free colored female under 10, possibly Betty Staats, and a free colored female age 10-23, plus one male slave age 24-35. The slave was probably either Simon who would be manumitted by Isaac in March 1834, or Caesar, manumitted in March 1831.[23] Testimony given during litigation between Isaac Staats and Reuben Freeman and Margaret Staats Freeman in the 1840s and 1850s identified Jack Staats, and Betty Staats as siblings. Their mother, Jane Staats had undoubtedly been a Staats family slave.[24]

The original homestead was equally crowded. Phebe Staats’ household included herself, her sisters, Sarah Staats Bayles, Mary Smith Staats, and Sarah’s daughter Margaret Ann Bayles, plus one unidentified white male between the ages of 20 and 29. He was probably a farm laborer. In total 5 white persons. There were five African-Americans, one free colored male under 10, one free colored female under 10, and three slaves, one male 55-99 and two females, 24-35. One of these slaves may have been Jane Staats and the other could have been Sarah Ann, a slave bequeathed to Phebe Staats by her sister Margaret in 1822.

During the 1830s significant changes affected both households. In 1834 Margaret Staats, daughter of Isaac and Martha, married Reuben Freeman and they set up their own household on a small farm given to them by Isaac. Then, on November 6, 1838 Isaac’s wife, Martha A. Ross Staats died. Now only Isaac and his household servants, all free African-Americans, occupied his half of the house. At this point it appears that Isaac’s daughter Margaret Staats Freeman, her husband Reuben and their growing family moved back into the eastern portion of the homestead.

During the same period the population of the sisters’ household experienced equal upheaval. In 1836 Margaret Ann Bayles, Sarah’s daughter, married Dr. George Bayles and presumably moved out of the sisters’ household. George Bayles died in 1839 and Margaret Ann moved back into her childhood home. By the end of the decade Jane Doty also had moved back to the family homestead.

Isaac Staats Second Expansion, c. 1835-1840: It is during the midst of these changes that Isaac further expanded his East Addition, possibly using funds he acquired selling a section of land to the east of the house. He sold 28 acres of land to the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company for $1,903.50 on December 10, 1834. It is generally assumed that he used at least part of this money to increase his living space by enlarging the two back rooms and replacing the original lean-to roofline with a full second story, creating additional bedrooms and storage on the second floor and garret. He also installed a single-story addition to the northeast corner. This probably served as the kitchen for Isaac’s family.[25]

The expansion facilitated the introduction of the Reuben Freeman growing family following Martha’s death in late 1838. Although the size of Isaac’s household remained the same, the makeup changed signific