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A History of the Breese Family

A Pastorale by Kathryn Grace Breese

 

Chapter VI

Letters

 It was among the many weddings of his sisters that our spoiled boy Bailey, on the 16th of September, 1804, set up for himself by marrying Deborah Arwine. Dr. Finley tied the knot for this happy young couple and Nancy was surely proud of her boy that day.

Deborah was two years older than Bailey. She seems to have been a high-spirited young woman, if we may judge from a son of hers whom she called Bailey, Jr., and who became a striking young gentleman in his day. Her name was pronounced Irwin and this caused us much difficulty in locating her family, but they were also Banking Ridge people and her father, Thomas Arwine is listed as having handed in to the Government a proved claim for the modest sum of $5.0.0 for damages done by the British to his property during the war. This claim, however, was never paid.

We think that about this time or maybe shortly after, Stephen disposed of the farm, which is on record as having been deeded to him by his father. Was he his father's favorite? We do not know. At any rate, it was he who remained on the old homestead. At fifty, with the boy gone, Stephen must have felt that it was better to give his land over to younger people and it was thus that the old Brees property fell into other hands. It was later known as the Southard property.

Sated with always talking crops, which were so uncertain and always swapping horses which often turned out poor, he went to live in the village and talked instead politics and swapped instead jokes, which was far more to his liking. And Nancy having done her share, now retired to what we call an old-fashioned garden, which she had at the back of her cottage. We see her casting a loving eye over the phlox, sweet William, Canterbury bells and herbs for her kitchen and medicine cabinet. She walks along the neat little gravel paths if not with the old buoyant step yet with a firm tread and she enjoys the cool of the summer evenings in this way. Not much elegance and not much symmetry - just a profusion of sweet posies.

Bailey took his young wife up the hill a mile or so to a house which had served its time in the late war and has since become a landmark and is used at present as the public library in the village of Bernardsville. In Bailey's time this place bore the inelegant name of the Vealtown having taken that epigraph from the fact that the meat passed through it for the army.

The Whitenacks had taken this place and were keeping a sort of inn for passing strangers and Sally found a place in it for her brother.

Bailey's occupation these years is obscure. Was he a farmer? His brother-in-law, Aaron Boylan, was a lawyer there. Was he perhaps a clerk for hi,? Did he help the Whitenacks in the management of the inn? All this we must leave unanswered. We are inclined to suspect that Stephen at any rate was looking out for him and we are sure that Nancy never refused him anything she had that he needed or wanted.

Two boys were born to him, Stephen in 1805 and Bailey, Jr., in 1808. Then he was visited by a period of sadness. He lost his young wife and found himself a widower at the age of twenty-six.

Sally, no doubt, did what she could for the motherless little boys (one of which was later her own son-in-law) and it is certain Bailey often went to his mother for comfort which he was sure to get. But it's not in the nature of a young man of twenty-six to mourn long and that is as it should be.

In 1809 or thereabout we find him a spanning in the horses and galloping over the beautiful Somerset hills of a Sunday afternoon to Morristown. There was a young woman over there of French extraction, of a staid and enduring nature, who had already passed her first youth. Bailey found her very interesting and he believed she would make his boys a good mother. He married her and she went with him to Vealtown to live. Her name was Phebe Runyon and she was of a very numerous family.

Vincent Rougnion, a Huguenot from Poitiers, France, came to this country in 1665; he settled in Piscataway township in Middlesex County, New Jersey, in 1667. He married in 1668 Ann Boutcher, a daughter of John Boutcher of Hartford, England. We see that the name Boutcher denotes French lineage also. There were many children and all the Runyons of Somerset and Union Counties belong to this Piscataway line.

It will be seen that Phebe was an American of very long standing. There is a certain sadness about her. She was not very robust. Having the mark of Huguenot in her veins she was religiously inclined and she soon became a regular attendant at the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. She lived not far away and could easily have walked the distance, but Bailey, who loved his ease, used to swing her up on the back of his horse, and thus they went to meeting. The unsightly hitching posts which surrounded the church where the horses were tied, have disappeared this many a year.

She began her married life with two little sons already waiting for her, and she was very kind to them. In after years, when her life was over, her stepson, Bailey, Jr., was known to have spoken gently of her memory.

Now, as if the world would never tire of fighting (which we of the 20th century know too well), came a new war. We find that Bailey was not a soldier, but we can in a way gain a sidelight on these times by giving a letter of his cousin john (son of his Uncle Azariah) who was a colonel in this new army. It is a pity to be obliged to resort always to substitutes as a means of getting nearer these people. But since diligent research has failed to bring to light original documents pertaining to those nearest us, we are forced to use the material we have at hand, which touches them indirectly. Colonel John was four years older than Bailey. They had the same schooling under the same teacher. This is how John wrote a letter to his wife during the War of 1812-1815.

Camp Highlands of Neversink,

Sept. 21, 1814

Dear Madam:

I embrace this opportunity to send you a few lines to inform you that I am yet in the land of the living. I am not very well at present, by reason of a very bad cold in my head and stomach, but so that I am on foot. We have just landed and are yet on the beach waiting for teams to carry our baggage into camp. We lay aboard the slope all night. Some of our men were very sea-sick, but they are all very well this morning. There is a great many men in camp. I think I shall not be so well suited as I was at the Hook. I want you to lay up all the butter you can against I come home for I find it will be very hard to get butter here and if got at a very high price. Potatoes one dollar per bushel here.

I intend to come home as quick as possible. I will come home this week if I can but I can't tell for certain. Tomorrow is the day I have meant to start and will if I can.

I want you to send James Southard and David Douglass word that we are at the Highlands if they have not started when you get this letter. Please to inform all the neighbors who have friends in my company that they are all on foot.

So I must conclude as the bearer, Lieut. David Burgie, who will be the bearer of this letter, is waiting. So no more at present, but remain you most affectionate husband.

John Brees

Just inform Mr. Kinnan's folks that I saw John Kinnan this morning and he is well.

There is something stately about a man addressing his wife as "Dear Madam". A custom we have long since changed for more endearing terms. We see in this letter names familiar to us. James Southard was already owner of the old Brees property. David Douglas as we know became, later, the husband of Bailey's sister Ruth, and "Mr. Kinnan's folks" we are acquainted with through the Mary Lewis tragedy.

Here we give a letter of the Colonel's wife written to him a month later, which we love to fancy is like one Phebe would write.

October the 14, 1814.

Dear Husband:

I now set down to write you a few lines to let you know that we are all well at present except myself and I am as well as I could expect to be. I hope these lines will find you enjoying your health. I want to hear from you very much, much more to see you. I thank you for the oysters and the rum. I wanted it before Charles got back. I was confined that night after you left me. I have got another daughter, I want you to write me the first opportunity, so no more at present but shall always remain your most dear friend and affectionate wife.

Elizabeth Brees

A certain distance and rese4rve is manifested in this letter but withal very courteous and it reveals the workings of a refined mind. The rum which she wanted may sound strange to some ears today, but it seems to have been a national beverage those days and evidently did them little harm. At least she drank it openly, which is more than many of the followers of our amended constitution do now. Who the Charles is she mentions, we do not know. It will be observed that the name Brees had not yet taken on the final "e", but this must have come about soon after.

While we are reproducing these letters we should like to give another even at the risk of fatiguing the reader, for it fits in well, and being from a soldier in the colonel's company (we think his orderly) we cannot refrain from giving it here.

"Capt. John Brees, Sir: I have found my work in such a distressed situation when I come home that I did not know which way to turn myself about, for I could get nobody to do any of it for the cash for there is nobody around here that knows how to burn a coal pit I thought it proper for me to get Philip Blazier to come down to camp in my name until I would get my pit burnt and then I would come there myself again. And if you will be so good as to take him in my stead until I do get my coal pit burnt you will oblige me very much indeed.

Your family is all well as can be expected. Your woman had a young daughter the afternoon that you left home and she is quite smart again. And so no more at present but I remain your soldier

George Collyer."

As the war of 1812 does not enter into our subject outside of these letters which we have given, we leave it here, and pass on returning to those who form the hinges of our narrative. We shall go back to the Whitnack Inn at Bernardsville and if we do not succeed in gaining admittance into the bosom of this family, a physical impossibility, at least we may glance through the windows of time and speculate upon what we imagine we see and hear.

We find at first the Whitenacks have gone. Turned the house over to Bailey and Phebe who are there alone now with their family. We shall choose a sunny autumn morning for our visit, because that season of the year pleases us, and will attempt to lift the curtain of the past which may possibly reveal to us something of the daily lives of these people.

 

 

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