Revolutionary Times at Prospect Farm

History remembers Colonel George Morgan (1743-1810), a Philadelphia native and merchant, as an officer in the Continental Army, an American agent for Indian Affairs, and a speculator in Western lands. In his 1932 biography of George Morgan, the historian Max Savelle emphasized Morgan’s role as a “distinguished citizen” of America, which had to secure political and economic independence, tame the frontier, and forge effective relations with indigenous peoples. In 1779, Morgan organized George Washington’s meeting with Lenape (Delaware) Indian chiefs, and he also assumed responsibility for the education of three Lenape boys in Princeton. Morgan even became an honorary member of the Lenape. Also in 1779, he bought more than two hundred acres of land in Princeton, including the land now occupied by Prospect House and Prospect Gardens, and there he built a multi-storey stone farmhouse for himself and his family. Views of the farmhouse survive. Prospect Farm was a short distance southeast of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), which was then largely a residential college confined to Nassau Hall, with the President’s office, classrooms, dorm rooms, dining facilities, and the library. When John Witherspoon became President in 1768, his duties went far beyond administration. He preached sermons and taught moral philosophy, history, and other subjects.

Revolutionary times posed special problems for the town of Princeton and its leading citizens, beginning with the Battles of Trenton and Princeton. Morgan recorded in his journal (1762-1806), which is in the Manuscripts Division’s George Morgan Collection (C1394), that he planted rows of cherry trees, in part to replace those cut down by occupying British soldiers for firewood in the winter of 1776. In April 1780, he wrote a memorandum in his journal about planting rows of cherry trees along roads leading to his house, in part to remedy damage, and noted, “The British Army in December 1777 burned & destroyed all the Houses of the Farm & most of the Apple Trees for Firewood.” The cherry trees were also for the pleasure of Princeton undergraduates. At Prospect Farm, Morgan could be a gentleman farmer specializing in scientific farming and agricultural experiments, such as growing different varieties of corn. Bee culture and insect control were other interests. Morgan also rebuilt houses on his land as well.

The George Morgan Collection includes several letters that he wrote to Brigadier General Lewis Morris (1726-98), a fellow landowner and developer. Originally from Morrisania, New York, Morris was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence and a delegate to the Continental Congress. At the time the letter was written, Morris was living in Rocky Hill, near Princeton. Morgan opens an undated letter with an expression of his joy “on the late happy Events.” This probably refers to the recent surrender of the British army under Lord Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown (19 October 1781), after being defeated by Continental forces under George Washington and French forces under the Comte de Rochambeau. George Morgan asks Lewis Morris to a celebratory dinner and ball at Prospect Farm. In addition, Morris was to extend the invitation to a group of people on his side of the “Mountain,” a word no doubt referring to Ten Mile Run Mountain (geologically part of the Rocky Hill Ridge), east of the Millstone River. “We have fixed on Saturday,” Morgan wrote, “that we may not interfere with Trenton, where they have a Dinner & Ball on Monday. I expect the Cards from thence for your family, some time today. I have dispatched Beekman for the best Casks of Wine & Claret he can find in the City and have wrote to Mr. Shippen to come up with all his Musick, so that I hope your principal Trouble will be in your seat as President. All the Ladies, married and single, propose to wear an union Rose in their Breasts.”

On the verso of the letter is a “List of the Gentlemen & Ladies over & on the Mountain to be invited to a Dinner & Ball.” The invitees clustered in the area of Rocky Hill, in Somerset County, less than five miles northeast of Prospect Farm and Nassau Hall. The names of the grandees on the invitation list (see below) must be reconstructed because it omits first names and has alternative spellings for several surnames. Invitees appear to include Major John Berrien (1759-1815) and General Stephen Heard (1740-1815), with their wives and children. “Mrs. Berrian” was probably Margaret Berrien, mother of Major Berrien and widow of Justice John Berrien (1711-72), whose Rockingham home served as George Washington’s final headquarters during the American Revolution. Washington stayed there from August to November 1783, while Congress was meeting at Nassau Hall, and it was at Rockingham that Washington wrote his farewell address to the Continental Army. “Col. Vandike” was most likely Henry Van Dyke, a militia officer from Somerset County. “Mr. Rutherford” may have been John Rutherfurd (1760-1840), Princeton Class of 1776. Rutherfurd was a nephew of William Alexander, Lord Stirling (1726-83), a Brigadier General in the Continental Army; Rutherfurd later married Helena Magdalena Morris (1762–1840), daughter of Lewis Morris. Also invited were unidentified members of the Mercer, Lawrence, and Van Horne families. However the dinner and ball turned out, this was hardly George Morgan’s last chance to invite prominent people to Prospect Farm. On June 25, 1783, Morgan wrote to Elias Boudinot (1740-1821), President of Congress, to invite members of the Continental Congress, then assembled at Nassau Hall, to be his guests at Prospect Farm.

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Morgan invitation list
George Morgan’s invitation list