Wednesday, March 26, 2014

New Brunswick's White House: The Buccleuch Mansion

New Brunswick's White House: The Buccleuch Mansion
Written by NJ Historian

The centerpiece of Buccleuch Park in New Brunswick, New Jersey is a beautiful two-and-a-half story structure that played a small role in the Revolutionary War and saw visitors from opposing sides. Sizable for its date of construction, it represents the homestead of the upper class, but also typifies the growing influence of Georgian architecture in the predominantly Dutch area of the Raritan Valley.

The Buccleuch Mansion, as it is known today, was built between 1735 and 1739 by wealthy Englishman Anthony White. White, born October 28, 1717, married Elizabeth Morris, daughter of Royal Governor Lewis Morris in 1739 or 1740. The two-and-a-half story home was built in the increasingly popular Georgian style, overlooking the Raritan River from a slight natural rise. From this vantage point, White could easily see the busy port community of Raritan Landing across the river and the similarly constructed house of Cornelius Low, built circa 1740. Slightly larger than Low's home, the main block of White's house measures five bays across at fifty feet and is of double-pile construction, measuring forty-one feet deep, with a center hall and three-bay wide front porch. The front facade of the house is constructed of brick which was stuccoed and scored to resemble large dressed stone. The the remaining sides and service wing are covered in wooden clapboard. The main block is capped by a large gambrel roof with a wide dormer on the front and back. To the right of the main block is a considerably smaller, two story service wing. This section is simpler in design but retains the mimicking dormer in the attic level at the front and rear. After its construction, the house was referred to as the "White House" or "White House Farm." 

Almost directly across the river from the White House in Piscataway was another similar structure called Ross Hall. It was built in 1739 by Edward Antill who married Elizabeth Morris' sister, Anne Morris. Just like the White House, Ross Hall was also built in the Georgian style and featured a gambrel roof. This home though, reflected a Dutch farmhouse but its layout and fenestration was Georgian. The home was destroyed in a fire in 1954.

Anthony and Elizabeth had four children. The White’s son, Anthony Walton White went against family tradition and sided with the American patriots during the Revolutionary War, being appointed lieutenant colonel of the Third New Jersey Continental Dragoons, and in 1780 was appointed lieutenant-colonel commandant of the First Regiment of Cavalry. He fought in both the northern and southern battles zones, including Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina. Anthony, born July 7, 1750, married Margaret Vanderhorse Ellis of Charleston (who was all but fifteen years of age) in 1783. Margaret's sister, Mary Ellis, followed her sister to New Brunswick in 1790. Mary Ellis died in 1828 and was buried on the Evans' family property in New Brunswick, overlooking the Raritan River. Margaret was buried alongside her sister in 1850 along with four other members of the Evans family. The cemetery is now located a few feet above the Loews Movie Theater parking lot in New Brunswick.

The home was purchased by British army officer General William Burton in 1774. It appears that Burton was married in March of 1774 to Isabella Auchmuty, second daughter of the Rector of Trinity Church in New York City. It may be surmised that he bought the property for his new wife. Burton lived in the home until the beginning of the American Revolution, when it was confiscated and passed into the hands of the Commission of Forfeited Estates. During the time it was owned by the Commission, Captain George Janeway lived in the house for a time in 1776 and General George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Gates, and Kosciuszko were visitors at Buccleuch. The Ennis Killen Dragoons were quartered at the house between 1776 and 1777 during the British occupation of New Brunswick. The Dragoons derived their name from the town in Ulster where the Regiment was raised. Local historian William H. Benedict noted in 1925 that many of their buttons were found on the property from time to time. Sabre cuts and gun marks can still be seen on the third floor today.

The Commissioners, Jacob Bergen, Frederick Frelinghuysen, and Henry Wilson listed the property in an advertisement for sale in 1783, saying "The famous house and lands late the property of William Burton, formerly in the occupancy of Anthony White." In 1783, Jacob Bergen bought the estate from the commissioners and sold it immediately to Colonel Charles Stewart, who later became Commissary-General on Washington's staff. The home is mentioned in a book of Johann David Schoepf, M.D.'s travels. In an entry dated July 1783, Colonel Stewart's home is "on a rising ground by the road," which "like so many in America is thinly built of wood but after a tasteful plan." After fifteen years, Colonel Stewart sold the property in 1798 to John Garnett. 

Center hall of Buccleuch Mansion, 1936. Source: HABS
Garnett was a native of England and purchased adjoining lands until he owned over three hundred acres. During Garnett's residence at the mansion, he decorated the downstairs and upstairs halls with wallpaper printed in 1815 in Paris by Dufour of Macon, a prestigious manufacturer of the period. The lower hall is a Parisian scene from the banks of the Seine, and the second floor is a tiger hunting scene in India. In 1927, the paper was removed from the wall and mounted on a chassis to preserve it from dampness and rot. The property remained in Garnett's hands until his death on May 11, 1820. In July 1820, a notice noted that his dwelling, windmill, 300 acres, farm stock, utensils, etc. were for sale. The sale was postponed twice until the Spring. Finally, on June 6, 1821, the property was sold to Colonel Joseph Warren Scott. Scott was a prominent and successful lawyer. Scott renamed the house Buccleuch at this time in honor of his Scottish lineage. He was a graduate of Princeton (1795) and studied law with General Frederick Frelinghuysen and was licensed to practice in 1801. 

In 1865, he sold his home to his grandson, Anthony Dey. In 1911, Dey deeded it to the Mayor and Council of New Brunswick as "a memorial to Colonel Joseph Warren Scott donated by his grandchildren to the city of New Brunswick". In 1915, the home reopened under the care of the Jersey Blue Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution as a house museum. The DAR is responsible for the interior and furnishings, while the City of New Brunswick maintains the exterior. In recent years, the exterior front porch facing the Raritan River, has deteriorated and is now off-limits to visitors. Temporary shoring has been placed next to each column and the bottom of the porch steps has rotted. There are also numerous broken and missing shutters on the front and back. Hopefully the City of New Brunswick soon recognizes the importance of this pre-Revolutionary home which played a role in the Revolutionary War and is just one a few remaining early estates along the Raritan River. 

Additional photos of my trip to the Buccleuch Mansion on Pinterest

For More Information
Jersey Blue Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution

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