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BENJAMIN DISBROW
1672 - 1733

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                    BENJAMIN DISBROW

     Whether Benjamin was born in Hempstead or in Mamaro-
neck we do not yet know but, since the new home was built
in '77 we are sure he spent the most formative years of
his life there.  It was a beautiful village only yester-
day so it must have been ideal for a small boy when
there were only a few scattered homes.  There was Gravally
Brook to explore with its crayfish lurking under stones,
its tadpoles and its trout.  There was the Sound, blue in
summer and steely gray in winter with ever the smell of
salt water when the wind was in the east.  There was the
still virgin forest that started only a few rods from
his door, and the silent Indians with their heads shaven
of all but the scalp-lock which rose like a roached mane
from forehead to neck.
     I can picture him with his little brother John on
tip-toe peering through the window at his father and Col.
Heathcote in their full powdered wigs and huge bagged
breeches standing before the great stone fireplace, ad-
dressing a delegation of grim faced local chiefs squat-
ting in a semicircle on the floor.
     There were trips with his father across the Sound
to Hempstead and Oyster Bay where Henry Sr. tended to
weighty matters and visited with his old friends, partic-
ularly the Griffens where Benjamin came to know the daugh-
ter Mary very well indeed.
     Later there was the school run by the Dutch Reformed
Church (now known as the Collegiate School) where Peter
Stuyvesant's son also went, in the booming little sea-
port of New York with all its novel sights - the great
bluff-bowed ships from across the sea, their towering
mastheads lifting high above the city streets; the red-
coated soldiers at Fort James down at the island's tip;
and all the other things to fascinate a growing boy.
     After 250 years it is not easy to put together the

                        30
BENJAMIN DISBROW jig-saw of a man's life but the records do give us prov- ocative glimpses. On July 13th 1692 we find recorded a deed from Henry Disbrow and Margaret his wife to their son Benjamin, Cordwainer, living in New York for a dwel- ling and land in New York. This is probably the start of the leather business which appears to have been carried on by Benjamin's family for two or three generations even after he moved to New Jersey. Then there is a census of Westchester County compiled in 1698, the year of old Henry's death and Benjamin's 26th birthday, by Benjamin Disbrow of New York, Constable. In this census two Dis- brow families appear in Mamaroneck - 1 Henry Sr. & wfe Margaret & son John; 2-Henry Jr., his wife Mary and daughters Mary and Deborah. These two entries make it fairly obvious that by the time he was twenty, Benjamin had left the parental roof-tree and was established in New Yorke Towne in the leather-working business and that by 1698 he had become a person of sufficient consequence to be Constable and to be given the important job of taking the census; obviously a settled married man and sober citizen, if ever there was one. Four years later his whole life's pattern was com- pletely changed; he has changed the comforts and sophis- tications of New York Towne (population 3300 - almost as big as Belmar) and we find him on a farm in the comparat- ively frontier wilderness of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Of course there is the distinct possibility that this was not the complete break it appears. We know that he did not give up the cordwainer's shop and it may be that he just wanted an estate in the country near enough to the City to commute. Do not smile, Gentyl reader. His Shal- lop (sloop to you) could get him from Matawan Creek to the Battery under favorable circumstances in less than twelve hours. So he may well have been one of Jersey's 31
BENJAMIN DISBROW first commuters. We know of two things that occurred shortly prior to this move and they were of major importance. First was his father's death and second was his marriage to Mary Griffen, daughter of the Edward Griffen of Oyster Bay whom we first met back in '61 at Peter Disbrow's house on Manussing Island. But these things scarcely explain so momentous a change. We know too that his younger bro- ther John did the same thing and moved to Cranbury, New Jersey within a few years; and getting from Cranbury to New York was not the simple matter for John that it was for Benjamin. Once more let us attempt to reconstruct. Benjamin not being the oldest son, could expect only the crumbs that fell from the parental table when old Henry's estate was divided. Not that these crumbs were inconsiderable; they without doubt amounted to quite a sum. At all events, from the day of Henry's death until several years later, the records of Westchester County are studded with proper- ty transfers which would indicate that the heirs were con- verting what must have been truly vast holdings into cash, the last being as late as 1728. Just how much of this was Benjamin's share we do not know but it is obvious that part was used to purchase this New Jersey farm and that thereupon he and Mary shook the dust of New York from their square-toed, buckled shoes and moved to this farm which he called the "Gravally Ridge Farm" and the brook which was one of the boundaries, "Gravally Brook" - which name it bears to this day. It lay some distance west of the tiny settlement of New Aberdeen, later to be called Matawan. The exact date of this migration is not known but further items in the Westchester records narrow it down fairly closely. On the 31st of January 1698 Benjamin's name appears 32
BENJAMIN DISBROW taking the Oath of Allegiance as a citizen of Mamaroneck, together with Col. Caleb Heathcote, Capt. James Mott, Hen- ry Griffen, Henry and John Disbrow. Then, on June 10th of that same year, he signed a deed between certain Indi- ans and Col. Heathcote. In the records of Mamaroneck (Book I, pge 71) we find that in 1699 Margaret Disbrow, his mother, had no idea he would not end his days in New York for the record says - "I, James Mott, doe give and grant to Margaret Disbrow and her three sons Henry, Ben- jamin, and John, all belonging to Mamaroneck, to them and to their families forever, The Liberty of burying their Dead....in a certain piece of land Lyeing near the Salt Meadows....Witnessed by William palmer. clerk of Mamaroneck, by order of Capt. James Mott." Again, on the 15th of June 1700, Benjamin Disbrow was a defense witness in the case of the murder of a mulatto boy. In 1701 the owners of the eight original lots in Mamaroneck were Caleb Heathcote, Jas. Mott, Wm. Penoir (Pennoyer), Jno. Williams, Henry Disbrough Jr., Alice Hatfield, Jno. Disbrough and Benj. Disbrough. But on October 20th that same year Margaret, the widow, gave her free consent to a deed from Benjamin to Henry Jr., now titular head of the family, for lands which were left him by his father, Henry Disbrow, late of Mamaroneck, deceased. And on 11th March 1702, when the family sold their holdings in the Manor of Scarsdale to Col. Caleb Heathcote, Benjamin's name does not appear on the transaction. Also on Feb. 14th 1707 on another list of lot owners, only seven names appear - the missing name being Benjamin's. So, from all this, it seems fairly evident that he left New York sometime during 1701 and moved finally and complete- ly to New Jersey. A glance at the map makes it fairly obvious that the most probable indeed the only possible way that Benjamin and Mary, with all their worldly pos- 33
BENJAMIN DISBROW sessions could have made this journey would be by water as had his father before him. In a small sloop, shallop he would have called it, he headed south out of the Sound from Mamaroneck, down through Hell Gate past Manhattan Island to the very tip where lay the rapidly growing lit- tle town of New York in which he had spent his early man- hood. Once past the Fort he would be in the Upper Bay. On across it and through the Narrows still, south with the low hills of Staten Island now on his starboard beam. Straight on he would hold skirting the shore with its thickly wooded hills and scattered farms as it fell away to the southwestward, until he came to the red waters of Raritan Bay. Sailing straight on across this bay, he would find himself heading directly into Matawan Creek. The entire distance from Mamaroneck to New Aberdeen by this route, incredible as it may seem to us moderns who follow the circuitous route on traffic-choked highways, is just about thirty miles; with any sort of favoring winds Benjamin could have made the run in four or five hours without scarcely a shift of his helm or a haul of his sheet. This Matawan area, when Benjamin and Mary arrived, had not been long settled. On September 30th 1686, the Proprietors of East New Jersey made a grant of 400 acres to Stephen Warne and his son Thomas, including all of the land between the Matawan and Gravel Creeks. The price was "thirteen pound Sterling monies of England," to be paid every March 25th for all time. Known then as Warne's Neck, the tract embraced what is now the central portion of Matawan Borough. The Warnes were English and Thomas was one of the 24 Proprietors of East New Jersey. He had been living in a Perth Amboy house owned by the Proprietors from which he had been requested to move. Already the owner of 1000 34
BENJAMIN DISBROW acres on the north side of Matawan Creek, the younger Warne had a wigwam there in 1685, which may be called the first white man's house in this neighborhood. Twenty-four Scotch settlers, Presbyterians all, who had come to America a few years earlier, picked Warne's Neck as their permanent home. The reason for their choice may be guessed. The site was good farm land, and on Mat- awan Creek whose 12-foot depth in that day was ample for all but the largest ships of the period. There was the assurance of trade with the little-loved English in their newly-acquired town of New York, as well as with the Ind- ians and the already developing settlements in the hinter- land. The story of these colonists is interesting. Most of them had crossed on the ship Exchange which landed her passengers on Staten Island on December 19th 1683. Most of these men were "assisted emigrants." Some are describ- ed as broken men, others as adventurers, merchants, and younger sons who had to make their own way in the world. Many had been condemned to banishment because they had refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to Charles II. Others of the original twenty-four reached America after a disastrous voyage of the Henry and Francis out of Leith with 200 emigrants led by George Scott, Laird of Pitloch- ie, who was conveying many banished men "gifted to him" - i.e. "bound" (bond servants), just as James Robinson was to our Benjamin's great-grandson Nicholas 150 years later. One third of this company, including the Laird, died of the plague and were buried at sea. The survivors, many still ill, landed at Perth Amboy. All, owing to the Laird's providential death, were free men when they pre- pared to establish their village at Warne's Neck. These men first called their village Mount Pleasant 35
BENJAMIN DISBROW but by 1701, when Benjamin arrived from Mamaroneck, it was known as New Aberdeen and had its own saw mill and grist mill, with roads a-building to Shrewsbury, Middle- town and Monmouth Court House (now Freehold). Between the time of Benjamin's arrival and his death, there is practically nothing going on. We know he had this Gravally Ridge Farm. We can surmise, from the little we know of his son John's life that, when this oldest son had reached manhood, he took over the cordwainer's shop in New York, and establishing another in Perth Amboy (at that time this included South Amboy which was called the South Ward). And then there was the water. We know that Benjamin had grown up on the shores of the Sound and that water would draw him. His father before him had been a water- man - at least part-time. In fact in every generation there has always been at least one of the breed who had to do with salt water. There was even the plot by the Salt Medows which Henry's widow bought for the family bur- ying ground. Shortly we shall hear of Elijah's skiffs stolen, his salt hay burned by the British in 1777. These men must have known so well what I, long la- ter, also knew. They surely knew the feel on their faces of the dawn wind coming across salt water, the smell of blue mud, the sting of hard-driven salt spray; all those things I once knew and tried to put on paper in "The Ri- ver." But this too is mere speculation and we must have none of that here, must we? Perhaps they kept no records in New Aberdeen, per- haps they were destroyed in one of the later British raids. All we do know for certain is that Benjamin and Mary, whatever else they did in the meanwhile, ended their days on their Gravally Ridge Farm; for we do know that on December 10th 1773, at the age of sixty-one, Benjamin 36
BENJAMIN DISBROW died and was buried in a little private burying ground on his own farm as was custom then. A distant cousin, Eloise Disbrow, wrote me - "There is a very old Disbrow homestead at what was locally known as the `Gravally Ridge Farm' on the Free- hold Freneau highway - or rather in sight of it - on a hill. It has its own private burying ground back of and some few hundred feet from the house. When father and I went to see it about twenty years ago (this was in the 1930's), we found a nice woman - wife of a New York Com- muter, at home alone. She told us that her husband was a nervous man and had bought in the country to `get away from it all.' She said he hated the sight of the cemetery and did not know there was one on the property till they started to move in." "We said - `But you won't destroy these stones, will you?' and she answered that, since the dead were our kith and kin and since they had occupied the site some two hundred years before her arrival, she would not be so presumptuous. She showed us through the house, hinting broadly that any charm it might have was due to her own urban up-bringing, and then took us out past a huge old barn to an orchard in which, huddled together, were four or five pitiful little stones. It was a tremendous exper- ience! We knelt, brushed off the brown slabs and read what we could. I remember the name Benjamin, also Susan- na and, I think, John. One was a baby. We wiped our eyes, thanked the woman, and went our way. The sequel? My sister Helen happened in at the old Tennent Church about five years ago and there, before her startled eyes, sat our ancestral tombstones appearing most unhappy about it all. Well, she sped into the church and looked around until, somewhere, she read that the stones had been presented to the church for safe-keeping, 37
BENJAMIN DISBROW but that the bodies had been left unmolested in their little plot. Sic transit...!" Actually there seem to have been six markers. They are of brown sandstone and most are surrounded by a winged skull, denoting that they will rise again, I sup- pose, and all are in good shape excepting Mary's which was so shattered that Bamford brought the fragments home where I saw them in his garage and was able to piece them together pretty well. The morbid verse is not too uncom- mon at the time; indeed, I recently read that it first ap- peared in the 14th century on the tomb of the Black Prince Edward of Crecy fame. The six inscriptions are as follows - #1 - Here lyes buried the Body of Benjamin Disbrow Who Departed this Life December ye 10th Day 1773, Aged 61 years. #2 - As you are Now, so once was I In health & Strength - tho here I lie. And as I'm now so must you be. Prepare for Death & follow me. Here Lyes interr'd ye Body of Mary, Wyfe to Benjamin Disbrow. Dec'd August ye 29th Day 1731. #3 - Here lyes Interr'd the Body of Benjamin, Son of Benjamin Disbrow Who departed this life March the 17th Day 1735. Aged 25 years. #4 - Here Lyes Interr'd the Body of Susanna, Wife to John Disbrow, who departed this Life February the 5th 1739 Aged 28 years and her Child Aged 5 months. #5 - Here Lyes Interr'd the body of Ann, Wife of John Hier who Departed this Life June the 7th Anno Do(sic) 1733. Aged 23 years. [Download] pictures of these stones. (ZIP/84K/400dpi/B&W) The startling hegira to which Eloise refers (we might better say salvage work) was brought about by the rever- 38
BENJAMIN DISBROW ent hands of William B. Bamford, late of Belmar, who also has Disbrow blood in his veins and from whose voluminous notes I have culled nearly everything of value about the early Disbrows up to this point. For it seems that our commuter's nervousness anent graveyards grew to such a point that something had to be done about it - and our William did it. Although he had to stand helplessly aside while our ancestors were as ruthlessly plowed under as were the famous little pigs of the New Deal, Billy was at least able to save the stones from the trash heap. He hired men to remove the five whole markers, reverently loaded them into his car, and bore them hence to old Tennent Churchyard and deposited them on a heap of top- pled stones in a corner of the then neglected burial ground. Later, when the Church and Churchyard were re- stored, they were assumed to belong there - so now Ben- jamin's marker faces the church porch only a few feet from the door. What happened to the fragments of Mary's Stone, I have already explained. As to the Warne stone, Benjamin's daughter Margaret must have married a Warne; and Anne must have married a Hier (Hyer). In any event, Benjamin and Mary still sleep togeth- er beneath what time and the New York commuter may have left of the little orchard on Gravally Ridge. Benjamin and Mary had the following children: John 1702 - 1771 Margaret ? - ? Mary ? - ? Benjamin 1707 - 1735 Anne 1710 - 1733 Griffen 1713 - 1754 Griffen and the girls we shall ignore in this account. The son from whom we are descended is John. 39

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Last updated September 14, 1995.

Todd L. Sherman (genealogy at alachuaskywarn dot org)
© Copyright 1995/1996/1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.