JOHN NICHOLAS DISBROW My great-grandfather's life in his early years is as dim as that of his predecessors. Really all we know of it is that, somewhere in the middle or late thirties he married a Lydia Brown and that from this marriage came eleven children, eight of whom survived to maturity. To support this brood, he, like his father before him, operated sailing vessels between Middletown Point and New York which made bi-weekly trips to and from New York carrying freight and passengers. From those years to the day of his death, he was known as Captain Disbrow - plain Capt. John to his intimates and the family. Matawan Creek had silted in heavily since Benjamin's time so that by now it was navigable only to relatively small craft, probably with center-boards to raise in shoal water. The earliest of these that we know of was the Jersey Blue which was a schooner, not a sloop. I have before me a freight bill dated Nov 2 1853 which is headed - SCHOONER JERSEY BLUE, Capt. John N. Disbrow Will Leave MIDDLETOWN POINT On FRIDAY, and NEW YORK on TUESDAY of each week. The bill itself reads - John N. Disbrow sold for John H. Sickles 11½ Bbl Pots @ 12/ - 17.25 frght 1.44 ----- 15.81 Paid Dec 15/53 Which tells us, should anyone want to know, that 12/ = 12 "bits" which = 1.50; i.e. the freight was 12½¢ a barrel, and that John sold the potatoes in the New York market for Sickles and then deducted the freight 74
JOHN NICHOLAS DISBROW before turning over the money for the potatoes. Later, the Jersey Blue was superseded by the John Travers. Besides farm produce these craft carried from Middletown Point, sometime around the Civil War to have its name changed to Matawan, clay utensils from the local pottery, fire-wood, or whatever else came to hand. From Matawan they proceeded down the Creek, across Raritan Bay and around Staten Island through the Narrows to New York. On the return trip they brought back furniture and other manufactured goods from the big city; occasionally they would run up the Hudson to Haverstraw for a load of bricks. You will note that this route was the same that Benjamin took when first he came to New Jersey. Some time around the Civil War the Jersey Blue was succeeded by the John Travers - just why we as yet know not; but, since "Ma" in her childhood had heard much of the Jersey Blue and knew nought of the Travers, it seems obvious that the pride Cap'n John had taken in this schooner was so great that she was remembered and talked about for many years after her demise. To give a picture of this water traffic in its hey- day, let me quote from an article which appeared in the Keyport Weekly of May 13th and 20th 1927. It was lent me by Ann Miles of Colt's Neck who also gave me the bill of lading which I quoted on the previous page. "The earliest fairly authentic information as to shipments out of Matawan Creek is that over 150 years ago a sailing vessel was making stated trips between New Am- sterdam and a landing at what was known as the P.V. Heyer Farm on Middlesex Street, Matawan. At that time the property was owned by a Van Brokle who, besides having the landing for the receiving and forwarding of freight, con- ducted a grist mill whose power was derived from the ebb
and flow of the tide...This landing and mill were operated 75
JOHN NICHOLAS DISBROW for a number of years, or until about 1850 when a new and more convenient landing was established some distance down stream, just below where the Morristown Road crosses the Creek. This new landing was known as the Arrowsmith - Ness landing. From here, besides produce and pottery, cord-wood was shipped. From both of these landings pas- engers were carried to and from New York. These travel- lers were obliged to take their own food and blankets to make themselves comfortable during the round trip which often consumed several days. To avoid the time lost in making the winding course from the Bay to Arrowsmith Landing, and because of the greatly increased volume of freight, an elaborate system of docks and warehouses were built by Longstreet and Bray, Fountain, Horner and Sons, Gordon D. White, and others. The fleet of sailing vessels was increased and several particularly trim and speedy boats were put into commis- sion, particularly the Lucy Hopkins, Jersey Blue, G.D. White, Margaret, John Travers, Caroline, and Alfred. One of these store-houses was three stories with a windlass- operated elevator. When contrary winds or tides hindered getting in or out of the Creek, a tow horse was used. These docks and buildings were constructed around 1850 and were in use until the introduction of steam propeller vessels just after the Civil War. The farmers brought their produce to these landings in "Bulk" - i.e. loose in the large-bodied farm wagons whence, after being measured in Barrels, they were dumped into the ship's hold which was divided into bins which not only kept the turnips from mixing with the potatoes etc. but kept the cargo from shifting in dirty weather. Arrived at New York, the skipper sold the produce for the farmer at the best price he could, repaying him later, after deducting the freight. 76
JOHN NICHOLAS DISBROW Great rivalry existed among the captains and crews of the various vessels. These sloops and schooners had centre boards so that, regardless of the sharp turns in the Creek and its shoals, a good skipper by properly man- ipulating the tiller and sheets and centre board could do the apparently impossible. Some of these men, because of their knowledge of the tides and winds, could handle their craft with such precision that it was a thrilling sight to see them make a long "leg" or tack. As the boat came into the wind, the sails would shake and quiver like a cornered animal as though in doubt just what to do, when the expert hand which controlled thee tiller and the sailing wisdom of the captain would work simultaneously as he brought her bows about, the sails filled, and she heeled over close-hauled on the other tack heading straight in for the Creek's mouth. No yacht in an international regatta could have been better handled than were these sloops and schooners sailing out of Matawan." No wonder young Ed Disbrow, or Forrest as his father always called him, loved the Jersey Blue and the chance to be one of her crew - with the two day lay-off in New York thrown in for good measure. But all good things must have an end and, with the advent of the new "propellers" which took all the cream off of this business; for everyone, of course, now pat- ronized the new and swifter craft which were independent of wind or tide. One of these new-fangled ships was the stage, by the way, of one of my great-grandfather Higgins' dramatic stories - how the big, brave men behaved the day the propeller was rammed in a dense fog in the lower Bay. After giving up the sloop, Cap'n John was an auction- eer for a time. He was also involved in small local po- litics like his brother Jackson. This political slant seems to have skipped the next three generations, only 77
JOHN NICHOLAS DISBROW to burt forth in full flower in the person of your Uncle Don. At all events when he first appears to our view through the eyes of "Ma" he is the Sergeant-at-Arms in the Freehold courthouse. Prior to that he had been for many years the Town Marshall of Matawan but with advancing years he took the more sedentary job. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, for a lot was to happen before little Jane Lydia was to start stowing away memories of her grandfather. Up to this point in our story, since we knew nothing of their earlier lives and little more of their adulthood, it has been simple to have each ancestor follow his sire in chronological order. But from here on their lives overlap and, to some extent each can tell his own story through the letters which follow. Instead, I shall first complete this bit about John's before going on to the brief life of Edwin Forrest. Then will come little Jane's childhood, next John's last years, and I shall wind up with Jane Lydia again until her marriage - which ended this particular branch of the Disbrow line. Only in this way can you get the picture of things as they happened in their proper order and with a minimum of confusion. So now let us turn from Cap'n John for the moment to the next in line, the eldest son of John Nicholas, Edwin Forrest Disbrow 78
Todd L. Sherman (genealogy at alachuaskywarn dot org)
© Copyright 1995/1996/1997 by Todd L. Sherman. All Rights Reserved.