I have been
asked many times about the stories of the Van Doren ladies during the
Revolution, so I finally have assembled all my notes, and am putting
them down here for the family (and others) to enjoy. We are
descended from Christian Van Doren's youngest son, Benjamin who stayed
on the original farm in Middlebush, and took care of his mother until
she died. After that, the farm was split between him and
Cornelis. John Van Doren and Martha Lott had a house just south
of Millstone on River Road. It is still there under private
ownership. It was used by General Washington after the Battle of
Princeton as his headquarters on his march to Morristown. There
are still bayonnet marks on the doors where the British broke in and
several musket bullet holes aroung the windows. I have been at
the place numerous times, as I grew up on a farm just down the road.
It is well documented that the Van Dorens were extreme supporters of
the revolution, but the stories about John Van Doren's wife, Martha
Lott are legend! There are three stories told and documented in "Franklin Township, Somerset
County, NJ. A History" by William B. Brahms:
"The Americans encamped for the night in a
field near John Van Doren's House south of Somerset Court House
(Millstone). Washington and his staff used the Van Doren
home. The structure is still standing; so is the barn where the
horses were kept. Here is how one author desribed the location-
regions could have proved a better choice. Those Van Dorens were
ardent patriots, whose ample supplies were wholly at the army's
service. Abraham Van Doren's gristmill, largest in central New
Jersey bulged with flour; his feed mill had ample forage for the
horses; his store contained great stocks of necessary goods. John
Van Doren's 700 acre farm owned a cooperage, sawmill and two blacksmith
shops; he also had, much to the jubilation of the troops, a cider press
and distillery.' page 129, Twin
Rivers: The Raritan and the Passaic, by Harry Emerson Wildes.
It was at John Van Doren's house that Washington learned his friend
General Hugh Mercer was still in Princeton, seriously injured from
bayonet wounds. Washington sent his nephew, Major George Lewis to
Cornwallis with a letter requesting that every possible attention be
given to Mercer.
Cornwallis is said to have ordered his staff surgeon to attend to
Mercer at once. Lewis was permitted to stay with the general, and some
say Washington's personal doctor even was called to Mercer's bedside.-Princeton Portraits by
Menzies (1947 Princeton Press)
The Van Doren's are the subject of several versions of an old
Revolutionary War legend. Some parts of the old legend are
probably true, but which ones? Two hundred years of storytelling have
distorted what may have really happened. Here are the legends:
One account of the story has the Van Doren farm being plundered by the
Hessians while the Van Doren men are away with the militia. In an
attempt to get information from Mrs. Van Doren, Hessian soldiers string
her up by her heels in the grape arbor.
A slight variation of the story has Cornwallis's men hanging her by the
heels to force her to reveal information about Washington's location. -Revolutionary Scene in New Jersey
by Robert V. Hoffman (1942)
Another telling of the story has Mrs. Van Doren concealing her husband
in a large Dutch oven fireplace as the British approached. She
then places a butter tub in front of the oven and continues to churn
butter. A different interpretation has raiding soldiers making
the bayonette gashes in the door and threatening the Van Dorens.
Yet another story has the future wife of Abraham Van Doren pounding a
Hessian officer's head to jelly when he "wished a merry time".
All accounts of the John Van Doren legend have Mrs. Van Doren (Martha
Lott) saved in the nick of time and all the livestock killed in these
foraging raids. -Preliminary
History of Millstone, by F.&E. Bucher.
Perhaps the most notorious rendition of the Van Doren legend is the one
in which Washington is believed to have visited the Millstone farm "for
more than business." Washington was reputedly smitten with Mrs.
"Lore has it that General Washington would send one of his officers to
get Mr. VanDoren away from the house under the guise of taking part in
scouting expeditions. When Mr. Van Doren was safely out of
the house, the story goes, General Washington would step in."
Historic Right to Peace by Paul J Sulla
-April 1986 Somerset Historical Society Newsletter.
-Also reprinted in the Manville News, January 9, 1986.
The British are said to have caught on to this routine. One
evening, about 30 British soldiers stormed across the Millstone
River. But they were too late; the parson had warned Washington
and Mrs. Van Doren of the approach, and the general left. Mrs.
Van Doren was not so lucky. She was caught and "hung by her
thumbs in the attic" until she revealed the general's
whereabouts. No further visits between the two were ever
Well, I hope the stories are of interest to you. I lived in the
Millstone area growing up and heard mostly the one about Mrs. Van Doren
hung by her heels to reveal Washington's whereabouts, and the one about
killing the Hessian officer with a candlestick.
-- Tom Van Doren,
Here are some photos of
the john van doren house taken by a government photographer in 1937.
the photos are in the library of congress as part of a program to
document historic places.
this is the front of
the house as it sits on a hill overlooking the millstone river.
a side view of the
house that faces the barns.
is from a local newspaper showing how the house looked in 1890,
with John Van Doren, grandson of the patiots on the porch.