elisa_rolle (elisa_rolle) wrote,

Queer Places: Steuben House

Address: Steuben House
1209 Main St,
River Edge,
NJ 07661,

On December 23, 1783, the State of New Jersey presented Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben with the use of an estate in Bergen County now known as Steuben House, which had been confiscated from Loyalist Jan Zabriskie in 1781. Located in the formerly strategic New Bridge Landing, the estate included a gristmill and about 40 acres of land. Legislators initially conditioned the grant, requiring Steuben to "hold, occupy and enjoy the said estate in person, and not by tenant". Gen. Philemon Dickinson of the New Jersey Militia informed the baron of this gift and responded to his inquiries that "there are on the premises an exceeding good House, an excellent barn, together with many useful outbuildings, all of which I am told, want some repairs...there is...a Grist-mill; a good Orchard, some meadow Ground, & plenty of Wood. The distance from N York by land 15 miles, but you may keep a boat & go from your own door to New York by water—Oysters, Fish & wild fowl in abundance—Possession will be given to you in the Spring, when you will take a view of the premises." Von Steuben spent considerable sums to repair wartime damages to the house and restore its commercial operations under former aide Walker.

On September 5, 1788, the New Jersey Legislature gave Baron von Steuben full title to the former Zabriskie estate. A month later, recognizing his financial embarrassment, Steuben wrote another former aide-de-camp and companion, William North, recognizing: "The jersey Estate must and is to be sold. Walker is my administrator, all debts are to be paid out of it." On November 6, 1788, Steuben again wrote North (at his new home in Duanesburg), noting "My jersey Estate is Advertised but not yet Sold, from this Walker Shall immediately pay to you the money, you so generously lend me and all my debts in New-York will be payed. I support my present poverty with more heroism than I Expected. All Clubs and parties are renounced, I seldom leave the House." Steuben eventually sold the New Jersey property to a son of the previous owner, and it remained in the Zabriskie family until 1909, so today it is the only remaining eighteenth-century building that von Steuben owned.

Von Steuben moved upstate and settled in Oneida County on a small estate in the vicinity of Rome, on land granted to him for his military service and where he had spent summers. He was later appointed a regent for what evolved into the University of the State of New York.

Von Steuben died on November 28, 1794, and was buried in a grove at what became the Steuben Memorial State Historic Site in a town named Steuben, New York. The Steuben Memorial State Historic Site is a historic location and state park in the eastern part of Steuben, Oneida County, New York, that honors Baron von Steuben, the "Drillmaster of the American Revolution." The land in this part of Oneida County was part of a 16,000-acre (6,500 ha) land grant made to von Steuben for his services to the United States. He used the land for his summer residence. He is buried at the memorial, a "Sacred Grove." The site includes the memorial tomb and reconstructed log cabin (1937) and several smaller elements including a memorial plaque bearing stone, a series of historic markers, and a landscaping structure. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

The Steuben House Commission was created in 1926 to purchase Baron Steuben's home at New Bridge. The State took possession of the historic mansion and 1-acre (4,000 m2) of ground for $9,000 on June 27, 1928. It was renovated and opened as the museum headquarters of the Bergen County Historical Society in September 1939. The Steuben House is listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places. The Bergen County Historical Society continued stewardship of the site by purchase of land between the Steuben House and the encroaching autoparts yard in 1944. In 1954, the Society was able to persuade the County of Bergen to divert the planned 4-lane highway to the north of the site instead of alongside the historic site. The highway bridge opened in 1956 and the one-lane 1889 swing bridge was closed to vehicles. It remains open for pedestrians.

The house is now the cornerstone of this historic district, spanning both sides of the river. Three additional buildings were moved onto the adjacent property of the Bergen County Historical Society, a private non-profit volunteer organization. The Demarest House was moved here from New Milford in 1956 and is maintained by the Blauvelt Demarest Foundation. The Westervelt-Thomas Barn was relocated from Washington Township in 1958. The County of Bergen moved the Campbell-Christie House here to lands of the Bergen County Historical Society in 1977. The Society erected a working replica of a Bergen Dutch Out-Kitchen in 1991 and an outhouse in 2009.

The Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission was established by law in 1995 to coordinate and implement all private and governmental plans and activities at Historic New Bridge Landing Park, which was named one of three new urban state parks in 2004.
Steuben legally adopted two handsome soldiers, William North (b. 1755, d. January 3, 1836, who later became a US senator) and Benjamin Walker (b. 1753, d. January 13, 1818). A third young man, John W. Mulligan Jr. (b. 1774, d. 1862), also considered himself one of Steuben’s “sons.” His birth father, John “Hercules” Mulligan, had been Alexander Hamilton’s roommate many years before.

Historian William Benemann believes that North was romantically involved with Steuben and another male companion, Captain Benjamin Walker. However, based on the limited historical record, Benemann said his research is not entirely conclusive, writing that "it is impossible to prove the nature of the relationships." (William Benemann, Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships Haworth Press, 2006)

Prior to moving in with Steuben, young Mulligan had been living with Charles Adams (May 29, 1770 – November 30, 1800), son of then-Vice President John Adams. The future president and his wife, concerned about the intense nature of the relationship, insisted that Adams and Mulligan split up. The anguished boys wrote to Steuben of their devastation at being separated. With compassion for the heartbroken couple, Steuben offered to take both young men into his home, writing to Mulligan on January 11, 1793.

“Philadelphia, January 11, 1793
Your letter of the 7th was handed me yesterday by Mr. Hamilton. In vain, my dear child, should I undertake to explain to you the sensation which the letter created in my heart. Neither have I the courage to attempt to arrest the tears you have so great reason to shed. For a heart so feeling as yours this was the severest of trials, and nothing but time can bring consolation under circumstances so afflicting.
Strength of mind in enfeebled by griefs of this nature; but, my friend, one ought not to suffer it to be entirely extinguished, for it is the duty of a sensible man to cherish the heavenly fire with which we are endowed by Providence.
Despite moral philosophy I weep with you, and glory in the human weakness of mingling my tears with those of a friend I so tenderly love.
My dear Charles ought, ere this, to have received my answer to the touching letter he wrote.
I repeat my entreaties, to hasten your journey to Philadelphia as soon as your strength permits. My heart and my arms are open to receive you. In the midst of the attention and fetes which they have the goodness to give me, I enjoy not a moment's tranquility until I hold you in my arms. Grant me this favor without delay, but divide your journey, that you may not be fatigued at the expense of your health.”

A principle source Friedrich Kapp's 1859 biography of Steuben was John W. Mulligan, Jr. Mulligan became acquainted with Steuben when the latter lived in New York at Walker's; afterwards Mulligan moved with Charles Adams in von Steuben’s house, and continued to act as his secretary until his death. Kapp described Steuben's meeting Mulligan in the biography, writing: “In 1791 Steuben made the acquaintance of John W. Mulligan, a young and promising man, whose father had been an active Whig in New York during the revolution. Mr. Mulligan, after having finished his studies in Columbia College, became Steuben's secretary, and served him with a fidelity and love which won him the friendship and confidence of his protector. Steuben concentrated all the tenderness of his heart on his friend, as he had no family relations, and there are few examples to be found in which the feeling of kindness and good fellowship was so sincerely reciprocated as between Steuben and his friend.”

Mulligan was with Steuben when he died in late November 1794. The younger man read to his idol and they retired to bed. Mulligan slept in Steuben's old bedroom in the older house and Steuben slept in the room in a new cottage not yet connected to the old. There were also two servants to serve the gentlemen. When a servant told Mulligan that Steuben was ill, Mulligan tried to give aid and comfort and sent for Walker and North. The latter came before Steuben died. Mulligan still cried out, in a letter, for the consolation of Walker. “O, Colonel Walker, our friend, my all; I can write no more. Come if you can, I am lonely. Oh, good God, what solitude is in my bosom. Oh, if you were here to mingle your tears with mine, there would be some consolation for the distressed.” (http://bobarnebeck.com/mulligan.html, by Bob Arnebeck)

Steuben did not marry and had no children. He did not much care for his European relatives. Thus, he left his estate to his companions and aides-de-camp, Captains Benjamin Walker and William North, with whom he had had an "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship ... treating them as surrogate sons". John Mulligan inherited Von Steuben’s vast library, collection of maps and $2,500 in cash (a handsome sum in those days.)


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Tags: queer places

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