Abraham Staats Full Biography
I was born in Hillsborough Township, Somerset County on May 25, 1743, the third son of John and Lena Staats, and a descendant of the first Dutch settlers in the Raritan Valley. I married Margaret DuBois on November 8, 1770, about the time I received title to my farm. I was successful in my farming and was also a surveyor. At times I taught surveying, mathematics, and navigation.
When the Revolution broke out I became an active Patriot, along with my neighbor Hendrik Fisher, and was so deeply involved in the revolutionary activities that the British designated me an “arch traitor.” Hendrik was chairman of the New Jersey Provincial Committee of Correspondence, then president of the Provincial Congress, and was a member of the Committee of Safety. In local legend I was suspected of being involved in a spy network. I owned several slaves, and one known as Tory Jack was also suspected of acting as a spy. For whatever reason, when General Howe proclaimed a general amnesty in November 1776 for rebels who signed a loyalty oath to the King, I was excluded and the British threatened to hang me on sight. During the British occupation of New Brunswick, our house was raided on April 13, 1777 by British soldiers. Margaret and I hid our valuables in the floor of our barn and fled. However, we lost a cow, five calves, five bushels of wheat, a pewter teapot and coffee pot, and a number of items of new and worn clothing to the foraging raiders.
Our house became important when part of the Continental Army set up its winter encampment around Middlebrook in late 1778. Margaret and I, then in our mid-30s, had six small children, one boy and five girls. General von Steuben decided to use our house as his quarters in the spring of 1779 and occupied the north and south parlors while the rest of his staff was quartered in a large tent, called a marquee, located in our orchard behind the house. Our house became the setting for entertaining important dignitaries, including General Washington and other senior generals.
During the previous winter at Valley Forge von Steuben had begun his transformation of the Continental Army into a disciplined, well-drilled force. He had been named inspector-general by Washington and developed a new manual, eventually called the “Blue Book,” to standardize drill and maneuver throughout the army. He came to Middlebrook to continue training the eight to ten thousand men who made up the bulk of the Continental Army. When von Steuben learned that the French ambassador, Conrad-Alexandre Gerard, was scheduled to visit Middlebrook in early May he made plans to provide him with an impressive display of the army’s professionalism. When Gerard arrived on May 2, instead of receiving the usual feu de joie, he was treated to a military display. A stage was built to seat ranking officers and their wives, as well as the foreign dignitaries, and after an artillery and musket salute Von Steuben paraded four battalions of selected men that split into two columns and marched to opposite ends of the parade ground. The two columns deployed for battle in smart fashion, employing the movements devised by von Steuben. The two groups then alternated attacking each other in simulated bayonet charges. The normally unemotional Gerard was delighted and clapped his hands, congratulating Washington and von Steuben on the high quality of the maneuvers.
After this exhibition, General Washington held a reception in our orchard for Gerard, Spanish Minister Don Juan de Miralles, and more than sixty officers and several wives. While his demonstration of drill and maneuver was highly successful, I knew von Steuben was actually quite angry because of delays in getting his Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States into print. Although the book was completed, the printing process was handled so badly that no copies were ready for distribution even by June. For six weeks, von Steuben had to dictate his regulations to regimental clerks for inclusion in their orderly books.
After the army left our area my property was still the target of British troops, especially detachments seeking forage. In 1782 the Queen’s Rangers raided the Raritan Valley and a New Brunswick merchant hid his stock beneath the floor of our barn.
After the Revolution life returned to normal and in 1792 I became the tax collector for Somerset County and held that position until 1820. I died in 1821 and in my will left half of my 130 acre farm to my son, Isaac, and the other half to my five daughters. My descendants continued to own our house into the 20th century and today it is a museum in South Bound Brook that helps to memorialize and teach visitors about the Middlebrook encampment and other events of the American Revolution.
Gall, Michael J., and Richard F. Veit. The Abraham Staats Family: A Reflection on the Trials and Tribulations of a Dutch-American Family in South Bound Brook. 2009. Report on file with the Friends of the Abraham Staats House, South Bound Brook, New Jersey.
Palmer, John McAuley. General Von Steuben. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1937). See page 207 for information on the display for Gerard.
“The Staats House and Von Steuben”. Somerset County Historical Quarterly, 1913, vol 2, no 2:80-87.
Thacher, James. Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. (Boston: Richardson and Lord, 1823). See pages 193-194 for his description of the display for Gerard.
Website of the Abraham Staats House http://www.staatshouse.org/History.html