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A History of the Breese Family

A Pastorale by Kathryn Grace Breese

Chapter III

  Marriages, War, Immigrations

 We suppose it to be the girls of this family who were the first to pass out from under the parental roof to homes of their own. It was a time when all girls married very young and it is on record that all four of these girls married.

The first of the boys to leave was John who, in 1769, at the age of thirty-one took a wife. He had not hurried, which shows that during his early years of manhood he had been a veritable help to his father, Asarih followed hi, in the same year at the age of twenty-nine. Here was plainly the loss of the two pillars from the household. However, the time had come for them to found families of their own and they did so.

Not far from their home, directly south of what is now Somerville, on the road to Harlingen lived the family Gildersleeve on a plantation of five hundred acres. Among the young women of this family was one called Hannah. She became John's wife. Azariah found a life's partner in her sister, Susan, five years later Henry married Ruth Pierson. He seems to have caught the marrying fever young, if indeed we may call it so, for he was only twenty-one. Samuel, at the age of twenty-two, married Ruth's sister, Hannah.

All of these boys were soldiers off and on. There were always Indian wars to fight. General Sullivan had two of them under hi, when he was fighting that powerful confederacy of Indians known as the Six Nations. England, too, often used her colonists in disciplining the French who insisted upon creeping up into the country behind the fringe of population which dotted the coast line. So these young men got away from home from time to time and saw not a little of the country. In later life the two sons of John and Dorothy, John and Henry, left Basking Ridge and, drawn no doubt by old associations, returned to a former field of battle where they lived with their families the rest of their lives.

In between these battles they always came back to their own fireside and took up the old farm life as if nothing special had happened. But the minds of the people in general at this time were becoming occupied with events which were to change the destiny of them all. The experience they gained of the military art in these various expeditions and the insight into British military organization which they acquired in helping her fight, served them well when they began to turn this knowledge to their own account a little later. As the years rolled rapidly on, these simple pioneers found it necessary to develop political minds and clouds were gathering upon their mental horizon before the second century in the new world was half finished. An unwise king and his people across the ocean were preparing to forfeit the brightest jewel of their regal crown. Alas! Their successors are only too well aware of that fatal mistake today. This period is too well known to be touched upon here. It is only necessary to say that when the clouds did burst they found all of the sons of John and Dorothy ready. They all wore the coat of the Union, sometimes mighty ragged, but they had learned how to shoot with effect.

Soldiers were enlisted in a curious way those days, no doubt due to the necessities of the times. Here is Stephen's record. Private, in Captain John Parker's company, First Regiment, Somerset County, New Jersey, summer of 1776 for one month. He was then twenty-one years old. He served as private, New Jersey Militia in the fall of 1776 for two months. Again, in December 1776, served one month. Also spring of 1777 and served three months. Was private in Captain Jacob Ten Eyck's company, First Regiment, Somerset County, New Jersey Militia, October 1777 and served two months. He also served with a detachment detailed by Colonel Frederich Frelinghuysen to arrest refugees in Morris County.

It will be seen that the men went to war for a few months service, then returned to their lands. Then again a few months service and again back to the land. By this time all the boys of the Brees family were married, with the exception of Stephen who remained at home and must have been the only one of nine children left with the old parents.

New Jersey played no small part in the effort America made to free herself from her so-called mother country. Battles raged back and forth over the Jerseyite's farms and the people learned to know at first hand what a scourge war really is. They fought bravely against very great odds with so little chance of victory that, had it not been for outside pressure upon their enemy they would never have won in the end.

Our friend John was no longer young when these stirring times came about. He was then in his sixty-fourth year. He took no active part in the struggle, but all his sons were soldiers and patriots, no trace of any loyalist feeling being found among them. What could have been the thoughts and reflections of those simple Jersey lads who had known nothing outside of their own little homes, when they found themselves face to face with a finely equipped army, officered by Earls and Lords of the great world, who must have seemed so far their superiors.

When Hessians, who had such a fighting reputation, were pressed into service against their will, for the sake of England, and savages were armed and taught to harass them, surely there were moments of despair and fear for the future and who knows but what old John saw in his dreams, which shook his whole frame, visions of a second Judge Jeffries' Western Circuit, where rebels were to be dealt with in the old manner of ninety years before. We think the memory of this made John more of a patriot and that he told his sons it was win or perish, so they marched barefooted in all seasons, leaving tracks of blood from their aching feet, which could plainly be seen on the snow in winter, until a ray of light began to show for them when other Lords and Earls from a different nation came to help them.

Poor Stephen must have cut a sad figure in his worn out uniform as he watched the French regiments joining his own at a corner near his home. There was the famous Duke de Lauzun and Count Jean Axel de Fersen, a Swede (who was afterward to go down in history as a good friend to the French queen in her hour of trial), who were officers appearing in Banking Ridge, arrayed so gorgeously that a poor country boy could but blush as he surveyed his own equipment by comparison.

Let us also for the sake of comparison take these three men as they stand together on the sunny road in Somerset County, and follow them into later life. These two high-born gentlemen and the Jersey farmer boy. All Stephen had in common with them was youth. In fact, it's about the only thing he had in the world. But they had youth and wealth, the highest of positions and it would seem the happiest of existences, yet strange to say, Stephen was the only one of the three who lived his life and died a natural death.

The Duke de Lauzun's head fell a few years later under the pitiless guillotine, set up in France to avenge the poor man's wrongs, and the young Count de Fersen died by the assassin's knife while attending the funeral services of his royal master, the King of Sweden.

Among the officers of the Continental Army was a Major Platt Bayles. He had married Phebe Lewis and they had a charming young daughter named Nancy. We know that General Washington often had his headquarters in and about Banking Ridge and that his wife came up from Virginia in the winter months to be with her husband during the time that neither army was inclined to engage in battle. These were seasons for festivity and there was much dancing and merrymaking then, even during the darkest days of war, as is always the case. Nancy Bayles' position as the daughter of a Major surely entitled her to participate in these gatherings and we make no doubt that during the winter of 1780 she was one of the pretty maidens that lent their charm to those simple dances. Her father, the Major, died in 1777, whether wounded on the battlefield or otherwise we are unable to state.

Nancy captured the heart of our young soldier Stephen and as he would not leave his parents he asked them permission to bring home a wife. The permission gladly granted, he brought home Nancy as his bride. War was as yet not terminated and was to last still two years more but we think that Stephen was by this time out of the army and had returned to his old farm life. At the time of his marriage he was twenty-six years of age and his young wife not quite seventeen.

The old parents were certainly glad to have young life about them again and very soon little grandchildren appeared, to their great joy. Thick and fast they came as the time flew by. First a girl, Sally, then a boy, Bayles-but always called Bailey-named for Nancy's father, the dashing Major. Then girls and more girls. Phebe and Osee, named for Nancy's mother and one of Nancy's aunts, and then Ruth and Lucinda and Jane and Betsy and Mary, and so on, but strange to say no Dorothy. In the end there were eleven girls and only one boy. What a spoiled child he must have been! We fancy his little lordship in the midst of his admiring sisters, demanding and receiving of them at will. We think his birthdays must have been feted with pomp while those of his sisters were perhaps passed by unnoticed. He no doubt became a small tyrant in the household where his word was law, while mother and dad found excuses for his waywardness and the grandparents looked upon him as something entirely original.

He developed an early love for horses which everyone had in numbers those days and, of course, was taught to ride and indulged in this diversion. Became a sort of little knight of the hills. In later years when he was an old man he must have remembered this youthful pastime for when one day before his own eyes, his grandson who resembled him in this sport, by inadvertence or bad management, caused a valuable horse he was leading to rear suddenly to such an extent that it turned a complete somersault and was fatally injured, there was not a word of reproof from him for the culprit.

He must have been a veritable darling of the family and for that reason could not always have been an agreeable companion though his sisters never ceased their worship for him. They used to say jestingly in later life, "we are eleven sisters and we each have a brother."

All this time the families of John, Henry and Samuel were increasing at the same rate. Azariah alone had only two children-a boy, John, and a girl, Susan. Quarters were becoming too small. The farms were no longer able to suffice for the growing needs of so many people. Land was not cheep anymore to those impoverished by a devastating war and things seemed at a standstill. 'twas then that the fever of immigration seized upon the younger generation and that the older boys decided to strike out for new frontiers. John, Henry and Samuel gathered up their belongings, disposed of their land holdings, packed their wives and children into covered wagons and halted at their parents' doorstep for their last visit. Good-bye in those days meant much. It was generally a final leavetaking. "Farewell" was the expression used upon those solemn occasions and we can well imagine the tears and fond longings which accompanied this sorrowful scene. "Fare thee well, Mother! Fare thee well, Father! Good-bye Stephen and Nancy" and "God bless you, my children" when they were off forever.

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  Copyright 1999 by John Breese McKenzie. All rights reserved