Past Imperfect - Lost Historic Sites

Retirement Hall
Where Prince William Henry, the son of George III., is said to have dined

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

In old Pamrapaugh, a scattered Dutch settlement frequently visited by hunting-parties from New York City during the eighteenth century, a Captain Thomas Brown, who had won some distinction in the French wars, built, in the year 1760, a large mansion, costing many thousand pounds, which was one of the finest dwellings in New Jersey.

Tradition says Captain Brown was the son of English parents residing in Bergen County. While still a young man he married Anna Van Buskirk, a great heiress, who inherited from her parents, Lawrence and Feytie Van Buskirk, a large portion of a tract of land situated at old Minarchquay (commonly called Pamrapaugh), now Greenville, about three miles south of Jersey City, extending from New York to Newark Bay. It was on the choicest portion of this land, some years after his wife’s decease, that Captain Brown erected his great mansion, which, with its immense rooms, wide double galleries, and profusion of English and French furniture, silver plate, and other luxuries, became quite noted, notwithstanding a rather isolated situation. Travellers of distinction journeying between New York and Philadelphia were generally entertained at its hospitable board, and in the spring and fall it was always the scene of extensive hospitality.

There is a halo of uncanny mystery around the career of Captain Brown, for he was one of the principal slavedealers of the New World. Shipload upon shipload of human freight are known to have been confined in the underground cellar of Retirement Hall, and many of the old manacles and chains were in place in its walls until a few years ago. Search among the records of colonial slave-dealers reveals very little about him. The one bright spot in his life, looking at us from this somber page of history, is the marriage of his only daughter and heiress, in October, 1772, to Andrew Gautier, a member of a prominent New York family. (Andrew Gautier was then in his early teens, and had recently been a student at King’ s College.)

Oh, those picturesque early weddings of the long ago! In this instance the bridegroom was seventeen, and the bride a year younger. A quaint pair they must have made: the youthful bridegroom in his white velvet suit, embroidered with gold, and white silk stockings, then the costume generally worn by the bridegrooms of the gentry, and the timid and shrinking bride just escaped from the nursery and the care of her black mammy, in the stiff brocade gown with wide panniers, and the high head-dress of the period. If we look back over that long vista of years we can perhaps obtain a glimpse of the wedding-company leaving Old St. Paul’s, then New St. Paul’s on Broadway, where the dust of Captain Brown is now resting in the vault of the Ten Eyck’s. Many a good old Huguenot family, whose ancestors had walked the quaint and crooked streets of La Rochelle, was present, for the Gautiers had once been prominent members of L’Eg1ise du St. Esprit, the famous Huguenot Church on Pine Street, New York City. We can see members of the proud Le Roy family, whose descendants have held conspicuous social positions in New York for two centuries; the Freneaus, De Lanceys, Allaires, and Pintards, all so closely allied with ties of blood and friendship; the Vincents, Jays, Auboyneaus, Jouneaus, Neaus, Droilets and many other ghostly figures bearing prominent names, which the dust of years have hidden, in that forgotten company. Ladies in wide silken beflowered gowns, and gentlemen in satin small clothes and beruffled coats, entering gilded or mahogany coaches for their ride to Whitehall, where Captain Brown’s periaguas are in waiting to bear them across the bay to the feast prepared at Retirement Hall.

In the immense kitchen, separated from the house proper by a distance of several feet, another feast is said to have been prepared at a later date for the gay little midshipman who afterwards became William IV., then in New York under Admiral Digby.

Tradition says that it occurred one stormy evening. Several boats full of redcoats, one of them containing the young prince, having left the Black Horse or the Rose and Crown, the famous Tory resorts on Staten Island, were driven by a squall over towards the Communipaw shore, and made for the little wharf near Retirement Hall, where they demanded refreshment.
The Rose and Crown tavern, which stood at New Dorp, Staten Island, until the last decade, was for a time, in the summer of 1776, the head-quarters of no less a personage than General Howe. The Black Horse, which remains near by, sheltered his staff.

Prince William Henry, the third son of George III., was the hero of the hour among the British and Tories on his landing in New York in September, 1781. The arrival of a son of the sovereign gave them fresh hope of subduing the erring colonists. Fetes and dances marked his arrival in the city, the fairest belles taught him to skate on the Collect pond, and a writer of the time has pictured him followed every step he took by Tory entertainers and Hessians singing high Dutch tunes and dancing rigadoons.

It is not known whether Captain Brown was at home to receive his unwelcome guests, but he must have groaned on hearing of the occurrence, for he was one of the few notable exceptions in Bergen County who had espoused the patriot side. Tales have been told that during the war many a fugitive from the British found shelter in his dark and mouldy slave cellars when hotly pursued, and that he frequently made contributions of money to the cause.

Several years before peace was proclaimed Captain Brown was stricken with paralysis, and had to be helped about by a body-servant. Out on his great wide galleries he spent much of his time watching for the white sails of the ships which never came, for his West Indian trade had been ruined by the hostilities with the mother country. He died in 1782, as peace was returning to a devastated land. Five years later his little heiress, Mrs. Andrew Gautier, closed her eyes on the world that had beamed so benignly at her when she became a bride at sixteen. Retirement Hall was retained by members of the Gautier family until 1829, and then passed into other hands. (The Gautier family in New York City were descended from the Gautiers of Saint Blancard, in the Province of Lanquedoc, France.) During the latter part of the past century it had rather an evil reputation, several of the families who had leases of it declaring that the figure of an old man always looking to sea constantly haunted its front galleries at midnight, and strange noises like groans and the clanking of chains often emanated from its cellars. Although modernized from time to time, it still retains much of its old-time aspect. It has been occupied for the past few years by the Greenville Yacht Club, but the owners, the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company, are contemplating its removal.