Documents, Manuscripts, Maps, & Photographs
Manuscript Group 398, Rutherfurd Family
Papers, 1760-1845 (Bulk dates: 1780-1825), 0.25 linear feet / 1 small manuscript box
Call Number: MG 398
Letters, documents, and writings of the Rutherfurd family. Includes correspondence and signed documents of:
Walter Rutherfurd (1723-1804)
Walter Rutherfurd was born on December 29, 1723 in Edgerston, Roxburgshire, Scotland, the sixth son of Elizabeth Cairncross and Sir John Rutherfurd. He entered the Scottish army and was ordered to America in 1756 to fight in the French and Indian War, during which he was promoted to the rank of major. In 1760, after the war was over, and after twenty years of service in the royal army, Rutherfurd retired. He settled in New York City with his wife Catherine Alexander Parker, and built a house on Broadway and Vesey Street in Manhattan.
Rutherfurd’s wife, Catherine Alexander Parker, was the daughter of Mary Spratt Provoost and James Alexander, the sister of William Alexander (better known as Lord Stirling), and the widow of Elisha Parker. Catherine and Walter married on December 21, 1758 and had three children together, John (b. 1760), James Alexander (b. 1764), and Mary (b. 1767).
When the colonies’ struggle with the Crown escalated into war, Rutherfurd, though sympathetic to the patriotic stance, was unable to turn against the country for which he had spent so many years fighting. Although he attempted to stay aloof from the matter by retiring to his summer estate, Edgerston, in Hunterdon County, he was soon embroiled in politics. In 1777, he and two others were taken as loyalist hostages to ensure the safety of patriot captives. He was allowed a brief visit with his wife, but otherwise remained under guard in Morristown, New Jersey.
After the Revolution, Rutherfurd returned to New York City, where he died on January 10, 1804.
John Rutherfurd (1760-1840)
John Rutherfurd, the son of Walter and Catherine Rutherfurd, was born in New York City on September 20, 1760. He attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduated in 1776, studied law with Richard Stockton (1730-1781, a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and William Paterson, and was admitted to the bar in 1782.
In 1791, Rutherfurd was elected as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey. He resigned from that position in 1798 and moved to Trenton; in 1808, he moved to Bergen County, New Jersey, near present-day Rutherford. He became president of the East Jersey Proprietors in 1804, and remained in that position until 1840. He was a member of the New York and New Jersey Boundary Commission in 1826, of the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania Boundary Commission in 1829-1833, and of the committee to research and plan the canals to connect the Delaware, Raritan, and Hudson rivers.
On October 30, 1782, John Rutherfurd married Helena Morris (1762-1840), daughter of Mary Walton and Lewis Morris, III. John and Helena had eight children together: Mary (1784-1863), Catherine (1786-1803), Robert Walter (1788-1852), Helena (1790-1873), Louisa Morris (1792-1857), Anna (1794-1876), John (died young), and Susanna (died young).
John Rutherfurd died on February 23, 1840 in Rutherford, New Jersey.
John and Helena’s Children: Mary, Louisa, and Robert Walter
Mary and Louisa Rutherfurd never married and eventually bought a house together on the Passaic River, which they called Eastridge. Mary Rutherfurd was an accomplished businesswoman and was the sole executor of her father’s estate.
Robert Walter Rutherford graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1806 and soon left to tour Scotland and England, the home of his grandfather. After his return, he served on the New Jersey Assembly in 1810, 1812, 1813, and 1815 and on the State Council in 1819 and 1820.
In 1809, Robert Walter Rutherfurd married his first cousin Sabina Morris (1789-1857), the daughter of Colonel Lewis Morris and Ann Elliott Morris. The newlyweds made their home in Sussex County, New Jersey at the family house, Tranquillity, given to them by John Rutherfurd. They had five children together: John (1810-1871), Walter (1812-1868), Anna Elliott (1814-1830), Lewis Morris (1816-1892), and Robert Walter.
In 1821, trouble seems to have developed in Robert and Sabina’s marriage. Robert Rutherfurd, and possibly others, raised questions about Sabina’s mental state and she was confined to an insane asylum for at least some period of time. Sabina and Robert separated and Robert retained custody of their children, who appear to have lived with their grandfather, John Rutherfurd.
Robert W. Rutherfurd died at Tranquillity in New Jersey on April 14, 1852 and Sabina Morris Rutherfurd died in New York City on March 7, 1857.
John Rutherfurd (1810-1871)
John Rutherfurd, Robert and Sabina’s son, grew up at his grandfather’s house along the Passaic River. He attended Rutgers College, graduating from there in 1829. He was admitted to the bar in 1837, practiced law for about two years, and then left to manage his family’s estates. John Rutherfurd was founder, president, director, and planner of a number of railroads, including the Warwick, Pequest Valley, Midland, Tuckertown, and Sussex Railroads. He was also president of the Board of Proprietors of East New Jersey, president of the New Jersey Coal Company, and president of The New Jersey Historical Society.
He married Charlotte Livingston on August 15, 1855 and they had five children together: John, Helena, Livingston, Arthur Elliott, and Morris.
This collection was compiled from a number of different sources. The 1827 Sentinel of Freedom essay was donated by Charlotte L. Rutherfurd at an unknown time. A number of items, including Walter Rutherfurd’s article on paper currency, the "Notes on the State of New Jersey" report, the "State of the United American States" report, and the Walter Rutherfurd letter about relations with France, were all donated by John Rutherfurd (1810-1871). John and his wife Charlotte Rutherfurd both made numerous donations to the Society and it is very possible that they donated other items in this collection. Lastly, a large number of letters, particularly those dealing with Sabina Morris Rutherfurd were accessioned and added to this collection in 1978. The donor of these items is unknown.
The collection spans the time period 1760-1845, with most of the materials dating between 1780-1825. The papers are mainly those of Walter Rutherfurd and his son John Rutherfurd (1760-1840), though other family members, such as Catherine Parker Rutherfurd, Robert W. Rutherfurd, Sabina Morris Rutherfurd, Mary Rutherfurd, John Rutherfurd (1810-1871), and Louisa M. Rutherfurd are also documented in them. The papers have been divided into series by type; these are Correspondence, Literary Works, Legal Documents, Financial Documents, and Miscellaneous. Within these categories, the documents are arranged by the name of the family member to which they are most closely related.
The correspondence, mostly that of Walter and John Rutherfurd, documents family matters such as Sabina Rutherfurd’s mental state and separation from her husband. They also include discussion of deteriorating relations with France (folder 8), the nomination of William Vans Murray as special envoy to Paris (folder 3), the canal system in New Jersey (folder 2 & 3), relations with Great Britain after the Revolution (folder 8), East Jersey Proprietor activities, and tariffs on northern and southern farmers. The papers also contain a letter signed by George Washington asking John Rutherfurd (1760-1840) to report to the next session of Congress (folder 2).
The literary works include essays and reports written by both Walter and John Rutherfurd (1760-1840) for the Sentinel of Freedom and for political purposes. The "Notes on the State of New Jersey" was published in the New Jersey Historical Proceedings, Series II, Volume I, pages 79-89.
The legal documents include indentures belonging to John Rutherfurd (1810-1871) and a small number of legal documents belonging to John Rutherfurd (1760-1840). The latter includes a pass into New York City during the Revolution and an account settling John Rutherfurd’s estate. There are also deeds, land surveys, and maps.
The financial and miscellaneous series contains receipts from a number of different family members and a folder of items belonging to Walter Rutherfurd.
Processed by Kim Charlton, November 1999 as part of the "Farm to City" project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The New Jersey Historical Society