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Historic Houses

The Belcher Mansion
The scene of the war-time wedding of "Caty" Smith and Elisha Boudinot

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

Across the way from Boxwood Hall, on the south side of Jersey Street, is the old Holland brick mansion of saintly Governor Jonathan Belcher, of whom the incomparable Whitefield wrote when stopping with him, "He was ripening for Heaven apace." In Governor Belcher's time many men of importance in the colonies were entertained there, but it is safe to say that the most notable gathering its walls ever sheltered occurred many years after the death of that worthy. The occasion was the wedding of Kate, or "Caty," as some of her friends spelt her name, daughter of William Peartree Smith, then its owner, and young Elisha Boudinot. It was celebrated in the fall of 1778, in the midst of war-time dangers and alarms. William Peartree Smith was a graduate of Yale College, and a life-long intimate of Governor Livingston. He belonged to a notable New York family, and was a grandson of one of its early mayors. His father, "Port Royal" Smith, Governor-General of Jamaica, is known to have been a friend of Governor Belcher's, and William Peartree corresponded with the good governor in his early manhood, and was a strong supporter of his pet project, the young College of New Jersey. He is said to have removed from New York to the commodious Belcher Mansion out of love for the memory of his famous friend, and there, in the years before the Revolution, his sons Belcher and William and his only daughter, Kate, grew to manhood and womanhood. Tradition says that Kate Smith was a lovely girl at the time of her marriage, and had enjoyed a better education than most of the women of the day. Her mother was the daughter of a wealthy sea-captain, who had taken her to London with him on one of his trips, and while there she had mingled freely in learned society, and enjoyed the friendship of Dr. Watts and other distinguished men of the London world. She was thus a fitting helpmate for a literary man. William Peartree Smith was a writer of both prose and poetry, and at one period edited a paper with Governor Livingston.

There had been many notable weddings in Elizabeth during 1778. In the spring beautiful Nancy Ogden married Lieutenant-Colonel Barber. From a sketch of him done by a brother-officer on the field, he was her mate in good Looks. (From this sketch James Herring painted a portrait of Colonel Barber, which became well-known through Stephen H. Gimbell's engraving.) Two other belles shortly afterwards married French officers, and there are no records of the many Tory maidens of high and low degree who were won by the flash of gold epaulets and scarlet coats. But no wedding had created such a furor before its celebration in prominent Whig circles as that which was to occur at the old Beicher Mansion. It was early rumored abroad that Washington and his staff were to be there, and as many officers as could safely leave headquarters, for there was ever a dread of a surprise from Skinner's notorious raiders from Staten Island or the Tories of the surrounding country.

When the eventful day in October at last arrived, the realization far exceeded the anticipation of this wedding, if we can believe all the tales of the ceremony that have wandered down the years to us. Many a great bowl of punch made of costly old wines, necessary for nuptial luck, stood on Governor Belcher's old celleret, built in the house and still in existence, for gentlemen drank in those days, and the first gentlemen in the land were there. Reading Emeline Pierson's charming sketch of" Old-Time Jersey Weddings," it takes but little imagination to picture the grand old rooms of the Belcher Mansion aglow with many lighted candles and filled with the noise and gay badinage of a courtly company, and the rustling of stiff brocades. The sweet-faced bride flits before us in her towering white head-dress, decorated with jewels, and a gorgeous gown, which may have been one of those "London Trades," or, in other words, an article procured in some way from the loyalists, either by money or in exchange for grain or garden produce. Governor Livingston, who dearly loved to keep his world in order, was always ranting about them in his letters, declaring that women would willingly sacrifice a second Paradise for the sake of their adornment. Then comes the bridegroom in his handsome wedding-suit, surrounded by a merry group of bridesmaids and groomsmen. Among the guests we see Generals Washington and Lafayette, young Alexander Hamilton, the master of ceremonies, charming Lady Kitty Stirling and her cousins, the Livingston girls, and many other noted figures, as we strain our ears to listen to the ghostly tinkle of the old-time wedding-music.

Great was the courage and daring of the patriotic people of those days, when any festivity, unless enjoyed in secret, was as liable as not to bring a band of marauders to the door. About a fortnight after the ceremony the British did learn of the Boudinot-Smith wedding, and the house was visited by a party of soldiers, who, upon learning of the absence of the bridegroom, spitefully destroyed the fine furniture and family portraits, some of them painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. They so terrified the young bride on this occasion that her husband took her to Newark, where at the close of the war he built a great mansion. In after years, when he had become a famous lawyer and a judge of the Supreme Court, he entertained the aged Marquis de Lafayette, on his second visit to America, the venerable widow of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay, and many other noted people.

The old Belcher Mansion, has known few vicissitudes, with the exception of the raid and those occasioned by the ruthless hand of time. It is now in excellent condition, having been restored and beautified by its present owner, Mr. Warren R. Dix, a descendant of the noted Chevalier D'Anterroches, a resident of Elizabethtown. In the possession of the Dix family is a beautiful old brocade gown, in almost perfect condition, which belonged to Mrs. Jonathan Edwards, who visited at the Belcher Mansion over a hundred years ago. It is a worthy rival of the Boudinot wedding-gown, still in existence, and worn by the brides of that family for four generations. It is the most precious link left to that far-off war-time wedding, when so many notable guests assembled in the old home, once the delightful abode of Jersey's most noble royal governor.

The wedding-gown worn by Kate Smith was also used by her daughter, Catherine Boudinot, on the occasion of her marriage to Lewis Atterbury, of New York. Later it was the bridal-robe of her daughter, Mrs. Stimson, and was last worn by Mrs. Stimson's daughter, Mrs. Loomis. In the early 1990's, it was still in existence, but entirely changed from its original appearance.

Joseph Louis Chevalier D'Anterroches, or Count D'Anterroches, as his tombstone in St. John's church-yard, Elizabeth, records, was a most romantic and interesting figure in New Jersey's Revolutionary history. His father was Jean Pierre, Count D'Anterroches, and his mother was Lady Jeanne Francoise Tessier de Chaunae, a near relative and probably a cousin of Madame de Lafayette. As he was a younger son, his parents destined him for the priesthood, and he was sent to the churchly house of his uncle, Alexander Caesar D'Anterroches, Bishop of Comdon, as a youth, to prepare for a clerical life. The restraint there and his duties became very irksome to his buoyant temperament, and he ran away to England and joined her army. Arriving in America as a British ensign, in 1777, his sympathies were soon on the side of the Colonists, and he is said to have regretted his wilful precipitancy which had placed him in such a peculiar position. About the time of the battle of Saratoga he was taken prisoner by the Americans. At his capture he sent for pen and paper and wrote to Lafayette. The marquis came to him post haste, and they fell into each others arms and embraced with rapture.

Joseph Louis was soon released on parole, and, having obtained his freedom, immediately set out to lose his heart.

The story of his meeting with the maiden who afterwards became his wife, near the Chatham or Passaic bridge is almost as poetic as the gallant Bassompierre's adventure with his washer-girl near the Petit Pont on the road to Fontaineblean, only this Frenchman of a later day found his fair lady again and made her his wife.

The house where he lived, in Elizabethtown, is still standing, and was known to past generations as the Malherbes Mansion, having been erected by a Monsieur Malherbes, of Martinique.

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