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Historic Houses
The Bradford Mansion
The home of the last of the Washington circle - the widow of Attorney-General William Bradford

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2004

ON OTHER large Quaker settlement in Southern Jersey is the old city of Burlington. Unlike Haddonfield, Burlington has not changed very much in the last hundred years, and still retains an eighteenth-century air. On its broad streets are many decaying mansions historic associations would fill a goodsized volume. There is the house occupied by Governor William Franklin during the happiest years of his governorship, and where he returned at the last a prisoner of the colonists. A short distance away is the dwelling where Captain James Lawrence, the naval hero, was born, and Jonathan Odell often came to sup during his pastorate in the city. There is another smaller house in the town where the former passed some of his early youth, and close by is a sister-house where his little playfellow James Fenimore Cooper lived. Buildings linked with our early history greet us at every street corner. A few of the " fair and great brick houses" Gabriel Thomas saw in the Burlington of 1697 still remain, but they are now of very dilapidated and sad appearance. Overlooking the quiet Delaware is one of the most interesting of all the houses in the town, the Bradford Mansion, the one-time home of quaint Mrs. William Bradford, born Susan Vergerau Boudinot.

The Bradford Mansion, Burlington, in 1860
Mrs. Bradford, whose early associates were the Washingtons, the Hamiltons, and the Lafayettes, lived to be the last of that noble group of dames composing the famous Washington circle,-made up of such women as Mrs. Madison, Mrs. Carroll, Mrs. Pinckney, Mrs. Greene, and Mrs. Rush. Well into the nineteenth century Mrs. Bradford went to church or to take the air in her sedan chair, and on state occasions drove in the ancient family chariot. The latter rambling affair was of a bright yellow color, hung with crimson satin. Up to the time of her death her coachman and footmen wore half-mourning for the husband who had been sleeping over fifty years. Old-fashioned formality and the courtly etiquette of colony days lingered in her household long after it was but a memory in America. She was truly a lady of the old school, and her life was as sweet as the fragrance of sandalwood and the leaves of verbena. Richard Rush, her kinsman, and one of our earliest ministers to England, once wrote of her:

From youth, from early boyhood, my recollections of her at her own house, at my uncle's, at my mother's, with whom she was reared in part as with a sister, are all of the most grateful kind. Attaching in her manners to all, because they sprang from many virtues and solid excellence of her heart, their peculiar grace and kindness were ever especially winning to the young, and now as I call up these recollections, through back time associated with a thousand early pleasures, they come over me like delightful visions ; no, not visions, for at that time of life they are realities unmingled with anything to take from the happiness and joy they give ; their vivid impressions live forever, and, momentarily at least, renew in us the delight they once offered.
The Bradford Mansion was erected some time about the year 1798 by Mrs. Bradford's father, the famous Elias Boudinot. It is spacious and of a simple style of architecture, resembling Rose Hill, the Boudinot countryhouse near Philadelphia, destroyed by fire several years ago.

Generations of children loved and feared the great blue Chinese porcelain lions which guarded the well-kept lawn. They were a very original garden decoration and used to be one of the sights of old Burlington. The boys of the Friends' School delighted to romp on the lawn, for they were pretty sure of the excitement of a chase by Ambrose, the colored butler and the autocrat of the kitchen. Life in that old-time dwelling was very different from that we know to-day. Miss Jane J. Boudinot, in her charming reminiscences of Mrs. Bradford, writes:

The domestic grievance was not known in that household,- its ten or twelve servants accomplishing their work with a magical quiet and precision. The housekeeper made her daily round with the chamber maid, to assist in arranging the large, old-fashioned, high-post bedsteads, with their gay and elaborate hangings in winter and white dimity festoons in summer. The hall was wide, and contained some beautiful statuary, - four groups of seventeenth-century work, the only known specimens of the kind in this country. The stairs, with very low steps, led to a landing on which stood the old clock, a gift from Richard Stockton, the Signer, which had measured out the moments of those stormy times of the Revolution and had struck the knell of many a footsore, weary soldier on the banks of the Delaware. The house possessed also a well-stocked library, with many editions of the Bible, from Mrs. Bradford's father, the founder of the Bible Society in this country, and its first president.
There always was some visitor coming up the garden path to visit Mrs. Bradford in the old days. Among her constant callers were very antique, queer-looking people. Quaint ladies armed with gorgeous beaded reticules and snowy-haired gentlemen with snuff boxes, looking as if they had escaped from old pictures and had left their eighteenth-century frames at home, were often seen fumbling with the Bradford knocker. In 185o venerable ladies wearing stomachers of bits of lovely brocade of fading hues and gentlemen adorned with ruffled shirts might have created a sensation in most parts of the world, but Burlington was used to them, and they tottered in peace to visit the dearest of their few old friends left. Poverty had tortured many of their lives and taken their little treasures of better days from them one by one, and they missed them! But once inside the hospitable Bradford door they were happy. In the ghostly-lighted drawing-room they gazed at the mellow tints of portraits painted by Kneller's magic brush, viewed the opulent plate, the massive branches and single candlesticks which had held the tapers for many generations, and saw their wizened faces reflected in the unruffled depths of old mahogany, and so knew content.

A picturesque figure in Mrs. Bradford's household who should not be forgotten was the little governess. She was a French refugee from St. Domingo, and had come there first during Elias Boudinot's lifetime, as an amanuensis. The home offered her was a haven of refuge, and she lingered on long after her master, and grew old in the service of his grandnieces and grandnephews. Like all French refugees from the West Indies, she had a romance, her lover having been shot dead before her eyes. She was very kind to the children, and loved to give them sweetmeats and bonbons. Her English was very grotesque, and Miss Boudinot relates it was only outdone by that of Ambrose, the African butler. "He" with that worthy was always "she," and "she" "he." When announcing the daily visits of Bishop Doane to his aged parishioner, he would invariably say, "De bitchip man. Shall she walk up?"

Burlington before the War of 1812 was quite a summer resort for the fashionables of Philadelphia. The Binneys, Whartons, Shippens, Chaunceys, Mcllvains, and many other noted families had country-seats there, and social intercourse was frequent. For a long period of years after her young husband's death, Mrs. Bradford seldom appeared in society. All through her long life she was ever faithful to his memory. Elias Boudinot, her father, was fond of entertaining the friends of his youth, and the Washingtons, Laurenses, Rutledges, Daytons, Bayards, and Ogdens are among the distinguished families sheltered at one time or another by its ancient roof. In the library of the Bradford Mansion this grand old man of America wrote his famous "Star of the West." He was past seventy years of age then, but still looked as he did in his excellent portrait painted by Sully, the favorite artist of old Philadelphia society. All through her life Mrs. Bradford proudly displayed to admiring friends many historic keepsakes. One of these was a small cushion made from Mrs. Washington's brocade wedding-dress. Another was a pair of bracelets containing the hair of General Washington. At her death she left many of her treasures in her will to friends, but by far the greater number of them are now in the possession of Miss J. J. Boudinot, of New Jersey.

The Bradford Mansion of to-day is very different from the house Mrs. Bradford knew. Its wide rooms have been separated for two establishments, and it has been much desecrated. The sweeping lawn leading to it has been cut up, and time and the hand of man have felled some of the aged trees which guarded it like a corps of faithful sentinels. It is sad to think that it should have passed out of the possession of the family which made it celebrated, but that is the fate of most old houses. They are doomed to linger on in poverty and neglect long after their original owners are sleeping. In poverty, because they must starve in their old age for the sound of familiar voices they once knew and loved, and in neglect because new owners rarely come to them unless forced to. Each has its memories and traditions, - perhaps a few bright flowers grown among many, many tears.

The old Bradford Mansion should have fallen when its quaint little mistress died. They were of another period, but their pictures still live in the minds of many, - a lady in a sedan chair, and a home of the old regime.

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