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What Happened to Mary White, the House, and the Property-Widow White’s Tavern

Below are the original research notes as I had spent years researching contradicting information on the Widow White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Often I like to post research in hopes that other researchers can see what’s been gathered and take the discussion to a new level. Please feel free to reach out if there are other items that get discovered.

Brooks Betz, Bernards Township Historian – Originally gathered in 2009. Updated April 2017

Taverns and Inns of the 18th and 19th Centuries

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the tavern was one of the most important institutions in the country. Called variously inns, taverns, ordinaries, victualling houses or hotels, these facilities provided rest, food, and libation for weary travelers passing through an area. The sight of a tavern was a most welcome one to a weary traveler. The tavern was also the second most important building in the community. Next to the church, the tavern provided a town or village with a central focus in which businesses and people could conduct their affairs and exchange ideas, being among the few structures open to the public- While an urban inn or tavern had a definite social hierarchy in which certain classes were excluded, the rural inns were not able to discriminate as freely and consequently entertained a more diversified clientele with merchants, travelers, and gentlemen often sharing the same room, if not the same bed.

The Event that Changed America Forever at Widow White’s Tavern

Widow Whites Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey - Mr. Local History Archive #mrlocalhistory
General Charles Lee

At about 4am on December 13,1776, General Charles Lee (1731-1782), was alarmed by Major Wilkinson while he was writing a letter to General Gates about George Washington in an upstairs bedroom of the Widow White’s Tavern. All hell broke loose and the General that had hoped to become General Washington’s replacement was now in chains and on his way to New Brunswick as a POW. But what became of Widow White’s Tavern? One interesting note is we have some pretty concrete information on the Widow White’s Tavern. We know the owners and we know when Widow Mary White died. But what else do we know. Before being White’s Tavern, there are whispers that it was known as Brewster’s Tavern. We also know that the tavern was eventually torn down. Let see what else we can learn.

What’s in a Name

Here’s what’s been documented so far as far as the name goes as the owners have been uncovered on the original 106 acre farm:

  • Brewster’s TavernStill searching for the Brewster / Samuel Brown connection and a transaction.
    • Notes: William Brewster Mayflower – The Brewster Genealogy Vol. 1
    • Zachariah Allerton Brewster, b. abt. 1730; d. abt. 1800; m. twice. Res. Morristown, N. J., (dig deeper?)
  • Samuel Brown kept a tavern in the front of his home. Samuel Brown died in 1763 at 51 and is buried in the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Cemetery. Samuel Brown willed the 106 acre farm and home to wife Mary Whitaker Brown and set up a nice endowment to the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church. One stipulation; Mary would have to sell the farm at her death.
  • Whites Tavern :
    • Mary remarries to her 2nd husband, Edwin (Ebenezer) White b. c.1715 and became owner with Mary thru marriage.
    • Edwin/Ebenezer White died c.1775.
  • Widow White’s Tavern:
    • Mary Whitaker White aka “Widow White” owned the tavern till her death on May 28, 1794 where it was noted in Samuel Brown’s stated in HIS will that Mary’s farm/estate must sell the property at her death. (So we’re guessing it was sold).
Basking Ridge’s Most Historic Event – The capture of General Charles Lee was on the morning of December 13, 1776. Click each link to read the dedicated stories.
Based on this story, Mr. Local History has created a keepsake of the famed “Widow White’s Tavern. Get yours while supplies last.
Online exclusive.

Post Tavern Period Owners

Our research has gathered all of the names we know of that became owners of the farm property that eventually was split up into a number of parcels just off South Finley Avenue and Colonial Drive in the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township.

  • Charles De Loney (owner who rented the home)
  • Dr. Boyle – 1820 – site of his assassination attempt
  • William Lewis (Uncle of Johnathan Dayton) first additions
  • Mr. Morris
  • James H. Thompson – major alterations
  • J.F. Cox – 1873 map bought the home for $40,000
  • Bank of Bethlehem President
  • Malcolm Thompson
  • Stephen Bennett
  • James H. Thompson
  • 1880 – Franklin Conklin Sr. purchases the 106 acre farm. Lee Mansion/ Lee Lodge – Built two additional houses on the property.
  • Lee Lodge summer home (Franklin Conklin Jr.) 1943 Franklin Sr. dies – (in 1950 noted no structures remained from Widow White’s)
  • Donald R and Jane H Hagner 1961 survey
  • Murphy House (Built 1962- 2006) 4 Colonial Drive, Basking Ridge, NJ
  • The Shepard’s (2006-Present)

White’s Tavern Notes

  • Mary is not her older sister Elizabeth! Mary Jarvis Whitaker Brown White was born 1719 and died May 28, 1794 (est. 75 years old).
    • Still looking for her marriage date to Samuel Brown
    • Looking for her marriage date to Ebenezer White. She does call him Edwin in records as well.
    • Looking for her burial location (Huntington, LI? Not BRPC)
  • White’s Tavern is sometimes referred to as Brewster’s Tavern , according to a charmingly told story in a history of Basking Ridge prepared by the town’s historical society for the statewide bicentennial celebration in 1964. (mentioned in Bernards Bicentennial Book- 1960).
  • Samuel Brown (July 22, 1712- Dec. 12, 1763) was the noted owner of the Tavern before White took possession from Samuel upon his death. Mary was the daughter of Elizabeth Phoebe Whitaker and Eliphalet Jarvis (Jervis), known later as the stepdaughter of Jonathan Whitaker.
  • Jonathan Whitaker’s other daughter Elizabeth, married Stephen Ogden and lived in a house directly across the street from White’s Tavern (Rev. Oscar Vorhees papers).
  • Both Samuel Brown and Stephen Ogden died within a year of Jonathan Whitaker
  • Mary Whitaker was the youngest daughter of Elizabeth Jarvis Whitaker & Jonathan Whitaker when they moved from Long Island to the Mine Brook area of Bernards Township.
  • Mary’s first marriage was to Samuel Brown.
  • Both of the wills of Jonathan Whitaker and Elizabeth Whitaker strangely only mentioned Elizabeth, Jonathan, Jr., Nathaniel, and Eliphalet as heirs. It is possible that Sarah and Isaac Whitaker died young.
  • Mary Whitaker was actually Mary Jervis or Jarvis, stepdaughter of Jonathan Whitaker and was the natural daughter of Elizabeth Phoebe Jervis wife of Jonathan Whitaker who had previously been married to Eliphalet Jarvis (Jervis) from Long Island.
  • Mary Jarvis Whitaker White returned to Long Island and after the death of her husband Ebenezer Edwin White in 1775 but returned to Basking Ridge and lived in the house where General Lee was taken prisoner in the Revolutionary War – Widow White’s Tavern. Long Island Genealogy. When She returned to Basking Ridge when most likely the name of the tavern became “Widow White’s Tavern”.
  • In the “Whitaker Family” manuscript from Dartmouth College, records document her birth year as 1719 and the names of her spouses as Samuel Brown and Edwin Whitaker.

Mary White’s Will from Many 28,1794 – Bernards Township Library

  • In Samuel Brown’s will he left Mary 200 pounds sterling, his gold sleeve buttons, and the use and profit of his house and lands. Lord Stirling was a witness. Records stated that after Edwin (or Ebenezer) White’s death, Mary went to Huntington, Long Island but later returned to Basking Ridge and lived the rest of her life there.
  • Mary Whitaker married Samuel Brown. Samuel died in 1763 leaving property to Mary Whitaker.
  • Mary Whitaker Brown then married Ebenezer (Edwin) White. The Tavern’s name was renamed White’s Tavern.
    • Ebenezer and Mary had a daughter Susan White, who later married her cousin Stephen Whitaker, son of Jonathan Whitaker Jr (Mary’s brother).
  • On Ebenezer (Edwin) Whitaker’s death (prior to 1776), Mary became known as “the Widow White”. If it weren’t for her remarrying, it might have been Widow Brown’s tavern.
  • Mary Whitaker Brown White died on May 28, 1794 (Rev.Oscar Voorhees transcribed Mary’s 1794 will in 1935). Voorhees is a descendant of the family.
  • Quotes Looking to verify: If Mary was the noted innkeeper of the infamous night, she would have been 50. (Voorhees, 1935).
    • Incorrect, she would have been 57. Whitaker Family “a manuscript from Dartmouth College records shows her birth year as 1719 and the names of her spouses as Samuel Brown and Ebenezer (Edwin) White.
  • Sometime between Ebenezer’s death and Mary’s death Mary returned to Huntington, Long Island.
  • Note from Chris Brewster, descendant of Timothy Brewster who stated that there is documentation that he and his wife went to “Baskinridge” to work with “Aunt White” at the tavern from 1777 thru 1779 then returning to their farm in New Windsor, NY.
  • According to Samuel Brown’s will, once Mary died, her tavern was to be sold and proceeds split between Whitaker and Jervis, her two fathers families.
  • Rumor has it that the last remaining part of the house was a fireplace that was demolished after Conklin Sr.’s death.
  • Local lore has it that the actual mantle to the Widow White’s Tavern still exists today in a private residence.

General Lee Notes

  • If General Lee was 44 in 1776, and Widow White would have been 57 (13 years his senior). So the question, would you have been at the White’s Tavern looking for Widow Mary’s companionship as some historians have written?
  • Lore has it that some of Lee’s guards were killed outside tavern during capture and possibly buried across the street in Mary White’s sisters yard. (See Bernardsville Times article in 1902), also stated in (Voorhees piece as follows “An officer in a letter dated December 21, 1776 stated that when Colonel Harcourt approached the house with his men, they received gunfire from a guard that was in the outhouse, that two sentinels were killed. Another account says seven or eight were killed, without any loss on our side.
  • Memoirs of General James Wilkinson mention that General Lee arrived at approximately 4am at White’s Tavern on December 13, 1776 (Voorhees 1935)
  • Wilkinson woke General Lee at 8am to discuss letter from Gen. Gates and went down for breakfast about 10am.
  • It was noted that General Lee was supposed to have breakfast on the morning of December 13, 1776 at John Morton’s house up the street. He never arrived. When Morton sent someone to look, that person was wounded by the British.

The Evolution of Widow White’s Tavern

Post Widow White Era – Franklin Conklin Sr.. and the Lee Lodge

A sign was posted on the site calling the spot “Lee Lodge”. So many people visited the new home to explore on their own and even “demanded that tea be served.”

The sign was taken down.

Franklin Conklin Sr.

Franklin Conklin Jr. was the first president of the board of Rutgers(Newark’s predecessor, the University of Newark). Conklin was also a well-known civic leader in Newark. He attended Princeton from 1903-04 and later headed the Flood and Conklin Manufacturing Co. He was also a member and past president of the Essex County Park Commission, past president of The Newark Museum (1943 – 1964). He was founder and first president of the board of Newark University. Franklin Conklin Jr. had two children, Franklin Conklin III and Eleanor Frances Conklin (Demarest).

Interesting Tidbits About the Property’s More Recent Past

  • 1907 Mount Holly Herald, “The White Tavern is situated a hundred yards of so back from the road on a pretty know that overlooks the beautiful Somerset Hills and valleys to the East, North and West. None of the original outhouses or barns remain.Franklin Conklin Property – One room was kept totally intact, a chamber on the second floor, where General Lee made his last breakfast in freedom. House was set back approx 100 yards from the road.
  • 1943-1950 caretaker, John Placko states that when he got to the Conklin Jr. property in May 1950, there was no house on the site but that there was a tremendous amount of used lumber in the barn.
  • 1962- Donald and Margaret Brown, build the current house on the site. Colonial Drive was just being completed, along with Rankin Road.
  • 1974- Property was sold by Margaret Murphy, remarried after the passing of Donald Brown 12/12/1974, wife of Donald Murphy. Daniel Murphy Margaret’s second husband from 1978 till about 1997.
  • Martha Brown Heiner states that Conklin built two additional houses on the site for his two sons, Franklin Jr. and Ludolph.
  • While Franklin’s orig house no longer exists, the two houses of his sons flank the front left and rear of the current structure Block 78, Lot 11.
  • Harry Demarest: Son of Elanor (Demarest) Conklin, wife to Franklin Conklin Jr. and grandson of Franklin Conklin. Memories of visiting Lee Lodge. “As a young man, I remember visiting Franklin Conklin Jr’s house for dinner, going for walks in the woods, eating cheese snacks on the porch. Family legend confirms your story that the tavern was destroyed shortly after Franklin Conklin’s death (to avoid property taxes).”
  • Harry Demarest, Astro Data Services, Inc. 974 NW Circle Blvd.Corvallis, OR 97330
  • Bernards Twp Zoning office, suggested to contact Rick Axt, Twp Surveyor. look at page 17 and 23 of current zoning map. Look for oldest map and records of what Conklin did to property. Update: Bernards Township records are not kept prior to 1977 so no records are on file.
  • John Placko of Colonial Drive noted:
    • “When I arrived here to work for Ludolf Conklin in May 1950, there was a lot of wood in the barn, with nails in it that might have been from a torn down house.” BHB interview on 8/28/2006. “But there was no house on the site. Only Ludolf’s house on the right, and Franklin Jr’s house on the left” (facing the current site from S. Finley).
  • John also mentioned a possible soldier grave across the street, possibly General Lee’s guards who were stabbed after surrendering General Lee to General Harcourt.
  • Mr Placko finally purchased the home he lives in today from Minetta Realty Company in 1960 for $12,000.
  • John Placko Jr., 94 of Bernards Township, died peacefully on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009, at Bryan Manor Assisted Living Facility in Chester Township. He celebrated his 94th birthday on Thursday, Sept. 24.  Born in Bernardsville, he moved to Basking Ridge in 1950 to become the caretaker of the Conklin estate. Later, he served as a rural mail carrier at the Basking Ridge Post Office, retiring in 1985 after 18 years of service. Mr. Placko was an avid beekeeper, with many hives throughout the area. He was known as “Honey Bee John,” and his honey won many awards and was sold at local shops. He pursued his hobby into his nineties, and was a member of the Morris County Beekeepers Association. He was the oldest living member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Basking Ridge
  • Neighbors- Don and Roxanne Rica lived behind the current structure. Noted that there was carriage material in their digging and it might have been an original garage. They since have moved back to Kenilworth, NJ.
  • John Placko’s house was later demolished and a new modern home was put on the site.
  • Margaret Murphy sold the house and on July 26, 2006 moved to a condo in Lord Stirling Village.

Additional Quotes

“What a lesson of caution is to be derived from this event, and how important the admonition furnished by it! What an evidence of the caprice of fortune, of the fallibility of ambitious projects, and the inscrutable ways of Heaven! The capture of General Lee was felt as a public calamity; it cast a gloom over the country, and excited general sorrow. This sympathy was honorable to the people, and due to the stranger who had embarked his fortune with theirs, and determined to share their fate, under circumstances of more than common peril. Although this misfortune deprived the country of its most experienced chief, I have ever considered the deprivation of a public blessing, ministered by the hand of Providence; for if General Lee had not abandoned caution for convenience, and taken quarters two miles from his army, on his exposed flank, he would have been safe; if a domestic traitor, who passed his quarters the same morning on private business, had not casually fallen in with Colonel Harcourt, on a reconnoitering party, the General’s quarters would not have been discovered; if my visit and the controversy with the Connecticut Light-horse had not spun out the morning unseasonably, the General would have been at his camp; if Colonel Harcourt had arrived an hour sooner, he would have found the guard under arms, and would have been repulsed, or resisted until succor could have arrived; if he had arrived half an hour later the General would have been with his corps; if the guard had paid ordinary attention to their duty, and had not abandoned their arms, the General’s quarters would have been defended; or if he had obeyed the peremptory and reiterated orders of General Washington, he would have been beyond the reach of the enemy. And shall we impute to blind chance such a chain of rare incidents? I conscientiously reply in the negative; because the combination was too intricate and perplexed for accidental causes, or the agency of man. It must have been destined.”

General Wilkinson wrote in his later memoirs
(about General Lee and the December 13th morning in Basking Ridge)

August 24, 2006

“Sent the pictures on to my Mom (Margaret (Brown) Murphy. We had an interesting chat about it this morning. She said that Finley used to aim right into the Astor estate (there is a second entrance in the fence that is roped off by fence now), and then take a very sharp dangerous right turn.

They moved Finley a little closer to Mom’s house and Lutz’s house in order to ease that turn. This must’ve been done in 1961 or 1962 because they were taking out dump trucks of dirt. Mom and her neighbor asked them to dump a load up by the parking area at Mom’s house to put some good dirt in there.

Mom’s driveway used to go in a little and then bend to the left, where the Lutz’s driveway is now. They were separating it into 2 driveways at the time.

She still believes the house was on her property. Close to where her house sits now. When they dug the foundation for her house, they dug up a long piece of cement foundation. When they finished building her house, they put it back in for fill, instead of hauling it away.”

Martha Brown Heiner – Owned a home on the property

March 10, 2022

I just sent you a lengthy note on the website message board — but it’s not clear to me whether the document I was trying to send you went through, so I am attaching another copy here.  It is a brief memoir written by my ancestor, Timothy Brewster, in 1780.  In it, he says that he operated White’s Tavern from December 1777 to March 1779.  I was intrigued to read your account of Widow White’s tavern.  I have a typewritten transcript of a brief memoir written by my ancestor, Timothy Brewster, on August 19, 1780. 

In it, he says that he and his wife moved to “the Jerseys” after receiving “pressing invitations from Aunt White to come and live with her and keep the tavern.”  He says that he “settled matters with her” and relocated to “Baskingridge,” arriving on December 1, 1777 — and kept the tavern until March of 1779, “at which time the Confiscated farms were sold, and I bought the farm I now possess.”  I presume this is a reference to his farm in New Windsor, NY.  His house in New Windsor still stands, and is now part of Schlesinger’s Steakhouse there.  I am attaching the transcript for your  reference.  I do not know when this transcript was done.  I believe the handwritten text is with the Orange County (NY) historical society.  I know I received a copy of the transcript over 40 years ago — and I suspect the transcript is much older than that.  Your website notes that White’s Tavern was known as “Brewster’s Tavern” before it was White’s Tavern, which may well be true, but it is clear from this memoir that Timothy Brewster managed the tavern after Widow White — beginning a year after the capture of General Lee.  I do not know why he refers to the Widow White as “Aunt White,” nor do I know anything about anyone in my family managing the tavern before Ms. White and her husband.  In any event, I thought you would find this memoir of interest.   Thank you for the work you do to preserve local history. 

Christopher Brewster

Reference People/Articles

  • John Placko- (Working) Manager for Ludolf Conklin Jr. (1950) Since passed away.
  • Charlie Fortenbacker, Chief of Police- 43 Haas Rd Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-2601 (908) 647-0745 – Since passed away.
  • Essay – Essays Historical and Literary, published by Macmillian in 1902. John Fiske- Title General Charles Lee, A Soldier of Fortune

Reference Materials

Lee Papers1873By Charles Lee, Henry
Edward Bunbury
Entitled the “Lee Papers” An extract. The basis of the whole collection has been the mass of original papers left by General Lee to William Goddard, and still preserved in his family.”-
Amazon Books1860George H. MooreMOORE, George H. Treason of Charles Lee, Major General, Second in Command in the
MOORE, George H. The Treason of Charles Lee, Major General, Second in Command in the American Army of the Revolution. N.Y., 1860. 1st ed. Illus. with portrs. and folding facs. xii, 115pp.
Mary Jarvis (Jervis)Long Island Family GenealogyLong Island genealogy highlighting Mary White’s first mother and father.
Local Historian documents Widow White’s Tavern
1887Dr. William PenningtonPaper documents historical ownership of Widow Whites Tavern (Bernardsville Spinning Files)
 Bernards Twp Library   J.H. Van HornHistoric Somerset- Articles of the times
(Bernards Historical Room 974.914)
 Bernards Twp Library1907 Mount Holly Herald article. (Frank Conklin discussed- on file at Bernards Twp library).
Hard Copy
(Not Scanned yet)
Feb. 18, 1933Rev. Oscar VoorheesPaper- General Charles Lee and his capture at Widow White’s Tavern, Basking Ridge NJ by Rev. Oscar M. Voorhees. Feb. 18, 1933. on file at Bernards Twp library.
Library of Congress Digital Version1889Andrew D.Mellick Jr.“The Old Farm” from “The story of an Old Farm”. History of the famed Melicks of Bedminster.
Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church Burial Records of the cemetery – PDF
Bernardsville News
Recount of the Tavern
June 30, 1993Bernardsville News,
W. Jacob Perry
Bernardsville News historical piece on the History of the Widow Whites Tavern, General Lee, and Franklin Conklin Jr.
Star Ledger
2001Star Ledger General Lee capture recount with artwork from 2001. Love the ending. (Bit of poetic license).
Bernardsville Times

Lee Article
April 26,1905Bernardsville Times,1905 recount of General Lee Capture
The Scoundrel Memoirs of General James WilkinsonReferenced journals
Newark Call

General Lee
Dec 12, 1913Basking Ridge Home Reminded of General Lee’s Escapade in 1776.

A funny article about the 150th anniversary noted in the Newark Call on December 12, 1913.Quotes “A night of Gaiety” and General Lee’s interest in Widow White

Widow Whites Property Survey1961Survey DocumentSurvey of the original area in 1961 (Known then as the Donald R and Jane H Hagner property

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1 thought on “What Happened to Mary White, the House, and the Property-Widow White’s Tavern”

  1. Hi nicely done. You should read my book Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Major Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott (Westholme, 2014). I spoke about the book in 2015 I believe at the school house at Basking Ridge. It was a nice event. I have some friends who just moved there. Best. Christian McBurney

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