A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Monday, April 7, 2014

History: John Travers, Founder of Trinity Episcopal, Matawan (1791 - 1882)

John Travers (30 October 1791 - 26/27 May 1882) was only briefly in the Matawan area, but during that time he played a significant role in the establishment of Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street.

The Madison Township Historical Society at the Thomas Warne Museum in Old Bridge, NJ has been conducting extensive research on John Travers in support of Laurence Harbor history. I am pleased to play a small part in that project and wish them well in their venture. Below is my review of Ancestry.com for birth, baptism, marriage, census and graveyard records on John and his Wall Street trader son William, as well as historical information from selected church websites.

Support your local historical societies.


John Travers was baptized on 4 April 1792 at St Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland. John's father, also John, is said to have been an Englishman who was a wine merchant along the US mid-Atlantic coast.

John went to England as a teen to apprentice at his uncle's shop in London. He returned to Baltimore in 1812, according to research notes at Gen Forum.

He married 1) Susan Rebecca Hanson Moale on 3 April 1816 in Baltimore County, Maryland.

John and Susan had son William Riggin Travers in July 1819 in Baltimore.

John's wife Susan died 27 January 1822 in Maryland.

John could be identical with a man with this name in the 1830 Federal Census in Acquackanonk, Essex County, NJ. The family member ages could fit the available data from the enumeration. This would support the idea that the family moved to New Jersey in the 1820s, as suggested in research notes at Gen Forum.

He married 2) Harriet Riggin on 26 October 1835 in Somerset County, Maryland.

They had a daughter, Harriet Emily Travers, about 1837 and a son, Robert Travers, about 1840, both born in Maryland.

The 1840 Federal Census for New Jersey showed John Travers as head of household in South Amboy, New Jersey. The household includes 1 M 40-50 (John, 49), 1 M 20-30 (UM, probably a servant), 1 M 15-20 (William, 20), 1 M >5 (Robert, infant), 2 F 30-40 (Harriet, 38; UF, probably a servant), 3 F 15-20 (UF, all probably servants), and 1 F >5 (Harriet Emily, 3).

The 1850 Federal Census for New Jersey showed John (59 MD) as head of household in South Amboy. He was a farmer with $20,000 in property. The household included his wife, Harriet (48 MD), daughter Emily (13 MD), and son Robert (10 MD); the soon-to-be first pastor of Trinity Episcopal Church in Matawan, Ferdinand C Putman (35 MA);  three laborers, who were probably working on the construction of the church; and two adult women.

Trinity Episcopal Church's website quotes from the Churchscape website, which mentions John's role in the founding of the church:

"Construction of the old church was initiated by Colonel John Travers, who lived at the mouth of the Cheesequake River in what was then Middletown Point. The cornerstone was laid on April 24, 1850, by the Rt. Rev. George W. Doane, Bishop of the Diocese of New Jersey. The Church was incorporated on May 11, 1850, and admitted into union with the Convention of the Diocese at its annual meeting in Newark that month. Bishop Doane consecrated the Church on June 10, 1851."

Note 1: The mouth of Cheesequake Creek was in South Amboy in those days, not Middletown Point. Today, a drawbridge carries Route 35 over that creek, the north bank being in the Morgan section of Sayreville and the south bank in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge.

Note 2: The reference to John as Colonel is rife in local records but all seems to draw from limited sourcing. He was the right age to serve in the War of 1812, but would have been too young to attain such a rank. He would have been too old to suddenly lead troops in the Mexican War (1846-48). So just where does this military rank come from? His father could have been a colonel in the US Revolutionary War, but the English emphasis in his background hints more at Tory than Yankee.

The 1860 Federal Census for New York showed John (70 MD) as head of household in New York City. He had no occupation, apparently retired. He had $60,000 in real property and $5,000 in personal property. His household included wife Harriet (58 MD), daughter Harriet E (21 MD) and three domestics, who were from England and Ireland.

I had no luck finding John in the 1870 or 1880 Federal Census. He reportedly returned to Baltimore by 1867, according to research notes at Gen Forum, but I was unable to surface his census records. John owned property on Main Street in Matawan in 1873. According to a map of the borough, his property was adjacent to the Trinity Episcopal Church.

John died in May 1882 at the Baltimore home of his niece, a Mrs Wright, according to obituaries appearing in the 26 May 1882 edition of the Paterson Press and the 27 May 1882 edition of The Baltimore Sun.


A reference in the online history of the St Lawrence Roman Catholic Church to a John Travers as being married to the only sister of James Provost, must pertain to John's father.

"In 1684, the region became incorporated as part of South Amboy Township (which at that time also included the land of modern day Sayreville, Old Bridge and Monroe Townships). During the 18th Century, the area of Laurence Harbor was the private estate of the Provost family. Major General Provost, who had been an officer in the British Army, built a house on the bluff. His son, James Provost, had a disagreement with his father, and so the land and holdings were willed to James' only sister, who was married to Colonel John Travers (tax assessment records list Col. Travers as the owner of the estate in the 1830s). The Travers family were Episcopalians, and funded the building of Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street in Matawan in 1850."
Note: This early connection to South Amboy by John's father would explain the younger John's relocation to the area circa 1840.

Dr Frank K Travers (1840-1873) came to Matawan from Baltimore in late 1868 to join a medical practice and died about five years later. Frank's line of the Travers family came from Dorchester County, Maryland. While there is likely a connection between the John and Frank's father Samuel (born about 1787), they are more likely cousins than siblings.

Son - William Riggin Travers

John's son William R Travers attended the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. He was registered at the school, according to US military post returns filed in August 1836 and February 1837.

He married Maria Louise Johnson about 1846.

The 1857 New York City city directory showed William as a broker on Wall Street. He listed work addresses at 1 Exchange Place and 30 Merchants Exchange and a home address of 179 West 23rd Street.

The 1860 Federal Census for New York showed William (40 MD) as a broker living in New York City. He was head of household with wife Louisa (39); daughters Mary (12), Louisa (11), Hattie (10) and Ellen (7), Matilda (5) and Susan (3); and son John (8). All were born in Maryland, except the last two children - Matilda and Susan - who were born in NY. He had four female Irish domestics working/living in the household.

The 1880 Federal Census for New York showed William (60 MD) as a broker living in New York City. He was head of household with wife Louise (50 MD); daughter Mary Grey (33 MD) and her two daughters Minnie (11) and Louise (10); son John (28 MD), cotton merchant; daughters Matilda (24) and Susan (22); and sons William (19) and Reverdy J (16). They had seven live-in servants from England, Ireland, Germany and New York.

The 1886 New York City city directory showed William as a broker working on Wall Street. He listed work addresses at 52 Broadway, 64 Broadway, 39 New Street, 25 William Street, and 10 West 23rd Street. His home address was 3 West 38th Street.

William died 19 March 1887 in Hamilton, Bermuda. He is buried at Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island, according to Find-a-Grave. The site provided this brief biography of William:

     "New York City lawyer, financier, and sportsman who was a member of the New York Stock Exchange, a co-founder and first president of Saratoga Racecourse at Saratoga Springs, New York, and the first president of the New York Athletic Club. The Travers Stakes, America's oldest major race for Thoroughbred horses, was named in his honor. Travers Island, part of the The Pelham Islands group in Long Island Sound, was also named in his honor. William Travers married Maria Louisa Johnson, daughter of statesman, Reverdy Johnson."


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