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Elijah Rosegrant Buys The Hermitage

The Elijah Rosegrant who bought The Hermitage in 1807 was a fourth-generation American. His grandfather, Harmon Rosenkrantz, came to New Amsterdam around 1650. [Tell me more about Elijah's ancestry.] His father, John Rosencrantz, was a community leader and a colonel in the Revolutionary War. John Rosencrantz and his wife, Margaret De Witt, from an influential New York State family, had 14 children.

Elijah was born in 1766 and graduated from Queens College (Rutgers) in New Brunswick in 1791, the only member of his family to do so, as far we know. It is not clear how he became involved with Bergen County or why chose to use “Rosegrant” as his family name instead of Rosencrantz.

After graduation, Elijah studied theology and obtained a license to preach in the Dutch Reformed Church. He was not called to a permanent position as a minister, however, and although he could have found employment as a traveling minister, he did not believe it would bring him adequate income and stability. He accepted a position as head of an academy in Bergen (Jersey City) for a year, then decided to train to as a physician, a profession in which he felt he could also serve people. After two years of study and apprenticeship, he qualified to practice as a physician and a surgeon and received his license to practice in the State of New Jersey in 1799.

In 1803, Major William Bell (the county sheriff who had lived in The Hermitage) appointed Elijah as a surgeon-mate with the Bergen County Militia. From 1804 forward, Elijah borrowed money to buy land, culminating with the purchase of The Hermitage from James Laroe on June 20, 1807.

Cornelia SuffernJust before he purchased The Hermitage, Elijah married Cornelia Suffern, daughter of John Suffern, the leading figure in the area of New York (Rockland County) adjoining northern Bergen County. [Tell me more about the Suffern family.] The wedding was held in New Antrim (now Suffern, New York) on on June 14, 1807. Elijah was 41, and Cornelia was 34.

Life of a Country Doctor

Elijah was one of relatively few physicians in Bergen County in the early decades of the 19th century. He cared for families mostly through house calls to their farms or to villages around Ho-Ho-Kus. Elijah treated victims of accidents, set bones, purged patients, provided medicine for fevers, and delivered babies. The charge was $2 for assisting with childbirth, a larger fee than for any of his other services. To reach his patients, he had a gig and a brown horse that was also used as a sleigh in the winter. Elijah usually ordered medicine from New York City, and he made efforts to keep up with his profession. For instance, in 1826 he ordered a medical dictionary and Dr. Benjamin Rush’s version of Thomas Sydenham’s classic textbook on medicine. In 1818, Abram Hopper of Ho-Ho-Kus studied medicine with Elijah for a year, then began a practice in Hackensack. Also in that year, Elijah met with eleven other doctors in an unsuccessful effort to form a medical association in Bergen County.

According to Elijah’s account books for 1830, he made 549 house calls to 110 local families. His recorded income from the visits was $538. While it is not clear whether this was his entire income from his medical practice, $538 would have been about equal to the income of a trades foreman. This suggests that country doctors did not hold a very high status and hints at why Elijah started looking for other ways to generate revenue. Elijah needed additional income not only to supply necessities in the care of his house, family, and servants, but also to finance the education of his sons and to take part in the social life of his community.

Establishment of the Cotton Mill

Elijah had sawmill and a working farm on The Hermitage property that helped to feed his household and probably provided produce for the market. He owned a gun and hunted. Over time, he bought more land and rented parcels out for extra income. He also often bought lottery tickets and speculated in real estate.

In 1826, Elijah's neighbor James Laroe converted an old bark mill on Ho-Ho-Kus Brook into a paper mill, and Andrew Zabriskie built a cotton mill downstream. In 1828, Elijah acquired property between them and a year later constructed his own mill race, a pit for a waterwheel, and a cotton mill as a rental property. Although this strained his already tight resources, Elijah had finished the mill by 1830 and signed a ten-year lease with Abraham, Henry, and Peter Prall to operate it, charging them $400 a year in rent. In April 1831, a flood damaged the mill. It temporarily ceased operation but had been reopened by 1832.

Elijah and his neighboring mill owners were enticed by the possibilities of economic gain as industrialization emerged in the young United States. Their endeavors also brought them into conflict between 1825 to 1830. Elijah took Laroe to court over road obstructions and the changing of the direction of the water flow in Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. Although he obtained the services of Philemon Dickerson, one of the top lawyers in New Jersey, the court judged that Laroe’s obstructions did not prevent Elijah from moving around his property or negatively affect his mill interest. [Tell me more about Philemon Dickerson.]

Continue to Elijah and Cornelia Raise a Family

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