The Deeds of 1855

In his will dated September 3, 1853, Henry Albertson instructs that his property, the Albertson Farm, located on the plateau above and to the east of Delaware NJ, be auctioned to the highest bidder. It was, in some fashion - the auction was held on September 16, 1854, and on March 14, 1855 a deed was signed transferring the property to one Jacob D. Addis. But 3 weeks later on April 3 it was bought back (mostly) by Henry's eldest son, William F. Albertson. Here is a side by side comparison of the two deeds. The sketches were made using the Gimp image editor. The locations of the corners were generated from the "butted and bounded" numbers in the deed, by way of a program I wrote.

Estate of Henry Albertson to Jacob D. Addis Jacob D. Addis to William F. Albertson
Date: March 14, 1855 Date: April 3, 1855
Price: $9847.85 for 197.73 acres, $49.80 per acre Price: $6762.47 for 133.93 acres, $50.49 per acre
Butted and bounded: Beginning at a set stone corner of Allen and Hutchinsons land, thence
1. N80E 43.811, thence
2. S26.5W 41.13, thence
3. S26.5W 1.93, thence
4. S49E 18.05, thence
5. S53W 16.36, thence
6. S82.25W 12.00, thence
7. S80W 12.11, thence
8. N1.25W 62.50 to the place of beginning
Containing 197.75 acres
1 This is a transcription error. Both deeds obviously used the same survey. They were copied by hand into the county deed book. Mistakes happen.

Exception (a piece of the whole getting special treatment):
1-4 same as lines 3-6 above, thence
5. on a straight line 25.94 to the place of beginning

Containing 27.43 acres
Butted and bounded: Beginning at a set stone corner of Allen and Hutchinsons land, thence
1. N88E 43.81, thence
2. S26.5W 41.13, thence
3. N59.5W 8.05, thence
4. S27.5W 15.23, thence
5. S89.25W 10.70, thence
6. N1.25W 45.00 to the place of beginning

Containing 133.93 acres
Sketch of the property (Exception in green):
Sketch of the above coordinates
Sketch of the property:
Sketch of the above coordinates

1956 Aerial View of Delaware, NJ

Aerial view The property lines in these 2 deeds from 1855 were still in use in 1956. The area of the "exception" in the deed to Jacob Addis, belonging at the time to the heirs of John Cummins, is outlined in green. The area outlined in red is land that was part of Henry's estate that did not end up with William F. Albertson. In 1922, William's daughter Sarah, 80 years old and childless, donated the remaining 134 acres on the mountain top to the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. At the same time, his niece Ellen Cummins donated the 50 acre band reaching to the river. The combined property, outlined in white, was operated by the Diocese as Eagle's Nest Camp & Conference Center through the 1979 camping season.
Also of interest is the property outlined in blue. This is the lot mentioned in Henry's will, which he sold to John I. Blair on the same day he revised the will.

There's reason to suspect that this vendue might have been rigged, a legal sham intended to fulfill the terms of Henry's will while keeping the property in Albertson hands. First of all, the buyer Jacob D. Addis was a neighbor,
a witness to Henry's will, not some stranger responding to one of the ads they so painstakingly detailed in the first deed. In the 1850 census, Addis is listed as a 28 year old laborer, married to Margaret with a year old baby William, living on William Craig's farm located just north of the exception area and east of the Albertson Farm. In 1860 he is listed as a farmer, the owner of a farm valued at $6600 (for comparison, Albertson's farm is valued at $9500), still living in the house with William Craig. Margaret is gone, young William is 11 and has siblings Simon, Mary and Elizabeth, ages 9, 7 and 5. It appears that Addis kept the 63.8 acres he didn't sell back, continuing to live conveniently nearby with Craig.

Second and most obviously, Addis owned the bulk of the property for less than 3 weeks! The two deeds were part of the same deal. They used the same survey - the lengths and angles of the first two runs that are common to both deeds are identical (no, really, "eighty degrees east" is a transcription error); the angle of the line running back to the beginning Allen/Hutchinson corner is the same N1.25W in both (the actual line is N6.34W - this survey is rotated about 5 degrees clockwise compared to the real property). There's a dead giveaway that the survey for the first deed was aware of the upcoming second deed - the short segment drawn in green that bounds no area, at the north end of the "exception" in the Albertson-to-Addis sketch. The top end of that segment wasn't a corner of either Henry's estate or John Cummins'. It wouldn't become a corner until Addis sold 133 of Henry's 170 acres back to William F. Albertson 3 weeks later.

The final point casting doubt on the openness of the vendue is that Henry's will called for the vendue to take place "as soon as conveniently can be after my decease". Henry died on October 21, 1853. The vendue wasn't held until September 16, 1854, nearly a year later. Henry's will directed that "Jane Hay, now living with me, stay & take care of my house until after the vendue & to get such things as may be necessary for house use & also to get a girl to stay with her & that they be paid out of my estate," a good incentive for the heirs to get that vendue going! Why did it take so long? Securing the straw buyer was part of it, and making whatever arrangements they made to assure that he won the auction. Another factor was arranging the finances in a way that was satisfactory to William's eight brothers and sisters. These 2 deeds are the result of months of negotiations between the 9 Albertson siblings and Jacob D. Addis.

Financing the Deal

Addis and the heirs (sounds like the name of a band!) apparently settled on a figure of about $50 per acre, adjusted for improvements such as houses and barns. Addis' net outlay of $3085.38 for the 63.8 acres he kept comes out to $48.36 per acre. Henry's estate took in $9847.85 from the vendue. Not mentioned is that some of that would be owed to John Cummins' heirs (one of whom, Mathias, was married to Henry's daughter Sarah), to secure the 27.43 acre exception. If they were paid the same $48.36 per acre Addis payed, that would leave just over $8500 for Henry's 170.3 acres, which comes out to $50 per acre including improvements. There was other cash in the estate, resulting from a lifetime of farm income and gains from wheeling and dealing, not least being the 1853 sale for $3500 of 66 acres of riverfront property to the railroad magnate, John I. Blair. One ninth of all that money belonged to William.

The 1850 census finds William F. Albertson living in a house on the property with his wife and young family, perhaps the "old log Block house" that was still plainly visible in 1897. By this time Henry had retired from farming, and it fell on William and his brothers Henry Jr. (who lived in yet another house on the property) and John (who with his wife and two small children lived in the main house with Henry and nurse Jane Hay) to keep the farm producing. Born in 1804, by 1853 William had worked on his father's farm for at least 30 years. Henry had to have paid him for all those years of labor, especially the years since his retirement during which William managed the farm. So William had some money of his own to bring to the table, in addition to his share of the estate.

William gave up 36.37 acres at the south end of of Henry's farm in the deal, which along with the "exception" gave Addis a farm of 63.8 acres. Unknown is whether William didn't have enough money to buy back those acres, or whether Addis demanded them as a condition of the deal.

It's not clear at what point the "exception" came into the picture. John Cummins had 2 children baptized at St. James Church, "David" born 11/6/1811 and Mathias born 1/18/1816. In the 1830 census he lived in Bucks County, PA with a daughter age 15 - 19 (either "David" is a transcription error of a girl's name in the baptism records of St. James, or the census taker ticked the wrong box), 2 sons 10 - 14 (Mathias is the older of the two), a son 5 - 10 and another under 5, who would be Robert. In 1850 Robert lived with Mathias and his wife, Henry's daughter Sarah. The 1860 census has him with a Kirkhuff family, listed as "insane" in column 14, the heading of which reads "Whether deaf and dumb, blind, insane, idiotic, pauper or convict". I haven't found any way of identifying the two middle brothers, but it seems Robert would not have been a factor in settling his father's estate.