John and Joshua Mersereau
The Transportation Entrepreneurs
1732-1820 and 1728-1804
The Mersereau Brothers
John and Joshua Mersereau, sons of Joshua Mersereau. Sr., ship builder, and Marutje Corson, were both born on Staten Island. Joshua, Sr., was a ship carpenter, and owned a shipyard at Holland Hook on the north shore of Staten Island. John and Joshua's brother Col. Jacob Mersereau, who married Fytje Ral, had purchased the farm at Willow Brook from his father-in-law Johannes Johannes Mangelse Roll.
John was born 2 Mar 1731/32, and died 21 Feb 1820 at Union in Broome County, New York. He married Maria Prall 1 Nov 1756, and Barbary Van Pelt about 1772.
Joshua was born 26 Sep 1728, and died 10 Jun 1804 in Union, Tioga County, New York. He married Sophia La Grange about 1757, Ann Roome about 1772, and Esther Garretson 3 Aug 1794.
The two brothers became involved in a variety of enterprises, operating taverns, ferries, and a stage line. Joshua's name is never mentioned in the newspaper advertisements, so John must have handled management of the businesses.
When the fighting began in the Revolution, they became associated with George Washington in the effort to oust the British. The third phase of their life was played out in Broome and Tioga counties.
The Development of
Benjamin Franklin, as late as 1789, moved around town in a Sedan chair. This was one fairly common mode of transportation in Colonial British America. The Sedan chair first appeared for hire in London in 1634. Chairmen were licensed and had to display a number.
Travel by wagon from one town to another was not possible until the roads were wide enough for a wagon and a team of horses to pass. New Jersey was a frontier region, and most roads were simply Indian paths.
So there was a progression of improvements. The stage lines started out with what was generally called the Jersey wagon, a covered wagon with no springs at all. The buckboard got its name from the fact that had no springs, and passengers felt every bump in the road. It was not uncommon for a passenger, rendered insensible by the constant jarring, to be carried bodily from the coach to a bed in the inn after a day's journey.
Later stage wagons had seats on springs. Finally, post coaches were imported from England, and springs supported the body of the vehicle for a more comfortable ride..
The Various Stage Routes
1. New York-Perth Amboy-Cranberry-Burlington-Philadelphia
"Another route advertised a commodious 'stage-boat' to start with goods and passengers from the City Hall Slip (Coenties) twice a week, for Perth Amboy ferry, and thence by stage-wagon to Cranberry and Burlington, from which point a stage-boat continued the line to Philadelphia; this trip generally required three days. This was long before the days of steam-boats. These 'stage-boats' were small sloops, sailed by a single man and boy, or two men; and passing 'outside,' as it is still called, by the Narrows and through the 'Lower Bay,' these small passage-vessels, at times, were driven out to sea, thus oftentimes causing vexatious delays. In very stormy weather, the 'inside route,' through the Kills, was chosen. The most common way to Philadelphia, however, was to cross the North River in a sail-boat, and then the Passaic and Hackensack by scows, reaching the 'Quaker City' by stages in about three days. But these passages had their perils." (7)
following public notice appeared in 1753:
Thus the journey between the two cities was accomplished in three days, and was called 'an improvement.' The stage-boats of those days were the periauguas, or pirogues of the present; they were vessels without keels, heavy lee-boards, two masts and two large sails; the improvement consisted in substituting these boats for the small sloops used before. When wind and weather permitted, the 'outside passage' was made - that is, through the Narrows and around the eastern side of Staten Island; at other times they passed through the Kills and Sound." (1)
2. New York-Staten Island-Woodbridge-New Brunswick-Trenton-Philadelphia
"Then the post went and returned by way of 'Blazing Star,' Staten Island. In process of time, several new routes were opened to Philadelphia. One crossed the bay to Staten Island in a perogue, commonly called a periagua, a little open boat with lee-boards, and steered by one man. Reaching the island, the traveler proceeded to the ferry at 'Arthur Rolls'' Sound, crossed in a scow to New Jersey, and shortly reached the "Blazing Star," near Woodbridge. Journeying slowly to the Raritan River, New Brunswick was reached by a scow, and in the same manner Trenton, on the Delaware, until, by the third or fourth day, the 'City of Brotherly Love' made its appearance." (7)
route, frequently taken, was across the bay to Staten
Island, across the Island to the Blazing Star Ferry,*
which was crossed in a scow, then to New Brunswick, where
the Raritan was crossed in another scow, thence to
Trenton, where the Delaware was crossed in a third scow,
and thence to the end of the journey.
3. New York-Paulus Hook-Staten Island-New Brunswick-Philadelphia
"A third route was by way of Paulus Hook, now Jersey City, which was reached by a periaugua, and thence by stage-wagons and scows. This last route was the safest, as the journey by water was shorted, though that by land was somewhat longer. Three days, however, were occupied by wither route if everything was favorable, but if any mishap occurred, or if the man and boy, who usually formed the crew of the periaugua, were intoxicated, as often happened, a fourth day must be devoted to the journey. The perils of crossing the bay in these boats in a gale of wind, was sometimes serious." (1)
Various Stage Lines
Solomon Smith and Thomas
"About 1732 a line of stage-wagons was run between Burlington and Amboy and return, once a week, by Solomon Smith and Thomas Moore, connecting at each end of the line with water communication to Philadelphia and New York." (2)
"In 1734 a line ran to Bordentown, where passengers and goods were transferred to 'stage-boats' for Philadelphia." (2)
"A new line was put on in 1750 which promised to make the distance between the two cities in 48 hours less than any other line." (2)
"In 1752 passengers were carried between these points twice a week. The success of this line started opposition from Philadelphia, which promised to make the trip in 25 or 30 hours less time, but failed to keep it." (2)
"In 1753 Joseph Borden, Jr., started with his 'stage-boat' from the 'Crooked-Billet wharf,' in Philadelphia, every Wednesday morning, and proceeded to Bordentown, where passengers took a 'stage-wagon" to John Clark's house of entertainment, opposite Perth Amboy. This route was claimed to be 10 miles shorter, and was announced to arrive at New York 24 hours earlier than by any other conveyance." (2)
"In 1756, the first stage started between New York and Philadelphia --three days through." (7)
"These two men (John and Joshua Mersereau) were the first who commenced a line of stages from New York to Philadelphia, uniting their line with the boats that plied between their own dock and New York. John Mersereau introduced the first post coach into the United States from England; was the first to put on four horses to a mail stage, and was obliged to send to England for a driver; only two horses before the same vehicle having been driven here before. Often four, and sometimes six, horses were put before the coaches of the gentry in our own country as well as in England, but they always had postilions [postilion: one who rides as a guide on the near horse of one of the pairs attached to a coach or post chaise especially without a coachman] upon them." (6)
"The first stage-coach between Philadelphia and New York was set up in 1756, by John Butler, who had kept a kennel of hounds for some wealthy gentlemen of that city fond of fox-hunting. When the population became too dense to indulge in this sport the hounds were given up, and the old keeper established in the business of staging. The stages ran up and down the west bank of the Delaware, crossing at the falls, and three days were required between the two cities. Three years later Butler ran his stage-wagon and stage-boat twice a week, setting out from his house 'at the sign of the Death of the Fox, in Strawberry alley,' on Monday morning, reaching Trenton ferry the same day. He received the return passengers at the ferry, and took them to Philadelphia on Tuesday." (2)
"The New York stage, via Perth Amboy and Trenton, is first instituted in November 1756, by John Butler, at the sign of the Death of the Fox, in Strawberry alley, to arrive at New York in three days. This Butler was thus set up by the old Hunting Club, to whom Butler had been huntsman and kennel keeper." (9)
The Mersereau Brothers
"Traveling Facilities of ye Olden Time. (Winfields History of Hudson County, 365.) In 1764 stages were first 'set up' to start from Paulus Hook for Philadelphia, via Bergen Point and Blazing Star ferries. The vehicle used was a Jersey wagon, covered with cotton cloth drawn over roughly-made hoops and was modestly named 'Flying Machine,' and made the distance between the two points in the unprecedented short space of three days." (5)
"In the fall of the same year  Sovereign Sybrant, an enterprising Jerseyman, gave notice that he had fitted up and completed in the neatest manner a new and genteel stage-wagon, which was to set out from Philadelphia on Monday and get to Trenton that day; the next day to Sybrants house, known by the sign of the 'Roebuck,' two miles and a half from Elizabethtown, where, with a good assortment of wines and liquors, and by 'Assiduity, Care and Despatch,' he hoped for the 'Favor and Esteem of the Public.' On Wednesday the stage reached 'Powlesss Hoeck' by the new post-road over Bergen and return to the Roebuck. Thence it would start on Thursday, and reach its destination on Friday." (5)
The New Bergen Point
"A road from Bergen Point, through the town of Bergen, and thence to the Hudson River, had been laid prior to 1764, for in that year the old road was vacated, as a 'kings highway' was laid out to the point opposite Staten Island, and in this year a stage route from the landing at Bergen Point to Paulus Hook was established. The stage connected with a boat running to Blazing Star landing, in Woodbridge, whence the passengers were conveyed to Philadelphia in covered wagons, with the seats set on springs, which were modestly called 'Flying machines.' These stage-wagons conveyed the passengers from New York to Philadelphia in two days during the summer and three days in the winter." (5)
"In 1765 a new line was started to run twice a week, but the speed was not increased. The following year a third line of stage-wagons was put on. They were improved by having springs under the seats, and the trip was made in two days in summer and three in winter. They, too, were called 'flying machines.' They struck the Delaware at the Blazing Star ferry, a short distance above Trenton bridge, where the old ferry-houses are still standing. This ferry was the thoroughfare down to the building of the Trenton bridge in 1805. The fare in Butler's flying machine was three pence per mile, or twenty shillings for the whole distance." (2)
"In 1765 a second line of stages is set up for New York, to start twice a week, using three days in going through, at 2 pence a mile. It was a covered Jersey wagon, without springs, and had four owners concerned." (9)
The Mersereau Brothers
"In 1765, a second stage was advertised for Philadelphia-- a covered Jersey wagon-- at two pence a mile. The next year another line was begun, called the 'Flying Machine,' with good wagons, seats on springs, time two days, and fare two pence a mile, or twenty shillings through. John Mersereau, at the Blazing Star, 'notifies that persons may go from New York to Philadelphia and back in five days, remaining in Philadelphia two nights and one day; fare, twenty shillings through. There will be two wagons and two drivers, and four sets of horses. The passengers will lodge at Paulus Hook Ferry the night before, to start thence the next morning early.'" (7)
"In 1767, Matthias Ward informed the public that he had for some time kept a stage-wagon from Newark to 'Powlas Hook.' Having met with some encouragement, he proposed to make the round trip each day, leaving Newark at sunrise, and 'Powlas Hook' 'sun two hours high.' All persons might expect the 'best usage at 1s. 6d. each for coming and going, or three shillings for both.'" (5)
"In 1768. Andrew Van Buskirk gave
notice that he would erect a 'Stage-
The Hackensack Transfers
"In the same year and year following [1768-1769] some proprietors adopted the system of having their stages on each side of the Hackensack, where they would exchange passengers, 'which entirely takes off the Inconveniency of detaining passengers by ferrying of the Wagon over said River.'" (5)
Joseph Crane and Josiah
"In 1769 a new route from Paulus Hook to Philadelphia was selected by Joseph Crane and Josiah F. Davenport, via Newark, Elizabeth, Bound Brook and the north branch of the Raritan, to Cornells ferry, on the Delaware. They proposed to leave the Hook every Tuesday morning by sunrise. Passengers were requested to cross over from New York the night before. The stages met at the South Branch, exchanged passengers and returned." (5)
"In 1770 a stage was run from Morristown to the Hook by Daniel and Silas Burnett..." (5)
"In 1771, Abraham Skillman started his 'Flying Machine' to Philadelphia, via Newark, Elizabeth, Woodbridge, New Brunswick, Princeton, Trenton and Bristol. Time, one day and a half; fare, twenty shillings proclamation money; 'a good wagon, sober drivers and able horses.'" (5)
The Mersereau Brothers
"In 1772, John Mersereau appeared with his 'Machines.' He left Paulus Hook three times a week, and went through to Philadelphia in a day and a half. In 1778 he established a line of stage-coaches which left Paulus Hook on Tuesday and Friday of each week, 'at or before sunrise,' and went as far as 'Prince-Town' the same night. Here they exchanged passengers with the coach from Philadelphia, and returned the next day. Inside passengers paid thirty shillings fare, outside passengers twenty shillings. Each passenger was allowed fourteen pounds of baggage; beyond that weight the charge was two-pence per pound." (5)
"In 1773 Charles Bessonett, a resident of Bristol, started a line of stage-coaches, the first of their character to run through from Philadelphia to New York; the trip was made in two days, and the fare was $4 for inside, and 20 shillings for outside, passengers. These stages were probably made like the English post-coaches." (2)
"In 1773, as perfection advances, Messrs. C. Bessonett & Co., of Bristol, start 'stage coaches,' being the first of that character; to run from Philadelphia to New York in two days, for the fare of $4. At the same time 'outside passengers' were to pay 20 shillings each." (9)
"For some years prior to 1774, Peter Stuyvesant ran a stage from the Hook to Browns ferry, where he met Josiah Crane, with a stage from Newark, and exchanged passengers." (5)
"A stage was run ... in 1775 by Constant Cooper from Hanover to Paulus Hook." (5)
"In 1775, Abraham Goodwin ran a stage from the Great Falls (Paterson) to the Hook twice a week." (5)
"In May of the same year  Thomas Douglas erected his stage to run from Hacketstown once a week, via Flanders, Black River, Mendham and Morristown, consuming two days en route." (5)
"In 1775, Verdine Elsworth brought out his 'new caravan' between the Hook and New Bridge. He informed the public that his horses were 'very quiet, and the Caravan new and in excellent order.'" (5)
Johnson and James Drake
"In 1781 Johnson and James Drake advertised to run a four-horse 'flying stage-wagon' between Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, making two trips a week. It was to leave the city 'every Monday and Thursday morning, precisely at the rising of the sun, breakfast at Four Lanes Ends, [Attleborough,] shift horses, cross the new ferry just above the Trenton falls, and dine at Jacob Bergen's, at Princeton.' The fare was 40 shillings, or $5.33 of our present currency." (2)
"In 1788, Adam Boyd 'established a stage-wagon to run between Hackinsack and Hoebuck ferry.' He boasted that the roads were very good, his wagon and horses in prime order, and he hoped that such a useful institution would be encouraged." (5)
The Star Taverns and Ferries
"Wilkinson says, in his Annals of Binghamton, that John and Joshua Mersereau 'lived on Staten Island and unitedly kept a large and important tavern, long known in after years as the "Blazing Star."'" (6)
Blazing Star was a popular
name for taverns in Colonial Pennsylvania, New Jersey,
and New York. The Blazing Star name probably
indicates a close business relationship between the
Mersereau Brothers and the other owner-operators in the
The dark line by Trenton (10) is the Delaware River, and Philadelphia is a day's journey down river.
|Key to Map and Building||City, County, State||Facilities||Body of Water||Known Owners|
|1. a ferry landing||New York, New York, NY||ferry landing||East of the Hudson River|
|2. a ferry house||Powles Hook, Bergen, NJ||ferry landing, overnight, stage to Bergen Point||West of the Hudson River||Mersereau Brothers|
|3. a ferry house||Bergen Point, Bergen, NJ||ferry landing, stage to Powles Hook||North of the Kill Van Kull||Mersereau Brothers; ____ La Tourette|
|4. The Morning Star Tavern||Morning Star, Richmond, NY||ferry landing, stage to New Blazing Star||South of the Kill Van Kull||The Mersereau Brothers|
|5. The Old Blazing Star Tavern||Rossville, Richmond, NY||ferry landing, stage to Morning Star||East of Arthur Rolls Kill||Mersereau Brothers|
|6. The NewBlazing Star Tavern||Lenoliumville, Richmond, NY||ferry landing, stage to Morning Star||East of Arthur Rolls Kill||Mersereau Brothers|
|7. The Blazing Star Landing||On Arthur Rolls Kill, Essex, NJ||ferry landing||West of Arthur Rolls Kill||Mersereau Brothers|
|8. The Blazing Star Tavern||Woodbridge, Essex, NJ||ferry landing, stage to New Brunswick||West of Arthur Rolls Kill||Mersereau Brothers|
|9. The Blazing Star Tavern||New Brunswick, Middlesex, NJ||stage to Trenton and Woodbridge||Raritan River||Jacob Randolph|
|10. The Blazing Star Tavern||Trenton, ___, NJ||ferry, stage to New Brunswick||East of the Delaware River||William Downey|
|11. The Blazing Star Tavern||Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA||ferry||West of the Delaware River|
"From the pre-Revolutionary days until the mid-19th century, Rossville, as well as Tottenville, were important ferry crossings between New York and Philadelphia. Rossville was developed around the old Blazing Star Ferry in the early 19th century.When Victory Boulevard was built across Richmond County, it improved connections to the western parts of the island and to the competing New Blazing Star Ferry in Travis, which had steamboat and stagecoach connections to Philadelphia. By the 19th century, Rossville was a thriving farm community and the village grew around it." (4a)
"The Old Blazing Star. Of the latter [the Blazing Star], there were two, the Old Blazing Star, and the New Blazing Star. These stars were comets. The Old Blazing Star ferry ran across the Sound near Rossville, and was a very important locality during the Revolution." (1)
New Blazing Star
Travis, known then as New Blazing Star.
"The New Blazing Star Ferry and Inn, an important stage coach stop between Manhattan and Philadelphia, was established at the foot of Victory Boulevard before the war and was the site of a battle between the British and Americans in August of 1777."
"After Governor Tompkins had laid out and opened the Richmond Turnpike, stages ran regularly over the whole length of the new road, in connection with steamboats from New York, and constituted part of the route of travel between New York and Philadelphia. At the western terminus of the Turnpike, stages were carried over the Sound by means of large scows, and this ferry received the name of 'The New Blazing Star.' But these stars have all set, probably never to rise again." (1)
The Morning Star tavern was located at the foot of Morning Star road across the Kill Van Kull from Bergen Point.
"These were taverns, from which ferries were run across to New Jersey. They were so called from the emblems or figures on their signs. The former [the Morning Star] had a star, but how it was represented to enable it to be distinguished from the evening star, we are unable to say; the road which led to it is still familiarly known by that name." (1)
The Mersereau Brothers' Role in the Revolution
"Judge Joshua Mersereau settled in Union in 1789. Before the Revolution, with his brother, he conducted a leading tavern on Staten Island, which bore the brilliant title of the 'Blazing Star.' When the British seized New York city the judge came near being made prisoner. He was so radical an advocate of the American cause that the red coats formed a plan to capture him in his hotel. The judge foiled them. He was a noted stage proprietor, having established the first line between New York and Philadelphia. Turning over his stage horses to the American army, he entered the service, was a gallant soldier, and had charge of all prisoners after the surrender of Burgoyne's army." (6)
"When the war commenced their stages stopped running; and when New York and Stated Island fell into the hands of the British, they lost their property on the Island, which was burnt; and Judge Mersereau narrowly escaped falling into the enemy's hands, a company having been dispatched to take him at his own house; his zeal in the American cause having been early known to them. John Mersereau turned his horses, which had been employed in the stage line, into the American service, and made an offer of himself to Washington, who often employed him on difficult expeditions, and as a spy. Esquire John La Grange's father was employed often in the same capacity." (6)
"Judge Mersereau was appointed commissary throughout the war. He was much about the person of General Washington. The judge, with his brother, were the principal instruments in preventing the British army from crossing the Delaware river in their pursuit of Washington. Washington had crossed the Delaware about the first of December, either to escape from the enemy, who had followed him through New Jersey, or to go into winter quarters. After crossing the river, he took every precaution to move all the boats across the river, and to burn all the materials on the Jersey side, not carried over, which might be laid hold of by the enemy to construct rafts. Gen. Washington was asked by Judge Mersereau whether he was sure he had removed out of the way all that could be employed to transport the enemy across. Washington replied he thought he had. Judge Mersereau begged the privilege of recrossing and making search. He and his brother went back and searched the opposite shore, and found below the surface of the water two Durham boats which had been timely sunk by a royalist who lived near. They raised them up, bailed out the water, and floated them over to the Pennsylvania side. When the British army came up to the Delaware shore they found no possible means of crossing, and were obliged to return back, and pursue, at this time, our army no further." (6)
2. Davis, W. W. H. The History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Doylestown, Pa.: Democrat Book and Job Office Print, 1876. xii, -875, 54 p.,  p. of plates : ill., maps ; 25 cm.
3. Nelson, William, ed. Extracts from American Newspapers, Relating to New Jersey. Vol. V. 1762-1765. "Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey." Volume XXIV. Paterson, N. J.: The Call Printing and Publishing Co. 1902. Pages 521-522.
4. Nelson, William, ed. Extracts from American Newspapers, Relating to New Jersey. Vol. VI. 1766-1767. "Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey." Volume XXV. Paterson, N. J.: The Call Printing and Publishing Co. Pages 25-26; page 325.
4a. The Official New York City Web Site, NYC.gov. Fresh Kills: Landfill to Landscape. http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/fkl/ada/about/1_3.html.
5.Shaw, William H. History of Essex and Hudson Counties. (II vols.) Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1884. Pages 1037-1042. Chapter XXIV. Pioneer Roads and Bridges in Hudson County; Traveling Facilities of Ye Olden Time. By Henry Farmer.
6. Smith, Henry Perry, ed. History of Broome County, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co., 1885. 630 p. illus., ports. 29 cm. Pages 161; 426-427.
7. Stone, William L. History of New York City from the Discovery to the Present Day. New York: Virtue & Yorston, 1872. Pages 184-187.
8. Van Hoesen, Walter H. Early Taverns and Stagecoach Days in New Jersey. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1976.
9. Watson, John Fsnning. Annals of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, in the Olden Time. Philadelphia: The Author, 1857. 2 v. plates, ports. 24 cm.
10. Wilkinson, J. B. The Annals of Binghamton of 1840, with an Appraisal, 1840-1967, by Tom Cawley. Illustrated by John Hart. Binghamton, N.Y.: Broome County Historical Society, 1967.