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Cornelius Van Vorst (1728-1818): Cornelius Van Vorst (1728-1818)

Cornelius Van Vorst - Images

Van Vorst House

Van Vorst House
Formerly located near the intersection
of Fourth Street and Marin Boulevard
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Cornelius Van Vorst (1728-1818)

Van Vorst, Cornelius, 1728-1818

Cornelius Van Vorst, known as "Faddy" or "Fatty," was a fifth-generation member of the Van Vorst family and a descendant of the first Cornelius Van Vorst, who settled in Pavonia in the 1630s. He was born on November 25, 1728, the son of Cornelius Van Vorst (March 8, 1700-December 5, 1760) and Claesje De Mott, who married on November 26, 1726.

One of Bergen County's wealthiest settlers was "Faddy" Van Vorst. He owned much of the property at Paulus Hook and became prominent in local history during the Revolutionary War era.  Historian Charles H. Winfield records that Van Vorst was "full of fun and practical jokes. He was fond of fast horses, and drove the best team in the county" (433). In 1753, to indulge his infatuation with racing, Van Vorst built a mile-long horse-racing course around the island of Paulus Hook.

An astute businessman, Van Vorst began a ferry business along the Hudson River in 1764. The ferry offered commercial transportation via flatboats and passenger service via small boats from Paulus Hook to Cortlandt Street, NY (Robinson 7). An advertisement in the New York Mercury on August 14, 1769, announced the availability of land transportation from the ferry at Paulus Hook to the racetrack.

Patrons attending the racetrack could visit the Elsworth Tavern close to the ferry. The tavern, an idea attributed to Van Vorst, was a one-story Dutch-style building operated by Verdine Elsworth, "who had built up a reputation for good food and services" (Robinson 7). Local historian Walter F. Robinson writes that Van Vorst ensured the profitability of these investments with road development: "Van Vorst had to connect his new ferry with the mainland, by a ferry lane across his island, then an earthen embankment (now lower Newark Avenue) across the marsh to Harsimus Island, then a road (now Railroad Avenue) westward over Harsimus to Prior's Mill bridge and the mainland. This quickly became a busy part of the main post road from New York to Philadelphia" (7).

As the Revolutionary War approached, Van Vorst declared himself a patriot. In 1774, he was appointed to one of the committees of correspondence, representing Bergen County (Robinson 29), and attended a meeting in New Brunswick to elect delegates to the Second Continental Congress. In recognition of his activism, New Jersey's Provincial Congress appointed Van Vorst a lieutenant colonel of the battalion of foot militia in Bergen.

After the 1776 capture of Paulus Hook, the British occupied Van Vorst's house at Harsimus. He and his family were relegated to living in the kitchen. Van Vorst remained in his house but did not fight with the American patriots, which made him suspect of Tory sympathies. The New Jersey Committee on Safety arrested Van Vorst, but he was cleared of the charges at a hearing on November 10, 1776 (Robinson 50). Dissatisfied with the British occupation of his home and British confiscation of his horses and cattle, Van Vorst eventually left with his family to live in Pompton, NJ. On returning to Paulus Hook, he lived in his ferry house until the war's end (Winfield 434).

Like other area farmers, Van Vorst owned Black slaves to care for his property. One of his slaves, "Half Indian Jack," was reportedly a British spy during the Revolutionary War. He died at 102 years of age and is buried at the rear of lot No.153 on Wayne Street.

Van Vorst was close to ninety when he died on September 30, 1818. He had four children, including a son Cornelius, born September 6, 1763, of the sixth generation of the Van Vorst family.

Cornelius Van Vorst (1728-1818) - References

Robinson, Walter F. Old Bergen Township (Now Hudson County) in the American Revolution. Bayonne, NJ: Keystone Printing Company, 1978.
Winfield, Charles H. History of the County of Hudson, New Jersey. New York: Kennard & Hay Printing Company, 1874.