A number of prominent families have lived on this property, which many locals still call “The Ross Farm”, but the man who purchased the land and built a home here may be one of the least-known of our nation’s Founding Fathers.
Elias Boudinot was born on May 2, 1740 in Philadelphia, in a time when he would be in the company of some of the men who would make history. Benjamin Franklin was one of his neighbors in Philadelphia, and when Boudinot was a young man, Richard Stockton took him under his wing and helped him enter the practice of law in New Jersey. Stockton was one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Boudinot married Stockton’s sister, Hannah, in 1762. Elias’ own sister, Annis Boudinot, in turn married Stockton that same year. The Boudinots lived in Elizabeth, at Boxwood Hall, where they entertained, among others, Alexander Hamilton. He purchased a little over 100 acres of land in Basking Ridge in 1771 and 1772 from Edward Lewis, but would remain in Elizabeth for a while longer. Boudinot served on New Jersey’s first Committee on Correspondence, formed in 1774, tasked with contacting the legislatures of each colony so that they could join Virginia and offer concerted opposition toward British encroachments. In August 1775, Boudinot secretly rounded up and sent to General George Washington desperately-needed supplies of gunpowder. A year later he served as an aide-de-camp to Brigadier General William Livingston, who became the state’s first governor elected under the new state constitution. In 1777, Boudinot was commissioned Commissary General of Prisoners by the Continental Congress.
The eastern shore of New Jersey was proving too close to British and Tory action, so Boudinot and his wife moved west to their newly-built Basking Ridge home in July 1777. Months later, in November, Boudinot was elected a delegate to the Continental Congress and was elected President of the Continental Congress in 1783. During his Presidency, the Treaty of Paris was negotiated and completed in its final form, although his term was complete before it was actually signed. “His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States…to be free, sovereign, and independent states.” Elias Boudinot was actually the Chief Officer of the United States at the moment its independence was first acknowledged! President Washington appointed Boudinot the Third Director of the US Mint in 1795, where he served until 1805. Boudinot returned to Elizabeth in 1784, selling the property to Henry Southard in 1785. He was elected to US House of Representatives in 1789, and moved to Burlington, NJ in 1805. He was the founding President of the American Bible Society in 1816, and died five years later, on October 24, 1821.
1823 – President James Monroe is seen discussing with his advisors the policy later known as the Monroe Doctrine. From left to right, they are Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, Attorney General William Wirt, President Monroe (standing), Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Secretary of the Navy Samuel Southard, and Postmaster General John McLean. (Courtesy www.usdiplomacy.org)
Henry Southard moved to Basking Ridge in 1755, where he attended the common schools and worked on a farm. He served as a Private, and later as a Wagon Master during the Revolutionary War. Southard was a Justice of the Peace (1787-1792) and a member of the NJ General Assembly (1797-1799, and again in 1811). He was elected as a Republican to Congress for five terms from March 4, 1801 to March 3, 1811, and acted as chairman on the “Committee on Revisal and Unfinished Business” (11th Congress); elected to the 14th, 15th and 16th Congresses (March 4, 1815-March 3, 1821). Southard returned to farming and died in Basking Ridge on May 22, 1842. His name is listed on a plaque that bears the names of Revolutionary War soldiers buried in the Basing Ridge Presbyterian Church graveyard. Additionally, the destroyer “USS Southard” is named in his honor, as is the public park just down the street from the estate in Basking Ridge. Two years after Henry Southard purchased the home from Boudinot, his wife gave birth at home to their son, Samuel, on June 9, 1787. Samuel grew to become the 10th Governor of New Jersey (1832), Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and a United States Senator, as well as Secretary of the Navy for President James Monroe (1823) Secretary of War (1828) and Secretary of the Treasury (1825).
The east kitchen wing and screen porch were added prior to 1937, most likely by William D. Bancker, who had purchased the home in 1919. When the home was built in the 1770s by Boudinot, it would have been considered a mansion and the fields would have been actively farmed by a tenant farmer. Over the years, as it became increasingly a gentleman’s farm, the house was remodeled to add modern amenities.
The last name represented in our “Friends of the Boudinot-Southard-Ross Estate” belongs to Edmund Ross. Mr. Ross was a self-employed gentleman farmer and breeder of thoroughbred horses for more than 50 years. In 1952, Ross purchased 37.4 acres of the property from Nathaniel Burgess, the previous owner. Ross was a United States Army Veteran of World War II, a member of the Somerset Hills Country Club, the Essex Hunt Club, and the Morristown Club in New Jersey, as well as the Edgartown Yacht Club, the Edgartown Golf Club, and the Edgartown Reading Room on Martha’s Vineyard, where he had been a summer resident since his childhood. He had three sons, E. Burke Ross, Jr., Amory L. Ross, and Benson T. Ross; and two daughters, Parthenia R. Kiersted and Robin Ross, who predeceased him in 1989. Ross was the final owner of the property, which was conveyed to his children upon his death in January 2005. In order to honor their father’s wish to preserve the land and house, the Ross children sold the property to the Somerset County Park Commission in late 2005 to be preserved as open space in perpetuity. Somerset County acquired the property, which had been expanded to 61 acres, for $6.79 million. The home was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on September 11, 2009, and the National Register on December 18, 2009.