Widow Whites Tavern - Lee Lodge Research
& Drawings | Timelines | Ongoing
Basking Ridge New
Jersey's Most Famous Incident:
about noon time on
Charles Lee (1731-1782), was alarmed by Major Wilkinson while
he was writing a letter to General Gates about George Washington
in an upstairs bedroom of the Widow White's Tavern.
Tavern, named after Ebenezer White's wife Mary Brown White, became
the centerpiece of Revolutionary War history on that day, because
It was on this most unfortunate day for General Lee that General
Lee became a prisioner of the British Army, leaving General Washington
in a precarious position. Who whould have guessed that the Widow
White's Tavern capture might have turned into a blessing
in disguise for the young Continental Army.
With Lord Cornwallis staying in Pennington
to the South, he sent a patrol of 30 dragoons from the Sixteenth
Regiment (Burgoyne's Regiment of Queen's Light Dragoons), to gain
intelligence of Lee's division. Lieutenant-Colonel Harcourt (later
Harcourt, F.M.), obtained intelligence that Lee was in Basking
Ridge, and proceeded in that direction.
Surprising Lee's Guard,
the Tavern was surrounded. Major William Bradford, one of Lee's
aids, who was present and escaped, stated that the event unfolded
by a tory who was with General Lee the night before,
complaining of a horse that was recently taken by the Army. He
found where the General was to lodge and breakfast, and knew it
as to be at White's Tavern about noon. He left them, rode 18 miles
South to Brunswick and returned with Harcourt and the Dragoons.
the other hand, the English account state that they captured a
messenger, bearing a letter from General Lee, who was induced to
tell where Lee was stationed. Harcourt detached Tarleton, who traveled
to and charged the Tavern with six men to secure the doors (about
100 paces from the road). Harcourt immediately summoned the house,
with threats to set fire to it, and put every man in it to the
sword, if the General didn't surrender. Harcourt's Light Horse,
however, were fired upon from the house, and two or three British
were killed (one of whom was a cornet). There were several French
officers with Lee, and one of them took aim at Colonel Harcourt.
General Lee's guard had also been carelessly disposed at an out-building
and the sentry at the door of the Tavern, at first mistook the
dragoons for his own people. Lee's Guard rallied as the alarm was
given and attempted to defend but they were quickly overpowered.
Some were wounded, two were killed trying to escape.
There was also a discussion regarding the valor
of a French gentleman Captain Jean Louis de
Virnejoux, who was
noted that "had his advice been taken ...probably Lee would have
Resistance was short. Finding concealment impossible,
and further resistance useless, Lee made his appearance at the
door, and in the most submissive manner, surrendered his sword
to Colonel Harcourt, begging him to spare his life. English accounts
state he fell to his knees to Harcourt in a cowardly manner. British
Captain Thomas Harris, afterwards Lord Harris, states in his journal
that "Lee behaved as cowardly in this transaction as he had dishonorably
in every other. After firing one or two shots from the house, he
came out and entreated our troops to spar his life."
He was somewhat roughly handled on being seized,
and his captors, if they did not treat him with great indignity,
certainly displayed very little regard for his comfort or appearance.
He had presented himself without his hat or outside coat, and although
he earnestly requested permission to get them, he was very peremptorily
He was mounted on the guide's horse, tied on
both legs and arms, and with one of his aids who was mounted behind
a dragoon, was hurried away at a furious speed towards Brunswick.
About three hours later, after realizing no one was going to save
him, he became sullen and very much dispirited. He said to his
captors- admitting the weakness of the American army, and his own
confidence in British strength and zeal, when roused, "The game
is nearly at an end."
For the complete extract of the above recount
from the "Lee Papers 1754-1811(pages 399-421) - Click
been conflicting rumors as to why General Lee was even at the
Widow Whites Tavern. Certain writers have written that he was
there perhaps to see Widow White herself, while other accounts
note that he was actually invited. There are also accounts that
perhaps General Lee was not even comfortable around women and
might have been homosexual. (George Washington's Generals by
George Athan Billias-1964).
General Charles Lee (one of Washington's 12 Generals) was captured
by British Lieutenant Colonel Charles Harcourt and taken on Major
Wilkinson's horse to the camp of Lord Cornwallis at New Brunswick.
Widow White's Tavern original location was on what is now the
corner of South Finley and Colonial Drive in Basking Ridge, New
Jersey. Situated a hundred yards of so back from the road on
a pretty knoll that overlooks the beautiful Somerset Hills and
valleys to the east, north and west. None of the original outhouses
or barns remain (1907 Mount Holly News article).
But what became of the infamous Widow White's Tavern?
What's in a name? Almost everything!
Here's what's been documented
so far as far as the name goes:
- Brewster's Tavern
- Whites Tavern
- Widow White's Tavern
- Lee Mansion (? - 1873?)
- Lee Lodge (Franklin Conklin Sr.)
- Lee House (Franklin Conklin Jr.)
- Murphy House (Built 1962- Sold 2006)
Samuel Brown was the noted owner of the Tavern
before the Widow White took posession.Mary was evidently the daughter
of Elizabeth Phoebe Whitaker and Eliphalet Jervis. stepdaughter
of Jonathan Whitaker
of Mine Brook.
It is not known if Jonathan Whitaker adopted these two children,
but they are shown by some sources as Mary and Phoebe Whitaker.
Both the wills of Jonathan Whitaker and Elizabeth Whitaker mention
only Elizabeth, Jonathan, Jr., Nathaniel, and Eliphalet as heirs.
It is possible that Sarah and Isaac Whitaker died young. I have
been unable to find information to prove that Phoebe Whitaker was
the daughter of Jonathan Whitaker.
Mary Whitaker married Samuel Brown,
who died in 1763 leaving property to his wife.
Mary Brown married Ebenezer White. The Taverns
Name was known as Whites Tavern.
On Ebenezer White's death (prior to 1776),
Mary became the Widow White. If it weren't
for her remarrying, it might have been Widow Brown's tavern.
Hence the reference to the name Widow White's Tavern.
Mary Whitaker White died on May 28, 1794 (Vorhees
had a copy of her will in 1935)
Reference is given that when Franklin Conklin owned
the property, it was called "Lee Lodge" (Oscar Vorhees-
Looking to verify:
If Mary was the noted innkeeper of the infamous night, she would
have been 50.(Vorhees, 1935).
Incorrect, based on the reference below, she would have been
Whitaker Family" a Manuscript
from Dartmouth College Records gives her birth year as
1719 and the names of her spouses as Samuel Brown and Edwin
Jonathan Whitaker's other daughter Elizabeth, married Stephen
Ogden and lived in a house directly across the street from
White's Tavern (Vorhees Paper)
Both Samuel Brown and Stephen Ogded died within a year of
Lore has it that some of Lees guards
were killed outside tavern during capture and possibly
buried across the street in Mary White's sisters yard.
(See Bernardsville Times article in 1902), also stated
in (Vorhees piece as follows "An
officer in a letter dated December 21, 1776 stated that when
Colonel Harcourt approached the house with his men, the received
a fire from a guard that was in an outhouse, that two sentinels
were killed with sever others -one account says seven or
eight), without any loss on our side.)
Last that remained was a fireplace, that was demolished
after Conklin's death.
Lore has it that the actual mantle to the Widow White's
Tavern still exists today in a private residence.
Memoirs of General James Wilkinson mention that General
Lee arrived at approximately 4am at White's Tavern on December
13, 1776 (Vorhees 1935)
Wilkinson woke General Lee at 8am to discuss letter from
Gen. Gates. and went down for breakfast about 10am.
University Conklin Hall)
Franklin Conklin Jr. was the first president of the board of
Rutgers-Newark's predecessor, the University of Newark. Conklin
was also a well-known civic leader in Newark. He attended Princeton
from 1903-04 and later headed the Flood and Conklin Manufacturing
Co. He was also a member and past president of the Essex County
Park Commission, past president of The Newark Museum (1943-64).
He was founder and first president of the board of Newark University.
Franklin Conklin Jr. Had two children, Franklin Conklin III
and Eleanor Frances Conklin (Demarest).
- Franklin Conklin Property- One room has
been kept totally intact, a chamber on the second floor,
where General Lee made his last breakfast in freedom. House
was set back approx 100 yards from the road. None of the
original barns or outhouses remained.
- 1907 Mount Holly Herald, "The
White Tavern is situated a hundred yards of so back from
the road on a pretty know that overlooks the beautiful
Somerset Hills and valleys to the east, north and west.
None of the original outhouses or barns remain.
- 1943-1950 Caretaker, John Placko states
that when he got to the Conklin Jr. property in May 1950,
there was no house on the site but that there was a tremendous
amount of scrap used lumber in the barn.
- 1962- Donald and Margaret Brown,
build the current house on the site. Colonial Drive was just being
completed, along with Rankin Road.
- Property was recently sold by Margaret
remarried after the passing of Donald Brown in 1974, wife
of Donald Murphy. Daniel Murphy Margaret's second husband
from 1978 till about 1997.
- Martha Brown Heiner states
that Conklin built two additional houses on the site for his
two sons, Franklin Jr. and Ludolph.
- While Franklin's orig house no longer exists, the two houses
of his sons flank the front left and rear of the current
structure Block 78, Lot 11.
- Frances Florio
Secretary to PB/BOA (Planning Board/Board of Adjustments
- Harry Demarest:
Son of Elanor (Demarest) Conklin, wife to Franklin Conklin
Jr. and grandson of Franklin Conklin. Memories of visiting
Lee Lodge. "As a young man,
I remember visiting Franklin Conklin Jr's house for dinner,
going for walks in the woods, eating cheese snacks on the porch.
Family legend confirms your story that the tavern was destroyed
shortly after Franklin Conklin's death (to avoid property taxes)." firstname.lastname@example.org
Astro Data Services, Inc.
974 NW Circle Blvd
Corvallis, OR 97330
- (Bernards Twp Zoning office, suggested to contact Rick
Axt, Twp Surveyor. look at page 17 and 23 of
current zoning map). Look for oldest map and records
of what Conklin did to property. Update: Bernards
Township records are not kept prior to 1977 so no records
are on file. Might consider checking Tax Records for
- Margaret Murphy sold the house and on July 26, 2006
moved to a condo in Lord Stirling Village.
- John Placko of
Colonial Drive noted:
- "When I arrived here to work for Ludolf Conklin
in May 1950, there was a lot of wood in the barn,
with nails in it that might have been from a torn
BHB interview on 8/28/2006. "But there was no
house on the site. Only Ludolf's house on the right,
and Franklin Jr's house on the left" (facing
the current site from S. Finley).
- John also mentioned a possible soldier grave
across the street, possibly General Lee's guards
who were stabbed after surrendering General Lee
to General Harcourt.
- Mr Placko finally purchased the home he lives
in today from Minetta Realty Company in 1960
- Neighbors- Don and Roxanne Rica lives
behind the current structure. Noted that there was carriage
material in their digging and it might have been an
- Priscilla Bruno -
North Finley Avenue. Lives up the road
- Linda Suggested to contact Rick Axt in
the Engineering Dept to discuss surveys or go to
Somerville and search deeds.Rick
email from Martha Brown
Sent the pictures on to my Mom (Margaret (Brown)
Murphy. We had an interesting chat about it this morning. She
said that Finley used to aim right into the Astor estate
(there is a second entrance in the fence that is roped
off by fence now), and then take a very sharp dangerous
They moved Finley a little closer to Mom's house and Lutz's
house in order to ease that turn. This must've been done
in 1961 or 1962 because they were taking out dump trucks
of dirt. Mom and her neighbor asked them to dump a load
up by the parking area at Mom's house to put some good dirt
Mom's driveway used to go in a little and then bend to the
left, where the Lutz's driveway is now. They were separating
it into 2 driveways at the time.
She still believes the house was on her property. Close to
where her house sits now. When they dug the foundation for
her house, they dug up a long piece of cement foundation.
When they finished building her house, they put it back
in for fill, instead of hauling it away.
- June Kennedy is the Head of Fellowship
of Churches and creates a program combining all of
the churches members and upcoming events. She might
have a file on the WWT.
John Placko- (Working) Manager for Ludolf Conklin
Charlie Fortenbacker, Chief of Police-
43 Haas Rd Basking Ridge, NJ 07920-2601
Essay - Essays Historical and Literary,
published by Macmillian in 1902. John Fiske- Title General
Charles Lee, A Soldier of Fortune
The General Lee Letter that he was writing to General Gates,
on the morning of his capture...
My Dr. Gates: The ingenious
maneuver of Fort Washington has unhinged the goodly fabrick we
had been building- there never was so damned a stroke- entre nous,
a certain great man is most damnably deficient. He has thrown me
into a situation where I have my choices of difficulties. If I
stay in this Province I risk myself and army, and if I do not stay
the Province is lost forever. I have neither guard, cavalry, medicines,
money, shoes, or stockings. I must act with the greatest circumspection.
Tories are in my front, rear and on my flanks. The amass of the
people is strangely contaminated- in sort unless something which
I do not expect turns up we ar lost. Our counsels have been weak
to the last degree. As to what relates to yourself in you think
you can be in time to aid the General I would have you by all means
go. You will at least save your army. It is said the Whigs are
determined to set fire to Philadelphia. If they strike this decisive
stroke the day will be our own, but unless it is done all chance
of liberty in any part of the Globe is forever vanished. Adieu,
my dear friend. God bless. you .Charles Lee."
General Wilkinson wrote in his later memoirs
(about General Lee and the December 13th morning in Basking
a lesson of caution is to be derived from this event, and how important
the admonition furnished by it! What an evidence of the caprice
of fortune, of the fallibility of ambitious projects, and the
inscrutable ways of Heaven! The capture of General Lee was felt
as a public calamity; it cast a gloom over the country, and excited
general sorrow. This sympathy was honorable to the people, and
due to the stranger who had embarked his fortune with theirs,
and determined to share their fate, under circumstances of more
than common peril. Although this misfortune deprived the country
of its most experienced chief, I have ever considered the deprivation
of a public blessing, ministered by the hand of Providence; for
if General Lee had not abandoned caution for convenience, and
taken quarters two miles from his army, on his exposed flank,
he would have been safe; if a domestic traitor, who passed his
quarters the same morning on private business, had not casually
fallen in with Colonel Harcourt, on a reconnoitering party, the
General's quarters would not have been discovered; if my visit
and the controversy with the Connecticut Light-horse had not
spun out the morning unseasonably, the General would have been
at his camp; if Colonel Harcourt had arrived an hour sooner,
he would have found the guard under arms, and would have been
repulsed, or resisted until succor could have arrived; if he
had arrived half an hour later the General would have been with
his corps; if the guard had paid ordinary attention to their
duty, and had not abandoned their arms, the General's quarters
would have been defended; or if he had obeyed the peremptory
and reiterated orders of General Washington, he would have been
beyond the reach of the enemy. And shall we impute to blind chance
such a chain of rare incidents? I conscientiously reply in the
negative; because the combination was too intricate and perplexed
for accidental causes, or the agency of man. It must have been
As a captive he gave Gen.
William Howe a plan for defeating the Americans, but his treason
was not discovered. In the end, General Lee was exchanged (May 9,
1778) back to the Continental Army for for British Maj. General
Richard Prescott and at Valley Forge, General Washington restored
his command. At the Battle of Monmouth he received the rebuke of
General Washington and subsequently was brought up on three charges
for which Lee requested a Court Martial. He lost the court martial
and was officially dismissed.
Presiding over the Court Martial hearings was
no other than Basking Ridge's own Major General Lord Stirling
(William Alexander), who convicted and removed Lee from his position
and the Army in disgrace.
Lee tried to get Congress to overturn the court-martial verdict,
and when this failed he resorted to open attacks on Washington's character.
Lee's popularity plummeted. Colonel
John Laurens, an aide to Washington, challenged him to a duel,
in which Lee was wounded in the side. He was released from duty on
January 10, 1780.
In an ensuing encounter,
Lee was slightly wounded in the initial exchange of shots and only
the intercession of Laurens’ second, Alexander
Hamilton, prevented further engagement. Lee’s injury, however,
prevented him from accepting a similar challenge from Anthony Wayne.
On January 10, 1780 Lee leaves his Virginia estate
to visit Philadelphia he was stricken with fever and dies alone
and friendless at a tavern on October 2, 1782.
The former General Lee died a few years later on
October 2, 1782 to which Lee wrote prior to his death in his will:
desire most earnestly that I may not be buried in any church
yard, or within a mile of any Presbyterian or Anabaptist
meeting house; for since I reside in this country I have
kept so much bad company when living, that I do not choose
to continue it when dead."
was buried, however, in the cemetery of Christ
Church in Philadelphia (Arch Street and 5th Street) with
"Knight Errant of Liberty" (Same cemetery as
Benjamin Franklin - 1790) , and his funeral was attended by George
Washington and other dignitaries nonetheless.
General Lee's historical timeline - Click
For Letters between General Washington and General Lee - Click Here
Virtual Bio (Good Background)- Click
Lee Papers - The
biography of Charles Lee has not yet been properly written. His
essays and miscellaneous papers were edited, with an interesting
biographical sketch, by Edward Langworthy, under the title "Memoirs
of the late Charles Lee, Esq." (London, 1792). The sketch
by Jared Sparks ("American Biography," 2d series, viii.,
Boston, 1846) is carefully written, but has little value to-day,
because the author knew nothing of that treasonable correspondence
with the Howe's which modifies so profoundly our view of Lee's
whole career in America. George H. Moore announced in 1860 a
biography and collection of essays, with documents never before
published: but this much-needed book has not vet made its appearance.
Dr. Moore's monograph above cited contains much information not
easily to be found elsewhere; the portrait which stands as its
frontispiece is reduced from the folio print published in London
during the Revolutionary war
Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side of the Hudson river, across from
Fort Washington, was named for him.
||By Charles Lee, Henry
|Entitled the "Lee Papers" An Extract o pages
399-420. The basis of the whole collection has been the mass
of original papers left by General Lee to William Goddard,
and still preserved in his family."--Final note.
|Haven't found copy
||MOORE, George H.
||MOORE, George H. Treason
of Charles Lee, Major General, Second in Command in the
MOORE, George H. The Treason of Charles Lee, Major General,
Second in Command in the American Army of the Revolution. N.Y.,
1860. 1st ed. Illus. with portrs. and folding facs. xii, 115pp.
||Dr William Pennington
||Paper documents historical ownership of
Widow Whites Tavern (Bernardsville Spinning Files)
||J.H. Van Horn
||Historic Somerset- Articles of the times
(Bernards Historical Room 974.914)
||Mount Holly Herald article. (Frank Conklin
discussed)- on file at Bernards Twp library).
(Not Scanned yet)
|Feb. 18, 1933
||Paper- General Charles Lee and his capture
at Widow White's Tavern, Basking Ridge NJ- (Bernards Twp Library)-
by Oscar M. Voorhees. Feb. 18, 1933. on file at Bernards Twp
||Andrew D.Mellick Jr.
||"The Old Farm" (Bernards Twp Library)from "The
story of an Old Farm"
In Postcard Archives
||Postcard collection for two photographs
of house c1908,
( Historical Society of the Somerset Hills).
||June 30, 1993
W. Jacob Perry
|Historical piece on the History of the Widow
Whites Tavern, General Lee, and Franklin Conklin Jr.
||Star Ledger General Lee capture recount
with artwork. (Bit of poetic license).
||Recount of General Lee Capture
||Memoirs of General James Wilkinson
||Dec 12, 1913
||Basking Ridge Home Reminded of General Lee's
Escapade in 1776.
A funny article about the 150th anniversary
noted in the Newark Call on December 12, 1913.Quotes "A
night of Gaiety"
and General Lee's interest in Widow White.
||Survey of the original area in 1961 (Known
then as the Donald R and Jane H Hagner property
||Franklin Conklin Sr. Dies at the age of
||Dobbs Realty File
||Click file to Enlarge