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THE AYRES-KNUTH FARM: A Brief History
© The Committee to Preserve the Kuth Farm, 1991-2000

In the year 1664, the English took possession of New Netherlands (including present day New Jersey), and claimed it in the name of King Charles II. The area which would become known as New Jersey, was conveyed by Charles II to his brother James, the Duke of York, on March 12, 1664. On June 24th of that year, the Duke, in turn, conveyed New Jersey to two proprietors, John Lord Berkely and Sir George Carteret. Berkely and Carteret subsequently divided the territory into East and West Jersey and would begin selling off their interests to others.

Sir George Carteret died in 1680, leaving his interest in East Jersey (including present day Denville) to his wife, Lady Carteret. By February 2, 1682, executors of Carteret’s estate began selling large tracts of East Jersey to William Penn and other West Jersey proprietors, as a place of refuge for persecuted Quakers.

London merchant and resident, John Bellars, was known as “the great Quaker philanthropist and social reformer.” Bellars was a friend and co-proprietor with William Penn, having owned one registered share of West Jersey. He never came to America, however, he purchased land in East Jersey through his land agent, Thomas Budd. In 1716, John Bellars purchased a 1,250 acre tract. The “Bellars Lot,” as it was called in subsequent deeds, covered the area where Knuth Farm is located, as well as other parts of Denville and Parsippany.

As the proprietors died, their heirs would sell off land in their estates in great numbers. One such purchaser of the Bellars Lot was the notable Robert Hunter Morris, the second son of colonial New Jersey Governor, Lewis Morris, for whom Morris County was named. Morris served on the New Jersey council in the 1730s. Governor Morris appointed his son, Robert Hunter, as Chief Justice of New Jersey in 1738, a position he held until his death in 1764. From 1754-1756, Robert Hunter Morris served as Governor of Pennsylvania.

On December 5, 1761, Morris purchased in excess of 569 acres of the Bellars Lot from the heirs of John Bellars. In turn, Morris began selling off lots to various people. Records show that lot No. 5, consisting of 92 3/10 acres was sold to one Jacob Garrigus on March 8, 1763.

Jacob Garrigus’ purchase in 1763, did not include land which today would be part of Knuth Farm, but it did provide his family with a permanent presence in the Franklin section of Denville. His descendants would eventually come into ownership of the farm.

According to a family history, Jacob Garrigus was born in Philadelphia in 1716. His family, said to have blood ties to the royal family of France, where Huguenots or French Protestants, who were forced to flee France for the Carribean, in the late 17th century. They eventually settled in Philadelphia and adopted the Quaker religion.

Jacob Garrigus came to New Jersey about 1748. He settled in the ancestral home known as “Peck Farm”, located on a mountain near Littleton. What is believed to have been his home still stands in Parsippany. Jacob joined the Rockaway Presbyterian Church where, on March 2, 1758, he contributed the sum of one pound toward the building of the church. He began purchasing land in the area including the aforementioned lot at Franklin.

When tensions began to build between England and the Colonies, the Jersey members of the Garrigus family felt that “patriotism led to the camp and the battlefield.” The Philadelphia members of the family felt that the Quaker Faith forbade their going to war. This led to a split in the family. Records from the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting Quakers, show that Jacob was disowned in 1774. Jacob in turn, changed the original spelling of his name from G-a-r-r-i-g-u-e-s to G-a-r-r-i-g-u-s, and in that way severed all connection with the family which felt disgraced by his patriotic conduct. Soon after war broke out between England and her Colonies, Jacob enlisted at the age of 60. Fighting in the Revolution along with their father were the four sons of Jacob Garrigus: David, Jacob Jr., John, and Isaac. All are listed in the 1976 publication, “The Patriots of Denville.”

In 1789, Jacob Garrigus conveyed back to the heirs of Robert Hunter Morris, the land he had purchased from Morris in 1763. Jacob died on May 13, 1798.

David Garrigus, the eldest son of Jacob, purchased significant amounts of land in the Franklin area. The heirs of John Bellars re-surveyed the remaining portions of the Bellars Lot around the year 1800. By deed in December of that year, David Garrigus purchased from the Bellars heirs 394 acres which included all of the present day Knuth Farm.

On December 14, 1800, David’s daughter, Hannah Garrigus married Daniel Ayers. The first deed specifically pertaining to the area of the Knuth Farm can be found on May 10, 1803, when David Garrigus conveyed the then 105 acre farm to his son-in-law Daniel Ayers.

Daniel Ayers’ family emigrated from county Antrim in Ireland sometime prior to 1738, the year his father Robert was born in Woodbridge, New Jersey. His mother, Anna Jackson, was the daughter of Colonel Joseph Jackson of Rockaway, whose home was used as headquarters for George Washington one day in 1781.

Daniel and Hannah Ayers had two children at the time Daniel purchased the farm. Some structure for them to live in obviously had to exist by 1803 or shortly thereafter. It is not known whether any of the remaining structures on the farm date to 1803. The historic sites survey of the farm merely indicates that some buildings predate 1853.

Hannah Ayers died in 1821. Some two years later, Daniel married Hannah’s first cousin, Mary Garrigus, daughter of John. their son, William Ayers, was born in 1824. William Ayers came into ownership of the farm on September 7, 1852. The last of the Ayers to hold title to the farm was Lawrence Ayers, son of William. Lawrence took title through a sheriff’s sale on January 18, 1890. On May 26, 1896, he conveyed the farm to one Albert W. Kent, ending 92 1/2 years of Ayers family ownership. The Ayers were known to have operated a distillery from at least the late 1860s. Some historians have concluded, however, that the distillery was in operation in the 18th century as well.

For the next decade, the farm changed hands numerous times. It was conveyed to Robert E. Westcott on June 1, 1896; then to Monroe Howell on October 29, 1900; next to Addie L. Reynolds on January 31, 1901; to E. Fitzhugh Crane on August 13, 1902; then to Phoebe A. Crane on February 8, 1904; and finally to John and Margaret Bowers on August 8, 1905.

Martin and Anna Knuth had lived in Union Hill with their family at least twenty years before purchasing the farm from the Bowers on June 4, 1906. Census records show that Martin, born in 1860, and Anna, born in 1861, emigrated from Germany in 1882. At the time they purchased the farm, they had six children: Hattie, born in 1892; Susie, born in 1897; twins Martin, Jr. and Andrew, born in 1898; Frank, born in 1903; and Jacob who arrived at the new farm in 1906.

All the Knuths were able to read, write, and speak English. Records list Martin and his twin boys as farmers, while Anna and the girls are listed as housekeepers. Interestingly, Frank is reported to have been a scholar. A substantial farming operation was maintained by the Knuths. Local accounts claim that the farm contained one of the largest barns in the area which was used for an on-going dairy operation. The barn burned down in 1936, shortly after the death of Martin Knuth, Sr. Thereafter, the farm and family fell into financial ruin. Surviving children Frank and Susie Knuth took ownership of the farm upon the death of their mother, Anna, on January 26, 1950.