John Stevens III bought Hoboken for 18,360 pounds sterling Revolutionary War colonel’s family steered the city’s early development

Hoboken’s founding family will forever be linked with local history, but residents might not know the story of how the noted Stevens family came to buy the land that is modern-day Hoboken.

In 1711, the title to most of what is today’s Hoboken was acquired by Samuel Bayard, a successful New York merchant, who built a home on Castle Point for his summer residence. Through an inheritance, the property was passed down to his grandson William Bayard, who owned the land in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War.

William Bayard was a complicated figure who originally supported the revolutionary cause and even joined the Sons of Liberty. But in 1776, when he thought the colonies were going to lose the war, he defected and became a Loyalist Tory. He was even appointed to be a colonel in the English Army.

In 1780, according to the New York Gazette, his farm and barn were burned to the ground. Shortly afterwards, his land was confiscated by the Revolutionary government of New Jersey.

Stevens family buys confiscated land

While the Bayard family’s stock was plummeting, another area family, the Stevens, was gaining steam during the Revolutionary War period.

According to Geoffrey W. Clark’s book History of the Stevens Institute of Technology, the Stevens family came to America in 1699. Originally, their wealth came from extensive real estate holdings in New Jersey and New York, and through investments in the Atlantic Trade Routes.

Also, according to Clark, the second and third generations of the Stevens family married with other wealthy families in the area, increasing their wealth and status.

John Stevens (1715-1792), part of the family’s second generation in the colonies, was a patriot who became secretary to Gov. William Livingston of New York. Stevens was also a delegate to the Continental Congress from New Jersey in 1783.

Likewise, his son John Stevens III (1749-1838) took great interest in the American cause. Stevens III was educated at Kings College, which is now Columbia, and at age 27 he was made captain in George Washington’s Army.

Stevens III, according to Clark, quickly rose to the rank of colonel and later was known simply as “Colonel John.” As a colonel, Stevens III was appointed to be New Jersey’s treasurer.

The Stevens family gained what the Bayard family lost. When the mile-square Bayard property in New Jersey was auctioned off publicly in 1784, Stevens III bought it.

The confiscated Bayard property, which is modern-day Hoboken, sold for 18,360 pounds sterling, the equivalent of about $90,000.

Land of leisure

In the early 1800s, the Stevens family developed the waterfront as a resort for wealthy Manhattanites. Col. John built a riverfront walkway and several parks, and on any given weekend, as many as 20,000 people made the trip to Hoboken. In the city’s early days, the waterfront was a retreat for wealthy New Yorkers. Hoboken, which during the 1800s was most certainly “the country,” represented an opportunity for stressed-out socialites to spread a blanket along the river walk and share a picnic with friends.

Hoboken was also the site of the first New York Yacht Club. According to historian Joan Doherty Lovero, who wrote the book “Hudson County – The Left Bank,” John Cox Stevens, the eldest son of Col. John Stevens III, organized the New York Yacht Club. In 1845, he donated a clubhouse near the Elysian Fields, which stayed open for more than 20 years.

According to Lovero, “In 1850, Stevens accepted a British challenge and, aided by his brother Edwin and other sailing men including Colonel James Hamilton, the son of Alexander Hamilton, he contracted the then state-of-the-art yacht, the America.”

The next year, under the command of John Cox Stevens, the vessel raced the prestigious “Royal Yacht Squadron” around the Isle of Wight, off the coast of Great Britain.

“The victors welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert on board and then returned home,” read Lovero’s account, “bringing with them their nation’s first international trophy, the ‘America’s Cup.’ “


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