The Reverend William Jones Skillman Collection: The Early Letters


Author’s Note

As previously mentioned, the Reverend William Jones Skillman original letters, and other documents were found, digitally photographed, and then the originals were placed in the Archives and Special Collections at Rutgers University.

As magnificent a work as is “Skillmans of America and Their Kin”, the Collection contains even more. The best of it captures a little about the lives and the personalities of our ancestors more than one hundred years ago.

The collection is available in the SFA members section as pdf files. The first pdf file contains Box 1 F1 to F5 (Folders 1 to 5) and these are the subject of this Blog. If you attempt to read the original letters, I would note that the + and – zoom feature is useful in making out the writing. It took me a year to photograph the whole collection, besides the time spent interpreting the handwriting; unfortunately a few are also slightly out of focus.


So much could be written about the letters. Each time I look at them I see more. I have tried to limit this to what stood out to me. These are my own impressions and could be wrong. Comments would be appreciated, even if it is just letting us know you read the blog!

Box 1 F1 is a letter from Elizabeth Andrews, dated March 27, 1907. She is under her Grandfather’s entry SOA #155 in “Skillmans of America and Their Kin” [155. THOMAS6 SKILLMAN (Francis5, Thomas4, Joseph3, Thomas2, Thomas1) [See either SOA or the collection letter for details.]

While photographing the collection, I noticed that beyond the content of the letters themselves, the envelopes and stationary provide a wealth of historical information.


The envelopes and stationary are from The Mohawk Hotel, Brooklyn NY, and postmarked March 27, 1907 at 1:30 p.m. So Elizabeth mailed it the same day it was written.

The Mohawk Hotel is now The Mohawk Apartments, 379 Washington Avenue, Clinton Hill Historic District, Brooklyn New York. “An upscale residential hotel”, it had been built a mere 3 years earlier, in 1904. Perhaps Elizabeth was living here at the time.

The irony of the use of a Native American image and name, is not lost on me. It would be deemed politically incorrect now, but was quite common at the time.

The letter contains straightforward and useful genealogical information. Elizabeth’s mother is mentioned as being the daughter of Judge Horatio Onderdonk. There are numerous entries on the internet about the Judge’s historic home, Onderdonk House. Interestingly, Onderdonk House is also in a video game from the “Sims” series. A website notes that “Based on the likeness of an actual historic home, this house from SimCity 3000 is now available for download for your Sims 2 neighborhood.”

In reviewing the letter, I realized that Elizabeth was the daughter of Francis Skillman. Francis Skillman was the Author of “Skillmans of New York” and was a former friend of WJS. Francis had passed away in 1898. Elizabeth mentioned that the letter had been forwarded from Roslyn, where Francis had lived. Even though it was nine years after his death, could the Reverend’s letter have been meant for Francis? You would wonder too, if you knew what I know! However, this story is about Elizabeth’s letter, so I will end the discussion there. I will save the subject of Francis, the Reverend and how their friendship may have come to a startling end for another time.

Box 1 F2 does not have much that is noteworthy, except that the person WJS was trying to find had died. One insight emerges from the address on the envelope. One could reconstruct the movements of the Reverend William Jones Skillman himself, from the many addresses he had over the years. Being a Reverend he moved to different parishes.

Reverend William Jones Skillman addresses in this first set are:

168 South Pearl Street
Albany, NY

27 March 1876, Box 1, F4
16 February 1881, Box 1, F2

462 Lyceum Avenue
Philadelphia, PA

2 February 1901, Box 1, F5
27 March 1907, Box 1, F1

Box 1 F3 is of interest to all of the descendants of SOA #8 Jacob3 Skillman (including myself), being a reference to the land he once owned. We learn that Jacob bought land in Kingston, New Jersey from the Widow of Barefoot Brinson, rather than from the man himself, as it appears in SOA. There is a record of Jacob’s Grandson SOA #53 JACOB5 SKILLMAN (Abraham4, Jacob3, Thomas2, Thomas1), and wife Sarah selling some of the land. Earlier more of the land had been sold, eventually going to Lemuel Scudder.

The exact layout of all of Jacob’s land is in question. There he bought land (600 acres says tradition), and built the first mill at that point, just where the Great Road between New York and Philadelphia (halfway between the cities) crosses the Millstone. There also he opened a store, and besides kept a tavern. The likely spot is the current location of the Kingston Mill (a later Mill built in 1888) by Route 27 in Kingston, New Jersey. Another possibility is Scudder’s Mill Road, Princeton NJ, since Jacob’s Mill eventually went to Scudder.

Kingston-NJ-Cemetery-and-MillThe Kingston Mill in 2010. Photo: Jay Skillman

Box 1 F4 contains Letters written by Eliza H. Burke, Princeton, NJ; 27 March, 20 July, 5 December, 1876 and 13 January 1877. Daughter of SOA #99. PETER6 SKILLMAN (Gerardus5, Thomas4, Isaac3, Thomas2, Thomas1)

When I read the first letter, the thing that struck me was on the back of the envelope. There is written “good natured, pleasant letter”. I soon learned to recognize the black ink and handwriting of the Reverend William Jones Skillman himself. Not only do we get a letter from 1876, but we get the Reverend’s own thought about it and a hint at his personality. There would be many more to come. Indeed reading the four letters from her; I would agree with his assessment of them. Eliza’s letters are pleasant, and she was very helpful. She made a good many inquiries to help with the family history. Many of the people she talked to, then corresponded with WJS as well. Words of Wisdom from Eliza: “When we are young we are looking forwards, it’s only when we are growing old that we look back.” And “I am obliged to you for furnishing me with the names of my ancestors, it is wonderful to trace a family back so far.” We are all still obliged to the Reverend, and will be, far into the future.

Thanks to all who have or continue to contribute to Skillman Genealogy and the Skillman Family Association, including Bill Skillman, Greg Skillman, Ken Skillman, Lee Fleming, Michael Wrona, and of course especially to the late John E. Skillman III.

Jay Skillman
Administrator of the Skillman DNA Project

For SFA Members

The best way to find if there is a letter written about or especially by your direct ancestor, is to find the most recent ancestor (late 1800’s to early 1900’s) that has been assigned a number in “Skillmans of America and Their Kin”. Then search in the Finding Aid by that number, in the form SOA #___. In example, the Reverend William Jones is SOA #165. I am willing to help, if you need assistance checking for a letter.

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