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Col James Neilson
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Birth: Dec. 3, 1784
New Brunswick
Middlesex County
New Jersey, USA
Death: Feb. 21, 1862
New Brunswick
Middlesex County
New Jersey, USA

James Neilson was born 1784 in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, NJ, the 7th of 12 known surviving children (6 boys/6 girls) born to wealthy merchant and Revolutionary War leader, Brig. General John Nielson Jr. and his wife, Catherine Schuyler Van Voorhees.

He was he paternal grandson of Dr. John Nielson Sr. of Belfast, Ireland who immigrated to the American Colonies with his older brother, James Neilson, and later married Johanna Coeyman of Albany, NY, then settled in Raritan's Landing near New Brunswick, NJ. On his mother's side, he was the maternal grandson of Johannis (John) Van Voorhees and Christina Catherine Schuyler of Piscataway.

James was born one year after the end of the Revolutionary War in which his father served as Brig. General with the NJ Militia and was a close friend of Gen. George Washington and French General, Lafayette. Although the 7th born in the family, at the time of his birth only 3 older siblings had survived. Five more siblings would be born after him, but only one of them (Abraham Schuyler Neilson) would survive to adulthood.

James went into his family's business of merchant shippers transporting and shipping goods from New Brunswick to ports all over the world. He would not only inherit from his father, but gained land in New Brunswick from his grandfather, Johannis Van Voorhees, upon which he would build a magnificent urban mansion/farm called "Woodlawn". From his paternal grandmother, Johanna Coeyman Neilson, he would inherit a large tract of land in the Hudson Valley of New York.

On March 26, 1811, the 26-year old married 19-year old Rivine "Rivini" Foreman, daughter of Gen. David Forman of Monmouth County, Commander of the Jersey Troops at Germantown under General Washington. Within a year of the marriage, James was called to arms in the War of 1812, where he earned the rank of Colonel commanding of a company of New Jersey militia. The marriage lasted just 5 years, and was childless, as Rivine died in 1816 at age 25.

Four years later, on January 25, 1820, James would marry (2nd) Jane Dunlap, daughter of James Dunlap of New Brunswick, who also died shortly into the marriage leaving no children. He married (3rd) on December 11, 1833 to Hariett Benedict, the 22-year old daughter of Dr. Robert Benedict of Philadelphia. This marriage lasted 7 years until Hariett's death in 1840. Once again, the marriage was childless.

On January 16, 1844, 60-year old Col. James Neilson would wed for the 4th and last time, taking as his bride 35-year old Catherine Bleecker of Albany, daughter of John Rutger Bleecker, of the prominent Hudson Valley NY Bleeckers. Ten months later, his only child, James Neilson, Jr. would be born on November 17, 1844.

In 1830, James began building of one of his more enduring legacies, the urban Mansion and farm, "Wood Lawn" on a portion of the land originally purchased by his mother's grandfather, Johannis Voorhees, in 1720, where he sought to establish a preeminent gentleman's farm. The house would serve as a hub of hospitality and lively conversation long associated with the Neilson family, and would see many of the famous men and women of the time stay under its roof as guests of the Neilsons.

Col. James Neilson was one of most noted movers and shakers in New Brunswick, and with his business partners Capt. James Cole Van Dyke, was responsible for much of the innovative growth of transportation in New Brunswick that led to the city's big launch into the Industrial Revolution. The economic depression surrounding the War of 1812 had a devastating effect on New Brunswick. The grain trade, which had been New Brunswick's staple, collapsed and the growth of state banks, following the closing of the U.S. Bank in 1811, created a confusing financial system. An increased demand for grains used in brewing and distilling in the mid-teens, however, revived business and James Neilson and his brother supplied rye flour and corn meal to several New York brewing firms. In addition to the alcohol business and banking, Neilson speculated in the China trade. He shared a half interest in two casks of Turkish opium with James C. Van Dyke. The opium was shipped from Philadelphia to Canton, China where it was profitably exchanged for luxury goods including fine silks and tea. The two men also invested in shares in the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company (Thompson 1940:62). This kind of land speculation appears to have been typical for entrepreneurs in the period. Neilson had properties in New York City, in Albany and the surrounding counties, and a huge patent in northern New York State where he attempted to exploit known iron deposits. Closer to home, he was treasurer of the Raritan Coal Mining Company, which was given a monopoly for all coal or other minerals that might be found under the Raritan River and Raritan Bay. None was found and the company went out of business within a year.

In 1820, in great part due to the efforts of James Neilson, the New Jersey Delaware and Raritan Canal Company was formed. A route needed to be chosen and James Van Dyke was among the 17 New Brunswick citizens who pledged to contribute $3,325 if the canal terminated in their city. However, there were other issues that stood in the way of beginning construction. Among them was permission from the state of Pennsylvania to tap the waters of the Delaware River for a feeder canal, without which the lock at Trenton could not function. Philadelphians worried that the canal would deprive their city of trade in favor of New York and used the feeder canal issue to block the project. The company collapsed in 1827, but was revived three years later with greater success. To prevent competition from the railroad, which was also beginning construction, the Delaware and Raritan Canal and Camden and Amboy Railroad companies consolidated into one company, referred to as the Joint Companies. Canal construction began in 1832.

Before the canal was completed there was an Association for Encouraging Domestic Manufactures in New Brunswick and a company named Pollock and Anderson was producing cotton by 1821 and had added a dyeing plant a year later. Haley Fisk manufactured iron and brass castings and Captain McKay's pottery was hailed as "one of the largest and best conducted establishments of the kind in the U.S.". J.H. Bostwick ran a distillery and Meyers and Stephens sold tobacco, but the real industrial florescence came after the canal was finished. James C. Van Dyke and James Neilson, as well as others, bought lots contiguous to the canal and even earlier Van Dyke had bought a fairly large frontage on the Raritan River in anticipation of selling the land or leasing it for industrial purposes. In 1838, Col. James Neilson, then treasurer of the New Brunswick Manufacturing Company, made the first use of water power resources from the canal with a water driven sawmill on the site of Boyd Park.

In the final analysis the canal was not good for New Brunswick, as the middlemen, who formerly traveled to the city to conduct their business, now transacted sales directly with farmers, and goods were shipped directly via the canal. The growth of the railroad throughout New Jersey, killed its usefulness. The decline of New Brunswick as the hub of shipping, actually allowed the city to crow as the hub of manufacturing and numerous industrial facilities sprouted up along the canal and Raritan including the Janeway and Company wall paper factory, established in 1844; the Empire Machine Works, which produced textile knitting machines; the Consolidated Fruit Jar Company which made the metal screw tops with glass liners for glass jars, and the New Brunswick Rubber Company, manufacturer of rubber shoes; and the New Brunswick Iron Works, originally established c. 1875.

Col. James Neilson died on February 21, 1862 at age 77. His wife of 18 years, then aged 52, remained at "Wood Lawn" until her death 31 years later in 1893. The mansion passed to their son, following her death.

Upon James Neilson Jr's death in 1937, "Wood Lawn" was left to Rutgers University. It was occupied for many years by the Associate Alumnae of Douglass College. Today "Wood Lawn" is the home of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, an active and respected unit of the University, nationally recognized for its activities in the field of American politics.
Family links: 
  John Neilson (1745 - 1833)
  Catherine Schuyler Van Voorhees Neilson (1753 - 1816)
  Catharine Bleecker Neilson (1809 - 1893)*
  James Neilson (1844 - 1937)*
  James Neilson (1784 - 1862)
  Abraham Schuyler Neilson (1792 - 1861)*
*Calculated relationship
Willow Grove Cemetery
New Brunswick
Middlesex County
New Jersey, USA
Created by: pbfries
Record added: Jun 05, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 53275381
Col James Neilson
Added by: pbfries
Col James Neilson
Added by: Jackie Oshman
Col James Neilson
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Kat
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 Added: Jul. 4, 2015

- Joseph M.Petri
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