The Wawayanda Maiden
Sarah was an orphan who lived with Christopher Denn and his wife after her parents died. Sarah's parents are unknown.
The Denns lived on Staten Island. Even as a young girl, Sarah was frequently the one to travel by open ferry to New York City, to do the marketing for the Denns.
Mr. Denn and some associates held a patent on twenty square miles of land (12,800 acres) called "the Wawayanda Patent," in what is now the area of Goshen in Orange County, New York. A condition of securing their patent was that one among them had to live on the land before a certain date. The land was remote and unsettled by Europeans.
In 1712, when Sarah was younger than 16 (likely about 13 years old), Mr. Denn sent Sarah to live on the land to secure the patent for him and his associates.
With a few Amer-Indian men of Denn's choosing, Sarah was sent to secure the land patent "of unknown wilderness twenty miles square, infested by serpents, tenanted by savages of unknown fidelity, and roamed over by beasts of prey."
In 1718, Sarah married William BULL, a master stonemason. He had arrived in the colonies in 1715.
Soon after they married, they began building the family house. Building the house was a joint effort: Sarah carried the stones to the site and William cut and laid them. It took 13 years to build the house. It is a four level, ten-room house. The lowest level (the basement) would be described today as a "walk-out basement" since the house was built into the side of a hill. The top level is the attic, fully floored, has a loft, and has it's own "look out window," reached by climbing a ladder in the loft.
The house is 40-feet square and has walls that are three feet thick -- all stone. The house survived the 1728 earthquake, undamaged. It was built on bedrock and has a small stream running through an area of the basement. The house was situated over that small stream intentionally, so that there could be access to water inside the house if, for some reason, the residents could not safely exit the house.
While the house was being built, Sarah, William, and their growing family lived in a log cabin.
It must be noted that William had help in addition to Sarah for the building of the house: Sarah's husband "owned" two slaves, a husband and wife who ultimately lived in the basement of the Bull Stone House. They lived there with the Bull family. The basement had its own stone fireplace, and the slave family likely used the same privy as the Bull family. It is assumed that the slave man worked with William as William built houses, and that the slave woman worked with Sarah, cooking, cleaning, and doing work required for Sarah's growing family. The names of the slaves are unknown.
Sarah was the mother of John (b. 1721), William (b. 1723), Sarah (b. 1725), Thomas (b. 1727), Isaac (b. 1729), Esther (b. 1731), Mary (b. 1733), Margaret (b. 1736), Catherine (b. 1738), Ann (b. 1740), Richard (b. 1743), and Eleanor (b. 1745).
In about 1756, Sarah was widowed when William died. About six years later, she secondly married the widower Johannes MILLER. Johannes was the father-in-law of Sarah's daughter Esther; Johannes died in 1782.
The house that Sarah and William built has remained in the Bull family's ownership. A descendant lives in the house as a resident caretaker.
In Sarah's honor, the area of county road Route 8 that is near the house is called "Sarah Wells Trail." The local council of Girl Scouts USA was named for Sarah, and the house that Sarah and her husband built has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
The first organized reunion of Sarah and William's descendants was in 1868. There was a return to the grounds of the house, with descendants bringing their own food to eat. Reunions continued annually. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in there being no reunion.
Reportedly, the following account is from a "Brooks Family Genealogy" that was found at the Library of Congress by Myrtle Edwards, a noted genealogist living in Chester, New York, in the 1980s:
"The father of Sarah Wells was a minister and he and his wife were drowned going in an open boat from Staten Island to New York City, leaving Sarah an orphan.
"Christopher Denn and his wife Elizabeth also lived on Staten Island and were friends of the Wells family. The Denns did not have any children so they offered to adopt Sarah and Sarah was willing. Sarah asked them, however, to let her keep her own name of Sarah Wells."
According to Myrtle Edwards' notes, the account stated that Sarah was born April 6, 1696, rather than 1694. A misconception that would come from Ms. Edwards' words needs to be corrected: The DENNs never adopted Sarah, and some would say that a more honest description is that Sarah was an orphaned child who was taken in with the understanding that she would work for her shelter and food until she was old enough to live on her own.
Wife of Wm. Bull; died aged 102 years, 15 days.
Monument erected by descendants.