One thing is fairly certain, Simon Van Ness (who I call ‘The Father of Fairfield’) was born in 1666. But his death in today’s Fairfield ( Horseneck Section of Newark Township ) was either not documented, or the documentation is yet to be discovered.
Several writers have evaluated the historical clues and arrived at different conclusions. Compounding the difficulty is the fact that most original sourced material would be written in Dutch and subject to translation. I am, however, optimistic that someday a determined Historian or Graduate Student will find the definitive proof required.
The most popular notion is that Simon (SVN ) died in 1733 ( aged 67 years ). The following account is often referenced in secondary source books and articles :
“Simon Van Ness must have died prior to Oct. 4, 1733, for on that date his wife, Hester, married Frans Spier, the widower of Dierckje Cornelise Van Houten. He was a son of Johnannes Spier and Maritje Franse and was born about 1683 at Bergen Reformed Church. He had eight children by his previous marriage. They continued to live Horseneck. Hester probably died prior to Dec. 30, 1767, the date of Frans Spier’s will, as she is not mentioned in that will”.
Essentially, SVN was deemed dead because divorce, mental or physical incapacity ( like stroke or coma ), adultery, or abandonment could never justify Hester’s remarriage with ecclesiastic approval. Surely, even though I would not want to argue such a case, there are possibilities that could lead to Hester being allowed to remarry and remain within the Church.
A highly regarded Van Ness Family Ancestry Authority, Lottye Gray Van Ness published a book in 1960 entitled “The Van Ness Heritage and Allied Genealogies”. In it she sets the date of SVN’s death at 1745 ( aged 79 years ). Although the Author does not make a case for this date, some circumstantial clues indicate that he still could have been alive at this time.
Matthew DeFazio is to be commended for this wonderful historical marker. The source of his facts about Simon Van Ness’s death was very likely incorrect.
Dutch Settlers including SVN purchased the Northwestern section of Horseneck from the Lenape Indians in 1701. The East Jersey Proprietors who legally owned all lands within their borders did not press their claims on Settlers without valid deeds until the 1740’s. It appears that SVN had a validly filed deed with the West Jersey Society represented by John Johnson and George Willocks. ( Note: The WJS held shares in the East Jersey Province. Shareholders were occasionally awarded large blocks of acreage as dividends. The West Jersey Society of English Investors is not to be confused with the West Jersey Province ).
In 1744 a deed of confirmation was sent to SVN by the East Jersey Proprietors represented by James Alexander, Robert M. Morris, and David Ogden. In their deed they state: “whereas John Johnson and George Willocks, deceased, in their lifetime did grant in fee simple to Simon Van Ness of Essex County with other lands in their deed & him given.........”. Willocks died in 1729 and Johnson died in 1732. They are noted as deceased while Simon Van Ness is not so noted. If SVN died in 1733 wouldn’t they state “Simon Van Ness, deceased’ ? If this deed was drafted 11 years after SVN’s death wouldn’t it say something about Heirs, Successors, Assignees, or Descendants? My guess is that SVN was still breathing in 1744.
There are also thoughts that SVN lived until 1748 ( aged 82 years ). These are based upon the date SVN’s estate was divided among his four sons and two sons- in-law. This was in 1749. In William H. Shaw’s 1884 ‘History of Essex and Hudson Counties’ he references SVN’s Great Great Grandson William E. Van Ness who was then his contemporary. Shaw states that “In 1749 after the decease of Simon Van Ness Sr.,........divided among the sons........and also the sons-in-law.” Once again the date of death is mentioned definitively as immediately before 1749, but no other confirmation is noted.
But a 1748 SVN death makes a lot of sense. How could there possibly be a 16 year delay to divide the SVN estate ( 1733 to 1749 ) among his heirs ? Or even a 4 year delay ( 1745 to 1749 ) as Lottye G.V.N. indicated ? In practical terms, how could all six parties who all have growing Family’s and immediate needs allow such incredible delays ? Especially when average life expectancies were then less than 45 years ?
The purpose of this paper is not to convince anyone of a specific date of SVN’s death. So far, corroborating evidence seems to be unavailable. But a date range between 1745 and 1748 seems most logical. Yes, I’m very skeptical about the 1733 version based solely upon Hester’s remarriage date. But I have an open mind that generally works better with confirming facts and primary sourced materials, rather than contradictory theories.
But you can help. Please circulate this paper to your Colleagues, Historical Society Friends, and Reference Librarians who may be interested, challenged, or “Just Plain Nuts” ( like Me ).