In 1695, Arent Schuyler travelled from Albany, New York to northern New Jersey, part of an eight man group planning to negotiate with indigenous, Munsee speaking peoples for land rights in the region. Schuyler, one of eight children born to Philip Pieterse Schuyler and Margarita Van Slichtenhorst, was the de facto leader of the group, owing to his prior experience with Native Americans- likely the Mahican, or Mohican, tribes, and the Mohawk people- as a fur trader. On June 6th, 1695, Schuyler agreed to the rights to 5,500 acres in exchange for wampum and varied goods valued at 250 English pounds. A portion of land was divided amongst the eight. On his lot, overlooking the Ramapo River, Schuyler built a one-story, two bay fieldstone home, typical of early Dutch construction. This home eventually expanded into the Schuyler-Colfax House.
The Schuyler-Colfax Family
As with the Mead-Van Duyne and the Van Riper-Hopper House, the Schuyler-Colfax House passed through the hands of various family members and underwent construction over the years. Arent Schuyler married three times – Jenneke Teller (m. 1684), Swantje Duykuisen (m. 1700), and Maria Walters (m. 1724) – and fathered twelve children. When he moved out of the Schuyler-Colfax House in 1710, he left the home and surrounding property to one of his children with Teller; Philip Schuyler (ca. 1687 to 1763). Schuyler was involved in local government as a representative in the New Jersey colonial legislature and a Bergen County freeholder, and he ran the nearby Pompton Ironworks. He and his wife, Hester Kingsland, had twelve children, among them Hester Schuyler, who married Theunis Dey of the Dey Mansion. Philip Schuyler’s 1760 will left the house and 200 acres to his youngest son, Casparus, who passed the property onto his only child, Esther in 1795.
Esther Schuyler married William Colfax, Revolutionary War veteran and former Captain of George Washington’s Life Guard, in 1783, giving Hester's family home its modern name. The two added the most notable expansion onto the house, building a two-story Georgian style extension. The home was also occupied by their six surviving children and supported by the labor of several enslaved people. You can learn more about the history of enslavement at the Schuyler-Colfax House here.
Four successive generations of Colfax descendants occupied the home; in 1947, descendants were awarded certificates for their status as the family residing most continuously in the same home in Wayne. Like the Van Ripers, Colfax family members were present at Wayne's first township meeting: George W. Colfax, son of Esther Schuyler and William Colfax, was the Judge of Elections, while William W. Colfax was on the Township Committee. With a large extended family, the Colfaxes boasted Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers, Vice Presidents, farmers and physicians, artists and milliners, and more.
A silhouette of Hester Schuyler-Colfax.
A Medical Legacy
Esther Schuyler and William Colfax's youngest son, William Washington Colfax, became a doctor, originally practicing out of an office on today's Main Avenue in Passaic before returning to Wayne and inheriting his family home. He may have been the Dr. Colfax that Eliza Dawes (a great-granddaughter of Esther and William) would recall in a 1935 interview for Paterson Evening News, stating, "when I was sick, he would come, then call for tumblers of water; he would take out his case, empty a bit of powder here and there and leave orders for me to take one powder every hour or so." His son and grandson, both also named William, appear to have been doctors as well.
Dr. William Washington Colfax's great-granddaughter, Jane Colfax, followed in his footsteps. Born in 1923, she attended the Flower and Fifth Avenue Hospitals School of Nursing from 1942 to 1945, and gained experience as a member of the Cadet Nurse Corps starting in 1943. In 1955, she graduated with her M.D. from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania. Specializing as an obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Colfax became the first female OB-GYN at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Paterson, and later practiced out of the Schuyler-Colfax House. Dr. Colfax's nurse and office manager, Barbara Backer, stated in 2005, "Dr. Jane demanded the best for her patients, and they came first. In an atmosphere dominated by male physicians, nothing discouraged her efforts when she thought something was right and fair for her female patients. Patients loved and respected her."
Dr. Colfax and her husband, Michael DeNike, were interested in preserving the history of the Schuyler-Colfax family and the home. They took extensive notes when renovating the property and were often a resource for the Wayne Historic Commission. The Schuyler-Colfax House was recognized several times during their residency; on September 11th, 1970, it was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places, and three years later, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Dr. Colfax occupied the home until 1992, when she sold the house to Wayne Township. She passed away in 2005. Today, the Schuyler-Colfax House is preserved, but is currently closed for renovations.
The third Dr. William Washington Colfax
Dr. Jane Colfax, photographed as a nursing student (left) and later in life (right)