Six Degrees of Morris County

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
January 4, 2022

Top photo: Silas Byram Condict (son of Silas Condict and Charlotte Ford), wife Mary Johnson, and children Charlotte Ford, Dr. Alice Byram, and Henry Vail Condict.

As research was conducted into the individual histories of objects slated for inclusion in our current exhibit, A Storied Past: History That Made Morris County, a complex web quickly formed full of surprising connections. Despite the items being donated across 75 years and dozens (if not hundreds) of donors, they are tied together both substantially and tangentially in a myriad of ways, demonstrating the interconnectedness that runs through our shared history. Perhaps nobody illustrates this better than the Condicts whose family members are linked to many of the objects on display by no more than six degrees of separation. Buckle up because it’s going to get complicated!

Survey drawn by Silas Condict of a Succasunna mine lot, 1781

One of the earliest members of the family in Morris County was Silas Condict, 18th century surveyor (among many other important roles). A copy of his field book made by fellow local surveyor Benjamin Howell is highlighted in the Maps & Surveys portion of the exhibit alongside Howell’s surveyor’s compass (circumferentor). In turn, a stock notice signed by Howell from the Morris Canal to the heirs of surveyor Lemuel Cobb (Benjamin’s father-in-law) is included in Transportation. Nearby are papers regarding the transport of iron ore on said canal by John Scott of Powerville (Boonton). A sampler created by Scott’s daughter, Augusta, in 1832 is on display in Families. Also on display in Families are heirlooms from Silas Condict’s nephew and great-nephew’s family (both, by the way, also named Silas Condict), bringing us full circle.

Condict dress and horsehair trunk, c.1820s

However, that’s not all. Silas Condict (the nephew) married Charlotte Ford whose c.1820s horsehair trunk is one of those heirlooms on display. Her father, Jonathan Ford, served under his cousin Col. Jacob Ford, Jr. in the Revolution. In 1776, Jacob Ford, Jr. petitioned the Committee of Safety, of which the first Silas Condict (the surveyor) was a member, for financing to erect a (gun)powder mill in Morristown along the Whippany River. A pit rake found at the site of the powder mill is on display in Military Service.

Contrary to expectations, however, the Condits of Beverwyck – as far as can be ascertained – were not particularly closely related. An 1838 George Catlin print of Osceola of Florida and 18th-century Chippendale chair from their estate are on display in Homes and Homesteads.

Discovering these hidden connections—and paradoxical lack of connections—was much of the joy of bringing this exhibit, and the stories highlighted in it, to life. New ones still pop up on occasion, reminding us that history is not static, and there will always be new things to uncover.

A Storied Past will be on display through February 13th.