Bull family celebrates its history

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By Ginny Privitar

— Imagine if you could trace your family’s history back 300 years to an ancestor, Sarah Wells, who came to Orange County in 1712 as a young woman and indentured servant. She traveled from the city life she knew in Manhattan, first by ship from New York, then overland into the wilderness on behalf of her master, Christopher Denn, to settle his original land claim in the Wawayanda Patent. She went by herself with two carpenters and three Indian guides. Later, she would marry an expert stonemason named William Bull in 1718.

Now imagine you could actually come back to the family homestead and the fine stone house Bull built in 1722, which still stands thanks to the skill of its builder and the determination of William and Sarah’s descendants to preserve their history, a history that is really the history of America.

Celebrating 300 years

William and Sarah Bull had 12 children and their descendants spread across the country and around the world. From Aug. 3 through 5, many of them came together at the Bull Stone House on County Route 51 in the town of Hamptonburgh for the 145th annual picnic and reunion and to celebrate the 300th year since Sarah Wells’ arrival here.
And what a party it was — three days of celebrations, with the main event on Saturday, Aug. 4.
Hosted by Mike Brown, a Bull descendant who lives in and is curator of the Bull Stone House, and the board of the Bull Stone House Association, the celebration was a delight for family members, friends and history lovers.
There were two huge tents for diners with a full roast beef dinner available; music was provided by the Ramapo Fault String Band. Many local officials were in attendance. There were pony and pony cart rides, and wagon rides, pulled by a team of Percherons. Frank, the enormous but gentle ox, made an appearance, and there were miniature ponies and donkeys, too. Colonial-style crafts entertained the kids. There were talks on the history of the family and buildings. And a more somber event took place: the unveiling of a cemetery stone for five of Sarah and William’s children: John, Thomas, Isaac, Mary and William. Thomas, a stonemason like his father and builder of Hill-Hold, was a Loyalist and was imprisoned. John and Isaac were patriots whose Revolutionary War service is well documented.
There was a genealogy tent where you could learn more about the family history and a souvenir tent that did a brisk business.
But the best part was the people. And there were over 600 of them.

Family history

Ribbons were awarded to families in different categories: oldest, longest married, farthest traveled, first to arrive.
Delores and Eugene Richter of Pennsylvania each won ribbons for being the oldest; she is 91 and he is 95. They won another ribbon for being married the longest — 72 years. When asked what it meant to be there, Delores Richter said, “Well, I’m very much a part of the Bull family and happy that not only we are interested, but our children and grandchildren are…It’s just wonderful to be together."”
Lori Webster, daughter of Delores and Eugene, said she's been coming here since she was just seven years old.
"I came here with my grandmother when I was about seven years old with my family. She [my grandmother] came with her parents and grandparents in the previous century," said Webster. "My grandmother was a great lover of history, so as a teenager she asked her parents and wrote all this down--and handed me a box of things when I was 19 and said, “You’re the one.” And at 19, I had no idea what she meant. And after that I got the genealogy bug in my later 40s and became a member of DAR, which was one of her dreams, and since filled in all the pieces so that we would have a more complete family history.”
Northport, Fla., resident John Lagasse, Jr. was here with his wife Pamela Bull Lagasse. They first came to the family celebration in 1978 and came back periodically. But since retirement four years ago, they’ve been back every year. They were awarded a ribbon for being the first to arrive. Although not a Bull himself, Lagasse spoke of what the reunion meant.
“This means the most to us because of (Pam’s) family heritage. Pam’s from the lines of the first three children (of William and Sarah): John, William and Sarah. And the third generation William was with George Washington at Valley Forge. We have pictures of his sister, her name was Mehitabel Bull. And we have all of these artifacts that were passed down from the third generation to Pamela through her father. We are just so thrilled to have all of these things. It’s just amazing.”

An inspiration

Cousin and writer Anita Janine (A.J.) Bull, now living in Williamsburg, Va., first visited the family homestead when she was four years old. She is researching and writing a book about Sarah Wells titled "Out of a Meaness: the Courage of Sarah Wells," and gave a talk on the subject. Although some records indicate Sarah Wells was born April 6, 1694, somewhere in New Jersey, nothing is known of her parents. Was she an orphan or sold into servitude? Early records that might have held her information were burned by the British during the Revolution.
There are no writings in Sarah’s hand. But there are the notes her second husband, Johannes Miller, wrote down, according to what she told him. “I am guessing she was illiterate," Anita Bull said. "Indentured, orphaned-what are your chances of getting an education?"
Sarah Wells was an inspiration to her.
“She was a feminist before there was feminism," said Anita Bull. "I think she is very inspiring. As I said in my talk, she took the bull by the horns and made a big success of her life with absolutely nothing. But that’s what America is all about.”

You don't have to be family

All are welcome to sample the history here. For more information, visit the Web site, bullstonehouse.org, or call Mike Brown at 845-496-2855 to arrange a tour of this storied and rare home. Donations of time and money are accepted to support this living history museum.

“She was a feminist before there was feminism. I think she is very inspiring. As I said in my talk, she took the bull by the horns and made a big success of her life with absolutely nothing. But that’s what America is all about.”

Anita Janine Bull, talking about her ancestor Sarah Wells

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