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   H I S T O R Y  o f the
OTTO-TONKIN aka BODO OTTO HOUSE


522 Kings Highway
Mickleton NJ
Private Residence - owned by
Bob, Corrin and Elizabeth Sellen
Current photograph of the Otto-Tonkin House in Mickleton NJ
Current photograph of the Otto-Tonkin House
taken from the East Greenwich Township Master Plan 2004

This property was first deeded to Nicholas Young in 1688 and was commonly known as the "Neat Farmers Plantation." The plantation was officially surveyed for tax purposes by Thomas Gardiner, the current owner's [Corrine Butler Sellens] first ancestor to the English Colonies.

Joseph Young built the original 2-1/2 story stone building consisting of two rooms on the first floor, two rooms on the second, with a half story loft. [A second source states that the Otto-Tonkin House was probably built by William Skull after 1766.]

The original house is the current rear first and second floors. Today the 1725 section is over 90% and the 1819 section over 95% intact. The "old Kings Highway" followed the high ground in the rear of the house as it faces today.

The property was seized by the High Sheriff, Thomas Denny, who conveyed it by deed dated August 1, 1772 to Bodo Otto, Jr., who had rented the property prior to March 1, 1771.

Bodo Otto, Jr. was born in Hanover, Germany in 1748 and was brought to this country by his father in 1752. Bodo Otto [Sr, also a physician, llived in the Philadelphia area, where he practiced his profession, and tutored his son as a preparation for the University of Pennsylvania.] In 1771 Bodo Otto, Jr. received a degree of the Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Pennsylvania. In August 1772, the father purchased the farm of one hundred acres in what is now known as the village of Mickleton, including the house known as the Otto-Tonkin House. Bodo Otto Jr. returned to Mickleton to start his practice following his marriage to Catherine Schweighauser in 1772.

These devoted physicians, the father and his two sons, served as surgeons with George Washington's army during the dreadful winter at Valley Forge, where the father was in charge of the hospitals. After the war ceased, they returned to the communities in which they lived, where their personal qualities and their skill made them beloved by all those who knew them.

Rev. Nicholas Collin, D.D., the rector of the Swedish Lutheran Church [now Trinity Episocopal Old Swedes Church] in Swedesboro from 1770 to 1776 was a close friend of the Bodo Otto family, and mentioned them frequently in his "Journal" which was translated by Amandus Johnson in 1936 and published by the New Jersey Society of Pennsylvania. [Title: The journal and biography of Nicholas Collin, 1746-1831 : the journal translated from the original Swedish manuscript / by Amandus Johnson ; with an introduction by Frank H. Stewart.] A copy of this book can be found at the The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. [See an excerpt below]

On July 24, 1775, Bodo Otto, Jr. received the appointment of surgeon of Colonel Reed's Battalion. Along with his father, and his brother, Dr. John Otto, he spent the winter at Valley Forge with Gen. George Washington. He served until 1781.

In March, 1778, when his wife and children were home alone, Otto's house was burned by British sympathizers [during the battle of Saunders Run]. (Dr. Otto never moved back into the house).
Neighbors were successful in saving the house, but not the outbuildings. The oldest outbuildings are the smoke house and ice house dated 1800.

Dr. Otto did not move back into his house; after this the family moved to Swedesboro. Bodo Otto died on January 20, 1782, at the age of 33 of consumption [tuberculosis] at the Death of the Fox Inn in Clarksboro and is buried at Trinity Church in Swedesboro.
His property (including his home in Mickleton) was divided among his children.

In February of 1782, a month after Bodo Otto's death, his friend Dr. Collin writes: "Preached a funeral sermon for the Med. Doctor Bodo Otto in his house, a few miles from Swedesboro, and buried him at the church in Swedesboro. The old doctor, his father came here before my time from Luneburg, with his family, a devout man who brought up his children in the Evangelical religion. His son had practiced medicine at the place since 1772. He was also a magistrate and a colonel of the militia under the new Government. He was in all respects an honorable man, and he has so far as he was able to, prevented such evil during the war. Among other praiseworthy actions he obtained pardon for one of the refugees who had burnt down his own (Otto's) house, and who for this and other crimes, would otherwise have been hung. Hils illness, which was consumption, began last autumn. I visited him often during the whole time he was ill; at times I sang German death psalms; which are quite lovely, lent him books in the same language, and a month before he died I gave him the Lord's Supper. He prepared himself like a true Christian. I had promised to be present at the end. At the approach of death a little after midnight, he immediately sent a man for me. We rode in full gallop, but nevertheless arrived too late. The funeral text was "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord, and their words do follow them." His old father stood trembling at his son's grave weeping bitterly."


The Otto Tonkin house as it looked in 1936
The Bodo Otto aka Otto-Tonkin House as it looked in 1936

In 1798 the property was sold to Samuel Tonkin who rebuilt the house. The house was accidentally burned again in 1818 and was once again rebuilt by the Tonkins.

The house was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 after Bob and Mary Ruth Talley completed a comprehensive restoration.

Additional Information and a photograph of this house is located in the Gloucester County NJ web site.

The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) are among the largest and most heavily used collections in the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. See the photographs, floorplans, and documents submitted in 1937 regarding this historic building.

Descendants of Bodo Otto, Sr. should contact the Bodo Otto Association. In 2005 The Bodo Otto Family will hold a reunion June 24-26.2005. Read more about this.

 

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