Rev. John T. Demarest's Story -
The "Murder" Mystery regarding Anna Louisa Sullivan Demarest
and her children
There is a chilling story which appears on the website of the Pascack
Reformed Church in Park Ridge, NJ, and is occasionally re-told in
These are the purported "facts" which appear on the website:
"Upon the departure of the Rev. John Manley in 1854, a call was made
upon the Rev. John T. Demarest, who accepted the call and became the
third pastor of the church and its first full time minister. Pastor Demarest
and his family were the first to occupy the newly built parsonage.
Sometime later he would experience the most tragic event of his life
when he returned home and found his wife and nine children murdered.
(Their remains are buried in Plot number 18 in the south section of the
Church Cemetery.) In 1857 John Demarest received an Honorary Doctor
of Divinity Degree from Rutgers College and remained at Pascack until 1867.
He died in New Brunswick, NJ on January 30, 1897 and was buried at
New Prospect, NY."
Suppose that immediately after reading the above account, you were to
read the following from his biography in the History of the Classis of
"The Parsonage (in Pascack) was built without delay. In this home
Dr. Demarest was called upon to suffer the greatest sorrows of his life.
The remains of his wife and children lie buried in our cemetery."
You could perhaps be excused for thinking that this was a sensitive
and tactful way of referring to the horrible murder story recounted above.
While Rev. John Demarest suffered the loss of his wife and two of his three
children while he served at Pascack, there was no violence associated with
any of the deaths.
Here is the story of the Rev. John Terhune Demarest, his wife Anna Louisa
Sullivan, and their three children.
John T. Demarest was born on February 20, 1813 and baptized in
Schraalenburgh on March 14, 1813, the son of Samuel S. Demarest
and Annaatje Terheun. He was a highly educated clergyman.
He received an AB from Rutgers in 1834 and a degree from the
New Brunswick Theological Seminary the same year. He received
an MA from Rutgers in 1837, and an honorary DD from Rutgers in 1857.
On November 9, 1837 Rev. Demarest married Anna Louisa Sullivan
in New Brunswick. She was the last of eight children of Edward Sullivan
and Lady Jane Bull, who had emigrated from Ireland and settled in the
New Brunswick area.
Rev. Demarest's first pastorate was at the New Prospect Reformed Church
in Pine Bush, NY. where he served from 1837 - 1849. His three children
were born during that time - only three, certainly not nine. The baptism
of the first daughter, named for her mother Anna Louisa, has not been
found, but she was born August 31, 1838. Daughter Euphemia was born
June 18 and baptized August 6, 1841 in Pine Bush. Son John Oscar
was born July 17 and baptized September 18, 1847, also in Pine Bush.
Rev. Demarest pastored in Minisink, NJ from 1850 - 52 and then served as
principal of the Harrisburgh Academy from 1852 - 54.
The family appears in the 1850 federal census as Rev. John T. Demerest (sic),
age 37, living in Montague, Sussex County, NJ. His oldest daughter is
recorded in error as "Allen I", age 12; his second daughter as "Emphena"
Demerest, age 9; and his son as John "C"., age 3. His wife is - unaccountably
- listed as "Sullavan" Demerest, age 36.
Despite all the errors this census taker made, this is nonetheless the family
whose life and times we are examining.
In 1854, the family moved to Pascack and into the newly-built parsonage,
and Rev. Demarest began serving as pastor of the Pascack Reformed Church.
A chain of sorrows did indeed begin for John T. Demarest.
First, on May 17, 1856 his wife Anna Louisa Sullivan Demarest died.
She was buried in the Pascack churchyard. The township of Washington
did not submit a list of deaths for that year, and so there is no way to
discover the cause of her death.
Then a positive note - a year later, on June 9, 1857 at the Clarkstown
Reformed Church in Rockland County, NY, John T. married again.
Jane Elizabeth Polhemus was the daughter of Dr. John Polhemus (an M.D.)
and Elizabeth Earle Outwater of Nyack, NY and was born November 30, 1829.
Even though Jane was only 27 years old at the time of their marriage,
there is no record of the couple ever having any children. They were
together until they died within months of each other in 1897.
The next blow must have been the commitment of his daughter Anna Louise
to the NJ State Asylum in Mercer on June 7, 1859. I have received a copy
of the records of her time in the asylum.
Anna had been under the care of Dr. J. Polhemus, Rev. Demarest's new
father-in-law. Her father was with her when she was admitted to the
asylum on June 7, 1859 at age 21. She suffered from periods of depression
which alternated with times of extreme excitability. She improved enough
to be discharged on three occasions during the next 15 years but she
always seemed to regress within a few weeks and would have to return
to the asylum.
Here is the family in the 1860 federal census:
John L. Demarest, age 47, Clergyman D.R., living in Washington, Bergen, NJ
Jane E. Demarest, age 40, wife
Euphemia Demarest, age 17, young lady
Daníl Matania, age 30, laborer
John O. Demarest, age 12
The word "Idiotic" appears on the line describing Euphemia, which makes
no sense given that her occupation is listed as "young lady", and also given
that we know she married a pastor, the son of a pastor. We can speculate
that perhaps the laborer Daniel Matania should have had that description.
Also, John does not appear on the census summary. I believe this is
because since laborers and servants usually appear last, the compilers
thought that Matania's entry was the last for that household. However
John does appear on the next page of the actual census record followed by
a female servant.
Note that first daughter Anna is not listed with the family. She appears
in the listing of the Inmates of State Asylum in Ewing, Mercer County, NJ
as Anna Demarest, age 22, born in NJ, "insane". No euphemisms in 1860!
What must have been a happier occasion was the marriage of second
daughter Euphemia W. to a Dutch Reformed pastor named
James Demarest, Jr., on July 25, 1861 in Hackensack. She had a daughter
on November 26, 1862 whom she named Euphemia. But even that
happiness was short lived, as unfortunately the mother Euphemia died
on May 5, 1863 when her daughter was just six months old. Rev. James
Demarest did not remarry for nine years, not until December 5, 1872,
and then for the third time in 1893. Little Euphemia is shown living with
her grandfather Rev. John T. Demarest and step-grandmother Jane in 1870,
when she was 7.
John T's only son, John Oscar, died of tuberculosis in 1867, the year
Rev. John T. and family left the Pascack Reformed Church. The NY Times
notice of John's death reads as follows:
"18 Jun 1867
Demarest. - On Friday, June 14, of consumption, John Oscar, only son
of Rev. John T. Demarest, D.D., of Pascack, N.J., aged 19 years and 11 months.
He left the savor of a good name and the consolation of a trusting faith
in our Savior."
After 13 years serving the Lord in Pascack, NJ, Rev. John T. and Jane
and granddaughter Euphemia returned to Pine Bush, back to the
New Prospect Church where he had first ministered. He served there
for two separate periods - 1869 - 1871 and again from 1873 - 1875.
John and Jane leave behind buried in the Pascack cemetery in New Jersey
his first wife, Anna Louisa, and two of her children, Euphemia and John O.
They also leave daughter Anna in the NJ State Asylum in Mercer, NJ, where
she remained for the rest of her short life. The final record for "1874 Nov. 28th"
reads "This evening took her supper as usual, and brought some crackers
from the dining room with her, and while eating them and dancing about
the Hall suddenly fell and choaked (sic). Doctor summoned promptly,
but was dead when he reached her". Anna was buried at Pascack where
her mother, brother and sister already lay.
When George Budke read tombstones between 1916 and 1920, there were
stones in the Pascack cemetery for Anna Louisa Demarest and all three of
her children. He records them as:
#7900 John Oscar Demarest b.7.17.1847 d.6.14.1867
#7901 Anna Louisa Demarest b.8.31.1838 d.11.28.1874
#7902 Euphemia W. Demarest w.of
James Demarest, Jr. d.5.5.1863 a.21.10.17
#7903 Anna Louisa Sullivan w.of
John T. Demarest d.5.17.1856 a.42.2.1
The stones no longer exist at the Pascack cemetery, but there have been
several changes there over the years. The history of the Pascack church
on their website explains the changes.
The 1870 census shows John Demarest at age 57, living in Crawford,
Orange Co., New York. His wife Jennie Demarest is 50, and granddaughter
Effie Demarest is 7 years old. A servant Hester Bennett is age 18. At that
time the unfortunate daughter Anna still appears in the records of the
asylum in Ewing, Mercer County, age 33.
In 1880 John T. Demarest, age 67 and Jane E., age 60 were living in Shawangunk,
Ulster Co., NY, and the servant Hester Bennett was still with them.
Granddaughter Euphemia was 17 in 1880 and was living with her father
the Rev. James Demarest and his second wife Annie Duncan.
Rev. James Demarest was pastoring in Kingston, NY at that time.
John T. Demarest died June 30, 1897 - the Classis records say in
New Brunswick. His wife Jane died November 19, 1897. The Demarest
genealogy says he and his wife Jane are buried in Pine Bush. Their
granddaughter Euphemia died December 25, 1920 in Middletown, NY,
unmarried. The direct line of this family died out with her.
So it is certainly true that Rev. John T. Demarest, while he was serving at the
Pascack DRC between 1854 and 1867, "was called upon to suffer the greatest
sorrows of his life" as his biography says. His wife and two of his three
children died during those years, and his third child was institutionalized
and was only 36 when she died in 1874.
But there is no mystery.....no murder.....and never nine children.
The Pascack Reformed Church website
Federal Census records
The DEMAREST Family, Demarest Family Association, Hackensack, NJ,
1964, (Vol 1, Vol 2, Supplement). [LC 64-22295] [929.2 DEM]
"History of the Classis of Paramus" available online at
"Historical Directory of the Reformed Church in America"
by Russell Gasero http://www.books.google.com