First Things in Old Somerset,
A COLLECTION OF ARTICLES
RELATING TO SOMERSET COUNTY, N. J.,
BY THE LATE
REV. A. MESSLER, D. D.,
REVISED TO DATE OF PUBLICATION,
Sketches of VVashinyton Rock, Chimney Rock
AND A LIST OF THE
FREEHOLDERS IN SOMERSET COUNTY IN 1790.
SOMERVILLE, N J.:
The Somerville Publishing Company Steam Powbr Printing House.
The following sketches of " The First Things in Somerset," were prepared by
the late Abraham Messier, D. D. They represent many years of research and labor,
and were published in one of the county papers sometime in the seventies. After
their publication corrections were made by the Doctor up to the time of his death.
The historical value of these sketches is considered too great to loose, and they are
now published for the first time in book form, so that they can be preserved for
elseif (getClientWidth() > 430)
The publisher here wishes to return thanks to A. P. Sutphen, Esq., who has
rendered valuable assistance in making corrections, so as to bring the location of
farms and other property up to present ownership.
Thanks are also due to Hon. George C. Beekman, of Freehold, for the list of
property owners in Somerset county in 1790.
Somerville, N J., March i, 1899.
D. N. MESSLER,
ABRAHAM MESSLER. D. D.
No. I— tHE RiVER.
ANY notice of old Somerset would be partial, which did not embrace some ac-
count of its beautiful, smooth- flowing river. Tradition says the Indians pro-
nounced the word Raritan as if it began with an L*, instead of R, as now writ"
ten, and also giving the broad sound to a, making it Laletan ; and we are inclined to
believe that this is correct. There are many known instances where greater mis-
takes were made in attempting to write the aboriginal names from hearing them
spoken. The meaning of the word is variously interpreted. One signification is
said to be "smooth-running," or "gentle." Another says it means "two long
branches." Our knowledge of the Delaware language does not enable us to decide
what is the true signification of the word Laletan. But certainly the word itself is
suflBciently "smooth flowing," if that should be regarded as anj'thing in favor of
what seems to be most commonly thought to be the true signification.
The Raritan is composed of two principal branches, rising very near each other,
in Morris county, on opposite sides of the last continuous ridge of the primitive or
Appalachian range, which crosses New Jersey in a northeastern direction. The South
Branch finding its source on the northern slope of this ridge, called in some of its
parts Fox Hill, takes a wide sweep to the southwest until it has passed the village of
Clinton, where it is broken up — and then turning east approaches Neshanic, and
bends in back upon its own course, meets the ^North Branch near Branchville.
The Indians named the place of meeting " Tuckaramahacking," which stems
almost to interpret itself, and to mean "the two branches meeting." The North
Branch rising on the eastern side of the ridge spgken of, breaks through the hills in
the neighborhood of Mendham, and finds its way in almost a direct course to its
companion, with which it mingles its purer waters. At their junction the Raritan
properly commences, and becomes indeed, a very beautiful river. Its green
meadows spread out on either side of its winding course, and a broad plain expands
to the south and the east, affording the richest pasture and the most productive arable
lands ; while the wide extended space on the southeast, reaching to the ocean and
embracing the valley of the Millstone, gives to the County of Somerset its most dis-
tinguished features, and furnishes the larger part of its wealth to the agriculturist.
If we were writing a notice ol the natural features of the county, we should dwell
upon the Trap Ranges north of Somerville and south of Neshanic, as presenting
many remarkable geological features, which require an amount of study never yet
given to them, in order to understand properly their origin, their direct influence in
determining the natural features of the county, and the untold wealth which lies
hidden in their solid strata and along their sides.
There is known to be limestone underlying the red shale and the sandstone, at
least in the vicinity of Somerville, and as the strata composing the valley of the Rar-
itan have been so little elevated by the eruption and the protrusion of the trap
ranges, it is more than probable that at some point the elevation may have brought
the limestone so near the surface as to make it available for commercial purposes.
The sandstone in the valley north of Somerville is but partly developed and appre-
dated ; and the day is not distant when it will abundantly repay the labor of raising it
and bringing it to market. The copper found in connection with the protruding trap
is the effect of effusion and indicates an abundant supply somewhere below. Besides
masses of it have been found which have been brought by the trap and even par-
tially fused, weighing many pounds— one more than seventy — all indicating the
abundance existing somewhere.
These facts are suflBcient to justify the opinion expressed as to the hidden trea-
sures of the trap ranges of Somerset county. When they are destined to be disin-
terred and appropriated we are not prepared to say. Our object is merely to justify
the aflSrmation that they exist.
The earliest reliable recorded notice which we have seen of the Raritan river, is
found among the Albany records, and is dated 1663, when the trade in furs with the
Indians had begun to excite the cupidity of the English, and led to remonstrances
on the part of the Dutch of Manhattan Island. There is indeed, said to be in the
same records, a letter from Herr Van Werkhover to Baron Vander Capellan, stating
that the lands about Neversink and the Raritans Kill, had been purchased for him
in 164.9, ^o'i complaining that they had not been allotted to him. This only shows
that the value of these lands was already known as early as thirty years after the
first settlements were formed around the "Trading Post" on Manhattan Island.
Ogilby says in 1671, "that both sides of the Raritan are adorned ith spacious
meadows, enough to feed thousands of cattle. The wood land is very good for corn
and stored with wild beasts ; as deer, elks, and an innumerable multitude of fowL
as in other parts of the country. This liver is thought very capable for erecting of
several towns and villages on each side of it, no place in North America having
better convenience for the maintaining of all sorts of cattle for winter and summer
As a matterofcuriosity and not from any idea ofits value or importance in any his-
torical sense, but only as an illustration of the way in which the Indians "romanced "
and practiced on the credulity of white men, we shall quote a notice of our river from
a description of New Albion (as New Jersey was then called) by Beauchamp Plantage-
net, Esq., dated 1648, a year earlier than Van Werkhover's claim. He says "the
Indians of New Jersej' were under the dominion of about twenty kings ; that there
were r,2oo under two Raritan kings ; that the seat of the Raritan king is said to have
been called by the English Mount Ployden, twenty miles from Sandhay Sea, and
ninety from the ocean, west to Amara Hill, the retired Paradise of the children of
the Ethiopian emperor — a wonder, for it is a square rock, two miles compass, one
hundred and fifty feet high, a wall-like precipice, a strait entrance, easily made
invincible, where he keeps two hundred for his guards, and under is a flat valley, all
plain to plant and sow."
If we were inclined to favor such romance we should claim that no place so
well answers the above description as the bluff in the gorge of Chimney Rock, north
of the little bridge on the north and east sides of which the two rivulets flow and
meet a few yards eastward in the main gorge. But we are not disposed to practice
on the credulity of our readers, as the Indians evidently did, on Beauchamp Plant-
The savages who lived permanently on the Raritan (and there were only a few
of the Raritan tribe who did so) had very fertile corn lands on the meadows, which
they appreciated and planted — proving that they were not generally wooded, but on
the contrary, were of the nature of a prairie or savannah. This feature afterwards
formed one of the main attractions to settlers, and induced the first who came there
to locate on the first upland contiguous to these natural meadows, where they found
at once abundant pasturage for cattle, and a soil ready for the plow. Hence, in
point of fact, all the first buildings from Bound Brook to the junction of the two
branches, stood on the edge of this upland, and there our principal farm houses are
still found standing.
Exceptons are, however, mentioned, in three instances, of huts standing on the
meadows, inhabited by Scotch people. Two north of the late residence of R.
Veghte (now owned by J. B. Duke) and one near the former dwelling of H. H. Gar-
retson (now occupied by G H. Miller), but we cannot imagine how they could have
been inhabited for more than one summer. Our beautiful river has a habit of inun-
dating all its meadows in the winter, which would make living on them extremely
inconvenient, if not utterly impossible. The Indians, themselves, left their corn
lands on them after a time in disgust, " because the spring freshets spoiled the ripe
grain stowed in pits." They lacked sense enough, it seems, to carry it out of the
way of the waters and went off in disgust.
We may imagine then, how the lonely river flowed on for centuries between its
willow-fringed banks, from summer to winter, while the rich grass on its meadows
wasted because there were np animals, except a few deer, who fed upon it ; and how
the wild fruits afforded feasts for the squirrel and the forest bird, or perished
untouched, because there was no living creature present to enjoy the bountiful pro-
fusion. It might almost, without romance, be called a " retired paradise," but with-
out its " Ethiopian Emperor " to rule over it. That it remained untrodden so long,
is certainly marvellous, unless the few white men in the country, and the distance
from New York made it too great an effort to reach such an inviting place. From
1624, when the Dutch began to colonize in America, until 1681, May 4, when the
first land title is dated, a period of fiftv-seven years, no one seems to have known or
been attracted by the beauty and fertility of our wide spreading valley, or ventured
to endeavor to reclaim it from its wild, untrodden wilderness state. Its primitive
inhabitants even had deserted it almost entirely and gone towards the sea shore,
attracted by the oysters and fish, and only bird and beast claimed it as their home.
But the time came for a different state of things to begin to exist. Some merchants
in New York heard of its attractions, and took measures to secure titles to its lands.
Some of these " first things " leading to occupation and settlement will be related
in subsequent chapters.
No. II-THE FIRST LAND TITLE.
FROM the time that the Holhinders first established themselves on Manhattan
Island, until 1681, the valley of the Raritan remained almost entirely in the
undisturbed possession of its aboriginal owners. An occasional boat, contain-
ing men who were bent on trading with the savages, had a few times entered the
lower part of the river ; and once, a warlike expedition had ascended as far as what
was once known as Martin's Dock, two miles below the city of New Brunswick,
and reached Piscataway, the seat or residence of the Raritan King, burning his
town and slaying at least several of his subjects.
But nothing had been done to bring its fertile lands into cultivation. Even the
Indians had deserted their corn lands in this vicinity, "because of the spring
freshets." In the year we have mentioned, however, the attention of speculators
was drawn to them. On the 4th day of May, 1681, the first land title in Somerset
county was secured. It was made by two Raritan Indians — Konackama and Quero-
mak. The consideration was one hundred pounds paid them in goods, the receipt of
which from Philip Carteret, Governor of New Jersey, was acknowledged on the deed
itself. The individuals to whom it was granted, were Philip Carteret, John Palmer of
Staten Island, Gent., Gabriel Minville, Thomas Codrington, John White, John Dela
valle, Richard Hall and John Royce, of the city of New York. The land embraced in
it extended from the mouth of the rivulet, now called Bound Brook, and by the natives
Sacunk ; thence along the Raritan river on the north side to a brook called Raw-
eighweros — Middlebrook — and from thence northward to a certain Stony Hill ;
thence easterly to Metapes Wigwam, at the mouth of Cedar Brook, where it
unites with Green Brook, and thence southerly along Bound Brook to the place of
beginning. This purchase included all the land now covered by the village of
Bound Brook up to the mountain, and west to Middlebrook, and was named by the
Indians Rakahova-walaby. It was divided into five portions ; John Royce had 877
acres; Thomas Codrington 877 acres next to him ; the Proprietors 1 170 acres next to
Bound Brook ; Thomas Codrington 1,000 on the rear, next to Chimney Rock and the
mountain. The remainder, north of the plot, belonging to the Proprietors, was not
surveyed immediately and entered, and we cannot therefore, designate the owners.
The deed is recorded at Amboy, in L. I. page 146, and may still be seen by the
antiquary. We have been thus specific, because it marks the time when civilization
and the enterprise of improvement entered the precincts of old Somerset. We may
wonder why so long a time as that which elapsed between 1609 and i68r, should
have intervened, but we must remember that all great things are small in their be-
ginnings, and often long delayed in their progress.
The first deed introduces us to some names which have an historical interest.
Codrington settled on the west side of the plot — of which he was part owner— on the
banks of Middlebrook, and became a man of extensive influence in the county. His
name is still borne by some of the inhabitants of Somerset. The location of his hab-
itation, called Racawackahana, may be indicated by saying, it was recently owned by
Dan Talmage, Esq. ; it passed soon after the Revolution into the hands of John
Campbell, a sou of the Duke of Argyle, also a nephew of Lord Neil Campbell, at one
time Deputy or Lieutenant Governor of East Jersey, and subsequently into others,
and finally into its present owners. It is one of the three first homesteads formed in
Royce, another of the owners under the first deed, lived first at Piscataway and
then in what has since been known as Roycefield near the late residence of John
Staats. He was a merchafat in New York, but came to Somerset county — probably,
soon after the date of this Indian purchase. He owned or claimed to own, a tract of
20,000 acres on the south side of the Raritan, about which some dispute existed.
Andrew Hamilton, the Governor, writes of him in 1700, that " he had an old patent
which contains 20,000 acres, but because the stations were uncertain and the bound-
aries would not meet, he addressed the proprietors at tlome for a new patent, which
he had, and contains about 6,000 for which he was to pay ^5 a year for the whole,
instead of one half pound per acre, and the proprietors, forgetting to make him sur-
render his old patent, he now claims 20,000 by it; and so takes away upon Millstone
river from Mr. Hart, and on the Raritan, from Mr. Plumstead and Mr. Barker, con-
siderable tracts of land ; so that he uses both patents — the old one if he can, and the
new one if the old fail him ; it was a great oversight. He is the very leader of the
troublesome sort of the people, and it is he that infuses the motive in them of hold-
iog to their Indian titles." This is not favorable altogether to Mr. Royce. He,
however, managed to maintain his position and influence, and was chosen the same
year one of the Representatives of New Jersey in the Colonial Legislature ; in his
office as such, he questioned the authority of Governor Hamilton to call a Legislative
Assembly — insisting that it was not safe to act without the King's approbation. It
appears that he had been one of the Council of Hamilton, appointed on his arrival
and entrance upon office in 1692. His associates were Captain Isaac Kiugsland,
Captain Andrew Browne, John Innians, David Muddie, James Dundas, Samuel Den-
nis, John Bishop and Lewis Morris. One of his descendants (it must have been) oc-
cupied the same position in Governor Franklin's council when the Revolution com-
menced, and encouraged the capture and supercedure of the Governor when it be-
came necessary to displace him When the family sold their possessions and when
they retired, is not known to the present writer. The name is still met with in New York
City, and is also in existence in Northern New York and in Vermont. John Royce
was a man of activity and energy in his day, and has left his trace upon our history
in an unmistakable way. As one of the early pioneers, he is not to be forgotten,
and ought not be suffered to pass without commanding his appropriate meed of
praise. He was at all times a man of the people, and could be depended upon when
resistance to authority was necessary to the defence of their rights. We esteem him
as a true patriot.
The other names included among the signers of the deed, with the exception of
Governor Carteret, do not occur again in any documents or history of which we have
any knowledge. They were citizens of New York, and, probably, never had any
other connection with the affairs of our county, except that for a time they had a
title to a portion of land in it. Nor did Governor Carteret in any special way con-
nect himself with Somerset. His residence was at Elizabeth, and his only associa-
laid ioi^^^ "^' '^' ^^ his being a native of the Island of Jersey ; which being under the
no smaW^"' °^ England, brought him here as a place man.
No. Ill— THE SECOND LAND TITLE.
THE second land title in Somerset county is dated Decett-ber 12, 1681, in the
same year in which the foregoing was given. It is signed by four Indians,
viz. : Machote, alias Keneckome, Awips, Negacape and Pamascome. The
grantees are James Graham, Cornelius Corsen and Samuel Winder. The consider-
ation is ^120 ; and the boundaries are from Raweighweros (Middlebrook), on both
sides of the Raritan to a place called Rackahackawae, (apparently according to an
ancient map), the line between Caleb Miller and the late John M. Mann, and run-
ning on this line north until it reaches Middlebrook, and down said brook to the
place of beginning. It included three plots based on the river, and at least five
north of them along the mountain.
The first of those west of Middlebrook was assigned to John Palmer and con-
tained 877 acres. The second belonged to John White, and contained also 877
acres. The third remained unappropriated ; and on the north R. L. Hooper, Alex-
ander McDowell, James Hooper, and the "heirs of Hooper," had large possessions.
The exact amount included in this purchase is not stated, but it contained many
broad acres, and would now be a princely inheritance. Somerville stands on it ; and
besides this, more than thirty farms, whose fertility is unsurpassed by any portion of
the county of Somerset, were included in its wide extent.
None of the original purchasers of this plot seem to have permanent connection
with New Jersey, except Winder and Graham. Winder resided originally on Staten
Island, but about this date, or soon after, he married a daughter of Governor Rud-
yard and resided at Cheesequake, in Monmouth county. At the close of his life he
lived at Perth Amboy. He was a man of influence in the province, and composed 1
one of the council, chosen by Lord Neil Campbell, when he assumed the govern-
ment of East Jersey in 1686. Thomas Codriugton, of whom we have heretofore '
spoken, was another one of the members of the same council ; the others were
Gawen Lawrie, and Major John Berry, of Bergen, Isaac Kingsland, of New Barba-
does, Captain Andrew Hamilton, of Perth Amboy, Richard Townley, of Elizabeth-
town, and David Mudie and John Johnstone also of Perth Amboy.
On this plot of laud the earliest permanent settlements along this part of the
Raritan, were formed. According to the declaration of John Worth, of Elizabeth-
town, Codriugton, Royce, White, Peter Van Neste, Jerome Van Neste, the Tunisons
and Graham came and located here sixty years previous to 1741, or in i68r, the very
year this land was bought. The residences of Royce and Codriugton we have already
designated. The Van Neste house was, it is said, on the very spot now occupied by
DuMont P'relinghuysen's residence, and the TunisonsJocated where John C. Garret-
son now resides (now occupied by Mr. Case). But the residence of Graham we have
not ascertained. He was a prominent man in the Province — more than once a ^
ber of the executive council, and he resided in the county somewhere on thf"*^
He was a man of influence in those days, and yet he may not have remaitT "^ ^
length of time on the Raritan. At all events, his names does not occur againl°^ ^^^°
historical documents with which we have formed acquaintance, refering to l'
gress of events in the county. Jerome Van Neste and Peter Van Neste settled per-
manently on the Raritan, and their descendants are yet among our most respectable
But the original farm on which they first located has now for many years been
in other possessors' hands. The Tunisons, Cornelius and John, came here from Fort
Orange, now Albany, and were originally from the vicinity of Utrech, in Holland. ,
The name is found early in colonial annals and was prominent in more than one
way, and it has become widely extended in our State. They were respectable from
the beginning. When the First Church of Raritan was organized on the ninth day
of March, 1699, John Tunisoawas elected the first Elder, and Peter Van Neste the
first Deacon. On the Saturday previous Jerome Van Neste had a daughter named
Judith baptized, and Peter Van Neste also a daughter Jaquemnia. The place where
these services were held must have been at the house of either Tunison or Van Neste,
probably the latter ; and if so it would determine that the organization of the First
Church was effected where DuMont Frelinghuysen, Esq., now resides. From all the
circumstances, we think this is almost certain.
If we should attempt to realize the state of things existing at that time it might
not vary very much from the following imaginary picture: Four small dwellings, com-
posed of logs, standing not far from the smooth flowing river, in contracted spaces
of cleared land, with a dense forest all around them, unbroken and almost impene-
trable, are the only human habitations in all the wide space now so thickly in-
habited. Along the riverside, in the lowlands, there were some open spaces on
which the Indians had practiced their rude efforts to raise a little corn and a few
beans and pumpkins. Here hay could be mowed, or the cattle might find pasture.
There plenty of game abounded ; but all of what we may now regard as the neces-
saries of life beside these were hard to be obtaiued. Perth Amboy or Elizabeth-
town, or perhaps luians Ferry, now New Brunswick, might supply some of them, but
certainly not many. The roads had been cut out of the dense forest, aad were diffi-
)cult of passage with any wheel carriages, provided they had such things, which is
I not very probable. They may have been lonely sometimes, but they had the com-
g fort of having ample space for the energies ; and they had no bad neighbors to annoy
I them. But they began a great work by laying the foundations of agriculture, com-
/merce, religion and education for future generations. They must have been earnest
I men, full of self-reliance, and yet not anticipating much of what has since been
I realized. The Van Neste's came here from Long Island, and had been in the country
I from an early day. A Peter Van Neste came to New Amsterdam as early as 1647.
He was the common ancestor of all those who at prt. sent bear the name. The
family had some prominence in Holland in the time of William the Silent. One
i Van Neste was employed by him in Spain to give him notice of Phillip's plans