Joseph W. cn Dally.

Woodbridge and vicinity : the story of a New Jersey township ; embracing the history of Woodbridge, Piscataway, Metuchen and contiguous places, from the earliest times ; the history of the different ecclesiastical bodies ; important official documents relating to the township, etc. online

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Online LibraryJoseph W. cn DallyWoodbridge and vicinity : the story of a New Jersey township ; embracing the history of Woodbridge, Piscataway, Metuchen and contiguous places, from the earliest times ; the history of the different ecclesiastical bodies ; important official documents relating to the township, etc. → online text (page 16 of 34)
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that the village school held its sessions in the Meeting-house;
and that, as little boys, our fathers sported on the Meeting-
House Green. Wild boys they were, too, if we may credit
contemporaneous records.

In 1707 the town voted to lay out the School Land and
Strawberry Hill in common fields for raising corn.

On the 28th of January, 17 14, it was unanimously voted that
John Kinsey, James Clarkson, Henry Rolph, and Samuel
Ayers should be appointed to the " special care of the School
Land in that manner as shall to them seem most advantageous


for the end it Avas laid out for; and also to agree with those
that have now got timber cut upon it."

The next teacher after John Browne's departure, the next
of whom we have any account, was George Eubanks, a man
of some ability. He began teaching in Woodbridge some
time during 171 1, probably ; for in that year we find a grant
of ten acres to him on Red Brook (or Reed Brook) for his
"encouragemenc " as school teacher. The land was eiven, as
the deed stipulates, on condition "that the sd. George
Ewbancke do remain, abide and teach School In woodbridg-e
aforesd. In ye Publick School house now built for yt purpose,
during his natural life, or as long as he shall be capable.
Provided always yt the Inhabitants of ye sd. Town, satisfying
and paying unto the said Geo. Ewbancke for his Teaching of
their Children, yearly & every year. So Long as he shall be
capable of Teaching of School, anything aforesd. to the con-
trary notwithstanding, that then [the] present relase [release]
Shall Stand In full force."

How long Mr. Eubanks taught the "young idea how to
shoot" on Strawberry Hill, for here, doubtless, was the scene
of his toils, is not known. As the ten acres were made over
to him, it is most probable that he filled the conditions of the
grant, and remained in the tov/n, spending a laborious, useful
and honored life among the youth of that time. He was a
member of the Episcopal Church ; and it was he,"perhaps, who
penned the invitation to Mr, Vaughan by which the latter
v.^as induced to come to Woodbridge to establish Episcopal
services, for his name comes last on the paper.

The following survey* shows that Rahway school interests
were not neglected :

" March )'e 2Sth, 17 16. Then Lay'd outt by us under written
(Pursuant to a town Grant to the Inhabitants of Rahawack)
two acres of School Land Begining att a white oak tree
Markt on four sides, standing by the Rode wch Run's by ye
widow Jones house; thence Runing South west & be west
twenty eight Rod to another white oak markt on four Sides;

' Freeholders' Book, folio 25.


thenc south south east twenty Rod to a small white oak markt
on four sides: thence North East & by East sixteen Rod to a
Wallnutt tree markt on four sides: and from thence on a
straight Line to ye Place where Jtt began :

Thos Pike, Lott layer.
John Jaqves )
George Brown [ Comitte.
Will: Ileslee )

Just one year previous to this survey it was proposed at a
public meeting to divide Strawberry Hill into equal parts for
the benefit of the Freeholders, notwithstanding a town order
of long standing making it a perpetual common. The land
was becoming valuable, and some of the more avaricious
desired to add portions of it to their already large possessions.
A vote was taken, March Sth, 17 15, by which this measure was

After the meeting adjourned, if not before, considerable
opposition was manifested; and in the succeeding meeting
July i2th, the subject was re-considered, and Strawberry Hill^
with some other commons, was excepted from the contem-
plated division of land. At this time it was also determined
to re-survey the School Land.

The Freeholders resolved to sell the one hundred acres
appropriated for schools, but found that an order from the
General Assembly would be essential to make the sale valid.
Accordingly, on the 3d of January, 17 17, this minute appears
on the record :

" Itt also pased by a free voatt yt where as ye freeholders &
Inhabitants of this town Conceive itt will be More Conven-
ient & advantagious to sell ye School land : & being nott able
to give a title wth outt ye assisstance of ye Generall Assem-
bly : they do hereby appoint Jno. Kinsey and Moses Rolph to
petition ye sd assembly to pass [an act] to enable us to do )'C

This action, hovv'ever, was never carried out. The land was
not sold. The town Avas wise in retaining it and is reaping
the fruits of that wisdom to-day.

* FreeholderB' Look, fol. 28.


Afraid, perhaps, that another effort would be made to divide
Strawberry Hill into house lots, the Freeholders, on the 9th
of January, 1724, decreed that "a piece on the End of Stra-
berrey Hill Next the town Between tlie Road that Leads to
Amboy and the Dwelling house of Ephrim Andrews Deceassed
Shall Ly perpetually Comon.''-" It was to be used only for a
school-house, market place, or a similar public service.

The management of the school land was given, from year to
year, into the hands of committees appointed by the annual
Town Meeting. The following table shows how the fund>
arising from the rent of this property, increased in value from
the year 1764. The principal was ^361. los. gd. at that date,
and the interest accruing amounted to ^72. 17^-., making a
total of ^434. 7.y. 9//.:




i .




1 77'^^


























Then came the dreadful days of war when this amount was
reduced to a low figure for carrying forward the military
operations. It is supposed that the money was absorbed for
such purposes, but no account of the expenditure is to be
found. The following entry in Liber B (folio 25), explains
itself: "March nth, 1783, at a general town meeting the
trustees for the free School Land of the Township of Wood-
bridg do Report that there acounts on tlie furst of march was
as follows, viz. Due on Bonds Bills and Notes together with
money due on the Land, ^477. Z^- 5^- Cash in hand, ;£;^. ys.;
total amount, ^480. io.r. ^d."

Whitehead, in commenting on this exhibit, seems to regard
the ^480, etc., as the total fund. But is not that view a
mistaken one.'' The interest on the bonds, notes, etc., is all
that the ^480 represents ; the paper representing the princi-
pal. That is the way we look at it, but others must judge for

On the nth of March, 1766, the question of applying the

* Freeholders' Bjok, foiio 32.


interest of the School Fund for the "schooling of poor peo-
ple's children " was raised in the Town Meeting, but it was
voted down. In 1789, the inhabitants, as Whitehead sayS)
•'appear to have learned something from experience; " for they
not only used the interest of this fund, but also the tax on dogs,
for educating these children.

In 1793 svibscriptions were obtained for money to build the
far-famed Woodbridge Academy. It was built by Jonathan
Freeman at a total cost of ^342. 2^. ^d. The site is now
occupied by the down-town District School house which was
erected in the Fall ol 1851. The old Academy was not
destroyed, but was sold and removed to a lot immediately
adjoining Mr. George Lasslett's residence, where it stands to
this day. It no longer resounds with the yells of refractory
pupils and the hum of the multiplication table, but it has
become an unassuming dwelling.



Slavery — Market-Place — Encroachments— Roads Made
Narrow — The Sonmans-Stelle Difficulty — John
Kixsey's Shrewdness — Lists of Town and Freehold-
ers' Clerks — The Seventh Division of Land — Last of
the Sonmans-Stelle Law-suit.

We again turn our attention to tl:e general history of the

It is uncertain \vhether shaves were brought from Europe
with the first settlers of the Province, but the traffic in human
souls began at a very early period. In i6So there were 120
negroes in bondage in the Province, which in 1737 had
increased to 3,071 ;- in 1790 the State (the two provinces being-
united, of course) had within its limits 11,423 slaves; in 1800
it had 12,422; after which the number rapidly declined, until
in 1850 there were only 236 in Nevv^ Jersey. In 1810 Wood-
bridge contained 230 slaves. During the century, between
1700 and 1800, the traffic was largely carried on in this State,
and Wood bridge was greatly interested in it. Records of the
sale of Africans are frequently found in MSS. relating to the
town. The following, bearing date June 3d, 17 17, is written
in Liber B, folio 100:

"Know all men by these presents, yt J, Shoball Smiili, of
Woodbridge, Jn ye County of Middx Jn ye provence New
East Jersey, for and Jn Consideration of ye sum of fifty pound
Currant Silver money, of ye sd provence, to me Jn hand paid
by Samuel Smith of ye Same place, yeoman of ye town and
provence aforesd — do bargain, sell, allineat and Deliver one
Neero woman Named Phebe to sd Samll Smith, for him, his
heirs and assigns," etc.

' Gordon's N. J., p. 29. (Gazetteer.)


In the Freeholders' meeting of January 9th, 1724, Justice
Hude presiding, it was voted that certain pieces of land should'
lie perpetually common, among which were these : A plot at
Metuchen, adjoining the south-west corner of Israel Thornell's
land; one lying before Moses Rolph's door (John Allen's
house-lot forming the rear boundary); and one, as the Clerk
describes it, "on the End of Straberrey Hill, Next the town,
Between tlie Road that Leads to Amboy and the Dwelling
house of Ephrim Andrewes, Deceassed." These commons
were to be devoted to "publique uses" only, such as "the
building School houses, Market places, &c."

Public market-places were, in those times, regardeti as
essential to the well-being of any town ; and provision was
made, therefore, for the erection of a market here. Perth
Amboy was favored with such a building,* which was
destroyed, in 1842, by the owner, into whose possession it
came in that year. Whetiier one was built in Woodbridge is
unknown ; but it is improbable, inasmuch as no mention is
made of it. Nor can avc find any survey locating a plot for
that purpose. However, sucli a survey may have been made
and tlie record of it may be lost. A tradition, regarded
as reliable, assigns as the Woodbridge market-place the
ground upon which the village hotel (the Pike House) now
stands. Mrs. David Paton has told me that three acres in that
locality were set apart for the purpose indicated — her grand-
mother, who remembered the matter distinctly, having so
informed her. Little by little individuals owning land adja-
cent to it absorbed the greater part of it, and thus it became
private property.

Mrs. Paton's grandmother, Mrs. Campyon, resided in the
building now occupied as a drug-store by Dr. Samuel E,
Freeman. She is authority for a story of an amusing contest
between two neighbors living near the market-place. One of
these, whose land bordered the public property aforesaid,
found it necessary to build a new fence, and, surmising that
what belonged to everybody belonged to nobody in particular,
built it several feet beyond his own line. This roused the ire

* Whitehead's Ccntritutious, p. 255.


of a lady near by, who instituted measures for circumventing
the avaricious man. In the morning after the construction of
his fence he was astonished to find it lying flat on the ground,
having been demolished during the night. The posts were
re-set and the reconstruction completed, when the same mis-
fortune befell the structure. It was found prostrated through
some unknown agency. Filled with wrath, the man openly
attributed the mischief to the lady living near, who offered no
denial, but coolly informed him that he might put up the fence
as often as he pleased and he would find it taken down just as
often. "A pint of rum will do it!" she exclaimed tri-
umphantly. Finding hiniself discomfited and unable to satisfy
his avarice at the public expense, the encroacher abandoned
the disputed territory, baffled by the spirit and prompt action
of a courageous woman.

The dishonest practice of absorbing public land by fencing
it and attaching it to private property was very common.
The town authorities were constantly passing resolutions
denouncing it ; in spite of which, however, whole acres were
appropriated by unscrupulous persons. The public School
Land came near being entirely lost to the township at one
time by false claimants. It is only necessary to look at the
public highways to see the frauds which private owners have
perpetrated. Very few roads in the township are as wide as
they should be. Those which the surveyors determined
should be six rods in width have been, in many instances,
reduced to four; and the tour- rod roads have become, in some
cas-es, narrow lanes, through the cupidity of certain land-
holders. As an illustration, take the six-rod road laid out
September 15th, 1704, "all along by the River."* Who can
find a highway of that width "along by the river".' The
thoroughfare known as the King's Highiuay, which ran through
Woodbridge, was, when first laid out, a great deal wider
in many places than it now is. The same is true of nearly
everv other road in the township. A man would build a
fence, putting it out far enough in the road to make the extra
land pay for the improvement. His next-door neighbor did

To\vu Records, A., p. 87.


likewise — for it would look odd if his fence stood back several
feet from the line of the other. Thus the narrowing of the
highways became general. So it came to pass that some that
were intended to be spacious were contracted and barely
passable for two vehicles side by side.

The Freeholders of Woodbridge held a meeting on the 24th
of March, 1727, to consider the claims of Peter Sonmans, of
Perth Amboy, a matter destined to give the people of this
town considerable trouble. We h.ave already alluded to it.
(See page 153.) ^ Gabriel Stelle was another claimant. These
claims related to land on the boundary line between Amboy
and Woodbridge. The Woodbridge men held that the land
was on this side of the line and had nsver bsen granted
or otherwise bestowed upon the claimants. Both Sonmans
and Stelle were prominent men in Amboy, the latter having
founded a ferry, in 1728, between South Amboy and Staten
Island, stopping at Perth Amboy en route.*

In the March meeting just referred to, John Kinsey, Jr., a
shrewd man, well versed in the intricacies of law, was made a
sort of counselor to a committee of investigation, appointed to
look into the Sonmans-Stelle claims. The committee consisted
of Adam Hude, John Kinsey, Benjamin Force, Daniel Britton,
Wm. Bunn, James Thomson, Shobei Smith, Moses Rolph.

On the 15th of December following, another meeting
occurred, Benjamin Force, Moderator. The minutes read
thus :

" Mr. John Kinsey Came Jnto ye meeting and Satisfied the
Freeholders Jn those matters and things the above Comitte
was ordered to confer wth him about — and then it was voated
that sd. INIr. Kinsey should be added to sd. Comittef and 3't
they should take ye first oppertunity to Discourse wth Mr.
Sonmans Jn Relation to Som Lands he claimes on amboy
Line, and also to Endevoure if it be practible to Se if the
freeholders Can purchase Such a Right of Quit Rents as may
Enable them to Discount wth the propriotors tor the Quit
Rent due on our Generall patten."

* Whitehead, p. 272. t The Jolin Kiueey already on the Committee was probably his


The committee were authorized to give public notice when
they were ready to report.* The next meeting recorded was
not held until January 9th, 1730, when Capt. Matthew Moore,
John Veali [Vail] and Moses Rolph were chosen a committee
to report what was best to be done at the present juncture of
the Sonmans-Stelie affair. The Freeholders then adjourned
to the 26th. At ten o'clock on the morning designated thev
met again and the committee last appointed reported as
follows : .

"The Said Comjtte first do think it proper and absolutely
nessary that money be forth [with] Raised to Defray the
Charges of Runing and assertaining the bounds between us
and at our neighbouring towns, Especially the bounds between
us and amboy wch we think ought forth v/th to be don as
Soue as possible; and if any have wthjn the Limation [i. e
limitation] of ye Law before or Shall hereafter offer to
Trespass wth Jn our bounds, that they be forth wth pros-
ecuted. — 2ndly, we think it Just there should be no more
Land Layd out to any person whatsoever wth Jn our bounds
but to those who have not had there ten pound Rights Layd
out to them. Exclusive of what is Called the five pound Right,
Except it be Layd on Land yt is not Liable to be any ways
controverted between us and our Pseighbours, ril our bounds
are assertained. — 3dly We tliink it proper to Qviet the minds
of all and to prevent jelousies Jn Som Jn Relation to yc
Raiseing money for the Ends and purposes afore sd. that there
be a Comitte apointed by the Freeholders and Jmpowered
by them to take a Count of our atturneys (to whom they sd
atturneys shal be acountable) for what money comes Jn to
there hands."

This report was received with much favor, and the money
was at once called for. The attorneys alluded to were John
Kinsey, Henry Freeman, and Moses Rolph, who were ap-
pointed in the meeting of March 25th, 1720. It was now
required that each Freeholder should pay, nolens volens, ten
shillimrs for contestins: the claims of the Ambov men. The

* If the Committee did rejjort at any public mectirg it is evident that it amounted lo
uot! iafir. SouniaLS was in:movable.


committee, whose propositions had proved so acceptable,
were continued as an advisory cabinet to whom the attorneys
miffht resort for consultation. By the way, John Veall, one of
them, will be more readily recognized as Jo/in Vail. As
we have before intimated, our fathers had a frightful way of
writing their names. John's name is spelt Vcall in several
places and Vaiic in another, in such a way that his identity is
preserved, so that we know the same man is meant in every
instance. The Veall being thus disposed of, revenoiis a nos
moutons :

The meeting, which we presume was a lengthy one, ad-
journed in time, perhaps, for a late dinner. kf' On the 5th of
February it re-assembled at ten o'clock in the morning, as
before. John Kinsey, the elder, was chosen Moderator, as the
Chairmen of these early town gatherings were called. He
presented a paper written by the younger John Kinsey,
"shewing his opinjon what was best to be don by the Free-
holders to put them Jn away to opose and Defend themselves
ao-ainst those who had or should Trespase wth Jn there

This document, which was a shrewd plan for proceeding in
the disputed case, was unanimously approved. We give it in
full :

"Jn order to determine the Controversey Relating to ye
Lands claimed by Gabriell Stelle ard others and Jn the mean-
time to preserve ye timber Growing there on J propose —
That the Freeholders of Woodbridge (or at Least so many of
them as may be procured) make a Realase [release] of the
Land Jn Controversey to some person Jn trust and Grant also
the timber growing thereon, the Lease to Continue for seven
years, and a proviso therejn to be Conteined that if the said
Freeholders or the Greater nuni^ber of them or any other
person by there order or the order of the Greater number of
them shal at any time there after tender one Shiling To the
Lessee, his heirs, Exr. admrs. or assigns, that then the Sd.
Lease to be void, by this Lease ye person trusted may have it
Jn his power to punish Tresepasers and become plaintive or
defendent Jn order to trie the title : and Jn case of danger of


betraying his trust the Freeholders always have it Jn there
power to put a period to his Claime by virtue of the Lease on
the Tender of one Shiling. Jf the Freeholders think lit to do
this, the Lessee may Enter upon the premises Jn the presents
of-witneses, upon whom Gabriell Stelle may ReEnter and
turn him out, for wch an action may be brought that will
trie the title. II^^And note, where any of those have Free-
hold rights [who] are under age, there guardians must Leas
for them ; not a guardian apointed by the Governour, for such
have no power Jn the Case; but either the person to whom
the Father by deed or Last wil Jn his Life time had Comitted
the Custody of Jnfant to ; or where there is no such appoint-
ment, by such person whome the Law C/omitts the Guardian
ship of the child to ; that is to say, to the next of kin to whome
the Jnheritance can't desend. John Kinsey, Junr."

From this it will be seen that John knew what he was
doing. A Philadelphia lawyer could not have proposed a
better plan. As mig\it have been expected, John himself was
nominated and elected the " Lessee " mentioned in the paper
— " nemone contradicenfe," as the Clerk pompously put it.

As the year 1731 has been reached in our narrative, we
pause in the history of the litigation to note the advent ot a
new Town Clerk, Edward Crowell. He served in this office
from 1 73 1 to 1756 — a period of twenty-five years ! His is the
longest term of service in this position in the township, ^ye
ofive a table of the Town Clerks down to 1800 :

-166S, Joshua Pierce.
1 669-1 688, Samuel Moore.
1688-1692, Samuel Dennis,
1693-1711, Thomas Pike.
1712-1731, Moses Rolph.
1731-1756, Edward Crowell.
1757-1769, Nathaniel Fitz Randolph.
1769-1773, Daniel Moore.
1773-1783, Robert Fitz Randolph.
1783-1784, David Frazee.
1784- , Charles Jackson.
1788-1794, James Paton.




1794-1795, Robert Ross, Jr.
1795- , Ichabod Potter.

They were usually elected ia the Spring of each year. The
Freeholders began to hold meetings by themselves in the year
1707. At first the Town Clerk was also Freeholders' Clerk.
Thomas Pike and Moses Rolph served in both clerkships —
but, although Rolph was succeeded by Edward Crowell as
Town Clerk, he was succeeded by Thomas Gach as Clerk of
the Freeholders. Plere is a list of the latter Clerks down to

1 707-1 7 1 1, Thomas Pike.

1712-1731, Moses Rolph.

173.2-1770, Thomas Gach.

1770-1773, Nathaniel Fitz Randolph.

1773-17S4, Di"- Moses Bloomfield.


1791-1815, Jonathan Bloomfield.

Nothing more is recorded in the minutes concerning the
Sonmans-Stelle affair until 1734. A meeting was held March
29th, 1732, but only to elect a Clerk and appoint a committee
to adjust certain inequalities in the division of the public land.
On the 4th of February, 1734, we observe that John Kinsey
and Moses Rolph are superseded by Ezekiel Bloomfield and
Shobal Smith in the management of the law-suits. The 12th
of March was set down for the next meeting. A ntunber inQi
in the appointed place on that day; but they immediately
adjourned to the ist of April, when Richard Cutter was
chosen Moderator and a tax of seven shillings was levied on
each Freehold for carrying on the law-suit against Sonmans
and Stelle.

The new Clerk did not improve, in the matter of spelling,
upon the efforts of his predecessors. A vendue becomes a
"vandew" under his magic quill; Papiack Neck becomes
" papioc nack." In speaking of the disbursement of money to
Moses Rolph, he says (Oh, shade of Noah Webster!) that it
was '•• Dis busted" to him ! We can faintly imagine the fright-
ened look Moses had when his money " cut up " in that way.
If he was ai fond of the shillings as the people of to-day, he



held on in spite of the "busting," When our Clerk wants to
tell us that certain lands are held by the Freeholders, we are
shocked to read that these places are " hell " by them ! Not
pleasant localities, we should say.

On the first Monday in May, 1734, the Freeholders deter-
mined to lay out all the land claimed by Sonmans and Stelle
and divide it by lot— this allotment to be known as the
seventh division of the Woodbridge commons. As the law-
suit w^as still in progress, an assessment of 14^-. on each Free-
hold was made to meet the expense. Though the seventh
division was made, according to resolution, yet it is certain

Online LibraryJoseph W. cn DallyWoodbridge and vicinity : the story of a New Jersey township ; embracing the history of Woodbridge, Piscataway, Metuchen and contiguous places, from the earliest times ; the history of the different ecclesiastical bodies ; important official documents relating to the township, etc. → online text (page 16 of 34)