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 17 of 34)
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that the Freeholders never entered into permanent possession
of it; for Peter Sonman, Sr., having died in March, 1734,
young Peter, his son, and Samuel and John Nevill, his broth-
ers-in-law, made an offer in 1737 for the land in dispute, which
was wisely accepted by the Woodbridge men. The case,
which was in the Supreme Court, was, previous to this offer,
allowed to go by default against the Sonmans party (and this
involved the failure of Stelle's claim also), and the lon<y
struggle of twenty-eight years was ended.

It is worthy of note that John Kinsey's plan was in opera-
tion to the last — Henry Freeman being the lessee at the time
harmony was restored between the litigants.

The offer made by the Sonmans party was very favorable to
Woodbridge. It was this: If the Freeholders would give the
Sonmans party a clear and perfect title to the land (120 acres
within the Woodbridge bounds on the Amboy line), they
would give the Freeholders, as compensation, perpetual
exemption from all quit-rents past, present, or future, by
surrendering to them three and a quarter proprietary rights
forever. The Freeholders did well to accept this; for since
John Pike, in 1709, began the legal battle, no benefit of any
consequence had accrued to them from the territory — and no
greater benefit could be desired than was offered in 1737.

On the 17th of May, 1737, the Freeholders met and voted
that the land recovered from Col. Gabriel Stelle should be
sold to as great advantage as possible, and the proceeds be
devoted to paying such as had advanced money for carrying
forward the law-suits, etc. Mr. Kearney (Philip, doubtless, of



Perth Amboy), who was the lawyer employed, was voted a
suitable fee out of the forthcoming sale. This was to occur on
the third Tuesday in June at twelve o'clock. The surplus
proceeds (i. e., the money in excess of the objects named
above) were to be divided among the Freeholders equally.
On the day ^designated for the sale a goodly number undoubt-
edly assembled at John Ileard's house, the place appointed,
but we do not find that any one purchased the land.

Turning to the Town Book for a moment, we observe that
nothing has occurred, in the annual Town Meetings, of
unusual interest. The election 'of officers and the regular
taxes comprise nearly all the matter on record. The meeting
of March nth, 1735, varied the monotony a little by resolving
to lease the School Land for a term of years not exceeding
ten. After this gleam of intelligence we are again left in the
dark. It we felt inclined to -pun we should say the Town
Clerk was both Crowell and cruel.


1738— 177G.

England and France at War — The Sixth Division Dif-
ficulties — The Eighth Division — Woodbridge in 1748
— An Old House — James Parker, the Printer — First
Printing-Press in New Jersey Located at Wocdd-
bridge — Incidental Matters.

The land that was recovered from Gabriel Stelle was not
sold, if we may judge by the proceedings of the meetino- of
Freeholders held on the 28th of March, 173S; for a committee
was appointed to prosecute individuals who were guilty of
taking timber from it. Three years intervene before another
record is made. The gathering alluded to (March 30th, 1741)
was of little consequence — an order for the survey of the
common land being the only subject of interest under dis-
cussion. In fact, the meetings of the Freeholders began to
grow uninteresting and infrequent. It may be that the dis-
turbed condition of the Province had something to do with
their indifference. Lewis Morris had been appointed Royal
Governor of New Jersey in 1738 and continued in office until
his death, in 1746; during which time unseemly quarrels
between him and the Assembly prevented the transaction of
any public business. Added to this was the fact that a war
was brewing between England and France, which broke out
in 1744; and soon the smoke of the conflict arose over the
American colonies. In 1748 the two great powers entered
into treaty relations and the contest ended. Peace did not
endure a great while. France pressed her claim for the
territory in the northwest in 1749. Another war was begun
in 1754, known as the French atid Indian War, which was
concluded so gloriously for England in 1763. For a long time
during these distracting events the British ministry was so
feeble in its policy and efforts with respect to the colonies that


it was feared that the French and their subtle Indian allies
would overrun the settlers. It is, therefore, not a marvel that
our fathers grew careless of their records; for if the tide of
fortune sliould set against them and they were driven from
their homes, of what benefit would be their divisions and
surve3'S and grants of land?

Two years elapsed since their last meeting. March 2 8th^
1743, they met again, to consider certain claims to the sixth
division lots, which had been authorized over twenty-two
years ago.

They assembled next on the 20th of April, 1744, when
a standing committee, for hearing complaints and correcting
mistakes growing out of the division of the commons, was
appointed. This committee consisted of Robert Hude, James
Smith, Richard Carman, and David Donham. The quit-rents
due to the Freeholders were ordered to be collected, by virtue
of the proprietary rights obtained of young Sonmans and the

A long interval ensues. On the 19th of June, 1749, after
five years of inactivity, a brief session was held. Samuel
Moore, Shobal Smith, and James Brown were added to the
standing committee, elected in the last meeting, for adjusting
matters relating to divisions of public land.

The errors in some of these divisions, especially in the
sixth, must have been very gross. Indeed, almost all the
trouble grew out of the sixth series of lots. Benjamin Par-
cost's assigns complain, in this very meeting, that "by reason
of sum mistack," they cannot enjoy the land they should have
had. The cause of these mistakes is not difficult to discover
The sixth division was ordered January i6th, 1721 — each Free-
holdc)- to have any itnappropriated land he chose in his immediate
neighborhood to the value 0/ jQi^. This plan was a great blun-
der. Two neighbors may select the same field, which may be
contiguous to both; and because both cannot own it, jealousy,
bitterness and strife are engendered, life-long enmities created
and numberless obstacles placed in the path of local improve-
ment. In some cases the most valuable lands would be
within the reach of the few, and this would lead to conten-
ions ; and disputes would arise as to how much more valua-



ble this meadow was than that, and how many acres /"n;
ought to purchase in the different localities. It was now
twenty-eight years since the sixth division was authorized,
and yet the difficulties attending its settlement were, appar-
ently, as insurmountable as ever. We find but few of the lots
recorded. Those surveyed in the right of Samuel Smith,
George March, Jonathan Don ham, and William Compton
were located in 1721. Ten shilliugs' worth of land in Jona-
than Donham's right in the sixth division was not laid out
until 1763; eighteen shillings' worth in John Insley's right
was not surveyed and allotted until 1758; etc. It will be
seen, therefore, that a generation, at least, passed away before
this allotment was adjusted. It is doubtful whether it ever
was satisfactorily settled.

Another long period of silence occurs in our Freeholders'
affairs. Nine years have nearly passed when, on the 14th of
March, 1758, they meet again. Perhaps they assembled rather
to discuss the French and Indian War, then in progress, than
to do any serious business; for they adjourned to the 20th
without passing a single resolution. New Jersey raised 1,000
men for this war during 1757-8, and every hamlet in the
province was, therefore, interested as to the issue.

On the 20th, Shobal Smith was chosen Moderator, and then
was discussed another division of the public domain — the
eighth. William Kent was elected Sui'veyor, to lay out the
remainder of the town commons. We have been unable to
discover any further facts relating to the eighth division.

The next record of a meeting is made in 1774 by Dr. Moses
Bloomfield, Freeholders' Clerk. During the long interval of
sixteen years the proceedings of these men are involved in
profound mystery. We shall revert to Dr. Bloomfield's clerk-
ship by and by.

It may be interesting to our readers to know what was the
general aspect of the town at the period of which we have been
writing in this chapter. Thanks to Prof Peter Kalm, the
Swedish botanist, who traveled through this section in October,
1748, we have a brief, but very interesting description of its ap-
pearance. (See Kalm's Travels in N. Amer.^ I., p. 181."") Here
it is :

• Hatfield's Eliz., p. 374.


"Wood-bridge is a small village in a plain, consisting of a
few houses; "\ve stopped here to rest our horses a little. The
houses were most of them built of boards ; the walls had a
covering of shingles on the outside; these shingles were round
at one end and all of a length in each row ; some of the houses
had an Italian roof, but the greatest part had roofs with
pediments; most of them were covered with shingles. In
most places we met with wells, and buckets to draw up the

It is evident from this that the houses were well-built, and
rather fashionable for that time. The pediment roof was very
much in vogue, although it is seldom met wilh now\ The
shingles w^ere carefully cut round on the bottom like the
scallops on a lady's garment. It is manifest that our fathers
were a little proud in building their houses.

One of the oldest wooden buildings now standing in Wood-
bridge is, doubtless, that belonging to Mr. William Inslee,
near his residence, and now used by him as a sort of repair-
shop. It is said to be of a date long anterior to the Revolu-
tion, and possibly belongs to the period of Prof. Kalm's visit.
It is a one-story building and shingled on the out-side, where
from old age the shingles have not rotted from the nails and
fallen off.

The door is double, after the ancient style — the upper part
swinging open while the lower remains shut. There are two
rooms below with a small addition at the rear, and an attic
above reached by a flight of stairs. The ceiling is low, and
the heavy timbers overhead make it seem still more so. The
great wide fire-place, suggestive of a sparkling blaze from
huge logs and of a Winter evening's comfort, occupies a
goodly proportion of the eastern side of the building. Two
windows to the west and one to the south afforded the inmates
a view of the public highway leading to Amboy and of the
hills of Staten Island.

Standing on the threshold we almost persuade ourselves
we hear the noise of the spinning-wheel, and the voice of the
spinner singing the psalm that was sung last Sabbath at
Parson Roe's meeting-house. Perhaps it is -Doddridge's
hymn, written in 1740:


"And Thou, mj - God ! whose picrciag eye
Distinct surveys each deep recess,
In these abstracted hours draw nigh,
And with Thy presence fill the place."

Now evening comes; and from the distant field tlie husband

and his stalwart sons draw near to greet the quiet little woman

who lovingly watches their approach leaning upon the lower

half of the door. She turns occasionally to see that the

roasting venison over the hickory fire is not over-done. The

cows come leisurely homeward, a little in advance of the men.

The breeze lightly stirs the branches of the venerable trees

near tlie house, the swallows twitter delightedly as they circle

round and round, and the large red sun sinks slowly down

behind the great forest across the road. Perhaps in the

twalight, as the old gentleman sits outside the door enjoying

the Summer evening, the parson, returning from some pastoral

visit, stops to chat a few minutes. The time of the Revolution

is near at hand, and possibly the aggressions of England are

the topic of conversation. If so, it is no fanc}- of ours that

invests Parson Roe's figure with so much dignity. His

pleasant face becomes stern as he denounces British tyranny.

Possibly they discuss tlie cruelty of the commander of the

English ship Greyhound^ who fired into the little boat of Col.

Rickets, of Elizabethtown, on Thursday, the yth of June,

1750, killing one of the party.'" This circumstance occasioned

a great excitement among the people of New Jersey, and there

was much indignation manifested against the British. Such

oppressive acts as these caused the anger of the colonists to

wax hot against the government that pretended to protect


At the rear of Mr. T. H. Morris' residence in Woodbridge is

a part of a building that is very old. It is shingled on the

side with the round-bottomed shingles described by Prof

Kalm in 1748, and was probably constructed somewhere about

that time. It is a part of the old Elm Tree Tavern, which

stood near the spot it now occupies; and it is not unlikely

that Kalm's party stopped at this very place to rest their

• Hatfield's Eliz., p. 375.


horses. The tavern received its name from the fact that a very-
large elm stood in front of it for many years. When the tree
was cut down in 1837, its destruciion being rendered necessary
by its decayed condition, the circumference of it was thirty-
two feet. It was averred that fifteen men could stand upright
together within its hollow trunk. It w^as evidently a tree
which would have proudly vied with some in the far-famed
Yosemite Valley. The memory of it still lingers around the
locality; and the writer hereof looks back with pleasure to the
hours he passed in the Elm Tree Institute^ which was for him
truly an alma mater.

It is fitting that we refer, in this place, to the distinguished
James Parker, printer, a native and for many years a resident
of Woodbridge. He was born in 17 14. His father, Samuel
(born June ist, 1674), was the son of Elisha Parker who
removed to Woodbridge from Staten Island about the year

James was apprenticed to William Bradford, the first printer

in New York, in 1725. Bradford was then publishing the
New York Gazette. In May, 1733, Parker ran away and his
employer advertised him on the 21st of that month. The
cause of Parker's absconding is not known, nor is it known
w^here he betook himself for nearly nine years. The New
York Gazette being discontinued by Mr. Bradford, young
Parker began the publication of the Weekly Post Boy in 1742-3,
in New York ; and this is the first that we hear of him since
he ran away. The Post Boy was published by him for several
years. It was printed on large foolscap, one sheet of Avhich
was used for each copy. Few copies are now extant, and
these are, of course, very valuable.

It was in 175 1 that Mr. Parker established his press in
Woodbridge — the first printing-press in New Jersey. It is
supposed, with very good reason, that his office was located
on the lot adjoining and north of the present residence of Mr.
David Demarest, about where Dr. Samuel P. Harned lives.
Not only is this supposition supported by tradition, but also
by the fact that individuals employed in cultivating land near
this spot have plowed up metal types at different times. Mr.
Robert Coddington says that wlien he was a boy, he, in



company With others, was accustomed to go to this locust
grove and search for these types ; and many were found

Mr. Parker printed, on his Woodbridge press, the Legis-
lative proceedings and many public documents. He still

bZI T^ 7 """'^ ^''' ^^^' '"^ ^^ ^^^^^^^ - Woodbridge.
Bradford, his former employer, died in 1752, aged 92, to whom

he wrote and published an excellent tribute. He enterS
into partnership, with respect to his New York business, with
Wilham Weyman in the beginning of the year 1753, which
was dissolved in January, X759. In the previous^^ear he
began to publish at Woodbridge the JVe^a American Magazine.
This was the first periodical published in the State. Each
number contained forty pages octavo, and was filled with
a variety of entertaining and instructive matter. The mac^a-
zine was issued monthly until March, 1760, edited by Samuel
Nevill, of Perth Ambo)^ who wrote under the nam deplume of
Sylvanus Americanus." In 1755 Parker and John Holt
became partners, the latter taking charge of the New York
branch of the business after Weyman left it. Parker and Holt
established a press at New Haven, and printed the ConncctiaU
G^.^.//. there, the first newspaper in Connecticut. In 1762 Mr
Holt leased Mr. Parker's New York press until 1766, when
the latter resumed possession of it. He and his son, Samuel
^. Parker, continued from this time to carry on the business
until within a short time of the father's death, w-hich occurred
on the 2d of July, 1770.

Ini76i the elder Parker printed, on his Woodbridge press,
the second volume of Nevill's Laws of New Jersey; and in
1764 he printed a " Conductor Generalis," intended as a guide
to Justices of the Peace. The latter publication was sug-
gested, doubtless, by his own experience, for he was holding
the office of Justice at this time. In 1765 he transported hi"^
press from Woodbridge to Burlington to accommodate Mr.
Samuel Smith, the historian, in the issue oi\\is History of Netu
Jersey. The manuscript of this valuable work is preserved in
the library of the Historical Society at Newark. It makes a
book of 574 pages, printed in excellent style. Wm. A. White-
head, to whom we are indebted for many of these facts
concerning Mr. Parker, says of him, very justly, that "he was


a correct and neat printer, understanding las business per-

After this important work was completed he removed his
press to Woodbridge.

He was a very busy man. The position of postmaster in
New York was held by him for several years. At the time of
his death he was Comptroller and Secretary of the postal
department for the Northern District of the British Colonies.
It is not improbable that his intense application to business
made of him an invalid. He died at Burlington, v\^hither he
had gone to regain the health he had lost. He was brought
to Woodbridge for burial. A number of the citizens of
Burlington followed the funeral cortege for five miles out of
town ; and a similar delegation from Perth Amboy met the
sad procession near that place and attended it to the Parker
residence in Woodbridge. The body was buried about six
o'clock in the evening, in the Meeting-house yard, the last
rites being performed by Rev. Mr. Preston, the Episcopalian
clergyman. To this day no stone marks his place ot rest — a
melancholy comiPiCnt on the popular forgetfulness of the truly
great and good.

Janet Parker, only daughter of the distinguished printer,
was married to Gov. Gunning Bedford, of Delaware, in 1796.
Samuel F. Parker, the son, sold the press in Woodbridge soon
after his father died, and leased the New York office. The
Woodbridge printing-office was burned to the ground by a
band of tories during the Revolution.*

We now find ourselves on the threshold of that stirring
period in American history — the Revolution. Before enter-
ing it we return to the Freeholders' Book to note the last
meetings therein recorded. Dr. Moses Bloomfield, an excel-
lent penman, Avas chosen Clerk in the meeting of April nth,
1774, which w^as held at the house of Charles Jackson.

In a short preface to his regular minutes the Doctor tells us
that Thomas Gage (or Gach) continued to act as Clerk until
his death; after which James Eddy, his executor, delivered
the books to the Freeholders on the 2d of April, 1770, when

* So Robert Coddington says— and others.


Nathaniel Fitz Randolph was chosen to the vacant office-
Fitz Randolph died in 1773, and tlie official books were
surrendered by the administrator of his estate in 1774, and
then Dr. Bloomfield was charged with the safe keeping of
them. These books were two in number — one was a small
volume containing the sixth division surveys; the other, the
portly book now open before me. The former has been lost.

No business was done on the nth of April beyond the
election of Dr. Bloomfield as Clerk and James Eddy as
Moderator. On Monday, the 25th, the Freeholders met again.
Cortlandt Skinner was " unanimously chosen Moderator till
another be chosen in his room." The meeting deprecated the
" disorder'd unsetled situation " ot affairs — referring not to the
state of the country, but to the management of the public
lands of the tov/nship, etc. Resolutions were passed favoring
the appointment of a committee to investigate the right of
suffrage among those who claimed the privilege of voting;
directing stated meetings to be held, either quarterly or half-
5'early; and constituting Reuben Evans Surveyor for the
town. The committee just mentioned consisted of Samuel
Barron, William Stone, Joseph Shotvvell, "of Perrytown,"
Samuel Jaquish, and David Kent. The general records were
represented as being in a "very bad plight." The committee
was therefore required to make out a new list of the present
Freeholders, with a statement showing their rights and from
whom they were obtained.

Seven meetings were called subsequently, which were all
compelled to adjourn because so few attended that it was
impossible legally to transact business. The last of these
seven was on the iSth of April, 1775; but the minds of the
citizens vcere now filled with excitement, and prosaic Free-
holders' meetings were out of the question. On the next day
after the date just mentioned the first blood of the Revolution
was shed at Lexington. No other attempts were made to hold
meetino-s. The smouldering fires of the war were tairly aflame
and all private interests were, for a while, forgotten.

We close the Freeholders' Book with a sigh ; for we have
reached the last entry, save one brief record which is found in
folio 108, and belongs to the year 1791. It seems as though


we are shutting out the face of a friend when we turn these
yellow leaves in farewell ; for we have spent long hours
together in faithful converse. Doubtless the old book will
survive many years him who now smooths its antique
pages, as it has survived the many whose names are written in
it. Reverently, therefore, we close the volume.

Retracing our steps a little, we search the meager records of
Liber B, and find a few items of interest. In the Town
Meeting of March 8th, 1764, William Thorn reported that as
Collector he had collected the dog-tax. The Town Clerk
adds: "But ye meeting got into Confewsion and so Broke
up." The reason is not given. Maybe some of the people
objected to the dog-tax.

In the meeting of March loth, 1767, the old Overseers
of the Poor, having failed to make up their accounts, were
required to meet the ncAv Overseers at the house of Nathaniel
Heard on Thursday, the 19th. Heard's residence was situated
about where William Harned's dwelling now stands. The
old homestead of the Heard family is now in possession
of Oliver Martin.*

Many, if not all, the public meetings of the town Avere held,
during this period, at the village tavern, kept by Charles
Jackson. After his death, his widow performed the duties of
landlady and entertained the annual Town Meeting for
several years.

The following "minute," under date of March 13th, 1771,
seems curious : " That the Poor of this Town Shall be Sold at
Publik vaitdue immediately after the buisness of the day is over
next general meeting, & so to continue yearly & every year
untill it Shall be alterd by vote again." The idea is, of
course, that the lowest bidder should take care of the poor for
the amount of his bid, to be paid by the town.

In 1709 the amount raised for the poor was ^25. The tax
was never so low, subsequently, but twice: in 1714, when it
was ;^i5, and in 1730, when it was ;^2o. Previous to 1764
the highest assessment had been ^100. This was in 1755. In
1763 it was ;^6o. The following year it jumped to ^200, and

* So we are informed by A. V. Shotwell.


the same tax was maintained the year after. A large influx of
paupers must have contributed to increase the tax to this hio-h
figure. In 1766 it fell to ^^140; in 1769 it was at the moderate

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 17 of 34)