This is a revised version of an article first published April 2, 2008
on the website “The Delaware Township Post”

In light of the politics involved in the division of old Amwell Township and the local distress it caused, Delaware Township did not have a very auspicious beginning. But once the furor died down, local residents got to work and did what was necessary to set up a new township government.

New Jersey law, passed in 1798, required township committees to have five members serving one-year terms, whose duties were to manage the finances of the township and hold an annual town meeting. The legislation creating Delaware, Raritan and Amwell Townships ordered that “this act shall take effect and be in force on and after the first Monday of April next.” That was April 2, 1838. So, one might say that April 2nd is the birthday of Delaware Township. It is probably more correct to say the birthday was April 9th, for that was the day of the first town meeting.

The Sergeantsville Hotel, late 19th or early 20th century
The Sergeantsville Hotel, late 19th or early 20th century

The meeting was held “at the house” of Henry Wagner, innkeeper of Sergeantsville, in what we now know as the Township Hall. Here it must be said that, except for Perth Amboy’s City Hall, which came into use in 1767, Delaware Township probably holds the record for a municipal building with the longest period of use for town meetings. The Township Hall was an inn when it was first used for town meetings, and continued as an inn until Prohibition.1

Henry Wagner was born in Pennsylvania in either 1782 or 1792, depending on whether you trust the 1850 census or his gravestone. Since his first child, Alpheus, was born in 1818, the birthdate for Henry Wagner of 1792 makes the most sense. He and his wife Catharine also had daughters Catharine (1821) and Ann M. (c.1822).

Although Henry Wagner was the innkeeper in 1838, the owner of the hotel was Neal Hart of Flemington. Hart was himself an innkeeper, who ran the hotel in Flemington for many years. Neal Hart died on September 4, 1837, but his estate was unresolved until the Orphans Court ordered that a sale be made of his properties, including the Sergeantsville tavern house, on December 28, 1838. The purchaser was John Parker of Raritan Township. Henry Wagner stayed on as innkeeper throughout 1839, as one can see from announcements in the Hunterdon Gazette, but he was gone by 1840, probably around the time that John Parker sold the tavern to Isaiah Moore.2

Our First Township Committee

The New Jersey law of 1798 that laid out the privileges and duties of township governments stated that members of the township committee were required to “examine and report to the town meeting the accounts and vouchers of the township officers, to superintend the expenditure of monies of the township and in case of neglect of the township meeting to supply vacancies, to fill such vacancies among the township officers as may occur.” The term of office was for one year. As a reflection of the fact that population was so low that practically everyone had to serve in some way, the law provided that if a person refused to serve, he had to pay a fine and was then excused from serving for five years.

It is hard to say whether the practice of holding an annual town meeting in New Jersey was the same as the town meetings of New England. I suspect there was far less opportunity for citizens to speak out and to vote on township matters. But the annual meeting in which officers are chosen continues to this day, the only difference being that today our meetings are held on January first rather than in April.

In the 19th century, townships in Hunterdon County did not elect mayors. Rather, the township committee elected a “Moderator” to run the annual meeting. It also appears that the only meeting held by the Township Committee was the annual one in April when the Township’s officers were chosen, i.e, Township Committee, Clerk, Tax Assessor and Tax Collector, Constable, Commissioner of Deeds, Keeper of the Poor, Surveyors of Highways, Judge of Elections and two Chosen Freeholders. The Moderator was chosen from among the new members of the Township Committee.

John Barber Esq.

The first Moderator of Delaware Township was John Barber, Esq. (1787-1867). This was the same John Barber who chaired the “large and respectable meeting” held the previous March.3 Barber first appears as an elected official in 1828 when he was chosen Amwell Township Inspector. I cannot say what it was he inspected, but suspect it was related to election returns.

Barber first held the position of Moderator for the Amwell Township Committee in 1831, and that year he ran as an anti-Jackson candidate for the Assembly (he lost). In 1832 he was a candidate for Assessor in Amwell, but lost again. But in 1833 he was elected moderator for Amwell Township’s Annual Meeting. In 1834 he was again a member of the township committee, and also ran as the Whig candidate for Council, an election he lost to Nathanial Saxton. He was again Moderator in 1835 and was also a “Judge of Election” and a member of the school committee. He was re-elected Moderator in 1836 and 1837.4

John Barber must have been a man of some character to be chosen to moderate the very Democratic town of Amwell, since he was himself a Whig. He was born in August 1787. His father was Samuel Barber (1756-1847), a Revolutionary War veteran and Chosen Freeholder for Amwell Township in 1816-21, and 1824, His mother was Anne Hoppock (1767-1813), daughter of Capt. Cornelius Hoppock and Catharine Corle. On his father’s side, his grandparents were John Barber (c.1720-1795) and Magdalen Johnson. His great grandparents, Samuel Barber (c.1690-1751) and Alida Johnson, settled along what is now Lambertville-Headquarters Road, in what is now Delaware Township, in the 1730’s and acquired a large acreage. On December 19, 1812, John Barber married Anne Skillman (ca. 1790-1867). They set up housekeeping on the Barber plantation and had seven children who all survived to adulthood.

John Barber was a farmer and also a very successful tanner, as is shown in the Industrial Schedule of the 1850 Federal Census.5 In addition to farming, Barber was also an investor who bought and sold a considerable amount of land, besides inheriting his father’s farm. He was also part-owner of the Quickstep and Tadpole Fisheries, which operated on the Delaware River.

Barber was named a Justice of the Peace by the Joint Meeting of the legislature (controlled by the Whigs) in March 1838. He had been first named a Justice in 1833 and again in 1837 (hence the “Esq.”). His last appointment as Justice was in 1842. In 1838 he was named to a Committee of Correspondence at the Whig convention. Later that year, he was chosen to be a delegate to the state convention held by the “Democratic Whigs.”

In 1846 the Democratic legislature named Barber a Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. He served as Assistant U.S. Marshal in 1850. That year the census showed that he owned 90 acres valued at $5000 ($55.55/acre, which was a good price), plus 11 head of cattle, 20 sheep and 9 hogs. John Barber died on January 1, 1867 at the age of 79, and his wife Anne died in November of the same year.

The other members of the first township committee were Adam Williamson, Benjamin Horn, James J. Fisher and William Sergeant.

Adam Williamson

Adam Williamson (c.1786-1868) was a weaver and farmer. He was probably the son of Peter Williamson and Catherine Broach of Somerset County. He was active in the Kingwood Baptist Church, probably attending its branch in Locktown. His wife was Eleanor Williamson, daughter of Abraham Williamson and Frances Housel. They married on March 1, 1806, and had eight children, all surviving to adulthood.

Adam Williamson was licensed to preach at the Locktown Baptist Church in 1820. At the time he was living in Kingwood Township, where he was Tax Collector in 1829 and 1830. By 1835 he and his family had moved to a farm north of Rosemont on the west side of the road from Howell’s Ferry to Johnson’s Tavern (today’s Route 519). In 1835 and 1837, he served on the Amwell Township Committee. He served on the original Delaware Township Committee in 1838, and served again in 1840. In 1850, he and his family shared a farm with his son-in-law Jehu Huffman; Adam’s share was valued at $4000. By 1860, his assets were somewhat reduced (real estate worth $1500; personal property worth $3800), but he was prosperous enough to be described as a “Gentleman” in the census of that year. He died in 1868, age 82, and was buried in Rosemont Cemetery next to his wife Eleanor who had died in 1867, age 85.

Benjamin Horn

Benjamin Horn (c.1797-1874) was a chairmaker who lived along Ferry Road, a short distance south of Locktown-Flemington Road. He and his brother Isaac probably learned the craft of chairmaking from their father Isaac Horne. 6 Isaac Horne is one of those elusive characters who somehow managed to stay out of the records. He was taxed in Kingwood Township in 1789, but that is the only tax record I have found for him. He had no estate filed in Hunterdon County when he died. There is the smallest hint of his presence in Delaware Township when a lot of 7.5 acres was sold in 1832 by Benjamin and Isaac Horn and their brother-in-law Isaac Servis.7

from William MacDonald's Central New Jersey Chairmaking
from William MacDonald’s Central New Jersey Chairmaking

The illustration above shows the type of chairs that were produced
in Benjamin Horn’s chairmaking shop.

Benjamin Horn’s first appearance in the records was when he married his wife Sarah Bearder on February 7, 1824. Sarah Bearder (c.1796-1855) was the daughter of Jacob Bearder and Elizabeth Trimmer. In 1825 Benjamin Horn purchased 11.25 acres from his wife’s brother Andrew Bearder along Ferry Road, near Plum Brook. Horn is thought to have had a chair shop at his home on Ferry Road, and to have used water power from Plum Brook to turn his lathes.

Benjamin and Sarah Horn had two children, George B. Horn (1825-1853) who married Amelia Smith, and Elizabeth Ann (1827-?) who married John C. Sine. In the 1850 census he was identified as a “turner” with land worth $1800. Both children were still at home, son George also working as a “turner” in the chair factory.

{Addendum, 3/19/2013: Benjamin Horn was involved in local politics before 1838. In 1835, 1836 and 1837 he was serving as tax collector for Amwell Township. On Nov. 23, 1836, he advertised in the Gazette that he would be at several locations (all of them taverns) the following month to receive payments. One of those places was “Delilah Buchanan’s” (her tavern known as Buchanan’s Tavern). Others were Henry Wagner’s tavern in Sergeantsville, and Asher Johnson’s tavern at Centre Bridge (Stockton). The rest of the locations were in Raritan Twp. and the Amwells. In 1839, Horn was again serving on the Delaware Twp. Committee, and was chosen as Moderator for that year’s meeting and for 1840’s. He was also serving on the committee to hear tax appeals in 1840. He was again elected to the Township Committee in 1842, 1843 and 1847. After that, his pubic service seems to have been limited to serving on grand and petit juries. In 1860, he won second prize at the Hunterdon Agricultural Fair for best dairy churn with power attached, presumably an item he made in his workshop.}

Benjamin Horn seems to have retired by the time the 1860 census came around; he was then a widower, living with daughter Elizabeth Sine and her family. By 1870, when he was 72, he was living with the family of John D. Hoppock. Benjamin Horn and his wife are buried in the Sand Brook Cemetery.

Hon. James J. Fisher

James Johnson Fisher (1784-1870), the son of Peter Fisher and Alice Johnson, was a farmer who lived near what was once known as “Barber’s Station,” later called Bowne Station. His wife was Rebecca Pidcock (1789-1854), daughter of Charles Pidcock and Martha Hoagland, but they had no children. James J. Fisher’s two brothers, William P. Fisher and Cornelius Q. Fisher, compensated for that by each naming a son James J. Fisher, the son of Wm. P. born 1824, and the son of Cornelius Q. born 1840.

Peter Fisher, the father of James, Wm. P. and Cornelius, served in the Revolution, and died in 1821. His wife died the same year. By then, their eldest child James was married and witnessing deeds and wills for his neighbors, and administering estates. In 1838, he was elected Chosen Freeholder for Delaware Township. Like John Barber, he was a Whig, and in 1844, together with Barber, was chosen a delegate from Delaware Township to the Whig convention to be held in Princeton.

James J. Fisher prospered as a farmer, being worth $5,250 in the 1850 census, but he spent many years as a childless widower. In 1860 and 1870, nephews and nieces were living with him. He died at the age of 86 at Mt. Airy, and is buried in the Larison’s Corner Cemetery in East Amwell.

William Sergeant

William Sergeant (1794-1865) was the son of Mary Lake (1773-1851). His father was never named in any document I’ve been able to find.8 In 1810, the will of Mary Lake’s brother, Thomas Lake, identified William Sergeant as the son of Mary Lake. Mary Lake never married or had any other children. When she wrote her will in 1843, she left the farm of her father John Lake, located on Sandbrook-Headquarters Road, to her son William Sergeant.

In 1827, William Sergeant married Elizabeth Trimmer, the daughter of John G. Trimmer and Mary Opdycke, and granddaughter of Thomas Opdycke and Anna Cowell. Their only child, John Trimmer Sergeant, was born about 1829.

Being an illegitimate child did not prevent William Sergeant from succeeding in life. He was a prosperous farmer, owning, in addition to his mother’s farm on the east side of Sand Brook-Headquarters Road, another farm on the west side, where he built a handsome stone house.9 I believe this house was built about the time that William Sergeant married, in 1827, but that he might have given it to his son John T. Sergeant when he married about 1850, at which time, William Sergeant probably moved to the old John Lake farm across the road, following the death of his mother in 1851.

In 1839, William Sergeant was chosen as township tax assessor for Delaware Twp. and one of the Overseers of the Poor. That same year he was one of the founding members of the Delaware Vigilante Society, an organization intended mostly to reimburse those whose horses had been stolen, but perhaps to pursue horse thieves when opportunity warranted, which apparently it rarely did.10

In 1840, William Sergeant was again elected township assessor, and for several years was chosen to be Judge of Election. By 1850, he was 55 years old with real estate worth $9,350. In 1856, he became a member of the Fillmore and Donelson Club (Whig candidates for President and Vice-President). But one of his most important positions was Judge of Vegetables at the Hunterdon County Fair of 1856. He must have been at the peak of his popularity then, for in 1856 and 1857, William Sergeant was elected to the New Jersey Assembly.11

William Sergeant died age 70 and was buried in Larison’s Corner Cemetery. His wife, Elizabeth Trimmer, died in 1882 age 82, and was buried next to her husband.

The Business of the New Township

In addition to members of the Township Committee, there were a large number of officers to be elected. The Town Clerk was Amplius B. Chamberlin. The Assessor was Jacob Rake and the Tax Collector was Mahlon Smith. Jacob Rake and Mahlon Smith were also appointed Overseers of the Poor. The Constable was William Rake. Commissioners of Appeals were Benjamin Horn, Mahlon Smith, and Jacob F. Buchanan. Surveyors of Highways were Albertus Wagner and John Hoffman. Chosen Freeholders were James J. Fisher and James Snyder, Esq. Up until 1851, each municipality elected two freeholders.12 Fisher was a Whig and Snyder was a Democrat. Other officers chosen that day were Abraham Conover as “Judge of Election,” Jacob Rake, A. B. Chamberlin and William Wilson as the School Committee, and several men to serve as Overseers of the Roads. Thus it is clear that the Township Committee was not solely responsible for management of the town for the ensuing year.

As to the business conducted during that first meeting, the Committee voted that $1,000 was to be raised for making and repairing roads, and that the Committee should ascertain the amount to be raised for the poor. A dog tax was agreed on to indemnify residents for loss of sheep killed by dogs, which was a significant problem in those years. It was also agreed that elections, which were held annually the second Tuesday of October and the day succeeding, would be held the first day at the house of Peter B. Mellick (who owned property on Seabrook Road near Lambertville), and the second day at the house of Henry Wagner, at Sergeantsville.

As a final act of business, the township committee acknowledged the questionable manner in which the town was created by passing the following resolution:

 “Resolved, That in the opinion of this town-meeting, public convenience will be promoted by the division of the township of Amwell; so far we approve of said division, and we have no desire that the present arrangement should be disturbed. But at the same time we would say that any act of this kind passed without the knowledge or consent of those immediately interested is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our form of government.” Signed, John Barber, Moderator and A.B. Chamberlin, Clerk.

The meeting over, libations were undoubtedly had, it being an inn after all, and perhaps a dinner was held at which toasts were given. This was the common practice of the day, but no one took the trouble to report on what was said. With the business of the day ended, the new town officers and the new citizens of Delaware Township returned to their homes, no longer the residents of old Amwell.

A little over two weeks after the first town meeting, a letter appeared in the Hunterdon Co. Gazette from one of the town’s residents, giving advice that must have been the fruit of his own experience. It was addressed to “Young Farmers,” which in those days was practically everyone.

HINTS  TO  YOUNG  FARMERS

POLITICAL DUTIES. – In a free country, offices are created for the public accommodation, not for individual emolument. To deserve them, is worthy of your ambition; to crave them is debasing; and to depend upon them for a livelihood, is to sell yourself, unconditionally, for the fickle and unsubstantial smiles of power. – A thirst for office is almost as bad as a thirst for rum; the more either is indulged in, the more insatiable are its cravings; every repetition begets new desires, until, finally, the passion in one case terminates in delirium tremens, and in the other, delirium candidatum. Many a useful man has been ruined by the latter disease, and ultimately terminated his career under the complicated horrors of both maladies.

In selecting public agents, we ought to adopt the caution that prudence would suggest in private affairs – choose those who have shown an ability to manage a public trust, by having conducted creditably and successfully their private affairs. But the man who cannot or will not provide for his own wants by his own industry, is unfit to be trusted with public matters. Are we then to reject office? No; accept them when proffered from worthy motives, as a duty, not as a source of wealth; but never accept them with conditions, express or implied, which would dishonor you as a freeman; and when you have enjoyed the honors, and fulfilled the duties, sacrifice neither your political nor your religious sentiments to retain them.

[signed] NATHAN, Of Delaware township. April 18, 1838.

Was “Nathan” referring to Joseph Moore when he wrote of thirst for office? His letter had a whiff of the old ideas about political parties and campaigns, whereby the office sought the man rather than the other way around. Nathan was probably an elderly gentleman who had lived through those old days, but who he was remains a mystery.13

The next post in this series will describe the background of the other men who were chosen to hold office in 1838. I wish there were women on this list, but the men and the women of 1838 would have considered that out of the question. Just like elections in those days, town meetings were probably pretty rowdy affairs, not quite suitable for mixed company.

  1. I have written the history of the township hall for the Hunterdon County Historical Society Newsletter, Winter 2006 pg 975. I hope to republish that article here on my website later this year.
  2. Deed 73-247. Wagner was innkeeping in Franklin Township in 1845, but returned to Delaware Township in 1866 when he was buried in the Sergeantsville Methodist Church cemetery.
  3. As described in 175th Anniversary, Part Two
  4. I regret to say that Snell’s History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties does not have a portrait of John Barber, or any of the other members of the first Delaware Township Committee.
  5. He reported having 200 hides worth $500, 200 skins worth $180, 30 cords of Bark worth $150. He employed two men, paying them $18 a month, and produced annually 400 sides of leather worth $1,000, 200 sides of skins {? word illegible} worth $100, and 25 sets of harness worth $300.
  6. See William H. MacDonald, Central New Jersey Chairmaking of the Nineteenth Century, 1959.
  7. Deed 53-492; There was no recital in the deed to say whether this was land that was inherited or not.
  8. He could have been John, Joseph, Jacob or Daniel Sergeant. There simply isn’t enough information to say with any certainty.
  9. That house burned down in March 2011, as described in this post.
  10. Egbert T. Bush wrote and article titled “Story of Delaware Vigilante Society,” published in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat on Feb. 1, 1934. I hope to republish it here some day. In it, Bush stated that William Sergeant was president until 1868, but Sergeant died in 1865. This was probably a typographical error, since I am sure Mr. Bush was aware of the facts.
  11. This was stated in the NJ Legislative Manual, but was not noticed by the Hunterdon Gazette until it published his obituary in 1865. This is puzzling, and I hope to solve this riddle some day.
  12. A law of 1902 allowed reduction of the number of freeholders from one for each municipality to three elected at large.
  13. Although I do have in my database a couple Nathans living in Delaware Township who might be the author of this letter, I suspect that, once again, this was a case of the writer using a pseudonym, common practice in those days.