The Amwell Road of 1721

by Marfy Goodspeed on June 20, 2014

in Hunterdon County

There is something fascinating about old roads, especially when their routes differ from the ones we know today. One of the very oldest roads in Hunterdon County was “layed out” in December 1721 and recorded in January 1721/22.

Here is the full text, as transcribed in Snell’s History of Hunterdon County (p. 347), which I will follow with my attempt to decipher what route was being described.1

 “A draught of the Amwell Road that leads from Malayehik into the Road that cums from Greens plantation to Cornelius Anderson.

Mount Amwell, December ye 13th  1721. Then layed out A Road fower Rods in Breadth According to An Act of Assembly Made And provided for that purpose

Beginning in ye said townshyp by ye Readington paith that leads from MR. Readings old plantation to wher John reading now Lives Att two Black oaks trees marked by sd paith  Thence along As Markt to A white oake tree Marked To the sutherd of Nathaniel petits plantation  thence Along As Marked to A hickory tree Markt by nishianing kricke  thence over sd krick As direct As may be to the school howse on the west seid of ye sd schoole howse  thence Along straight As marked to A Black oake tree on the west side of the paith that Leads from James Stouts to Joseph Hicksons  then along as marked Betweixt the palatins Land And John Warforts  thence Along As Marked by the east side of the old Indian towne to A red oake tree Marked in or near the Line Betwixt Benjamin Hicksons Land and Ruckmans  Thence Along ye sd line till it passeth the house of ye sd Ruckman  then through the corner of ye sd Ruckman field to A white oake tree  thence Along As marked to A Blacke oake tree Marked on ye east side of the old Road that Leads from George Greens old plantation to Cornelius Andersons plantation

Layed out By us Commissioners the day and year Above written  Philip Ringo, John Burroughs, Charles Clark, George Green, John Holcomb, Chas. I Burroughs, Commissioners.  Entered the above Draught January 26th  1721/22. Alexander Lockhart, Recorder

Note that George Green, whose plantation is near the route, is one of the Commissioners of Highways. Philip Ringo and John Holcomb are other well-known early settlers of Amwell Township.

Following the unification of East and West New Jersey, the legislature passed a law establishing the position of Commissioner of Highways, to be appointed for each county. In 1716, the law was modified by eliminating that position and replacing it with Surveyors of Highways (though they were still called Commissioners in 1721), responsible for designing and laying out the roads, and then recording these designs in a county road book. An additional position was created called Overseers of Roads. These were the people whose job it was to build and maintain the roads. They were supposed to be named by two Justices of the Peace, and were responsible for calling out individuals to do the work.2 This was the law that governed creation of the Amwell Road of 1721.

Let’s follow this road, step by step:

1)  “A draught of the Amwell Road that leads from Malayehik into the Road that cums from Greens plantation to Cornelius Anderson. 

The Malayehik (sometimes spelled Malayelick) is the name of an old Indian path that ran from the villages on the Assunpinck (Trenton) to the Forks of the Delaware (Easton, PA). Today it is simply Route 579. The Amwell Road therefore comes from Route 579 to a road that connects George Green’s plantation with land belonging to Cornelius Anderson. What road is that? Green’s plantation is southeast of Mt. Airy, as shown on Hammond Map G, but where was Cornelius Anderson?

According to the Op Dyke Genealogy, Cornelius Anderson owned a mill in the southwest corner of Hopewell Township, which would put him close to the Delaware River near Ewing Township. Unfortunately, D. Stanton Hammond did not map the proprietary tracts in this area. Hopewell Valley Heritage by Alice Blackwell Lewis suggests (p. 7) that Anderson’s mill was located on Jacob’s Creek, which is somewhat southwest of Titusville.

Richard W. Hunter and Richard L. Porter also put the Anderson family near Titusville.3 This wonderful book also includes a 1781 map by John Hills called “A Sketch of the Northern Parts of New Jersey.” It shows that to get from George Green’s plantation near Mt. Airy to the Delaware River in Hopewell one must either travel southwest on today’s Route 179 (the Old York Road) to meet with a road that runs along the river from Coryell’s Ferry southeast to Trenton. Or–take the Mt. Airy-Harbourton Road, which is barely visible on this map.

The Hills map also shows a road beginning at Howell’s Ferry (lower left) going north toward Flemington (upper left) which is Route 523. It shows another road branching off from that road about half way to Flemington at “Buchanan’s” that leads east to Ringoes. This has to be Route 579, although it looks a little weird. Another road appears to leave Howell’s Ferry and make a large arch to come around to meet today’s Route 179 close to Coryell’s Ferry. This must be the Route 523–Sandy Ridge-Mt. Airy–Route 179 path.

Map by John Hills, 1781 (Library of Congress)

Map by John Hills, 1781 (Library of Congress)

I downloaded this map from the Library of Congress website. The labels are faint, so I added them in Photoshop, along with labels for the modern roads. The problem is that it is just about impossible to figure out where Harbourton is located, and that is very important. So, I am offering next the map of 1828 prepared by Thomas Gordon for the New Jersey legislature.

Detail, 1828 Map of the State of New Jersey . . . by Thomas Gordon

Detail, 1828 Map of the State of New Jersey . . . by Thomas Gordon

As you can see, Howell’s Ferry is now Prallsville, next to Centre Bridge. Coryell’s Ferry is now Lambertville. “Rittenhouse’s” is today’s Rosemont. Harbourton is now on the map, but it is called Herbertown (even though it’s named after the Harbourts). Rocktown is there, and that is very helpful to this discussion. Mt. Airy is not identified, but it is visible along Rte 179. Once again, I have added labels with Photoshop for purposes of discussing this road.

It is hard to make the 1781 map jibe with the 1828 map. Coming to conclusions from 18th century maps is tricky. Example: The detail of the Faden Map of 1778 shows Route 179 running north from “Upper Falls” (Lambertville) to Ringoes. Intersecting it part way is a road that runs southwest to Howell’s Ferry. It fails to show any road connecting Howell’s Ferry to Flemington, even though that road had been in existence for many years.

It is easy to forget that the old roads were fairly provisional affairs, as we are so accustomed to our paved roads. A dirt road that was only used occasionally could quickly turn back into a path and then just disappear. This might explain why the routes changed fairly often, and why the old maps never seem to agree.

2) Mount Amwell, December ye 13th  1721. Then layed out A Road fower [four] Rods in Breadth According to An Act of Assembly Made And provided for that purpose  

The road description was written at Mount Amwell, which was the home of John Reading Sr. from about 1705 until his death in 1717. Mount Amwell was located just north of Howell’s Ferry (Stockton), was the home of John Reading Jr., later Governor of New Jersey, until he built his mansion house at Flemington Junction. It is important not to assume that the road began at Mount Amwell—it did not.

3) Beginning in ye said townshyp by ye Readington paith that leads from Mr. Readings old plantation to wher John reading now Lives Att two Black oak trees marked by sd paith

The “Readington path” was Route 523, running from Howell’s Ferry, which was near “Mr. Reading’s old plantation,” to Flemington Junction, which was where Gov. John Reading established his new home. Given that John Reading Jr. was a well-known surveyor, he probably had a lot to do with laying out this road. Exactly where along this “path” the new road was to begin was not mentioned, which makes following this route very difficult.

4) Thence along As Markt to A white oake tree Marked To the sutherd [southern] of Nathaniel petits plantation

Nathaniel Pettit at this time was in possession of a tract of land formerly owned by Daniel Robins, near the intersection of Routes 523 and 579. He appears as a bordering owner of Isaac Robins in 1737, and mortgaged his own land the same year. This property was near a tract owned by Pettit’s grandfather, Andrew Heath.4

Nathaniel Pettit does not appear on the Hammond Maps of early proprietary tracts in Hunterdon County, so we must depend on other sources. He appears as a bordering owner in other surveys of properties that were mortgaged in the 1730s and 1740s. He bordered the road to Ringo’s Tavern, Isaac Robins, and Thomas Hunt.5 These are the only records we have of Pettit’s ownership of land in this location.

As to who this Nathaniel Pettit actually was, it is very hard to say. Records are either missing or contradictory. It is probably not Nathaniel Pettit Sr. of Hopewell, who owned land in Trenton and died in 1718. He wrote his will in 1714/15, naming among other children a son Nathaniel. The Amwell landowner may have been Nathaniel Pettit Jr. (1676-c.1768) who married Elizabeth Heath in 1708 and may have been the son of either Nathaniel Pettit or Moses Pettit, who also died in 1718. Moses Pettit, yeoman of Mansfield Twp., Burlington County, wrote his will on July 6, 1718, and also named a son Nathaniel.

In any case, Nathaniel Pettit’s plantation was a key landmark for this road. I am guessing that between course 3 and 4, the road had turned from 523 into 579. What mystifies me is that no mention was made of Daniel Robins’ plantation, which was in the same vicinity.

5) thence Along As Marked to A hickory tree Markt by nishianing kricke [Neshanic Creek]

There are several branches to Neshanic Brook or Creek, and more than one of them crossed Route 579.

6) thence over sd krick As direct As may be to the school howse on the west seid of ye sd schoole howse

It is pretty close to impossible to say what schoolhouse existed near the Neshanic and Route 579. However, the old Higgins school, on the border of Raritan and Delaware Townships, near today’s Yard Road, is said to have been in existence since at least 1776. This road record is so much earlier that it is impossible to say anything about this school house with certainty.

7) thence Along straight As marked to A Black oake tree on the west side of the paith that Leads from James Stouts to Joseph Hicksons

James Stout owned 150 acres just north of Ringoes, which he bought in 1720.6 This is probably the same James Stout (1694-1731) who bought 700 acres from Philip Eddington, Thomas Stevenson & John Reading about 1720 and built his home on the west side of Lindbergh Road near Wertsville.7 Snell wrote (p. 353) that he lived “on the west side of Jacob Manners’ farm, where Abraham Runkle now resides.”

If Stout was living near Wertsville, then this point in the survey would be the Wertsville Road leading to Ringoes. The description says it was next to Stout’s property where a path leads to Hixson’s land. But Hammond does not show Hixson in the vicinity of Ringoes. The Hammond Index has only Abner, Amos, Nathan and Samuel Hixon. No Benjamin or Joseph. All I know about Joseph Hixson is that he was listed among the freeholders of Amwell Township in 1741. He must have been living in or near Ringoes in 1721-22.

Ringoes tavern was not mentioned. The History of East Amwell gives an interesting discussion of known records pertaining to the origins of Ringo’s Tavern (pp. 9-11), suggesting that John Ringo may have been squatting on land in the village well before this road record was made. But it seems that the tavern had not yet become a landmark.

8) then along as marked Betweixt the palatins Land And John Warforts

Henry Charlton Beck in his book The Roads of Home,8 when discussing German populations in Hunterdon, wrote: “The conclusion that most of the first settlers in Ringoes were German was supported by a 1721 survey which called it ‘the palatin’s land.’” Apologies for the meta reference. In fact there were many German families living in the vicinity of Ringoes. But the expression “the palatins land” suggests that a large acreage was purchased for several families to live on. There is no record of that being the case.

I have found no record of John Warford (“Warforts”) in this area. But there was a connection between John Warford and the Stout family who owned land in course No. 7. John Warford (1683-1769) married Elizabeth Stout, daughter of James Stout and Elizabeth Traux. My notes say he did not appear in Hunterdon until 1729, a few years after this road record. However, he must have married Elizabeth about 1708, judging from the birth of eldest child Job (b.1709) According to his will, his land bordered Wm. Fowler and James Bray, but that would have been in Kingwood twp.

Warford must have been living on or near today’s Route 31 in 1721 because the next course seems to take the traveler there.

9) thence Along As Marked by the east side of the old Indian towne to A red oake tree Marked in or near the Line Betwixt Benjamin Hicksons Land and Ruckmans

The old Indian town is probably Wishalamensy, located just south of the old Dawlis tract on Route 31 at Rocktown, and indicated on Hammond’s Map G. It is also almost due east of Dr. George Green’s tract. But there is no sign of Benj. Hixson on the Hammond map.  I have little information on Benjamin Hixon, other than that, like Joseph Hixon, he was an Amwell freeholder in 1741.

If Wishalamensy is in fact the Indian village referred to, it appears that instead of heading directly toward Mt. Airy along Route 179, the Amwell road went due south past the old village of Amwell to Rocktown.

10) Thence Along ye sd line till it passeth the house of ye sd Ruckman

Who was this “Ruckman”? It could be Thomas Sr., or his son John or son Thomas Jr. How nice it would be to be able to say specifically where this house was located. Hammond Map G (d1) shows a Thomas Ruckman near Route 179 heading toward Mt. Airy.9

How did the traveler get from Rocktown to Route 179? The Rocktown-Lambertville Road connects Rocktown with Lambertville, running almost parallel with and south of Route 179. But taking this route would miss the property of Thomas Ruckman. Studying the map, it seems the mostly likely route for this road from Rocktown is the Gulick Road, which would take one toward Mt. Airy.

A later deed of 1739 refers to land of Bartholomew Thatcher who appears on the Hammond Map as just north of the Alexauken Creek between Mt. Airy and Coryell’s Ferry. A 1740 loan application shows that Thatcher was bordered by John Ruckman.10 That 1739 road then proceeded to pass by land of George Green.

In 1758, more than 30 years after the road of 1721/22, a deed in which Robert Barns and John Severns bought land along the “Ellishockin Brook” and York Road showed that Thomas Ruckman owned property adjacent to this and to a mill race and mill pond.11 Once again, this is long after the road we are considering, but it seems relevant. The names of Barns and Severns also appear on the Hammond map near that of Thomas Ruckman.

11) then through the corner of ye sd Ruckman field to A white oake tree

Detail of Hammond Map G

Detail of Hammond Map G

To get to “ye sd Ruckman field,” the path had to go across the tract labeled Peter Fisher in the Hammond Map. Ruckman is shown next to land of Joseph Higgins. The map clearly shows the location of Green’s plantation southeast of Mt. Airy.

12) thence Along As marked to A Blacke oake tree Marked on ye east side of the old Road that Leads from George Greens old plantation to Cornelius Andersons plantation

George Green (c.1680-?) was probably the brother of Samuel Green, one of the earliest settlers in Amwell Township. He was living in Gloucester County in 1696 when he had his earmarks registered. He may have been a little rough with his wife Hannah in 1701, when the Burlington Court held him on recognizance of £50 and ordered him to be “of good behavior towards all his Magesties Liege People, especially to Hannah his wife.12 That same year he had 400 acres surveyed near Mt. Airy.13 There is little record of him after that until 1725 when his brother Samuel surveyed 610 acres for him in Hope Township, which he mortgaged in 1737.14 A George Green died intestate in Hardwick, Sussex Co. in 1777, but was probably Dr. George’s nephew, the son of Samuel Green.

As for the road, I believe this would in effect be Route 179 to Mt. Airy (near George Green’s plantation), then down the Mt. Airy-Harbourton Road to Route 579 toward Trenton, but somewhere turning off toward the Titusville area and the plantation of Cornelius Anderson.

Or continuing on to Coryell’s Ferry and then south along the river to Titusville, as the Map of 1781 seems to show. But then why not mention Coryell’s Ferry?–because Emanuel Coryell did not show up until 1729. However, I doubt this second route. The fact that the road return said so little about the route from Green’s plantation to Cornelius Anderson’s suggests that it was familiar to most people. Hunter and Porter wrote (p. 186) that the Harbourton-Mt. Airy Road was laid out about 1710 to connect the Trenton-Harbourton Road (Route 579) with the Old York Road. They also wrote that it was “relaid in 1736,” and again in 1807. That ‘relay’ of 1736 noted that it replaced a road that had been in use for near 30 years, referring, I believe, to part of this road of 1721. (A description of the 1736 road will appear in a future article.)

So, here, finally, is the route of the Amwell Road of 1721, as best I can tell.

Estimated route of the Amwell Road, 1721

Estimated route of the Amwell Road, 1721

Correction, 6/22/14:  A reader pointed out to me that Dr. George Green, as he was called on the Hammond map, probably did not die in 1777, and that general consensus is that that other George Green was the son of Samuel Green.

Footnotes:

  1. Snell found this document in Book 1 on p. 7 of the Hunterdon County Court of Common Pleas Minutes. If you look at the copy of the original book at the County Clerk’s office, you will not find page seven. The pages are out of order and some are missing. For the original, visit the County Archives.
  2. Hunter and Porter, Hopewell: A Historical Geography, p. 168-69. See also Wheaton J. Lane, From Indian Trail to Iron Horse, pp. 33-34, 37-38. This Act was not superseded until 1760.
  3. Hopewell: A Historical Geography, p. 116; The authors note that the Anderson, Vannoy and Johnson families, all Dutch, lived in the vicinity of Titusville.
  4. Hunterdon County Loan Office records (hereafter HCLO), 1737, D20 and D90.
  5. HCLO 1740 p. 172; 1737 p. 20; and 1735 p.36. Pettit was shown bordering the proprietary tracts of John Cook, John Robins and Mahlon Stacy. This puts him in Raritan Township near the junction of 523 & 579.
  6. Hammond Map G; East Amwell pp. 54-55.
  7. History of East Amwell, pp. 54-55.
  8. Beck, The Roads of Home: Lanes and Legends of New Jersey, (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers State University, 1956), p. 85.
  9. Hammond Index for Ruckman: James (Map F-c1), S. Samuel, Thomas (Map G-d1) and Wm. (Map G-d4).
  10. HCLO 1740, p. 105.
  11. West Jersey Proprietors Deeds, Book AN, p. 429.
  12. Burlington Court Record Book, p. 248.
  13. Survey Book A p. 48.
  14. HCLO No. 49.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sam Waugh June 20, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Dear Marfy,
You have my profoundest admiration at the patience and dogged scholarship you demonstrate each entry – and this one in particular. I share with you an almost perverse fascination regarding old maps and roads/paths and the sleuth they require to apply to current thoroughfares. This entry especially piques my interest because for 5 years my father drove me and my brothers both to and fro over much of this roadway, and of course I never gave it much thought. We left from 523, drove past Sandy Ridge Church (605), then on to Mt. Airy (601)and its awesome church, then on to Harbourton (518) turning right to Washington’s Crossing, then turning left at the Tavern there heading to the Pennington Circle (where 31 came in) and then on to Lawrenceville (Maidenhead) so that we could attend school at the Lawrenceville School. I never paid any attention to the road designations, but I could trace the route in my sleep – even today. The way was pretty tortuous with hills and turns – especially in the throes of winter , and with a new respect for the route’s antiquity, I have a better appreciation for why it may have been so. How fascinating its is to learn its provenance.
Regards,
Sam Waugh

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