This post is another side trip in my journey through Hunterdon history by way of Samuel Green. While looking through the Delaware Papers by Charles T. Gehring, I happened upon some interesting items dating to 1680.

In a previous post, I mentioned a petition by residents of Crewcorne regarding the sale of liquor to the Indians. That petition can be found in the Delaware Papers, along with a couple related items. But first, where was Crewcorne (sometimes written “Creekhorne” or “Crookhorn”)? As a town it did not survive and does not appear on any maps. But it was always identified as being “at the Falls,” which means near Trenton. In fact, it was on the Pennsylvania side of the river, as I learned from reading History of Bucks County, Pennsylvania by William W. H. Davis (1905), another of those great old Google books. He wrote that Crewcorne was a small settlement in Bucks County somewhat below the falls, and that it was probably named for Crewkerne, a market town in Somersetshire. According to Davis, the first court in Bucks County was held there, in 1680. This explains why it does not appear in the Burlington Court Book.

Some of the land there was purchased from Gov. Andros. The west side of the Delaware was not under the jurisdiction of New Jersey or New York, but the residents looked to Andros since there was no other authority established, until William Penn came along in 1682. As Davis wrote: “In truth, at that time the settlers in Bucks county lived ‘nowhere’ so far as legal jurisdiction was concerned.”

I learned more about Crewcorne from an article by Terry McNealy published in Town & Country Living Magazines in 2007. He wrote that a few Quaker families settled just below the falls in 1679, and the name came from the home in England of William Biles, who was probably the wealthiest member of the group. That little settlement is known today as Morrisville (and is the title of McNealy’s article; you can read it here).

So, here is the item that caught my attention. It was dated April 12, 1680 and was a petition by the residents of Crewcorne to the Governor (who was still Edmund Andros) for relief. Here is the text, with all its wonderful spelling aberrations, and blanks from illegibility:

“To the Worthy Governor of new York
Whereas wee the Inhabitants of the new seated Towne nere the falls of Delloware (called Crewcorne) findeing our selves agreived by the Indians when drunck, Insomuch that we be and have been in great danger of our Lives, of houses burning of our goods Stealeing and of our Wives and children a Frighting, Insomuch that wee are affeared to go about our Lawfull occasions, least when wee come home we [. . .] finde them and our concernes damnifyed. These things considered we doe humbly and Jointly desire that the selling [. . .] and other strong liquors to the Indians may be wholly suppressed which if done we shall live peaceable.
[signed] Willi Biles, Rich Regway, Samuel Field, John Akarman, Robt [Lucas], Robt Scholey, Tho: Scholey, Danial Brinson, William Cooper, George Browne.
“Mr. Gilbert Wheelers house broake open by Indians and Peter Aldrix Mans house on The Island and another hou[s] [signed] Gilbert Wheeler
“Hoskins drowned
“Estate att Burlington”

It is well known that Indians had no tolerance for alcohol, which was provided to them by the English. This petition does tell us something of the difficulties these early settlers were confronting and their uneasiness with living so close to a people they understood so poorly. However, their only complaint about the Indians seems to be their behavior when drunk. Otherwise, things were “peaceable.”

On May 17, 1680, William Biles, the constable of Crewcorne, sent a note to Gov. Andros stating that according to the warrant that Gov. Andros issued on April 20th, he summoned Gilbert Wheeler and Barnet Keerce to appear before the Governor in New York. (I do not have information on what Gov. Andros decided, but I expect he fined Wheeler and Keerce.) William Biles also had the residents gather to choose some commissioners, presumably to provide some sort of local government. Those commissioners were George Browne, Robert Scooly [sic], Robert Lucas, and Samuel Field [sic]. Biles reported that things had been quiet since April and “the people heare are very well satisfied with what thee hath done in order to Keepe them quiet.” I suspect that Biles was appointed constable by Gov. Andros, and his order to have residents chose commissioners probably also came from Andros.

The quiet that Biles boasted of did not last. On September 13, 1680, the residents again complained “unwillingly” to the Governor about the sale of liquor to the Indians, but this time they complained explicitly about Gilbert Wheeler, who would “not be restrained from selling of strong liquor to the Indians.” And it is Wheeler I am interested in because he was one of the earliest to purchase land in what became Delaware Township, Hunterdon County. The Crewcorne residents complained that he

“entertains the Indians at his house by great numbers, and sells it [liquor] to them by both great and small measures, which sometimes they carry a little distance from his house and makes them selves drunck with it, Then they revill and fight together, and then they com furiously and break our fences and steales our corne, and breaks our windows and dores and carryes away our goods, and worryed 3 of our chatle [cattle] in one day with their dogs, which oppression if it continue will force some of us from our Plantations, we being very weake at the present for resistance and ignorant of their Lingo whereby we can not appease them when they are mad with drinck.”

McNealy wrote that Wheeler, a London fruit merchant, was the first person to set up a ferry across the Delaware, and also a tavern for the travelers’ comfort. It was probably from this tavern that Indians got access to liquor.

Gilbert Wheeler of London arrived in New Jersey in 1679 aboard the Jacob and Mary, with his wife Martha and children William, Brian and Martha. He also brought servants Charles Thompson, Robert Benson, and Katharine Knight. Although he had property in Bucks County, PA, he also had proprietary shares in West New Jersey, as he was one of the proprietors who conveyed acreage to Thomas Budd in 1687.

The petitioners of 1680 asked that the sale of liquor to Indians be “wholly suppressed amongst us.” They were a little frustrated because William Biles had given them all sorts of reassurances after their first petition, but it turned out that he too was interested in selling liquor to Indians. It must have been a fairly lucrative business to make these men willing to endure the anger of their neighbors and the destruction of property that resulted.

A question I cannot answer with certainty at this time is what the Indians paid for their liquor. It must have been something like corn or some other product they could offer, like furs.

As for Gilbert Wheeler, he did not mend his ways. At the Burlington Court in August 1682 (pg. 9), Gov. Jennings and the Commissioners heard the case of Gilbert Wheeler defendant for selling Rum etc. He was found guilty and fined £5.

In 1688, Wheeler appeared again in Burlington Court charged in an “Action of Trover” * but a case could not be made against him and was dismissed.1 The next entry in the Court Book (pg 84) states:

“Gilbert Wheeler according to his Bond appears about his selling Rum, the Court demand the Fyne of 5l. [i.e., £5] formerly laid on him for selling Rum: Whereupon upon Mr. Wheelers request for mitigation the Court remitt it to 50s. provided Wheeler pay it in Silver money.”

In May 1690, Wheeler was once again a defendant when he was sued by James Marshall. Wheeler failed to appear. Thomas Revell and James Hill testified against him, and the court awarded a fine of £21.13.0 silver money which was the principal debt with damages and cost of the suit. In August, the court remitted Wheeler’s fine to 50 shillings at the request of George Hutchinson (pgs 103, 114). I can’t help but wonder what the story was there.

Despite his legal troubles, Wheeler managed to acquire property. In 1693, he was taxed in Falls Twp., Bucks Co. In 1697, Wheeler had 250 acres surveyed along the Delaware River. His property appears on the Hammond Map, adjacent to the first tract surveyed in that area, to John Calow in 1695. As I work my way through the 1680s and into the 1690s, I will have more opportunity to talk about these early surveys in Hunterdon County.

The next year, 1698, Wheeler wrote his will, as a yeoman of Bucks County. He named his wife Sarah executrix along with son-in-law John Clark of Burlington and friend John Pidcock of Bucks County. The will was witnessed by Richard and Sarah Bull, William Taylor and William ‘Emlen’ (Emley). These witnesses were residents of Gloucester County, New Jersey, which indicates how the river acted more as a bridge than a barrier between settlements. Wheeler may have been ill when he wrote his will, but he managed to survive until 1703. At least, that is the year that his will was recorded.

As for Crewcorne, the village continued as the county seat of Bucks County until 1705, when the courts were moved to Bristol. However, in the years before Penn arrived, Crewcorne residents took part in deliberations of the Burlington Court. For instance, Robert Scholey served as a petty juror on the Burlington Court in 1681-82. In fact, most of the names of the petitioners of April 1680 appear in the Burlington Court Book. The exceptions are John Akarman (Ackerman/Akerman), George Browne, and Samuel Feild (Field).

  1.  A legal definition of an action of trover is a legal action brought to recover the value of personal chattels, wrongfully converted by another to his own use, which tells us little of what the case was about.