The second in the series Hunterdon’s First Settlers

Technically, I should not include Richard Bull in the series “First Settlers of Hunterdon County,” since he never actually lived in Hunterdon, but he certainly qualifies as one of the first landowners. And he surveyed many of the first proprietary tracts here and even further north in Warren and Sussex Counties.

Richard Bull was a land owner in Hunterdon County, well before the county was created. Surprisingly, by the 20th century, even an accomplished student of Hunterdon history like Egbert T. Bush did not know exactly who he was. Bush wrote:1

“. . .  “Bool’s Island” {was} the name of a famous long and narrow island opposite {Raven Rock}, which is said to have taken name from one Bool, who owned the island and much land ashore.”

Mr. Bush was referring to Richard Bull, using the spelling that was common in his day. It tells us how the name was pronounced. Bush also wrote:2

“We are told that the original Robert Sharp farm . . . lay west of the old Bool’s line, which ran from Bool’s Island southward, dividing the Van Dolah lands from the Sharp tract, the Kitchen-Case farm from the Senator John Lambert tract, and thence beyond the present boundary of Hunterdon County.”

I don’t understand how Bush located “the old Bool’s line” at Bull’s Island. The Sharp and Vandolah farms bordered Sandy Ridge-Mt. Airy Road, which is a very long straight line, just as Bush describes, but is nowhere near Bull’s Island.

So who was Richard Bull?

He was a surveyor for the West Jersey Proprietors. His family history goes back to the earliest days of settlement in West New Jersey, and he was personally acquainted and worked with John Reading and Samuel Green.

The Bull Family of Gloucester County

Richard Bull was the son of Thomas and Sarah Bull of Pipe Hill, Staffordshire, England. Thomas Bull was well-known to John Reading and Reading’s father John Sr., who also lived in Pipe Hill. In 1677, together with Thomas Rudyard and Henry Beale, Bull bought a quarter share of a propriety in the Province of West New Jersey from Edward Byllinge and trustees.3 The Bull family, including three children (Thomas Jr., Richard and Sarah), emigrated from Staffordshire, England sometime before 1686, and settled in Gloucester County.4 Although Thomas and Sarah Bull arrived in West New Jersey along with the Quaker migration to that place, starting in 1677, there is no evidence that the Bull family belonged to that religion.

We know that Thomas Bull was present in Gloucester by 1686, for he was serving on a jury in Gloucester County that year, and got his earmarks registered there. That was also the year that he died, without a will, probably in November, since administration was granted to the widow on December 1, 1686, and the first inventory was made on December 19th. It is apparent from his inventory that he served as a local banker for his neighbors, and he also owned some lots in Philadelphia and two lots in Gloucester. A second inventory was made on March 2, 1686/1687 by Bull’s neighbors, John and Daniel Reading which showed how prosperous he was; it included a silver watch, silver money, and “two servant men,” probably indentured servants.

In deeds recorded in the 1690s, Sarah was usually identified as “Widow Bull.” In 1698, Richard Bull and his mother Sarah witnessed the will of Gilbert Wheeler of Bucks County. (Wheeler was one of the earliest purchasers of land in Hunterdon County.) Sarah Bull died soon after that year.

Another indication of Thomas Bull’s prosperity can be found in a deed of 1700. Sons Thomas and Richard, designated as “Gentlemen,” and daughter Sarah (“Spinster of Bucks County) in a deed dated March 18, 1699/1700, conveyed Thomas Bull Sr.’s lot of 100 acres to Thomas Gibson of Gloucester. The widow Sarah Bull was not named in that deed, leading to the conclusion that she had died sometime before that date. She should have had an estate since she owned property in Gloucester in the 1690s, but there is none recorded in either New Jersey or Pennsylvania.

Richard Bull in Hunterdon County

Like his siblings, Richard Bull inherited property in Gloucester and in Philadelphia. There are very few deeds or surveys recorded for him prior to 1701. By that time, several surveys had been made in the northern part of the Bowde Purchase, some of them probably by Richard Bull, as an employee of the West Jersey Proprietors.5

In 1697, a tract of 270 acres was surveyed in the Bowde Purchase for Richard Bull and John Clark, just south of Mt. Airy, as shown on Hammond Map F.6

Detail of Hammond Map F showing Richard Bull's 300 acres
Detail of Hammond Map F showing Richard Bull’s 300 acres (click to enlarge)

In 1701, 300 acres were surveyed for Richard Bull in the Bowde Purchase by William Emley.7 The survey was recorded on May 23, 1701. The Hammond map of proprietary tracts in Hunterdon County shows that this property came into possession of Samuel Green, but gave no deed or mortgage. I was not able to plot out this property from the description given in the survey, but D. Stanton Hammond has pieced it together from bordering deeds. One of those deeds was recorded on November 9, 1701, for land sold by Benjamin Field, yeoman of Chesterfield, to John Way of Newtown, Long Island, for 700 acres “in the country above the Indian Town of Itcha-la-men-sey, between Wm. Biddle and Richard Bull.”8 This Indian village was located on Hammond Map G near the village of Rocktown in East Amwell. The 300 acres belonging to Richard Bull is today part of the property owned by the Pauch family in Delaware Township.

The Widow Sarah Hunt Harrison

Richard Bull’s sister Sarah married Samuel Green. Probably soon after that, the couple left Gloucester and settled on land in the Adlord Bowde purchase. About the same time, John Reading, prominent gentleman and surveyor of Gloucester, also left for what was to become Hunterdon County. But Richard Bull decided to remain behind. He had a personal reason for staying—at just this time, about 1704-1708, Richard Bull married Sarah Hunt Harrison of Gloucester, daughter of William Hunt who died about 1689. William Hunt wrote his will in September 1688, naming daughters Sarah and Mary as administrators of his estate.

Sometime before 1688, Sarah Hunt was married to Samuel Harrison, a mariner of Gloucester. They had six children from about 1688 to about 1700. Harrison is particularly interesting because he went into partnership with John Reading to build a brewery in Gloucester. They agreed to hire one Anthony Blany to produce malt and beer at the brewery for seven years, but Blany was careless and allowed the brew house to catch fire. Not only was the brewery destroyed but also an adjacent house in which John Reading had kept the records for the town and county of Gloucester, including land records, which were all destroyed.9

In early 1704, Samuel Harrison died intestate and his widow Sarah was named administrator. Her husband’s inventory included “four negroes.” With six young children to raise, it is not surprising that she soon married again. However, she probably did not see much of her new husband, as Richard Bull had to spend a lot of time away from home, making surveys in Hunterdon County. Perhaps that explains why they had no children.

Bull was occasionally present in Gloucester making inventories and writing out wills for other Gloucester residents–in 1708, he made the inventory of Casparus Fish and wrote the will of Richard Bromley; in 1711 he received reports of ship conditions at Gloucester. On October 7, 1709, Bull was one of the witnesses to an Indian deed for 300 acres to John Reading.10

Later Surveys by Richard Bull

From 1711 to 1718, most of Amwell Township was surveyed as part of a huge tract called the “Lotting Purchase,” land that had been acquired from the Indians in 1703 for the purpose of granting dividends to owners of proprietary shares in the Province of West New Jersey. The Purchase Line ran through Delaware Township, from east to west, and was a short distance north of the 300 acres that were surveyed for Richard Bull in 1701.

Richard Bull made several surveys in the Lotting Purchase, including one in what became Kingwood Township in 1712 of 5,000 acres for Amos Strettle. That same year he made surveys for Andrew Heath and William Petty (as shown on Hammond Map G).11

By 1715, Richard Bull had gained enough stature to be named a Justice of the Peace in Gloucester on April 5th. Soon afterwards, while out surveying with John Reading in what was later to become Morris County, Bull was served with a writ. According to John Reading’s Journal, the Sheriff of Essex County served the writ on Bull and John Budd on behalf of ‘the New York Company,’ for damages of £15.12. Reading did not explain the nature of the complaint, but he did mention that on the same day (May 4, 1715), the surveyors killed three rattlesnakes, which tells us something about the hazards of surveying in northwest New Jersey in the 18th century.

One other major purchase of land by Richard Bull in what would be Hunterdon County was for 625 acres, made jointly with John Ladd in 1712. The survey was recorded on November 11, 1712 and included what we now know as Bull’s Island, as well as Raven Rock and the surrounding land. Ladd was another deputy surveyor residing in Gloucester County. The two men divided the tract between them by deed dated February 17, 1721.13

The Death and Estate of Richard Bull

About October 1722, Richard Bull died intestate. He was only about 45 years old. An inventory was made of his estate on October 16, 1722 by Francis Jones, and sworn to by the widow Sarah acting as administrator. It amounted to £107.8.4 and included a negro servant, eight books, and surveying compass, along with bills due from Elias Fish, Richard Ualintine, Elias Hugg and John Pearce.14

Richard’s brother Thomas Bull, “Gentleman of Gloucester,” wrote his will on October 13, 1722. He named his wife Hannah, his son Thomas who had moved back to England, and his sister Sarah Green. He did not name his brother Richard. The will was recorded on October 22, 1722. It is generally thought that Richard predeceased his brother Thomas by only a few days.

But, there is a conundrum here. On November 2, 1723, administration of Richard Bull’s estate was granted to his widow Sarah, “with assent of Thomas Bull, brother and heir apparent of Richard dec’d.”15  How could that be? The date must be incorrect, since Thomas Bull, brother of Richard, died before October 22, 1722 when an inventory was made of his property.16

One researcher claims that Richard Bull made a deathbed statement that he had meant to write a will providing for his wife and leaving the residue of his assets to his sister Sarah Green.17 This would explain how Samuel Green came into possession of Bull’s 300 acres in Hunterdon County. It would also explain why I have not found any deeds for the sale of Bull’s property in Hunterdon after his death.

Even though he never lived in Hunterdon, Richard Bull clearly left his mark on the county.

Addendum, Jan. 11, 2014:  I just discovered that Hubert G. Schmidt was aware of “Bull’s line.” In his book Rural Hunterdon (p. 55), he wrote: “The locally famous “Bull’s Line,” which extended from Sandy Ridge to what is now the Mercer County boundary, remained an unbroken dividing line between the farms on either side until about 1875.”



  1. E. T. Bush, “Raven Rock Was Once Bool’s Island,” Hunterdon Co. Democrat, Feb. 12, 1931.
  2. E. T. Bush, “Sandy Ridge Long A Farm Community,” Hunterdon Co. Democrat, June 19, 1930.
  3. Referenced in a deed of Henry Beale to Mordecai Howell in 1689, Nelson’s Calendar of Records, NJA.
  4. A deed of April 29, 1705 in which Thomas Bull, Gentleman, late of Stafford Co., England, conveyed property to his brother Richard Bull of Gloucester, shows that the Bull children were born in England. Cited in John David Davis, West Jersey New Jersey Deed Records 1676-1721, p. 177. For an interesting article on the Bull family in Gloucester, see the article, “The Plantation Yclept Bromley.
  5. I have previously written about the purchase of 30,000 acres by Adlord Bowde in “West New Jersey 1688 and Daniel Coxe.”
  6. West Jersey Proprietors, Survey Book A p. 37; N.J. State Archives, Trenton.
  7. West Jersey Proprietors, Survey Book A, p. 48.
  8. WJP Survey Book B2, p. 702; NJA Calendar of Records, p. 532.
  9. For a good description of this incident, see “The Plantation Yclept Bromley.”
  10. John David Davis, West Jersey New Jersey Deed Records 1676-1721, p. 226. Davis did not indicate in his abstract where this property was, or give a citation for the deed.
  11. West Jersey Proprietors, Survey Book A p. 128, N.J. State Archives, Trenton.
  12. Journal of John Reading, NJHS Proceedings vol. 1, nos. 1-3
  13. WJP Survey Book A p. 137, and as seen in Hunterdon Deed Book 4, p. 6. For more about this property, see Bush’s article “Raven Rock Was Once Bull’s Island,” and my article “Raven Rock and the Saxtonville Tavern.”
  14. NJA, Abstracts of Wills, vol. 1, p.72.
  15. Wm. Nelson, ed., Abstracts of Wills vol. 1, Documents Relating to the Colonial History of the State of New Jersey, vol. 23. Newark, NJ: 1901, p.72.
  16. The date appears in the abstracts of his will, NJA, Abstracts of Wills, vol. 1, p. 72-73. An examination of the original estate papers might clarify this question.
  17. Green Genealogy by Ida Crozier and Charlotte Green, Hamilton, Ont., n.d., vol. 1 p. 3, referring to a book by Helen Encke Benson (History of the Samuel Green Family of Northwest New Jersey, 1972, p. 69 note 3), which cites a folder (no. 4) found in box 25, Alexander Papers, NY Historical Society, Ms. Division. Neither Benson nor Crozier explains what document this came from or if there was a date. Many thanks to a Green researcher (who prefers to remain anonymous) for providing this tip.