South Brunswick Township
Middlesex County, New Jersey
Hunter Research, Inc.
The Township of South Brunswick
Table of Contents
Table of Contents i
List of Figures, Plates and Tables i
A. Introduction 1
B. History 1
C. The Site 20
D. References 25
List of Figures
Figure 1. Map Showing Early 18th-Century Land Divisions. 1929. 2
Figure 2. Dalley, J. A Map of the Road from Trenton to Amboy. 1745. 4
Figure 3. Bancker, G. A Map of the Road from Trenton to Amboy. 1762. 6
Figure 4. Faden, W. Province of New Jersey Divided into East and West Commonly
Called the Jerseys. 1777. 9
Figure 5. Randel, J. A Map Shewing the Route of a Canal Connecting the Waters of
The Delaware with those of the Raritan. 1816. 12
Figure 6. Otley, J. and J. W. Keily. Map of Middlesex County. 1850. 15
Figure 7. Walling, H. F. Map of Middlesex County. 1862. 16
Figure 8. Everts and Stewart. Combination Atlas Map of Middlesex County. 1876 17
Figure 9. Map of the Route of the Camden and Amboy Branch Railroad from Trenton
To Dean’s Pond. 1863. 18
Figure 10. Detailed Location of Project Area 19
Figure 11. Tax parcel Map Showing the Focus of Longbridge Farm 21
List of Plates
Plate 1. View of Rowland/Mershon House 22
List of Tables
Table 1. Longbridge Farm: Sequence of Ownership 14
SOUTH BRUNSWICK TOWNSHIP, MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NEW JERSEY
18th –century plantation of Longbridge Farm, established in the 1730s by the wealthy Philadelphia merchant, Thomas Lawrence, was one of a small number of elite colonial farming operations in central New Jersey that combined a substantial acreage with a large slave population in a manner more often found in the southern colonies. The plantation was the scene of an overnight encampment of General Washington’s Continental army on June 25/26, 1778, a couple of nights before the Battle of Monmouth. Although its acreage was reduced over time, the farm flourished well into the 19th century in the hands of the locally prominent Rowland and Mershon families. Today, the site of Longbridge Farm is subsumed within the railroad-based village of Monmouth Junction and displays few upstanding features from the colonial era.
The this brief historical study was commissioned by the Township of South Brunswick as an outgrowth of the ongoing township-wide cultural resource survey being conducted by Hunter Research, Inc. of Trenton. Long the subject of unsubstantiated rumor and speculation, Longbridge Farm has been greatly in need of systematic archival research and historic landscape analysis. The following report presents an outline history of the property drawn from primary documents followed by a provisional assessment of the core of the plantation site within the context of the present-day landscape.
The colonial plantation of Longbridge Farm was originally contained within a 15,600-acre tract purchased by Peter Sonmans from the East Jersey Proprietors in 1693 in what was then the recently formed Middlesex County. Sonman’s vast parcel of undeveloped land extended as far south as Kingston (Figure 1). This parcel included most of modern day South Brunswick Township and parts of other adjoining municipalities. It was from the upper end of Sonmans’ tract that, in 1733, 800 acres were carved out and sold to Thomas Lawrence, forming the basis for what shortly became known as Longbridge Farm (East Jersey Deeds E:53 and E2:68). Lawrence also owned other blocks of land downstream along the brook that have historically been identified by his family name, including a tract at its mouth that apparently acquired in 1689 by an older Thomas Lawrence, baker of New York (possibly the father of the Thomas Lawrence who is identified with Longbridge Farm) (East Jersey Proprietors Records, Deed Book 5 D:87-88).
Thomas Lawrence of Longbridge Farm was born in 1689 in New York. In 1719, he married Rachel Longfield at Raritan, New Jersey, but by the early 1720s, he had relocated to Philadelphia and begun a successful career as a merchant. Lawrence quickly rose to take his place among the Quaker City’s cultural and mercantile elite. He was a subscriber to the Dancing Assembly, an exclusive aristocratic group formed by Philadelphia’s most prominent families; a member of the Schuylkill Fishing Company, the first sport-fishing club in the colonies; and Junior Warden of Christ Church (Keith 1883: 435-436. Lawrence’s financial interests were
diverse and reached as far as Barbados in the West Indies and Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. One of his letter books, from 1725, states that he had “a fine new ship called the Sarah L. Lawrence” which was plying between places as far afield as Jamaica, South Carolina and Holland. He traded in diverse stock of commodities and sundries, including tobacco, molasses, flour and Indian corn (Thomas Lawrence Papers 1789-1754). By 1730, a partnership had been formed between Lawrence and Edward Shippen, another wealthy and influential Philadelphia merchant, to take part in the lucrative fur trade (Keith 1883:436-38).
Thomas Lawrence was perhaps best known for his civic and political activities. In 1722, he was elected a Common Councilman of the City of Philadelphia and two years later was chosen an Alderman. In 1728, he qualified for a seat in the Provincial Council. He also presided as Judge of the County Court and served on the State House Committee. In 1736 and 1737, Lawrence was sent by the Provincial Council to Lancaster County in order to address the eviction of settlers in the Susquehanna Valley, and in 1745, he was delegated as one of the Commissioners from Pennsylvania charged with deliberating on land and trade issues with the Six Indian Nations of the Iroquois League at Albany. In 1747, he was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel of the Associated Regiment of Foot for Philadelphia. This position had been offered to Benjamin Franklin, who declined to accept it, suggesting Lawrence in his place because of his more extensive military experience. Lawrence served terms as Mayor of Philadelphia in 1727, 1728, 1734, 1749 and 1753. He was serving his final term in 1754, when he passed away from “a fit of sickness.” Thomas Lawrence’s obituary notice recorded “the death of so able and diligent a magistrate as a public loss” (Keith 1883:36-38).
Longbridge Farm appears by name on several colonial and federal era maps of the South Brunswick area. The plantation derived its name from the bridge that carried the forerunner of present-day Ridge Road over the Lawrence Brook. The earliest known cartographic depiction of Longbridge Farm occurs on John Dalley’s A Map of the Road from Trenton to Amboy, surveyed in 1745. Dalley, a native of Kingston and thus quite familiar with the local landscape, produced this map at the behest of James Alexander, Surveyor General of the Province of New Jersey, probably in an effort to clarify land ownership and municipal and county definition along the Kings Highway. At least two original copies of the Dalley map are known to be in existence, both held by the New York Historical Society. Although there are some slight differences in how the lettering is executed on these two versions of the map, only one copy is reproduced here (Figure 2).
On this copy of the Dalley map, the text denoting the site of “Longbridge Farm belonging to Thos Lawrence, Esq.” Is positioned between “Heathcot’s Brook” (Heathcote Brook) and the course of a road that approximates the alignment of today’s Ridge Road. The annotation pertains primarily to a stylized block of three contiguous buildings, lying just west of a fictitious confluence of Lawrence Brook and Heathcote Brook, but its placement may also be taken as an indication that the plantation acreage extended west and downstream along Heathcote Brook to the north of present-day Ridge Road. In reality, Lawrence Brook and Heathcote Brook did not converge in the manner shown on the Dalley map, although the Longbridge Farm property did straddle the headwaters of both drainages, which rise in an area of ill-defined wetland that wraps around to the north, east and south of the settlement of Monmouth Junction. Then, as now, Lawrence Brook flowed northeast to the Raritan River, while Heathcote Brook (also known historically as Opposite Brook, because of its unusual direction of flow contrary to most other nearby creeks) drained west into the Millstone River at Kingston.
The fact that the Dalley map depicts Longbridge Farm with a tripartite house symbol bears comment. The vast majority of properties outside the villages are shown on this map as single buildings. The closest property shown in the same manner as Longbridge Farm was Thomas Leonard’s estate “Grove Hall” on the edge of Princeton. The Dalley map thus appears to be indicating that Longbridge Farm was a larger than average plantation, although whether this symbol is intended to indicate an exceptionally substantial principal dwelling or a cluster of buildings is unclear. The map also shows that the Longbridge Farm property was traversed by the division line surveyed in 1743 by John Lawrence in accordance with an act of the General Assembly that sought to clarify the boundary between the Provinces of East and West New Jersey. John Lawrence’s journal includes the following record at milepost 57 (from Egg Harbor): “A maple about 30 links N. in Thomas Lawrence’s land (low and swampy): at 12.50 George Heathcoats brook about 3 ft. wide, bore S.W. (a branch of Devil’s Brook)” (Lawrence 1743). While Thomas Lawrence had a son named John (see below), the surveyor, John Lawrence, was not a close relative, being descended instead from a Monmouth County line of Lawrence’s.
In 1762, Gerard Bancker produced a copy of the Dalley map (Figure 3). Bancker’s copy, the original of which is held at Firestone Library, Princeton University, represents a close redrawing of the version of the Dalley map reproduced here as Figure 1, although various annotations are omitted, as for example along the north side of the Kings Highway between Kingston and Princeton. Longbridge Farm, however, is depicted exactly as it had been 17 years earlier by John Dalley, even though Thomas Lawrence (again noted as the owner) had died in the interim in 1754. Evidently, Bancker generated this copy as a paper exercise without attempting to update the cartographic data.
Longbridge Farm was no ordinary real estate investment for Thomas Lawrence. This was one of his principal properties served as his summer residence. Even as its smallest extent in the pre-Revolutionary period, Longbridge Farm always amounted to at least 800 acres and was worked by what was apparently a substantial labor force, including slaves and an overseer. However, the extent to which this vast colonial property was profitable from an agricultural standpoint remains largely unknown. Plantations of the scope and size of Longbridge were actually quite rare in the colonial agrarian landscape of New Jersey, the norm being the family farm of between one hundred and two hundred acres worked by an extended family with the help of a small number of hired hands, indentured servants or slaves. Rarely could any of these more typical, smaller farms afford to supplement their family workforce with more than three or four laborers at any one time.
Plantations utilizing vast labor forces dominated by slaves, like those so characteristic of the Southern colonies and the Caribbean islands, were few and far between in New Jersey. This was largely because the colony lacked a profitable cash crop, a tradable/salable commodity like indigo, tobacco or sugar. There was also an aversion to the practice of slavery among many of the colony’s residents, especially among Quakers. This is not to say that slaves were rare in colonial New Jersey; even in areas with sizeable Quaker populations, both Dutch-American and non-Quaker Anglo-American settlers commonly held slaves. A census taken in 1726 found that approximately 8% of the total population of New Jersey was non-white. More than 2,581 Negroes were recorded in this census and most of these individuals were enslaved Africans/African-Americans (Wacker 1975:191-192). In 1734, another census reported 4,606 slaves in the colony, once again constituting about 8% of the total population (Cooley 1896:440). Thus Slavery was a relatively common practice during the colonial period in the colony of
New Jersey, even though few landowners could afford to purchase, feed and house more than one or two individuals.
Relatively large slave work forces are known to have been utilized at some of New Jersey’s early iron working sites. In Monmouth County, Colonel Lewis Morris’ iron plantation at Tinton Falls had a population of 60 or more slaves, by far the largest number of slaves known to have been kept on any New Jersey land holding (Boyer 1931:196-199). The numbers of slaves utilized in agricultural pursuits on individual plantations and farms were smaller. Among New Jersey’s largest documented agriculturally-employed slave populations were the 20 or more enslaved African/African-Americans who worked the 2,000-acre plantation of Captain John Berry, and the 15 who worked the neighboring plantations of his son-in-law, both properties being located in New Barbadoes Neck, Bergen County (Wacker 1973:191-192). Another well-known colonial plantation with a substantial slave population was the estate of William Kelly in Parsippany, Morris County. By 1768, when Kelly was advertising this property of around 2,000 acres for sale, the enslaved labor force on the plantation numbered some 20 individuals. Purchased four years later by Lucas Von Beverhoudt, a wealthy plantation owner in St. Thomas in the Danish West Indies, the property soon after became known as Beverwyck and continued as a major slave holding plantation (Silber and Catts 2001).
Many of New Jersey’s larger slave enclaves were controlled by individuals with strong ties to the Caribbean. In addition to Beverhoudt’s link to St. Thomas, Lewis Morris and John Berry were both residents of Barbados. Indeed, these “New” Barbadians were the beneficiaries of several large land deals with the East Jersey Proprietors in the early and mid-18th century. Through such real estate transactions they accumulated substantial wealth, which in turn was parlayed into political power within the colonial government. Familiar as a
result of their West Indian experience with the deployment of massive numbers of slaves in a plantation economy, plantation owners like Morris and Berry are thought to have been instrumental in introducing this harsher and larger-scale brand of slavery on to New Jersey soil (Wacker 1975:191).
Although reliable information concerning the larger slave-based plantations in New Jersey is scant, it would appear that Longbridge Farm was one of these elite colonial establishments. The main piece of evidence in support of this contention is a tantalizing and revealing letter dated 1754 that was sent to Thomas Lawrence by a prominent neighbor, Thomas Wetherill:
Sir, Having this opportunity thought fit to Acquaint you of the misconduct of your Servants at the Longbridge farm. They & several other servants meeting together at your farm & at other places of randevous – which if not timely stoped may be of bad consiquence. I being laid – under a necessity to go to your farm at or on 9 o’clock at night some time ago by reason of 2 of my Negro fellows being absconded with out leave to my surprise found a great number of Neagroes to the number of 30 or 40 & after som time got my servents away but meeting with a great deal of abuseful language from your servents the overseer not appearing as I saw & he being unacquainted with the mannagement of Negroes suffers too much liberty to both white & black. I – have taken som pains to put a stop to such proceedings but I hath not as yet answered aforesaid desired effect I hope that you will give such directions to your overseer that he may cause aforesaid offenders to be punished according to their deserts –
Sir your favour in a fue sions of your best & largest pairs – will much oblige your – (Thomas Lawrence Papers 1789-1754).
This document suggests that Thomas Lawrence’s farm may have been worked by a substantial slave contingent, perhaps as many as 30 or 40 individuals, who were as the letter suggest, supervised by an overseer. The slave gathering documented by Wetherill’s letter is important in the context of the social life of early New Jersey slave populations. Gatherings such as these were banned in the colony by a law passed in 1751, which held that slaves were to be prohibited “from meeting in large Companies, from running about at night” (Rosenberg 1977:200). Such gatherings were prohibited in every colony in which slavery was legal. The main intent of these laws was to prevent coordinated slave uprisings. Despite the potential repercussions, meetings like the one recorded at Longbridge Farm are frequently documented among slave populations in the South, and played an important role in the development of southern slave culture and the African-American community. The evidence of the Longbridge Farm gathering of 1754 may well be unique within the colonial framework of New Jersey’s African-American history.
Prior to the death of Thomas Lawrence in the same year as the slave gathering, ownership of Longbridge Farm passed to his son, John. At the time of his father’s demise, John Lawrence was in possession of the core 800 acres of Longbridge Farm and, according to the provisions of Thomas’ will, was to receive an additional 1,054 adjacent acres (West Jersey Unrecorded Will 8:125). John Lawrence was almost as prominent in Philadelphia as his illustrious father. In the pre-Revolutionary War period he likewise served as a Common Councilman, Alderman and then Mayor of Philadelphia (from 1765-1767) and he was also an attorney for the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a Clerk of the Quarter Sessions and a Judge of the Supreme Court. Although John Lawrence was educated in England and traveled overseas after the Revolutionary War, for most of his life he resided in Philadelphia and at
Longbridge Farm. He died at Longbridge in 1799, as did his wife, Elizabeth, in the following year (Keith 1883:450-451).
Slaves were still kept on Longbridge Farm prior to the Revolution during John Lawrence’s tenure, as is indicated by a notice placed in the New Jersey Gazette on October 15, 1773, 1773 (Nelson 1917:71).
From the subscriber living on Long Bridge farm in the county of Middlesex, New-Jersey, a Negro man named Jack, he is of a brown colour, about 5 feet 11 inches high, rather slim made; had on when he went away, a broad cloth homespun jacket; without sleeves, blud and red mixed, leather breeches about half worn, a flannel shirt, and old wool hat. It is suspected he may have taken other cloaths with him, but it is not certain. Whoever takes up the said Negro man, brings him to the subscribers, or secures him in any goal, so that he may have him again, shall have Eight Dollars reward, and reasonable charges paid, by
Okeson’s role on the farm remains unknown but he may have been an overseer, manager or possible a leaseholder. Around this same time, “Longbridge” was a significant enough landmark to merit designation on William Faden’s map of “The Province of New Jersey” published in 1777 (Figure 4).
The status of Longbridge Farm during the early years of the Revolutionary War is of some interest. Presumably because of his republican leanings, when the British approached and then occupied Philadelphia in the fall of 1777, John Lawrence was put under arrest and placed on parole. He was subsequently confined
to Pennsylvania, his parole obligation finally being discharged on June 30, 1778, a few days after the British removal from Philadelphia for New York and the somewhat inconclusive Battle of Monmouth (Keith 1883:450-451). The fact that George Washington and the main body of the Continental army camped at Longbridge prior to the Battle of Monmouth on the night of June 25/26 raises several questions, none of which can be satisfactorily answered. Was John Lawrence privy to the Continental Army’s use of his property? Did he, in fact, make the plantation available to Washington? What was the condition of the plantation during the period of Lawrence’s confinement in Philadelphia? Was the property farmed, or did it lie virtually abandoned and open to the ravages of competing British and American forces?
In the preamble to the Battle of Monmouth, Washington’s army left Valley Forge in early June and, paralleling the course of the British Army heading from Philadelphia to New York, began to move east across central New Jersey through Coryell’s Ferry (present-day Lambertville, Hopewell and Rocky Hill en route to Monmouth Courthouse (modern Freehold). On Thursday, June 25, the army marched from Rocky Hill through Kingston and encamped for the night at “Longbridge.” The following morning the American troops continued on to Cross Roads (Dayton) and then turned south along Georges Road to Cranbury.
In Washington’s own words:
[T]he next day [June 25] the Army moved to Kingston and having received intelligence that the enemy were presenting their route toward Monmouth Courthouse, I dispatched a third detachment of a thousand select men under Brigadier General Wayne and sent Marquis de la Fayette to take command of the whole advanced corps including Maxwell’s Brigade and
Morgan’s Light Infantry with orders to take the first fair opportunity of attacking the enemy’s rear. In the evening of the same day the whole army marched from Kingston, where our baggage was left with intention to preserve proper distance for safe posting the advance corps and arrived at Cranbury early the next morning. The intense heat of the weather and a heavy storm unluckily coming made it impossible to resume our march (George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress 1741-1799:Letter, George Washington to Continental Congress, July 1, 1778)
The stop-over at Longbridge is documented in the journal of an American soldier, Jeremiah Greenman (Bray and Bushnell 1978), while the diary of another soldier, James McHenry, records the events of the 25th thus:
25th March to Rocky Hill. Cross the Millstone by a bridge, and halt at Kingston. Breakfast at Mrs. Berians – good tea and agreeable conversation. A dinner in the woods – The General receives advice that the English….It is night before the main body of our army marches, and then only to Lauren’s 4 miles from Kingston (James McHenry Papers 1777-1820).
The diary of Surgeon Samuel Adams of Crane’s Third Regiment of Continental Artillery also related these events as follows:
25th Th: fair & hot – the Army marched on halted at Kingstown from 12 o’clock till sunsett, then marched again halted about 12 at Night at a place called Long Bridge – this day a large detachment sent forward under the command of the Marquis de la Fayette (McDonald 1997).
An expense account of Robert Hanson Harrison contained within George Washington’s papers lists the following: “on the General’s march thro Jersey. June 25, to John Hunt at Hopewell, 10:2:6, June 26, to Thos. Wetheral the morning after we left Kingston, 14 Dollrs” (George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress 1741-1799: Expense Account of Robert Hanson Harrison, June 1778).
In addition to owning a farm near to Longbridge (as made clear by his correspondence with Thomas Lawrence in 1754), Thomas Wetherill was also the proprietor of the closest tavern to the Continental Army’s encampment. It is likely that the $14 bill expense paid to Wetherill related to food, lodging or provisions supplied to the army (probably to Washington and his staff) at the tavern, but it is also possible that his expenditure may have been incurred more directly through the army’s occupation of Longbridge Farm. While speculation, Thomas Wetherill may have served as John Lawrence'’ representative at the farm during the period of Lawrence'’ parole in Pennsylvania and for some time thereafter. Some support for Wetherill’s involvement with Longbridge Farm is contained in three newspaper advertisements placed in 1778 and 1779, which refer to the finding of a stray horse and to the marketing of the stud services of Bay Richmond, a thoroughbred horse imported by Lewis Morris and stabled at Longbridge Farm. Mr. Thomas Wetherill, “at Longbridge Farm,” was given as the point of contact for each of these notices (Lee 1903:146).
Despite the record of John and Elizabeth Lawrence’s deaths at Longbridge in 1799 and 1800 respectively (Keith 1883:450-451), it is difficult to trace their presence on the property after the Revolution. Judging from the tax ratable assessments for what was then the South Ward of New Brunswick, the plantation was much reduced in size and scope of operation. John Lawrence was not listed in the tax ratables for June 1778 (when he was still on parole in Philadelphia) or
September 1779. His presence is documented between May 1780 and July 1782, but the property acreage during this period was recorded as falling from 295 acres to 240 acres (a far cry from the 1,8000+ acres he apparently held at the time of his father’s death in the mid-1700s. The ratables also show him as holding only a single slave and never more than two horses, six cattle and two hogs. From 1784 onward, John Lawrence disappears entirely from the tax ratable records. He was perhaps abroad part of this time, and primarily resident in Philadelphia when in the United States, but it does seem that the plantation was in decline in the years following the Revolution (New Brunswick South Ward Tax Ratables 1780-82: Books 960-964).
After John Lawrence’s death in 1799, ownership of the Longbridge Farm property transferred to his widow, Elizabeth Lawrence. Elizabeth later deeded Longbridge Farm to her daughter, also named Elizabeth. After the daughter’s death circa 1800, the homestead parcel of approximately 268 acres passed to Emily Ann, Elizabeth’s sister (East Jersey Deeds E:53, E2:68, Middlesex County Deeds 14:422 and 3:339; West Jersey Unrecorded Will 8:125).
A map surveyed in 1816 by John Randel, Jr., depicting a potential route for the Delaware and Raritan Canal, shows Longbridge Farm extending along the southeast side of Heathcote Brook and Lawrence Brook to the north of Burnet’s Swamp (Figure 5). Although by this time largely broken up as a result of the division of Elizabeth Lawrence’s estate, Longbridge Farm still retained enough of an identity in the cultural landscape to merit being depicted by Randel as one of the area’s principal landmarks. Interestingly the projected line of the canal ran right through the Longbridge property along both the Heathcote Brook and Lawrence Brook valleys.
According to a survey of Ridge Road made in 1828, this thoroughfare began near Kingston at Mapleton
Road, crossed the straight turnpike (today’s U.S. Route 1) and reached the “Long Bridge,” then passing along the line of Longbridge Farm (Middlesex County Road Return A:319). When correlated with present-day maps, this puts the western boundary of Longbridge Farm just to the east of Stouts Lane. Longbridge Farm at this time would therefore have encompassed most, it not all, of what is now Monmouth Junction.
Emily Lawrence married Joseph Fowler, apparently relocated out of the area, and in 1834, sold the Longbridge property to Cornelius Cruser and Frederick Farr. Later that same year, William Rowland purchased the 268-acres property for $5,500. William Rowland began amassing parcels of adjacent land, several of which had previously been part of the original Lawrence family holdings. The Otley and Keily Map of Middlesex County, published in 1850 (Figure 6), shows “Longbridge Farm” on the north side of Ridge road, just to the south of the Trenton to New Brunswick branch of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, which was opened to traffic in 1839. Clearly, the persistence of the name “Longbridge Farm” on this map indicates that this was still a prestigious address despite the fluctuating size and configuration of the property in the early 19th century. The map shows two buildings in the vicinity of the original plantation core, both owned by “W. Rowland,” one to the north and one to the south of Ridge Road. The northerly location, based on comparison with the mid 18th-century Dalley and Bancker maps (Figures 2 and 3), is likely the same as the original Lawrence house site.
In 1852, William Rowland sold 88 acres of the farm property to his son, Stryker Rowland, who made his living locally as a storekeeper. Both the Walling Map of Middlesex County of 1861 (Figure 7) and the Everts and Stewart Combination Atlas Map of Middlesex County of 1876 (Figure 7) show a house labeled “S. Rowland” on the north side of Ridge Road, just west of Lawrence Brook, where the Otley and Keily map had earlier shown the more northerly of the two structures owned by “W. Rowland.” Another map, prepared in 1863, showing the planned route of the new main line of the Camden and Amboy Branch Railroad from Trenton to Deans Pond (today’s Amtrak corridor), likewise denotes “S. Rowland” as the owner of land along the west side of Lawrence Brook (Figure 9). It was during this period that the village of Monmouth Junction began to develop around this key confluence of railroads in the Camden and Amboy (soon to be the Pennsylvania) Railroad system, where the old Trenton to New Brunswick branch line intersected with the new main line and a spur also headed southeast to Jamesburg [Freehold and Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad]. From this point on, the Rowland properties (and the core of the Longbridge Farm plantation) became increasingly subsumed within the rail yard and the residential and commercial properties laid out within the village.
Stryker Rowland retained ownership of much of the 88-acres farm property until 1895 when he transferred ownership to Isaac Rowland, Ann Groves and James Rowland (Middlesex County Deeds 27:278, 28:724, 75:615 and 273:251). A year later, these three individuals sold off a two-acre parcel, including the dwelling that is believed to have been the principal Rowland residence, to Harvey Mershon. This property changed hands several times within the Mershon family during the first half of the 20th century until it was eventually purchased by William and Dolores Zimmerman in 1951 (Middlesex County Deeds 1587:286, 3328:213, 289:78, 425:26, 425:34, 690:135 and 690:136). In 1983, their daughter Janet Zimmerman purchased the historic homestead (Middlesex County Deeds 1587:286 and 3328:213). It is presently available for sale. [Note: Since this paper was written it was sold.]
C. The Site
The precise location of the core of the Longbridge Farm plantation – the spot where the principal farm-house occupied by the Lawrence family was located – is difficult to pinpoint, although clearly, from historic maps, it lay somewhere within the center of the present-day community of Monmouth Junction, north of Ridge Road and east of New Road, west of Lawrence Brook (Figure 10). Taking into account the local topography and the fact that the most attractive settlement locus most likely was the eastern end of the low knoll-like landform (from which Ridge Road takes its name) that overlooks the headwaters of Lawrence Brook and Heathcote Brook, it seems reasonable to suggest that Longbridge Farm was focused near the eastern end of Mary Street and Hillside Avenue. This would place the core of the site toward the eastern end of Blocks 75 and 76 and on Lots 2,3.01, 3.02, 4 and 5.01 of Block 77 (Figure 11).
Among the currently standing buildings in this area there are no obvious candidates that fit the bill of a large mid-18th century farmhouse like the structure(s) shown on the Dalley maps of 1745 (see Figure 2). Most buildings in this part of Monmouth Junction date from the later 19th or 20th centuries, the period when the village took on its role as a small railroad community. There is one older dwelling, however, the Rowland/ Mershon House, on Block 77, Lot 3.02 [NJHSI Inventory #1221-25], which pre-dates the railroad era and does contain probable 18th –century elements in its form and fabric (Plate 1). While unlikely to represent a heavily altered main house from the Longbridge plantation, parts of this building may relate to some lesser dwelling on the mid-to late 18th –century Lawrence estate. The house is more obviously, both from its architecture and from the documentary record, the principal dwelling of the Rowland family, which moved on to the core of the Longbridge property in the mid-1830s.
The Rowland/Mershon House comprises a two-and-a-half-story, four-bay frame structure with a smaller one-and-a-half-story two-bay frame kitchen wing adjoining to the east. Both sections of the house face south toward Ridge Road, taking advantage of the warmer southern exposure. The exterior cladding, of mid- to late 20th-century date, consists of painted shingle over clapboard siding. Apart from its overall form and siting, the exterior appearance of the house gives little indication of its age.
On the interior, the first and second floors of the main section of the house have been heavily altered, but this block was probably originally constructed as a two-room deep, late Georgian/early Federal plan structure with four chimneys (two in each gable end wall). The original room configurations have been changed and all the fireplaces have now been removed. There is a full basement, constructed in rough-dressed, random-laid fieldstone, under the main section of the house. The original exterior basement entry was probably at the south end of the east wall, but has been completely re-worked. There are basement window openings, most likely original to the structure, on the south and north walls, and one, possibly two, basement window openings on the west wall, indicating that there was never an earlier wing attached to this side of the main block. At the north end of the east wall, there is a large foundation for what may have been the original kitchen fireplace on the floor above, along with hearth framing in the basement ceiling. Otherwise there is little evidence of original first-floor framing in the basement ceiling, although some hewn and several vertically sawn beams are present and some pegging is evident. The attic framing in the main section of the house is composed of light timbers, pegged and mostly vertically sawn. The rook appears to have been replaced and reframed.
In summary, the foundation of the main section of the house may date from the 18th century, but it is difficult to see any definitively pre-1800 fabric in the stories above. The house could conceivably have been rebuilt
in the early to mid-19th century (perhaps by the Rowlands) re-using the foundation, some of the fireplaces, but little of the framing of an earlier dwelling. Even if the foundations do indeed date from themid-18th century, the building would appear to be too small to have served as the principal residence of an estate the size and status of the Lawrence family’s Longbridge Farm.
The smaller kitchen wing of the Rowland/Mershon House sits atop a crawl space and still contains a fireplace on the first floor, although the firebox is probably not original. Rebecca Petrone, current occupant of the house and daughter of the owner, stated that the family believed this wing to have been built approximately 150 years ago. A mid-to late 19th century date for the wing is not inconsistent with its architectural features, although it should be noted that an earlier historic architectural survey of this property suggested that this “is probably the oldest section of the house”) NJHSI Inventory Form #1221-25).
The Rowland/Mershon House presently occupies a 1.18-acre lot. To the northeast and just to the rear of the house is a large two-story, three-bay frame barn with a parallel gable roof and center cross gable. From its Queen Anne style appearance, this structure was probably erected around 1900 during the Mershon period of ownership. The barn sits atop stone –foundations, possibly re-used from an earlier structure. In the rear yard to the north of the house, there are various “humps and bumps,” topographic anomalies that hint at buried foundations and other traces of destroyed features relating to the Rowland/Mershon property and perhaps also to its predecessor, Longbridge Farm. One circular vegetation anomaly in the rear yard may indicate the location of a well.
Conversations in November 2001 with Janet Zimmerman Petrone, owner of the Rowland/Mershon property since 1983 and now resident in North Carolina, were revealing. Mrs. Petrone, the daughter of William and Dolores Zimmerman, who owned the property from 1951 to 1983, grew up in the house and offered an unusual hybrid apple tree, grafted to produce both red and yellow apples, formerly stood some 20 feet to the rear of the main section of the house. This is of particular interest in light of the footnote at the end of Thomas Wetherill’s letter to Thomas Lawrence in 1754 in which he asks to be sent “…a few sions of your best & largest pairs…” In this instance, Wetherill and Lawrence shared a common interest in horticulture, and both men were experimenting growing fruit trees in their orchards. Wetherill is requesting of Lawrence some cuttings form his pear trees (the little-used word “sion,” “scion” or “cion” means a young shoot, twig or sprout of a tree used for grafting to another stock). Although impossible to prove as this stage, it is tempting to view this apple tree, now long gone, as a remnant from the Longbridge Farm orchards. In addition to this tree, Mrs. Petrone also noted the presence of many large old walnut trees on the property, although these could well date from the 19th century Rowland rather than the 18th century Lawrence period.
There are numerous reports of archaeological finds in the vicinity of the Rowland/Mershon House, some of which are of considerable interest. Apart from the typical materials one tends to find in the yard areas around historic farmhouses – such as ceramic shards and pieces of glass, nails, bone fragments and oyster shell – there are some specific objects that deserve further comment. Mrs. Petrone has in her possession what appears to be a large Native American pestle, found in the yard by her family, which she describes as an “unusual cylindrical stone, eight inches long, two-and-a half to three inches in diameter, flattened at one end and tapered at the other.” Pestles, indicative of the grinding of grain, are most often recovered from sites of the Woodland period from around A.D. 800 to A.D. 1600, and this find suggests that there was a Native
American camp site somewhere nearby. The same topographic and environmental traits that attracted Thomas Lawrence to this general location in the mid-18th century wold have drawn Native American attention. This locus is very much the type of place where one would expect to find evidence of Native American occupation.
Also in Mrs. Petrone’s possession in North Carolina are two bayonets recovered during the course of gardening in the side yard of the Rowland/Mershon property. The better preserved of these two specimens, described by Mrs. Petrone as being made of a “non-rusting” metal (probably steel), is about 18 to 20 inches in length, one inch thick, and triangular in cross-section. On the basis of this latter characteristic, these bayonets have been assigned a Revolutionary War era date. A more thorough examination of these artifacts is required, but it is tempting indeed to link such finds to the Longbridge overnight encampment of June 25/26, 1778.
In any event, although there appears to be no substantive above ground trace of Longbridge Farm within Monmouth Junction today, there is sufficient documentary and archaeological evidence to roughly identify the location of this colonial plantation within the present-day landscape. Furthermore, although compromised to some degree by later residential development, road building and other modern land use, there is good reason to suspect the survival of archaeological remains within the core of the plantation site, as well as possible traces of the Revolutionary War era encampment and evidence of an earlier Native American occupation. Local property owners should be encouraged to pool their knowledge about materials found in their yards to try and throw further light on this long forgotten, important site.
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