“By perseverance and fortitude:”
A Brief History of People and Events of the Township of Bethlehem
by Anthony M. Kreis
To look at the bucolic hills and isolated landscape of Bethlehem Township and think that this very place has had a significant impact on the course of American history would seem, to most, unthinkable. Yet this very place, settled almost 300 years ago, was not only at the crossroads of the American Revolution, but also the cradle of liberty, itself. It did not only benefit from new and improved technology, but was at the forefront of employing the benefits and expanding the availability of technological advances. Bethlehem Township’s history is unique. It is a history guided by the pens of extraordinary thinkers, by the sweat of laboring miners and farmers, and by the entrepreneurialism of goal-minded captains of industry. No other place in Hunterdon County, in New Jersey, or in the United States of America holds such a claim to long, unique, and dynamic threads of history so intimately woven into the fabric of American history and culture. The story of Bethlehem Township is a microcosm of American history. It is a testament to the social and cultural values long held in Bethlehem—a culture that places value on public service and the industriousness of the laborer—that the Township is such an important component of the American historical landscape. Knowing the culture of this place, it should be no surprise that so many American leaders have called this place home. It should be no surprise that local residents built massive structures of unprecedented proportions, tunneled through dangerous mines and took part in the interstate highway project. None should be surprised to discover that the farmers of Bethlehem Township have supported the Township on their backs by sustaining their families, community, and country since the Township’s early colonial days.
I. Native Americans
The first residents of Bethlehem Township were Native Americans of the Lenni Lenape tribe. The colonists would later rename these people the Delaware. The Lenape have left their mark on present-day Bethlehem Township, most notably, perhaps, in the names of local landmarks. Two local bodies of water bear names which originate with the Natives, the Musconetcong River and the Mulhockaway Creek. The Musconetcongs were a group of Lenni Lenapes of the Minsi tribe that lived in the Sourland and Cushetunk mountains and the plateau region north of Flemington.
The Native Americans created many paths which they utilized for traversing across the mountainous terrain of Bethlehem Township and Hunterdon County. Many of these paths would later be used by colonists settling in the area and eventually would evolve into many of the same roads local residents use today. There was one major Indian path that crossed through Bethlehem Township, the Malayelick path. This path began in present-day Trenton went through Rocktown to an Indian village named Essakauqueamenshehikkon near present-day Quakertown, through Pittstown, and then it went west of Pattenburg to Bloomsbury and ended in present-day Phillipsburg.
II. Laying the Foundations: Early Settlement, Boundaries and Industry
in Bethlehem Township, built in 1723
Prior to 1714, Bethlehem Township was in Burlington County. Burlington County was subdivided in 1714 into Hunterdon County, which then consisted of both present-day Mercer and Hunterdon Counties. Bethlehem Township, like Hunterdon County, was once significantly larger in size than it is today. Bethlehem Township once encompassed numerous present-day Hunterdon County municipalities including Kingwood Township, Alexandria Township, Frenchtown, Milford, Union Township, the Town of Clinton, Franklin Township, Hampton Borough, Bloomsbury and Glen Gardner.
Bethlehem Township was first settled in 1723, the oldest known family to settle was the Williver family, whose barn, originally erected in 1723, still stands today and is the oldest structure in Bethlehem Township and the second oldest structure in Hunterdon County. The first settlers in Bethlehem Township were Dutch who moved into the area from Middlesex County between the 1730s and 1760s. These families included the Hoffmans, Alpaughs, Crevelings, Hoppocks, Duckworths, Willivers, Vliets, Boss’, and the Opdykes.
The other major group of settlers that came to Bethlehem Township was the Germans. Among these settlers were the DeRemers, Bowlbys, Wenes, Groendykes, Siglers, Rodenbaughs, Shaffers, Fooses, and the Frittzes.
III. The Origins of Municipal Government in Bethlehem Township
The first time Bethlehem Township is mentioned in any official document is in a 1730 court docket for the Hunterdon County Court of Common Pleas. It is believed that it is around this time that the first Bethlehem Township government was created. The earliest municipal officials were local magistrates, clerks, tax collectors, and overseers of the roads. Township residents would later band together to petition the Governor Jonathan Belcher concerning the division of the township on January 12, 1747. The residents were concerned that the large size of the township made it difficult for local officials to execute their duties.
IV. The Seeds of Revolution and the Creation of the Township Committee
The Stamp Act of 1765 was enacted by the British Parliament requiring that colonists procure a stamp for documents, novelty items, and other goods in order to raise funds to pay off the debts incurred from the French and Indian War. For many American colonists, this legislation was “unconstitutional” in the sense that it violated the implied relationship between the colonies and the mother country. So angered were Bethlehem Township residents, that they formed the very first Bethlehem Township Committee. The first committee members were John Hackett, Benjamin Opdycke, Thomas Lake, William Vaness, David Reynolds and James Henderson. They met at David Reynold’s tavern, located on the corner of Van Syckle Road and Charlestown Road in Union Township. They met on March 11, 1766 to discuss the Stamp Act. Township Clerk Francis McShane’s minutes recorded that:
“At a town meeting held at the house of David Reynolds, in the township of Bethlehem, on the 11th March 1766, it was agreed and concluded that, agreeable to made by the Sons of Liberty of Lower Hunterdon, that a number not exceeding three men should be chosen in this Township, who should have the full power to represent the inhabitants thereof, and meet their Brethren at the house of John Ringoes, on this day sennight, where the Town unanimously chose Mr. John Rockhill, David Reynolds, and Abraham Bonnell, who are hereby directed to meet the said Sons of Liberty at Ringoes aforesaid, and do and perform every act and thing that will redound to the honor of the Town and for the benefit of the Province in general; and whereas it is absolutely necessary that the operation of all unconstitutional acts should be opposed, and in particular that worst of all acts called the Stamp Act, and in order to enable them thereto, the inhabitants of this town do promise their countenance and assistance on all occasions, over and besides paying them all necessary expenses attending this meeting, and all other meetings that may hereafter happen on this or the like occasion.”
Committeeman Reynolds would eventually lose his life in his opposition to British rule. Reynolds was operating a counterfeiting operation in his tavern. In 1767, British officials discovered Reynolds’ activities and hanged him at the Union Forge without a trial or the benefit of a jury.
Site of the first Bethlehem Township Committee Meeting.
V. Time Hath Found Us: The American Revolution and Bethlehem Township
Though there was no fighting in Bethlehem Township, Bethlehem Township residents contributed significantly to the American Cause. Bethlehem Township residents, lead by Daniel Bray of the Hunterdon County Militia, helped gather Durham boats from the Delaware River and Lehigh River and other local waterways to be used by the Continental Army to cross the Delaware River in December 1776 prior to the Battle of Trenton. Not only did local residents aid in the preparation for the battle, but local Bethlehem Township residents participated in the Battle of Trenton where General Washington successfully defeated Hessian troops encamped there. This battle was a turning point in the Revolution and Bethlehem Township residents had a vital role in the execution of the battle plans. Washington’s success in Trenton was his first victory of the Revolution and allowed the prosecution of the war to continue.
VI. Early Industry in Bethlehem Township
Early industry in Bethlehem Township was centered on iron forges located in the township and surrounding municipalities. In present day Bloomsbury, Robert Johnston operated an iron forge known as Johnson’s Forge. The two largest of these forges were the Union Furnace located mostly in Union Township, though some evidence exists that iron was mined in Bethlehem Township near Norton Church Road. The majority of the ruins from the forge lie beneath Spruce Run Reservoir. The forge was owned by Joseph Turner, a prominent judge from Philadelphia, and William Allen, a former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania provincial chief justice for whom Allentown, Pennsylvania is named. The forge was reportedly used as a shelter for local residents during Indian raids in 1755 and 1756.
VII. A Blemished Past: Slavery and the Auctioning of Paupers
Slave labor is known to be used throughout the township’s early years. The use of slave labor at Union Furnace is documented. At the time of the American Revolution, there were approximately 40 slaves at the forge. The owners of the forge, Allen and Turner, removed these slaves to Virginia in fear that the local revolutionary government would confiscate the slaves.
Slaves were used by numerous township residents until slavery was abolished in New Jersey in 1804. The law grandfathered preexisting slaves and established a timeline for their emancipation. The Hunterdon County Clerk’s record of slave manumissions recently digitalized by the New Jersey State Archives, document masters in Hunterdon County who granted their slaves freedom. These records show two Bethlehem Township slaves were freed by their owners before they were required to by law. Daniel V. Buskirk freed his slave, Thomas, age 35, on January 19, 1807 and Luther Calvin freed his slave, Thomas Jefferson, age 34, on August 13, 1832. There were some slaves in the township until the very end of the antebellum period, despite the abolition of slavery in New Jersey. Joseph Exton owned several slaves in 1850. Exton was one of the last slaveholders in Bethlehem Township, the state of New Jersey , and the North.
African slavery was not the only type of bondage and forced labor used in Bethlehem Township. The township sold paupers to labor for local residents for a term of one year. Paupers were residents who were unable to pay taxes and support themselves. One example of such sale of paupers is recorded in the Bethlehem Township minute books on April 12, 1824. The following is a list of those sold and to whom they were sold:
- Hannah Taylor to Elijah Platt....................$35.00
- Mary Benward to Samuel Derumple..................$44.75
- Lennah Peleo to Peter Bloo.......................$32.50
- John Lee to himself..............................$40.00
- John Hunt and wife to Lida Hunt..................$46.00
- David Penwell to Christopher Srope...............$66.50
- Sarah Miers to herself...........................$52.00
- Sarah Robinson to herself........................$24.00
Those to whom the paupers were sold were required to provide adequate food, shelter, and clothing to the paupers.
As it is completed, we will post more post-Revolutionary history.
Notable Bethlehem Township Residents
John Taylor Bird was a member of the United States House of Representatives fromNew Jersey. Born in Bloomsbury on August 16, 1829, he attended the public schools and a classical academy at Hackettstown, New Jersey. Bird studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1855 and practiced in Bloomsbury. Bird moved to Clinton, New Jersey in 1858 and later would become a prosecutor of the pleas for Hunterdon County from 1862-1867. In 1865 he moved to Flemington. He was elected as a Democrat to the Forty-first and Forty-second Congresses, serving in Congress from March 4, 1869 to March 3, 1873. Congressman Bird was not a candidate for renomination in 1872. After his tenure in Congress, he resumed practicing law in Flemington. Bird was a member of the New Jersey constitutional convention in 1876. In 1882 he became the vice chancellor of New Jersey 1882-1896 and the master in chancery 1900-1909. He died in Trenton, New Jersey on May 6, 1911.
Johnston Cornish was a member of the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey. Cornish was born in Bethlehem Township on June 13, 1858 and attended the local common schools. Cornish was elected mayor of Washington, New Jersey in 1884, and reelected in 1885 and 1886. He declined renomination in 1887 and 1888. He was a member of the State senate from 1891 to1893. Congressman Cornish was elected as a Democrat to the Fifty-third Congress and served fromMarch 4, 1893-March 3, 1895. He was unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1894. After his tenure in Congress, Cornish was once again a member of the State senate from 1900-1902 and later from 1906-1911. He was president of the Cornish Piano Company in Washington, New Jersey in 1910 as well as a member of the Democratic State Committee, president of the First National Bank, the Washington Water Company, and the Warren County Bankers’ Association. He died in Washington, New Jersey on June 26, 1920 where he is buried in the Cornish family plot.
Major General Paul J. Glazar assumed duties as The Adjutant General- New Jersey on February 24, 1994. He was appointed by former Governor Christine Todd Whitman. As The Adjutant General- New Jersey , he was the Commander of the New Jersey National Guard and was responsible for the command and control, administration, training, support, management and overall readiness of the New Jersey National Guard. The New Jersey Army National Guard is comprised of approximately 7,150 officers and enlisted personnel. General Glazar's National Guard military service began in 1968. He was commissioned a field artillery officer following Officer Candidate School. His entire military career has been in the New Jersey Army National Guard with the period from September 1987 to February 1994 spent in an AGR active duty status. He served as the Commandant of the NJARNG High Technology Training Center. As the Commandant, he was responsible for the total operation of the training center including training of staff and students from states and territories, preparation and presentation of an overall training center budget and manning and care of the facility. General Glazar retired on March 4, 2002. He would serve on the Bethlehem Township Committee in 2004 and was mayor in 2005.
Anne Marie Lauck is a two-time Olympian in 1996 and 2000. She finished 10th in 1996 Olympic marathon. She finished 3rd in the 1994New York City marathon, 5th in 10,000 at 1992 World Cup and 8th in 10,000 at 1993 World Champs. She is a World University gold medalist. She finished 11th with a time of 15:47.78 in the opening heat of the 2000 Olympics 5000 meter. In 1996 she was the top U.S. finisher in the Olympic marathon, placing 10th. Her maiden name is Letko. She is a 1987 graduate of North Hunterdon Regional High School.
General Daniel Morgan was a Revolutionary War general and a United States Representative from the State ofVirginia. Morgan was born outside of Hampton, New Jersey in 1736. Morgan’s parents were iron workers, presumably at Union Forge or Norton Furnace. Morgan served with the Colonial forces during the French and Indian War. During the Revolution he was commissioned as a captain of a company of Virginia riflemen in July 1775. He was taken prisoner at Quebec December 31, 1775. Soon thereafter, he became colonel of the Eleventh Virginia Regiment November 12, 1776. He was commissioned a brigadier general in the Continental Army October 30, 1780. In 1781, Morgan successfully led troops against the British at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina, ending a long line of British success in the southern campaign. Following the war, he retired to his estate, “Saratoga,” near Winchester, Virginia. Morgan commanded the Virginia Militia when President Washington called out the militia to suppress the Whisky Insurrection in Pennsylvania. Morgan was an unsuccessful Federalist candidate for election to the Fourth Congress. He was, however, elected as a Federalist to the Fifth Congress and served from March 4, 1797-March 3, 1799. General Morgan declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1798. He died on July 6, 1802.
James Parker was a member of the House of Representatives fromNew Jersey. He was born in Bethlehem, Township on March 3, 1776. After the Revolution he moved to Perth Amboy. Parker was a 1793 graduate of Columbia College. He was a member of the State general assembly 1806-1810, 1812, 1813, 1815, 1816, 1818, and 1827. Parker was elected mayor of Perth Amboy in 1815 and again in 1850. He was the collector of customs at Perth Amboy from 1829 to 1833. He was elected as a Jacksonian to the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Congresses, serving from March 4, 1833-March 3, 1837. After his tenure in Congress, he was a member of various boundary commissions to obtain a settlement of the boundary question between the States of New York and New Jersey. Parker was a delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1844. Congressman Parked died in Perth Amboy on April 1, 1868.
Colonel Charles Stewart was born in Gortlea, County Donegal, Ireland, in 1729. In 1750 he immigrated to the United States where he engaged in agricultural pursuits. Stewart was commissioned a lieutenant colonel of the Hunterdon County Militia on April 10, 1771. He was later commissioned colonel of a battalion of Minutemen on February 15, 1776. Colonel Stewart was appointed commissary general of issues by the Continental Congress on June 18, 1777. He would later serve as a member of the Continental Congress in 1784 and 1785. Colonel Stewart died in Flemington, New Jersey on June 24, 1800. Historical records show he is interned at the Old Stone Church, Bethlehem Township.
Sources:Bethlehem Township Minutes, Riddle, Charles H. Colonial and Revolutionary Bethlehem Township. Bradford Press. Flemington, NJ : 1975.