Up in the shadow of the first Watchings, the beautiful land lay waiting to fulfill its destiny. Trappers and hunters from the settlements of Newark and Elizabethtown knew it well. The woodsman's ax was striking into the heart of its forests, for lumber, like the rich soil, was wealth, and the sawmill owner and the farmer were the economic rulers of the new empire.
Timber was one of New Jersey's chief products. It was reported by Lewis Morris a Proprietor, to the London Board of Trade, that
"Without New Jersey's timber, Pennsylvania could not build a tolerable house, nor ship off a hogshead or a pipe stave, and New York also has a great supply of timber from this Province." (N.J. Historical Society, Proc. Vol. IV, p. 28),
so that a young man with his way to make in the world could do no better than to found his home in good farming country, near good water; and nowhere in the recently created Essex County in the Province of New Jersey were such good millsites to be found as on the banks of the Raw-way, the Passaic and Canoe Brook, and their tributaries, in the faroff forests of northwestern Elizabethtown Borough.
We do not know for sure who was the first permanent settler. Many of the history books say he was Stephen Parkhurst, and because we have found no evidence either to affirm or deny this statement, we will assume that his name was Stephen, but it could just as well have been Nicholas, or Tom, or Timothy, or Abner, or half a dozen other brave young men. For they were brave men who came here first, and their wives were brave women. Millburn was an unprotected wilderness, wilder than most spots in the United States today, for once beyond the outskirts of the settlements there was nothing but trees, wild animals, and occasional Indians. No Forestry Service extended its long arm of protection around them. No system of communication existed to bring aid in crisis. There was nothing but the lonely sky, trees, hills and rushing waters. More than one early traveller looking down from the mountain top reported that as far as the eye could see lay an unbroken forest, with no sign of habitation anywhere.
We do not even know the name of Stephen's wife. We must presume that they were both young, strong, and healthy, with courage and resourcefulness, for only people with these qualities could survive.
Like so many people following him, Stephen had been born in Connecticut, but as he grew into manhood he began to see that the future lay west. Some friends or relatives had moved to the Province of New Jersey and many wonderful stories were coming back about the advantages of life there. The journey by ship to Elizabethtown was comparatively simple, and on his arrival there he was pleased with the change. But he soon perceived that here, too, life had stiffened into a pattern, and the new frontiers lay still beyond. The town was becoming crowded, everyone thought,* but more distressing was the political situation which was growing worse daily.
_____ *actually the entire population of New Jersey in 1726 was 32,442, but letters of 1700 indicate that people considered they had an overcrowding problem.
The struggle between the citizens on the one hand, the proprietors and the various royal governors on the other, was intensifying, and land titles had become so hopelessly snarled that one can well imagine that an enterprising, independent young man, with or without a growing family, might have had ample reason for wanting to leave the city. Law and order had broken down. The most extreme violence broke out in March, 1700. Opposition to the Government became so intense that a mob appeared at the opening of the Essex County Court at Elizabeth and repudiated its authority. When the next day, an attempt was made to arrest the leader of the mob,
"there arose such a Generall noise and hollowing with unseemly action and insolvent gestures,"
that the Court again adjourned (New Jersey Archives, II, p. 313). When the Crown took over the Government in 1702, the situation did not improve, as Queen Anne's appointee, her cousin, Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, simply increased the trouble through his lack of understanding of the people, and his inability to make any concessions to their independent spirit. The fact that New Jersey under Cornbury was merged with New York and become only a minor subdivision of it, for a time, did not help matters either.
Furthermore, the laws the people themselves had been responsible for, may have begun to seem pretty stuffy to the young people growing up in the early 1700's. The simplest infraction of the moral code, called "offenses against God", including swearing, "prophane" talking, drinking of healths, telling a lie, were severely punished, and there were no limitations on how far a witness could go in accusing another of a crime. For the first offense of swearing a fine of two shillings, six pence was demanded, or if one could not pay and was over 12 years of age, his punishment was three hours in the stocks. Those under 12 could be whipped by the constable. That was one of the least of the crimes for which punishment was exacted. Profaning the Lord's Day by any work, exercise, travel, (except to church), games, or any pleasurable pursuits, no matter how innocent, provoked the wrath of the officials. The wearing of swords brought a fine of five pounds for the first offense, walking or being abrade after nine o'clock at night, the use of cosmetics, using disrespectful language against those in office, and many other minor behavior variances, brought down more troubles on the head of the unfortunate offender. Getting drunk in public was not so bad. It carried a fine of only one shilling for the first offense. Most criminal offenses, including stealing, or, if one was over 16, smiting or cursing at a parent, or being a witch, carried the death penalty, although actually not often enforced.
Small wonder then that around this time many decided to move to the wilderness, where, while not free of the law, at least there were few witnesses to one's slightest word or action. Since about 1687 some people had been moving out of the settlements. A few settled in the fields west of Elizabeth (Westfield); others went to Turkey, (New Providence), and yet others, originally from Connecticut, moved to Wade's Mills, also known as Connecticut Farms (Union). Some Scotch immigrants, intolerantly treated by their English neighbors in Perth Amboy and elsewhere, 5.
sought refuge in the plains near the mountains, and soon provided a name, "The Scotch Plains" for their community. A few miles to the north of the future Millburn, a few hardy souls were hacking out farms from the forests in a place simply called "On the Passaic", later changed to Chatham, to honor William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Good precedent for young people existed to seek a new way of life.
One morning in early Spring, shortly after chronological time had moved into the 1700's, a man and his wife appeared on the woodland trail leading from Elizabeth to Morristown. Just beyond where the Raw-way River crossed the trail they turned off and followed the path north along the river. Stephen Parkhurst had come at last to take possession of his homesite. He had cleared his title with the Proprietors so that he would not get into the troubles so many pioneers were beginning to experience?troubles in which established homes were taken away from them in the name of the Proprietors' claims ? troubles which would lead to riotous marches on Newark and would sow more seeds of rebellion against the Crown. But Stephen evidently had had good advice and ran into no such difficulties here. Perhaps they brought a brother or other family member or a good friend with them, to help with the house-raising. He undoubtedly had been up to look over his property many times, and had either started a sawmill himself, or made arrangements with one for timber. A letter from Governor Lawrie, written to London a few years previously, supplies a few facts about the usual procedure:
"The countrie farme houses are built very cheap,' he wrote, "a carpenter with a helper builds a house and they have all materials for nothing except the nails. Their chimnies are of stone. They make their own ploughs and carts for the most part. The poorer set up a house of 2 or 3 rooms themselves after this manner; The Walls are of cloven timber about 8 or 10 inch broad like planks set on end to the ground, and the others nailed to the rising which they plaster within. They build a barn in the same manner, and this cost not above five pounds apiece, and then they go to work. Two or three men in one year will clear 50 acres ... They sow corn the first year and afterwards maintain themselves..."
We may presume that Stephen and his wife came in the Spring when several months of good weather could be counted on. Perhaps they had a friend or relative living at Connecticut Farms where they could return for occasional help, but more likely they camped on the spot and rose at daybreak to build their house, for to go any place meant a long walk over incredibly bad roads.
Travelling anywhere was difficult, and one wonders at the courage and stamina of people in moving about at all. The only paths between Elizabeth or Newark and the present Millburn Township were the old Indian Trails, at the most two and a half feet wide and worn about a foot deep. Around 1705 a road was built from Newark to connect with the mountain folk at Orange, and a trail (now South Orange Avenue) ran over the mountain pass into the valley below to join the main Minisink Trail.
A road was simply a path wide enough for a horse or person to pass along, dug out of the forest, and made by dragging the surface to remove the turf and filling in the holes with loose dirt. They were deep with dust in summer and almost impassable in Spring or Fall by reason of the deep mud. It is interesting to note here, however, that New Jersey which today has one of the finest highway systems in the world, claims the first scientifically constructed road. Sometime before 1664 the Dutch built a road called "The Old Mine Road" running from the Pahaquarry Mine in Sussex County across to Warren County. The road was built of broken stones, and is the only known road of the times built on such a firm foundation. It is still in existence. Some time in the 18th century, a few roads were built of logs or planks, and for a while corduroy roads or plank roads seemed to be the answer, but even they did not hold up against the engulfing mud.
Travel was mostly by foot or horseback, the woman riding behind her husband on a pillion. Carriages were unknown. A horse-drawn vehicle had made its appearance in elegant Boston in 1687, but it was not until 1730 that carriages became common in New Jersey, when the first stage coach between Amboy and Burlington commenced operations. The first mention of a wheeled vehicle passing over New Jersey occurs in 1707. The road still known as "St. George's Avenue", was one of the first vehicular traffic roads through present Essex, Union, Middlesex counties. Two-wheeled rough carts, the wheels solidly made simply by cutting across the diameter of a big tree base were homemade by a few inventive folk, but these were mostly pulled by hand and could not go on long journeys. Even the first stage coaches were rough and uncomfortable with large clumsy wheels which had to be lubricated with tar every few miles from the tar bucket carried underneath. Frequently they fell off causing fatal accidents. Much travelling was done in winter when the roads were frozen and hence more easily traversed. Sleighs were in use in 1700, but the price of a horse was high, and few could afford the luxury of owning one. In the towns, later on, wealthy people rode in sedan chairs carried by servants, but this mode of travelling was not suitable for long distances. This style was sometimes dangerous, too, as as late as August 12, 1751, the New York Weekly Post reported that "two women of Elizabeth have been killed within these few weeks near their place by falling out of riding chairs."
Wherever possible, the main form of travel was by boat, and if one lived near the waterways it was comparatively easy to take a ship from Elizabeth or Newark to Amboy or Burlington or New York, or in fact any place along the coast. There were no bridges; streams had to be forded, and at certain seasons of the year, crossing was a hazardous undertaking.
If Stephen Parkhurst were fortunate enough to own an ox or a horse he made the journey from Elizabeth on its back, with his wife behind him. If he did not, then he came on foot, and undoubtedly walked the six or seven miles back and forth frequently, bringing his tools and a few household necessities with him. He would have to make most of his own furniture and implements anyway, and would hew out for himself the timber for the house and the planks for the floor. Besides the furniture, he would make his own utensils, tools, shingles, barrels, and even his plough which was a clumsy wooden one, there being no iron ploughs until 1776, and few in general use until about 1797, as most people believed that iron would poison the soil. There were no stores, but the few necessities not homemade, could be obtained by barter in the town. The only hard money was the Spanish dollar or piece of eight (real), with its smaller four-bit and two-bit pieces. This foreign metal currency carried English values, the dollar being about four English shillings, but it, and not the English valuation, would one day provide a money system for the new United States.
While Stephen worked on the house, his wife cleared a little land for a small kitchen garden, and planted it. She gathered wild berries, fruits, grapes, nuts, and medicinal roots. In his spare time, Stephen hunted and fished. Perhaps the young couple brought with them a young pig, or two, a calf, a pair of lambs, a few chickens, so that by Fall, when the crops were harvested from her garden? cabbages, potatoes, beans, and corn, a pig slaughtered, and the meat salted, then with eggs, milk, cheese and plenty of cider, as well as dried fruits, there was little danger of starvation during the winter.
Again Governor Lawrie supplies some information:
"They have beer, pork, bacon, pudding, milk, butter and good beer and cyder for drink ... The soil is generally black and in some places a foot deep, beareth great burthens of corn and naturally bringeth forth English grass two years after ploughing. The ground is very tender and ploughing easie ... Sometimes there are 100 trees upon an acre (to be cleared away). The trees are very tall and straight, the genrall are Oak, Beech, Walnut. Walnuts, chestnuts, and acorns lie thick upon the ground for want of eating. Peaches, vines, strawberries, and many other sorts of fruit grow commonly in the woods."
Other authorities say that rye, oats, buckwheat and a little wheat were raised everywhere. Orchards were established as soon as possible as cider was an important crop. The great temperance movement did not come until the 19th century, and alcoholic beverages were part of the daily diet, for everyone. Only the crime of drunkenness in public was punishable. As far back as 1683 Governor Rudyard wrote from Elizabeth,
"At a town called Newark 7 or 8 miles hence, is made great quantities of Syder exceeding anything we have from New England or Rhod Island or Long Island. I hope to make 20 or 30 barrels out of our Orchard next year, as they have done before me, but for that it must be as Providence orders,"
And others tell of a thousand barrels produced in Newark in a single season. Hard cider, beer, Jamaica rum, and brandy were the staples of the household, and fancier drinks were prepared in quantity for festive occasions. one such, was beer simmered with crusts of bread and sweetened with molasses.
Another drink for party gatherings or cold weather was switchel, made from molasses and water, a dash of vinegar, ginger, and rum. Another popular drink was metheglin, made from boiled fermented honey, water, and spices. A little ditty sung before the Revolution indicates the variety of liquid refreshment available:
"Oh, we can make liquor to sweeten our lips of pumpkins and parsnips and walnut-tree chips."
It is nice to know that there was a little fun mixed with the drudgery of life in Millburn in the early 1700's, for life was hard everywhere, even at its best. In all of New Jersey there was not a single bathtub. Open fires with wood for fuel roared up the chimneys and cooking was done at the fireplace. The fires supplied little heat in winter, but narrow doors and small windows made the rooms unbearable in the summertime. Screens were unknown and flies and mosquitos added to summer woes. Only the extremely wealthy had imported carpets and wallpapers, curtains, china, and silver. The average family ate with wooden spoons from wooden bowls, with an occasional piece of pewter to grace the table.
Fertilizers or the use of lime were unknown, but in the rich virgin soil everything planted grew lustily for many years. If Stephen's wife had had time to plant a few flowers they would have been limited to hollyhocks, snowballs, roses, lilacs, pinks, sunflowers and morning glories.
Mrs. Stephen's dowry had included a few bolts of cloth spun by her and her mother before marriage?linen for dress up occasions; linsey-woolsey, a linen and wool mixture for warmer use, or coarse help cloth for workdays, so that she did not have to worry about providing clothing for herself and family immediately. When Fall came she would need warm clothing. In the house near the fireplace her loom would be made ready, and after the sheep were sheared she would have little time for frivolities, for a month of hard work lay ahead. The wool had to be carded or combed to untangle it; then the strands must be spun, and wound on reels or skeins. Dyeing was, of course, done at home from sumac, pokeweed, hickory bark, walnuts, and other plants. If they could afford it, they might hire a young, unmarried girl known as a spinster, to do the spinning, but mostly the housewife had to do it herself.
She also had to find time for soapmaking, for which she had collected ashes for several months, and for candlemaking, from boiled mutton fat. Wicks were dipped into it again and again until the candles were finally thick enough for use.
The leather for their shoes, vests, and Stephen jerkins, breeches saddles, harness, if they had a horse, would come from the labor of their own hands, and, of course, the winter provisions had to be preserved and stored, in handmade, homemade containers.
Samuel Bailey built a forge along the river and became Millburn's first nailmaker. Nails were an important commodity all over the Province and no doubt his nails help build many hones in the vicinity.
Stephen Parkhurst and his wife probably had many children for it is known that two, Abraham and Samuel Parkhurst, lived to manhood, and as the usual percentage of children raised to adults was about two out of eight, they may have had eight children. There was no protection against the diseases of childhood, so that smallpox, diphtheria, measles, and whooping cough, sweeping through the community at intervals took several children in one family often in a single year ? a fact obviously recorded on many cemetery stones. Later in the century when newspapers and other written records came into existence, one reads of pestilences sweeping across the Orange Mountains. These diseases we would recognize today, from the descriptions of their symptoms as influenza, intestinal disturbances, or virus pneumonia, and sometimes whole families were wiped out by them. There were no doctors, nor any medical schools to provide doctors. A few people, men and women, wise in the ways of healing, and the use of herbs, would appear and act as physicians, and sometimes their skills prevailed, but only the strong usually survived a serious illness.
Many years after the first people settled in Millburn, the Rev. Doctor Jonathan Dickinson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth, and later one of the founders, and first President of the College of New Jersey, (now Princeton University), announced in the American Weekly Mercury of New York, in 1742, that in a few days he would publish "observations on that terrible Disease vulgarly called 'the Throat Disease'," with advice as to the method of cure.
Dr. Dickinson's degree was an academic, not a medical one, but he was very interested in human ailments and published several discourses concerning them, and was often called on for help. He is said to have gone everywhere ministering to the sick.
One of the first known physicians in this area was Dr. Matthias Pierson who was born in 1734 and lived on Northfield Avenue on the western slope of the mountain. Ichobod Burnet of Elizabeth, John Condit of the Oranges, John Deancy, William Turner; and Mr. Pigot of Newark travelled far and wide on horseback across the country to visit patients, but of all of these only Dr. Burnet is known to have had real training. He was a graduate of the University of Edinburgh where instruction in obstetrics was available. A midwife, Martha Harrison, of orange, had a wide practice here also.
However, Dr. Jonathan Dayton, was the first trained physician actually to live in Springfield and practice here. He began his career in 1754 and for 24 years, until his death in 1778, was not only doctor, but confidant, town official, agent, executor, and in fact performed in every capacity in which a man could be called upon to serve his fellow men.
Peter Kalm, from Sweden, who travelled across the country in the early part of the 18th century, and wrote a book about it, "Travels in North America", tells of a favorite remedy for children in New Jersey to prevent worms. Wormseeds were dried and then steeped in brandy, taken out and given to children either in sweetened beer or in other liquor. He does not tell us whether the remedy helped the worms or the children.
We do not know where Stephen Parkhurst built his first house. In the 19th century Parkhursts lived on Brookside Drive, on Short Hills Avenue near the Morris Turnpike, and in several other streets, but a great great granddaughter of Ezra Parkhurst refers to the Brookside Drive site as the "homestead", her father having been born there across from the Paper Mill Playhouse in 1857. Ezra Parkhurst and his son, Jonathan, founded and operated the paper mill in the early 1800's, so that area may have been Stephen's choice for his home. This is only speculation, of course, and no records to prove it have been found. Brookside Drive, old Short Hills Road or Short Hills Avenue (present names) were accessible, and their nearness to good water supplies would have made them attractive to settlers.
The first comers certainly became acquainted with Tom and Nicholas Parsil who built homes at about the same time on the ridge along another Indian Trail between Livingston and Millburn Center, and their Parsil Inn must have been a pleasant stopping off place for weary travellers on the way to the important centers of Elizabethtown and Perth Amboy. Sometime later this road was called "Feather Bed Lane", and still later, "White Oak Ridge Road", but when young Tom Parsil built his home which is still standing, it was only a nameless clearing in the endless forest.
Thomas Parsil's home, now located at 365 White Oak Ridge Road has the date "1709" carved in the chimney stone. The accuracy of that date has been questioned, but no positive verification is available. His brother, Nicholas, built his home nearby, so that the oldest houses still remaining in Millburn in the centennial year 1957 are those built around the Ridge. The spelling of the surname "Parsil" is the modern spelling preferred by present members of the family. In the cemetery the name appears as "Parcell", "Parcil", "Parsel", and "Parsell".
Around 1717 the Denmans, Briants, Stites, Whiteheads and VanWinkles had settled around Springfield, the Denmans and Briants, and possibly the VanWinkles, coming from the Hackensack settlements. Soon afterward the Reeves family settled on the "north side of the first mountain" (now Wyoming Section); Timothy Meeker moved from Elizabeth to a farm in the north at or near present South Orange Avenue, and Brookside Drive, and these families with the Parsils, and soon, the Wades, Deens, Baldwins, Balls, Rosses, Drews, Smiths, Morehouses, Taylors, Lyons, Muchmores, and others, formed a substantial little colony, spreading from what is now the Morris Turnpike to the present Livingston. It is interesting to note that many of these names appear again and again in Township history, even to the present day.
For the first 40 years there were no churches, schools, or meeting places, or taverns. Some attended religious services in Elizabeth walking both ways. It was rather fun, though. A big lunch was packed; the children frolicked along the way, whenever the sharp eyes of their parents were not upon them, and old friends and relatives could be visited after the services. On the way home in good weather a stop was made at same pleasant spot for lunch, and even though Sabbath laws were strict and not to be overlooked, good food, companionship, sunshine, and a beautiful countryside can soften the hardest of blue laws.
About 1745 it was decided to build a church of their own, of the Presbyterian denomination, somewhere on what is now Main Street, at or near Meeker Place. A rough small building was erected and Rev. Timothy Symmes was installed as Pastor. He preached there, alternately with the church in New Providence, until 1750, when he was "dismissed for ill conduct." What this ill conduct was does not appear, but certainly it had nothing to do with moral conduct as he was recommended for work in the South by the Synod. However, he eventually returned to Ipswich, Massachusetts, from whence he had come, and the congregation here was without a regular minister for several years, until 1761, in fact, when the new church was built in Springfield.
At the time the church was established the minister was given 100 acres of land for "glebe." Glebe is defined by Bouvier's Law Dictionary as
"In ecclesiastical law, the land which belongs to a church; it is the dowry of a church,"
and the word "Parsonage" as
"a portion of lands and titles established by law for the maintenance of a minister."
It, therefore, becomes evident why the place of the minister's glebe soon became known as the 'Parsonage Hill Road." The reason for the location of the glebe may be simply deduced. The Minisink Trail passed the door of the little church, and ran through the country up Old Short Hills Road to White Oak Ridge Road and Northwestward (all names being present names, of course), so that naturally the glebe land could be reached easily by the minister, yet distant enough to be virgin forest and away from the sawmills' constant demands. This right of glebe remained until 1867 when it was extinguished by law and the property sold to William Seaver.
A church was an important institution for a community, not only for its religious significance, but because it represented the only social center, and place for dissemination of news. The gathering on the Lord's Day was the principal occasion for the announcement of happenings either at home or abroad. Notices were posted at the church door, and, of course, the word of mouth stories, both true and mere rumor, provided days of speculation and rumination. In Boston, a News-Letter, one sheet 8 x 12 inches in size, appeared in 1704, and the Boston Gazette and the New England Courant were published in 1719 and 1721, and a few copies reached here much later. In 1725 the "New York Gazette" made its appearance, an event of no small importance, and from it people began to learn of events in the outside world. Some precious copies reached here eventually and were shared and treasured.
But in spite of all difficulties and obstacles the population grew and the scattered settlements began to be recognized as places with names; i.e., one was Springfield Ward of the Borough of Elizabethtown, in the northern portion of which farms and homes were springing up which would one day feel themselves a distinct entity entitled to become a Township in their own right, but that day was still a hundred years in the future.
The first map showing owners' names and locations is the one made by Thomas Ball of the New Ark Mountain Purchase Claim prepared in 1760-1764. While crudely drawn, and certainly inaccurate, it is valuable for giving us the first information as to names and places. It comprises an area running from west of Morris Turnpike through present Millburn, Livingston, and the old "Horseneck" tract of the third Indian purchase which included Livingston, Caldwell, Roseland, Essex Fells, and the surrounding communities. The main part of interest to us is the area from which Millburn may be glimpsed. It shows a half a dozen saw mills, grist mills and forges, and the homes of most of the early settlers we have named. No roads are designated by name, but the roads we know as Main Street, Millburn Avenue, Old Short Hills Road, Brookside Drive, Parsonage Hill Road, Hobart Avenue and White Oak Ridge Road appear crudely in approximately their present locations. Millburn Avenue is simply referred to as "to New Ark" and Morris Turnpike as the road from Morristown to Springfield to Elizabethtown.
The bridge in Millburn center is called "Egbeson's Bridge", South Orange Avenue is "Durand's Notch", and three mouths of Canoe Brook are noted.
By mid century the trees were thinning and the short hills were becoming denuded as the constant demand of the sawmills consumed quantities of the first growth forests. Rev. Andrew Barnsby who travelled through the colonies in 1758 relates that the destruction of the forests was well under way by that time, and in fact in some forests, tall trees had to be reserved under severe penalty for the Crown, for masts for sailing ships.
Such was Millburn on the eve of the Revolution?crude, independent, hardy, toughened in the long battle for survival, determined to defend its hard won homes to death, if necessary, inured to hardships, yet full of zest for living and the few moments of gaiety. Here were the men with whom an effete foe from across the seas were soon to be locked in mortal combat. The outcome had been decided long ago on the old Indian trails and in the deep woods of the settlements.
Issues were not yet joined, but the final judgment, seen from the vantage point of history, would clearly go to the defendants, and not to the men with the superior weapons ? an idea so clearly preposterous to the rulers of that day that it would take almost eight years for them to realize that the war was not a pleasant sport for gentlemen, but that they were about to lose a continent.
and Original Constitution of the Province of New Jersey," Aaron Leaming
and Jacob Spicer (1751/1752?reprinted 1881)