THE ridge on which the older part of Moorestown now stands was known as the “Camel’s Back” by the forest rangers and hunters who occasionally wandered through this section of the County. Geologists tell us that in the early ages the Jersey Pines were separated from the mainland by a large body of water known as the Pensauken Sound or Submergence and as this section of the county was then under water, it is possible that the ridge appeared as an Island.
The building of the old Salem Road in 1682 which followed the general course of Main Street through Moorestown, undoubtedly influenced our pioneer ancestors in locating their homes in this locality. William Biddle, who arrived in 1681 and settled on the Delaware near Kinkora Station a few miles below Bordentown, was the first owner of the land on which Moorestown now stands. On January 22, 1677, William Penn, Gawen Lawrie and Nicholas Lucas trustees for Edward Byllinge, conveyed one share¹ of land in West Jersey to “William Biddle, shoemaker, of Bishop’s Gate, London, Thomas Ollive, haberdasher of Wellingboro and Daniel Wills, practicioner in chymestry of Northampton.” Under a Deed in Trust dated April 4th, 1677, Thomas Ollive and Dr. Daniel Wills conveyed to William Biddle “one-half of the tract granted to both parties.” Part of the land held under this grant was located by William Biddle along the ridge from Borton’s Landing Road on the east to Pensauken Creek on the west. William
1;Before the settlement of West Jersey a share of land in the new Province evidently meant a one-hundredth interest in the Province. In 1681, the West Jersey Assembly passed a law authorizing the division of West Jersey into ten Tenths. Under this law each Tenth was to have its share of frontage on the Delaware River and extend “backwards” so that it would contain 64,000 acres. A share of land, therefore, which was one-tenth of a Tenth, would contain approximately 6400 acres.
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Biddle conveyed the western portion of this tract to Robert clinton of Surrey, England in October 1679. Clinton sold it to Thos. Martin of Lynehouse Parish on May 12th, 1682, it is evident that neither Robert Clinton or Thomas Martin ever came to America as the latter sold part of his holdings to Dr. Thomas Rodman of Rhode Island in 1686 through his brother James Martin of Burlington, New Jersey to whom Power of Attorney previously had been given. The tract conveyed to Thomas Rodman was located in West Moorestown and contained a little over 500 acres. The lane extending down into the valley west of the Friends Meeting Houses was the eastern boundary and Second Street to Church Street thence to Charles W. Stokes’ residence at the top of the hill on Haddonfield Road marked approximately the northern and northwestern line.
The eastern portion of the Biddle tract containing 475 acres of upland and 25 acres of meadow, was conveyed to John Rodman “Chyrurgeon” brother of Thomas Rodman on April 4th, 1686. It joined the Thomas Rodman tract on the west, the northern boundary being about where Oak Avenue is now located. From a point on Oak Avenue a little west of Chester Avenue, the line extended in a northeastern direction to Thomas Hooton’s line (now the John C. Dudley farm on the Westfield-Hartford-Road), thence in a southeasterly direction to the John Hollinshead tract near the junction of Borton’s Landing and Mt. Holly Roads. Although the western end of Moorestown was called Rodmantown in the early days, I find no record of either of the brothers having lived in this vicinity.
The sound of the pioneer’s axe was first heard in the vicinity of Moorestown in the closing months of 1682 or possibly early in 1683. Burlington City which was established in 1677, five years before Philadelphia, had already become an active community and the advance guard of that sturdy band of pioneer settlers, who converted the wilderness of Burlington County into a land of homes, had already located plantations on the Northampton River now
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known as Rancocas Creek. John and Sarah Roberts, William and Mary Matlack and Timothy and Rachael hancock were the first English colonists to settle in the neighborhood of Moorestown. John and Sarah Roberta arrived on the “Kent” in 1677 and Timothy Hancock and his sister Mary, an attractive young girl 16 years of age, followed on the “Paradice” in 1681. William Matlack was a carpenter and doubtless was an exceedingly busy man as he helped to build the first homes in Burlington, yet he seems to have found time to call on Mary, who is known in history as Mary Matlack.
Before leaving England, John Roberts, yeoman, purchased one-sixteenth of a share of land in West Jersey from Thomas Ollive and Dr. Daniel Wills, the location of which was to be decided after his arrival in this country. On November 14th, 1682, Daniel Leeds surveyed 267 acres for John Roberts on the north branch of Pensauken Creek. This tract extended from the north to the south branch of the creek and Camden Pike now passes directly through part of the farm at Maple Shade. The Roberts monument on the south side of the Pike just west of the bridge over the north branch marks the approximate location of the first homestead. According to family tradition they lived for a while in a cave or dugout close to a spring of water on the bank of the creek. The so-called caves of the early settlers in some instances were dug-outs or rough shelters constructed in the side of a hill or bank. They usually faced the south and consequently were protected from the keen north winds and northeastern storms. Our ancestors who were not accustomed to living in a temperature of 75 or 80 degrees doubtless were quite comfortable in them until their log homes were erected which in turn were replaced by more pretentious frame or brick dwellings. In some instances, doubtless, the caves were constructed similar to our cellars. Daniel Pastorius in his “Geographical Description of Pennsylvania” describes the caves on the bank of the Delaware at Philadelphia which were similar
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to his first home in America as follows:—“The caves of that time were holes digged in the ground, covered with earth a matter of five or six feet deep, ten or twelve feet wide and about twenty feet long; whereof neither the sides nor the floors have been planked. Herein we lived more comfortably than many nowadays in their painted and wainscoted palaces.”
The original Matlack homestead was located on Pensauken Creek above the Roberts plantation near the site of the Club House of the Valley Brook Country Club. This farm which contained one hundred acres extended back to the South branch of the Pensauken and a portion of it still remains in the Matlack family. The one hundred acres surveyed for Timothy Hancock joined the Matlack farm on the west and the two homes were located on the bank of the creek quite near each other. William Matlack purchased the adjoining farm from his father-in-law, Timothy Hancock, in 1695. The first burying ground in the neighborhood of Moorestown was located on the bank of the creek on the Hancock farm. There is no evidence of this burying ground at the present time and unless the spot is marked in the near future, its location will soon be lost. The Pensauken at that time seems to have been a much deeper stream than at present as there was a landing on the Hancock farm from which the farmers shipped their produce to Philadelphia in flat bottomed boats.
In December, 1684, one hundred acres were surveyed on the Pensauken Creek adjoining the Roberts tract on the west for William Clarke and at about the same time 650 acres for John Clarke and John Rudderow, extending to the forks of the creek. A little later, 475 acres of this tract was resurveyed for John Rudderow. The Rudderow tract was located between the two branches nearest to their junction at Fork Landing. Robert Stiles, the ancestor of the Burlington County branch of that family, settled on the Pensauken at Maple Shade at an early date. I am not in position, however, to state definitely when the first survey
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was made. Their farm was located north of Camden Pike and the street now known as Stiles Avenue leads directly to the site of the original homestead.
The pioneers’ axe was also heard during the early years on the south side of Rancocas Creek. John Hollinshead was undoubtedly the first settler in that vicinity. I cannot say definitely when the first survey of land was made for him but I am of the opinion it was prior to 1680. The first and second pages of “Revell’s Book of Surveys” which record the surveys of land in West Jersey prior to 1680 are missing. A Deed dated Eleventh month 10th, 1683, refers to John Hollinshead of Northampton River² showing that he had already settled in that location. There is a record under date of Fourth month, 1689 of a survey for John Hollinshead of 1150 acres on the south side of the creek “adjoining and including his original settlement.” The Hollinshead tract was located about two miles above Bridgeboro and the homestead stood on the bank of the creek near the dividing line between Moorestown and Delran Townships. The family conducted a ferry at this place for many years and in the early days the locality was known as Hollinshead’s Ferry. The old Salem Road known later as the King’s Highway crossed the creek at this point. The plantation extended back almost to the eastern edge of Moorestown as it is today.
The Hooten tract comprising 500 acres was located on the creek a little above Bridgeboro and joined the Hollinshead tract on the east. The record of the Hooten survey dated Eleventh month 15, 1682, reads as follows: “For thomas Hooten 500 acres abutting on Northampton River from a black oak marked for a corner at the mouth of a small creek over against Thomas Ollive, southwest by south 165 chains (a trifle over two miles) for a second corner, then southeast by east 31 chains for a third corner next to the land surveyed for Noel Mew.” The phrase “over against” used in
2;Rancocas Creek was usually called Northampton River by the early English settlers.
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this and other early sirveys undoubtedly meant on the opposite side of the stream. The Hooton tract extended back to the farm on Westfield-Hartford Road now owned by John C. Dudley.
An Act was passed by the West Jersey Assembly in 1682 “forbidding any person from holding more than forty perches (220 yards) frontage on a river or navigable stream for each and every one hundred acres except it fall upon a point so that it cannot be avoided.” This gave Thomas Hooton considerably more than a half-mile frontage on the Rancocas. It is interesting to note that another Act passed at the same time forbade any person taking up land on both sides of a navigable stream without the consent of the Commissioners.
John Borton, the founder of the Borton family in Burlington County, settled on the south side of Rancocas Creek at Borton’s Landing in 1682. This tract containing 200 acres extended back to the present village of Masonville.
In 1689 Thomas “ffrench” the founder of the French family in Burlington County, who had located on the northern side of Rancocas Creek in 1684, had surveyed for him 621 acres on “Pomsoking” Creek next to the plantation of Thomas Wallis. This tract was located north and northwest of Moorestown and extended from about where Church Street now runs to Pensauken Creek. If Second Street continued in a direct line to the Creek it would mark the approximate southeastern line of the French holdings. In 1694, Thomas French deeded 300 acres of this plantation to his son Thomas “in consideration of the natural affection, good will and kindness which he beareth to his beloved son.” A considerable portion of this tract remained in the French family until about the middle of the Nineteenth Century.
On June 10, 1692, Dr. John Rodman, conveyed his tract in East Moorestown to John Adams of Flushing, L. I. in exchange for a dwelling house and “parcel of land.” John Adams evidently settled on this tract and in 1693 recon
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veyed the western portion of the plantation which extended to where the Burlington County Trust Company now stands to his son, James. James Adams and Esther his wife, transferred one acre of this farm located at the northwest corner of Main Street and Chester Avenue to the Society of Friends in 1700. The eastern portion of the Adams plantation was inherited by his son Thomas. Thomas Adams sold this farm containing 237 acres to Samuel Atkinson, son of Thomas Atkinson of Bucks County, Penna. in 1719. On December 4th, 1722, Samuel Atkinson purchased 200 acres adjoining his plantation from Robert and Benjamin Field. It would appear from the above records that John Adams and his sons, James and Thomas, were the first substantial citizens to erect homes on the land on which Moorestown now stands.