The Rich History of Hamilton, New Jersey
“I believe that the only places in the United States with more history than Hamilton Township are Jamestown and Williamsburg, Virginia,” says Gordon Kontrath, researcher and resident of Hamilton for more than six decades. “There are more historical and archaeological areas in Hamilton than almost anywhere else in the United States. It’s here and no one knows about it.”
Hamilton, New Jersey, is an undiscovered jewel when it comes to American History. It is one of the few townships ruled by kings and queens before the revolution. Today, Hamilton is a township in Mercer County, New Jersey. The U.S. Census Bureau includes Hamilton Township in the New York Metropolitan Area, but the township also has a direct boarder with the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area.
The Absegami Indians, part of the Lenni Lenape tribe, were the first inhabitants of the area. European colonization of New Jersey began shortly after Sir Henry Hudson explored the area off its coasts and bays in 1609.
Europeans came to New Jersey and settled in Bergen in 1620. The state split into East and West New Jersey in 1626. Quakers purchased sections of West New Jersey from Leni-Lenape Indians in 1678. The next year, the good ship Shield became the first vessel to pass the port of Philadelphia, arriving at Burlington from Hull, England. While most of the early residents were farmers, many worked as tradesmen, wheelwrights, tailors, ship builders and carpenters.
Dutch and Swedish settlers landed in Bordentown and then worked their way north into small neighborhoods that eventually became Hamilton Township in about 1695. These small neighborhoods include the communities of Groveville, Crosswicks and Hamilton Square.
In 1740, an agent for the London Company, Captain George May, sailed up the Great Egg Harbor River and discovered the perfect location for shipbuilding. A few years later, he purchased land near Babcock Creek and established a shipyard and trading post. John Hamilton, who served as acting governor of the Province of New Jersey from 1736–1738 and from 1746–1747, purchased land near May’s property.
By 1778, people began referring to the center of town as “May’s Landing.” Revolutionary War veteran Colonel Richard Westcoat moved to May’s Landing in 1783 and opened a store and tavern near the location where the present county courthouse sits today.
Weymouth Iron Works began producing iron in the area in 1810. The company produced cannons and cannonballs for the War of 1812. It continued operating until 1865, when the furnace burned in a fire.
The New Jersey Legislature took portions of the now-defunct Nottingham Township to create Hamilton, and incorporated Hamilton as a township on April 11, 1842. Other townships absorbed parts of Nottingham Township, including Chambersburg borough and Wilbur borough, which were later annexed by Trenton, New Jersey.
Famous Places, Famous Faces in Hamilton History
Even though the locations’ names have changed over the years, Hamilton Township features many historical locations that visitors can still see today.
Many say that Hamilton Township started in 1708 on Westcott Avenue, where Isaac Watson first built his modest stone house on a bluff overlooking the nearby farmlands and Watson’s Creek. Watson was the son of Quakers who immigrated to the area from England in 1684.
Several families and businesses inhabited the structure throughout the centuries. Restored in 1964 as part of the New Jersey Tercentenary Celebration, the Watson House remains largely unchanged at its Westcott Avenue location at the major thoroughfare of South Broad Street and Route 206.
The Watson House is now the oldest home in the county, and is currently the headquarters of the New Jersey State Society of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (NJDAR). The Daughters of the American Revolution offer tours of the home.
John Abbott II House
The British were advancing upon Trenton during the latter part of 1776. The state treasurer, Samuel Tucker, heard of the advancement and decided to save the state’s money – and his own. On November 30 of that year, Tucker put his personal effects, unsigned public money and the moneys of the estates over which he served as executor into a large black trunk.
The American rebel then moved the trunk to the home of John Abbott, and hid about 1,500 British pounds of public money in the house, along with another 1,000 British pounds of trust money, deeds and other assets.
Mrs. Mary Pointing of Trenton told the British of the hiding place. On December 9, 1776, she led Lieutenant Hackshaw and a detachment of 500 British troops to the house. The troops ransacked the house, searching for the money. The British found Tucker’s black trunk and broke it open, but discovered only a handful of deeds and a very small amount of low denomination paper money.
Fortunately, the Abbott family had the foresight to pretend that they were moving out of the home. The family put the money at the bottom of a few very large tubs, and covered the fortune with dishes and assorted household goods. The British troops found the tubs, but tired from all the raiding and ransacking, decided against digging all the way to the bottom. Instead, they took Tucker’s trunk and all the relatively worthless paperwork inside.
John Abbott II and his father built the house in 1730. The elder John Abbott worked as a merchant, doing business locally and in Philadelphia. The younger Abbott was a farmer.
Scheduled for demolition in 1969, the small white house was saved by the Hamilton Township Historical Society. Today, the Abbott home serves as a reminder of the township’s rich history. Hamilton Township Historical Society calls the John Abbott II House home, and preserves period clothing in different rooms throughout the house. The society frequently decorates the house for different seasons.
The John Abbott II House is located at 2200 Kuser Road in Hamilton, NJ, situated just inside the entrance to Hamilton’s Veterans Park.
Enoch Middleton House
Escaped slaves traveling north along the Underground Railroad could find at least two stops in Hamilton. The secret organization of people, secret routes and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad famously helped southern runaway slaves reach safety in the northern states and Canada. The Enoch Middleton House on 2 Old York Road was one such stop in the North Crosswicks area.
Enoch Middleton was a Quaker, a group also known as the Society of Friends. Quakers were the first organization to come out against slavery in Britain and in the United States. As a Quaker and abolitionist from Philadelphia, Enoch Middleton was clear about his intention to help people out.
Enoch built the home between 1844 and 1848, and originally intended to use the building as the Middleton family summer home. After retiring, though, the wealthy merchant decided to move to Mercer County permanently. He became an Underground Railroad stationmaster and conductor shortly thereafter.
Enoch and his youngest son, Randolph, began to transport groups of three to five slaves from his backyard barn along routes through Allentown, Cranbury or New Brunswick to Canada. Enoch Middleton provided care and lodging for as many as 30 runaway slaves at a time. Enoch Middleton once famously helped an escaped slave by the name of “Little Sittles,” even after receiving physical threats from the slave’s owner.
The Middletons also held secret meetings in the home. African American civil rights activist and Underground Railroad conductor William Still met with Enoch Middleton there, as did fellow Quaker and abolitionist Lucretia Mott.
At about the same time, Union soldiers were busy setting up the 140-acre Camp Olden near Kuser Road. The first nine regiments of New Jersey’s troops to serve in the Civil War trained at Camp Olden, which opened in May of 1861.
Isaac Pearson Home
Isaac Pearson was an influential politician, elected to the State Assembly several times over his career. He also served as Nottingham Tax Collector in 1763, justice of the peace, township clerk, freeholder and delegate to the New Jersey Provincial Congress. Quite popular for entertaining guests at his beautiful home, Pearson was less beloved for sympathizing with the British during the American Revolution.
The British had invaded New Jersey and offered amnesty to any local residents who took an oath of allegiance to Britain. They also threatened those who did not swear allegiance with retribution. One fateful night in 1776, two days after the Battle of Trenton, Pearson rode his horse to New Brunswick to take the oath of allegiance. He suffered a fatal attack from either robbers looking for money or by Continentals angered by his politics.
Hamilton Township now manages the Isaac Pearson Home. The building is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The township is currently restoring the site and converting the home for use as a tourist attraction as funds become available.
Built in the 1700s, the Grafton House once belonged to Richard Jacques, who served as the first Sheriff of the county. The house inherited its name because of its location near a historic plantation. Matthew West, great grandson of one of the first settlers of Shrewsbury, once owned the 166-acre farm property.
Located behind Hamilton Marketplace, this historic home is close to the New Jersey Turnpike, State Highway 130 and Interstate 195. Meticulously restored right down to the original hardwood floors, Grafton House now offers catered events and can accommodate groups up to 50 to 60 people.
The residents of Hamilton Township in New Jersey take pride in the rich history of the area, and go to great lengths to preserve these historical locations. The convenient location of Homestead at Hamilton makes it easy for you and your friends to visit these historical sites.
Explore Homestead at Hamilton
Homestead at Hamilton, a retirement community offering independent living, assisted living and memory care, is home to residents who live an active and inspired lifestyle. With an appetite to explore, learn and fulfill their curiosities, residents have found Homestead to be the perfect location to take in all Hamilton Township and central New Jersey offers, including sightseeing, award-winning restaurants, cultural attractions, shopping, parks, greenspaces and more. If you are interested in learning more about vibrant lifestyle at Homestead, contact us today.