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Bethel Indian Town

The Search for Bethel
Home
Archaeological Pitfalls at Bethel
Historical Proof of Bethel's Location
National Register Nomination
Help Preserve Bethel
David Brainerd's Early Work
From Crosswicks to Bethel
Bethel's Role in the French & Indian War
Bethel in 1752
Documents from the Friends Indian Committee
The New Jersey Association for helping the Indians
Crosswicks Treaty of 1756 & Native Men in Military Service
From Bethel to Brotherton
The Search for Bethel
William Tennent & the Move to Brotherton
Proof of Wigwam Brook's Headwaters
Miscellaneous Notes
Books for Sale
Guest Book

The area of Cranbury in the early eighteenth century may be described as a geographical region, which encompassed in part present-day Monroe Township. For example, the names of Freehold, Crosswicks, Brunswick, and Perth Amboy, all at that time referred to much larger areas than those which are now associated with those places. The nearest settlements to Cranbury in the 1740s included South River Bridge, Brunswick, Windsor, and Princeton.

The exact location of Bethel has been the source of inquiry since the nineteenth century when biographers of David and John Brainerd sought advice of local residents of Middlesex County. In his 1866 biography of John, Thomas Brainerd (a relation) included a letter from the minister of the Cranbury Presbyterian Church, who wrote that the traditional location of Bethel was two miles northeast of Cranbury, off the Georges Road. This description would put it in present-day South Brunswick Township, near the Cranbury Township border. There is no documentary evidence, however, to place Bethel in this location.

Likewise, there is oral tradition in the Jamesburg area that a grove used for picnics in the late nineteenth century was the site of Bethel. This tradition does come geographically closer as the grove was located on land owned for seven years by John Brainerd, and subsequently purchased by Peter Deriemer and later by Alexander Redmond. Redmond was a source of information related to Bethel for the author of an 1882 history of Middlesex County, whose property included the site of Bethel.

The historical record, both primary and secondary, does provide the likely site of Bethel, though physical evidence may rest on future archaeological investigation. Historical references clearly indicate where Bethel once stood.

The first piece of evidence is from James Blain’s complaint in 1746 that David Brainerd was about to settle three hundred Indians on the John Falconer tract. John Falconer was son of David Falconer, who had acquired several tracts of land from the East Jersey Proprietors in the late seventeenth century. Neither David or John Falconer settled in New Jersey, and left the management and sale of their lands to others. A portion of Falconer’s tract was sold to Eliphelett Frazie of Elizabethtown, New Jersey in 1700. Never settled upon, this land passed ultimately to Peter DeReimer in 1754. In 1733, the majority of David Falconer’s tract along the Manalapan was offered for sale by James Alexander, but there is no record of it being sold.

The Falconer Tract as described in the original deed of 1689 from Robert Barclay to Falconer, and also reiterated in the 1733 newspaper advertisement was as follows:

500 Acres of Land on Menalapan River, in the County of Middlesex, in New-Jersey, beginning at the Mouth of Island Brook on the said River, and running West Forty Chains, thence South Ninety six Chains, and thence East Thirty five Chains to a Run of Water, and thence down the Run to the River, and thence as the Stream runs to where it first began; which Tract, amongst others, was patented to Robert Barclay the 22 of January, 1689, and conveyed to David Falconer by Deed recorded in the Secretary’s Office at Perth Amboy, Lib. H. fo. 3. [New Jersey State Archives, Book H, p. 3]

A second piece of evidence, although less direct, was purchase of land by John Brainerd and Ebenezer Hayward, both identified as being of Bethel, at a point bordering the Falconer tract as noted above.

Another indication as to the vicinity of Bethel comes from Rev. William Tennent’s description of his work there. In his 1756 report to the Society, he described Bethel as being between seven to eight miles from his church. This is exactly the distance, using the eighteenth century roadways, from Old Tennent to Thompson Park, Monroe Township.

The forth piece of important evidence is the 1758 reference from the Crosswick’s Conference that references the Indian settlement on the Manalapan River, in "Falkner’s tract." Falconer did not own any land situated in South Brunswick or Cranbury Townships, nor can there be any doubt as to the reference of the Manalapan River.

Another historical reference comes from surveys made by the Board of Proprietors for East Jersey. In two separate surveys made for Thomas Leonard (possible brother of Captain John Leonard killed by Weequehela), boundaries are referenced to the "public road that leads from Col. Andrew Johnston’s Mill to the Indian Town." Johnston’s mill was situated in Spotswood, New Jersey, just east of Monroe Township.

Moving forward into the nineteenth century, Alexander Redmond, whose property had passed from John Brainerd to Peter Deriemer in 1754, stated that Wigwam Brook had its source in springs located in the Indian settlement of Bethel. Wigwam Brook begins at what is now the present-day intersection of Perrineville Road and Schoolhouse Lane in Monroe Township, Middlesex County. It flows northerly towards the Jamesburg border, and then disappears into a culvert which empties into the Manalapan. A portion of the boundary of Brainerd’s property followed a substantial length of Wigwam Brook.

The west side of the Manalapan River, at the time of Clayton’s research, was known as the Faulkner tract, and as late as 1758 was inhabited mostly by Indians. "When Alexander Redmond purchased the property in 1841 many cellars, showing the former location of houses in the Brainerd settlement, were visible, and he long retained stones that had been used as hearths, as well as many relics of the Indians exhumed there." The oral tradition of Bethel’s site continued well into the twentieth century. "The tradition had long been handed down, Jim Vandenbergh said, that there was an ‘Indian city’ about a mile and a half from the village [Jamesburg]."

To locate Bethel on the ground requires knowledge of the Manalapan and the tributaries mentioned in the historical record. Island Brook is repeated in all of the deeds and mortgages as the starting point for both the Falconer Tract, and the parcel acquired by Brainerd and ultimately acquired by Alexander Redmond in the early nineteenth century. But locating Island Brook today based on maps and points of reference in usage today is impossible. The name of the stream has disappeared over the centuries, and repeated attempts to locate it through municipal, county and state sources, as well as geographical and water-resource data, proved fruitless.

Without an exact match to Island Brook, all efforts to map the Falconer Tract and Brainerd parcel could not be exact. Fortunately, current tax maps of Monroe Township depict a stream in the vicinity still identified as Faulkner’s Brook. This is the exact location of the unnamed run of water mentioned in Falconer’s deed and subsequent 1733 advertisement, and is the exact distance to a stream entering the Manalapan in present-day Thompson Park in Monroe. This latter stream is Island Brook, which is proved by both matching the Falconer boundaries, the Brainerd boundaries, and verified by Redmond’s description of the late nineteenth century.

Today the site of the Bethel Indian Town remains an open public space. It is currently part of Thompson Park in Monroe Township, near the intersection of Schoolhouse Lane and Perrineville Road. The streambed of Wigwam Brook is discernable in the expansive lawn adjoining soccer fields. Whatever the future holds for the site, evidence suggests archaeological surveys could uncover a long lost piece of New Jersey and Delaware Indian history.

Monroe Tax Map that still shows Faulkners Brook
faulknersbrook1.jpg

1850.gif
1850 map of area. Bethel was situated near the intersection of the two roads at the bottom left.

Weequehela's plantation and mills were located just south of Spotswood, to the west of the stream at Burnt Meadows.  He was an important sachem of his people but was unjustly tried and executed in 1727 by colonial authorities.  His successor, Andrew Woolley, and others, sold the remaining Manalapan lands at Spotswood to the Johnston brothers in 1739, thus transferring the famous millseat that was to become Spotswood.

1900topo.gif

1901 topo map of Jamesburg area.  Bethel Indian Town was located at the headsprings of Wigwam Brook, where Perrineville and School House Lane meet.  The location is approximately where the measurement "169" is printed at the lower left.

American Indian Historical Research

For information on Brotherton & Weekping

For information on Weequehela & Spotswood, NJ

For information on the Gnadenhutten Massacre

For information on the Indian Company of 1778