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Bethel Indian Town

David Brainerd's Early Work
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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 history of Bethel is part of the larger story of the Great Awakening which swept colonial America in the 1740s.  In short, this movement sought to inspire individuals to develop a personal relationship with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.  The movement’s impact on society in general may be compared to the religious revival associated with American society of the late 20th century when issues such as same-sex marriages, the teaching of creationism and the pro-life movement have become major political platforms.  At the same time, religious leaders from many faiths earnestly began missionary work with Native American communities throughout the thirteen colonies.  Perhaps best known are the labors of the Moravians at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and their satellite Indian mission communities stretching from Georgia to New York along the ever-changing frontier. 

 

At the same time, Congregationalist Massachusetts set up the Mohican mission community of Stockbridge, in the Berkshires.   Governor Jonathan Belcher of Massachusetts was instrumental in the formation of Stockbridge in 1737 as a mission settlement, where Native Americans could learn the ways of European society, as well as receive religious instruction.  Belcher was governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire from 1730 to 1741, and governor of New Jersey from 1746 until his death in 1757.  He also founded the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, and like his efforts with Stockbridge, was an important supporter of the mission work at Bethel.

 

Caught up in the emotional and personal commitment to the ideals of the Great Awakening was a young Yale student, David Brainerd.  Born in Haddam, Connecticut in 1718, he was to lead a short, yet distinguished life. 

 

Having experienced a personal religious revelation at the age of twenty-one, Brainerd entered Yale with the expectation of becoming a minister. However, the radicalism associated with the Great Awakening, coupled with the rebellion of youth, led to his expulsion from Yale during his third year.  He was overheard to say that one of the tutors "has no more grace than a chair" and that he wondered why the Rector "did not drop down dead" for fining students for their evangelical zeal.

 

Barred from Yale, and greatly disappointed that the ministry in Connecticut was closed to him, Brainerd was about to embark on a path of religious service that has inspired subsequent generations of Christians.  In the summer of 1742 a group of ministers sitting in Danbury, Connecticut, licensed Brainerd to preach.   Jonathan Dickinson, a leading Presbyterian in New Jersey, took special interest in young Brainerd.  As a member of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, Dickinson was able to secure an appointment for Brainerd as a missionary to the Mohicans at Kaunaumeek (now named appropriately, Brainerd), midway between Albany and Stockbridge. Here Brainerd embarked on what was to be his life’s work.  For one year he lived alone and suffered severe privation in the wilderness of the Taconic mountains.  With the success of the  Stockbridge mission nearby however, the Mohican families removed to that settlement, and Brainerd directed his attention toward the Delaware Indians of the New Jersey/Pennsylvania region. 

 

In 1744, he established a mission at the Forks of the Delaware (Easton, Pennsylvania), but met with little success.  One year later, he visited the scattered Indian families living at Crossweeksung in New Jersey.  This small settlement was located somewhere in the vicinity of Crosswicks Creek in the western Monmouth County area, but it has never been definitively located.  Here Brainerd met with great success, and, in his first year, he baptized seventy-seven Indians, thirty-eight of whom were adults.  Brainerd became fast friends with Rev. William Tennent and Rev. Charles McKnight, both of whom lived within reasonable proximity to Crossweeksung, Tennent at the New Presbyterian Church at Freehold (now Old Tennent Church), and McKnight alternating between Allentown and Cranbury in central New Jersey.

  

In spite of the success of his missionary work, Brainerd recorded troubles at the settlement. 

 

Jan. 28. [1746]  The Indians in these parts have, in times past, run themselves in debt by their excessive drinking; and some have taken the advantage of them, and put them to trouble and charge by arresting sundry of them; whereby it was supposed their hunting lands, in great part, were much endangered, and might speedily be taken from them.

 

Despite the success of the mission, there were problems with the Crosswicks settlement.  Clear title could not be ascertained, and the land was not productive enough for the many new Indian families settled together. 

 

March 24. [ 1746] …My people went out this day upon the design of clearing some of their land, above fifteen miles distant from this settlement, in order to their settling there in a compact form; where they might be under advantages of attending the public worship of God, of having their children taught in a school, and at the same time have a conveniency for planting, &c.; their land in the place of our present residence being of little or no value for that purpose.

 

Prejudice and mistrust between whites and Indians permeated colonial society, no matter how much conversion or assimilation might occur within Native American culture.  On April 9, 1746, just two weeks after the Indians began to clear their new land, a disgruntled colonist appeared before the New Jersey Assembly.  John Blain, of New Brunswick, stated in a deposition that upwards of three hundred Indians were coming to Cranbury to settle a town under Mr. Brainerd.  The exact location was upon the land of John Falconer, a merchant of London.  The matter was reviewed by the Assembly, and the complaint dismissed on the grounds of exaggeration; there were not even three hundred Indians left within the colony.  The Falconer Tract, located several miles east of Cranbury village, was to be the location of the Bethel mission, while other local Delaware Indians maintained a separate community closer to Cranbury.

 

Brainerd responded to this complaint in his journal:

 

April 25. [1746]   …And that we might also importunately pray for the peaceable settlement of the Indians together in a body, that they might be a commodious congregation for the worship of God; and that God would blast and defeat all the attempts that were or might be made against that pious design…There being at this time a terrible clamour raised against the Indians in various places in the country, and insinuations as though I was training them up to cut people's throats. Numbers wishing to have them banished out of these parts, and some giving out great words, in order to fright and deter them from settling upon the best and most convenient tract of their own lands, threatening to molest and trouble them in the law, pretending a claim to these lands themselves, although never purchased of the Indians.

 

 

crosswicks.gif
Crosswicks Creek, scene of Brainerd's early success with the Delaware.

The Crossweeksung mission was likely centered at what is still known as Brainerd's Spring, located north of Crosswicks Creek, at the stream two-thirds of a mile east of the Old York Road.   On this map, it is the stream north of the Crosswicks, and to the left of the word, "Creek."  The mission consisted of twenty Indian houses all within one-quarter mile of Brainerd's cabin.
 
On March 5, 1746, David Brainerd wrote:
 
Their present situation is so compact and commodious, that they are easily and quickly called together with only the sound of a conk-shell, (a shell like that of a periwinkle,) so that they have frequent opportunities of attending religious exercises publicly; which seems to be a great means, under God, of keeping alive the impressions of divine things in their minds.

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