Bethel Indian Town

From Crosswicks to Bethel

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

With the potential troubles caused by Blain and unnamed others abated for the moment by the findings of the Colonial Assembly, the Indian settlement near Cranbury proceeded. The name of the settlement, Bethel, does not appear in historical documentation until the summer of 1747 when first used in a letter from David Brainerd to his brother John. However, in a later document, John Brainerd did refer to the settlement as Bethel when he arrived there in April of that year. David Brainerd noted in his journal that his people were settled on their new lands as of May 4, 1746, and, four weeks later, his flock were special guests of Rev. William Tennent at the latter’s congregation in Freehold.

June 7. Being desired by the Rev. Mr. William Tennent to be his assistant in the administration of the Lord’s supper; my people also being invited to attend the sacramental solemnity, they cheerfully embraced the opportunity, and this day attended the preparatory services with me.

Lord’s day, June 8. Most of my people who had been communicants at the Lord’s table before, being present at this sacramental occasion, communicated with others in this holy ordinance at the desire, and I trust, to the satisfaction and comfort, of numbers of God’s people who had longed to see this day, and whose hearts had rejoiced in this work of grace among the Indians.

This occurrence of an Indian congregation from a mission community being invited to share in the sacrament at an established church is perhaps unique in the annals of American colonial history. From the author’s acquaintance with the pastor and members of the congregation, the communion table is still a cherished memento of Old Tennent Church in Manalapan, New Jersey. The deacons of the church wrote glowingly of the occasion:

We whose names are underwritten, being elders and deacons of the Presbyterian Church in Freehold, do hereby testify, that in our humble opinion, God, even our Saviour, has brought a considerable number of Indians in these parts to a saving union with himself. Of this we are persuaded from a personal acquaintance with them… We have joined with them in the Lord’s supper, and do from our hearts esteem them as our brethren in Jesus.

Old Tennent Church, scene of Holy Communion with Indian Converts.

The most significant transition affecting Bethel came in 1747 with the onset of the terminal illness that took David Brainerd’s life in October of that year. In 1746, he had traveled once again to the Forks of the Delaware and to the Susquehanna valley to maintain a religious presence with the Delaware residing there. He returned to New Jersey too exhausted to continue his work there, and traveled to New England to recover his physical strength. In July, 1747, he stayed at the home of Jonathan Edwards, a leading light of the Great Awakening and the father of Brainerd’s intended fiancÚ. Touchingly, but sadly, Jerusha Edwards who tended to David for the several months leading up to his death in October, died of tuberculosis a few months later. Jonathan Edwards was so inspired by the work of this young man that he published Brainerd’s diary, an autobiography that still inspires Christian missionaries to this day.

With David too ill to continue at Bethel, he arranged for his younger brother, John, to assume his duties as missionary to the Indians. From John Brainerd’s accounts, we learn that the new settlement in 1747 was called Bethel and that in all, one hundred and sixty people resided there and that there were forty acres of English grain and forty acres of Indian corn.

Jonathan Edwards was a strong supporter of missionary work, and sought to increase the level of such work among all tribes within the northeast, including the Iroquois of New York. As preparation for two young prospective missionaries, Job Strong and Elihu Spencer, Edwards sent them to Bethel to gain experience from a successful mission community. In one January 1748 letter, Strong described Bethel to his parents in a letter:

Bethel in New Jersey, Jan. 14, 1748.

Honoured and dear Parents,

After a long and uncomfortable journey, by reason of bad weather, I arrived at Mr. Brainerd’s the sixth instant; where I design to stay this winter: and as yet, upon many accounts, am well satisfied with my coming hither. The state and circumstances of the Indians, spiritual and temporal, much exceed what I expected. I have endeavoured to acquaint myself with the state of the Indians in general, with particular persons, and with the school, as much as the short time I have here would admit of. And notwithstanding my expectations were very much raised, from Mr. David Brainerd’s Journal, and from particular informations from him; yet I must confess, that in many respects they are not equal to that which now appears to me to be true, concerning the glorious work of divine grace amongst the Indians.

Strong went on to describe the settlement as a town, and also noted that the Indians worshipped not only in the church, but in their homes, and secretly in the woods. He was amazed that the school was full of children doing all of their assigned work, and on occasion, seeing children at home diligently studying their books. The school master was Ebenezer Hayward, of whom little is known, although he may have been born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1719. Hayward, along with John Brainerd, purchased eighty acres of land adjoining Bethel in May, 1747. Upon his death in 1750, Brainerd served as executor to his estate and acquired sole interest in their joint property. Hayward’s role as schoolmaster was taken over by Stephen Calvin, a Delaware convert. Calvin would continue as schoolmaster at the later Brotherton Reservation that succeeded the Bethel settlement.


Site of Bethel; Monroe Township, New Jersey

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