Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Plantation Yclept Bromley

In present-day Borough of Mount Ephraim, Camden County, New Jersey.

by Jerseyman ©2010

The Harrison family of Gloucester Town began its West New Jersey experience with émigré Samuel Harrison, the mariner, who resided for some years on land north of the Gloucester Town bounds upon arriving. On 1 September 1697, Harrison purchased 500 acres from John Reading (West New Jersey Deed Liber Gl A:29). He married Sarah Hunt and a number of children came from this union, including Samuel, Joseph, and William, along with at least two daughters: Ann, who married Jacob Clement; and Abigail, who became the wife of Jacob Hinchman (Clement 1877:243, 273). Samuel Harrison, the mariner, also signed a partnership agreement with John Reading in 1697 to construct a brewery somewhere on John Reading’s town lots. The partners agreed to hire Anthony Blany for a period of seven years to produce “good sweet merchantable malt” and “shall likewise Brew into good and merchantable Beer [in] such quantity as shall be by ye sd Samuel or John or b[oth] of them be delivered at ye malthouse be brought” (Gloucester County Document Collection, Agreement 2). Harrison then began to build an addition to the extant malt house, which was probably a brew house.

The first batch of product was anything but good, so the partners confronted Blany, demanding to know what went wrong. Taking the interrogation as a personal affront, Blany retaliated by burning down the brewery and John Reading’s house burned along with it (Miller 1939:143-144). Harrison and Reading filed a suit against Blany to recover their costs. At the trial, John Reading testified in part:

On ye twenty first Day of May, Ano 1698 the Malthouse abovesaid, Designed by and on purpose; Did set on fire or through Ignorance, carelessness or negligence, ye same be suffered ye Malt Killne to take ffire; whereby not only ye said Malt house with about 700 Bushels of malt and Barly; But ye Brewhouse thereto adjoining; Beer therein, Mill vessels, Utensils and Materialls; so ye arts of Malting and Brewing apertain and allso a Dwelling House of ye said John Reading; with my Goods. and many Deeds, Books, evidences, Rolls and writeing of Publick concern; and belonging to ye province of West Jersey were incinerated, Destroyed, Burnt down and Totally Consumed.... (ibid.)

While there is no direct documentation to confirm the partners quickly rebuilt their fire-ravaged brewery, subsequent probate documents suggest that they did so.

Tracking the identity of the malsters at the reconstructed brewery after Blany cannot be done with absolute certainty, but it appears that a Richard Bromley may have arrived about the time the partners completed rebuilding the facility. On 1 January 1697 (n.s.), Richard Bromley Sr., a malster, of Stratford on Avon, County of Warwick, England, purchased a one-twentieth share of West New Jersey (West New Jersey Deed Liber Gl 3:229, 231). Five days later, he sold his interest to his son and heir, Richard Bromley Jr., a glover of London (West New Jersey Deed Liber Gl 3:236, 237). Sometime during the ensuing two years, it appears Bromley left his wife and family and sailed for the New World, arriving in Gloucester Town to operate the brewery.

Samuel Harrison, the mariner, died intestate sometime during the month of February 1703/04. The courts granted Sarah, Samuel’s wife, letters of administration for the estate on 1 March 1703/04 (Nelson 1901:213-214). At some point in time after 1707, Samuel Harrison’s widow, Sarah, remarried to Richard Bull of Gloucester Town, son of Thomas Bull Sr. of Pipe Hill, County of Stafford, England. Thomas Sr. purchased one-eighth of a full share of West New Jersey in concert with Thomas Rudyard, who acquired one-half of a share; Henry Beadle, a malster, who bought one-eighth of a share; and John Reading, who obtained one-quarter of a share, making a sum total of one full propriety share of the colony split among the four men (Pomfret 1956:286).

It appears Richard Bull leased a plantation he owned, located out in the Gloucester Town Liberties along Little Timber Creek, to Richard Bromley, the malster operating the brewery, even before Bull married Sarah Harrison. During March 1708 (n.s.), Richard Bull visited Bromley at the plantation and drew the brewer’s Will, suggesting that the man had contracted an illness. He died within a couple of months as Bromley’s executor entered his Will into probate on 11 May 1708 (Unrecorded Wills, Vol. 7:293-298). The plantation where Bromley lived then returned to Richard and Sarah Bull. The plantation became known as “Bromley” when the malster first took up residence there and the name remained with the property long after Bromley died. Richard and Sarah removed from Gloucester Town after Bromley died and took up residence on the plantation.

Sarah Harrison Bull outlived her second husband and the courts granted her administration of Richard’s intestate estate in November 1723. Richard’s brother, Thomas (Jr.), assented to her administration (Nelson 1901:72). She retained much of Richard’s land after his death and passed it on to her Harrison children through her own Will, dated 6 January 1742 and probated 20 August 1744. William Harrison, the son of Samuel the Mariner and Sarah Harrison Bull, received the Bromley plantation, situated between Little Timber Creek and the Kings Highway, as a devisee of his mother’s Will, which read in part, Son, William Harrison, to have the rest of lands, meadows and buildings” (Honeyman 1918:74).

Subsequent to his mother’s death and attaining ownership of Bromley according to her Will, he erected a milldam above the tide on Little Timber Creek and constructed a gristmill. The dam certainly existed by November 1760, when the colonial legislature passed an act

to enable the Owners and Possessors of the Meadows lying on Little Timber Creek…to support and maintain a certain Bank, Dam and other Water-Works, lately erected across the said Creek in order to prevent the Tide from overflowing the same, and the keep the former Water-Course of said Creek open and clear. (Bush 1982:55-57)

This act permitted a dam to be erected, thereby preventing tidal flow and allowing landowners adjacent to the creek to cultivate meadowlands. The act in part reads:

Be it enacted by the Governor, Council and General Assembly, and it is hereby Enacted by the Authority of the same, That from and after the Publication hereof, the said Bank, Dam, and all other Water-Works already erected, or that shall or may at any Time or Times hereafter, be found necessary to be erected, for the more effectual preventing the Tide from overflowing the Meadow lying on the aforesaid Creek, shall be erected, supported and maintained at the equal Expence [sic] of all the Owners and Possessors of the same, in Proportion to the Quantity of Meadow that each of the said Owners or possessors now or hereafter may hold on the said Creek, between the aforesaid Dam, and a Dam called William Harrison’s Dam, near the Head of the aforesaid Creek. (Bush 1982:56 [underlining and bolding added for emphasis])

This portion of the act indicates that Harrison’s milldam already existed. His dam must have stood above the tidal flow as Harrison required no legislative act to block the stream, considered a public thoroughfare under colonial law. At some point subsequent to building this mill, William Harrison removed his family to Greenwich Township, Gloucester County, where he established a new plantation and constructed another gristmill along with a sawmill. Sometime prior to 1 November 1762, William Harrison died and devised to his son William (Jr.) the …plantation where I formerly lived, and where he now lives, to him and his heirs…” (New Jersey Wills 795H). The devised plantation included the gristmill along Little Timber Creek.

In November 1776, William Harrison Junior heard the call of his revolutionary countrymen and mortgaged his land and gristmill to raise a company of New Jersey militia. According to the written testimony of his grandson, Philadelphia locomotive builder Joseph Harrison, William clothed and armed the men who served in his company. As America entered the second year of its rebellion against the Crown, the British sailed south from New York and landed General William Howe and his army on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay at Elkton, Maryland, after rejecting a more dangerous landing on the lower Delaware River. The army marched north towards Philadelphia, engaging in the Battle of Brandywine along the way. Meanwhile, sailors of the Pennsylvania Navy prepared themselves for the upcoming river battle. The river bottom already bristled with clusters of chevaux-de-frise, iron-tipped wooden spears anchored in stone-filled wooden cribs, ready to impale any British vessel which dared to sail up the Delaware. Only a handful of colonial river pilots knew the safe passage route through these river obstacles. American laborers worked on the New Jersey side to finish defensive forts at Billingsport and Red Bank and other workers made final preparations to the fort on Mud Island (Fort Mifflin), located on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River (Jackson 1977:1-15; Jackson 1986:1-127).

First designed by British military engineer John Montressor, the Pennsylvania colonial legislature sought the construction of what would become Fort Mifflin as a defensive position for Philadelphia against Privateers. Work began on this fortification in 1772 but the workmen, lacking clear supervision, had not yet completed the facility in 1775. About the time colonial delegates signed the Declaration of Independence, American colonists gained possession of the fort (Jackson 1977:1-15; Jackson 1986:1-127). After partially completed the Billingsport fortification, the continentals determined the location to be indefensible, and withdrew four miles upstream to concentrate on completing a much smaller fortification within the rather large Red Bank defensive position. Only a small garrison remained at Billingsport to guard the lower set of chevaux-de-frise. After withdrawing from the Brandywine battlefield, the British army continued its march towards Philadelphia. On the city’s outskirts, Washington launched a surprise attack at Germantown, which proved disastrous for the American troops and Howe’s forces moved in to Philadelphia during the second part of October (Jackson 1977:1-15).

Upon achieving his primary objective—winning and occupying Philadelphia—General Howe commanded his military commanders to vanquish the American troops, destroy the Pennsylvania Navy, and open the Delaware River to British shipping under the control of Howe’s brother, Lord Admiral Richard Howe. Hessian mercenary officer Colonel Carl Emil Kurt von Donop requested the honor to crush the continental forces at Red Bank and capture the fort (Smith 1970:18). The Hessians crossed the Delaware River at Cooper’s Ferry, located at today’s Coopers Point, Camden, and marched out today’s Haddon Avenue to Haddonfield where they bivouacked for the night. The next morning, 22 October 1777, the German soldiers began their march to the fort. According to an anonymous map presumably drawn in 1777 or 1778, the Hessians moved southwest out of Haddonfield along the old Kings Highway into Mount Ephraim, where they turned more southerly and crossed William Harrison Jr.’s milldam (Anon. ca. 1778).

Old Gloucester County never established the shortcut across Harrison’s dam between Kings Highway and today’s Browning Road as an official highway, but it provided a very convenient crossing point over Little Timber Creek. The Hessians originally intended to cross Big Timber Creek on the bridge between present-day Brooklawn and Westville, but an advance scout party evidently found that the Americans had rendered the bridge impassable.

Hence, von Donop’s army turned south off of Kings Highway, crossed William Harrison Junior’s dam, and traveled east along Browning Road (a.k.a. the Irish Road or Sandy Lane) to its junction with the “Good and Convenient Road of 1768,” whereupon the Hessians turned on to that road and traveled over it until they reached Clement’s Bridge Road, which provided the force with access to the next crossing over Big Timber Creek. After moving across the bridge, von Donop marched his large army of mercenaries to attack the fort, where a small and inferior force of Americans waited within the fortifications (Leap 1981:53-55). The Hessians suffered a resounding defeat, losing many soldiers on the battlefield, including von Donop himself. The British dispatched warships to provide artillery support for the Hessians, but in maneuvering around the shallow water in front of the fort, the 64-gun ship AUGUSTA and the sloop-of-war MERLIN ran aground, representing a great military loss to the British, since both exploded and burned. Those Hessians who survived the battle uninjured assisted the wounded and dying back to Philadelphia, staying overnight in Glendora at Ashbrook’s Burial Ground, where those who had expired during the return trip were buried (Smith 1970:20-25).

During the entire British invasion period, from 2 October to 9 November, Commodore John Hazelwood’s Pennsylvania Navy patrolled the Delaware River. His small fleet of row galleys, floating batteries and fire boats harassed the British naval fleet, provided protective fire for the forts and defended the chevaux-de-frise from removal. The British had already established shore batteries on Carpenter and Province islands to cannonade Fort Mifflin, but von Donop’s defeat at Red Bank temporarily thwarted Howe’s plans for river domination. Howe ordered a large detachment of his troops stationed at the Province Island wharf, staged to invade Fort Mifflin, but withdrew the force upon the Hessian rout (Jackson 1977:15-18).

Howe became increasingly alarmed about the onset of winter and the lack of navigation on the Delaware. He knew that he must quickly eliminate Fort Mifflin as a threat to his combined naval and land forces. On 9 November 1777, Howe prepared his land batteries for saturation cannonading of the fort, particularly hammering the weak western palisade. Lord Richard Howe commanded his large warships to pound the eastern fort wall. Bombardment began on 10 November and continued for five days. The Pennsylvania Navy did what it could to harass the British, but the Americans failed to close off the fort’s back channel, allowing the enemy to move floating batteries into position for additional salvos against Mifflin. The British breached the wall and continued firing, leveling the fort in places. In its harassment campaign, the Americans broke the dikes along Carpenter and Province islands, allowing waist-deep water to encompass the enemy as it loaded and reloaded its artillery. Finally, during the night of 15 November, the continentals abandoned the fort and fled in the darkness to the shelter of the fort at Red Bank, setting fire to what remained of Mifflin. With the main fortress gone, Red Bank became indefensible and Washington ordered it abandoned on 21 November. The Pennsylvania Navy sailed upriver in an attempt to save its vessels, but the British destroyed virtually all of them. British shipping could, at last, reach Philadelphia and replenish the waning foodstuff of the Crown’s half-starved army (Jackson 1977:19-23).

Beginning on 18 November 1777, a major British force numbering some 7,000 soldiers under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis landed at Billingsport with the intent of capturing the fort at Red Bank. Intelligence about the landing rippled through the American military and the garrison at Red Bank prepared for evacuation by spreading gunpowder across the fort grounds. The British remained close to their initial position in Billingsport on 19 November as they assembled a wagon train for the march north towards Red Bank. The Americans abandoned the fort at Red Bank on the nineteenth, based on rumor, but the garrison returned the following day with wagons to take away supplies. However, on 21 November, with the British closing in, the Americans touched off explosions at the fort as they withdrew (Smith 1970:38-40). Cornwallis and his forces descended upon the fort expecting a battle, but found it deserted and on fire. The British and Hessians completed the destruction, tearing down the walls and leveling all emplacements. On 22 November, the combined forces departed from the fort and marched to Woodbury, where they began foraging for food and livestock, including horses, from farms along their route. They broke camp on the twenty-fourth and moved towards Timber Creek until the Crown’s forces arrived at the bridge that the Americans had destroyed before von Donop marched to the fort at Red Bank. In one of wagons, the British had a portable bridge fabricated from hinged copper plates that folded when not in use. Using ropes and tackle, the English military engineers placed the bridge across the creek, allowing the entire army, wagon train and foraged livestock to cross (Döhla 1913[1990]:59-60; Stewart, ed. 1937:80).

By the morning of 25 November, Cornwallis had entered Gloucester Town, where he set-up his headquarters in the home of American militia Colonel Joseph Ellis while Hessian pickets guarded the approaches to Gloucester Town. During almost the entire day, the Marquis de Lafayette reconnoitered the British and Hessian forces in Gloucester Town as they loaded the cattle, horses, and soldiers for transport back to Philadelphia. Lafayette’s forces included ten light horsemen, 150 riflemen from Morgan’s rifles and some militiamen, including men under Colonel Ellis, containing Captain Harrison’s company—a total force of less than 300. During the late afternoon, Lafayette and his escort entered upon the Gloucester Road (today’s Kings Highway) and rode towards Gloucester Town. At about 2.5 miles from Gloucester Town (about where Kings Highway crosses Kings Run on the border between Haddon Heights and Mount Ephraim), the Americans encountered a Hessian outpost containing 350 soldiers and several field pieces.

Lafayette led a charge against the mercenaries, driving the Germans back more than one-half mile, making them run double-time to avoid being attacked. British reinforcements arrived twice, all the while the Americans, under Lafayette, drove them further back towards Gloucester Town. Only the descent of darkness prevented the Americans from pushing closer to Cornwallis and his shipments (Idzerda, ed. 1977:156-57). Lafayette’s gallantry at the Battle of Gloucester directly resulted in the Continental Congress commissioning the Marquis as a Major General and given command of an entire army division, a decision crucial to the war’s ultimate outcome (ibid., 158-165). When the Congress ordered a ceremonial presentation sword during 1779 for Lafayette, the guard featured engraved scenes of four critical battles in which the Marquis participated; one of these four was Gloucester (Idzerda, ed. 1979:201).

During this action, William Harrison’s Gloucester Town Company of the New Jersey militia had the opportunity to engage the enemy on Harrison’s own farmland, located between Little Timber Creek and King’s Highway west of today’s Black Horse Pike. John Zane, a member of Harrison’s Company, testified the battle

…was a smart skirmish on Little Timber Creek at Gloucester Town at Brick’s Old Field. The Battle was between Colonel Ellis’s Regiment and the British and close by Captain Harrison’s farm. Captain Harrison had about that time a House in Gloucester burnt by the British for the part he took against them. (National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 15)

The Döhla’s diary echoes the loss of Harrison’s house in Gloucester Town proper, when the Hessian writes, “This same evening the sailors set fire to a house” (Döhla 1990:60). Harrison’s company had gained combat experience through action in December 1776 at Petticoat Bridge (near today’s Jacksonville, Burlington County) and in Mount Holly at Iron Mill Hill. In August 1777, under orders from George Washington, Harrison led his company in removing ferry boats and flats along the Delaware River after the British landed at Head of Elk to begin its Philadelphia campaign (National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 15). Not knowing the true size of the force that attacked his outer guards, Lafayette’s action unnerved Cornwallis, forcing him to accelerate loading the livestock and other baggage and moving back across the river to Philadelphia. The journal of His Majesty’s Armed Schooner VIPER confirms Cornwallis’s sudden haste after the attack when Lieutenant Edward Pakenham wrote:

November 1777 Red Bank SSE 1 mile
Tuesdy. 25
AM Empd. Assisting the Flat Boats bringing Troops from the Jerseys.
Off Gloucester
…½ pt. 5 Weigh’d & ran over to Gloucester to Cover the Retreat of our Troops from the Jerseys. (Crawford 1996:595)

With Cornwallis’s retreat, the British largely withdrew from New Jersey to Philadelphia for the winter, although foraging and interdiction patrols traveled fairly regularly between Salem, Haddonfield and points north. Often these British patrols, along with American foraging units, would drive livestock and other baggage through the current project area (Stewart 1929). The Americans wintered at Valley Forge and British General Clinton relieved General Howe in Philadelphia during the spring of 1778. In a move to consolidate the British and Hessian armies back in New York, Clinton ordered the evacuation of Philadelphia and marched his forces overland through New Jersey to Sandy Hook and waiting marine transport, fighting the Battle of Monmouth on the way (Jackson 1977:22).

The mortgage that Harrison presented to mortgagee Joseph Fox to fund his military activities had a term of three years and a penalty of twice the document’s face value. With Harrison constantly on the go with military action, however, he greatly neglected his personal affairs. The due date for the mortgage, stated on the document as 1779, came and went with no payment. Fox, along with a group of other creditors, waited another three years, until 1782, before beginning foreclosure proceedings. The court action resulted in Thomas Denny,the Gloucester County sheriff, receiving a writ from the New Jersey Supreme Court to attach all of William’s property after the creditors successfully won suits against Harrison for unpaid indebtedness. No one came to Harrison’s rescue or defense and all of his holdings became the subject of a Sheriff’s Sale in September 1783. Placed in the Independent Gazetteer, published in Philadelphia, the sheriff’s advertisement read:

For sale a tract of land within the bounds of the town of Gloucester, the property of William Harrison seized at the suit of William Smith, the executors of Joseph Fox, deceased, Thomas Leaman and others. It is bounded by lands of Samuel Hugg Esq., Daniel Smith, John Glover, Jacob Albertson, lands late of Joseph Harrison, deceased, and others. It lies on the main branch of Little Timber Creek, which runs through the tract, and contains 613 acres and three-quarters, being divided as follows: a plantation of 155 acres and three-quarters with a brick house; a plantation adjoining containing 287 acres and one quarter with a brick house; a plantation of 70 acres and three quarters with a frame house and a grist mill built with stone; and three tenements adjoining the latter of 35 acres each. To view the premises and to see a map of the whole, apply to Mr. William Eldridge living on the first mentioned farm. Sale will be by vendue on 22d September at the house of William Hugg, innkeeper, in the town of Gloucester. (Wilson 1988:417-418).

The sale occurred at the time and place stated in the advertisement, but Sheriff Denny did not draft two deeds of sale for a portion of Harrison’s property until April 1784. One deed acknowledged Samuel Hugg’s purchase of a 35-acre tenement parcel for £126 (Gloucester County Deeds D:182). The second deed transferred title of the 155.75-acre plantation to William Eldridge in exchange for a winning bid of £935. The Hugg and the Eldridge bid represent the only two successful partial purchases of William Harrison’s land, so Sheriff Denny scheduled a second Sheriff’s Sale, which occurred 26 March 1785, presumably at Hugg’s Tavern (Gloucester County Deeds L:504). Ephraim Tomlinson placed the winning bid of £960 for the 287.25-acre plantation described in the advertisement (above) as possessing a brick house. Denny drafted the deed for this sale during April 1785 and Ephraim Tomlinson became the titleholder for Joseph Harrison’s former “Little Plantation” (ibid.). Of the three remaining parcels—two 35-acre tenement lots and the 70.75-acre plantation containing a gristmill and a frame house—only a deed for the gristmill property could be located; William Eldridge acquired this tract in August 1792 (Gloucester County Deeds K:473). A review of extant tax ratable lists revealed no tax was levied for the mill in 1790, indicating that no one was leasing or operating the mill. However, prior tax years, including 1773, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783, 1784, 1786 and 1788, William Harrison paid a tax for owning or operating a gristmill (New Jersey Tax Ratables).

Following William Eldridge purchasing the gristmill, it appears he leased out the mill to a number of operators, based on the tax ratable lists available between 1791 and 1802 (New Jersey Tax Ratables). Meanwhile, at some point subsequent to his purchase of the gristmill, Eldridge constructed a fulling mill on the south side of Little Timber Creek, opposite the gristmill. He used the same millpond and dam and probably excavated only a new millrace for the fulling mill (Clement, Maps and Draughts, Vol. 6:81). Based on an inference in the road return for what today is the Black Horse Pike, it appears Eldridge constructed the fulling mill prior to 1795 (Gloucester County Road Return, Book A:190). In March 1805, Eldridge sold the gristmill and possibly the fulling mill to Abraham Fenimore, along with 115 acres on both sides of Little Timber Creek, with a right to enlarge the millpond by overflowing other Eldridge land (Gloucester County Deeds I:267). Fenimore retained the mills and millpond for three years before selling the complex with 46 acres of land to John T. Glover in March 1808 (Gloucester County Deeds Y:441). Since Glover already owned a fulling mill he had inherited from his father, located on Kings Run in Haddon Heights, he reportedly discontinued operations at the former Eldridge fulling mill (Boyer 1962:44). Although it is unknown when the gristmill ceased operations, it is probable this occurred simultaneously with the fulling mill discontinuance, thereby allowing the millpond to be drained and the cessation of maintenance on the milldam. It is unclear when Glover drained the millpond, but it appears that the John Hills’s 1808 map, A Plan of the City of Philadelphia and Environs, corrected through December 1814, shows only a stream flowing under what, today, is the Black Horse Pike and the map does not indicate a millpond:

Based on a recent visual observation, the former Atlantic City Railroad’s Grenloch Branch still uses a small section of the milldam on the Mount Ephraim side of Little Timber Creek for its right-of-way, but the remainder of the dam is gone.

The gristmill disappeared sometime in the late nineteenth century and there is only one photograph that survives of the mill after the roof had collapsed:

A number of large stones still scattered around the site denote the mill’s location, along with what, today, passes for Little Timber Creek. When the New Jersey State Highway Department constructed Interstate 295 through the Bellmawr area, they located the new freeway in the Little Timber Creek valley, pushing a portion of the stream’s water flow into what had been the tail race for the mill. The dwelling house associated with the Bromley plantation passed into the hands of the Kiker family during the twentieth century and is shown in this historic image:

In 2002, the owner of the dwelling that had once served as the main house for Bromley demolished the structure, located on the south side of Rudderow Avenue in Mount Ephraim, hoping to replace it with a modern residential subdivision. These photographs depict the house just prior to its razing:

A post-demolition visit allowed this author to view the remaining foundation, including the earliest portion of the house—a small cellar that originally supported a one-over-one-room house—where Richard Bromley and the Bulls had once resided. No development actually occurred on the land, so it is disappointing that area residents lost such an early and important dwelling to at the hands of someone who failed to recognize the historical significance of the property.

Across the creek in Bellmawr, at the crest of Summit Avenue, stands another important house, shrouded in vinyl siding:

This dwelling is a forgotten remnant of the Hugg plantation, but that is a story for another day!

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