CITY, VILLAGE AND TOWNSHIP HISTORIES, MENDHAM TOWNSHIP.
BY HON. S. B. AXTELL.
MENDHAM is the smallest township in Morris county. It contains 14,746 acres and has no marsh land. It lies at an altitude of about 600 feet above mean tide. It is bounded north by Randolph, east by Morris, south by Somerset county, and west by Chester. It is well wooded, and watered by numerous springs and small brooks. The waters of the western part flow into the Raritan River, those in the eastern part into the Passaic. The township is remarkably well drained and very fertile. All fruits, grains, berries and grapes natural to this latitude grow to great perfection and are exceedingly well flavored. Men and animals are healthy and longevity is the rule.
Of the aboriginal inhabitants, the Indians, we know but little; but we believe they were more intelligent and more friendly to the whites than many of the more western and northern tribes. The Mendham settlers came with their families; the family is always in the interest of peace and has always found a more friendly Indian than the one discovered by the soldier, the hunter and trapper, or the mere adventurer or prospector. Mendham never suffered from Indian war or massacre. Its history indeed is exceptionally free from painful incidents. This has not been the theater of great or startling crimes. Fifty years ago there was established and maintained in Mendham village a circulating library. There have from the first been the saving influence of good books and the restraints of religious teaching. The exceeding healthfulness of the climate has also probably contributed greatly to moderate and purify the temperament of the inhabitants. The children born of healthful, industrious and virtuous parents have naturally and cheerfully walked in the ways of virtue and the paths of peace.
The population of Mendham township has remained quite uniform most of the time since the census began to be taken. The returns have been as follows: 1810, 1,277; 1820, 1,326; 1830, 1,315; 1840, 1,378; 1850, 1,726; 1860, 1,660 (33 colored); 1870, 1,581 (27 colored); 1875, 1,620 (21 colored); 1880, 1,526 (Mendham village 294, Brookside 187). The township statistics for 1881 were given as follows by the assessors: Assessed valuation of real estate, $834,165; personal, $275,335; debt, $20,950; polls, 354; State school tax, $2,291; county tax, $2,138.74; road tax, $1,600; poor tax, $125.
MENDHAM'S PIONEERS AND OLD FAMILIES.
There are no authentic records of the township earlier than 1713; nor much of tradition. The first white men probably came up the Raritan. The trapper, following the streams, first penetrates to a new country. James Wills, said to have been an Englishman married to a French woman, bought land of the original proprietors about Ralstonville. Roxiticus has an Indian name and is on a branch of the Raritan. The brook above the village is called Indian Brook. At this place the first settlement of white men was made. They are said to have been Scotch and Irish Protestants.
Here they built the first meeting-house, and here, adjoining the little church, established the first graveyard. This was before 1738. This graveyard was not more than 25 yards square. It is said to have been crowded with graves. The headstones were unhewn and unlettered. We have no tradition even of any one buried there. This church society at its own request was transferred from the presbytery of New Brunswick to that of New York in 1739. There was no settled pastor. From the fact that it once belonged to New Brunswick it is fair to infer that the members came from Burlington or New Brunswick, and not from Long Island or the east as many subsequently did.
About the year 1740 the prominent names in Mendham must have been Jacob Cook, Joseph Beach, James Pitney, Caleb Baldwin, Joseph Thompson, Ebenezer Condict, Nathan Cooper, Henry Wick, Robert Cummins, Henry Axtell, Stephen Dod, Jacob Drake, Ephraim Sanders, James McVickers, Henry Clark, Elias Howell, Zebulon Riggs and Benjamin Hurlburt. In the eastern portion of the township men named Beach, Loree, Tingley, Condict, Turner, Cary and Smith were settled with their families. Job Loree lived on land next west of Major Lewis Loree's before 1749, and Major Henry Axtell, son of Henry Axtell who came from Massachusetts in 1739, lived in the same neighborhood as early as 1760. Near Washington Corners lived in early days Riggs, Vance and Bedell. Day is also a very early name, one of the daughters of Henry Axtell having married a Day. Brookside was called in early days Watersheet. The Connet who built the grist-mill came from Chatham about 1800, but there was an old mill there at that time, called Smith's mill. On the mountain the Clarks, from Long Island, Pools, Styleses, Cozads, McIlraths and Bonnels were early settlers.
Of the Byrams we have a very full and satisfactory record. Aaron G. Byram, of Brookside, has taken filial pains to preserve the record of his fathers. Ebenezer Byram was a grandson of Nicholas Byram, an English gentleman who settled at Bridgewater, Mass., about 1660, and died there in 1688, leaving a son, Captain Nicholas Byram, of whom honorable mention is made in the history of Bridgewater. His son Ebenezer, born in 1692, came with five sons and three daughters to Mendham in 1743. He is the ancestor of all the Byrams in Morris and Sussex counties. In his 22nd year he married Hannah, daughter of Joseph Hayward. In 1738 his son Ebenezer married Abigail, a daughter of Captain Ebenezer Alden, a grandson of Captain John Alden and his wife Priscilla, of "Mayflower" memory. On the same day her two sisters were married, one to Eleazer Washburn, the other to Ephraim Cary. Ebenezer Byram built the Black Horse tavern and changed the site of the church from Roxiticus to its present beautiful location. The name of the village was also changed, and tradition attributes this change to Ebenezer Byram's saying, "I'll mend 'em." The best informed people, however, among them his own descendant Aaron G. Byram, and Rev. T. S. Hastings, do not give credence to this. "Ham" has long been a termination of names of English towns, and Mendham is an English name. It is written in the first session book Mendom. In deeds it is found Mendum. It is a beautiful name and may easily mean "my home." When it was determined to build a substantial house for meetings upon the present site, Mr. Byram returned to Bridgewater and engaged John Cary to do all the carpenter work.
There is not a particle of doubt that the Axtells, Leonards, Byrams and Carys are of New England origin; so also are those who came from Newark and Long Island, as the Dods, Riggses, Connets and Clarks. An old historian says three brothers by the name of Riggs lived in Massachusetts, and removed thence to Connecticut. Edward, one of the three, removed to Newark, N. J., and had a son Joseph, who lived and died in Orange. The last named was the father of Zebulon Riggs, the father of Preserve Riggs, of Mendham, who married Puah Hudson and had a son Elias, born in 1770. This Elias was the father of Rev. Elias Riggs, who went as a missionary to Greece in 1832. It is well to bear in mind that Newark was settled by a colony from New England in 1666, and that many of the sons of these early settlers passed westward over the First mountain into the valley of the Passaic, settling Chatham, Madison, Morristown, Brookside and Mendham. We have authentic history that the Dods so came. Other families came from New Brunswick by way of Basking Ridge. The Pitneys came in this way directly from England. A brother of James Pitney is said to have bought land of the original proprietors in Mendham as early as 1722.
Henry Axtell, who was born in Massachusetts in 1715, married Jemina Leonard in 1737 and removed with his wife's father to Mendham about 1741--three years before the Byrams came--is perhaps among the first of the New England settlers. This Henry Axtell was a blacksmith and had a shop and owned land near the Drakes. In a mortgage in possession of John Drake, signed by David Oliphant, Henry Axtell is mentioned as owning land on the road leading from Mendham to Morristown. This mortgage is dated September 11th 1751. The Axtells are of English descent. Their ancestor Daniel was a "Round-head" colonel, and suffered death for the active part he took under Cromwell. His sons came to the New World, and Henry, as we have seen, was an early settler in Mendham. He died young, leaving three sons, Henry, Calvin and Luther, and three daughters. His widow married a Mr. Lum, and lived to a great age. His son Henry lived and died in Mendham, as did also Calvin. Luther went to Washington county, Pa. Henry was a major of militia, and is known as Major Axtell. He was twice married; his second wife was a Condit This family also spell their name in different ways, as Condit and Condict. The elder Axtells were men of great good nature and some humor. It is said of Major Henry that when he proposed to his second "venture" she expressed no repugnance to him personally, but said, "I cannot think of taking the responsibility of being a stepmother." "Well," said the major, rising to go, "if that is all your objection I will go right home and kill the young ones." But rather then permit so barbarous a deed she married him, and, tradition says, made a most exemplary and excellent wife, stepmother and mother. Their union was blessed with two sons and three daughters. The sons were Henry and Silas. Henry graduated at Princeton, studied theology and was settled in Geneva, N. Y. He left three sons, all in the Presbyterian ministry--Daniel, Henry and Charles. Silas was a carpenter and colonel of militia in the war of 1812. He lived on the homestead. He had six sons. The eldest, Samuel, married Nancy Sanders, and is the father of Samuel Beach Axtell, who has been twice a member of Congress, and governor of both Utah and New Mexico. Another son, Jacob, is the father of Charles F. Axtell, a lawyer in Morristown, who although yet young has been twice elected a member of the Legislature of New Jersey. There are no Axtells now living in Mendham.
It is said that in 1740 there was only a bridle path or Indian trail between Roxiticus and West Hanover (now Morristown), passing through Drake's clearing and Pitney's clearing, thence toward the mountain and by Smith's mill--now Connet's. The only buildings on this trail were a small blacksmith shop in Drake's clearing, Henry Axtell's and James Pitney's houses and Smith's mill, at the east end of what is now Brookside. Jacob Drake's name appears in papers as early as 1742. Joseph Thompson bought of the Ogden brothers, of Newark, in 1740.
Nathan Cooper probably bought of the proprietors. Robert Cummins is said to have been an Irishman. He died in 1780, aged 80 years. The Thompsons were Scotchmen.
Samuel McIlrath was a Scotchman. Sarah, one of his daughters, married and went with her husband to Pennsylvania. It came to light after her marriage that her husband had murdered a peddler to get money to come and marry her. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hung. She traveled on foot and alone to the governor of the State to solicit his pardon. She failed; came back; remained with him to the last moment, and for three nights slept on his grave to prevent the doctors getting his body. She afterward returned to Mendham; married a Mr. Shaw, an Englishman; went with him to Washington county, Pa., and from there to near Cleveland, O.; became wealthy; was a ruling elder, in fact, of the Presbyterian church at Euclid, O., and died at a good old age, beloved by all who knew her. She never had children, and her property was left to found the Shaw Academy, seven miles east of Cleveland. She was one of the noblest, bravest, most unselfish souls that ever lived.
Another daughter of Elder Samuel McIlrath, the old Scotch Covenanter, was cruelly betrayed in her youth and left that most wretched being--a sensitive, conscientious mother, whose poor babe has no legal father. What Elder Samuel McIlrath would do under such circumstances any one who has read Scotch domestic history of that day can well understand. The old man, who would have torn out his own heart or held his right hand in the flame rather than tolerate iniquity in himself, could not countenance sin in his daughter. When she was able to walk after her babe was born he told her to take it up. He led her to the road in front of his house, and told her never again to darken his door. She never did; but begging her way westward found a home among the hard working German farmers of Western Pennsylvania, who had no more religion about them than to pity her misfortunes and by their kindness to heal her broken heart. She told her story, was trusted, believed and loved by a young farmer, who married her and adopted her son. They afterward also moved to Ohio, and when her son was a grown man Aunt Shaw and her sister Isabella Woodruff heard for the first time in twenty years of this sister who had been driven for her sin from their father's door. They immediately saddled their horses, rode through an almost unbroken wilderness a journey of nearly a hundred miles and found her. This story the writer of this article had from Aunt Shaw's own lips.
It is noticeable that many names are differently spelled in the old records from what we spell them now. As already noticed Mendham was spelled both om and um. Axtell is found Extil, Extel and Axtel. The Mendham Dods spell with one d, while the Newark Dodds use two. Ephraim Sanders's family usually spell their name without the u, while his son Rev. Ephraim Dodd Saunders, of Philadelphia, as well as many of his ancestors, spells the name Saunders. It is probable that Christopher Saunders, who came from London to Bridlington or New Beverly (afterward named Burlington) with Daniel Wills about 1680, is the ancestor of the Sanders family.
Stephen Dod was born April 4th 1703. His mother was Elizabeth Riggs. He came to Mendham from Newark in 1745. He married Deborah Brown, and had five sons and six daughters. One of his daughters, Keziah, married Ephraim Sanders, father of Captain Ephraim Sanders. The Dods possessed rare mathematical and mechanical genius. They could both invent and execute. They made all the clocks used in Mendham. They repaired all the guns. They were among the first to apply steam to navigation. Unfortunately for Mendham she was too far inland to retain men of their breadth and genius and she early lost them all. Of the Dods Mr. Hastings says: "The family were remarkable for their ingenuity. There was almost nothing which they could not do, almost nothing which they could not make. They were self-taught." A grandson of Lebbeus, eldest son of Stephen Dod, of Mendham, Lebbeus B. Ward, now resides in Morristown. His mother was Phebe Dod, born in Mendham in 1768. Lebbeus Dod was attached to the Revolutionary army during the whole war, with the rank of captain of artillery. He was detached from active service by order of General Washington and directed to establish an armory for the repair and manufacture of muskets, for which his mechanical talent particularly adapted him. For this purpose he erected a building at his own residence which was still standing in 1814. He was constantly exposed to the attempts of the British to capture him, and was compelled to remove his works to a secluded portion of his own land. On one occasion he was surprised by the enemy and was only saved by the self-possession and presence of mind of his wife (Mary Baldwin). While they were at the barn probing with their bayonets the hay under which he was concealed, she placed her wheel at a window where she could watch them and began to spin and to sing a hymn with the greatest composure. Her conduct convinced them that he had escaped, and they left without firing the barn, which they were on the point of doing. Rev. Albert Baldwin Dod, D. D., professor of mathematics in Princetown College, was also born in Mendham. He was one of New Jersey's most honored sons.
Captain Ephraim Sanders inherited from his mother much of the Dod ingenuity. He learned his trade of his uncle Dod, and was long a leading mechanic in iron, and general blacksmith. Major Lewis Loree, who lived to be upward of ninety, learned his trade of Captain Sanders. The wife of Captain Sanders was Sarah Rodgers. Her mother was a Sweazy and her father a direct descendant of John the martyr. There were born to them numerous sons and daughters. Their eldest daughter, Nancy, who married Samuel Loree Axtell, is still living (1881), in the 89th year of her age--sole survivor not only of her father's family but almost of her generation. Two of Captain Sanders's sons graduated at Yale. One of them, Rev. E. D. Saunders, D. D., of Philadelphia, was the founder of the Presbyterian hospital in that city.
Dr. Frank Ford Sanders, M. D., of Morristown, a graduate of Princeton, is a grandson of Captain Sanders.
The Careys originally spelled their name Cary. There is a full account of this family in the history of Bridgewater, Mass., published by Nahum Mitchell. It says John Cary, from Somersetshire, England, settled in Duxbury as early as 1639, and was an original proprietor of Bridgewater and its first town clerk. He died in 1681. He had twelve children--six sons and six daughters--namely, John, Francis, Elizabeth, James, Mary, Johnathan, David, Hannah, Rebecca, Sarah, Mehitabel and Joseph. John, a son of Jonathan and father of Jonathan 2nd, who came to Mendham in 1744, and was the builder of Mendham church, owned a mill at Orr's works and was called "Old Miller Cary." The following distich was common in after times:
"Experience and Mary, Susannah and Sarah,
Ghosts and witches, both old and young, prevailed to unlimited extent in those days. Sam Turner was walking quietly along the road, with both hands in his pockets to keep them warm, when he stumbled without any cause or provocation and fell down. He could not get his hands out of his pockets, and it was a long time before he could get up. He did not consider himself superstitious, and did not wish to believe himself bewitched, although the evidence tended strongly that way; so he went back and walked several times over the same ground with his hands in the same position, but did not again fall down. He was now satisfied beyond controversy that he was bewitched. At another time he was riding on a load of oats, from his back fields to his barn. Near the same spot he met an old woman, who said to him, "Mr. Turner, that load will fall off before you get home;" and sure enough it did, although it had been carefully loaded. The sheaves, as the old man declared, "just seemed to jump right out." But churns were oftenest bewitched, and ghosts delighted of course in churchyards and in the old meeting-house. These stories are legion, and, while they would perhaps cause a smile at the credulity of our ancestors, would scarcely serve to point a moral or adorn a tale.
Uncle Dave Blank, of Brookside, will long be remembered for his drinking sprees and pungent wit. Once when overtaken by the bottle he was lying beside the road as old Boss Fairchild came along and called out, "Uncle Dave! Uncle Dave! get up and go home." "Oh," said the poor old man, "I'm so sick," "Get up, I tell you; don't you know me? I'm Deacon Fairchild." "Ugh!" said Uncle Dave with horrible retchings, "I'm sicker'n ever."
The old Black Horse tavern on election and training days was full of life. Once a noisy, brawling fellow became a public nuisance and the landlord abated him by knocking him down with the dinner-bell. The boys took him out to the pump to wash off the blood, and bind up an ugly scalp wound. He said he did not so much mind being knocked down, but he hated "to be dingle-dongled over."
David Thompson, grandfather of Hon. George H. Thompson, was captain of an organization of Mendham citizens in the Revolutionary war. They were not in constant service, but held themselves in readiness to go out at a moment's notice. They were called minute men. Major Henry Axtell, son of Henry the blacksmith, was also in this organization. Captain Lebbeus Dod, as we have seen, was also an officer in Washington's army. This portion of New Jersey was deeply interested in that heroic struggle, and was true blue to the cause of American independence. The men then on the stage were the immediate descendants of those who had been persecuted for opinion's sake, and driven from England, Scotland, Ireland and France because they loved liberty. It can readily be understood on which side they would be found in such a contest.
The Guerins are rather a Morristown then a Mendham family, but they intermarried with Mendham families. They were French Huguenots. They were then as now a high-spirited, brave, liberty-loving family. They were not as straight-laced as the New England Puritans who settled in Mendham. They were fond of the chase, and the older members of the family were great fox hunters. Jockey Hollow is named for them to this day. Stephen Ogden Guerin married a daughter of Captain Ephraim Sanders, and Rev. Ephraim Dod Saunders married Anna P. Guerin, their only child. Captain Courtland Saunders tell at Antietam bravely fighting for the Union and for liberty to all men.
The Guerins are worthily represented by their descendants. The present proprietor of the Mansion House in Morristown, B. C. Guerin, is one of their sons.
Major Lewis Loree was also of French stock. He was fond of sport, a man of influence, and a mighty hunter in his day. His sons David, Lewis Mills, Stephen and Aaron are still here.
Phoenix is also a noted Mendham name. William was for many years the host of the Black Horse tavern. One his daughters, Lydia, married Hon. Henry C. Sanders, youngest son of Captain Ephraim Sanders. At his death he was the largest landholder in Mendham. His widow lives on the old Sanders homestead, and is not only an able and interesting woman but one of the very best and most successful farmers in Mendham township. Other daughters of this family are successful business women. The Phoenix House at Mendham, established and conducted by daughters of this family, is one of the best houses for summer boarders in the county. A son, Hon. Theodore W. Phoenix, has been a member of the New Jersey Legislature. He is a merchant and collector of internal revenue.
At the east end of Brookside there was settled in early days an Englishman by the name of Stevens. He established a woolen mill. His granddaughter Mrs. Martha Schenck, now a widow, resides on the turnpike, near the old Stevens homestead. She is also a most estimable woman and an excellent farmer.
Of the early doctors of Mendham the first, Dr. John Leddle, was an old man in 1800. He was in active practice in the Revolution. The second Doctor Leddle, his son, practiced there all his life. His children still reside in the township. Dr. Absalom Woodruff was a noted man when Elder Samuel McIlrath's children lived in Mendham. He was rough and ready in wit and ways, and is affectionately remembered, as all original, natural characters are apt to be. The writer remembers hearing his father say that for ten years' doctoring in one family--in which time five children were born, and raised (that is what they were born for), and one broken thigh was set and attended to--on final settlement Dr. Leddle's charges amounted to but $20. The Elmers, father and son, were physicians in latter days. Dr. Upson was both physician and farmer. Ziba Sanders Smith, a great grandson of Stephen Dod, resides on the old Dr. Upson farm. It adjoins the Pitney and Drake homesteads and is one of the most valuable and pleasing homes in the township or county. His wife was a daughter of Henry Axtell, son of Silas the carpenter. Their son John Henry is a graduate of Ann Arbor and a lawyer in San Francisco.
Mendham never sustained a lawyer, and, though there is no apparent connection, it is said that in one neighborhood at least there is not kept a dog. Among lawyers hailing from Mendham Henry Cooper Pitney and George W. Forsythe are worthy of honorable mention. Her ministers are much more numerous, and her business men are found everywhere. H. O. Marsh, president of the Iron Bank in Morristown, is a specimen of the latter class.
The Pitney family, as we have seen, are English. They were tall, noble looking men, full of vigor, industry and thrift. They long carried on a forge for making pig iron, and were also large farmers and landowners. The Pitney homestead is preserved and improved by a worthy descendant, Henry Cooper Pitney, a leading lawyer of Morristown.
The brothers Nathaniel, Henry and Jesse Clark lived on the mountain. They came from Long Island, and were men of substance and influence in their day. Henry married a daughter of Major Henry Axtell. His grandson, S. H. H. Clark, of Omaha, is a prominent officer in the Union Pacific Railroad Company, and one of the leading railroad men of the west.
It is related of Dr. Franklin that he said New Jersey was like a cider barrel tapped at both ends--it would all run out into Philadelphia and New York. This is partly true of Mendham; she has nourished and brought up children, but they have found their fields of usefulness and honor elsewhere. The population of Morris county in 1810 was 21,828; in 1820 it was but 21,368--nearly 500 loss in ten years. After the war of 1812 there was great activity in emigration to the west, especially to Ohio. Whiteheads, Schencks, Condits, Daytons, Woodruffs, Axtells, Cozads, McIlraths, Meekers, Beerses, Merchants and numerous other Mendham families are to-day more numerous in Ohio and Michigan than in New Jersey. Dayton in Ohio is named for Mendham Daytons, and Licking county, Ohio, has a Jersey township.
The Mendham Daytons are an old and honorable English family. Their name furnishes yet another signal instance of variations in spelling. We find that Rolph Dayghton settled at Easthampton, Long Island, in 1649. Jonathan, grandson of Rolph, settled at Elizabethtown, N. J., in 1701, and from this branch are the Daytons of Mendham.
John and Joseph Marsh came to New Jersey from New England early in 1700. John married Sarah Clark and had a son John, who married Elizabeth Dunham. Their son Amos, born in 1767, was the Mendham wagonmaker. He married Sophia Oliver--written Surphia. We also have Mendham Roffs--the Virginia Rolf--undoubtedly the English Rolph; and Endsleys and Enslees--the Scottish Ainsley, or Ainslie. What shall we say of Bobbit for Babbit, or Akstyle for Axtell?
The Drakes are worthily represented in Morristown by J. A. Drake, and in Newark by Edward Courtland Drake, son of Colonel James W., of Mendham. These families, with worthy filial affection--and, it may be said, with excellent business sense--still retain and improve the lands which their ancestors bought and settled in 1741. This is also true of the Pitneys and Thompsons. The Drake family came originally from Holland.
The early families of Mendham were very superior people--industrious, intelligent and moral. Nor is it believed that their descendants have degenerated; at home and abroad they compare to-day favorably with the sons and daughters of any portion of our country.
The early settlers of Mendham were industrious and ingenious. Their circumstances compelled them to manufacture for themselves. It was with extreme difficulty that they could get cash to buy with, and then it was necessary to go to Elizabethtown, on horseback or with ox carts, to bring up their goods. This state of affairs compelled them to make wool and flax into clothing and leather into shoes. They brought ore on horseback from Dickerson's mines, near Dover, to the mills on their streams; and with the charcoal of the heavily wooded hills made their pig iron, and carried that again on horseback to a market. It was their currency. Theirs was truly an iron age. The value of money may be understood when it is stated as a fact that John Cary came from Bridgewater, Mass., to build the first church, and worked for thirty-one cents per day. Carding, spinning, weaving and making shoes were carried on in nearly every house, and so scarce were purchased articles that thorns were constantly used in place of pins. With all other industries and economies to correspond, we can easily comprehend that our ancestors of Mendham township were not consumed by sloth nor enervated by luxury. With them all useful industries were honorable and all idleness and extravagance disreputable. They were independent, honorable and self-reliant, and their children's children rise up and call them blessed.
The business of making fine carriages was established in Mendham village by John Marsh, and afterward continued by his son, H. O. Marsh, the president of the Iron Bank at Morristown. These carriages were built for the southern trade. The war of the Rebellion destroyed the business. The sales reached at one time about $25,000 per annum. The shops were closed in 1862. There was manufacturing in quite early times both at Ralstonville and Brookside. At the latter place John and Abraham Byram had a mill for carding wool and fulling cloth. Ebenezer Fairchild--known as "Boss Fairchild"--had a tannery and shoe shop, and Charles Thompson carried on the same business. In fact shoes were made in nearly every house in that peaceful and industrious hamlet, and exchanged with farmers for provisions. The bread of idleness was not eaten in those days. There were also mills at Ralstonville, and there was in early days a forge on the mountain, owned and carried on for many years by the grandfather and father of Henry C. Pitney, of Morristown. In 1840 the manufacturing and educational interests were summed up in the New Jersey "Historical Collections" as follows: "2 grist, 1 saw, 1 fulling-mill; 1 woolen, 1 cotton factory; capital in manufacturing, $29,800; 3 academies, 95 students; 5 schools, 183 scholars." The home manufactures were always considerable. The mother of a family in those days not only worked up wool and flax into cloth, but also made that cloth into garments. "She worked willingly with her hands; she rose while it was yet night and gave meat to her household; her loins were girded with strength, and she strengthened her arms." But the hum of the big wheel, the whir of flax-spinning and the sound of the loom have ceased in the township; whether for better or worse is an open question, but it is an accomplished fact.
Mendham is strictly an agricultural township. There is neither commerce, mining nor manufacturing. The population has not increased, because under the present system of farming all the tillable lands are fully occupied. The value of farming lands in the township has greatly increased, as also their productiveness. The annual report of the controller of the State for 1880 gives the acreage of Mendham township at 13,525 acres, valued on the assessors' books at $837,665. This is an average of $61 per acre, certainly a very high figure when we consider that land is not usually assessed at over half the price for which it could be sold. The lands in Rockaway township barely average $30 per acre, and those of Chester $50. Mendham compares favorably for farming lands with any portion of the Union, east or west; and for beauty of scenery, health and comfort cannot be surpassed in the United States.
THE FIRST CHURCH.
As the first church is the most striking feature in the landscape of Mendham village so is the history of its establishment and progress the most interesting part of the records of the township. It will be necessary therefore to devote some space to the history of this church. It is noticeable that our ancestors called these buildings simply meeting-houses. They were neither temples nor Lord's houses nor churches--they were simply "meeting-houses." Whatever may have been their creeds, their form of government was a pure Congregationalism; that is, the congregation--the people--met and decided all important questions relating to building, paying salaries, etc. The place adjoining the church, where they buried their dead, was the property of the society or congregation. It was a church yard. Services were held both in the forenoon and afternoon, and during the intermission in pleasant weather those who came from a distance went into the church yard, to eat their luncheon, to chat, to shake hands, to read inscriptions on old headstones, to kneel down and shed bitter tears by new made graves, to criticise the doctrinal points of the sermon, and--barely possible--occasionally some worldly matters would creep in.
We have seen that Ebenezer Byram with his family came to Mendham in 1743. His second son, Rev. Eliab Byram, was the first pastor of "Mendum" church. He graduated at Harvard in 1740, and was installed by the presbytery of New York pastor of Mendham church in 1744. We find from the journal of Rev. David Brainerd that he selected the Rev. Eliab Byram to be his assistant and traveling companion in his journeys among the Indians on the Susquehanna. We find the following entry in Brainerd's journal: "Monday Oct. 17th 1744.--Was engaged this day in making preparations for my intended journey to Susquehanna. Towards night rode four miles to meet Brother Byram, who was come at my desire to be my companion in travel to the Indians." A note says Mr. Byram was "minister at a certain place known as Roxiticus." Rev. Thomas S. Hastings says: "That such a man as Brainerd should select Mr. Byram as his companion in his travels, and should speak so warmly of him in his journals, and that Mr. Byram should be willing to brave so many hardships and dangers with him, these things are high testimony to the piety, devotion and ability of the first pastor of Mendham church."
In 1745 the people of Mendham began to build a new house of worship on the site of the present church, upon a plan, says the Rev. Dr. Armstrong, very liberal and extensive for those times and the circumstances of the congregation. Ebenezer Byram prior to this had built the Black Horse tavern, and the village had changed from Roxiticus. Of the site of this church Rev. Mr. Hastings says: "I know of no church in any village which has so beautiful and picturesque a location." It is said on good authority that Mr. Byram returned to Bridgewater to secure the services of a carpenter to build this church, and that he engaged John Cary to do the whole work at two shillings and sixpence per day. Reckoned as federal money, this was only thirty-one cents per day for a boss mechanic. This church stood seventy-one years. It was a frame structure. Its timbers were cut and hewed in the adjoining forests. It was covered both top and sides with shingles riven and shaved by the very men who were to sit under their shelter; and the very nails to fasten these shingles were made by them of wrought iron, which they themselves had also made from ore brought on horseback from Dover. There was little about this first meeting-house, except the glass in the windows, which was not made by some of the congregation. The following description of this house is from the pen of Mr. Hastings:
"It was eminently American--simple, severe and practical. It was a wooden structure. Its sides were covered with short cedar shingles. It had no spire nor cupola, for bells were rare things in those days. Its main entrance was on the south side, where there were two large, heavy, double-batten folding doors; there were also doors on the east and west sides. A broad aisle extended from the south door to the pulpit. The pulpit was on the north side of the church. It was a small box-like structure raised on a single pillar to a dizzy height, with an octagonal sounding board, extended like an extinguisher over it, threatening to put out the minister. Underneath the pulpit was the deacons' seat, a large square pew in which sat, facing the congregation, the officers of the church and those no less important personages the choristers, one to line the hymn and the other to pitch the tune. A high gallery extended around three sides of the church, containing a few elevated pews which were near the ceiling--the highest seats in the synagogue. There was no porch or lobby. The gallery stairs were inside the assembly room. The pews down stairs appear to have been more than usually elaborate in their finish. The backs were precisely perpendicular and very high. Within these pews children could be heard but not seen. The upper part of the backs of the seats was open work, finished with upright spindles. In 1791 it was voted by the congregation `to git a bell for the meeting-house of four hundred wait.' Mr. John Cary, who had built the house 46 years before, was employed to construct a belfry. It was placed in the center of the church, and the bell-rope hung down in the middle of the main aisle. Here the bell-ringer always stood of a Sabbath morning, until the people were all assembled, and being in so conspicuous a position he felt himself bound to lay out all his energies upon the bell rope. He would leap high in air, catch the rope and make a triumphant descent, the bell loudly applauding each higher leap. Elisha Beach jr. enjoyed the honor of ringing the new bell for the first year, `on the Sabbath and lectors and at 9 o'cl. at night.'"
April 29th 1794 the congregation "voted Samuel McCurdy to take care of the meeting-house, and to ring the bell night and day for one year, œ5 14s." Poor Samuel--to ring a bell of "four hundred wait" night and day for one year! For a long time the bell was rung every evening at 9 o'clock, and many were the ghosts which the superstitious sextons encountered at that lone place and lonely hour of winter nights.
There was found among the papers of Captain David Thompson, grandfather of Hon. Stephen H. Thompson, the original deed to the ground on which this meetinghouse was built. The grant was made not to a sect or society but "unto the Congregation or Inhabitance of people that do or shall frequently meet together to worship God in that plaice." This deed is dated November 25th 1745, and is signed by Edmund Burnett and witnessed by Joseph Hurds and Ezra Cary. The deed was obtained after the "hows" was built, for the description of the land reads: "A scairtan pees or parcel of Land on which the Meeting Hows now standeth." This "Meeting Hows" stood seventy-one years, and but for the "lust of the eye and the pride of life" would probably be there to-day--and would be worth all the public buildings in Mendham. It was torn down to make place for a fine church.
An anecdote of preacher and ruling elder in this quaint old meeting-house may round out the picture. It is related of Rev. Mr. Joline that he was found of giving a course of sermons on some one doctrine, and it is said that he occupied nearly one whole winter with a course of sermons on the doctrine of election. On a certain occasion, in the midst of his discourse, Elder Samuel McIlrath, a tall, thin, dignified Scotchman, wearing a white skull cap to cover his baldness, arose in his seat and exclaimed with great earnestness, "Mr. Joline, that is false doctrine!"
This old church was struck by lightning on the Sabbath day May 16th 1813, and Mrs. John Drake was instantly killed and several of the congregation were severely injured. It was taken down in 1816 and a new one built on the same site. This house was accidentally destroyed by fire in 1835. A new church built in 1835 was burnt in 1859. The present church was dedicated February 1st 1860.
Rev. John Pierson, the second pastor of this church, was installed in 1753. His grandfather Abraham Pierson graduated at Cambridge, England, in 1632, was ordained in the Episcopal church, preached a short time at Newark, England, emigrated to the New World, was settled at Branford, in Connecticut, and came in 1666, with almost his entire congregation, to Milford on the Passaic in New Jersey. The place was afterward called Newark in his honor. His son Abraham graduated at Cambridge and was the father of the second pastor of Mendham church. John Pierson was born in Newark, N. J., in 1689; graduated at Yale in 1711 and was pastor here ten years. These facts are related with some particularity as they show that the Mendham people in those early days sought out able men to be their teachers; they admired thoroughly educated, scholarly men, and this proves that they themselves were not altogether deficient in scholarly attainments. It is, in fact, probable that there has been more ripe scholarship developed in Mendham than in any other village of its size in New Jersey.
The third pastor was Rev. Francis Peppard, a native of Ireland and a graduate of Nassau Hall in 1762. He was ordained here in 1764. During his ministry Watts's psalms and hymns were first introduced, and this gave great offense to the older members of the congregation. Old Elder Cummins among others would leave the house during singing. The first record extant relating to this church and congregation is an old trustee's book bound in parchment. On the inside of the cover is this inscription: "Mendom Congregation Book, Bought Aug. 21st 1766, Price Six shillings York." On November 20th 1766 there is this minute, which is the second one on record:
"The Congregation mett & chose Jno Cary Moderator.
"Preposed whether the Rev. Mr. Francis Pepard sh'd be continued where he Now lives & Build on that place voted in the affirmative.
"Preposed to find Three tun of Good hea for Mr. Pepard yearly until the congregation can provide other ways voted in the affirmative.
"Preposed to chose three men and afterwards chose two more to project and carry on the Building of Mr. Pepards House.
About this time Demas Lindley, Jacob Cook and Luther Axtell--son of Henry the blacksmith--removed to Washington county, Pa. There were many other Mendham families who went then and subsequently to that part of Pennsylvania, and some of these afterward into Ohio. Two of the daughters of Elder Samuel Mc'Ilrath were of this emigration. Sarah married an Englishman by the name of Shaw and Isabella married a Mr. Woodruff, of Mendham.
We find from the church records that on the 15th of August 1781, at Ten Mile, Pa., a church was organized in the open air near the foot of the mountain; and Demas Lindley, Jacob Cook, Joseph Cook and Daniel Axtell were ordained elders. This little Mendham colony suffered much from Indians, and it was not till 1783, on the 3d of May, that the Lord's Supper was first administered, in Daniel Axtell's barn. Truly these were heroic souls and life to them had deepest meanings. To this church, so established as a branch from the vine in Mendham, Rev. Thaddeus Dod ministered. He was born in Mendham, graduated at Princeton in 1773, and settled in the ministry at Ten Mile or Amity, Washington county, Pa. He married Phebe Baldwin, of Mendham, and was the second Presbyterian minister west of the Alleghanies. He died at Ten Mile in 1793. Many of the descendants of Luther Axtell and these Mendham families still reside in Washington county.
It is a noticeable fact that in all the Mendham parish meetings for twenty years from 1766, with but three or four exceptions, John Cary was chosen moderator. October 3d 1768 the congregation "preposed" and voted to call Rev. Thomas Lewis, and "preposed" to give him one hundred pounds salary, "light money, the use of the parsonage and his firewood at the door." Mr. Lewis was a graduate of Yale, of the class of 1741. The next pastor was Rev. John Joline, 1778-95. Mr. Hastings says: "During the pastorate of Rev. John Joline two young men began to appear in active life who have especial claim upon our attention. I refer to Rev. Henry Axtell, D. D., and Rev. Henry Cook, two honored sons of this church." Dr. Axtell was a grandson of Henry the blacksmith, who came to Mendham in 1739. He married Hannah Cook, sister of Rev. Henry and daughter of Daniel Cook. He built the house opposite the present parsonage and taught one of the best schools Mendham ever had, in a building that was erected for him near the site of the present academy. He removed to Geneva, Ontario county, N. Y., and died there in 1829. Mr. Hastings says of Dr. Axtell: "He was in every respect a very superior man, and must hold very high rank among the sons of Mendham church." Rev. Henry Cook was a very worthy pastor, and was settled over the Presbyterian church at Metuchen, N. J.
The next pastor was Rev. Amzi Armstrong, who was installed in 1796 and remained with the church twenty years. He was not only a very distinguished man but had the faculty of impressing his peculiar views more distinctly upon his people than any other of the long line of able and distinguished clergymen who have ministered to this church. Mr. Armstrong is loved and revered to this day by the Mendham people. After him came Samuel H. Cox, in 1817; Philip C. Hay, 1821; John Vanlieu, 1824; Daniel H. Johnson, 1826; Thomas S. Hastings, 1852; Theodore F. White, 1856; David McGee, Sanford H Smith and the Rev. Mr. Cochran.
The schools of Mendham have been exceptionally good. The first academy, as we have seen, was established by Rev. Henry Axtell, D. D., about 1795. Since that day Mendham has never been without good schools. Ezra Fairchild, a graduate of Amherst, Mass., son of Deacon Ebenezer ("Boss") Fairchild, of Brookside, and grandson of Caleb, of Morristown, had a very successful private academy, known as Hill Top, and William Rankin is also very pleasantly remembered as a good man and faithful educator. Under these and other worthy men Mendham fitted many of her sons for college. The following named men, sons of Mendham parentage and who were fitted for college in Mendham, may be mentioned: Rev. Henry Axtell, D. D., and his three sons, Daniel, Henry and Charles; Silas, Henry and Samuel Beach Axtell; Rev. Albert B. Dod, of Princeton; Rev. William Armstrong Dod, and Revs. Thaddeus, Cephas, Charles, Lebbeus and Luther, descendants of Stephen Dod of Mendham; Rev. Ephraim Dod Saunders and Josephus Saunders; Rev. Elias Riggs; Rev. W. J. Armstrong, D. D., son of Dr. Amzi Armstrong; and Revs. Frederick Knighton, Elias Fairchild, Joseph Vance, Elijah Fairchild, William Babbitt, Walter Nicholas, Aaron Wolfe and Stephen Thompson.
The number of children of suitable age to attend school, between 5 and 18, in 1880 was 504, distributed as follows: Ralstonville, 41; Union, 120; Mendham, 132; Mountain, 47; Brookside, 109; Washington Corners, 55. The total value of school property in the township is $7,700. Average number of months the schools have kept open, 9 1/2. Average male teachers' wages, $35; women's, $23.
This page was last modified on: 01 January, 2014
Copyright ©1999-2014 by Brianne Kelly-Bly, all rights reserved.