Upper Freehold in the Revolution

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING: A look at Allentown-Upper Freehold at the time of the American Revolution.

   Upper Freehold in the Revolution:
   The following originally appeared in the "Allentown Messenger" Sept. 29, 1904.
   "Much of the territory of Upper Freehold was taken up and patented in large tracts. One of these tracts (4,000 acres) was held by Robert Burnett, one of the proprietors. A tract 2,500 acres, bounded on the west by Province Line and on all other sides by Crosswicks Creek, was patented by William Dockwra, February 2, 1698, and was later sold to Anthony Woodward for 380 pounds.
   "Peter Sonmans patented 1,500 acres lying east of Crosswicks Creek and north of Burlington Path. As Crosswicks Creek furnished several good mill sites, a tract of land, partly of the Sonmans, was purchased and a gristmill was erected. In 1760, it was in possession of Abram Brown, who on the 5th of October 1772 conveyed it to Richard Waln, who had loaned money upon the property. He was a descendant of Nicholas Waln who came over with William Penn, and a brother of Nicholas Waln of Philadelphia. He moved to the place and during the Revolution built the present large and commodious mansion, which is still in as good condition as when the British officers were entertained within its walls 126 years ago.
   "Before the year 1800, Mr. Waln sent flour from his mill to Philadelphia in scows, down Crosswicks Creek. A bridge now spans the stream within a stone’s throw of the mill, the site of which his historic. It is near the "Province Line" and near the "Burlington Path." During the Revolution a body of the American forces in retreat, probably from Bordentown, destroyed the old bridge. The British troops were in hot pursuit, and the object was to discommode and impede their advance. The enemy with great celerity put together a bridge a little distance up the stream, just above the head of the dam.
   "An old lady of the Waln family, detailing to her household what her own eyes had witnessed, said: ‘I never saw the like. The soldiers cut down big trees, trimmed them, and then brought each tree on porters (short sticks passed under). There was a long row of soldiers on each side of the tree. They carried it along as if the tree weighed nothing. There were so many men that as fast as one was brought another came close behind it, and so the bridge went up, and the troops crossed over.’
   "The officer in command went to the house, where dinner was ready. The chief course was souse. The officer sat down, his guards standing while the family refrained from eating, but gave intention to the officer’s wants. He ate heartily, and at the close of the meal a large pile of bones lay on his plate. Seeming ashamed, as if he had overeaten, he swept them to the door and withdrew. There was a sort of refinement in the officer’s conduct, as though he would like to acknowledge the attention that he had received. The body marched on, and not the least annoyance was allowed. The officer is supposed to have been General Knyphausen, the commander of the Hessians, and the occasion the advance of the British army to Monmouth Court House in June 1778.
   "Richard Waln favored the British cause and his property was protected. One of the officers while there lost his spur, which was found a few years ago by a workman while digging near the stream. Nicholas Waln, one of the older sons took charge of the mill about 1795 and continued it until his death in April, 1848. His father died in 1809. In the division of property, the mill was apportioned to Sarah Waln (Mrs. Jacob Hendrickson), who now owns the mill and occupies the mansion. The mill was destroyed by fire in 1821 and rebuilt the same size as the present mill, which was built in 1872.
   "On Lahaway Creek, near its junction with Crosswicks Creek, is the farm of John G. Meirs, which in the time of the Revolution was occupied by the noted Tory, Thomas Leonard, who was denounce by the Freehold Committee of Vigilance, and who subsequently escaped to New York. About 1870 Mr. Meirs moved and fixed up for a tool-house a singular little structure known as the ‘hip roof house.’ It had a roof of the quaint old style thus named. This queer little house was owned and inhabited during the Revolution by the said Thomas Leonard, who lived in it with his wife.
   "Leonard must have been a troublesome fellow, for the place is now pointed out where a party of Whigs or Continentals were concealed in watching for the traitor. They must have known he was in the house, so a raid was made for his immediate capture. Knowing there was no possibility of escape from the dwelling, his wife helped him flee to the cubbyhole at one end of the peak of the hip-roof. In order to squeeze himself through the small entrance, it was necessary to divest himself of his clothing, which his wife took downstairs, placed on the seat of a chair and then sat on them. The pursuers soon entered the house, but they failed to find him, neither could they get any answer from the woman to stir her from her seat.
   "Leonard, now thoroughly scared, concluded it to be no longer safe to remain at home. The next day, after having blackened his face, he changed clothes with his old lame negro slave, and actually passed the party that had surrounded his house the day before, not one of them for a moment suspecting that the old black fellow that was limping by was old Leonard, the Tory himself. He got safely to New York, and never came back again, having gone to St. Johns, New Brunswick, where he settled.
   "After the Revolution, the property of Leonard was confiscated and sold at a very low figure. It was afterward bought by General Forman, and about 1833 it came into the possession of the Meirs family.
   "A tradition has long existed to the effect that near a certain walnut tree on the farm once stood the residence of the father of the Loyalist, who, while one day walking in his garden, was shot by an Indian concealed behind some gooseberry bushes. But no vestige of any residence of garden had been seen for many years, and Mr. Meirs placed no confidence in the story. A number of years ago he set a man to dig a trench not far from the tree to drain the land. The digger turned up an old-fashioned silver spoon on which was engraved the initial L. This, with good reason, Mr. Meirs believed to have belonged to the father of the Loyalist, who was killed near the spot."
Historically Speaking is a regular feature presented by John Fabiano, president of the Allentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society. For more information about the Allentown-Upper Freehold Historical Society send e-mail to [email protected] or call (609) 259-9127.