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UPTON

A Lost Town of Old Gloucester County, West New Jersey

BY JOHN CLEMENT.

It is curious and interesting to follow the movements of the emigrants who, under the patronage of the Trustees of Edward Byllynge, settled within the limits of the "Third and Fourth tenths," known as Old Gloucester County, West New Jersey. Although the land was generally located in large tracts, yet the owners remained in small communities for some time after such taking up, doubtless for fear of the Indians, who were at that time the only other occupants of the soil, and whom they only knew as savage and vindictive. Thomas Sharp, in his memorial relating to the settlement at Newton, gives this as a reason for their not separating as soon as they had selacted their several tracts of land, and it goes to show that the aborigines were looked upon as the greatest enemy to be encountered in their new adventure. Much time did not elapse, however, before they discovered there was no reason for suspicion or fear, and that with kindness and fair dealing, these children of the forest would soon become their best and most reliable friends.

This explains the difficulty so many have had in searching for the sites of villages and towns, known to exist in early times, through this section of the country, yet not being able to discover a trace of them after a century has passed since their first mention. Of these was "Upton," situated on the north side of the south branch of Gloucester River, which name was taken from the town of Upton in Berkshire, England, where resided Thomas Staunton, the purchaser of a right of propriety of Edward Byllynge and his Trustees, who sold to Robert Ever in 1687, and who again sold to John Ladd in 1688, in whose name the land about that embryo town was located. The frontage on the north side of the south branch of Gloucester River - known for the last one hundred and fifty years as Timber Creek - extends some eight miles from where it leaves the north branch, passing Good Intent, Blackwoodtown, and Turnersville, with ample space for a town on the banks of the stream, the exact position of which is beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant in that region, neither is it disclosed in any of the title papers now in existence relating to that neighborhood. In the year 1688, James Whitall purchased part of John Ladd's survey, before mentioned, which grant disclosed the name of the locality, and shows how early it was attached. It is a fair presumption that James Whitall built the first house, and immediately upon his purchase, for in the year 1700, when he sold to Richard Chew and removed to Red Bank, the conveyance says, "all my farm, farm house, and tenements at Upton aforesaid," showing that a few buildings had been erected, which would probably take several years to accomplish. Taking the "farm house and tenements at Upton" as the initial point, nothing appears in the description of the land conveyed to fix them at any particular place on the stream, hence the search is fruitless in that direction.

In the year 1695, John Hedger, Thomas Stevens, and John Too (perhaps Chew), each purchased real estate at Upton, on the same stream, but no expression is found in either of their deeds throwing any light upon this mooted question. In 1697, William and Israel Ward also became owners and settlers there, yet the same trouble is encountered, and in the year 1698, Thomas Bull, an individual of considerable note in the colony, bought real estate there. In this name there is perhaps one point made, as the county-line stream that falls into the south branch near by may have taken its name from Thomas Bull.

In chronological order came Edward Williams in 1699, Richard Chew in 1700, and John Brown and Arthur Powell in 1701, each of whose deeds speak of their purchases being at Upton, but leaving the particular spot in question entirely to conjecture especially to such as seek for it in the year of Grace a.d. 1885. In a few years after Richard Chew's purchase (1723), to advance the worldly concerns of his son, Thomas Chew, he conveyed the Whitall estate to him, who, in 1740, procured a resurvey thereof. Thanks to the council of proprietors in requiring persons to return to their office carefully-made maps of resurveys, showing the streams and roads passing through or alongside of said lands so resurveyed, Jacob Heulings, as the deputy-surveyor, in discharge of that duty, marked a road which he calls the "old Salem road," as running through the same, and crossing the south branch of Timber Creek at a ford, and also marks the dwelling near said ford.

Here the search produces some results, for the site of the old house and the ford near by are known, and when compared with the map of the resurvey, are found to correspond with the boundaries thereof, and to prove beyond doubt where James Whitall had his " farm house and tenements" in 1700, and also where Upton was situate "on the north side of the south branch of Gloucester river." The one acre excepted for a graveyard goes also to confirm the situation, formerly known as Wallan's, and since called Powell's graveyard.

The site of the old house, and around which still stand several very aged walnut-trees, the ford and the old graveyard, are situate about one-half mile below Good Intent factory, in Gloucester township, Camden County, on the south branch, and fixes the spot of the lost town of Upton, and where lived during the last few years of the seventeenth century the persons heretofore named, with their families, because of fear from the Indians, but who gradually abandoned the place for their own possessions as they became convinced that the aborigines were peaceful and desirous of cultivating friendship and good feeling.

Between the years 1701 and 1715, George Ward erected a grist-mill and fulling-mill where the Good Intent factory now stands. This is proven by two deeds. The first dated December 2, 1701, by which he purchased of Thomas Bull "a farm and tract of land at Upton containing 250 acres," but no mention is made of the mills.

By another deed, dated July 16, 1715, George Ward conveyed to John Royton two acres of land at Upton, part of that he had purchased of Thomas Bull, "together with one half of the Grist mill and Fulling mill also one half of the stream bank race and material belonging to said mills, as the houses, buildings, press, copper, and other utensils proper and necessary to be used for carrying on the said works of grinding, fulling, dying, and pressing," showing conclusively that George Ward originated the water-power and put the first machinery in motion at that place.

After various changes of title, this property became part of the estate of Charles Read (by sheriff's sale); and Charles Read, in 1759, conveyed it to John Blackwood, and hence the name to the village near by. John Blackwood had previously purchased real estate and settled there, as, in 1741, George Ward conveyed a tract of land to him, and in 1752 another tract was purchased by him of a son of the lastnamed grantor.

John Blackwood was a Scotchman and stanch Presbyterian, and to show the courage of his convictions, organized a church at "the head of Timber creek" in 1750, that being the name of the place at that time. The next year he donated one acre of land "whereon to erect a church and for the purposes of a burial ground." The first trustees were Michael Fisher, Joseph Hedger, Peter Cheesman, John McCollock, Lazarus Pine, and Henry Thorn, and the first pastor was the Rev. Chestnut.

The church was well sustained until the beginning of the Revolutionary war, when so many of the members and congregration left their homes to join the Continental army that the building went to decay.

In 1801 a new house was erected and the interest again revived.

And Upton had its importance, being on the public highway, or King's Road, from Philadelphia to Salem. Travellers were sometimes delayed by reason of the high water at the ford, from storm or tide, and had to find entertainment among the villagers. Perhaps some one kept an "Inn," where provender for man and horse could be had, whose reputation for warm meals and clean beds sometimes brought him guests who, on their weary way, would rather be sure of these creature comforts than continue their journey and fare much worse.

"Near yonder thorn, that lifts its head on high,
Where once the sign-post caught the passing eye,
Low lies that house, where nut-brown draughts inspir'd,
Where gray-beard mirth and smiling toil retir'd,
Where village statesmen talked with looks profound,
And news much older than their ale went round."

Being at or near the head of navigation, considerable business was transacted there, in lumber and cordwood, in hoop-poles and lath, and in cedar shingles and staves, exchanged in the Philadelphia market for dry goods, groceries, and West India rum, which last was the bane of many of our ancestors, too often leading to poverty and ruin.

Perhaps it was where the emigrants and settlers in that region came to get letters sent them from across the sea, hearing from friends and home, and returning their answers through the same, but now obscure and abandoned channel. Here too, doubtless, would the aborigines come to barter their baskets for "fire-water," and not leave the neighborhood until their means of supply were exhausted and themselves utterly prostrated from the effects of long-continued debauch. The King's Eoad, which took its tortuous way through the primitive forests, extending from Upton to the head of the tide on the north branch of Timber Creek, near Bphraim Tomlinson's mills, and thence turning westward along the " old "Warrick road," passing through Snow Hill, south of Haddonfield, and over Atmore's dam to Cooper's ferries, on the Delaware River, opposite Philadelphia, is at this day wellnigh obliterated, and in but few places at all travelled.

The want of means to build bridges necessitated these long, circuitous roads, so as to ford the streams above the flow of the tide, and explains why our sturdy ancestors submitted to such an expenditure of time and patience, and when considered by the present generation, it will be with surprise and hardly possible of endurance.

And the old graveyard - which for nearly two hundred years has been set apart for the burial of the dead - has much of interest about it; not only as an ancient landmark, but as being the spot where lie the remains of some of those who, driven from their homes by oppression, sought a new country, where justice and equality would not be infringed, where their persons and estates would be secure before the law, and where religious opinions or political bias should not endanger their liberty. Well may those who standing in this place and near,

"Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap," and beneath which rest the bones of their ancestors, feel an enviable pride, as having in their veins the blood of the brave men, who, stimulated by the broad and ennobling principles laid down in the " concessions and agreements" of 1676, as drawn and promulgated by William Penn and his associates, came into West New Jersey to be participants in the blessings that must flow therefrom, and who in so doing battled against adversity in its ugliest shapes.

Who conquered all, and left to those coming after them the elements of a true government, to be developed as the wants of the people demanded. Whose descendants, one hundred years after, still adhering to these principles, openly resisted the encroachments of the home government, and by the declaration of 1776 threw off their allegiance thereto.

And whose descendants, now in being, at the end of another century, and in the year 1876, in the presence of the civilized world, celebrated the continuation of these privileges and their national prosperity, showing that the germs of civil and religious liberty, as laid down in the "concessions and agreements" of 1676, were still jealously guarded and faithfully adhered to.

For this, if no other reasons, this spot and many others like it should be held sacred, secure from all intrusions, and without danger of removal or continued neglect.


"Nor you, ye proud, impute to these the fault,
If memory o'er their tomb no trophies raise,
Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault
The pealing anthem swells the note of praise.

"Can storied urn or animated bust
Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath?
Can honor's voice provoke the silent dust,
Or flattery soothe the dull, cold ear of death?"

A few years since some of the descendants of Arthur Powell (whose remains lie in the yard), who purchased land at Upton in 1701, and others (the remains of whose ancestors are also there), with commendable liberality, and respect for the memory of their fathers, enlarged and much improved the old place.

The unpretending habitations that first stood about the ford were built of logs, plentifully supplied by the forests that covered the whole country, with stick chimneys, bark roof, and clay floors. They furnished the occupants a rude yet comfortable home, as the term would apply in the primitive settlement of New Jersey.

A year or two after found most of the villagers seated on their own land some distance away, with buildings of more pretension and greater size, surrounded with acres already cleared and used for farming purposes, their fear of the Indians, from personal contact, having been entirely lost sight of.

Gradually the log cabins went to decay, and one after another disappeared, until none, save the more substantial building of James Whitall, remained. And in like manner as the first settlers found a resting-place in the old graveyard, did the name of the town fall into disuse, and eventually passed beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitant, and would not at this day be known to the people in that section, but for the old musty tomes in the several offices of record in the State of New Jersey.

And this is but another evidence of the limited view taken by individuals and communities relating to surrounding or progressive events. Instances are not rare in this State where embryo towns have been projected near the fording of a stream by the King's Road, or where a ferry was in use, many miles out of a direct line, between towns already established, and regained by the public as a likely place for a village, and sometimes tempting town-lot speculation thereabouts.

The inquiry is often suggested, in looking into the early locations of land, why such out-of-the-way and wilderness places were chosen, when the truth is that these selactions were made by reason of being near a frequently travelled road, and in better communication with the outer world. Fifty years had elapsed before ferries were used for crossing the streams and the roads shortened to conform thereto, and even with this badly arranged and uncertain kind of transportation the people considered their comfort increased and space annihilated. Many acts were passed by the Legislature legalizing ferries and fixing the rates to be charged by the owners.

The passing of such acts was doubtless bitterly opposed by the residents on the "old roads," and in the towns gradually springing up along their lines, characterized as visionary schemes, and entirely in advance of the public need. A few more decades and the building of bridges began to be agitated. In this the negative element largely predominated, and wellnigh destroyed the spirit of advance and improvement that began to take root in the land. The disputes as to their proper positions, the kind of structure, and their probable cost were leading questions, and much distracted the community interested. It necessitated the straightening the roads again, which increased expenses and left many inhabitants greater or less distances from the new thoroughfare, inconveniencing them in various ways and lessening the value of their real estate.

The act of the Legislature of 1747, under which the bridge was erected over Cooper's Creek, at Spicer's ferry, near Camden, illustrates this. The act itself is a curious one, and was evidently passed after much opposition. It provides that voluntary contributions should be solicited by the commissioners for six months, and that the remainder of the cost be assessed on part of the townships of Burlington County and part of one of the townships of Gloucester County. The voluntary contributions no doubt came largely from the Coopers, who at that time owned the only ferries on the Delaware River, where Camden now stands, and it may well be said that the assessments made on the townships for the deficiency of cost were grudgingly and slowly paid.

Neither in these days of apparent stability as to public highways and leading thoroughfares is it oversafe to venture too far in what appears as a tempting real estate speculation, for what is a plausible pretext on one occasion, and induces the investments of large amounts of money, may, in a wonderfully short space of time, prove to be a myth and end in utter and permanent ruin.

Only in degree, therefore, was the chagrin and disappointment of the good people of Upton, when they found some progressive spirits were seeking to shorten the travelled distance between Philadelphia and Salem, by establishing ferries across the streams and leaving their village miles away in the wilderness, comparable to that of many in these latter days, who find their foresight and shrewdness does not keep up with the progress of the age or the demands of the travelling population.

SOURCE:  Pages 36-44, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Volume 9, 1885