A Brief History of Colonial and Revolutionary Piscataway
Piscataway Township is the fifth oldest town in New Jersey and among the 50 oldest towns in the United States. The New Market area was the colonial settlement of “Quibbletown,” which consisted of a grist mill, a tavern, an inn, a stage depot, and about a dozen homes. The land that we now know as Piscataway changed hands and shape many times over hundreds of years. The first documented Piscataway land grant was made by New Jersey’s first Colonial Governor Philip Carteret on December 11, 1666 to Daniel Pierce, John Pike, and seven other associates from Newbury, MA. The land comprised more than 100 square miles from the Raritan River to the Rahway River, and cost 80 pounds. In an land flip common in the days of the New Jersey Lord Proprietors, a week later, they sold one-third of the tract to John Martin (1620 – 1687), Charles Gilman (1642-1695), Hugh Dunn (1650-1694), and Hopewell Hull (1636-1693) for 30 pounds. These four founded Piscataway. The name Piscataway is derived from the Piscataqua River in New Hampshire, by later settlers who migrated from that area to New Jersey.
Because the southern bank of the Raritan river contained no settlements, Piscataway Township also included the future Middlesex County across the river as well as most of Somerset County. In 1693, it extended as far as Somerville and Princeton, an area of approximately 300 square miles. Today, Piscataway covers 19.1 miles.
The peace-loving Lenni-Lenape people who inhabited the area prior to the European settlers numbered only a few thousand. A tribe of the Algonquian group, the Lenni-Lenape lived in what is known now as the Mid-Atlantic region. Their settlements were semi-permanent, and while they cultivated some plants such as corn, pumpkins, beans, and tobacco, they lived chiefly by hunting and fishing. During the warmer months, they traveled east to the beach where they gathered oysters, clams, mussels, and fish, which were smoked and carried inland.
According to Walter Meuly, “in 1688, Somerset County was carved out of Middlesex County, partly at the expense of Piscataway.” During the Proprietary Period of New Jersey’s land purchases (1666-1703) there were many land disputes, overlapping land sales, and unfair purchases from the Lenni-Lenape people. Middlesex County was created several years earlier, in 1682. In the early 1700s, Piscataway stretched from the Watchung Mountains through the Raritan Valley. Parts of Piscataway were in now-Plainfield, Bound Brook, and Somerville. The Township also was on the south side of the Raritan River from the South River to New Brunswick and Franklin Township, and on the Millstone River to the East Jersey Partition Line near Princeton, Kingston, and Rocky Hill. By 1709, the west of the Raritan belonged to Somerset County. New Brunswick became a village that outstripped its parent, Piscataway, and incorporated under a royal charter in 1730.
During the Colonial Period (1703-1775) extending up to 1850, enslaved African people were brought to New Jersey, primarily through Perth Amboy. Prior to America’s independence, approximately 1/12th of New Jersey’s population, or 10,000, were enslaved people. The Quakers in the state vehemently protested the practice of slavery in 1758, and in 1776, the Continental Congress prohibited the slave trade. However, New Jersey did not abolish slavery until 1804, and even then it was a “gradual abolition” which lasted well afterward (for more information, see Princeton University’s site on Princeton & Slavery: https://slavery.princeton.edu/stories/legislating-slavery-in-new-jersey).
During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington rode through Piscataway on June 25, 1775 on his way to Newark, and later to his troops near Boston. He returned in November that year, passing through the Township on the way to camp in New Brunswick. From December 1, 1776 through June 22, 1777, the British army occupied New Brunswick, and it became its headquarters for more than six months.
Source: Meuly, Walter C. History of Piscataway Township, 1666-1976. Piscataway Bicentennial Commission, 1976. You can find this book in our Local History Room under 974.943 Meuly or in the Non-fiction section under 974.943 Meuly.
- Come in to the Library – the Local History Room at the Kennedy Building is available any time the library is open. Stop by the Information Desk and a librarian will open the room for you.
- Interested in Camp Kilmer? Click here to read about it.
- Oral histories:
- I Remember Piscataway Oral Histories
- Piscataway Public Library Veterans Oral History Project
- The library holds books on several founding families of the Piscataway area. The books cannot be removed from the library, but patrons are welcome to use them in the Local History Room. In addition to the seven-volume set entitled First Settlers of Piscataway and Woodbridge 1664-1714, there are books on the following families: Coriell, Deacon John Dunham, Deveny, Doty-Doten, Drake, Dunn, Fitzrandolph, Higgins, Hull, Hunter, Letson, Manning, Martin, Onderdonk, Polhemius, Pyatt, Ross, Runyon, and Singletary. These books are located in the 929 section of the Local History Room. Our Local History Room does not contain obituaries.
If you do not see your family name here, try:
Special Collections and University Archives
Rutgers University Libraries
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
169 College Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1163
- Blackford-Clawson Cemetery, between Dickerson Drive and Michael Street, contains James Clawson, 1757-1822; Runyon Blackford, 1775-1850 and families
- FitzRandolph Cemetery, Behmer Road on High School Property
- Giles Cemetery, Sewell Avenue at curve, off Mountain Avenue, Birch Run Development
- Runyon Cemetery, Old Possumtown Road and Centennial Avenue
- Seventh Day Baptist Church Cemetery, Old New Brunswick and Stelton Roads
- St. James cemetery on Woodbridge Ave., Edison. This was formerly part of Piscataway. Some of the early settlers of Piscataway are buried here.
For burial records, see the document Stelton and Piscatawaytown Graveyards Burial Records 1880 in the Local History Room. This booklet has the number 929.5 Stelton. It may not be removed from the Local History Room.