NJGenWeb ~ Morris County, New Jersey

The Rogerenes
Morris Co. Up

The History of Morris County published in 1914 by Lewis Publishing Co., Chapter 18 is concerned with The Rogerenes: First Whites in Roxbury Township. This chapter was written by Theo. F. Wolfe, M.D., Litt.D.

The fact that the only existing "histories" of Roxbury township and Morris county contain no mention of the peculiar people who were certainly the earliest white settlers within the boundaries of the township apparently makes it worth while to preserve in print the little that, as this late day, may be ascertained concerning them.

It seems incredible that a wide district in the vicinage of Lake Hopatcong was much more populous two centuries ago than it now is. Of this district the pretty lakelet, locally known as Mountain Pond, is the approximate geographical center, and upon its shores and in the adjacent valleys were the abodes of forty or more families of a religious sect called Rogerenes, who came from the vicinity of New London, Connecticut, where their peculiarities of belief and conduct had provoked a persecution by their orthodox "Christian" neighbors which "left them neither liberty or property or a whole skin," as one ancient chronicler narrates. Being non-resistant and seeking an asylum from their tormentors, many families of the sect organized a colony and with their little ones and cattle set out upon a tedious and toilsome march, through a country much of which was then a trackless wilderness.

This journey, at length, brought them to this, then wild and secluded region, where they were to live out their lives and sleep in death. The date of their settlement here cannot now be definitely fixed, but trappers, surveyors, etc., who visited the district in 1709-15, found the Rogerenes already established here, having large fields of grain and orchards of productive apple trees. That the apple trees were already bearing fruit would seem to indicate that the settlement had been begun as early as 1700. The sect had been founded in New London in 1674, by John Rogers, who passed most of his subsequent life in prison, and, as persecutions by the church authorities began almost immediately, it is not improbable that this New Jersey community may have made their exodus by the beginning of the eighteenth century. Why they chose this comparatively rough tract of land for their settlement in preference to the more level and more easily cleared and cultivated lands of the plain bordering the nearby Alamatong (the Indian name for the Black River) will never be known.

Some decades later, about 1734, a smaller company of Rogerenes, whose practices differs somewhat from those of the Mountain Pond community, came from New London and settled upon the eastern slope of Schooley's Mountain. This company was composed chiefly of the Colver family and the families with which it had intermarried—the Lambs, Tuttles, Burrows, Salmons, Manns and Owens—and were usually called Colverites by other settlers. Three years later they removed to Monmouth county, where they remained eleven years, and then returned and located on the summit and western declivity of Schooley's Mountain, a few of them near the famous Chalybeate Spring, whose medicinal virtues were already recognized. Two of the original colonists, Thomas Colver and Sarah Mann, were living as late as 1792, and descendants of the Colverites are among the most reputable residents in that neighborhood to this day.

But the Mountain Pond Rogerenes had no direct association with the Colverites. They (the Rogerenes) came at a time when the Indians were yet in undisturbed possession of the territory, and they planted their homes in an unbroken wilderness among reputed savages, whom they found more friendly and tolerant then their Christian neighbors in New England. Their rude houses were of logs, mostly sixteen feet by twenty in size. Remains of stone foundations and of excavations for cellars or caves of at least twenty such habitations may yet be found in the district indicated, and many more have been removed in clearing the present fields for cultivation. Their log schoolhouse—sometimes used as a church—stood near the point where the road from Mountain Pond joins the Mt. Arlington highway. This was the "one place of worship" in New Jersey accredited to the Rogerenes by Samuel Smith, the State's first historian, in his quaint chronicle of 1765.

Some of their cabins were near the present line of the highway as far north as the late John Tone's place, and the settlement extended westerly toward Berkshire and easterly almost to Shippenport. The clearings which once surrounded their dwellings have in many instances given place to heavy growths of timber, in which may be seen regular rows of decaying apple trees, obviously of great age and probably planted by this people in the last years of their sojourn. A long and deep trench, manifestly excavated for a superficial outlet to Mountain Pond into the Shippenport swamp, also remains an evidence of their patient industry.

By the whites who subsequently settled in the vicinity this sect have been loosely mentioned as "Dunkers," "Shakers," "Shaking Quakers," etc., but the Rogerenes belonged to none of these denominations; they were established here before any of these sects were in existence and before Mother Ann—organizer of the Shakers—was born.

They were not celibates; they held to the family relation, not to the community of persons or property; they did not celebrate the seventh day of the week; they did not sing or dance in their worship—in these regards they were not like any of the above named sects. They observed no set day as a Sabbath, claiming that since the death of Jesus all days are alike and all are for honest labor and for loving God and the neighbor. Their working on Sunday and their "testifying" against clergymen who preached for hire led to unpleasant collisions with other sects. Tradition affirms that in 1770 a company of Rogerenes, men and women, from Schooley's Mountain, entered a meeting in the Presbyterian Church at Mendham and disturbed the service by sewing and knitting and by disparaging comments on "the hireling preacher" and that they were forcibly ejected therefor. Subsequently the same company repeated the misdemeanor at Basking Ridge and suffered by fines and flogging. But no such misconduct has been attributed to the Mountain Pond community. After the erection of the Presbyterian church at Succasunna (circa 1762), a few of the women of that colony would rarely come to the Sunday morning service in summer; declining to enter the church, they would sit upon their horses near the open windows and knit during the service, and the only offense urged against them was that they rode away in unseemly haste after the benediction. When we remember that in those so-called "good old days" the sermons were often two hours long, it is scarcely surprising that these women should hasten to their dinners.

They said no grace at their meals and held that all prayer should be mental—not articulate, unless "the spirit" compelled utterance; hence at their meetings absolute silence prevailed until "the spirit" moved to audible prayer or exhortation. They held to the Lord's Supper and the immersion of penitents. Their immersions were in the Mountain Pond and during the summer all their religious meetings were held upon its margin. Some account of these assemblages has been gathered by the writer from the orally transmitted descriptions by the other white settlers who located in the neighborhood before the Rogerenes removed and who sometimes went to worship with them in the "temple of the grove." It was grassy slope in the shade of a cluster of venerable oaks which stood so near the verge that their foliage was mirrored on the shimmering surface of the water. The women brought with them low stools (and sometimes spinning wheels) and aligned them along one side of the slope, while the men, with their hats on, seated themselves upon the turf in decorous rows at the other side. Then came the solemn hush of the period of introspection, a long and impressive duration of motionless silence, during which the women (some of them exceedingly comely to look upon) sate demurely gazing at their hands crossed in their laps, and the men, with tightly folded arms, sat bolt upright, while the sunbeams danced upon the wavelets of the pond, and, piercing the swaying boughs, wrought mosaics of gold and emerald upon the sward. This period was usually terminated by the rise of some one whom "the spirit" impelled to speak; then hands were quickly uncrossed and arms unfolded and neither thereafter were idle for an instant. The women applied themselves to knitting, sewing or spinning and the men to basket-making or other noiseless occupation until the speaking ended and the assemblage dispersed.

They believed it to be sinful to employ medicines or physicians, prayer and the laying on of hands being the only righteous remedies. But one malady came among them against which these means proved to be inefficacious—indeed the laying on of hands served to communicate the disease instead of curing it. It was the itch. After many months of consultation (and scratching) they devised a plea which released them from their dilemma without violence to conscience; they agreed that the itch is not a sickness, but an attack of a species of vermin which they might destroy as they would rats, catamounts or other noxious animals. Accordingly they applied the "brimstone and lard" and were cured.

The names of only two of these families have been ascertained—Rogers and Vail, the former being probably related to the founder of the sect. The colony remained here until about the beginning of the Revolution, when all of the original company were dead; then they loaded their goods upon wagons and, turning their backs upon the homes of their childhood and the graves of their sires, started on a journey toward the wilderness and the sunset. Their removal was probably decided by economic considerations alone; apart from these, no reasons appear to have obtained. They were not persecuted here; they lived in amity with their neighbors, red and white. The number of white settlers near them was too small to menace them in any way. Although they were squatters and had made no effort to acquire title to the lands they occupied, no one was seeking to dispossess—indeed the tract upon which the greater portion of their clearings was located was not purchased from the proprietors until several decades later.

The Rogerenes announced to their neighbors that they were emigrating to the "Redstone Country," but they did not settle there in a separate community as they had lived here. Some families located in western Pennsylvania, but it would appear that they made no attempt to maintain a distinct religious society. Some of them joined the Dunkers, one family with which the present writer has had correspondence allied itself to the Friends, but most of the old colony joined any sect that was conveniently near.

The sequestered spot where the Mountain Pond Rogerenes laid their dead is upon the Silver Spring property, little more than a furlong from the present shore of Lake Hopatcong. Upon a green hillside, which slopes toward the rising sun, all of the original community and most of their children lie in "the dreamless sleep that lulls the dead." Here are indications of scores of graves; some remain as moldering heaps, some are depressed, but most are level with the turf. Many are marked by rough, untooled stones, picked up on the rocky fields, but many more lack even these rule memorials to show that beneath them buried mortals await the resurrection. Some of the later settlers were interred here after the departure of the Rogerenes, and four burials have been made within the memory of persons living in the vicinity, one burial being that of a child of the late George Lurk. The grass still grows among the old mounds, but the space which the Rogerenes cleared has long been covered by a growth of forest trees—hickories, oaks and chestnuts—some of them a foot and half in diameter, springing out of the graves.

Our visit to this humble God's acre is on a perfect morning, when a summer sky domes the wold. Standing above the lowly graves we look across a landscape clad in its loveliest garb and flooded with golden sunshine. The languorous air is redolent of wild perfumes and everything about us is suffused with the charm and beauty of sweet summer-time. No dicordant sound from the noisy haunts of men disturbs the peaceful retreat of these, for whom life's fitful fever is forever past. The tranquil stillness is unbroken, save by the twitter of birds and the sign of the soft wind in the leafy boughs above us. We behold here no pretentious monuments, no boasting of lying epitaphs, not even the rudest sculpture to recall the names and years of the unhonored dead asleep beneath our feet. They were imprisoned and persecuted, ridiculed as fanatics and scourged as criminals—yet above their poor ashes we mentally bare our heads in obeisance to the memory of these lowly people, whose simple creed made them love God and their neighbor every day in the week. Peace to their ashes!

Copyright 1999-2017 by Brianne Kelly-Bly, all rights reserved.