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History of Sussex County NJ

of Sussex COUNTY, NJ


History of Sussex County, NJ | Sussex Co. Migration | History of Municipalities
  • History of Sussex County NJ

    Land Area: 529 sq. mile | Population: 130,943 | County Seat: Newton

    Bounded by: New York State, Delaware River, Warren, Morris and Passaic Counties.

    Sussex County is situated at the extreme top of New Jersey and has always been off the beaten path due to it's rural nature. In addition, the rugged Kittatinny Mountains cut across its entire northwestern edge and the heavily-wooded New Jersey Highlands rise upward from the Kittatinny Valley in the eastern part of the county.

    This very hilly aspect is what keeps Sussex rural. For one thing, the rock-strewn hills make usual farming difficult - thus explaining dairy cattle. For another thing, pockets in the slopes have led to lakes, both natural and man-made which encourage vacationing rather than permanent settlement. Finally, the county has thousands acres being used in State parks.

    New Jersey's highest point, 1,803 feet above sea level, is at High Point near the New York border. The Kittatinny Mountains average 1,600 feet above sea level. The Sussex Highlands range upwards to 1,496 feet above sea level near Vernon. All of this lake land and mountain land makes for fine scenery. Many observers agree that New Jersey's scenic best is in Sussex County.

    But it was neither cows nor scenery that brought the first Europeans to Sussex. They were Dutchmen from what is now Kingston, New York, who found copper on the rocky mountain slope just north of the Delaware Water Gap, sometime in the 1640's. As they took the ore back along the mountains, they developed a 140-mile thoroughfare linking the Pahaquarry copper mine with Esopus (Kingston, New York).

    English, Irish, and Scotch immigrants came overland soon after 1700 to the Kittatinny slopes, which they called the "Blue" mountains. Germans came up from Philadelphia in the 1740's, led by John Peter Bernhardt, and Caspar Shafer, and settled along the Tockhokkonetkong River, now called by the more easily pronounceable name of Paulins Kill.

    Scarcely 600 people lived in the whole Sussex region in 1750 when settlers began to grumble about going all the way to Morristown for court business. There were no towns, no major plantations, and little economic value in the vast area when the colonial legislature created Sussex County on June 8, 1753.

    Leaders of the new county met on November 20, 1753, to grant tavern licenses and to fix fees for liquor and provender. This reflected a major interest of the day, since for many decades the tavern keeper was an important man in Sussex county economic and political circles.

    In the spring of 1754, county fathers levied taxes of 100 pounds annually; most of it to pay bounties for the killing of wolves and panthers. The rest went to build a log jail so flimsy the sheriff complained he couldn't keep the prisoners in. The prisoners, in turn. said they wouldn't stay in the jail if the sheriff couldn't keep the sheep out.

    Sussex courts returned temporarily to Morristown in 1757, driven there by savage Indian uprisings along the Delaware valley. Long bitter over the loss of their territory, the Indians struck back at white settlers in 1755. Colonial officials appropriated 10,000 pounds in December of that year to build stone forts along the river.

    Most noted of the killings by Indians took place near Swartswood Lake, where in May 1756, Anthony Swartwout, his wife and a daughter were slain by the savages, and two younger children became Indian captives.

    In 1758 the Indians were persuaded to relinquish their territorial claims peacefully, but another conflict already was raging in the not-so-peaceful Sussex hills. That was the New York-New Jersey border conflict which involved many beatings and shootings in the 50 years after it first broke out in 1719. Bi-state action fixed the border at its present line in 1769.

    1761 saw New Town (now Newton) come to prominence through the actions of Jonathan Hampton, an Essex county man of some influence in Trenton. The Legislature authorized the county to build a courthouse and jail a half mile from Henry Hairlocker's house. When the survey was made, it was found that the half mile point would have put the courthouse in the middle of a stream. With this in mind, the "half mile" was stretched and the courthouse situated halfway up the hill.

    On the eve of the Revolution, in 1775, the freeholders boldly announced that Sussex County would no longer pay the salaries of Royal judges. The war itself passed Sussex by except for supplies which came from both the fields and forges of the northern county. The county also contributed Bonnell Moody, a well-known Loyalist spy who hid out in a cave near Springdale.

    In May 1780, Moody led six men into Newton to free the prisoners in the jail. Tradition holds that Moody's foray frightened all the local people out of town and history indicates that Moody was never caught.

    The economy of the county suffered considerable during the war due to high assessments levied to pay for the war. Toward the end of the war and shortly thereafter their was an influx of big landholders. Robert Ogden was Sparta's first permanent settler in 1778, the Ogden family working the mines in the Sparta Mountains. Other families that started great estates—Lewis Morris, Thomas Lawrence, John Rutherford, and others.

    Building of turnpike between 1804 and 1815
    1820 county population was 32,754 making it the most populated in the state (Sussex at this time included what is now Warren county)
    1824 Warren county is split from Sussex
    1830 county population was 20,346
    1833, William Rankin founded the private school at Deckertown
    1833, Edward Stiles opened a school at Mt. Retirement
    1853, a town meeting in Newton rejected the idea of raising money for free schools

    The New Jersey Almanac, Tercentenary Edition. Published by the New Jersey Almanac, Inc. 1963. Pages 529 & 530.

  • This is New Jersey from High Point to Cape May. Cunningham, John T.; New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1953. pp11-18


    Sussex Co. NJ Migrations
    Date: Tue, 28 Oct 1997 22:54:30 -0500 (EST) From: Catherine Di Pietro

    Subject: Sussex County Migration

    Greetings Sussex County Researchers,

    The largest group were Dutch from Long Island/New Amsterdam through Ulster, Dutchess then down through Orange County, NY to Sussex, NJ. There was a group of Loyalists and non-conformists who moved away from the contested east New Jersey - Elizabethtown, Hackensack (New Barbadoes) and the Essex county area in the 1770's. Another group of settlers lived in Morris County but maintained iron mills (and saw mills and grain mills) in Sussex County as it was an important source of iron ore in the state. Some of these families like KINNEY, CARD and MARTIN eventually stayed in Sussex. There was a group of Quakers up from Philadelphia, part of William Penn's group and also some Moravians up from Hope, NJ. I've also noticed second and third sons of Somerset and Gloucester counties in NJ moving northward to Sussex to farm and open merchant shops in the later 1700's. Not to be discounted is a large group of Scots who were promised land in NY state until the Governor went back on the deal. A large group of these CAMPBELLs, McCOY, McCALLUM simply moved to the rich farmland of Sussex instead. A real melting pot indeed.

    When researching in Sussex, do not discount Orange County, NY or Pike County in PA as the early settlers rarely regarded state boundaries before marrying or crossing borders to have children. This combined region is called the Minisink.

    Later periods of migration include the Polish, Slavic and Scandinavian workers who traveled up the railroad from Paterson, NJ newly off the boat in NYC, to work in the tin and zinc mines in Franklin and Ogdenburg in the later 1800's.

    There was a large Loyalist migration out of Sussex in the 1780's, mostly followers of James Moody and some preachers moved whole congregations (especially in the Vernon area) northward to Quebec. Other migrations out of Sussex County seem to start in the early 1800's and the settlers usually cross PA to settle in Ohio and states westward.

    Some early names which remain prevalent in Sussex County to this day (right out of the phone book) include DUNN, DECKER, CLARK, LITTEL, WHITE, VAN ORDEN, SNOOK, MILLER, McCARTHY, McKENNA, MARTIN, LOSEY, GREEN, GARRIS, CARD and VANDERHOFF.

  • Additional History of Sussex Co NJ

  • History of Municipalities

  • Additional GREAT histories for Andover Twp, Byrum Twp, Frankford Twp, Green Twp, Hampton Twp, Hardyston Twp, Lafayette Twp, Montague, Twp, Sandyston Twp, Sparta Twp, Stillwater Twp, Vernon Twp, Walpack Twp, and Wantage Twp (PDF files) - from Ray's Place; source: The Historical Directory of Sussex County NJ
    • Andover Township History | 2nd History from Ray's Place
    • Andover (borough)
      • The community was named for Andover Mine, a tract of land once owned by the heirs of William Penn
    • Branchville (borough)
    • Byram Township (township)
      • Roseville and Waterloo are locations in Byram Twp.
    • Frankford Township (township) | 2nd History from Rays Place
      • Augusta, Branchville, Papakating or Pellettown, and Wykertown, are the post villages of Frankford Twp.

    • Franklin (borough)
    • Fredon Township (township)
    • Green Township (township)
      • Greensville, Huntsville, Hunts Mills Canada Town, and Tranquility are all locations that exist, or used to exist in Green Twp.
    • Hamburg (borough)
    • Hampton Township (township)
      • Formed from portions of Newton Township on March 10, 1864, Hampton Township is named for Jonathan Hampton, who donated land to the Episcopal Church of Newton, New Jersey. Robert Hamilton, a New Jersey state legislator and an Episcopalian, apparently held great respect for Hampton's act, and gave the township its name
      • The only villages in Hampton are Balesville and Washingtonville, about a mile apart in the northern portion.
    • Hardyston Township (township)
      • Hardyston Township was set off of Newton Township by royal patent in 1762. Hardyston is the American spelling of the British Hardiston, which was changed after the American Revolutionary War. It includes named places of Stockholm, Beaver Run, Beaver Mountain (not shown on maps), North Church, Big Springs, Holland (or Holland Mountain), Hardistonville, Rudeville, and Monroe. The Boroughs of Franklin and Hamburg were annexed from the township.
    • Hopatcong (borough)
    • Lafayette Township (township)
      • The community was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, who fought with the colonists during the Revolution
    • Montague Township (township)
    • Newton (town) take the tour! | Historic Town of Newton
    • Ogdensburg (borough)
      • The borough was initially part of Sparta Township, but was separated from it in 1914 when the borough was incorporated. Ogdensburg is named after its first settler, Robert Ogden.
    • Sandyston Township (township)
    • Sparta Township (township)
      • Lake Mohawk - a census-designated place and unincorporated area located in parts of both Byram Township and Sparta Township.
      • Sparta was organized as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on February 13, 1845, and the township was named after the existing community of Sparta, which had been settled and named years before[1], the name likely coming from Sparta, Greece. Ogdensburg Borough was incorporated in 1914 when it separated from Sparta Township.
    • Stanhope (borough)
    • Stillwater Township (township) - Skyland's Guide to Stillwater NJ
    • Sussex (borough)
    • Vernon Township (township)
      • The independent township of Vernon was established on April 8, 1793, from portions of Hardyston Township, and the township was formally incorporated on February 21, 1798. Iron mining in the town of Vernon was prevalent during the mid to late 1800's. Mines such as the Canistear Mine, Williams Mine, and the Pochuk Mine created industry which spawned local businesses, and brought rail travel to the town. It is not known how Vernon Township got its name
    • Walpack Township (township)
      • Before the formation of Sussex County in 1753, townships named Walpack existed in Hunterdon County and Morris County (both are now defunct). Created at a Court of General Sessions held in Hardwick Township on May 30, 1754, the current Walpack Township is named from a corruption of the Lenape Native American word "wahlpeck," which means "turn-hole," or an eddy or whirlpool. This word is a compound of two Native American words, "woa-lac" (a hole), and "tuppeck" (a pool)
      • History of Knight Farm, Old Mine Road, Smith Ferry, Wantage NJ - American Memory
    • Wantage Township (township)

  • National Register of Historic Places: Sussex Co., New Jersey
  • Sussex County Historical Societies, History Museums & Libraries
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