Spotswood, NJ History

Time Line
Weequehela - Sachem
The Leonards
The Johnstons
Indian Deed at the Mills
From Revolution to Spotswood Mills
Books for Sale
Guest Book


Spotswood, New Jersey is a small village nestled along the confluence of the Manalapan and Matchaponix rivers which form the South River in southern Middlesex County. Surrounded by pine trees and wetlands, these resources provided a basis for two sawmills operated by a prominent Native American sachem named Weequehela which developed into a major industrial complex in the years preceeding the American Revolution.

Little was known of this history, with only scattered and incomplete memories forming the basis for understanding Spotswood’s past. The primary responsibilities of an historian are to be accurate and thorough. Too much folklore has been accepted as history, and the result is that the beauty and eloquence of the truth has been obscured by needless embellishments. One immediate example is the ongoing assertion that Spotswood was founded in 1685 by James Johnston. This piece of folklore is due to the misinterpretation of some letters written by him. Spotswood, as a place name for the village, does not appear until the mid-18th century. Prior to that, it was usually referred to as Johnston’s Mills. Even Weequehela’s amazing legacy was corrupted into a handed-down story which claimed him to be a "half-breed" named McQueely.

In 1727 Weequehela was found guilty of murdering a local colonist, John Leonard, and was executed in Perth Amboy. A portion of his extensive plantation was claimed by Leonard’s widow and sold, while the remaining lands were deeded away in 1739. The land encompassed two-and-a half miles of the Manalapan and South River waterway, future site of subsequent industries.

The story of the Spotswood Mills centers on the South River watershed in southern Middlesex County, New Jersey. The South River is a major tributary to the Raritan River of central New Jersey, flowing into the latter just before it enters Raritan Bay, which forms part of the New York harbor. Throughout history, the South River and Raritan estuaries have provided easy transportation for people living and working in the area. From Native American trading activities at the Roundabout of Edison and Sayreville, to Revolutionary War whaleboat warriors to ship captains plying lumber and produce to New York, these rivers have been important resources.

The South River is formed in present-day Spotswood, by the confluence of the Matchaponix and Manalapan Rivers. Both streams originate in Monmouth County, flow past what was the Spotswood Patent in present-day Manalapan Township and include numerous smaller streams that played important roles in the industrial development of this region. Industrial activities included grist mills, saw mills, paper mills, and in the 19th and 20th centuries, tobacco and snuff mills. One prominent stream name that appears many times is Indian Brook (later, in the 19th century it is called Gulf Brook) which flows into the Spotswood Mill Pond, now DeVoe Lake, on its southerly shore. Spotswood Avenue crosses this brook at what was historically Couhouses Bridge, and later the Slab Bridge.

This work reviews the development of three distinct sets of mills located in the Spotswood area. They are from west to east, or as the Manalapan flows, Swin Forge, Outcalt’s Mill, and the Spotswood Mills. The Manalapan in this area was first used to power two saw mills operated by an important Indian sachem, Weequehela. His life bridged the time period from the meager colonization of New Jersey by the Proprietors in the late 1600s, to the ever expanding colonial population witnessed just before his death in 1727. His plantation and mills were the key reference points for deeds and surveys for the next fifty years.

Weequehela’s saw mills were located at what was to become Outcalt’s Mill and the Spotswood Mills. Swin Forge was established in the 1760s and was located near Old Forge Road in the Helmetta and Monroe area. By the 1770s, Swin Forge had passed into history, while the site of Weequehela’s upper saw mill was re-activated by the 1820s in the form of Outcalt’s Mill, which in turn eventually became the site of a physical health community at the turn of the 20th century. The lower saw mill of Weequehela became, first Johnston’s Mills, then Corne’s in the 1760s, and for a time just prior to the Revolution, Penkridge Forge operated by the impressive commercial firm of Perry, Hayes and Sherbrooke. Unfortunately for this firm, the two principals lived in England during the Revolution and Sherbrooke was an active Loyalist. The extensive property was confiscated and sold during the war, but was the subject of litigation and claims for the next twenty years. Finally, by 1796, the property was auctioned off for the last time and purchased by local businessmen who transformed the mill seat into a center of snuff manufacturing. By the 1920s, the mills were in ruins and the memory of the Indian and colonial history of the site was a vague and confused recollection.

For continuity, the three mill sites will be referred to by their historic names, Swin Forge, Weequehela’s Upper Saw Mill - later Outcalt’s, and Weequehela’s Lower Saw Mill - later the Spotswood Mills.

Closeup of 1685 Map of Raritan River area by John Reid

John Reid’s Map of the Raritan, Millstone and South Rivers, ca. 1685.

Surveyor for the Board of East Jersey Proprietors, Reid was rewarded for this work with a grant of land on the Hop[e] River in Monmouth County which he named Hortencie. The South River is at the center, with its two main tributaries coming together at what would become the Village of Spotswood by the 1750s. The Indian sachem Weequehela sold land at the headwaters of the Manalapan and Millstone Rivers to Reid.

Prior to English settlement of this region, the Roundabout peninsular along the Raritan River, was an important rendezvous for Native Americans and colonists in the late 17th century.

When Reid made this map, the Manalapan, Matchaponix, and similar streams were still the residence of Delaware Indians, including Weequehela.  At the time, there were Indian settlements at present-day Princeton, Cranbury, and Spotswood and elsewhere.  The last Indian claims to these lands were given up by treaty in 1758.

The village of Spotswood would take root at the confluence of the Manalapan and Matchaponix only after Johnston's mill was established there by the 1740s.  Prior to that time, the Manalapan provided water power for a series of mills beginning with two operated by the sachem, Weequehela.

Confusion as to the name of Spotswood comes from two sources.  The first is that early Proprietor James Johnston wrote letters with the name Spotswood; this was referring to his home in Scotland.  Secondly, there was a tract named Spotswood as depicted on the Reid Map.  It was a tract located in Monmouth County and it is from this land grant that the names of three streams were identified:  Spotswood North Brook (now McGelliards), Spotswood Middle Brook (now the Weamaconk) and Spotswood South Brook (now Wemrock).  These streams are located in Manalapan Township.


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For more information:
Native American Historical Research


For information on the Bethel Indian Mission on the Manalapan

For information on the Indian Company of 1778

For information on the Gnadenhutten Massacre (including Jersey Indians)