Spotswood, NJ History

The Leonards

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Samuel Leonard's Great Tract at what would become Spotswood Village

History is a web of interconnecting strands, linking people and places over time. An example of that linkage between Spotswood and iron forges, and of Weequehela to the industrial development of the area is the story of the Leonard Family.

The first Leonards to New Jersey were James and Henry who came from the iron district of Massachusetts to New Jersey to assist in the operation of Colonel Lewis Morris’s iron works at Tinton Falls, Monmouth County. For the purpose of linking Weequehela to the Leonards, the following genealogical information is reprinted. The lineage goes from Henry Leonard of Massachusetts, to son Samuel, to his sons Henry, John, Samuel, James and Thomas.


The Leonard Family In New Jersey

Compiled By 0. B. Leonard, Plainfield, N.J.

From The Monmouth Inquirer Nov. 8 And 15, 1883.

This sketch will embrace only the line of descent from Henry Leonard through his son Samuel, 1645- 1703.

Henry Leonard

Henry Leonard, brother of James, of Taunton, was born in England, about 1618, and came to Massachusetts 1645-50. He was engaged in the manufacture of iron at Lynn during the year 1650, at Taunton in 1656, and at Rowley Village 1668, and subsequently. While at Lynn he became married, and had the following children: Samuel, Nathaniel, Thomas, Henry. John, Sarah and Mary. He was engaged only a short time at Lynn in the bloomery, established there by a wealthy company with John Winthrop at its head. In 1652, the leading pioneer citizens of Taunton, discovering large deposits of bog ore in that locality, and hearing of the reputation of the Leonard brothers as ‘‘skilled hammers-men, bloomers and refiners of iron," in a public meeting "voted to invite them to come hither and join certain inhabitants to set up a bloomery." A company was organized and at once commenced to build the works, which in those days required several years to complete. And in 1656, Henry Leonard and his brother James ware at Taunton, occupied in their favorite business pursuits. James remained here nearly twenty years, but Henry went back to Lynn for a short time. In 1668 he was at work at Rowley with his sons, Nathaniel, Thomas and Samuel, getting them fairly acquainted with the business. He then went to Canton, near Boston, to aid in starting an iron works there, and after returning to assist his boys for awhile again, he left them to carry out a further contract with the owners of the Rowley works while he went to East Jersey, where reports stated the iron ore was found in much greater quantity, and of much better quality. This was about 1674-5 when he moved to New Jersey, in the vicinity of Middletown and Shrewsbury where it is supposed he lived the remainder of his life, engaged in the favorite business of working in iron at the extensive mills of Lewis Morris...

He bought a piece of property on the Fall river (Pine Brook), a branch of the Navesink, in Monmouth County, and the date of his title for this tract from the Indians was April 11, 1676. By a commission from the governor, Philip Carteret, February 4, 1678, Henry Leonard, with his son Samuel and others, were given exclusive authority to capture and kill whales and other fish in the sea and harbor off the cost of East New Jersey from Barnegat northward to Sandy Hook. The last days of Henry Leonard (who may he considered the paternal ancestor of the Leonards in New Jersey) were lived in the midst of troublesome times, when the inhabitants of the province were without any recognized government, except the local magistrates of the several Townships. He died about 1695, leaving a worthy successor in his son Samuel, to hand the name down to posterity, a statement which may no doubt be made of his other sons when additional family links are furnished for a complete genealogical chain.

Henry’s sons, Samuel, Nathaniel and Thomas, continued the iron business as before stated at Rowley village, Mass., for a few years after their father’s removal to New Jersey, under a contract with "ye owners of ye iron works," which was dated April 6, 1674. But probably within three years the sons gave up this contract, the two older ones moving to this State [New Jersey], and Thomas going to Virginia, where he married and settled for a while. Of the other children mentioned, nothing definite is recorded about Henry and Mary, who are supposed to have died in Mass., when quite young. John is reported to have married Anna Allmey of Rhode Island and moved to North Carolina, where his stay was said to be transient. Sarah went to New Jersey, and became the wife of Job Throckmorton, of Middletown, being married to him February 2, 1684.

Samuel Leonard

Samuel Leonard, son of Henry, from Massachusetts, was born about 1645, married Sarah Brooks, and moved to New Jersey 1675-6. He had Sons Henry, John, Samuel, Jr., James and Thomas, and a daughter, known afterwards as Mrs. Walker. He was a resident at Middletown. N. J., 1678, and deeded to Lewis Morris, Nov. 16, 1679, the Monmouth Indian tract which he had received from his father in the previous March. [On] June 25, 1689, he bought 200 acres on Manasquan river, of Indian owners, and in November of the same year took title for same lands from the proprietors of E. N. J. In 1691 he was appointed by the court as their majesty’s attorney, March 1, 1692, he received a commission as "Captain of a good company," and on the 16th of September, same year, was appointed by Gov Hamilton "High Sheriff" of Middletown." [On] July 6, 1693 he took deed from the East Jersey Proprietors for a tract of land at Colts Neck, Monmouth County. He quitclaimed in 1693 by deed dated Oct. 1, to his brothers, Nathaniel 100 acres, Thomas 80 acres, and Henry 50 acres. In 1697, he refused to assume the office of King’s Attorney, and was ordered to pay a fine of forty shillings or be committed to jail. He was chosen Justice of the Peace, and is named as the Judge of the Court of Sessions. One meeting of which was held at Shrewsbury, before whom a trial was had on the 27th of Aug., 1700, where John Leonard was a Grand Juror, and Henry Leonard a complainant against an unruly party for assaulting him, a County officer, and the Sheriff of Monmouth, and wresting their swords from them.

Samuel Leonard served as a member of the Governor’s Council during the turbulent condition of colonial affairs from 1700-1702. On the surrender of the proprietary government of East New Jersey to the royal authorities at this time, Queen Anne appointed him November 16, 1702 one of the first council under the new administration, with Lord Cornbury as Governor, but he died before the commission arrived in this country, which was July 29, 1703. So extended was the prevailing disorder in provincial affairs, that this vacancy in the council was not filled till 1706. For his time, Samuel Leonard became one of the largest land owners in Monmouth County, and because of this qualification and his controlling influence over disturbing elements in society during many years of settled government in the colony, he was entrusted with the administration of justice in the County, and appointed one of the councilors to the Governor. His name occurs on the register of deeds, at Trenton, as grantor in no less than forty-five transfers of landed titles extending from 1685 to 1700-2, the year previous to his death.

It was thought by many of the land owners that if the government by the proprietors was surrendered to the Crown, they should be exempt from paying to the proprietors the required quit rent. Under date of March 26, 1700, William Penn wrote a letter to Samuel Leonard on this subject, as follows:-William Penn to Samuel Leonard, March 26, l700: "Tis a vanity in any to think they can vacate their quit rents by offering ye which is none of theirs to give, viz , ye government. I was ever for taking what I could get, knowing yt 1/2 a loaf is better than no bread, and if the proprietors would persuaded by me yt am also a proprietor, it should be to concur wth ye proprietors in their Gov’t, and by an easy and engaging way to draw from m what privileges or benefits they wanted and the Gov’t could graunt without any notable damage to their interest."

Sons of Samuel Leonard:

Henry Leonard

Son of Samuel, was born in Massachusetts about 1668, and came to New Jersey with his father in 1675-6. His name first appears on the public register of deeds at Trenton, Oct. 4, 1693, when he takes title from the proprietors of East New Jersey for 170 acres at Colts Neck in Monmouth County. Again July 14, 1703, he received a deed for a plot of land from John Reid, deputy surveyor, bordering on Swimming river, near his brother Samuel’s property. Here his saw mill is mentioned in 1710. Governor Hunter commissioned him Nov. 25, 1711, as High Sheriff of Monmouth. In 1732 he is recommended by Governor Morris for one of the council, "being a rich churchman and possessing one of ye best estates." His name occurs as a charter member of Christ Church at Shrewsbury, in 1738. A transcript of his last will is found in Liber C. folio 317, in the office of the Prerogative Court at Trenton, dated Shrewsbury, April 1739, during the summer of which year he died. The will records his wife’s name as Lydia, and his children Samuel, Captain Henry, Thomas, Sarah, Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Susannah and Parthenia Cook. Samuel, his son, lived in Shrewsbury Township, his will recorded under date of November 14, 1742, and proved July 13, 1743, mentioning his wife Elizabeth, and sons Joseph and Thomas. Captain Henry executed his will November 4, 1759, in which his wife’s name is mentioned as Euphame Arrabella, with children Robert Morris, Henry and Susannah. He died 1761, the year his will was probated.

[Henry’s son Thomas became a noted Loyalist during the American Revolution and his property along Lahaway Creek, near Crosswicks Creek in Upper Freehold Township, was confiscated. This Thomas Leonard has been confused by historians as the son of John Leonard, his uncle. This family connection is confirmed by the will of his uncle Judge Thomas Leonard, of Princeton, and the Loyalist Claim of Major Thomas Leonard, the subject of this editorial note.]

John Leonard

Son of Samuel, was born about 1670. He settled in Monmouth County, and owned land near Spotswood, on South River, where in the Spring of 1728 [7], be died from a fatal shot by a distinguished Indian. It is recorded in Smith’s History of New Jersey, that "Captain John Leonard having purchased a cedar swamp of some Indians, to which a rich Indian owning adjacent lands, laid claim, and Leonard refusing to take title for it from him, this wealthy neighbor resented it highly, and shot him in the day time while walking in his garden near his house." His wife’s name was Elizabeth, and his children John [a resident of Freehold during the American Revolution, he was declared a Loyalist, and his property confiscated.] and Sarah (Tindall).

Note: This account has his wife as being named Elizabeth. Probate and land records indicate that his wife's name was Margaret, either a form of Elizabeth or the name of a second wife. She married John Johnston, blacksmith, of South River, about 1729 after her first husband's death in 1727. John Leonard is noted as being a Captain, and his ship was recorded several times during this period leaving Perth Amboy for outbound ports.

John Leonard died intestate, and his widow served as executrix. Probate records at the New Jersey State Archives include a detailed accounting of John Leonard’s financial and business dealings. For example, he and his brother James operated a public house at the South River bridge as early as 1717. In 1723, a flood destroyed the bridge, and John Leonard rebuilt it at his own expense. His widow later sought compensation for this expenditure from the Middlesex County Freeholders (see below), who were in-turn, authorized by the Provincial authorities to levy a special tax to repay the widow. From these records, we learn that John Leonard’s house and the rebuilt South River Bridge were at the original crossing of the South River, on the High Road, which is present-day Matawan Road in East Brunswick.

Whereas the Bridge on the post road over South river was in August 1723 Carried away by a great flood of water, which Rendered the Road almost Impassable and the Justices & Freeholders omitting to repair the Same my Deceased husband John Leonard Did on his own Cost and Charge Erect & build another Bridge over Said River Not Doubting but being Repaid at General Charge of this County, however it being hitherto Neglected Pray you will at this meeting if you Should think it Reasonable order that the money Levied on the County for to Defray the charge Expended by him of Building the same and you will oblige your his Said [remainder cut off]

Samuel Leonard, Jr.

Son of Samuel, was born about the time his father moved to East Jersey, (1676). After his marriage he settled at Amboy. There his name is first recorded as Alderman in the original charter of incorporation from Governor Hunter, in 1718, for the City of Perth Amboy. In 1721-22 he was elected to the Eighth Assembly under Governor Burnet, and in 1741 was appointed a member of Governor Morris’ Council. The same year he was chosen one of a committee of five from East Jersey to agree with the Proprietors of the Western division, upon running a new partition line between the two provinces. He was again elected to the Assembly from his district from 1743-46, the year that Gov. Morris died. In 1755 he served as Commissioner of Highways of Middlesex and Somerset counties. He died in the early part of 1758 leaving a will which is recorded in Liber F. of wills, page 589, dated April 2, 1754, with codicils, February 7 and April 30, 1757. His estate was very valuable both personal and real, which he bequeathed mostly to his wife Anne, and five daughters, all of whom were married, viz: Mary Berrien. Rachel Sargent, Ann Lawrence, Sarah Billop and Elizabeth Goelet. He had no male issue. His widow died 1761, whose will, made under date of August 1, 1758, is recorded at Trenton in Liber H, folio 9.

[Samuel owned extensive tracts of land along the Manalapan, Matchaponix and South River waterways. His "Great Tract" encompassed the area south of these waterways in the Spotswood area, and his saw mill was known as Duck's Nest at Tennents (originally Tenants) Creek, now Jernee Mill in present-day Old Bridge Township. All of the Leonard brothers owned tracts in this area.]

James Leonard

Next to the youngest son of Samuel, born about 1680. He was a favorite of his brother, Judge Thomas, and settled in the same locality (Stony Brook). In 1724, he is said to have built the first frame dwelling house in the place then, for the first time called Princeton. His son, Whitehead, born the next year was the first white child born there after the new name was affixed to the settlement. His other children’s names were Thomas, James, Daniel, Sarah and John, who was a minor in 1755, at which date the father was dead. Whitehead was born 1725, died 1768, had children, Lucy, Charity and Mary. Thomas was born 1728, died 1769, had children, Thomas, Parmelia and Charity. James, the third son, was born at Princeton 1730 and died 1787. He had two Sons, Whitehead, born about 1765, who went to Kentucky and settled, and John, born August 17, 1763, who lived at Kingston, and married Mary Oliver, of Rahway, August 19, 1790; the male children of this union were James Leonard, born November 25, 1796. and John, born 1799, died 1835; the daughters were Netty Field and Juliet, who died young, and Cornelia H., who died 1869, aged 76 years. James, who was born in 1796, lived to be 80 years old, and during his early boyhood went to Plainfield, and 1805 married Mary Webster. By this marriage eight children were born, of whom there are three living at this date (1883): Cornelia 13. William James and Oliver [author of this article].

Thomas Leonard

Thomas Leonard, son of Samuel, was born 1685, the youngest of the family. He first appears in public life, a married man, about 1710-12, and settles at Princeton, where during the latter date, he was appointed Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, which office he also filled afterwards in Somerset and Hunterdon counties. Being well educated for those times with a natural tendency to legal pursuits, and possessing an enterprising public spirit, he soon won the confidence of the oldest settlers, and acquired for himself one of the largest and most valuable estates in New Jersey. His royal commission as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas from King George, in 1725, was well merited and ably executed, for over twenty-five years. This gave him a varied and extended experiences in administering the laws, which admirably qualified him for the repeated and almost continuous service of forty years as legislator, to which he was chosen by the people.

Beginning in 1718, a member of Governor Hunter’s Council, his active public life extended through every successive administration as Councilor or Assemblyman till his last illness in 1758. He was especially prominent as a member of the Colonial Legislature during Governor Burnet’s administration, and was influential in having a law passed for increasing the circulating medium of Province, at that time almost, entirely drained of metallic currency. By an Act of the Assembly, 1721, there was authorized an issue of forty thousand pounds, in bills from one shilling to three pounds in value, to be loaned to the inhabitants and secured by pledges on real estate at five per cent per annum. This amount increased in 1730, by another issue of twenty thousand pounds, was apportioned to the different counties and made a legal tender for debts. In 1738, Judge Leonard was appointed, under Governor Morris, a Loan Commission for Somerset County, for the distribution of its quota of this issue, and the cancellation of outstanding bills of credit of the first series.

As a gentleman of intelligence, wealth and influence, Judge Leonard exercised all these sources of power for the good of his State, and perhaps in no more conspicuous and beneficial way was his controlling character publicly manifested than the important part he took in the early history of Princeton College. He was one of the original corporators named in the charter of the college when founded, in 1746, at Elizabethtown, and was qualified as a trustee, October 13, 1748. While other interested parties were endeavoring to establish the institution elsewhere in New Jersey, the Judge was preeminently influential in securing the college at Princeton. This he accomplished in a very practical and substantial manner; being one of three to subscribe 1,000 proclamation money, and obtain ten acres of cleared land and two hundred acres of wooded land which was a necessary requirement made by the trustees in determining the permanent location of the institution at any one place. He was one of four prominent citizens to solicit further subscriptions for the college, and being chosen, in 1752, chairman of the building committee, was present and assisted in laying the corner stone of old Nassau Hall, July 29, 1754, superintending afterward the erection of the building.

Judge Leonard’s fortune was of great extent, embracing several valuable plantations and many well developed farms located in Monmouth, Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, houses and lots nearly a score, situated at Princeton, Kingston, Amboy and Trenton, besides grist mills, saw mills and copper mines in this State, a coal mine in North Carolina, and other valuable property. As appears by his will (on record in the office of the Prerogative Court at Trenton, Liber No. 10 of wills, folio 1), the Judge bequeathed these estates to the male descendants of his brothers and after the name of Leonard ceased to be, to the female lineage, preferring the male to the female heirs, thereby entailing the property to an indefinite time. On account of these numerous land claims, extending from Raritan Bay to the Delaware, it is said more copies of this will are required than any other...

[A] local historian states further the following facts concerning his life: "We find Judge Leonard with his wife Susannah as "of Stony Brook" (the name of the Princeton settlement at that time) conveying by deed dated 1711 to Henry Prince 200 acres adjoining his other lands on the north and east. In 1716 he and his wife joined with Richard Stockton in a deed to B. Johnson for 550 acres along the Stony Brook. He sold in 1722 to John Van Horne 610 acres on the Millstone River. He soon became one of the largest land holders in the neighborhood, and owned a great deal of property elsewhere in the State. When he entered public life he bore the military title of Colonel. Though twice married be left no children. His second wife was Abigail Doughty, a widow with three daughters. He died in 1759, seized of a very large estate and his will, dated 1755-57, which is unusually long, throws much light upon the character and family of the testator. His residence at the time of his death was the brick dwelling (more recently known as the Nassau Hotel), which he built in 1756 of imported Holland brick. We have not learned where Judge Leonard was buried; but suppose it was in the Quaker burying ground at Stony Brook, though no monument is erected to his memory and his grave is unknown."

John Leonard's License to operate a tavern at the South River Bridge (now Old Bridge Village)

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)