Spotswood, NJ History

The Johnstons

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

1781 map of Middlesex County by John Hills. Even at this late date, Johnston's name still appears.

From Leonard To Johnston

& the early formation of Spotswood Village

The disposal of John Leonard’s estate is well documented in the records at the New Jersey State Archives. Page after page describe his various business interests throughout central New Jersey and his wife, Margaret is the executrix of his estate. From the period of 1727, the time of Leonard’s death, to 1731, there is no record of what was happening with his property. We do know that John Leonard and John White were partners in a saw mill located at the Spotswood site. To formalize the land transfer, Samuel Leonard, owner of the Great Tract, sold to John White on April 9, 1731, a substantial portion of that tract (East Jersey Deeds, K p. 295). White, in turn, sold it to the Johnston brothers on April 21.

1731 Estate of John LeonardNJ State Archives, E-2, p. 350-57

John Johnston, Blacksmith of South River & wife Margaret (widow of John Leonard), sell back one-half share of saw mill to John White. This record includes a letter explaining the transaction to brother Samuel Leonard, owner and operator of Ducks Nest mill on nearby Tennents Creek.

April 21, 1731 John White transfers the whole property to John Johnston and Andrew Johnston. From this point on, it becomes known as Johnston’s Mills. The metes and bounds were:

Beginning where the South River parts in two

1. running up the Manapalan 40 ch on a straight line

2. south to the road that leads to Couhouses Bridge at the foot of Burnt Meadow

3. along said road easterly to the place where the road that leads from the saw mill to Couhauses bridge as aforesaid parts in three

4. thence on a straight line to where it began.


In 1736, Andrew Johnston, with others, acting as executors of the last will and testament of John Johnston, provided that his interest in the same property go to Lewis Johnston (another brother).

Note: White's Landing, located near the South River Bridge, may be the point where transshipment of goods occurred from the mill seat to the South River by way of the road once connecting both points south of the South River, across the Matchaponix (see 1850 map on page six). John White is listed in the NJ State Archives as a ship's captain, just as Capt. John Leonard was considered a ship's captain.

Another place name we may be able to connect historically is the Couhouses Bridge mentioned above. This bridge is the crossing on present-day Spotswood Road across the brook which empties the Burnt Meadow into DeVoe Lake. In the 18th century, the brook was known as Indian Brook, and in the 19th century as Gulf Brook. The bridge was later called the Slab Bridge. Couhouses may be a version of Quainheetquas, which was the home of Weequehela referred to in several of his deeds.

The Johnstons mentioned here are members of the illustrious Dr. John Johnston family of Perth Amboy during the Proprietary period. From Whitehead’s History of Perth Amboy we learn:

In 1684, James and in 1685 John Johnstone, brothers, arrived in the province from Scotland. The first, settled in Monmouth County, near the present site of Spotswood - to which is it presumed he gave its name, as he had resided in Spotswoode in Scotland…

The presumption made by Whitehead is incorrect. While there was a Spotswood tract laid out on Reid’s map of 1685 in Monmouth County, with the three local streams named the Spotswood North, Middle and South Brooks, it was not settled by James Johnston. In his letters found in the Model of the Government of the Province of East New Jersey, published in 1685, there is the direct and affirmative statement by James Johnston that his plantation was at the Blew Hills, now better known as the Watchungs. He wrote his brother from there in March, 1684. Neither James, nor John owned land in the Manalapan River area at this time.

Credit should be given to his nephews Andrew and Lewis, who bought the mill stand on the Manalapan in 1731, and who provided the transition between Indian ownership to the more successful milling operations of Ten Eick, Corne and finally, Perry, Hayes & Sherbrooke. It was likely the influence of the Johnston brothers that led to the naming of the locale as Spotswood.

The Johnston brothers, John (1691-1732), Andrew (1694-1762), and Lewis (1704-1773), all played significant roles in colonial New Jersey, keeping in the tradition of their esteemed father, Dr. John Johnston, the immigrant (who lived at Scotschester in Monmouth County). Andrew Johnston knew Weequehela, as the Sachem had sold property to his father in 1702. The Johnstons bought the land along the South River and Manalapan waterways in 1739, adding to substantial property in the area granted to their father in 1701. Andrew was a close associate of Charles Read, the iron master of Burlington County, and was also an Indian Commissioner who helped to negotiate with the remaining Delaware Indians of New Jersey in the 1750s. His brother John had a son, also named John, who became a colonel in the New Jersey Regiment during the colonial wars, and was killed at Niagara in 1758. During the French & Indian War, the Jersey Blues contained a large number of Delaware Indians from the Bethel mission. Twenty of this Native American warriors were killed or captured at the fall of Fort William Henry in 1757. These facts underscore the intricate network of associations amongst the colonists and the original inhabitants of the land.


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)