Mount Holly, NJ”
The English colonists who arrived on the "Kent" settled Burlington in the autumn of 1677, but several years elapsed before any of the pioneers branched out into the surrounding wilderness.
The distinction of being the first white settler in the vicinity of Mt. Holly belongs to an Englishman who sailed up the Rancocas, Walter Reeves. He may have purchased land from the Indians, but was probably a squatter. Summarizing many years of research shortly before his death H.C. Campion, of Swarthmore, PA., wrote: "He (Walter Reeves) was living on the south side of the north branch of the Rancocas Creek before the Friends made a settlement in Burlington in 1677 . . . I am inclined to believe he may have come from the West Indies."(a).
Reeves married about 1670. His first wife, Susannah . ., died before 1682, as in November of that year he married Ann Howell "in open court." He had many difficulties with his neighbors, usually over boundaries, and "appears to have been a very plainspoken and independent man."
Campion Employed a title searcher for several years, but the exact location of the Reeves farm, situated slightly more than a mile and a half west of Mt. Holly, has not been discovered. A resurvey made for Walter Reeves, Jr. in 1742, found difficulty in determining boundaries. Among named owners of adjoining lands were:
A bill of lading, preserved at Trenton, reveals that in April, 1691, Reeves exported beef, cheese and flour from his plantation on the Rancocas to Bridge Town in the Barbados on the "Robert and William." He was named constable for Northhampton township in 1692, but tradition relates that he declined to serve. He died between May 16, and June 18, 1698.
The descendants of his ten children followed the advancing frontier to the Pacific, and are found in every state in the Union except Main and Mississippi.(b).
Settlers from Burlington who penetrated as far as the Mount found the site of Mt. Holly an untouched forest of oak, pine and hemlock, intersected by a few Indian trails. The creek abounded with beaver and otter, and bears and wild cats roamed the woods. In May, 1731, the "Pennsylvania Gazette" reported: "There has lately been killed near Mt. Holly in the Jersies, the largest bear that has been known in these parts; his forehead measured two spans wide, his leg above the foot was as big as could well be grasped with both hands. After the skin was off and though exceedingly lean, weighed upward of 300 weight. There was another of the same gigantic size been seen about the same place."(c)
The first owners, after the Indians, of the greater protion of the land occupied by Mt. Holly were John Cripps, a passenger on the "Kent" who died in 1687, his only son, Nathaniel Cripps, and Edward Gaskill. Prior to 1704 Francis Collins acquired a large tract of land south of the Rancocas on Pine Street, including the later sites of the Baptist and St. Andrew's graveyards and the iron works. Many large surveys of land surrounding Mt. Holly have been recorded, but they do not materially concern the town and need not be mentioned. In 1684 Robert Dimsdale surveyed more than 1700 acres extending from the Rancocas at Mt. Holly to the south branch at Lumberton.(d)
John Cripps' survey for 300 acres, recorded April 18, 1681, has been frequently quoted. It reads: "For John Cripps one parcell of land abutting on Rankokus Creek southwards and from a certain white oak there marked with J.C. It stretches itself northeast and by east two hundred eighty-four rodds to a black oak marked J.C., thence northwest two hundred seventy rodds to another black oak marked aforesaid, from which by a south, southwest course, it reaches the said creek againe, through which a swamp where grows a store of holley to a white oak by the creek marked as before, within which tract of land is a mountaine to which the province, east, south and west and north sends a beautiful aspect named by the owner thereof Mount Holly."(e)
The tradition that the "Cripps Oak," at the intersection of Garden and Branch streets, marked the northeast corner of this survey, was refuted some years ago by Benjamin A. Sleeper, of Burlington, on-time Surveyor-General of the West Jersey Proprietors, who stated that the southern boundary was near the present Union Street.(f)
In addition to giving the Mount its name, John Cripps built the first house in Mt. Holly, but its location is unknown. It was probably north of the Mount, and may have stood on the Rogers farm on Wood Lane. Such was the belief of Joseph C. Cowgill, based on verbal statements by aged residents of his time, that an ancient foundation was found on the farm many years earlier when the ground was being cleared for a new barn. Another possible site, at the end of a short lane west from Woodpecker Lane opposite the northern edge of the Mount, is marked on Hills map of 1778. The lane could have been constructed for no other purpose than to lead to a dwelling, but no man can say that John Cripps lived there. A deed from John Schuyler and his wife Mary, who was a daughter of Samuel Cripps, a grandson of John Cripps, to Thomas Butcher, dated in June, 1775, but not recorded in the Burlington county clerk's office until January 18, 1802, recites the title to the Cripps land. The deed refers to 180 acres "less where the friends meeting house now stands and graveyard is, it being formerly conveyed by Samuel Cripps for that use."
William Peachey, "late of England," a passenger on the "Kent," conveyed one-eighth of a proprietary right to John Cripps March 27, 1677. It was surveyed on the north branch of Ancocus creek, and included the Mount. Hannah Salter, of Tantany in Pennsylvania, being seized with John Snowden and John Hooten, of Mansfield, of one-twelfth of a proprietary, conveyed the same to John Cripps, who died about that time and bequeathed his shares to his son Nathaniel. Laurence Morris had surveyed 50 acres adjoining John Cripps original proprietary, out of a right of 100 acres which Morris had purchased from William Peachey. This right was assigned to John Cripps, and inherited by his son, who secured from William Peachey a deed of confirmation for the 100 acres August 3, 1701.
Nathaniel secured 100 more acres from Thomas Budd of Burlington, February 18, 1687, and had them surveyed northeast of the 360 acres secured from Peachey by his father. he also surveyed 180 acres on the south side of Ancocus Creek as a "part of the second dividend or taking up of the one-twelfth part of a proprietary" conveyed to his father by Hannah Salter. He also surveyed 14 more acres adjoining the 100 he had purchased from Thomas Budd. On November 11, 1718, he secured a warrant from the council of proprietors at Burlington to locate 2000 acres of land in West Jersey. A re-survey of his holdings found an overplus of 236 acres within its bounds, which was conveyed to him by the council. Cripps' land began north of the Mount, and extended approximately to Union street, thence by Edward Gaskill's line from the corner of High and Union streets to the creek near the King street bridge, and a considerable distance west. After Water street was surveyed in 1774, the Cripps heirs laid out and sold sundry lots on both sides of the new road, and all the titles in the section of the town named trace back to Nathaniel Cripps.
By his will dated October 9, 1746, Cripps bequeathed small portions of his estate to his children and grandchildren. His son Benjamin was given 60 acres and a "brick house near Bridgetown," perhaps the original dwelling built by John Cripps. The residue of the estate was bequeathed to his son, Samuel. Edward Gaskill owned land in Mt. Holly in 1688. He was a native of Massachusetts, and apparently returned to that state, where he married and remained several years. In 1698 he was living on "Gaskill's Lane," the early name of Wood Lane, near the Friends Meeting House. He died in 1748, and was buried in the Quaker ground not far from his home.(g)
On March 14, 1701, Gaskill and Josiah Southwick purchased, through Samuel Jennings, of Burlington, 871 acres belonging to John Ridges, of London. The partnership was dissolved in 1720, Gaskill retaining the southern portion of the tract, including the land enclosed by the winding of the Rancocas south of Mill street, which became known as "Gaskill's Neck." George DeCou described the Gaskill land as follows: "Union street is the approximate northern line of the Gaskill property, extend Union street in a northeasterly direction a little more than a third of a mile and then draw a line almost due south through the so-called Cripps oak at the intersection of Garden and Branch streets to the Rancocas, east of the loop, and the land enclosed, plus the "Neck" will mark the Gaskill property."(h)
The Friends lot at Main and Garden streets, was part of the Southwick-Gaskill tract. It was conveyed by Gaskill to Thomas Shinn(i) in 1727. The land west of High street, and north of Union, including Water street, was owned by Nathaniel Cripps. East of Main street, Mill and Washington streets, and south to the Rancocas, belonged to Edward Gaskill.
[a] Campion papers, Cape May Historical Society
[b] From "The Reves Family" by Haviland Reves
[c] N.J. Archives
N.J.A. Vol. XXI, p372; Revel, 111. [e] Ibid, 349, Revel, 16
[f] The Historic Rancocas, De Cou, p 66.
[g] Ibid, p 67.
[h] Ibid, p 224.
[i] Thomas Shinn was born at Springfield in 1694 and married Martha Earl in 1718, He was a Justice of the county in 1728, 1730, 1734 and 1738. In 1739 he was appointed Justice of the Quorum, and was a member of the Assembly in 1742, 1743 and 1744. Governor Belcher appointed him Judge of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas of Burlington county in 1749. A prominent Quaker, and owner of many large parcels of land in Bridgetown, he died in 1753. His son Thomas kept the Cross Keys tavern. A third Thomas Shinn, of Evesham, was High Sheriff of Burlington county in 1760 and 1762.