European Arrival


On March 12, 1664, King Charles II granted the land now known as New Jersey to his brother, James, the Duke of York. On June 24, 1664, James gave the territory called East Jersey to Sir George Carteret, governor of the Channel Island of Jersey. The territory became English on September 7, 1664 when the Dutch surrendered New Amsterdam. Carteret authorized a plan called "Concessions and Agreements," intended to open Jersey to Puritan land speculators from New England and Long Island. Later in September 1664, Puritan Associates purchased the territory known as the Elizabethtown Purchase, and the deed was confirmed on December 1, 1664. On December 11, 1666, New England associates agreed to purchase the southern section of this purchase which extended from the Rahway River to the Raritan River and west including all of the present day townships of Woodbridge and Piscataway and the City of Perth Amboy. In December 1667, a confirmatory deed for accommodating the town of Woodbridge was issued. Woodbridge Township was chartered on June 1, 1669.

There are conflicting stories as to the origins of the name "Woodbridge" for the settlement. One theory holds it was named in honor of Rev. John Woodbridge (right; 1613-1696), one of the original European colonists of Massachusetts. Another theory claims settlers chose the name after a market town in Suffolk, England, where some had originally been from. One story claims Rev. Woodbridge arrived with five men - John Pike, Hopewell Hull, John Martin, Charles Gilman, and John Gilman - who built five wood cabins and an octagonal-shaped meeting house and church on what they called Kirk Green, "kirk" being a Scots word for a church. It is presumed Woodbridge returned to New England. This was on the land now occupied by the First Presbyterian Church of Woodbridge Township.

Setting Boundaries

1669 Towne Charter

Lord Carteret (right, c.1610-1680) shared interest in New Jersey with Lord John Berkeley (left, 1602-1678). In December 1667, a confirmatory deed for the accommodating of the town now called Woodbridge was issued. It was signed by Daniel Pierce, John Pike and Abraham Tappen and associates, Pierce’s son Joshua, Obadiah Ayers, Thomas Bloomfield, Elisha Parker, Richard Worth, John Whitaker, Robert Van Quellen, John Bishop, Henry Jacques, and Hugh Marsh, of Newbury; Steven Kent, of Haverhill; Robert Dennis, of Yarmouth; and John Smith, of Barnstable - all from Massachusetts. On June 1, 1669, an association of Proprietors led by Daniel Pierce received a private charter for a portion of their land grant with the charge of settling at least sixty families and incorporating the Towne of Woodbridge. The original bounds of the town were set as Piscataway, Elizabethtown, the Arthur Kill, and Raritan River. A government of freeholders would collect rents, set up courts, select militia leaders and ministers, set up a free school, etc. 

Colonial Woodbridge

Dunham's Grist Mill

As Woodbridge settlers became a community, individuals with specific skills established businesses to serve the needs of their neighbors, creating a local economy. Johnathan Dunham (1640-1704), for example, built New Jersey's first grist mill. Born in Massachusetts, his original last name was Singletary. He and his wife, Mary Bloomfield, (an ancestor of later NJ Governor Joseph Bloomfield) migrated to Woodbridge. There he changed his name to Dunham, possibly due to discovering he was an heir of the Dunham family. He was granted 213 acres in Woodbridge, where he built a grist mill. He later received 203 more acres and was a landowner in New Jersey and Massachusetts. He served as the Clerk of the Woodbridge Township Court and overseer of highways, and in 1673 he was elected to the New Jersey Provincial Congress.

Large grist mills were important to local farmers, providing a better way of grinding their corn into meal and grain into flour. Dunham constructed his mill in 1670, using the flowing waters of Papiak Creek as a power source. So important was his mill to the area that the town agreed to pay him £30 to improve it and all the sod from the meadows he needed to construct a dam.

The Dunham family's prominence in Woodbridge is reflected by the fine two-story, four room home his youngest son, Benjamin, constructed near the mill. It was built around 1709 of brick imported from Holland and used as ballast in ships. The distinctive checkerboard pattern visible on the first and second floors of the façade were created by using Flemish (or Dutch) bond bricklaying techniques. The house was subsequently added onto but still stands. Benjamin Dunham became a founding member of Woodbridge's Trinity Episcopal Church in 1703 and the house became their rectory in 1873. While the mill is no longer standing, one of the millstones is on display outside the house.

Jonathan Dunham is the eighth great-grandfather of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. He is also the first of Obama’s Dunham ancestors to be born in America.

New Jersey's First Print Shop

James Parker

James Parker was born in Woodbridge in 1714, the second of four boys and two girls of Samuel and Jana Parker. When Samuel died in 1725, Jana sought apprenticeships for her boys. James was indentured for 8 years to William Bradford (1719-1791), a pioneering printer from Philadelphia who had resettled in New York as that city’s chief printer and who established The New-York Gazette newspaper. But by April of 1733, with only 21 months remaining in the apprenticeship, Bradford advertised the remaining indenture for sale–he evidently didn’t have enough work to keep the 19-year-old Parker busy. Rather than allow this to happen, and feeling confident in his skills, Parker joined the ranks of the runaway apprentices. He ended up working in the shop of Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia until 1742, when he returned to New York and made amends with Bradford. With Franklin as a silent partner, he set up his own print shop in Manhattan and would replace Bradford as the city's government and crown printer. His newspaper, The New-York Gazette or The Weekly Post-Boy (right) became the city's newspaper of record. 

During the 1740s, James Parker became embroiled in several controversies over items he had printed for anonymous clients. Since only his name was known as the printer, the colonial government threatened him. In one instance, Benjamin Franklin interceded to have him freed from jail. Parker printed periodicals for "The Triumvirate," a trio of anonymous young lawyers lead by future NJ Governor William Livingston and who were critical of New York's colonial government.

As a favor to Benjamin Franklin—who he called "my Patron"—he established a print shop for him at New Haven and started the Connecticut Gazette, the colony's first newspaper. Around 1751 or 1752, he returned to Woodbridge, leaving the New York and New Haven shops with business partners. There, he set up the colony's first permanent print shop. 

Up to the 1750s, it had been illegal to have a printing press in New Jersey. Colonial authorities understood the press could be used to support dissent and wished to control information. Presses had only been set up temporarily twice before to print money that, by law, had to be printed in the colony. In 1723, William Bradford came to Perth Amboy to print currency for East Jersey and, in 1728, Samuel Keimer and Benjamin Franklin came from Philadelphia to Burlington to print the same for West Jersey. In both cases, they removed their presses when the job was done. The inconvenience of having to go to New York or Philadelphia to have government materials published finally ended the prohibition and James Parker opened his print shop in his native Woodbridge - the first permanent establishment in the colony. As the provincial and crown printer, his presses produced a wide variety of items: collections of laws, proclamations, paper currency (right), lottery tickets, etc. He also started the New American Magazine which ran from 1758 to 1760. Edited by Samuel Neville in neighboring Perth Amboy, it was the first periodical published in NJ.

The best evidence suggests that Parker had his print shop in the area of where St. James Roman Catholic School now stands, at the south corner of Amboy Avenue and Grove Street. He inherited property from his father and added more of his own. He held land roughly from modern Grove Street south to the NJ Turnpike and from Amboy Avenue west to Route 9.

Benjamin Franklin Visits

A Special Dinner

In addition to being a printer and publisher, James Parker held several public positions in Middlesex County: Justice on the Court of Common Pleas, Militia Captain of a Troop of Horse, Postmaster, etc. When Benjamin Franklin left the Colonies in 1757 to represent Pennsylvania business in England, he named Parker as his replacement as the Secretary and Comptroller for all the North American postal system.

Later, in 1763, as Deputy Post Master General for the American Northern Colonies, Franklin undertook a five month long tour inspecting the postal system. He used this as an excuse to visit and stay with friends throughout the colonies, including his old friend, business partner, and postal official, James Parker. On June 9, 1763, Franklin and his daughter Sarah (right-left; nicknamed "Sally," 1743-1808) came to the Woodbridge home of James and Mary Parker for dinner. Also present was the Parker's son, Samuel Franklin Parker—his middle name was in honor of Benjamin Franklin—and their daughter Jane, who was good friends with Sally. Franklin's son, William, (1730-1813; right-right) also attended, with his wife, Elizabeth. William had recently been named Royal Governor of New Jersey. They had taken up residence at the Proprietary House in neighboring Perth Amboy.

Aside from the presence of such an illustrious guest as Benjamin Franklin, this dinner stands out for another reason. Royal Governor William Franklin remained a Loyalist during the Revolution and was arrested by a Patriot militia brigade commanded by General Nathaniel Heard (1730-1792). Among the men in Heard's Brigade was Samuel Franklin Parker. The contrast between these two moments in their lives reflects how much America—and Woodbridge—had changed in a generation.