History of Cranbury

Origin of Town Name
Early Landowners
Early History (excerpted from "Images of America -- Cranbury" by Peggy S. and Frank J. Brennan)
Religious History
A really interesting article about a hidden graveyard for Native Americans and slaves and about a Lenape trading post (by Crystal Van Kirk)

Cranberry or Cranbury

There have been many questions about the town's name. We do not know the origin of the Cranberry spelling. The marshy land near the mill site might have grown cranberries, hence the name. On the I8th century maps the name appears as Cranberry and Cranberry Town. In 1857 Rev. Joseph G. Symmes felt the name was incorrectly spelled and suggested it be changed to Cranbury. In Old English "bury" (burh) could be spelled bury, bery, or berry. In 1869 the town and brook were renamed Cranbury. On March 7, 1872 Cranbury Township was officially created and organized as a separate political subdivision of Middlesex County consisting of the village of Cranbury and outlying area, which were then parts of South Brunswick and Monroe Townships.

Cranbury was entered on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on August 9, 1979 and on the National Register of Historic Places on September 18, 1980.

Early Landowners

In 1664 King Charles II of England granted to his brother James, the Duke of York, a vast domain in North America stretching from New York to Delaware, including the land which is now New Jersey. In its earliest days Cranbury was part of the colony of East New Jersey, which was granted to Sir George Carteret by the Duke of York and controlled by a board of twenty-four proprietors, who sold the land in parcels.

One tract, north of Cranberry Brook and west of George's Road (now Main Street) was sold in 1703 to Philip French who, on April 29, 1734, sold it to Noah Burton. (The 1734 deed of sale is preserved in the Cranbury History Center. A copy hangs in the Cranbury Museum.) From Noah Burton the land passed to Samuel Leonard and later to Peter Wyckoff.

In 1825 fourteen acres of woodland along North Main Street from Bunker Hill to Plainsboro Road were sold to Robert McChesney. In 1850 Sophia Bunker Heron gave one acre of this land, called the Heron Tract of Prospect Avenue, for the Bunker Hill School.

Half of the tract of land south of Cranberry Brook was sold by Thomas Cooper to Sir Gordon in 1683. His son, Robert Gordon, sold to John Rochead in1720, and Rochead sold four and a half acres of that tract to Thomas Grubbs in 1736. In 1741 Grubbs conveyed the same lot, now with a gristmill, to John Collins.

Cranbury is one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. While it is believed that there were settlers in Cranbury as early as 1680, a deed of sale between Josiah Prickett and John Harrison dated March I, 1698 for land "with all improvements" indicates buildings on the land and early settlement. Cranbury celebrated its 300th anniversary in 1997, with a variety of events throughout the year.

In 1789 Christopher Colles, by order of President George Washington, mapped the road through Cranberry Tcwn, showing on that map twenty-five buildings (seven north and eighteen south of the brook); the 1745 Baptist Church, which moved to Hightstown in 1785; and the mill site.

Early History

The following information is provided by the Cranbury Historical Society and from excerpts of "Images of America -- Cranbury" by Peggy S. and Frank J. Brennan, Jr.

Celebrating its 300th anniversary in 1997, Cranbury is one of the oldest towns in New Jersey. Cranbury derived its name from the brook on whose banks it had its beginning. During its early history the settlement was situated on an Indian Trail and later the village became an important stop on a main thoroughfare between the northern and southern colonies.

It is believed that there were settlers in Cranbury as early as 1680, but the first written record of a land sale "with improvements" was 1698. The Gristmill, built on Cranberry Brook around 1736, was probably the nucleus for the eventual development of the village.

The legendary David Brainerd preached and ministered to the Lenape Indians of the area in 1745-46. The Brainerd name lives on with the cemetery where 80 veterans of the Revolutionary War (and 40 graves predating 1800) are buried, the lake formerly called Cranberry Brook, and the Institute, at one time a private boarding and day school.

Presently, Cranbury lies adjacent to principal north-south highways and is surrounded by retirement, research, and industrial developments. Although it has experienced gradual growth and change, Cranbury retains the village flavor of years gone by.

Religious History

African Methodist Church

The African Methodist Church was located, according to an 1876 map, south of the village. By 1882 the church organization had ceased and the building was converted into a dwelling.

Baptist Church

The Baptist Church in Cranbury was founded in 1745 with John Hight (Hightstown) as one of the 17 original members. The first meeting house was built in 1748 on property occupied later by the Spice Mill. The church was used for 40 years, then sold to Dr.Stites and moved. The congregation moved to Hightstown in 1785. The front part of the church grounds was sold and the burial grounds by 1882 were neglected and contained only 4 standing headstones.

Second Presbyterian Church

The Second Presbyterian Church of Cranbury was founded in 1838. In 1935 the First and Second Church congregations were joined. The Second Church sanctuary was razed and a monument erected on the site. The sexton's house remains as a residence.

The Westminster cemetery database can be found here: CemeteryDB.pdf.   It contains a full list of all the plots, with names, locations, and writing on the stones (if available).  This is an Adobe Acrobat PDF file - you will need an Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the file.  You can obtain Adobe Acrobat Reader at: http://www.adobe.com

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