SHAMONG – An Indian name meaning “place of the horn”. And, indeed it must have been so named for the abundance of deer that supplies both meat and clothing for the aborigines who lived or visited here for over four thousand years. Yes, long before this area became the first, and last, Indian reservation in New Jersey, “Red men” roamed its fields and forests. They lived in peace, hunted and fished for sustenance while journeying to the seashore for fish and shellfish each summer. Surely an idyllic existence.
Indians living to the north and to the west of Shamong were also “summer visitors” to the shore. Their trails met and crossed at this point.
The Shamong Trail, part of which is now State Route 541, served tribes from the Burlington and Crosswicks areas. Its destination was Cape May. Crossing that path in this vicinity, the Manahawken Trail finished a route to Clamtown (Tuckerton) for those Indians who lived near what is now Camden.
However, the forty centuries of Indian culture is a relatively recent era in the history of this area now known as Shamong Township. It is rather necessary to seek the origin of the land, millions of years ago, to fully realize that, indeed, it is a most unusual place.
Located on the west side of a three thousand square mile area known as the Pine Barrens, Shamong enjoys a unique vegetation; one that is found only in the part along the northeastern Atlantic coast – most notable in Cape Cod.
The unusual Curly Grass Fern (Schizaea Pusilla) has been discovered; a species identified only in this locality. Other plants too; shrubs, moss, lichens, and flowers are native only to the area in and around Shamong Township. Pitch pine, scrub oak, holly and cedar are the most common trees while laurel, bayberry, sand myrtle and other shrubs of the Pine Barrens provide the undergrowth. Eastern Shamong Township retains closely the wilderness and vegetation of formative years while to the west is found deciduous forest encroaching on the pinelands.
Edgepillock was the name identifying this area by a survey in 1710 and again in referring to the saw mill in 1742. It was the saw mill and later a grist mill, both soon to be operated by the Indians, that lent Shamong its most popular name today – Indian Mills.
Although the name Indian Mills is sometimes used to identify Shamong Township, it by no means composes its entirety; rather a place name that joins Atsion, Dellet, Flyatt, Smalls, Dingletown, Willow Grove, and other early settlements in the Township. Some of these place names can be found on the more detailed maps of today; but localities such as Taylor Town, Cheeseman Town, Little Mills, Fork Bridge, and Cramer Town are identified only from documents and maps of a by-gone era.
Governor Bernard gave it the name Brotherton in 1758 when 3,285 acres were set aside for the previously mentioned reservation. All remaining Indians south of the Raritan River were invited to live here. When missionary John Brainard was made superintendent in 1762, he built a school, a church, and encouraged natives to work the mills. However, this was not a suitable way of life for the Indians and in 1801 the reservation was returned to the government as a majority of them moved to New York State to live with the Onieda Tribe.
Incidentally, the Treaty Tree, which has long since died and is now fallen to the ground, is reputed to be the site where the Indian land reverted back to the “White Eyes”, and not, as more commonly believed, where a pact was made to create the reservation.
Farming, the most prevalent of Shamong’s enterprises today, has long provided a livelihood for generations. Great fields of corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and to a lesser extent other crops are still to be found in its environs. However, the pressures of a new economy find much of the farmland being considered for residential, industrial and commercial development.
Industry is not new to this area for, in addition to the saw mills and grist mills of earlier settlers, three major industrial eras have prospered for varying period of time in the village of Atsion. First, there was iron, then paper and finally cotton.
Charles Reed was first on the scene, when in 1765 he built an iron forge on the Atsion (Mullica) River at Atsion. Through a series of owners, most notably the Richards family of Batsto, the Atsion Furnace and Forge remained in blast until 1848. Click here for a description of the Bog Iron Process.
Hampton Furnace, at the head of the Batsto River was built in 1795 and in 1810 a forge was constructed nearby along with a second forge several miles below, on the Batsto River (near Quaker Bridge). Clayton Earl is noted as the original builder and, like Atsion, Hampton passes through a series of owners until eventually becoming a part of the Richards’ holdings.
In the mid-nineteenth century Hampton suffered the fate of Atsion and other neighboring iron works when the iron industry moved westward. A richer iron ore discovered in Pennsylvania, along with a large coal field, was the deathblow to a Pine Barrens industry.
Atsion was not to lay dormant long, for in 1852 or 1853, William Fleming, a son-in-law of Samuel Richards, built a paper mill. However, the manufacture of paper was not the salvation for Atsion’s workers and after two years at most, the mill ceased operation.
It was in 1871, when the Atsion estate was sold to Mauice Raleigh, that industry of any significance returned to the area. In that year, Raleigh rebuilt the old paper mill with a considerable addition and outfitted it as a cotton mill. Within a short time the mill was turning out five hundred pounds of yarn a week and employed over 150 persons.
Supporting the community was at least one general store, a post office, flour and feed store, millinery store, a carpet weaver, wheelwright, a school building and many homes.
Our heritage is still evident in some of our members and residents of Shamong Township. We have Ruth Etheridge Gerber, now a resident of Medford, who was born and raised in the Ethridge House; Catherine Wright, Rhode Island, granddaughter of Joseph Wharton, owner of the Atsion mansion, and her son, Harrison, who now lives in Swarthmore, Pa.; Helen Phillips of Red Bank, who is the daughter of Hugh Phillips, former owner of the Atsion Hotel, Evelyn Broy, Lumberton, granddaughter of Dr, Still, the black doctor of the pines, who was born in Indian Mills; Fred Miller and Florence Zimerman, whose mother and father were pictured in the famous book, Jersey Genesis; the Gardner family, descendants of Congressman Gardner, and many many more.
The Indian Mills Historical Society (IMHS) was organized in February 1973, as a non-profit organization with 14 interested persons attending. Those who were born here and those who have chosen to live here, have a strong bond. That bond is the fierce devotion and pride we hold for this historical area and its heritage. So much untold history lies here in Indian Mills and at the Village of Atsion. Our aim is to uncover and share what we know with other historians.
Indian Mills was the site of the first Indian reservation in New Jersey and one of the first in the country, while Atsion boasts proudly of a part fighting for and building our country. The State of New Jersey purchased the Wharton Tract in 1954, so it is difficult to obtain our goal at Atsion, which is to preserve, restore and maintain the buildings that are left. These are few, and, with time, they will become less and less with the help of Mother Nature, vandals and arsonists. With the help of the IMHS and local residents, this digital recording serves to document the rich history of the area for future generations.