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No. 57 – When South Trenton Was a Township

A world of quaint and curious information of strictly local interest is embraced between thecovers of a modest little volume owned by Samuel W. Margerum and entitled “Nottingham Township Book.” It contains the minutes of the township meetings from April, 1828, to April, 1849. At that time all South Trenton from the Assunpink southward was included in Nottingham. Trenton proper being the section north of the creek. Nottingham was divided, however, on April 11, 1842, the territory set off being thenceforth known as Hamilton Township. Before peeping into the interesting contents of the minute book, it may be said that its excellent state of preservation is worthy of comment. It is well and substantially bound in sheepskin and the paper, although yellowed by age is of tough, lasting texture, in which respect it differs vastly from most of the white paper in use today. The clear, legible penmanship reflects credit upon the secretaries who did their work before the age of typewriting aids.
The first township meeting reported in the book occurred April 11, 1828, and was held at the house of Joshua English. There was no fixed place of meeting, the committeemen moving from place to place with a view apprently of keeping in touch with the different sections and incidently of distributing a little loose coin among the landlords of the township. The last entry in the minutes each meeting usually was to the effect that a bill of a few dollars for refreshments was ordered paid. Mr. English got only $1.25 from the meeting in question, but other bills ran considerably higher. The second meeting was held “at the house of Margaret Gordon, on Mill Hill”; the third meeting was held “at the inn of William Howell, of Bloomsbury”; other meetings were held at the house of Samuel Crossley, Lamberton: at George L. Phillips’s on Mill Hill; at the White Horse Tavern at Sandtown, at Charles M. Warner’s, at Thomas Butcher’s, at David Tams, at Davis Schenck’s, etc.
The members who attended the first meeting were Elijah Hutchinson, Samuel Middleton, Benjamin Fish, David Schenck and Wallaston Redman. At the November meeting the same year school funds in the following lean amounts were appropriated for the quarter: Union School, $12; White Horse School, $12; Lamberton School $12; Nottingham Square, $9; Bloomsbury, $12; Mill Hill, $18; Sandtown, $8; Groveville, $12; school near Joshua Wrights’s, $9.
The time of the Township Committee was given largely to a consideration of matters affecting the schools, the roads and the poor, or the paupers as they were usually denominated in thise days. Among the prominent merchanys of the time who had bills in for “necessaries” supplied to the poor, the names of Robert Chambers, George James, John Whittaker, Benjamin Fish, Lewis Parker and Samuel Wooley appear at frequent intervalls. As high as $150 and $200 was collected at times on a single bill. Professional talent, however, does not appear to have been extravagantly compensated. Governor Peter D. Vroom was retained as counsel for the Nottingham Committee (after division of the township) for $20 per annum, and Dr. Jacob B. James looked after the sick for $10 per annum. Dr. George L. Robbins and Dr. Peter Howell were employed at other times.
Robert Chambers, after whom Chambersburg is named, was one of the early secretaries of the committee. James B. Coleman, later an eminent physician, also filled this office. J. H. Rulon was still another secretary, Mayor Franklin S. Mills was at times secretary and again he was a member of the committee.
According to the minutes of February 26, 1831, reports were received from the overseers of roads as follows: William Tilton, First District, expended $105.90; John H. Rulon, Second District, $124.29; Robert Phares, Third District, $162.06; Benjamin South, Fourth District, $360.37; Thomas A. Ashmore, Fifth District, $181.25; total, $938.37. These presumably were annual expenditures.
After the digging of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in the early ‘30’s Trenton was visited by an attack of cholera and we find that at the July meeting (1832) of the Nottingham committee, the Board of Health for Mill Hill, Lamberton and Bloomsbury was authorized to the extent of $100 to make expenditures for impecunious cases that might arise. At the August meeting it was found necessary to allow a larger sum, in order to provide a temporary hospital, and a portion of the public burial ground belonging to the township was directed to be set off for the use of Roman Catholics so that they might consecrate it according to their own rites. No further meeting of the township committee was held till the following March.
Bills were very critically examined. For instance Dr. E. L. Dubarry presented a bill of $14 for attending a pauper woman in confinement and the committee cut the amount down to $10.
A frequent item of expense allowed against the township was for sheep killed by dogs, the attempt being made each year to keep the amount of damages within the sum collected for dog licenses.
It was decided March 5, 1836, that thereafter the cost of burying a pauper should not exceed $5.
The unenclosed land belonging to the township for a public burial ground, was leased to Robert Wright to cultivate “in any way he may think proper” and for that privilege to keep the burial ground fence in order, Mr. Wright to turn the property back to the township when needed.
A joint meeting of the committees of Nottingham and Hamilton Townships, following the division of the township, was held on April 18, 1842, with these members present:
Nottingham, Joseph Ashmore, Gershom Mott, Lewis Parker, Daniel Lodor and Franklin S. Mills.
Hamilton- John H. Rulon, Enoch Middleton, Enoch Knowles, James B Coleman.
It took several meeting of the two bodies before the public business concerning the two townships was cleared up and a financial balance was struck. A meeting was held September 10 and one of the matters disposed of was to vote the members $1 per day for time spent in settling the joint affairs of the township. The secretary was allowed $1.50. It was not till April 5, 1843, that the two townships agreed upon final terms, which were that Nottingham should receive and be liable to pay $34 in every hundred and Hamilton should receive and be liable to pay $66 in every hundred.
The first meeting of the new Nottingham Township committee was held December 23, 1842, Gershom Mott in the chair and Franklin S. Mills, secretary.
Coming to the later years of which the minute book has a record, we find that at the anniual meeting of the township committee in April, 1846, the members present were Joseph Ashmore, Gershom Mott, Charles Gordon, William B. Paul and John Margerum. Mr. Ashmore was elected president and Mr. Mott, clerk. The business transacted included the employment of Governor Peter D. Vroom as counselor at $20 per annum, and Dr. Jacob B. James as township physician ay $10 per annum, “which is to include any vaccination which he may do this season.”
Arrangements were made with certain citizens to keep different paupers, the prevailing weekly rate being 75 cents per person under a six months contract.
In April, 1847, the township committee consisted of James M. Redmond, Gershom Mott, William B. Paul, Charles Gordon, and Henry M. Lee, Mr. Redmond being elected president and Mr. Mott re-elected secretary. Governor Vroom was re-elected solicitor at the same modest stipend and Dr. James was again made township physician. The year before the doctor was permitted to supply medicines at an extra cost, but this year “the overseer of the poor is to purchase medicine wherever he thinks proper.” It looks as if there was some rivalry for trade among the druggists. Lewis Parker, Jr., was appointed tax collector and Samuel B. Stafford was town clerk. Arnold & Brittain were selected to print the annual statement at a cost of $2. The year before Mills & Glenn had printed it.
An entry of interest concerning the first public school ever erected in what is now Trenton, appears in the minutes of August 4, 1845. The school (now known as the Charles Skelton) had been opened the year before on Centre Street, and at the August meeting in question Mr. Franklin S. Mills submitted a resolution, at the School Committee’s request, for the raising of $1,500 on mortgage. In pursuance of the resolution, a public town meeting was called for August 14, at the house of Jane Vanderveer. The meeting approved the loan.
At the November meeting (1847) Dr. Charles Skelton having removed out of the township to the city proper (north of the Assunpink), hasd resigned as school superintendent and Jacob R. James was elected to succeed him. Lewis Parker and Samuel Wooley became the new superintendent’s sureties in the sum of $1,000.
Upon reorganization of the township committee in 1848, Mr. Mott became president and Franklin S. Mills, secretary. Charles Hewitt’s name appears as superintendent of schools. At the November meeting, the death of Mr. Mott was reported and resolutions of regret were adopted. James Howell, of Lamberton, was elected to fill the vacancy created by Mr. Mott’s death. James L. Southard was chosen as president.
From the first to the last page of the book there does not appear to have been any serious problem of government – if we except the transactions pertaining to a division of the township – but no doubt the smaller matters of public concern gave the Nottingham Fathers anxious moments and at times there were probably lively debates that were thought not proper subjects of record. Taken all in all, the little volume is one worthy of careful preservation as a local historic document.

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