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First Settlers

Among the first families who bought land, cleared the forests, and established homes in Green Brook were many names that remained for at least one hundred fifty years. There are a few names that still remain if not in Green Brook, in some of the areas nearby.

In the beginning, there were only a few dozen families in the area so most of the families are interrelated in some way.












Vail (See Vail Genealogy)

No family is more continuously associated with the community than that of the Vails. In 1687 mention is made of John Vail as an active member of the Friends' Society. His name is first mentioned in the primitive annals of Salem, Massachusetts about 1650, and is discovered subsequently in Westchester County, New York, from whence he moved to East Jersey about 1685.

There were two prominent sons: John Vail born in 1685 and Samuel Vail. John married Martha Fitz Randolph of Woodbridge. John Vail's farm was on both sides of Green Brook in what is now North Plainfield. It consisted of 625 acres and extended from what is now Richmond Street to Netherwood Avenue. 

Samuel Vail, son of the original John, in 1725 married Sarah Farrington of Westchester County, N.Y., where he lived and died. He was a Quaker, and about the time of his marriage purchased a large plantation on Green Brook which is now Green Brook Township.

Samuel's two sons, John and Stephen, occupied this land. In 1730, John Vail, the oldest son, married Margaret Laing, daughter of John and Elizabeth Shotwell Laing. John was a very successful farmer and property owner. To each of his eight sons he gave a farm. Four of the sons  - John, David, Abraham, and Joseph (a son of his second wife, Mary Laing) - shared an equal part of the Green Brook plantation. The remaining four sons - Daniel, Isaac, Jacob, and Benjamin - shared his land in Passaic Valley near Basking Ridge. Some of John's decedents lived on the original tract until the early 1900's.

Stephen Vail, the other son of Samuel, married Esther Smith in 1733. Their children were Thomas, Benjamin, Stephen Jr., Abigail, Abraham and Sarah. Thomas build a house on Warrenville Road that later became the Blue Hills Plantation Restaurant and Stephen Jr. built a house and a grist mill on Green Brook. Stephen's son Samuel owned the Sebring Mill between 1788 and 1833.  

In 1756, when New Jersey instituted a draft to fill a quota for soldiers to fight against the French, Stephen Vail's son Thomas was among the men drafted. Like most Quakers, the Vail rejected warfare since it contrary to their cherished principles. 

On the February 19,1756, the record of the Plainfield Meeting contained the following item: "Complaint is made that Stephen Vail Employed a person in the place of his Son who was prest to go to ye fruntears in order to build block houses." In other words a substitute was procured to take Thomas' place which was regarded by the Meeting as abetting evil.

Fitz Randolph

Nathaniel Fitz-Randolph was the oldest son of the largest and most influential family in this part of the colony before the Revolution. The founder of this family, Edward Fitz-Randolph, of England, came to this country and settled in Massachusetts in 1630. Nathaniel was born in Barstable, Massachusetts in 1642. He and his descendants were the only branch of the family who belonged to the Friends. It is thought that Nathaniel joined the Friends at the time of his marriage in 1662. In Woqdbridge, New Jersey, Nathaniel made his home, which he opened for weekly meetings of the Society. He died in 1713. His descendants have married, among others, the Vails, the Laings, the Shotwells, the Smiths.

Shotwell

Prominent in the early history of the Society was Abraham Shotwell, who, not a Quaker himself, was warmly in sympathy with the common people in the contentions with the Lord Proprietors' government about the titles of the land. Shotwell's independence resulted in the confiscation of his lands in Elizabeth-town. After his death his two sons, with the help of the Quakers, succeeded in getting the land restored to the family. The two sons were Daniel and John. John married Elizabeth Burton; their descendants have settled in Union County.

The first mention of the Shotwells in the Plainfield locality is found in the record of the birth of John Shotwell's grandchild, Elizabeth. His daughter, Eliza-beth, married John Laing in 1705, and their daughter, Elizabeth, was, the record states, "born at Plainfield ye 11th of ye 10th month, 1707".

The first marriage in the present Plainfield Meeting House was that of Amy Shotwell to Charles Brooks.

Laing

The Laing family composed a proninent part of the first permanent settlers in this neighborhood. John Laing, the progenitor of this long line in East Jersey, came over from Craigforth, Aberdeen County, Scotland, August, 1685, and landed in Amboy. Near there, he lived for a few years with his wife, Margaret, and his children: John, Abraham, William, Christiana, and Isabel. In 1689 he moved to the "plains" which is now South Plainfield. In 1705 his son John married Elizabeth Shotwell, a direct descendant of the original Abraham Shotwell. His daughter Isabel, in 1700, married Joseph Fitz-Randolph, son of Nathaniel. Both families were always active in the Society. In 1725, weekday meetings were established at John Laing's home. Because of the accessibility of the location to Friends living along the Green Brook, Cedar Brook, and vicinity, a meeting house was built between 1731-36 which was the beginning of the Plainfield S

Pound

The ancestor of the Pounds of New Jersey was John Pound, an early settler in Piscataway, whose son Elijah, born in 1712, was a prominent and influential member of the Plainfield Society in its first history.

A few descendants of John Pound a,e found in Green Brook today,

Sebring

In the history of the early 1700's the name Sebring was very common in all the "Valleys of the Raritan". Most of these people moved to Somerset County from Long Island and could trace their ancestry to the Netherlands. They were deeply religious people and aided in the formation of the Raritan Church, then a church in the wilderness.

The Dutch were thrifty, honest, conscientious, and industrious. Frequently they became very prosperous.

The Sebrings were prominent settlers at the west end of Green Brook Town-slip. In the early 1800's Mr. Edward H. Sebring took over the gristmill and the saw mill operated by the Martins. The Sebrings operated the business until the late 1930's.

Two homes, still standing in 1976, were owned by the Sebrings. The farm home in Middlesex County near where the mill was located and the home across from the mill in Green Brook. The farm containing eighteen acres was the home place where Edward H. Sebring lived with his family. Other members of the Sebring family lived across from the mill.

In 1940, Miss Kathryn Sebring and her grandniece, Miss Viola Sebring, were living in the farm home. Mr. Charles P. Sebring and his wife were living in the home across from the mill. To them we are indebted for this information.

The farm was sold over thirty years ago and the home across from the mill was sold in 1966. Miss Viola Sebring now lives in Plainfield, New Jersey.  

Abner Hampton (References from the Quaker Meeting records)

Abner Hampton and Wife 

In 1756, New Jersey instituted a draft to fill a quota of soldiers required in the war against France. The mandate was rejected by the Quakers since warfare was contrary to their cherished principles. Stephen Vail's son was among the men drafted.

On the 19th of February, the record of the Plainfield Meeting contained the following: "Complaint is made that Stephen Vail Employed a person in the place of his Son who was prest to go to ye fruntears in order to build block houses." In other words a substitute was procured, which was regarded as abetting the evil. 

Jonathan Kinsey was also complained of for attempting "to Raise a number of men in order to Transporte prouisions to the armey Intended to attack the Subjects of the King of France." Several Mendham Quakers suffered some animadversion for redeeming their goods from the authorities which had been taken from them for refusing to "train" with the militia. A committee of enquiry, consisting of John Webster, Abner Hampton, William Morris, Jacob and Joseph Shotwell, was instructed to go to Mendham and notify the culpable parties of the dissatisfaction of the Woodbridge Quakers. In August the offending members, seven in number, acknowledged that they had done wrong and were penitent. 

In 1758 Abner Hampton made a journey to "the Oblong," in New York State, bearing the greetings of the Friends at home. It is possible that the shape of the meeting-house at the "Oblong" accounts for the name - this being given to distinguish it from the square structures which almost universally prevailed.

In December Abner Hampton informed the Friends that he was "under a consern To vissit the Isle of Berbados and perhaps Sum of the adjacent Islands, and Requests friends consideration thereon, and a Certificate if they are Easey therewith." The certificate was given to him, but a general objection to his making such a long journey appears to have prevented his departure. The Quarterly Meeting discussed the matter and doubtless influenced Hampton's friends to keep him at home.

Sarah Shotwell was also well known as a speaker, and a pattern of humility and faithfulness. After her death a memorial was written by a committee, John Webster and Abner Hampton, which was adopted in the June Monthly Meeting.

Robert Willis, who might rightly be called the Quaker Missionary, had some idea of visiting the South in 1778; but "great commotions" in Plainfield, "occationed by War," prevented his contemplated journey. He was loth to leave his Friends in the midst of so much distress. A committee for the relief of sufferers was formed this year, consisting of Abraham Shotwell, Wm. Smith, Hugh Webster, John Vail, Wm. Thorne, and Elijah Pound. Subsequently Thorne resigned and Edward Moore was chosen in his place.

Thorne said, in the November meeting at Rahway, that he was compelled to affirm his allegiance to the Continental Congress several months before - having no choice except to do that or be thrown into prison. Elijah Pound did the same thing, and was, therefore, relieved of his position on the committee just mentioned, being allowed to resign. Under similar circumstances and at the same time, probably, another Quaker living in this section got into difficulty. He says: "Whereas I, Marmaduke Hunt, was coming home, was taken by a Party of light horse and Carried to Morris Town Goal where I was confind in a Nausious room to the Injury of my health, and Deprived of the Necessaries of life to that degree that I could procure no more for my support but one meal for seven days; in this distress liberty was offered me on condition of my taking the affirmation of fidelity to the States, which through unwatchfulness, I submitted to." (Woodbridge and Vicinity, by Joseph Dally)