The Quakers were a group of people who came to the New World to seek refuge from the persecution to which they were subjected in England because of their religious beliefs. The persecution became intense when James II ascended the throne in 1685. This led to a very extensive migration which resulted in the settlement of Green Brook, Raritan, Scotch Plains and Plainfield in the immediate vicinity, besides many other areas throughout the State of New Jersey.
The concentration of settlement for the Quakers who came to area was along the streams. The first settlers reached the site by the way of the Raritan River, Bound Brook, Cedar Brook, and Green Brook, all the way up as far as Scotch Plains.
The country was an unbroken wilderness, covered with a dense forest and traversed only by Indian trails. Their first farms were laid out on the level lands upon the sides of the streams.
All the possessions which they brought with them, and these were numerous as they were a well-to-do class of people, generally, were transported in sailing vessels up the Raritan River and then carried in boats which were poled up the brooks against the current. Travel by land was possible only by foot or horseback along Indian trails.
The Indians were paid for the land taken and the Quakers who were also know as "Friends". As a result, the Friends never had any trouble getting along with the Indians, to whom they were known as the "People of Peace".
The Friends gave the name of "The Plains" to the level country on which they settled. In the 1683 deed, the area is referred to as the "Blondyn Plains." The small group of houses soon became known as "The Quaker Settlement on the Plains". The name Plainfield was first mentioned in John Barclay's grant of 700 acres and surveyed in 1684 which was in North Plainfield. The Watchung Mountains were referred to as the "Blew Hills." The name first appeared in a grant to James Coole, Sr. in 1688, which was located in Scotch Plains.
The story of the Quakers in Green Brook is the story of the section itself for the first hundred years or more. Not only was Green Brook settled by the Quakers but theirs was the dominant influence from the time of its first settlement. Just when the first settlement was made is not exactly known but it is safe to say that it was in the early 1700's. Between the years 1730-1735 many settlements were made on the line of the Green Brook, just under the "Blue Hills."
The following surnames were common among the earliest settlers: Vail, Shotwell, Pound, Laing, Fitz Randolph, Sebring, and Vermeule.
The Vails were the most prominent settlers in Green Brook and the areas around Green Brook. Samuel Vail and his brother John both purchased plantations along the brook. John's plantation was located in North Plainfield and Samuels covered most of present day Green Brook Township below the mountain. Samuel never came to Green Brook, but the land was occupied by his sons, John and Stephen. The Vail property was kept in the Vail family for a century or more. Many of the other prominent settlers came to Green Brook and married marrying into the Vail families.
Besides clearing the land, building their homes and farming the land, it was the Vail families that started most of the early industries in Green Brook. These early people were industrious, honest and deeply religious. The terms " the Society", "Friends' Society", "The Meeting", "The Plainfield Meeting", and "Religious Society of Friends", all refer to the same Quaker religious group.
The Plainfield Meeting had its beginning in a meeting established in Perth Amboy in 1686, which was the third meeting in the State, the earlier ones being at Shrewsbury in 1670, and at Middletown in 1675. In 1704, the meeting was moved to the home of Nathaniel Fitz-Randolph at Woodbridge; it met there until the meeting house was completed in 1714.
The Plainfield Meeting members, including those from the Green Brook, faithfully attended the Woodbridge Meeting until 1721, when they petitioned to leave. They proposed starting a new Meeting at the house of John Laing in Piscataway Township, near the present grounds of the Plainfield Country Club. The petition was granted and they continued to met at John Laing's house until his death in 1731. In his will, Laing left a plot of ground to the meeting which is the current site of the Friends' Meeting in Plainfield.
That meeting house was built in the same year and was known as the Plainfield Meeting House. It was 24 feet square and 14 feet "between Joynts". This building was used until 1788, when the present edifice was erected on Watchung Avenue adjacent to the Central Railroad of New Jersey. Edward Fitz-Randolph, a relative of the Edward Fitz-Randolph connected with the story of "George Washington and the Rock" helped to build this meeting house.
The Plainfield Meeting house has been in continuous use since that time. Many descendants of the original Friends' families are members of the Religious Society of Friends.
In the beginning, early laws were very harsh. The Quakers helped modify the the laws which had been established under the first two proprietors, Berkeley and Carteret. They, also, introduced religious liberty to a much greater degree than had existed in New England.
Marriages were solemnized after a license had been given. Proposed marriage published three times "in some public place or kirk", during the two week period preceding the marriage. Individuals that circulated false news about public affairs were fined ten shillings for the first offense and were "whipped or stocked" for a second offense. In 1675, liars were fined two shillings for a second offense and these were set in the stocks or received corporal punishment if they did not pay. In those days, stocks took the place of the prisons.
Profane swearing, "taking the name of God in vain", was punished by a fine of one shilling for each offense as early as 1668. In 1682 the fine was raised to two shillings and, in case of default, the offender was punished by being placed in the stocks or whipped. The observance of the First Day or Sunday was required, and the breaking of this law was punished by confinement in the stocks, fines, imprisonment or whipping.
In matters of faith and conscience, as well as practice, liberty was assured to all under the Quakers. As a result, there was more diversity of belief and freedom for development in New Jersey than in any other colony.
Slavery was introduced into New Jersey at an early date and continued until about 1830. Many of the large landowners in the areas surrounding Green Brook. The Vermeule plantation, adjacent to Green Brook, was worked by both slaves and indentured labor. Even the Quakers had slaves working on their plantations; however, the Quakers were the first to come out in opposition to slavery and many of there slaves were freed at an early date.
Copies of manumissions (papers granting freedom to slaves) drawn up to free a slave when he (or she) had reached a certain age are still in existence. In the 1913 Somerset County Historical Quarterly on page 48, under the heading "Manumissions in Somerset County" is found: "April 27, 1831 – Robert, slave of the Estate of Frederick Vermeule, Esq., of Warren."
Graves in old burying grounds reveal that some slaves died as slaves but were given a good burial. On an old marker the following words were carved: "Toby, a slave, died, March 19, 1812, Age 103 years"
Iron rings driven into the foundation stones in the cellar of an old home in the area, which was razed, would suggest that unruly slaves had been chained there. But no records have been found to verify that was the case. However, indentured labor was common on the Green Brook farms. Typically someone would secure passage to these country by agreeing to work for a certain number years. Often parents would apprentice their children to a family for a certain period of time.
The following is a copy of an Indenture:
"This indenture made this thirty-first day of the Eighth month commonly called August in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety five Witnesseth that Cornelius Tunison son of Richard Tunison of the County of Somerset and State of New Jersey hath of his own free will and by and with the consent of his Father put himself in apprentice to Joseph Laing Jr. of the County and State aforesaid to serve him from the day of the date hereof for and During the Term of Eight Years eleven Months and fourteen Days During all which time the said Apprentice his said Master faithfully shall serve his secrets keep his Lawful commands peaceably Obey he shall do no Damage to his said Master or see it to be done by others without giving notice thereof to him. he shall not waste his said Master's Goods or lend them unlawfully without his consent or knowledge. he shall not Commit Fornication or Contract Matrimony within said term, at Cards or Dice or any other unlawful Games he shall not play whereby his said Master may receive Damage, he shall not absent himself from his said Master's service Day or Night without his consent, but in all things behave himself as a faithful Apprentice ought to do during said term and the said master shall preserve and provide for said Apprentice Sufficient Meat Drink washing Lodging and Apparel fitting for such an Apprentice During said term, and give him the said Apprentice within said term one Years Schooling with the proviso that his Father pays the Schoolmaster the Expense thereof and at end of said Time the said Master shall give said Apprentice a Good commendable new suit of Clothes throughout, and for the true performance of all and every of the Covenants and the Agreements either of the parties do bind themselves to each other by the presents, In witness whereof they have hereunto Inter-changeably set their Hands and seals the Day and Year Above Written,
Sealed and Delivered in the presents of Cornelius Tunison (his + mark)
This information was copied word for word from an original document labeled:
Cornelius Tunison, Indenture
August the 31st 1795
He was born August 15th 1786 To serve to the age of 18 years.