Raritan River a Vital Connecting Link Between Settlements
Lenni-Lenapes of the Delaware tribe crossed the Raritan River near modern New Brunswick in summertime expeditions to the Jersey Shore for fish and clamshells, long before Dutch messengers traveling between Holland's American settlements forded at the same spot, possibly as early as 1640. English settlers had been living there for about fifteen years when John Inian, an Englishman from Long Island, arrived in 1681 and established a ferry crossing linking the east and west banks of the Raritan River. At the time the place was known as Pridmore's Swamp. Known variously thereafter as Inian's Ferry, Onion's Ferry, and The River, the town was finally named New Brunswick in 1730 to honor the House of Brunswick, then occupying the throne of England. An early visitor noted in 1730 that "when I came to this place in 1715, there were but four or five houses in the 30 miles between Inian's Falls and the Falls of the Delaware, but now the whole way it is almost a continued lane of fences and good farmer houses" where Dutch, English, Scottish, German, and French settlers resided. The population centered near New Brunswick, which had become a storehouse and shipping point for wheat and flour produced inland.
During the American Revolution, the third reading of the Declaration of Independence in the colonies took place in New Brunswick on July 6, 1776. The Continental army took refuge at New Brunswick after their defeat at Fort Lee. George Washington's dispirited army crossed the Raritan River on the retreat south across New Jersey that led to the Battle of Trenton, burning the bridge behind them. British and Hessian troops occupied the town from December 1776 to the following June, building hatred by robbing British and revolutionary sympathizers alike. Panic spread; as many as 300 people streamed into New Brunswick during that December to accept the British Lord Howe's offer of amnesty in return for a renunciation of revolutionary sentiments. In late spring 1777, Washington moved his troops to an area overlooking the Raritan valley; Howe was forced out, burning and pillaging on his way to add to the suffering already endured. Thereafter the town experienced little direct warfare. Washington returned in 1778 on his way to a decisive victory over Cornwallis at Yorktown.
New Brunswick gradually became the center of Middlesex County, earning the nickname Hub City. By 1830 the population there numbered more than 5,000 people. Still a center for the transport of grain, the city was also an important stop for people traveling between New York and Philadelphia. Rough-and-tumble competition grew up among transportation companies, becoming so heated that steamships would ram into New Brunswick docks, forcing passengers to leap overboard to join the fray over competing stagecoaches. The Delaware & Raritan Canal reached New Brunswick in 1834, joining the two rivers and making way for the transport of coal from Pennsylvania and other goods being transported west. Eventually the Raritan River carried the third largest tonnage of any river in the country. The railroad era was ushered in when the Camden & Amboy Railroad linking New Brunswick to the New Jersey Railroad was completed in 1839. This development, in combination with the water power made available by the canal lock's waterfall, led to the rapid rise of industry. A wallpaper factory and a rubber plant were founded. By 1860, the population numbered 10,761 people. Elsewhere in Middlesex County, rubber also became a prime industry, supplying boots and rubbers to Union soldiers during the Civil War and afterwards. Other emerging industries were the manufacture of clay, firebrick, and terra cotta products. Industry was spurred by Thomas Edison's invention in 1879 of electric lights.
By the early twentieth century, the rubber and wallpaper industries had begun to wane, but New Brunswick had welcomed Robert W. and James W. Johnson, who came in 1885 to establish their pioneer gauze and adhesive tape plant. Where previously Americans had reached in emergencies for old sheets or towels, soon they were reaching for Johnson & Johnson bandages. That company recruited workers from Hungary, giving the city the largest Hungarian population of any city in the country. New Brunswick also welcomed the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation, which supplied airplane engines during World War I. Chemical manufacturers began to produce dyes and other chemicals formerly imported from Germany. Munitions manufacturers such as E. I. du Pont moved into Middlesex County, which emerged from the war with an exhilarated feeling of expanding opportunities. County population exceeded 160,000 people by 1920, and about half the population lived in New Brunswick. Roads were built and trains raced through, making the New Brunswick to Elizabeth corridor the busiest railroad stretch in the world. Between 1950 and 1965 Middlesex County's population doubled to 560,000 people. Lately, while formerly rural areas are seeing a continuing expansion of population, New Brunswick's population remains nearly stable, in the tradition of old American cities. Industry has been drawn to the vast network of intersecting superhighways there. Efforts to reverse the decline that began after World War II resulted in the redesign of the central business district, new headquarters for Johnson & Johnson, a new hotel, and new office buildings. Rutgers University, based in New Brunswick, has become an institution vital to the entire state.
Rutgers University was first chartered in 1766 under the name Queens College. It was rechartered in 1770 when the first document had produced no results. New Brunswick was chosen as the site of the college, which, under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed Church, was set up in a former tavern with Frederick Frelinghuysen as the sole faculty member. Its first graduating class produced one graduate in 1774. British troops forced the college out of town in 1777. The college returned in 1781 and closed in 1795 due to lack of interest. Classes resumed in 1807 and closed again in 1821. Application by 30 prospective students led to the college's reopening in 1825, at which time the name Queens was deemed unpatriotic and the college's name was changed to Rutgers, in honor of New York philanthropist Colonel Henry Rutgers. The college once again faced collapse when most of its students enlisted to serve in the Civil War. An infusion of money by the state for the establishment of an agricultural program, combined with the decision to make the school non-sectarian and to initiate an intensive scholarship and endowment campaign, revived the school yet again. It is now the State University of New Jersey and ranks among the country's major universities.
In 1999, New Brunswick and surrounding areas of New Jersey experienced damaging flooding from Tropical Storm Floyd. No lives were lost and the community pulled together to help affected residents of the city. James Cahill, New Brunswick's mayor since 1991, remains committed to focusing on New Brunswick's future growth with initiatives, programs, services, and developments.
Historical Information: Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission, 703 Jersey Ave., North Brunswick, NJ 08901; telephone (732)745-4489; fax (732)745-4524; email firstname.lastname@example.org