|Samptown - A Piece of South Plainfield History|
By Larry Randolph
The intersection of Sampton and Clinton Avenues is not unlike many other intersections in South Plainfield. It is burdened by traffic and given little consideration by residents who hurry through it on their daily routines. But it is different in one respect: at this intersection there was once a town. Its name was Samptown and while most of its two hundred year existence was non-descript, for a brief few months Samptown played a role in the founding of our nation. No one is quite sure when Samptown was settled. Sometimes referred to in early records as Waterville, it was near here that two men, Benjamin Clarke and Daniel McDaniel were engaged in operating a sawmill by 1683. By 1690, two mills were said to be operating near Samptown, probably a sawmill and a gristmill.
But the war did not really strike home until that fall when the American army, badly defeated in the battles around New York, began its retreat across New Jersey. On Nov. 30, 1776, that army, beaten and demoralized, marched through Samptown in a cold rain. The next day, the British arrived. A column composed of the 2nd Battalion of Light Infantry and elements of the 16th Regiment of Dragoons and a company of Hessian Kessel Jagers marched into town. They did not stay long. Ordered to join the main body of the British army at New Brunswick, Major Maitland, their commander, hurried his men forward toward the sound of cannon fire coming from New Brunswick.
As Washington retreated toward Trenton, the local men, their militia enlistments having expired, returned home to protect their families. Although it appeared that the revolution might be over, Washington surprised the British at Trenton and Princeton and the Americans once more took heart. From Princeton, Washington fled with his army to the safety of the mountains surrounding Morristown, while the British settled into Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, and the villages of Bonhamtown and Piscatawaytown. To protect the approaches to Morristown, General Washington saw the need to establish a defensive line on the flatlands before the Watchung Mountains. The Bound Brook, rising in the Dismal Swamp north of Metuchen, and flowing west to join the Green Brook and empty into the Raritan River at Bound Brook provided such a line. Along the length of these streams, the only bridges between Metuchen and Bound Brook were at Samptown and its neighboring village of Quibbletown (New Market) one mile to the west. Whoever controlled these bridges, controlled all movement through the area.
On Jan. 27, 600 British infantry, 50 Calvary, and the Hessian Grenadier Battalion Linsing, marched from Raritan Landing. Led by 50 Hessians from the Kessel Co. of Jagers, their orders were to seize supplies stored in the vicinity of Samptown. Under command of British Gen. Leslie and Hessian Col. von Donop, these troops looted farms along present day New Brunswick Ave. and New Market Rd. The Americans put up a strong defense but were unable to stop the British column. Gen. Leslie reported that several men were killed and wounded on both sides.
On Feb. 8, the British returned. Over 6,000 men, almost one quarter of all British troops in New Jersey, were ordered to attack Quibbletown and capture the supplies the Americans had gathered and storeed there. Under the command of Lord Cornwallis, these troops fought their way into the village against
With the farms in the area stripped bare, both sides turned their attention to harassing each others outposts. With the coming of spring Gen. Washington issued orders for his army to regroup. On the 16th of May, Col. Warner's men abandoned Samptown and Quibbletown. A British patrol made up of troops from the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment (Black Watch) and the 52nd Regiment of Foot entered Samptown on June 1, 1777 only to find the village deserted, its houses abandoned.
In an effort to draw Washington out of the mountains and into battle , Gen. Howe thrust the British army west of New Brunswick. Realizing the danger to his flank, he ordered Samptown be occupied. This was done by a company of the Coldstream Guards on or sometime after June 10. On June 20, a company of the Hessian Kessel Jagers reinforced with a light cannon relieved the Guards. It was the misfortune of these German mercenaries that at the time that they were marching into Samptown, Washington was issuing orders for its capture.
On June 28, 1777, 16,000 British soldiers emerged from Perth Amboy and began marching in the direction of Samptown. At the junction of the Oak Tree and New Dover Roads in present day Edison Township, they turned north and smashed into the American left flank. Orders were given for a general retreat to the safety of the mountains near Bound Brook. All through that afternoon American units marched through Samptown going west to new positions at Middlebrook.They were never to return. Although the war would go on for another six years, events had passed Samptown by. Gunfire was occasionally heard in the distance and on one occasion the local militia fought British cavalry at Quibbletown, but the armies would never again fight over Samptown.Residents returned, repaired the damage to their property, and life went on. By 1834 Samptown could boast of containing ten or twelve houses, a Baptist church, a tavern, and a general store. It was not to last. The stage line stopped running in the early 1800's and the tavern and general store closed before the middle of the century.
It was Samptown's misfortune to have become part of a community that has little or no interest in its past. For that reason, its memory has been consigned to a few pages in a dusty history book and the ghosts of the soldiers who fought and died there. Pity.
"Our Special thanks to Larry Randolph and the South Plainfield Observer for this content"
Borough of South Plainfield