A BRIEF HISTORY OF RAHWAY
The origin of Rahway is connected to the 1664
purchase of the Elizabethtown tract, and the establishment of the
first permanent English settlement in New Jersey.
An association of Englishmen living on Long Island looked
forward to colonizing New Jersey, a province granted by the king
to the Duke of York. The associates asked the duke’s deputy
governor, Richard Nicolls, for permission to purchase a vast tract
of land from the Lenni Lenape Indians. Nicolls agreed, and Chief
Mattano signed the deed in return for cloth, coats, guns, kettles,
lead and powder. Eventually
known as the Elizabethtown Purchase, the tract stretched from the
mouth of the Raritan River and included all of present-day Union
County as well as parts of Somerset, Middlesex, Morris and Essex
The first settlement was established at the mouth of
the Elizabeth River. It was named Elizabethtown after Lady
Elizabeth Carteret, wife of Sir George Carteret, to whom East
Jersey had been granted by the Duke of York.
The province governed by Phillip Carteret, Sir George’s
cousin, grew rapidly, and it was not long before a few colonists
began to settle outlying areas—all part of Elizabethtown.
Rahway became one of the earliest due to the navigable
Rahway River, which provided an ideal situation for the
establishment of mills and maritime pursuits.
By the 18th century, Rahway consisted
of several distinct communities:
Upper Rahway, the area along St. Georges Avenue near Grand
Avenue; Bridge Town, or Lower Rahway, the area of the present-day
central business district; Leesville, the Leesville Avenue area;
and Milton, the Milton Avenue-St. Georges Avenue area.
The Marsh and Bishop families established mills in Upper
Rahway and Bridge Town, though mills were established in other
sections as well. Captain
John Bishop became the first president of the town court, serving
from 1688 to 1700, and Robert Wright was named first constable.
The town leaders soon began a road construction program and
started developing other community amenities.
In 1741, the first church was built on what is now St.
Georges Avenue by a group of Presbyterians, and Quaker families
constructed a meeting house in 1757. Several popular taverns,
including the Abraham Terrill Tavern, served travelers on the main
at that time as the King’s Highway or the Country Road to
Elizabethtown, St. Georges Avenue was one of the principal routes
from New York to Philadelphia.