Our township was formed in 1688 and was later one of New Jersey’s 104 original townships, but the land was settled about a decade earlier, in 1677, by Quaker immigrants. The Quakers had fled England, primarily from the north and midlands, in order to escape persecution by the British Crown. The township was named for the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield, whose seat was in Derbyshire, where many of the township’s earliest settlers had lived. Until 1849, the township included what is now Bordentown City and Township.
The township is still largely rural, comprised mainly of farmland, and more than half of the township’s land has been placed in permanent preservation. There are no urban areas in the township, but there are three main villages: Crosswicks, Chesterfield (originally named Recklesstown, until 1888) and Sykesville. The Old York Road, an early highway ordered built by the Duke of York, the brother of Charles II, runs through Chesterfield Township on its way from Burlington to Perth Amboy.
In 1773, the current Quaker meeting house was built on the green in the center of Crosswicks, the third such structure on that site, and a Sunday school building was added nearby later in the century. After the Quaker schism in 1827, the Hicksite faction occupied the meeting house, while the Orthodox wing built its own meeting house on Ward Avenue, which today is in possession of the now-unified Quaker meeting and houses the Historical Society’s museum.
In the winter of 1776, members of the Colonial troops under General Cadwallader occupied Crosswicks after successfully crossing the Delaware at Bristol, Pennsylvania, and marching from the city of Burlington. The troops stayed in Crosswicks until the first of January, 1777, when they were then ordered to march to Trenton to join Washington’s troops in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton.
Later in the war, in June 1778, British troops under General Howe marched through Crosswicks from Burlington on their way to what would be the Battle of Monmouth. While in Crosswicks, the British occupied the meeting house and engaged in a small skirmish with the Americans, who were camped on the north bank of the Crosswicks Creek, trying to impede the British crossing. The skirmish resulted in the death of one man, Job Clevenger, who was shot while attempting to cut away the bridge. The meeting house was struck by an American cannonball, which remained lodged in the building and has now been permanently affixed where it originally hit.
In the 19th century, the township remained largely rural, but did establish many civic institutions such as a library, post office, fire company and public schools. After splitting with Bordentown Township in 1849, Crosswicks then became the main settlement in the township and the seat of most cultural and social activities.
In the early 20th century, the old Quaker burial ground, located on the green in Crosswicks, was moved across the creek into North Crosswicks (Mercer County) to make way for the Crosswicks Community House in 1923. In 1951, a two-mile section of the New Jersey Turnpike was built traversing the northern corner of the township, and nearby the Albert C. Wagner State Youth Correctional Facility was built.
In the 21st century, the township transferred its development rights to a single development, Old York Village, which is located in the northeast corner of the township and which is now largely finished. The development includes the new Chesterfield Elementary School, and the housing units have been designed to reflect the old colonial style and the streets in some sections have been named for original township families.
Click here to be directed to a short history of Chesterfield Township's other Revolutionary War skirmish, the so-called "Battle of Brookdale."