Sometimes a small discovery can lead to an interesting investigation. A year ago, a client contacted us, requesting we look at the contents of a recently emptied farmhouse in South Jersey. Of particular interest to me were a small collection of Native American relics, points, also known as arrowheads, and a few specimens of local rocks and minerals. The client told me all the items were uncovered on the farm, which was ancestral land once owned by the Tomlinson family. The origin of this family began with Joseph Tomlinson, a well educated Quaker, who arrived in New Jersey from London prior to 1686. Not only was Joseph Tomlinson an astute businessman, he was also a carpenter and had a hand in erecting several buildings, the most notable being the Friends Meeting House in Newton, now Camden, NJ. This was the first building used for religious worship in Gloucester County, now Camden County, and still stands today. The nearby towns of Salem, Burlington, and Newton were a few of the earliest settlements in South Jersey. Salem and Burlington were already thriving communities when a group of settlers from Dublin Ireland established Newton in 1681. The settlement extended from the forks of Newton Creek to the Cooper River. Both of these waterways empty into the Delaware River. The choice of this location was because there were many members in this early settlement and the new arrivals were not certain how the local Native Americans would receive them.
Joseph Tomlinson was not a part of the original group from Ireland. He arrived soon afterward to fulfill an apprenticeship to an uncle who was already living in Newton. After completing his duties in 1690, Joseph Tomlinson left Newton and purchased 117 acres of land on the east side of Gravelly Run in Gloucester Township, a distance from the Newton settlement. The source of Gravelly Run begins west of Pine Hill and joins the North Branch of Timber Creek, which flows from Laurel Lake. Timber Creek along with Newton Creek and the Cooper River were key arteries in supplying Philadelphia with lumber so necessary for early coopers and shipbuilders. At one time, Gravelly Run and nearby Laurel Lake, both surrounded by dense forest, were home to a large tribe of Native Americans. Tomlinson’s purchase was ten miles away from the fledgling Newton settlement and two miles from the Timber Creek, a necessary water highway to the Delaware River providing access to Philadelphia, Salem, and Burlington, NJ. What would compel an educated and well-connected man, who eventually became Sheriff and King’s Attorney in 1696 to locate his family in a remote region so far from the settlement of Newton? My small collection of arrowheads and relics from this area could provide a clue.
Native Americans often chose to place their camps close to natural springs. The Native Americans knew three springs fed Laurel Lake. One is a Lithia spring located at the end of what is now Tomlinson Avenue, in Laurel Springs, New Jersey. Another is a sulphur spring close to a nearby dam. The third is Crystal Spring at the end of what are now Lakeview and Elm Streets. The medicinal properties of the three springs used by many generations of Native Americans were a source of natural healing. Joseph Tomlinson wisely chose to embrace the Native American choices and lifestyle for his own benefit and adapted to a new way of living. Unlike his Newton counterparts, Joseph Tomlinson chose to locate his farm close to the Native American camp. He had pure drinking water at his disposal and access to the healthy properties of mineral springs.
Another benefit of the land was the sandy soil. Glass was a valuable commodity during early times. Glass factories quickly became essential components of the early economic system. The small rock collection I had in my possession contained two curious specimens. One was a piece of glass slag, possibly a remnant from a glass factory on the Tomlinson property. My client assured me that the entire collection was originally discovered on Tomlinson land. The other piece of rock had curious crystals, probably due to exposure to extreme heat that caused it to crystallize on the heated surface. Two local archeologists confirmed the intense heating process could be the result of extreme heat of an early forge.
What is certain is that Joseph Tomlinson’s daughter Elizabeth married Bartholomew Wyatt. Their daughter, Elizabeth Wyatt married Richard Wistar. Richard Wistar was the son of Caspar Wistar, button maker of Philadelphia. Caspar Wistar traveled to Salem to sell his buttons. He recognized the possibilities of the sandy soil and built a glass factory on the nearby Alloways Creek in 1738. His son, Richard Wistar continued the thriving operation from 1752 to 1782. Wistarburg, the name of the factory, was one of the leading glass producers of the new world. Scientific glass vessels made specifically at Benjamin Franklin’s request were produced at Wistarburg. Eventually, the enterprise ceased due to a lack of firewood.
The discovery of a small yet sentimental collection spurred an investigation that brings to light local history in a new way.