Toms River’s Colonial Founding

2016's Christmas was the kickoff for the 250th Anniversary Celebration. (Photo courtesy Toms River Township)

It was 250 years ago this month that the long path to our Township’s founding began.

Colonial New Jersey

In the 18th Century ‑‑ before independence was declared in 1776 ‑‑ New Jersey was one of the British Empire’s 13 colonies in North America.

The British took control of New Jersey from the Dutch in 1664. By the time of their takeover, the northeastern area of the colony already had several established towns ‑‑ Bergen, Elizabeth, Woodbridge, Piscataway, Middletown, Newark and Shrewsbury. They had all been settled by the Dutch during the 1600s.

Of these, Shrewsbury is the connection to modern day Toms River. By an Act of the General Assembly of October 31, 1693, the “Township of Shrewsbury includes all the land from the mouth of the Naversink River … to Burlington Path… along the edge of the Pines to Burlington Path … and along the Province Line to the sea.” In modern terms, Shrewsbury would be almost all of Monmouth and Ocean Counties!

As history moved forward, small clusters of settlements sprang up along the streams and rivers with navigation by boat as the primary means of transportation.

This was certainly the case here up to 1812, as an inlet existed in the area of present day Ortley Beach that connected the ocean to the bay and ultimately to the river that became known as Toms River. The waterway was known as “Cranberry Inlet” and was crucial to colonial-era transportation and the growth of commerce and population in the area.

1767: A Request

By the mid-1700s, the inhabitants began to experience problems in their needs due to the large geographical size of Shrewsbury. The solution? A new township!

On January 24, 1767, the inhabitants of the lower section of Shrewsbury presented petitions to the General Assembly, sitting in Burlington, to remedy the “many and great difficulties” occasional by “the large extent” of the community. Six months later, on June 24, 1767, by legislative act, the new township was created and its boundaries were set as follows:

“That all that part of said town of Shrewsbury beginning at Cranberry Inlet, and running thence up the Bay to the mouth of Metedeconk River, thence up said river to the first bridge which is now over River, thence west until it shall intersect a line to be run South 18 degrees East from the place where Burlington Old Path crosseth the North Branch of Toms River, called Pinebrook, thence from the intersection of said line, South 56 degrees West to the old division line, called Keith’s Line, thence along said Keith’s Line to the line of Stafford, thence along the same to the Main Sea or Ocean, and thence bounded by the Sea to the above mentioned beginning, shall be and is hereby divided off from the said Township of Shrewsbury, and made a separate town to be called by the name of Town of Dover.”  .”

By modern standards, it, too, was large  ‑‑ about 20 miles long and 16 miles wide. It included all of present-day northern Ocean County.

The new town name was presumably for the town of Dover, England  ‑‑ but there is no official record to show who, how or why it was called “Dover.” In 1992, the Township’s 225-year anniversary committee wrote to officials in Dover, England inquiring of any connection, but no records were found. There are no records here, locally, as to the name’s source. In 2006, by voter referendum, the official name was changed to Toms River.

J. Mark Mutter gets ready for the 250th anniversary of Toms River. (Photo by Catherine Galioto)

Our Semiquincentennial

So it was 250 years ago this month – January 24 ‑‑ that the process began to create our town. We shall celebrate our anniversary year, our semiquicetennial, through 2017:

The Ocean County Historical Society shall be displaying artifacts of the Township’s history later this year.

The Ocean County Library shall be hosting a history forum this Spring.

Students from the Toms River Schools, in conjunction with the Toms River Business Improvement District, shall be painting historic murals downtown.

Toms River Food Fest theme on May 6, (11 a.m. to 8 p.m. – Washington Street) shall be the Township’s anniversary.

Huddy Park in downtown Toms River shall be re-dedicated.

It shall be a 250 year old civics and history lesson for all of us.

Sources: Charter of the Town of Dover; Place Names of Ocean County; The Story of New Jersey’s Civil Boundaries; Early History of Toms River and Dover Township.