Monmouth and its Lawrence Family

(The following originally appeared in the Allentown Messenger dated July 21, 1904.)


One of the conditions of the Monmouth Patent, issued by Governor Nicolls of New York in 1665, was “that the said patentees and their associates, their heirs or assigns, shall within the space of three years, beginning from the day the aforesaid lands and premises and settle there one hundred families at the least. This refers to the settling of lands in Monmouth county.


Among those who came from Long Island before the expiration of the three years limit in the Patent was William Lawrence. He became a large landowner, and during his life deeded large tracts to his children. His will was dated at Middletown, December 3, 1701 and proved May 22, 1704, and is quite a lengthy instrument.


Among other items he bequeaths to his loving wife Elizabeth, during her natural life, 40 acres of land with the dwelling-house, barn, orchard, etc., thereon; also said to said wife all household goods and furniture that he had with her when he married her; also 2 cows. To his son Joseph he gives the use of his negro boy “Shallo” for the term of three years, when said negro boy is to be free. To three grandsons he gave each a horse. To one granddaughter ten shillings; and his granddaughters Mary, Hannah, Elizabeth, Susannah and Rebecca Grover, each one a two-year-old heifer. All the remainder of his estate, real and personal, he gives to his sons Elisha and Joseph, and makes William and Elisha his executors.


In the list of members of the New Jersey Provincial Assembly from Monmouth county, from its first session in 1703 to 1772, are found the names of William, Elisha, Robert and Richard Lawrence. Robert was speaker of the Assembly in 1746-7, and again from 1754-58.


Most of the Lawrences of this section early joined the cause of the patriots in opposing the tyrannical acts of Great Britain. At a meeting of delegates from the different townships held at Freehold July 19, 1774, a committee of eleven was appointed to represent the whole country at the approaching Provincial Convention to be held at New Brunswick, one of whom was John Lawrence.


At a meeting of the citizens of the township held at Imlaystown on May 4, 1775, in favor of arming the people to collect funds for that purpose, John Lawrence was the presiding officer and Elisha Lawrence, Jr. was the clerk.


In the Continental army in the war which followed Benjamin Lawrence was a lieutenant, 1776-80, and Daniel, John, Nathaniel and Thomas, privates. In the State militia, Elisha Lawrence Sr., was a colonel and also quartermaster; Elisha, Jr., major and lieutenant colonel, 1775-7; Abram, Daniel, George, Isaac, Israel, John, Thomas and William were privates.


Prior to the Revolution another Elisha Lawrence was high sheriff of the county of Monmouth. He was born in 1740. On the outbreak of the war he raised a corps of 500 men, which he commanded in the Royalists Brigade. In 1777 he was taken prisoner by General Sullivan on Long Island. After the war he left with British army with his rank of colonel and half pay. Thomas Lawrence also joined the Royalists and was a major in the British service.


In the early part of 1783 Joseph Lawrence was the presiding judge at a Court of Admiralty held at Allentown to adjudicate the prize claims Captain Randolph and Adjutant Crane in the recapture of the schooners “Polly” and “Dilly Latta” from the British.


Elisha Lawrence, Sr. resided on what is now the Harrison Hendrickson farm, near Imlaystown. His daughter, Elizabeth married December 14, 1749, Dr. James Newell, of Allentown. They had issue fifteen children, of whom Margaret married Col. David Hay and Elizabeth married Robert Montgomery.


A prominent member of this family in Upper Freehold was Judge James S. Lawrence, who was born at the homestead at Cream Ridge, being the property now occupied by Joseph Holmes. He was for many years a judge, also a member of the Legislature and president of the Freehold Banking Company. He died February 26, 1860, in his 63d year. He married, first, Mary S., the daughter of Hendrick Conover, and second, Phoebe Ann, daughter of Nathaniel S. Rue, Sr.


Judge Lawrence’s sister Margaret married William Tilton. They had children Amanda T. and Martha, the former of whom married Joseph Scudder, and the latter married Edward T. Wikoff. The children of Mr. and Mrs. Wikoff are Elizabeth H., Edward T. and James L., the latter now residing at Cream Ridge.


The most prominent personage of this family was Capt. James Lawrence, who was born at Burlington N. J., in 1781. He first distinguished himself in the war with the Barbary pirates, at the bombardment of the city of Tripoli. In the war of 1812 he commanded the U. S. frigate “Chesapeake” in the engagement with the English frigate “Shannon.” It was the most desperate sea fight of that war, and occurred in Boston harbor June 1, 1813. The result was a defeat for the Americans, and Captain Lawrence was mortally wounded. While being carried below, he uttered the immortal words, dear to every American: Don’t give up the ship.” He died at Halifax, July 5 of that year. This distinguished officer lies buried in Trinity churchyard, New York, where his monument is one of the chief objects of interest.


The Presbyterian Church at Allentown stands on ground once owned by William Lawrence. For the sum of five shillings he conveyed to Robert Imlay and Tobias Polhemus, on December 15, 1744, one acre of land for the use of the Presbyterian congregation. On this the first edifice was erected in 1756 [the delay was attributable to a land title dispute with Indians].