The history of Mansfield Township [†] is rooted in the history of Colonial New Jersey. The original residents of the area were Algonquin Indians, of the Leni-Lenape tribe; they traded with early Dutch settlers, mostly in furs, and maintained a culture combining hunting and agriculture.
In 1664, King Charles II of England took control of much of America's eastern seaboard, and deeded most of present-day New Jersey to his brother, the Duke of York, who split it into East and West. West Jersey was settled mostly by English Quakers. Throughout the 17th century, sections of New Jersey were acquired from the Lenape tribe, including present-day Mansfield. Like the rest of the Delaware Valley, Mansfield was an attractive area for new Quakers to settle after arriving in the colonies, as it had mature trees, fertile ground, and access to the Delaware River, an active transportation route.
The first known settler in Mansfield itself was an English Quaker named Thomas Scattergood, who settled near Crafts Creek in present-day Columbus. Like other early settlers, he and his family lived in a hand-dug cave near the creek until a house was built. Other early settlers included William Biddle, who purchased Biddle Island (Newbold Island) in 1681, Michael Newbold, William Black, after whom Blacks Creek is named, and Caleb Shreve.
In 1688, Mansfield was officially established as a British constabulary, and in 1798, it was incorporated as Mansfield Township. The township is named for Mansfield, England. Mansfield was once larger than it is today, and throughout the second half of the 19th century, other municipalities separated from it to form their own jurisdictions. These include Fieldsboro Borough, which separated in 1850 and formally incorporated in 1894; Bordentown Township, which was formed from parts of Mansfield and Chesterfield townships in 1852; and Florence Township, which incorporated in 1872.
Since New Jersey is geographically between New York and Philadelphia, Mansfield served as a major thoroughfare for troops during the Revolutionary War period. An important skirmish was fought in Mansfield Township at Petticoat Bridge, on the Assiscunk Creek. Just prior to the Battle of Trenton, General George Washington1 relayed an order to Colonel Griffin to engage several thousand Hessian troops, diverting them away from their station in Bordentown City. On December 23, 1776, approximately 500 soldiers of the Continental Army, led by Colonel Griffin, marched through Mount Holly. When Colonel Carl von Donop, leader of the Hessian forces at Bordentown, learned of the Americans' march, his troops marched out to meet them. The two forces met at Petticoat Bridge, outside what was then the town of Black Horse (present-day Columbus), and engaged in a skirmish that lasted three days. The diversion was successful.
Although the Hessian troops triumphed in the skirmish, they were too far away to help when Washington attacked the Hessian garrison in Trenton early on the morning of December 26. That famous battle was a decisive and important victory. There is now a commemorative plaque near the site of the skirmish, on Petticoat Bridge Road in Springfield Township.
† Environmental Resource Inventory for the Township of Mansfield, 2007, Delware Valley Regional Planning Commission, www.dvrpc.org, accessed October, 2020.
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