Archaeological studies and recovered artifacts dating from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, and nearby finds dating from more than 12,000 years ago, confirm that parts of the area now known as the City of Bordentown were inhabited by prehistoric people. Much later in the late Woodlands era, some areas of the City were occupied, fished, and hunted, by predecessors of, and later still, members of, the Lenni Lenape tribe. Their trails formed the basis for early pathways leading to and from City creeks, the Delaware River, and the Trenton-Hamilton-Bordentown Marsh. Lenni Lenape people were present when settlers arrived from Europe.
- The first permanent European settler of what would later become Bordentown was Thomas Farnsworth. In 1682 he built his cabin overlooking the Delaware River and established “Farnsworth’s Landing” as a center for trade and commerce in the area. Remnants of the original cabin still exist as part of a larger, later house on the northwest corner of Park and Prince Streets.
- In 1717 Joseph Borden settled here, bought up a substantial part of the land, and changed the town’s name to Borden’s Towne. By 1740, he started a packet line that sailed destinations to and from Philadelphia. 17they would make their ferry boat connections to New York.
- Born on Long Island in 1725, Patience moved to Bordentown at age 4. In her home at 100 Farnsworth Avenue, Patience developed a talent for sculpting in both wax and dough. In 1772 she traveled to London to work in the royal court as a sculptress. During the American Revolution she provided information overhead in King George III’s Court to the Continental Congress, becoming the first female US spy.
- Francis Hopkinson, member of the New Jersey delegation to the Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and son-in-law of Joseph Borden, lived in town for many years. His home was spared destruction by British forces during their occupation in 1778 and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. He is considered the designer of the first American flag and NJ state flag.
- Early 18th century residents of Bordentown were largely Quakers. The Friends of Bordentown petitioned the Friends Meeting in Crosswicks to allow them to form their own meeting and build their own place of worship. In 1740, they built the structure still located on Farnsworth Avenue. Although the Bordentown Meeting was discontinued in 1904, the structure remains as the oldest house of worship in the city.
Founded in 1767 as the Union Fire Company with 24 active members, its name was changed to the Humane Fire Company in 1822. This name remained until 1976 when it merged with the Hope Hose Fire Company. For generations, this fire company has served the local community and was present when Joseph Bonaparte’s mansion burned in 1820. It is the second oldest volunteer fire company in the nation.
- Son of Francis Hopkinson, Joseph graduated with a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He served as a federal judge, a Congressman in the House of Representatives from 1814 to 1819, and as a member of the NJ Legislature. In 1798 he penned the lyrics to Hail Columbia which was the unofficial national anthem until 1931. Today it’s used as the official anthem of the Vice President of the US.
- Born in England in 1737, this firebrand revolutionary sided with his adopted countrymen against the British Crown, penning pamphlets such as Common Sense. He built his only home here in 1783 and lived at the residence from 1785-1786 and 1803- 1804. While in Europe, he stated in a letter to a friend, “I’d rather see my horse Buttons eating the grass of Bordentown than all the pomp and show of Europe.”
- This whimsical ballad was written by Francis Hopkinson describing an attempted attack upon the British fleet as they were occupying the harbor of Philadelphia on January 6, 1778. The kegs were made at Colonel Joseph Borden’s cooperage, filled with gunpowder, and floated down the Delaware River. Although the kegs didn’t make contact with the warships, the song became a rallying cry for the patriots.
Born in Pennsylvania in 1814, Samuel Bell Waugh studied art in Europe and became one of the leading portrait and landscape artists in Philadelphia. Escaping the heat of the city, he built his summer home in Bordentown to resemble an Italian villa. The family spent almost 50 years here. Several of his paintings are on exhibit at the Philadelphia Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon and exiled King of Spain and Naples, settled near Bordentown in 1816 and built a mansion overlooking the Crosswicks Creek. Bringing his European ideals to America, he developed one of the first picturesque-style landscapes in the nation during his 20 year residency. His vast library and art collection attracted many townspeople as well as important notables of the day.
As a budding naturalist, he and his wife, Zenaide, came to live at Point Breeze with his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte in 1823. During their residency in the Lake House, he compiled lists of almost every living species that he observed on the estate. He also became the second person in the US to write books about birds. Leaving for Europe in 1826, his work earned him the title as the Father of Descriptive Ornithology.
- Built in England and assembled near Bordentown, this 10 ton engine made its public debut on November 12, 1831 thus becoming the first steam locomotive to operate in New Jersey. In 1866, it was retired with honor from the Camden and Amboy Railroad Company. Today it’s housed in the Smithsonian Institute with distinction as the oldest existing steam engine and self-propelled vehicle in the world.
- Born in Bordentown in 1844 at the family home on Crosswicks Street, Gilder was a leader in the arts and literature movement in the latter half of the 19th Editor of Century Magazine, social activist, poet, and personal friend of several US Presidents, artists, sculptors, and writers, he spent his life championing for the rights of the poor and assembled prominent figures of the day in his New York City home.
- Founded in 1851 by Methodist minister Reverend John H. Brakeley, the Bordentown Female College, with its sweeping view above a bluff, enjoyed a reputation as a fine finishing school for young ladies, which drew its students largely from the upper echelons of New York society. The school continued its education tradition in the areas of arts and literature until falling financial victim to the Panic of 1893.
- Born in Massachusetts in 1821, she established a free public school after noticing so many idle children while on a visit to Bordentown. Starting in 1852 with six boys in a one room school house, Clara saw attendance increase to 60 children the following year. It was apparent that a new school was needed. When a man was appointed as principal over her objections, she left. She later founded the American Red Cross.
- Born in 1823 in Binghamton, NY, Susan Moore Waters was a self-taught portrait painter. Settling in Bordentown in 1866, she changed her style to landscapes and depiction of animals. Her paintings achieved national recognition at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Ahead of her time, Waters was the primary supporter of her family, active in the women’s suffrage movement and as an advocate for animal rights.
- Founded in 1881 by Rev William Bowen, BMI was one of the nation’s best private military high schools for boys until its closure in 1972. In 1885 Rev. Thompson H. Landon became superintendent, starting a long tradition of educational excellence that culminated with graduates transferring to either Annapolis or West Point. Noted students include H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. and NFL Hall of Famer, Floyd Little.
Also known as the Manual Training and Industrial School for Colored Youth, it was founded in 1886 by Rev. Walter A. Rice, and was a residential high school for African-American students. It was known as the “Tuskegee of the North” for its adoption of many of the educational practices developed at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. It offered its students an education in the Classics and Latin as part of its overall curriculum as well as a vocational education. Notable lecturers at the school included Albert Einstein and Paul Robeson. The School was the subject of David Davidson’s 2009 documentary film “A Place Out of Time-The Bordentown School.”
- After establishing the first state school for African Americans in Alexandria, Virginia in 1884, Powell became the superintendent of School #2 in Bordentown. Credited with improving the quality of education, he later served as superintendent of similar schools for the city of Camden. Achieving national prominence in 1897, he was appointed Ambassador to Haiti under President McKinley until his resignation in 1905.
Purchasing a mansion at Hilltop in 1901, George W. Swift, Jr. was an inventor who operated a machine shop on Park Street for four decades. Holding many US patents, his inventions benefited the daily lives of the average home owner including the manufacturing of corrugated boxes, covered egg cartons, and mail envelopes. As an entrepreneur, he and his wife graciously provided financial support for many local causes.
Inventor of the gasoline rock drill which revolutionized the mining industry, his company also produced control engines for submarines and the only two-cycle gas powered engines in the world for pleasure and racing crafts. Located at the foot of Bank Street on the Crosswicks Creek, the Rice Gas Engine Company was a million dollar business that thrived from 1908- 1929. Rice maintained his residency in the former Waugh mansion.
A lifelong resident of Bordentown, he was an art school graduate of the School of Industrial Arts in Trenton. As an accomplished illustrator, his work often appeared in the magazines of Red Book, McCall’s, and the Saturday Evening Post. As his fame grew in the 1950’s, he illustrated Lone Ranger comic book covers for the Dell Publishing Company. During his life, he drew over 400 portraits including those of U.S. presidents, military generals, and national sports figures.