In 1744 Ebenezer Byram and family moved to Roxiticus in Morris County from East Bridgwater, Plymouth Colony. He was fifty-two. It was late in life for him to make this move. In the mid-1700’s the average life expectancy was close to his age in the mid-fifties. Why did he decide that it was so important to move and take his family, including several of his children who were grown and had their own families?

Ebenezer was a member of a prominent family. He was the third generation of Byrams to live in East Bridgwater. His father Dr. Nicholas Byram arrived in the Plymouth Colony in 1638.

Ebenezer was born there in 1692. He grew up in East Bridgewater and prospered, eventually owning several plantations. He was a wealthy man and an important member of the community.

His neighbors elected him as a captain of the local militia, as they had his father, Nicolas. His father was known for his bravery in a victorious fight against a large group of marauding Abenaki warriors.

Ebenezer was ready to defend his community too. He was only twelve when the French and their native allies, the Abenaki, attacked Deerfield in 1704. This famous massacre, along with the earlier sacking and burning of Mendon during King Phillp’s War, left an impression on him.

Ebenezer was an opponent of Puritan Orthodoxy, which intensified during the Great Awakening in the middle of the18th Century. He permitted radical ministers to preach in his barn. Earlier, when he married Hannah Hayward in December of 1714, they had to be married in his barn, too. Ebenezer was refused the use of the Bridgwater Church for his marriage ceremony. In 1724 he and his father built and attended the 3rd Church of Christ in Bridgewater.

When they married, Ebenezer was twenty-two and Hannah was twenty-three. They spent the next twenty years building a future with a growing family and expanding wealth. Outside of contending with the Puritans, they lived a happy life, but they faced sorrows too. Several of their children died shortly after birth.

Ebenezer’s second oldest son, Eliab became a missionary with his friend, David Brainard. They traveled the ancient Jersey trails evangelizing to the Leni Lenape. They passed through the Roxiticus area on their travels. Eliab was impressed by the quality of the land, the natural resources, the friendly disposition of the Leni Lenape Roxiticus tribe, and the room for families to grow and prosper.

When Eliab returned to Bridgewater, he told Ebenezer and the family, including Ebenezer, Jr., about his travels. He described  Roxiticus as a good area for settlement. The Roxiticus natives were few in number, friendly, and Christians. They were very dissimilar from the warlike Abenaki in the north.

For many New Englanders including Ebenezer, New Jersey and its proprietors offered the tempting promise of a place to build a future, including the freedom of religion from the Puritans.

Ebenezer may have influenced his son Jr. to settle there to vet more thoroughly for the family’s future home. Ebenezer Jr. did purchase a home in the Waterstreet section of Roxiticus in 1738. Next, he married Abigail Alden from Bridgewater in November of the same year. Abigail was a member of the Alden family, original passengers on the Mayflower. She came from a family willing to venture. Ebenezer, Jr. brought his bride to their new home on Waterstreet, where they raised their four children.

Ebenezer must have been satisfied with information from his son and Abigail. He decided that it was time to move the rest of the family. He bought a farm in 1740 along the Great Minisink trail at a juncture with another trail. His new fields lay behind the house, stretching to tree covered hills to the north.

The Byram family moved to the Roxiticus area, which was then lightly settled and a part of Morris Township. Several small villages were coalescing. The population in the mid 1700’s was only in the hundreds. The population would expand to over 1,000 by the time that Randolph split off from Mendham Township in 1805.

The members of the family who moved with Ebenezer:

Eliab, his second son, was twenty-six when he married Phoebe Leonard. They had a baby, Eliab Byram, Jr. In 1740 Eliab, Sr. had graduated from Harvard College. As a dissenting minister, he was not welcome in Puritan Bridgewater. He applied and was accepted in Morris County as a minister and became the pastor of the local congregation in Roxiticus. Within a few years of his arrival there was a split in the membership with some members moving to a Chester Congregation. The remaining members moved to the new Mendham church when it was completed by Ebenezer. Eliab was the pastor there until the middle of the 1750’s, about the time that his father died.

Japhet was twenty-three when he married Sarah Allen. They had a two-year-old, Sarah, when they made the move to Roxiticus.

Naphtali was twenty-one when he married Hannah Pratt. He would die within a few years of the move to Roxiticus in 1747.

Hannah was eighteen. She would first marry Daniel Thompson who died before the birth of their first child. Next, she married Elihu Baldwin.

Mary was sixteen and married to Isaac Harlow.

Jephthah was twelve. He would later return to Bridgewater and marry Susanna Washburn. They later moved to Sussex County in New Jersey. Byram Township in Sussex was named for them.

Abigail was ten and would later marry Benjamin Pitney, part of another important local  Mendham Township family.

As they settled in, Ebenezer, Hannah, and their large family began to shape a future in the community. With his experience, wealth, and a large family, he quickly became an important resident and an area leader. He was elected as a major in the local militia once they learned of his past experience, and also became a local judge of the Court.

The farmhouse which he had previously purchased was remodeled and expanded to meet the needs of the family. Since it was located at a crossroads, he began to permit travelers to stay overnight as they moved to and from various places, including the Penn Colony. Ebenezer realized that this was a good business. He expanded and opened his home as an Inn for travelers, calling it the Black Horse Inn.

When the county agreed to approve a new township, Ebenezer did not want to continue using the native name Roxiticus. He claimed that the Indian word was too difficult to pronounce. However, based on his family’s experience with the Abenaki and other indigenous native tribes, he probably disliked native people in general. Ebenezer suggested Mendham. This was similar to the name of a village, Mendon, near Bridgewater, which was well known to him. It had suffered repeated native attacks during King Phillip’s War. The residents agreed. Mendham Township was created in 1749 by the Morris County Court. The Byrams had only lived there for five years.

Ebenezer worked to convert the area near his home into a proper village. He purchased three tracks of land from John Bollen to build a new church and meeting house, which he felt was important for the growing village. He recruited a builder from Bridgewater, John Cary, who he convinced to move to Mendham Township. Ebenezer had the current minister, his son, convince the remaining congregants to move from old Roxiticus church.

They built a square structure facing south, with a ten-foot-wide aisle in the nave to the altar. This structure was prominently placed on a rise land just off the trail to the south. It was visible from the Inn, as well as much of the surrounding area. Ebenezer must have been proud of his accomplishment. He had created two places for the residents to meet and the community made good use of them.

To the Inn he added spirits and tap room with a separate door to the outside. He owned a large dinner bell, used to call the family or travelers together.  Over time, he found another use.  The pastor, Eliab, complained about the noise from the tap room during his services. The bell became an effective weapon to silence noisy, boisterous drinkers. A bell to their head was sufficient to quiet the most enthusiastic. Few made the mistake twice.

Ebenezer and the family lived happily in Mendham. They probably celebrated Thanksgiving, which was an annual New England tradition. It was not until one hundred and ten years after Ebenezer’s death that it became a National Holiday by Lincoln.

When he died in 1753, he and later his wife were buried on the Mendham Church grounds, which is known today as Hilltop Cemetery. His gravestone reads “Here lyes ye Body of Ebenezer Byram Esqr Decd August ye 9th 1753 In ye 61st years of his Age.”

His descendants continued to be part of the community’s growth.

Elias Morris Byram and his brother, Stephen, operated a blacksmith and wheelwright shop in the Waterstreet area during the mid-nineteenth century until they moved their business to Vineland in 1869. They were sons of Japhet Byram, Jr., who was a grandson of Ebenezer.

Abraham Byram and his brother, John, who were also the children of Japhet. They operated a fulling mill by 1812, which lay less than 40 paces from the home that Abraham had built for his wife, Sarah.

The Byram families spread far beyond New Jersey, building homes, farming, and creating businesses. They moved into Pennsylvania and Ohio, to southern states, including the Carolinas, and north as far as Maine.

 

Sam Tolley – Thanksgiving Day – November 23, 2023
Note: The Byram name is a variant of Byron.

Sources:

Mendham Township Historic Preservation Committee

Borough of Mendham Historic Preservation Commission

Genealogy of the Byram Family, 1896, Aaron G. Byram

The Mendhams,” 1964, published by the Mayor’s Tercentenary Committee, and the  
Mendham Township Committee

History of Morris County,” New Jersey, 1882, Chapter 28 by Hon. S. B. Axtell, published by W. W. Munsell & Co.

Tim Timpson – unpublished History of Brookside

Following websites: Wikipedia, Geni.com, Family Search, Wikitree, Ancestry.com