There are names for municipalities large and small, including hamlets, villages, towns, and cities. There are even names where streets meet. How are these names picked? The story of who, what, where, when, and why varies from place to place. What about Mendham Township?

Ebenezer Byram, an early and influential settler, is credited with selecting the name of the new Township of Mendham, officially incorporated in 1749. Why did he pick the name Mendham?

There is a village located on the east bank of the River Waveney in Suffolk, UK, which is named Mendham. This name is derived from an old English name Mynda, from the period of the Norman invasion. Ham, which refers to homestead, was added to Mynda. Mendham/Myndaham are versions of the lands of Mandham held by the Norman Roer Malet, who is listed in the Domesday Book in 1086, the record of the “Great Survey” of much of England and parts of Wales.

Mendham/Mandham/Wyndaham/etc. was first a homestead, later a village and civil parish. Mendham appears on medieval documents spelled different ways. Our ancestors had a fluid concept of the written word and freely used diverse spellings as in the example of Mendham.

Mendham, UK, is thought to be the source for Mendon in Massachusetts, which in turn is cited as the name source for Mendham Township in New Jersey.

When the pilgrims arrived at their new home, the Plymouth Colony, in 1620, they found an empty land with room for them to settle. The native population had been winnowed down dramatically by European diseases for which they had no immunity. A sniffle or a sneeze for a European fishing in the area could mean death for an Indigenous person.

Over the decades, the native population regrew and became competitors for the lands of the Massachusetts Colony. The competition intensified as the English moved inland. Mendon, which lay to the west of the Colony, was eight square miles when purchased from the Nipmuc Indians. It was incorporated in 1667. The original fifteen settler families came from Braintree and Weymouth in the Massachusetts Colony.

The father of Ebenezer Byram, Captain Nicholas Byram, was born in Weymouth in 1640. He and his family would have known many of the early settlers of Mendon. He was thirty-five years old when the Native Americans, with their swelling populations wanted their lands back and the English gone. The native tribes believed that land was a gift from the creator and should be shared. The English believed that the purchase of land ended its use by the former owners. In addition, the Puritans were convinced that they needed to convert the natives, of whom many were unwilling. The result was King Phillip’s War. Mendon was a flash point and early casualty.

In 1675 Mendon was attacked and suffered the first English casualties in the War. The natives returned to the small village in 1676 and burned it to the ground. The Mendon residents were either killed or driven off. It was not until several years after the end of the War in 1680 that Mendon was rebuilt. This violence would be a memory that Captain Nicholas Byram carried with him and which he could have passed on.

Various histories, including that by Mendham Borough’s Historic Commission, indicate that Ebenezer Byram lived in Mendon. However, the family genealogies do not support this. In 1692, sixteen years after King Phillip’s War, Ebenezer was born in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He would have heard the stories about Mendon’s destruction from members of his family. He may have even visited the rebuilt Mendon, but there is no information that he ever lived there.

As an adult, Ebenezer followed many other English who wanted the greater religious freedom offered in New Jersey. In 1743 he moved with his family to what was then the newly formed Morris Township. In 1749 Mendham Township was formed from parts of Morris Township, Hanover and Roxbury. He became a leader in the area with his opening of the Black Horse Inn, which was at the corner of the ancient Great Minisink Trail from Morristown to Phillipsburg and another Lenni Lenape trail south to Vealtown (the future Bernards Township). Envisioning the expansion of the community near his Inn, he relocated the Protestant Meeting House from Roxiticus to a nearby hilltop. His son, Rev. Eliab Byram was the first pastor, and the congregation became part of the Presbytery of New York. Ebenezer recruited an old friend and experienced carpenter from Bridgewater, John Gary, to come to Mendham to build Hilltop Church. Gary stayed in Mendham and eventually became the local tax assessor.

In “The Mendhams” printed in 1964 there is a popular story of the naming of Mendham. In the mid-18th century this area was coalescing into three parts. Roxiticus was settled first, but the story goes that the name was abandoned because Ebenezer had difficulty with the tricky Minsi syllables. The other areas that followed were to the east which became known as Water Street and an area of high ground in between the two on the Great Minisink Trail.

Ebenezer was an influential person as the owner of the Black Horse Inn and local sheriff. He enforced discipline at his tavern with a large hand bell, whacking the heads of the boisterous and the rowdy. Rev. Eliab Byram was so irritated by the nightly noise from the Tavern interrupting his pray meetings that he warned, “I’ll mend ’em.” This was the folklore source for the community’s name.

In the 1882 “History of Morris County,” the Hon. B. S. Axtell discounts this on the basis of conversations with a descendant, Aaron G. Byram and a friend, the Rev. T. S. Hastings, who did not believe the story to be true. Axtell ends his thoughts on the naming of Mendham with a final comment. He believed that Mendham might just have meant “my home” to Ebenezer. Axtell also noted that Mendham had different spellings in early Morris County records. This is similar to what occurred centuries ago in England.

Another speculation about the Mendham name was noted in the 1920’s. Charles Philhower, an archaeologist and historian, wrote about names given to local places in Morris County by the Lenni Lenape. He questioned whether Mendham’s name was derived from the Lenape word Mandoman, meaning “to blame somebody.” The settlers could be blamed for supplanting the native Lenape. However, it seems unlikely that Ebenezer sat around with friends at the Black Horse Tavern with mugs full, chatting, and suggesting the idea of a derogatory name for the new community.

I have addressed four to the five of the W’s, but the why remains elusive.

Sam Tolley – Labor Day 2023

 

Sources:

Mendham Township Historic Preservation Committee

Borough of Mendham Historic Preservation Commission

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

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

A History of Randolph Township, ed. Richard T. Irwin, published by Township of Randolph, 1976, 2nd edition, 2002

Oxford Dictionary

HouseofNames.com

Wikipedia

Geni.com

Ancestor.com