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Chesterfield Village

Chesterfield Twp, Burlington County, NJ

Recklesstown

Photo: Bordentown-Chesterfield Road and Route 677, Chesterfield Village (Recklesstown), NJ; Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Photographed by User:Blakefoto, (.own work), 2011, [cc-by-3.0 (creativecommons)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed September, 2020.

Chesterfield Village [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

The original name of Chesterfield Village was Recklesstown, named after Joseph Reckless. It has been claimed elsewhere that the town was named after Anthony Reckless, but this is probably erroneous since Anthony Reckless was the grandson of Joseph Reckless and a contemporary of the Revolution. He died in 1817. Road Returns [‡] of 1785 refer to the village as Recklesstown. Anthony, who was born in the early 1760's was in his twenties when the road returns indicated the name of the village.

Joseph Reckless also received land in the Chesterfield locale from his father, Samuel Reckless of Nottingham Shire, England. His first home was on the east side of the Georgetown-Chesterfield Road, just opposite the present location of Newbold's Lane. The house burned down in the twentieth century.

During the Revolution, the grandsons of J. Reckless, who were also residents of the village, participated actively in the war. Robert, who was 19 when the war started, was a solider in Captian Shreve's Burlington Light Horse Brigade. In a skirmish with the Tories and Pine Robbers at Cedar Bridge, who were commanded by Joseph Bacon, Robert was mortally wounded on Dec. 27, 1782. Anthony, who was 17 when the war started, joined the sappers and miners Continental Army as an officer (Lieutenant) and rose to the grade of Captain, serving throughout the war. Both Rohert and Anthony were considered war heroes. Anthony died in 1817 and, in commemoration of the death of a notable person, the then Attorney General of New Jersey, Aaron D. Woodruff, wrote Anthony's obituary.

The name of "Recklesstown" remained until 1888. During the 1880's, Anthony Bullock served as a U.S. Congressman and was from Recklesstown. One source states that a Colonel Stone from Pennsylvania convinced Anthony Bullock to change the name of the town. After all, what kind of a ridiculous name of a town is that for a Congressman to live in? He was so ridiculed for coming from a town of this name, rather than move, he had the name of the village changed to "Chesterfield." The original letter from Washington, D.C. changing the name was dated May 17, 1888.

According to one source, the Recklesstown Tavern was opened by William O'Brian (O'Breen) in 1748, although another source dates it prior to 1710. Numerous town meetings were held here. During the Revolution this tavern was owned by John Wilkinson and Charles Ford. During this period there is no -record of anything unusual occuring at this tavern, only the usual "tippling" and probably some rather unique town meetings. This tavern is located on the NE corner of the interseciton of the two main thoroughfares that go through the center of town.

Throughout the early years of this village few census are available. In 1875 the population of the township was 1,520 and in 1876 the commercial establishments in Reckless- town were a general store, a lumber mill, a carriage manufacturer, an inn, a tailor, a blacksmith, and two millers. In 1883 the population of the village was 150 and a shoe shop was added to the town's commercial enterprises. Also listed was the Baptist Church and the post office.

From this small community came a signer of "The Concessions," a Congressman (Bullock), two Revolutionary War heroes (Robert and Anthony Reckless), the founder (Jospeh Reckless), and an inventor (Charles Newbold).

One of the more enterprising persons from this locale was Charles Newbold. A road bearing the same name was in Recklesstown. In 1797, Charles Newbold invented a new and radically different plow for farming. It was a one piece cast iron plow which was a vast improvement over the then idiosyncratically designed contrivances which were constructed by individuals from available curved sticks. Between 1790 and 1796 Charles Newbold designed the plow and it was patented in 1797. It was cast by Benjamin Jones at the Hanover Furnace in Browns Mills. The farmers in the area did not accept this new invention because it was felt that the cast iron in the plow would poison the soil and cause weeds to grow. By the time the idea of a one piece cast iron plow was accepted, there were many other competitors who produced similar plows. As a result, the venture was a financial failure costing Newbold about $30,000. Newbold used the plow several times for its intended purpose successfully. Then a farmer used it to plow an orchard and the tip broke. That was the end of that plow. It is now located at the State Agricultural Society of New York's Museum at Albany. Although Newbold's plow was not a financial success, it was the forerunner of the soon popular plow that was to be used by farmers throughout the nation. Honor was bestowed upon Newbold by the praise of a prominent agriculturist and reported in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.

In 1834, the surrounding environs of Recklesstown were referred to as being located in a very fertile county of sandy loam. It is "Composed of rolling land, highly cultivated, particularly in rye, wheat, oats and hay." In 1883 the people were mostly agricultural and the farmers were described as enterprising, thrifty, proud of their occupations, having good fences and spacious farm buildings which are rarely excelled. Notably, the quality of the heavy-weight hogs was superior.

One of the more enterprising persons from this locale was Charles Newbold (1764-1835). A road bearing the same name was in Recklesstown. In 1797, Charles Newbold invented a new and radically different plow for farming. It was a one piece cast iron plow which was a vast improvement over the then idiosyncratically designed contrivances which were constructed by individuals from available curved sticks. Between 1790 and 1796 Charles Newbold designed the plow and it was patented in 1797. It was cast by Benjamin Jones at the Hanover Furnace in Browns Mills. The farmers in the area did not accept this new invention because it was felt that the cast iron in the plow would poison the soil and cause weeds to grow. By the time the idea of a one piece cast iron plow was accepted, there were many other competitors who produced similar plows. As a result, the venture was a financial failure costing Newbold about $30,000. Newbold used the plow several times for its intended purpose successfully. Then a farmer used it to plow an orchard and the tip broke. That was the end of that plow. It is now located at the State Agricultural Society of New York's Museum at Albany. Although Newbold's plow was not a financial success, it was the forerunner of the soon popular plow that was to be used by farmers throughout the nation. Honor was bestowed upon Newbold by the praise of a prominent agriculturist and reported in the writings of Thomas Jefferson.

There were two grist mills in Recklesstown where flour was made. One was at the southern extreme of the village, near the Stillwell house, and the other was at the southeastern portion of the village, on the Peppler property. Both were on Black's Creek. As for the southern gristmill, which was the first gristmill in Chesterfield Township, Henry Beck, in partnership with Joseph Scattergood, operated the mill on Black's Creek in 1701. In April, 1702, Henry Beck conveyed his portion of the partnership to Joseph Scattergood. Joseph Reckless then bought the mill in 1712. The original mill was purportedly built on the opposite side of the road near the stream. What it was opposite to is not clear. However, a map of 1876 shows the mill on the same side of the road as the house. This is the mill that was known as the "Recklesstown Mill" on the "Joseph Reckless Saw Mill Stream."

The other mill was located at the intersection of the Sykesville Road and Black's Creek, on the outskirts of Recklesstown. Robert Chapman, in 1695, bought the land on both sides of the creek. In 1737 he conveyed the mill property to his son William who operated the gristmill until 1749 when it was conveyed to William Chapman II and Joseph Reckless. Thus, Joseph Reckless had investments in both mills, which clarifies to some extent, the confusion as to who conveyed what to whom.

In 1839, Misses Margaret Burtis and Magaret Keen who were from Philadelphia, visited Recklesstown. They found that it lacked the religious activities they were accustomed to in Philadelphia. The only locally established religious group was the Quakers who met at the Friends Meetings House in Crosswicks. These women organized Sunday School meetings in an old schoolhouse in the outskirts of Recklesstown. On regular visits to Recklesstown, they would bring a student from the Baptist school in Philadelphia. The first student was Thomas D. Anderson, who was later noted in New York City.

In 1847 a movement was started to build a Baptist Church in Recklesstown. The present one was built at a cost of $1,600 and was 34 by 46 feet. It was dedicated in 1848. In the beginning, services were conducted by the pastor of the Jacobstown Church every other week. It has been thought by some that the Recklesstown Baptist Church was fostered by the Bordentown Baptist Church, but it was, in actuality, sponsored by the Jacobstown congregation.

A move was started in 1871 to become independent of the Jacobstown congregation. At that time there were 43 members. This was accomplished in two weeks. They then joined the Trenton Association and two years later had their own pastor.

In 1888-1889 the Recklesstown Baptist Church built a parsonage on land that was donated by Anthony Bullock. Almost from its inception, the members were baptized at Stillwell's Mill (Reckless Mill). Apparently this mill served several useful purposes.

Adapted from: Dr. and Mrs. John WInters, Jr., Chesterfield Bicentennial Commission, 1975, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C., nomination document.

‡ A "road return" is a report filed with (returned to) the county by a surveyor after a road was laid out, altered or vacated. Returns originated when a freeholder or property owner petitioned the court to open a new road or vacate part, or all, of an existing road. The court would appoint six surveyors of the highways. These six surveyors would then notify the court via their "return" of their decision on whether the road, or change, was necessary. The county retained many of the surveyors' returns. If the survey was for a new road, the return would set the official date when the road would be opened to the public.

Street Names
Bordentown-Chesterfield Road • Chesterfield-Arneytown Road • Chesterfield-Crosswicks Road • Georgetown-Chesterfield Road