2. Historical and Architectural Development
The site of the Kennedy-Martin-Stelle Farmstead forms part of a large tract of land encompassing the southeastern portion of present-day Bernards Township that was acquired by John Harrison in 1717. Reportedly acting as agent for the East Jersey Proprietors to extinguish Native American land claims, Harrison obtained title to the property from “Nowenoik, an Indian chief,” by deed dated June 24, 1717. Bordered on the east by the Passaic River and on the south by the Dead River, the 3,000-acre parcel became known as “Harrison’s Neck.” The 1717 deed, as recounted by 19th-century Somerset County historians, describes Harrison as a resident “of Rockie Hill,” New Jersey. No evidence that he ever settled on the tract has come to light. The local historians also surmised that Harrison died sometime before 1720, by which time title to most of Harrison’s Neck had passed to four individuals: Daniel Hollingshead, George Risarick, Col. John Parker and James Alexander. This may be in error since a will survives for a “John Harrison, gentlemen,” of Pert Amboy, dated March 2, 1723/24 and probated June 11, 1725, which names Col. John Parker as one of two executors. The property purportedly was surveyed into farms ranging from 150 to 200 acres in size in 1727 and, in the following year, divided by lot among Parker and his co-owners. However, Harrison’s estate or heirs may have retained ownership of portions of the Neck, as suggested by the 1766 Morgan map of Somerset County, which lists a 300-acre tract just northwest of the farmstead under his name.
An 83-acre lot encompassing the farmstead site became the property of Nathaniel Rolph in 1740, although from whom he acquired it has not been established. As recorded in the third schedule of the “Elizabethtown Bill of Chancery” (a 1747 list of East Jersey land titles) Rolph received title to lot #117, a tract of 83 acres “on Harrison’s Purchase,” on March 28, 1740, and the map accompanying the schedule locates lot #117 at the confluence of the Passaic and Dead Rivers. The 1766 Morgan map would appear to confirm Rolph’s ownership of the property. Evidently reflecting earlier ownership patterns, the map delineates a long, narrow 83-acre tract stretching along the Passaic north of the Dead River, which it identifies as lot #138, the property of “Nathaniel Ralph.” Nathaniel Rolph (or Rolfe as his name appears in a later deed) may have lived on the property, perhaps in the house which the Morgan map depicts on or near the site of the present farmstead. He probably was the Nathaniel, born c. 1712, identified by genealogists as the son of Moses Rolph, a New Englander who migrated to Woodbridge, New Jersey, in the late 1600s. Nathaniel had an older brother Samuel, probably the Samuel Rolfe who was one of the seven trustees receiving title to the lot occupied by the pioneer Presbyterian house of worship at Basking Ridge in 1731. The Henry Rolfe cited by local historians as a pioneer settler of the community might have been their cousin.