Paleontologists have established that Colts Neck, as part of the Atlantic Coastal Plains, was once beneath an ancient sea. The locality of Big Brook is regarded by them as a laboratory. Students and paleontologists visit this area regularly and have found fossilized specimens dating back 70 million years. [See Geology - Paleontology section]
In a letter from the Archaeological Research Center, Seton Hall University, Professor Herbert C. Kraft, Director, states, in part: "The archaeological potential of the Big Brook area is no less significant since numerous prehistoric habitation sites are known to exist throughout the region under investigation. Of chief concern to this archaeologist is the fact that at least nine (9) projectile points made from obsidian have been found in and around the Big Brook, within the proposed complex. [A recreational complex had been proposed for the Big Brook Green Acres site in 1974-75. Professor Kraft's letter is dated Sept. 26, 1974. ] The closest known source of obsidian used in the manufacture of projectile points is Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. We must determine whether there are additional obsidian points in an in situ context in order to ascertain their cultural association, and to discover whether they were flaked on or near the site out of an as yet unknown source of raw material, or whether they were traded so far east. The need for such information is heightened by the fact that a chipped knife made from obsidian has recently been excavated in a Lackawaxin component in the Upper Delaware Valley. The component in which this knife was located dates to about 3600 B.C. Examinations of the Indian artifact collections assembled from the fields adjacent to Big Brook and within the area under investigation suggest a more or less continuous prehistoric occupation dating from ca. 6000 B.C. to post-Colonial times... "Numerous historic bottles, tools and farm implements dating from pre-revolutionary times to the early 20th Century have been found in and around the Big Brook areas...."
The earliest residents of Colts Neck included the Unami Indians or Turtle Clan. Their Chief, who lived in this area, was the leader of all the Lenni Lenape "original of our people". The Lenni Lenape originated in Labrador and were a subdivision of the Delawares (Algonquin nomenclature). They often gathered together near the present Obre Road to socialize and create their monetary exchange out of seashells (wampum). At this time, New Jersey was called "Scheyichbi" or "Long Land Water."
There were four great Indian trails crossing our Township: The Hackensack Trail, originating at the headwaters of the Hudson River; The Minisink Trail, originating at the Great Lakes; the Raritan-Lopotcong originating in the West; and the Crossweeksung Trail, originating in the Southwest. They all reached the Navesink River, and one of them, Crossweeksung Trail, branched into a north-south trail continuing north to Red Bank and south to Manasquan, thus ending at the seashore. The last of the Lenni Lenape Indians left Colts Neck in 1801 as the tribe became decimated by disease, the gun, and general dissatisfaction with their life amidst the "civilized" white men.
Anthropological discoveries have revealed that the Great Hairy Mastodon once roamed the Township in prehistoric times. The Indians hunted wolves, bear and panthers for food and clothing. The early white settlers encouraged the destruction of these predators by offering 20 Shillings in 1730 for a full-grown wolf, 5 Shillings for a "whelp not able to prey" and 15 Shillings for a panther. Wolves were often trapped in pits covered by brush and using meat on top as a decoy. ["Remember Old Monmouth" - Dept. of Promotion & Public Information, Hall of Records, Freehold, N.J., 1989]
Fish and game were a major source of food in the first half of the 18th Century. Animal pelts were used for rugs and clothing. Deerskins were usually used as rugs. Beaver, mink, raccoon and marten were once common game. Hunters also shot rabbits, squirrels, swan, geese, ducks, pigeons, bobwhite quail, grouse, plover, snipe, rail, woodcock, wild turkey and heath hens. Marten and heath hens are now extinct, but the wild turkey can be found in the State of Texas and has now been reestablished in some New England States and in northern New Jersey. Colonial housewives used songbirds in their menus and often set traps for blackbirds and robins.
Huge trees once existed in the Township. This is evident in many homes that were built before 1750. They were constructed with white pine panelling and flooring measuring from 18 to 24 inches wide and yellow pine floor joists and rafters that measured from 5 to 9 inches, with planking from 12 to 18 inches wide. This lumber was cut to order by water-powered vertical sawmills located along county streams. Crude timbers were fashioned from many other trees with broad axes.
Between 1497 and 1609 New Jersey was claimed by various nations including the English, French, Spanish and Dutch. The Dutch influenced Monmouth County from 1614 to 1664. In 1664 King Charles II of England granted James, Duke of York, this territory and he, in turn, gave a lease and release for New Jersey to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. On the death of Sir Carteret, his lease rights were sold and eventually the new owners established a Board of Proprietors to administer their lands and rights.
On June 15, 1676, the minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey revealed a Bill of Sale by two Indians (Almeseke and Lamasand) for a certain neck of land lying in Monmouth County called Colts Neck. The shape of this land is formed by Yellow Brook and Mine Brook, which meet at one point. The origin of the name, "Colts Neck" has not been established by any other written record.
The first town meeting on record was held in Samuel Laird's Hotel (today's Colts Neck Inn) on March 9, 1847. Colts Neck was then one of five villages composing Atlantic Township. The other four (see Map I) were Phalanx (1), Scobeyville (2), Montrose (3), and Vanderburg (4). In 1961, by public referendum, these villages became Colts Neck Township, which now consists of 31.8 square miles of land.
Several historical places of note are still in existence in the Township. Laird's Applejack was first produced in Monmouth County in 1698 by William Laird on the property now owned by the Colts Neck Inn. A fire caused the distillery to be moved to Scobeyville, where a thriving business still exists at Laird Road and Route 537. The Monmouth County Historical Association in Freehold has a letter from George Washington requesting the Applejack recipe. Samuel E. Laird honored this request in 1780. John E. Laird Jr. (eighth generation) is currently (1976) the Company's President and Chairman of the Board. [Miles, Mrs. Ann P., History of Colts Neck, Grant Printers, Red Bank, N.J. 1964 - copies are available from the Colts Neck Historical Committee.]
The Colts Neck Tavern (5), erected in 1717, became the Colts Neck Inn in 1812, with Samuel Laird as the Proprietor. The Inn is still in operation serving lunch and dinner to area residents and travelers.
The Colts Neck General Store (6), also an active business today, serves residents as a grocery store in an ancient building that was constructed in 1858 by Levi Scobey. Mr. Scobey carried merchandise that ranged from chewing tobacco to fishing gear and alarm clocks.
The earliest homes of Colts Neck were built like stables or wigwams similar to those constructed by the Indians. English architecture was not adopted until about 1702. The Frederick's home on Laird Road was built in 1709. The accuracy of the ages of many of the earliest homes cannot be established because of the destruction of early records by a fire at the County Courthouse.
The home of Capt. Joshua Huddy, the hero-martyr of the Revolutionary War, once stood at the corner of Heyers Mill Road and Route 537. His home was often used as a refuge for families whose homes were plundered and burned by the British. Capt. Huddy's home was finally attacked and set on fire in September, 1780, but the fire was put out, leaving the structure with marks of fire and bullet holes. The original building is gone, but the site is properly designated by an Early American signpost. The account of Capt. Huddy's patriotic efforts and sacrifices can be found in the Howes Historical Collection of New Jersey, published in 1842.
History also records a skirmish between the British and the American forces taking place on Dutch Lane in Colts Neck during the night of June 28, 1778. This is the date of the Battle of Monmouth which took place during the British retreat from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1843 the Van Mater Farm in Colts Neck, composed of 673 acres, was purchased by a commission representing an organization that believed in the social theory of Francois Marie Charles Fourier, a French social economist. The Farm became known as the North American Phalanx(l). Fourierism advocated the reorganization of society into small self-sufficient communities. During 1844 this community consisted of 90 persons, which included 40 children. The experiment was successful until the Fall of 1854, when a disastrous fire destroyed the most important buildings supporting the community. Bankruptcy was declared, and many former members bought the land. Their descendants still live on this property. Further details describing this experiment in Fourierism at North American Phalanx can be found in a booklet printed by the Colts Neck Historical Society in 1964.
The Colts Neck Historical Society is actively striving to preserve and record for all time the rich heritage of Colts Neck Township. One of the Society's most successful projects was the restoration and renovation of the old Montrose School House located at the southeast corner of Montrose Road and Cedar Drive. This school was built before 1786. [Personal communication with Mrs. Ann P. Miles, past president of Colts Neck Historical Society.] It is now maintained in good condition and serves as a regular meeting room for the Society.