Rutgers Historical Background
by Ray Brennan

History of Rutgers University

On the banks of the old Raritan, my friends, a university rich with history is rooted in the heart of New Jersey. More than 335,000 students have flocked to the five campuses on the banks in pursuit of higher education, and over 35,000 make up the modern day community of students.

Rutgers University was the eighth oldest institution of higher learning established in colonial America. It was chartered as the private college known as Queen's on November 10th, 1766, a decade before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The royal charter was received by King George III of England in response to a petition of the ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church. The name "Queen's College" was given in honor of Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, King George's consort. The original intent of establishing the college was to provide opportunities in the colonies for the education of ministers and to "educate the youth in language, liberal, the divinity, and useful arts and sciences". At that time, the colonial churches were primarliy managed from Europe, and training and ordination of ministers was conducted solely in the Netherlands, so the college in America would serve as a local governing body and educational facility of the church. The royal charter was supported by the last royal governor of New Jersey, William Franklin, who also happened to be the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. After suffering in its early years from a lack of funding, several propositions were made. In one instance, the Queen's College board of trustees voted on a proposal to merge with the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University, but the proposition fell one vote short. In another instance, there was a proposal to move the college to New York, but instead, Queen's College closed and did not open again until 1808, when sufficient funds were gathered. The college closed again during the War of 1812 due to nationwide economic depression. In 1825, the college was re-opened as Rutgers College, after Colonel Henry Rutgers, a hero of the American Revolutionary War, donated a significant enough amount of money to end the financial drought. Just under a century later, in 1924, Rutgers College changed over to Rutgers University.

History of the Surrounding Areas of Rutgers University

Before the Dutch ministers and before the original charter members of 1766, before the early colonial settlers and before the so-called "discovery" of a land we know as America, Native Americans thrived in a natural landscape. The town of Piscataway, in which the modern campuses of Busch and Livingston exist today, was settled in 1666 (not such a lucky number), when four pioneers by the names of John Martin, Charles Gilman, Hugh Dunn, and Hopewell Hull paid the sum of 30 pounds for the 40,000 acres of land. This was the purchase of land already occupied by thousands of Native Americans. According to Meuly's History of Piscataway, "The Indians who inhabited the area numbered only a few thousand; they belonged to the Lenni Lenape, a tribe of the Algonkian group, who lived along the Middle Atlantic and were far less hostile to the whites than the warlike Iroquois of upper New York. Their contact with the whites proved disastrous to them. Already in 1670, Daniel Denton, the early land promoter writes, not a little sanctimoniously, 'How strangely the Indians have been decreast by the hand of God, for since my time where there were six towns they are reduced to two small villages.'". The settlers flourished on the land at the expense of the peaceful Native Americans. They took advantage of the primitive but well-defined trails of the Lenni Lenape as a means to travel through the wilderness to the seashore. According to the Town History of Piscataway, in 1677, "...the Lenape Indians claimed the area between the Raritan and Passaic rivers (parts of Woodbridge and Piscataway) that were not included in the land sold" to the settlers. According to reports, the Indians said that "...the English had cut down their trees, mowed their meadows, and took their hunting lands from them. They (the Indians) threatened to burn the houses of the Piscataway settlers...". The settlers agreed to re-buy the land and the Indians received guns, blankets, shirts, bars of lead, rum, etc. in return. Soon the Native American Indians were dying off. They buried their families until near extinction, and their spirits still haunt the area. Just as the word Piscataway is derived from the Lenni Lenape word for "getting dark", so has the blackness of the mistreated Native American souls painted a dark gloss over the surrounding region. The coyotes and the albino deer discovered through Rutgers Rarities and Unexplained Phenomena may very well be examples of the Native American spirit that continues to haunt the land.

New Brunswick
In 1730, the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey was granted a Royal Charter, and named in honor of the English royal house of Brunswick, and more specifically, for King George I, Duke of Brunswick. The port city's location on the banks of the Raritan River made it an instant site for colonial trade and commerce. The main export that passed through New Brunswick was the wheat of the Raritan Valley, which was largely produced on large Dutch-owned and slave-worked farms on the New Brunswick side of the river. According to Virtual Field Trip, New Brunswick was "...the place where the very important Native American Minisink Trail crossed the Raritan River. This later, as was the case with many other Native American routeways, became one of the most important colonial roads - the main overland route between New York and Philadelphia". For this reason, New Brunswick became a hub city, and many famous Americans passed through and stayed in the area during the journey. George Washington was known to frequent the region. In the early 1800's and during the Industrial Revolution, New Brunswick became a center of industry and commerce by utilizing the Raritan River, the Delaware and Raritan Canal, and the railroad lines. According to Historic New Brunswick, "The city grew industrially and its preeminence as a pharmaceutical town dates to 1885 when the Johnson brothers moved their adhesive tape and gauze business to an old mill in New Brunswick. Johnson and Johnson is now the world's largest health care products manufacturer and retains its world headquarters in downtown New Brunswick. The manufacturing industry needed a workforce and to meet this need, many new Americans settled in New Brunswick. Because of this, the city today has a diverse population which can trace its origins to countries in Europe, Africa, South American, Central America and Asia. As these immigrants and their families settled in the city, New Brunswick's spirit of community was born. This spirit is evidenced throughout the city in churches, schools, theaters, restaurants, social clubs, and business. The rich heritage of the people helps to make New Brunswick a great place to live, work and visit." The historical significance of New Brunswick as a diverse and influential port city is tied to its location and resources. However, the positive aspects of port city life are not without the harsh realities - piracy and theft, hanus crimes, brutal murders. The historic city cemeteries, landmark houses, and original churches are eerie reminders of a vicious past. Some of these sites in New Brunswick are believed to be haunted, and there have been several reports of ghost sightings and paranormal activity. Rutgers Rarities will further explore and investigate these encounters.

Uncovering The Truth

With such a deep and rich history stretching from the beginnings of America to modern times, Rutgers University is an institution unlike any other. It has withstood the test of time, suffering through wars and prevailing through terrible hardships. The facilities have been built and re-built, structured and re-structured, to form a modern landscape, but the historical roots, which are readily apparent to the careful observer, still make a profound impact. In the shadows of this unique backdrop, it is not surprising that there are an abundance of strange tales and unexplainable phenomena. Rutgers Rarities will document these findings in an attempt to uncover The Truth.

Excerpts and Pictures from:
Rutgers Through the Years, Wikipedia Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Historic New Brunswick, Meuly's History of Piscataway, Piscataway Town History

©Rutgers Rarities and Unexplained Phenomena, 2005