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Michael Pearce: Revolutionary Era Farmer of New Vernon

By Leslie Potashner

Originally published in The Review in Spring 2020, Volume 63, Number 1.

Michael Pearce was a merchant who owned a farm at the corner of Village and Millbrook Roads where the Tunis-Ellicks house now sits. He owned this farm from the time of the Revolution until late in the eighteenth century when he moved west to the Northwest Territory, now known as Ohio.

Michael Pearce was born on August 27, 1749, in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. His namesake, Michael Parse, was one of the earliest settlers of Scotch Plains, arriving about the year 1689. The family name was variously spelled Pearce, Pierce, and Parse. About 1770, he married Phebe Squier in Scotch Plains. They had children Squire, Mary, Rachel, Elizabeth, John, Rhonda, Ann and Sarah, who were all born in New Jersey. They also had an unnamed child who died in 1799. The family attended the Morristown Baptist Church.

Michael served in the New Jersey Militia as a Minuteman during the Revolutionary War in the State Militia in Essex County under Captain Jedediah Swan and Commander Samuel Potter. At that time, the towns of present-day Union County were part of Essex County. In his pension application, he stated he first served in Elizabeth when the British were in Staten Island and resided near their headquarters. He was serving on picket duty at Woodfield Bridge during the Battle of Ash Swamp. This conflict is also known as the Battle of Metuchen Meeting House, but better known as the Battle of Short Hills. The battle did not occur near modern day Short Hills but in current day Metuchen and Scotch Plains.

Hessian map by Friedrich Adam Julius von Wangenheim depicting military positions in the Battle of Short Hills in 1777. (Library of Congress.)

In the Battle of Short Hills, British forces marched into central New Jersey to lure George Washington out of the Watchung Mountains. When Washington didn’t take the bait, Lieutenant General William Howe brought his troops back to Amboy. American forces led by Generals Stirling and Maxwell shadowed the British army and Washington came out of the hills to attack the British rearguard. Howe sent troops to cut off Washington from the protection of the mountains. Stirling’s troops skirmished with the British while Washington brought his main forces back to the protection of the hills. Stirling retreated to Westfield and then Scotch Plains. After spending the night in Westfield, the British returned to Perth Amboy. British casualties were five killed and thirty wounded. American casualties may have been as high as 100 troops and 70 men captured.

After the War, Michael Pearce settled in New Vernon on a farm of some seven acres near the Fairchild Farm. Fellow Minuteman Peter Fairchild grew up in New Vernon on the Fairchild homestead on Lee’s Hill Road. His second wife was Savia Squier. It is unknown if Savia was related to Phebe Squier, but the families were close. Peter and Savia had three sons. Their first son was named for Peter’s father, their second for his brother, and the third was named Michael Pearce Fairchild.

Michael Pearce was a merchant in Morris County for eighteen years. The Reverend Stephen Gard was his business partner. In a deed dated April 22, 1795, George Mitchell bought seven acres from Michael Pearce, which included the land on which the Tunis-Ellicks House is located. Michael left for Ohio in 1801, giving power of attorney to David Lindsly and Aaron Ball, Esq., “to as, demand, sue for recovery & receive moneys for all Bonds and Notes & book accounts” in the joint partnership of Pearce & Gard. John Mills, Jr. and Joseph Gard were witnesses. Before the family left, Stephen Gard married Michael’s daughter, Rachel. The entire family moved to Ohio.

Michael’s move to the Ohio territory was the first wave of westward expansion led by veterans of the Revolution. In the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the Revolution, the British ceded to the United States the Ohio territory, which was then known as the “Northwest Territory.” After the Revolution, Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Arthur St. Clair to force Native Americans from the territory. One of those serving with General St. Clair was Eliakim Little who lived between Chatham and Springfield. He was a local militia leader in New Jersey during the Revolution and was called to raise a company to join the “Western Expedition against the Hostile Indians.” He recruited his son, Dr. Squire Little, into the company. Under the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1795, the Wyandot, Lenape, Ottowa, Chippewa, Potawami and Sauk were removed to a reservation in the northwest corner of the territory. The Shawnee and other tribes refused to leave claiming the treaty did not include them. Violence broke out between the Natives and settlers. St. Clair was replaced with General Anthony Wayne in 1792. He destroyed Native villages and crops, ultimately defeating them at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. When the British refused to support Native claims, most of the tribes capitulated to removal in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

Michael Pearce moved to Butler County, Ohio in 1801, then settled on the west bank of the Great Miami River, halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati. He founded a town which he named Bloomfield for Joseph Bloomfield, the Governor of New Jersey from 1801-1802 and 1803-1812. The town consisted of thirty-three lots on the west bank of the Great Miami River. Around 1808, Dr. Squire Littell married Mary Pearce, Michael’s daughter.

There was still conflict with the Natives. The famous sachem of the Shawnee, Tecumseh, brought together the remaining tribes into a confederacy to oppose removal. They were defeated by William Henry Harrison in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1911, but the remaining fighters allied with the British throughout the War of 1912. Michael Pearce’s son-in-law, Dr. Squire Littell, served as a surgeon in the army. Tecumseh was killed in 1813 during the War of 1812, ending Native resistance in the area.

When the post office was established in 1820, it was discovered that there was already a Bloomfield post office. The town was renamed Trenton to honor Michael’s home state of New Jersey. The Rev. Stephen Gard founded the Baptist church in Trenton as well as Middletown, Carlisle, Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio. Michael Parse was the deacon of the church. The first doctor in town was Michael’s son-in-law, Squier Littell. He was also the first resident minister and first postmaster. He was also known as the biggest man in Butler County, standing of six feet tall and weighing over 350 pounds. Littell and Stephen Gard were also the first storekeepers in Trenton.

On October 30, 1832, Michael was placed on the Pension Roll for serving in the Revolution. He received an annual pension of $20. He died on June 5, 1839, aged 88 years, 8 months and 9 days. He was buried in the Elk Creek Baptist Church Pioneer Cemetery in Trenton, Ohio. Founders Park is named for him.

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