Beginnings.. the West Jersey Society and the first large landholders
Hunterdon County, named after Governor Robert Hunter, was formed March 11, 1713, consisting of nearly all of the present Mercer, Hunterdon, Morris, Sussex, and Warren counties. The new county was divided into several huge townships included Lebanon, in which what is now the town of Clinton began. Soon the West Jersey Society of London controlled the area, and began to sell off tracts of from 5000 to 100,000 acres1. In November of 1751, the Society sold the land which was to later become Clinton to Mahlon Kirkbride. Records show that Kirkbride, who lived in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, bought 4180 acres; this tract contained a large part of the present site of Clinton, mostly on the east side of the South Branch. Jonathan Robeson, another rich land investor, formerly of Piscataway Township, Middlesex County 2 bought over 800 acres from the West Jersey Society in 1752 on the west side of the river.
David McKinney, son of Mordecai McKinney, a known peripatetic miller found in many localities, began a grist mill on the east bank of the South Branch, after putting up a stone dam just below the mouth of Spruce Run as it entered the river. He built his stone mill and a house before he bought the land; McKinney bought 446 acres east of the river in the mill area from Kirkbride in 1761. Two years later he bought 1 1/2 acres on the west side of the river from Robeson. This was probably bought as a mill site or to avoid trouble with Robeson about flooding the land.
About the same time, Nehemiah Dunham and his brothers, Daniel and Stephen, bought from Robeson all the rest of his land on the west side of the river, except 100 acres which Robeson sold to Francis Quick, Jr., a tanner. One of the lots the Dunhams bought was known and described as the Limestone Lot. This was all of the land on the north side of what is now West Main Street to a point about opposite Hancock Street; this lot contained 51 acres. Daniel Dunham owned 20 acres on the south side; this was known as Daniel Dunham's meadow lot, and his farm was north of West Main Street, west of the Limestone Lot, and contained 196 acres. Nehemiah Dunham owned a large tract of 383 acres Stephen Dunham owned 100 acres on the south side of West Main Street.
McKinney's estate kept growing. He bought from Kirkbride another 165 acres and built a mill on the west side of the river. He needed an outlet to the "Great Road" from Elizabethtown to the Delaware, so he bought from Nehemiah Dunham one and three-quarter acres which included the current site of the Clinton House and stables, and the adjacent quarry. By 1769, McKinney was in financial trouble, and at the November term of court at Burlington, a judgment on 2400 pounds and cots was filed against McKinney's property and it was ordered to be sold by the sheriff. It was advertised but no one appeared at the sale. About a month later, Mahlon Kirkbride bought back the property, now consisting of the four lots that McKinney had bought at different times, totaling nearly 615 acres. Kirkbride, who was wealthy and still lived in Pennsylvania, had no use for the property and, shortly after he gained possession, advertised the property for sale in the New York Gazette or Weekly Post Boy:
"A valuable plantation and tract of land, situated in Lebanon, in the county of Hunterdon, in West Jersey; containing 615 acres; there is a good grist-mill and saw-mill erected thereon; the grist-mill is large and well built; has two pairs of stones; the boulting reels, and hoistings, go by water; this is a good frame dwelling house, with four rooms on the lower floor; it is a convenient place for a store, being a good wheat country, and thick settled; there is a large barn and hay-house, a large quantity of good watered meadow, and more may be made at a small expense, upwards of 100 acres of cleared plow land, and a young orchard on the premises. The said tract of land, may be divided into two plantations, and leave a sufficient quantity of land and meadow to accommodate the mill; it will be sold in parts or altogether, as part thereof, by applying to the subscriber, living in Bucks county, near the Falls Ferry or to David McKinney, on the premises, may be informed respecting title and terms of sale."
The property was sold to Mahlon Taylor, May 9, 1776. At this time there was conveyed 412 acres on the east side and 3 acres on the west side together with "pastures, meadows, waters, water courses, mills mill house, mill dams mill races and mill ponds,"