Township History – The Early Settlers

The Early Settlers

Long before it became Mount Laurel Township, the earliest known history of this area began with the Lenni-Lenape Indians who lived throughout the Delaware Valley from around 1400 until the 1700s. Evidence is found of their farming and hunting villages along the banks of the Rancocas River. In fact, the “Great Road” of pioneer days began as an Indian trail. When the great road was laid out in 1765, many Indian hand tools were found along the way. Today part of this great road is known as Hainesport-Mount Laurel Road. Mount Laurel residents still claim to dig up Indian artifacts on their own properties.

The Indians helped many of the early European settlers who came here to escape religious persecution. The Dutch settlers of the early 17th century befriended the Indians and exchanged cloth, knives, furs, and liquors with them.

One prominent family with recorded history in the Mount Laurel area is the Evans family. In 1682, William Evans, his wife Jean, and their three children made the voyage from Wales to settle along the Rancocas Creek.

Although William Evans died in 1688, his namesake son continued to play a significant role in the settlement of Mount Laurel. William bought 300 acres of land at the “site of the Mount”, which is the hill later to be called Mount Laurel at the intersection of Hainesport-Mount Laurel and Moorestown-Mount Laurel Roads. His deed is the earliest recorded transaction of the Township. Five years later, William married Elizabeth Hanke, a Quaker minister, and they lived in a cave by the mount. They called it “Mount Pray” and lived in this cave until a log cabin was built which stood where the Friends Meeting House is today on the other side of the intersection.

In 1698, William gave an acre of land to the Society of Friends and the Friends Meeting House was built with the help of Indians. Built of Jersey sandstone quarried from the mount, it is the oldest Meeting House in the Country and is still in use today.

In 1700 William bought 1000 acres of land which lay southwest of Marlton, from Margaret Cook of Philadelphia. He also gave the Lenape king five pounds for the tract believing that the Indians were the true owners of the land. Today descendants of the Evans family still reside in Mount Laurel and Evesham.

By 1728 the Darnell family owned most of the land around the Mount. The Darnell homestead is located approximately 2 miles east of the Mount on Hainesport-Mount Laurel Road where PAWS, a wildlife preservation society has been operating since 1980. The Darnell family cemetery can still be found along one of the PAWS nature trails.