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Retrospective: Why Bernardsville was Called Vealtown

MLH needs help. LOCAL HELP. #Bernardsville was once known as #Vealtown until about 1840. Was Vealtown of family origin, or because of a cattle slaughterhouse in the town? Or is there another reason? We think we’re very close to the answer.

It’s an age old question. And the internet didn’t know the answer. So the Mr. Local History Project went digging. Why was Bernardsville once called Vealtown?

Our research started with a post on social media because yes there are a lot of smart people out there. Next, we started digging into our vast archive of data, maps, stories, articles and reference material, knowing we’ve seen the term “Veal Town” before. Maps are always a great place to start. But why “VEAL”? What is veal anyway.

First – What is Veal?

Veal is the meat of calves, in contrast to the beef from older cattle. Veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed; however, most veal comes from young males of dairy breeds which are not used for breeding.

Rendering of cattle down by the river. There was documentation that cattle would water on the Mine Brook in what was known as Veal Town section of town. (now just off the train depot between Meadowbrook Farm and Olcott Center in Bernardsville).

Generally, veal is more expensive than beef from older cattle. Veal production is a way to add value to dairy bull calves and to utilize whey solids, a byproduct from the manufacturing of cheese. So, you’d assume the northern area of Bernards Township was where calves were put to slaughter….if you believe this is the source of the name Veal Town.

Documented Evidence

It is said that Vealtown was settled in 1736. Vealtown and Baskenridge became two of the four main sections of Bernards Township, which gained its name after a Charter was issued to Sir Francis Bernard the then Royal Governor of New Jersey from King George II of England in 1760.

Baskingridge, Liberty Corner, Logtown and Vealtown, are villages of Bernards Township. Population in 1830, 2062. In 1832, Bernards Township contained about 400 taxables, 68 householders, whose ratable estate did not exceed 30 dollars, 34 single men, 5 stores, 8 saw mills, 3 grist -mills, 1 fulling mill, 5 distilleries, 461 horses and mules, and 1105 neat cattle 3 years old and upwards, and paid state tax, $306 70; county tax, $695. Vealtown was on the Mine Brook, Bernards Township, Somerset Co., 11 miles N. of Somerville; contained a mill and some half dozen dwellings. The area has a reputation of the farmers of this district, much less for their beef, and especially for their veal.

The rollicking Bull’s Head Tavern in NYC, on the Bowery (parts of which have been recently uncovered underground), catered to the butchers and cattle men who worked in the abattoirs on and near Mulberry Street. This circa-1800 sketch of the tavern and an adjoining pen belonging to a slaughterhouse provides an idea of what Slaughterhouse Street looked like. (What it smelled like, one can only imagine!)

Vealtown During the Revolutionary War

The most famous event that showcased Vealtown’s recognition actually happened on December 12, 1776, the night before General Charles Lee left his soldiers at “Vealtown’s” Parker Tavern and took a ride over to Basking Ridge’s “Widow White’s Tavern.” The next morning, the colonies changed forever.

Jockey Hollow Map of Regiments during the Revolutionary War
The mines , Vealtown, Logtown, and the swamp lands in the early 1800s in Bernards Township.

On the 13th of December the main body of Lee’s troops were at Vealtown, (now Bernardsville,) but Lee himself lodged at Mrs. White’s tavern at Baskingridge, two miles distant, having with him only a guard of a few men for his protection. We quote from Wilkinson’s Memoirs.- “Gen. Lee wasted the morning in altercations, with certain militia corps who were of his command, particularly the Connecticut light horse ; one wanted forage, one his horse shod, one his pay and a fourth his provisions, to which the General replied. Your wants are numerous, but you have not mentioned the last ; you want to go home and shall be indulged, for you are no good here. Several of them appeared in large full perukes (wigs) and were treated very irreverently.

Rev War notation
Bernards 1781 showing what was most likely the Vealtown section of Bernards Township and the Parker Tavern. 1779 – Jockey Hollow – this area was where jockeys tested their racing horses! In 1779-1780, there were 10,000 troops who built 1,200 log cabins on 900 acres. When the men were at Jockey Hollow, the nearest tavern (for news, a warm bed, good food, drink. etc ) was the Vealtown Tavern, known as John Parker’s Tavern, and known today as the former Bernardsville Library building in Bernardsville. The colonial troops cut a footpath through the mountains. That is why the road is called Old Army Road in Bernardsville and also in Bernards Township! Source: Library of Congress
Who can forget “Bill the Butcher” in the early 1800’s. Source: Gangs of New York.

The 1700’s Vealtown slaughterhouse was most likely where the M.J Neill is today on Depot Place in Bernardsville (2020). Cattle was often driven from Mendham to the west, to Perth Amboy, and were supposedly stopped in Vealtown for watering. According to David A. Neill, his building dates back to around 1870 and was originally an ice plant and later property of Standard Oil in the early/mid 1900s.

Mr. Local History & Bernardsville News
How Washington’s troops got from Jockey Hollow to Veal Town. Source: 1779 map
The Vealtown Tavern Bernardsville NJ
The Vealtown Tavern in Bernardsville NJ. Known also as John Parker Tavern, it continued to operate after John’s death on Mar. 4 1781. The Whitenack family operated the tavern until 1840, when it became Postmaster Roderick A. Mitchell’s residence and post office. Mitchell is also credited with campaigning the Vealtown’s name change to Bernardsville in 1840. A small area around Olcott Square was known as Vealtown and a slaughterhouse was confirmed to exist on Depot Place at the turn of the 18th century.
Mr-Local-History-Bernardsville-Library keepsake
For a limited time – Get your own wooden replica of the famed library, known as the John Parker Tavern – Exclusively online

Vealtown,” was changed to its present name at the suggestion of Roderick A. Mitchell, who settled in the place in 1840. Lord Stirling and Capt. John Parker were the original proprietors of the soil in this vicinity, forty acres of which were bought by Judge Woods, of Morristown, about 1778. Considerable of this tract was subsequently bought by Dr. John Boylan, an old and distinguished physician, who practiced many years in the place during the early half of the present century.

History of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, New Jersey, with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers”
New Jersey Map – c.1795 still lists the area as Vealtown. Source: Carey’s 1795 State Map of New Jersey

Tradition says that when Washington’s army was at Morristown a disagreement arose about the pay of some of the Virginia soldiers, and in consequence a portion of them started for Virginia, and came as far as ” Vealtown.” An officer was sent after them, and in the old tavern kept by Capt. Parker they signed an agreement to continue in the service. The old tavern is still standing, and is the Mitchell homestead, purchased by Roderick A. Mitchell in 1840. Thirty- three years before, Mr. Mitchell had been taken to the house, a child of seven years, by his mother, who was passing through the place and was detained overnight by an accident to her carriage. The old tavern was then kept by one Whitenack. Mr. Mitchell is now seventy-four years of age ; was a seafaring man in early life, and a sailor on board the ship ” Cadmus,” Capt. Howard, which brought La Fayette to America in 1824.

History of Hunterdon and Somerset counties, New Jersey, with illustrations and biographical sketches of its prominent men and pioneers”

The Vails, Vailstown or Veals, Veal Town?

Could Vealtown actually have been Vails Town after the Vail Family? There is a rumor…… but we just can’t imagine that error carrying forward for so long in history without more reference. How about a Veal family? No records, no burials that we can find. So we really think we’ve hit a dead end here but we’re gonna keep digging. We hope the public digs in as well. This is a community answer that we all need.

1850 Map of Somerset County – There was a “Vails” family of Basking Ridge but no where near Vealtown. Source: Library of Congress

Then we were sent this reference to a Continental War soldier; Sergeant Noah Veal mentioned in nearby Rockaway.

Rockaway isn’t too far North. Sergeant Noah Veal (1749-1801) could be a reference, but we feel it’s too casual a reference and not significant enough to warrant family ties to Veal Town. Also, Alfred Lewis Vail makes no sense to ties to Vealtown. It was way too late. Source: Dover History – 1914 – Charles D. Platt

In 1840, Vealtown became Bernardsville, named after Sir Francis Bernard, Colonial governor of New Jersey from 1758 to 1760. Bernardsville was incorporated as a borough by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 6, 1924, from portions of Bernards Township, based on the results of a referendum held on April 29, 1924. As they say….the rest is history.

1850 map of Somerset County. Source: Library of Congress
1873 map showing the name in fact had changed from Vealtown to Bernardsville. Source: DeBeers 1873

Mr. Local History Conclusion

We’re going with Vealtown, named for a slaughterhouse in the town.
As digitization continues, we continue to learn more about our past. Can you prove us wrong?


Inside the Vealtown Tavern today. Source: YouTube
Vealtown also known as Bernardsville on 1814 Map
Vealtown also known as Bernardsville on 1814 Map; Source:1814 – Carey’s Map of New Jersey
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