William Annin has a prominent place in the history of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Liberty Corner, and yes the William Annin Middle School. The Mr. Local History Project looks back at one of Liberty Corner’s founding families known worldwide for their manufacturing of “old glory” that have been placed around the world and even on the moon!
John Johnston, known as John Annin from Annin’s Corner
John Johnston was born in Annandale, a district in southeastern Scotland named for the river Annan. The area is famous as the ancestral home of Robert the Bruce, the 14th-century king ﬁctionalized in the Academy Award-winning movie Braveheart, ﬁlmed partially in Annandale.
John’s birth year, 1688, ﬁgures prominently in Scottish history. It marked the end of the 50 Years’ Rebellion, a bloody religious conﬂict. The rebels were the Covenanters, who were persecuted for challenging the King’s belief that he, not God, was the spiritual head of the Scottish church. “
Rather than give his son John up to be killed by King Charles I, John’s father James Johnston sent him and his family to America. John landed in the colonies in 1722 with his wife Elizabeth Van Dorn and three children, John Jr, William, and a daughter. The family was seeking religious freedom as they had married outside the church and did not want to be found in the New World, so they adopted an alias in the name of Annan. It later morphed into “Annin” and never changed after. The area over time became known as “Annin’s Corner.
John (Johnston) Annan initially purchased 240 acres of land from William Penn where the family settled. It is rumored that John Johnston knew fellow Scotsman James Alexander, who’s son later was known as Lord Stirling. Lord Stirling’s father Alexander had been purchasing large chunks of property in the Basking Ridge area. The homestead started with 270 acres but grew to over 2,700 acres covering from present day Lyons Road encompassing the entire community of Liberty Corner all the way north past where the William Annin middle school stands today.
After an initial log cabin, in 1766, William Annin, son of John Annin built a stone house “mansion” with rocks from the neighboring quarry. There are initials on these blocks, “W.A” and “H.S.M”, along with the date, indicating the builder William Annin and the mason Hugh Sunderland.
There were only two other stone houses in the area. One is the Old Stone House which still exists today on the corner of Lyons Road and Stonehouse Road. The other was on Galloping Hill Road.
William (1713-1784) was a soldier in the New Jersey Regiment and served most of the war. Both his brother John Jr. and William served in the French and Indian War (1754–1763) where John Jr. lost his life.
William married his wife Sarah Ross in 1749. They had 5 children. Of the five, William I. Annin would become the one who becomes a New Jersey Legislator and his namesake would later be tied to the Bernards Township Middle School.
Revolutionary War Era
During the American Revolution, William offered his home to General Lafayette and his troops, and after scarlet fever spread through the ranks, the house became a military hospital where William’s wife and young son Alexander nursed the soldiers back to health. “During the Revolution… a zealous person put a liberty pole, which has banners and streamers and is very gaily decorated, on the village green,” Historian June Kennedy noted. “From that time on, Annin’s Corner became known as Liberty Corner.”
John’s wife Elizabeth died in 1777 during the Revolutionary War when she had contact with the French troops that was experiencing a breakout of scarlet fever.
1866 – The Annin Centennial
The Annins held a centennial celebration of the building of “The Old Stone House” in 1866 and described the celebration in an article for the New York Observer dated September 20, 1866.
The story describes the house and farm complex as it stood at the time: “…a thick-walled structure, 36 ft. in width by 48 ft. in length, of quarried stone of brownish hue obtained in the neighborhood. In front of the main edifice is a small piazza, to which one may ascend by several steps and above which is set a diamond-shaped stone, in which are cut… the initials W.A. and H.S.M. (William Annin and Hugh Sunderland, Mason) 1766.”
One other thing to highlight about the Annin’s as they donated the land for both the Liberty Corner Presybterian Church and what was known as the Jefferson School.
The Annin farmstead structure was torn down by a developer thought to be in the 1920s, who purchased the property, leaving only a small rock wall.
Later, another development under the direction of Toll Brothers, built the Canterbury Estates development in the early 2000s. To honor the Annin Homestead they erected two stone pillars in the middle of the development off Canterbury Way to honor the Annin family.
William Annin was elected to what was known as the The “Committees of Correspondence of Somerset County” (along with Elias Boudinot) , which were shadow governments organized by the Patriot leaders of the Thirteen Colonies. It was the precursor to the First Continental Congress. He later served in the state legislature for over 30 years.
William’s Grandson Alexander and
The Annin Flag Company
In company history, however, 1766 is most signiﬁcant not for William Annin’s stone house but for the birth of Alexander Annin (b.1766), the youngest son of William and the father of the Alexander Annin who founded Annin & Co.
From a legacy perspective, nothing has been more profound to the Annin family name than William Annin grandson’s flag company. Founded in Verona, New Jersey, the Annin Flag Company was started by his grandson Alexander. and his three siblings.
Alexander Annin opened a ship chandlery at 99 Fulton Street in lower Manhattan in 1820. He was 23 years old, the third son in a family of 11 children, but he seems to have been the sole proprietor.
Edward and Benjamin Annin
At the time of his retirement from active business, in January 1847, Alexander’s (John Annan’s great grandson) two older sons, Edward and Benjamin, founded the House of Annin. Edward and Benjamin were just 15 and 13 when they started the ﬂag business within their father’s existing nautical flag business. Phebe Annin Ames Palmer, Alexander’s only daughter lived to the age 103 and was also part of the family business.
Alexander’s first American flag had only 29 stars. Every U.S. Presidential inauguration since Zachary Taylor’s, in 1849, has included an Annin flag. Annin flags went with Commander Robert Peary to the North Pole (1909), with Admiral Richard Byrd to the South Pole (1929), and with Neil Armstrong to the moon (1969). An Annin flag was the first to unfurl over Iwo Jima (1945) and the first to fly over the ruins of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
Story for the Ages
One of Annin’s most treasured legends involves a woman who came into the Fulton Street showroom to buy a Confederate flag—and who drew blood from her finger to illustrate the shade of red she wanted for it. She turned out to be the widow of Jefferson Davis, who had been president of the Southern Confederacy during the Civil War. A true story.Annin Archives
The William Annin Middle School
The Bernards Township Board of Education announced on Monday, January 19, 1969 that the new Junior High School was going to be named after NJ Legislator William Annin. The name was provided by local historian Arch W. Carswell. The construction site was that of the former Heather Farms. Other names that were under consideration included; William Penn, John Harrison, Samuel Kennedy as well as Twin Brook and Coppergate.
“First, we pay tribute to a man who was the father of his Community, and who embodied the finest of ideals: love of country, a belief in the need for education, and a desire to give public service. Second, in choosing the name of one of her sons, and the original settler, we honor the fastest growing area of our township. Third and perhaps most important, we hope to instill in our school children some knowledge of and feeling for the long historical tradition of this pre-Revolutionary town of ours. We have much to he proud of in our past, and even more to look forward to in the future, which will be in the hands of many of the children educated in the school named for William Annin. May they be inspired by his example.”MRS. PHYLLIS JOHNSON – BOARD OF EDUCATION PUBLIC RELATIONS CHAIRMAN
William Annin Junior High School was dedicated on September 28, 1969. The school was completed at a cost of $2,465,000. Of interest to today’s students: there was not a single computer in the school. Its first principal was Mr. Paul Wagner.
Although originally a junior high school, Annin became a middle school in 1982, under the direction of principal, Joan C. Tonnarelli. The former middle school in Bernards Township was at the Oak Street School.
William Annin houses grades six, seven, and eight and uses an interdisciplinary team approach. It is the objective of the school to develop in our students an understanding and appreciation for our democratic way of life. The middle school wishes to “preserve the best of the past, to teach an understanding of the present, and to provide guidance in the expectation that our young people will create a meaningful future.”
The William Annin Middle School is built on a piece of what was originally part of those original thousand acres purchased by John Annan back in 1722.
And as they say “The rest is history”….
More About the Annin Flag Company
The world’s largest and oldest flag company, Annin & Co. and its 500 employees produce literally miles of stripes and a multitude of stars that go into 15 million U.S. flags a year. All are made in the U.S.A.—at manufacturing plants in Verona, N.J. (pop. 13,533), South Boston, Va. (pop, 8,491), and Coshocton, Ohio (pop. 11,682).
“Patriotism demands that an American flag has to be made in America,” says Carter Beard, who with his cousin, Randy, represent the sixth generation to help run the business, based in Roseland, N.J. (pop. 5,298). “We hire the best workers, train them and give them the best machines, and from that we get the highest quality flag.”
The company’s roots go back to 1820, when Alexander Annin opened a small flag-making shop on the New York City waterfront, where ships bound for the four corners of the world did so under Annin-made flags. Annin’s sons, Edward and Benjamin, followed in their father’s footsteps and in 1847 founded Annin & Co., moving to a large full-service factory on New York’s Fifth Avenue. The company enjoyed success from the start, especially with its American flags.