Stafford was originally peopled by the Lenni-Lenape tribe of the Delaware Nation. In 1735, James Haywood, Perry Paul and Luke Courtney of Staffordshire, England purchased land in the area. They sailed to America in 1743 and settled in Manahawkin, the town center of Stafford. “Manahawkin” is translated by some as “good corn land” and by others as “where the land slopes,” but this remains a controversial issue in local history circles.
In Haywood’s time, Stafford was actually part of Shrewsbury Township in Monmouth County, despite the distance between them. In 1749 Stafford was legally separated from Shrewsbury and granted a “royal patent” by King George II. In 1850 it became part of the newly named county of Ocean.
In addition to Manahawkin, Stafford then included the towns of Ocean (now Waretown), Union (now Barnegat), Eagleswood and Long Beach Island. By 1889, these four communities had separated from Stafford. Currently, Stafford Township includes the communities of Manahawkin, Cedar Run, Mayetta and most of Warren Grove, with Stafford as the legal municipality.
Early settlers were typically from the British Isles. Many of their surnames, or variants, can still be found in the area, including Cranmer, Sprague, Pharo, Cox, Parker, Shourd, Shinn, Hazelton and dozens more.
Stafford settlements of the 1700s were clustered by the bay or by sawmills near the cedar swamps. Jarvis (Gervais) Pharo, who founded West Creek in 1705, designed a working boat made for shallow bay waters. Now called the “Garvey,” this boat is still in common use throughout the area. Clamming, oystering, boat building, cedar cutting and milling were the mainstays of local economy and the waterways were crucial for moving people and product.
As early families intermarried, small settlements were formed bearing their names. Shinntown, Cranmertown, Parkertown and Spraggtown were all within the West Creek/Eagleswood section.
Farming became at least a part-time occupation for many. As land was cleared for settlements, former Indian trails were broadened into sandy roads for the transport of people and goods, eventually becoming stage routes and highways.
In Manahawkin, the Old Stone Store and gristmill were built about 1750 on the creek south of Manahawkin Lake, soon becoming a town center. Today, a reconstruction of the store is located near its original site. In 1797, John Lippincott established the Stafford Forge, west of West Creek.
In 1880, cranberry culture was introduced by John “Peg Leg” Webb, and in time became an important industry for the area. As noted in Stafford Township Online, “one of the most famous early bogs, now hidden in the forest at the end of Oxycocus Road, belonged to historian/explorer/writer Nathaniel Holmes Bishop. It was added to the Forsythe Wildlife Refuge.” Another notable location was the Stafford Forge Cranberry Plantation Bog, built on the site of the old iron forge.
Stafford Township is the home of legendary baseball great Roger “Doc” Cramer who is arguably the best baseball player who is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. In nearly 20 years of professional baseball, Doc Cramer set a standard of competitive excellence.
NASCAR driver Martin Truex, Jr. is also from the Mayetta section of Stafford Township. He established the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, which, among other projects, constructed the Martin Truex Jr. Pediatric Unit at the Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin.
In 1957 Southern Regional High School opened its doors. Before that time, small schools in Tuckerton and Barnegat served all area high school age students. In the same year, fundraising began for the Southern Ocean County Hospital. Determined supporters raised over $900,000 and SOCH opened in 1972 with 54 beds. Since then it has grown into a full-service acute-care facility with health centers in Lacey and Little Egg Harbor. In 2010, Southern Ocean County Hospital merged with Meridian Health, and the hospital was renamed the Southern Ocean Medical Center.
After the opening of the Garden State Parkway (GSP) in the 1950s, Stafford Township became a bedroom community serving both the Philadelphia and New York Metropolitan urban areas. Much suburban development has taken place in a subdivision west of the GSP called Ocean Acres. Up until the 1980s, this residential development tended to be moderately priced smaller homes, many of them ranch houses of less than 1,500 square feet. Starting in the 1990s and continuing into the present, the development has targeted larger homes, with many ranging from 3,500 square feet to over 5,000 square feet. In addition, the resort housing is rapidly being replaced with much more expensive homes.
The area west of Ocean Acres is home to a number of age restricted communities. In addition, a significant number of seniors live within the mixed housing areas of the township.
Special efforts have been made in Stafford to preserve the town’s history in a practical and visible way. Community Development block grants, Green Acres funding and community donations have been used to save or reconstruct Stafford’s oldest structures and to refurbish others as gift shops in the “Manahawkin Historical District” on Rt. 9.