Many people think they know her.

Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh was the plucky single Quaker woman who left England for America in 1701 to manage her father's property holdings in New Jersey - and who almost single-handedly founded Haddonfield.

She comforted Native Americans when they had "gotten strong liquor in their heads," legend says. She proposed to her preacher husband and was too frail and tiny to have her own children.

But don't believe the stories - at least not all of them.

Historian Jeffrey Dorwart, a retired Rutgers professor, has uncovered the real Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh, shedding new light on Haddonfield's beginning.

"There are elements of truth in the legend," said Dorwart, 70, of Upper Pittsgrove. "There's also substantial evidence that much of it is what people want to remember about the town's founding."

Though parts of the historical record have been lost, Dorwart and Elizabeth Lyons, a member of the Historical Society of Haddonfield who has since died, pieced together Haddon's life through original documents and countless visits to libraries, archives, and historic sites.

In a new book, Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh 1680-1762 - Building the Quaker Community of Haddonfield, New Jersey, 1701-1762, they present a strong, increasingly savvy businesswoman, not the delicate one of other accounts.

They describe Elizabeth's world - and a Quaker network of closely intertwined religious, family, social, and business interests.

"It was like a corporation," Dorwart said. "It's about how Quaker business and religious connections built South Jersey and Haddonfield."

In the beginning, though, the driving force behind the town was not even a Haddon when it got its name, Dorwart said.

Elizabeth Haddon married John Estaugh in 1702 and didn't use her maiden name after that, he said.

The community became known as Haddon's Fields about 1707, then Haddonfield in 1713, about the time the Estaughs moved into a large plantation house. The town was incorporated as a borough in 1875.

Though legend speaks of Elizabeth's extensive contact with Native Americans, there's no evidence of it, Dorwart said. In fact, only several hundred Lenape remained in the entire region.

"The Indians are but few in Number," wrote local resident Thomas Budd, who was trying promote settlement of the area in 1685, according to the book.

The story of Elizabeth's marriage also has been embellished over centuries.

"All this stuff about traveling through the uncharted wilderness and proposing to her future husband is clearly a myth," Dorwart said. "Oral history was handed down from generation to generation . . . but most of this stuff was made up."

Elizabeth Haddon met John Estaugh in England, where he was preaching. "She and her family were mesmerized by him," Dorwart said. "He was a dynamic guy.

"But she didn't propose," he said. "The marriage was likely arranged."

Elizabeth - a well-to-do, propertied woman - was seen by other Quakers as the perfect wife and financial supporter for a traveling preacher.

The couple married and did not have children, not because Elizabeth could not, but because John Estaugh was left infertile by smallpox, Dorwart said.

Estaugh, who was often on missionary journeys, died in 1742, 20 years before his wife, who continued to oversee their business interests, which included dealings with England, Africa, and the West Indies.

"The Estaughs were not involved in slave trade, but were doing business in Africa and all trade revolved around the slave trade," Dorwart said. Elizabeth "owned slaves, and her final will and testament mentioned one of them as property."

After John Estaugh died, she was probably "the most wealthy single woman in New Jersey," Dorwart said. "She clearly had more than any other widow and controlled it all herself.

"She built the town and subdivided it," he said. "She hired carpenters to build dwellings and rented out some of them to women from her Haddonfield meeting."

Elizabeth was a women's rights advocate and "always took care of single women," Dorwart said. "She wanted to make sure they didn't have to marry to eat, and she left money in her will to single women.

"But they had to be Quakers, 'of the meeting,' " he said. "She tried to keep Haddonfield a Quaker community but started selling property to non-Quakers in the area by 1757."

Elizabeth did not leave a diary, and boxes of letters and correspondence were destroyed when the Estaughs' Haddonfield home burned about 1840.

But Dorwart - and Lyons, who died in 2008 - studied 14 letters from Elizabeth's parents and husband to her as well as many other original records, including deeds and wills, to get a picture of life during her time.

"Even though Elizabeth Haddon Estaugh's real life was not as colorful as her legend, her story is vital in helping us understand the equality that Quaker women enjoyed and the role they played in colonial America," Dorwart said.

ecolimore@phillynews.com

856-779-3833 InkyEBC