First settled by the Lenape Native Americans, who called the area around Perth Amboy by the name "Ompoge" (meaning "level ground"), the settlement ultimately became a key port for commerce between Lower New York Bay and Philadelphia, connected first by stagecoach and eventually by railroad. When settled by Europeans in 1684, the city was named New Perth in honor of James Drummond, Earl of Perth, one of the associates of a company of Scottish proprietaries. The Algonquian language name was corrupted to Ambo, or Point Amboy, and eventually a combination of the native and colonial names was used.
South Amboy has passed through three of the five types of New Jersey municipalities. It was first mentioned on May 28, 1782, in minutes of the Board of chosen freeholders as having been formed from Perth Amboy Township. It was formally incorporated as a township by the Township Act of 1798 on February 21, 1798. Over the next 90 years, portions split off to form Monroe Township (April 9, 1838), Madison Township (March 2, 1869; later renamed as Old Bridge Township) and Sayreville Township (April 6, 1876; later Borough of Sayreville). As of February 25, 1888, South Amboy borough was formed, replacing South Amboy Township. On April 11, 1908, South Amboy was incorporated as a city, replacing South Amboy borough, confirmed by a referendum held on July 21, 1908.
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