To the historian the past is also the present, and the two are forever blended. Nevertheless, to know the present he must sometimes separate it from the past and place the two together side by side, and in the comparison find the living history.
Today, Millburn Township, which in 1957 celebrated its first centennial as a municipality of the State of New Jersey, in the United States of America. It is the residence of 18,800 people. Just a short time ago, historically speaking, it was a spot in the wilderness, unknown except to the Indian and the wild animal. If one could by the whisk of a hand cause to vanish all the streets, the stores, the schools, the homes, the churches, the people and all their implements, and if in the whisk of the hand the country were restored to the way it was, in, let us say, the year 1609, what would it have been like? One can only see with the eyes of the mind.
On September 3, 1609, Henry Hudson sailing his "Half Moon", still searching for a northwest passage, dropped anchor near Sandy Hook. He spent a few days exploring the country and made a journey of a short distance into what is now Monmouth or Union County. His Journal established this fact. A copy is printed into the proceedings of the New York Historical Society. It was kept by a man named Juet.
Hudson and his men, too, just as Verrazzano had in 1523, thought the natives friendly and generous. The Indians gave them tobacco and maize and Hudson gave them knives and beads.
"The Country", Juet wrote, "is full of great and tall oakes."
This, as far as known, is probably the very first sentence written describing the nearby countryside ? a land of great, tall oak trees.
The next day Hudson's party went up into the woods and saw "great store of goodly Oakes, and some Currants."
On Sunday, the 6th, John Coleman and four other men from the ship were sent out in a boat to explore the narrows. Sailing through the Narrows they found, according to Mr. Juet,
"very good riding for ships; and a narrow River to the westward between two Ilands. The lands were as pleasant with Grasse and Floweres and Goodly Trees as ever they had seene, and very sweet smells came from them. So they went in two leagues and saw an open Sea, and returned."
The narrow river was the Kill between Staten Island and New Jersey, and the open sea was Newark Bay. These five were, therefore, the first discoverers of the land on which Elizabeth and Newark would one day stand, and one must keep in mind that Millburn was part of both of these settlements.
Unfortunately, as an aside to our story, John Coleman was later that day slain by an arrow from one of the natives. No reason is given for this action by a people whose friendliness was otherwise described in such glowing terms.
Juet's description gives the first intimation of how the country must have looked to one who gazed upon the virgin wilderness for the first time. With a little imagination one can reconstruct the picture.
It was probably one of our typically beautiful September mornings, sunny, pleasantly warm, the top of each ripple in the bay reflecting the sun. We can presume that a party would not have been sent ashore in a small boat in a strange country in bad weather. In the whole expanse of sea only one small vessel, the full-rigged sailing ship, the "Half Moon" rode at anchor. Perhaps from the deck of the ship it was possible to see the ridges of First and Second Mountain rising above the forests and even the curious break where the end of South Mountain tumbles into the plain. Early that morning a small boat manned by five sailors rowed from the Half Moon into a cove, thought to be near the future settlement of Elizabethtown.
The first thing the sailors noticed were the goodly trees, and particularly the tall oaks. Sailors would notice tall trees, ever conscious as they were of the masts of their ships. When they pulled their boat up on the shore they stepped into rich grass with flowers growing everywhere. One does not expect sailors to be flower conscious, so no attempt was made to name the varieties they saw, but the flowers must have been abundant to have been one of the first things recorded. Then the sweet smells from the land attracted their attention. In fact, the pleasant odor must have been very persistent for several later voyagers also recorded that the country could be smelled some distance out at sea ? no smog, no gasoline, no carbon monoxide ? only the smells of "grasse and floweres and goodly trees."
Incidentally, the English claimed title to the American continent by reason of Hudson's voyages, although the ship was Dutch and he was sailing for a Dutch company. Their argument was that he was an English subject, and, therefore, anything he explored belonged to England. This reasoning is worked just as well in reverse when they claimed the continent by reason of Cabot's voyages in 1498, although Cabot was an Italian citizen. But he was sailing an English ship, they argued, and, therefore, whatever he saw belonged to England. It was something like the old game of "Heads I win; Tails you lose."
Cabot had coasted along the eastern shore of the North American continent and according to the latitude mentioned in his log, must have been close to New Jersey, but no record remains as to whether he landed or not, so that Henry Hudson's men and the martyred Coleman must remain as the first to explore the Jersey countryside.
John Verrazzano's visit to the shores of New Jersey in 1603 was only a landing, and no attempt was made to go any farther. He described the place of his landing as having steep hills, a river, and an eight-foot tide in the river. No one has decided where that spot might be.
By 1613 the Dutch had made a settlement in Manhattan and regularly sent out ships to explore the waterways and adjacent land, and to bring back furs, hides, and meat. No attempt was then made to settle in the "howling wilderness" of the land bordering on the "Achter Koll", the Dutch name for Newark Bay, a name now preserved as the "Arthur Kill" one of the waters separating Staten Island from New Jersey.
However, so many glowing descriptions had reached Manhattan by 1651 that the Hon. Cornelis Van Werckhoven of Utrecht informed the Amsterdam Chamber of his desire to form a kind of feudal colony or manor in those parts, and he was accordingly handed a deed from the Proprietors of New Amsterdam covering all the land, described in archaic language, but which transposed into every day English meant all the land, from the Raritan River to the Passaic River, and up the Passaic River to the very head of it, and so on indefinitely. It might, therefore, be considered that as Millburn lies both east and south of, and within two sides of the Passaic River, the Hon. Van Werckhoven was Millburn's first owner.
Van Werckhoven's ownership was short lived and he never took possession. Objection was made to his greediness as he also had acquired a good part of Long Island, and he finally had to decide on only one. He chose Long Island, and started the colony of New Utrecht, but that, as they say in the story books, is another tale. His ownership of his New Jersey lands reverted to the Dutch Proprietors.
But the Dutch Government, while not approving Mr. Van Werckhoven's exclusive ownership, was nevertheless interested in getting colonies established all over New Jersey in order to protect her claim to the territory. Holland and England were in one of their interminable wars and Holland believed that possession was nine points of the law. It was not easy. The senseless massacre of the Indians by the Dutch at Paulus Hook (Jersey City) in 1643, and the Indian retaliation in 1655, when they killed many colonists at Hoboken and Staten Island, struck terror into the hearts of colonists and sent other countless refugees streaming into the safety of New Netherlands.
In 1661 the Dutch Government in another attempt to get people to move into the country sent out a glowing description to entice would-be settlers.
"It is under the best clymate in the whole world; seed may be thrown into the ground, except six weekes, all the yere long; there are five sorts of grapes which are very good and grow here naturally, with diverse other fruits .. the land very fertile .. here groweth tobacco very good, it naturally abounds with severall sorts of dyes, furrs of all sorts been had of the natives very reasonable; stores of saltpeter, marvelous plenty in all kinds of food, excellent venison, elkes very great and large; all kinds of land and sea foule that are naturally in Europe are heere in great plenty with severall other sorte yet Europe doth not enjoy; the sea and rivers abounding with excellent fat and wholesome fish which are heere in great plenty. The mountenouse part of the country stored with severall sorts of mineralls; great profit to bee derived from traffique with the natives (who are naturally a mild people, very capable, and by the grace of God to be drawne out of their blind ignorance to the saving light by Jesus Christ)..."
Edwin P. Hatfield in his history of the City of Elizabeth (1868) comments that while this description was designed to cover the whole of New Jersey between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers, it was peculiarly applicable to the region bordering on Newark Bay and its southern estuary.
Reading this description in Millburn, in 1957, and no matter how much one loves his hometown, one is forced to concede a slight exaggeration. Our climate may be fair, but "the best clymate in the whole world with only six weeks of winter" would seem to indicate that the copy writer in the advertising agency of 1661 could teach something to the account executive of 1957.
But the Dutchmen gave Essex and Union Counties a wide berth, and by 1664 the long Dutch-English wars came to an end with the negotiated surrender of the Dutch, and no further efforts were made by the Dutch to establish colonies in this region.
The next time we have any record of a white man's looking down on us with appreciative eyes was sometime after 1666 when Robert Treat had established his company in New Ark. Explorers were sent out frequently from New Ark to look over the back country, and it appears that
"some adventurous spirit climbed the summit of the mountain (west of Orange) and surveyed the land on the east side of the Passaic River which lay at his feet. He returned to New Ark and reported to the town meeting what he had seen, describing the beautiful land and dilating on the fertility of the soil." ("The Passaic Valley" by John Whitehead).
Some part of that beautiful and fertile land could well have been the present Millburn which lies directly south and east of the Passaic River.
It remained, however, for Daniel Denton, one of the English settlers of Elizabethtown from Connecticut, to write the most glowing description of all. Reporting on his journeys through the country behind New Ark and Elizabethtown in 1670, Mr. Denton says, "I must say," begins Denton, "and say truly that if there be any terrestrial happiness to be had for people of all ranks especially of an inferior rank, it must certainly Where. Here anyone might furnish himself with land and live rent free, yea, with such a quantity of land that he may unary himself with walking over his fields of Corn and all sorts of Grain, and let his stock of Cattel amount to some hundreds, he need not fear their want of pasture in the Summer or Fodder in the Winter, the Woods affording sufficient supply.
"For the summer Season, where you have grass as high as a man's knees, nay, as high as his waste, interlaced with Pea-vines and other weeks that cattel much delight in, as much as a man can pass through; and these woods every mile or half mile are furnished with fresh ponds, brooks, or rivers where all sorts of Cattel during the heat of the day, do quench their thirst and cool themselves; these brooks and rivers being invironed on each side with several sorts of trees and Grape vines, the vines, Arborlike, interchanging places and crossing these rivers, does shed and shelter them from the scorching beams of old Sol's fiery influence.
"And how prodigal, if I may say so, hath nature been to furnish the Countrey with all sorts of wilde Bestes and Fowles which everyone hath an interest in, and may hunt at his pleasure; Where besides the pleasure in hunting he may furnish his house with excellent fat Venison, Turkeys, Geese, Heath Hens, Cranes, Swans, Ducks, Pidgeons, and the like; and wearied with this, he may go where the Rivers are so furnished, that he may supply himself with Fish before he can leave off the Recreation;
"Where besides the sweetness of the Air the Countrey itself sends forth such a fragrant smell, that it may be perceived at sea before they make the Land; Where no evil fog of vapour doth no sooner appear but a northwest or westerly winde doth immediately dissolve it, and drive it away. I must needs say, that if there be any terrestrial Canaan 'tis surely here, where the Land floweth with milk and honey."
After that buildup, one wonders why the people did not swarm in droves into the back country, where heaven was found on earth.
However, the search for our own twelve-square miles of earth, and how it looked in its primitive beauty, is being narrowed. Denton must have passed through here because of his references to the many woodland streams. Nowhere else in the section of New Jersey close to Elizabeth could one have found woods so abundantly furnished with fresh ponds, brooks, and rivers, as here.
Up until now few specific details have been given as to what kind of goodly trees and wilde bestes inhabited the land. Dr. Stephen Wickes, writing in his "History of the Oranges", published in 1894, supplies some of the missing details. All through the country surrounding the Oranges, he says, and all over First Mountain, bears, wolves, panthers, elk, deer, foxes, raccoons, opposums, and smaller animals roved. Rattlesnakes and copperheads abounded. In the forests grew red, black, white, and pin oaks, chestnut, elm, beech, birch, both black and white, and both varieties of ash, tulip, maple, including sugar maple from which molasses was made, bitter and sweet sycamore, wild cherry, dogwood, and persimmon. No variety of pine was indigenous here. White clover was native, but red clover was introduced after settlement. Raspberries, currants, peaches, apples, quince, strawberries, grapes, plums, mulberries, and persimmons were found and later were brought into cultivation. The earth was, indeed, lavish in its bounty, and the rich soil proved generous in its rewards for good husbandry.
Thus, we have attempted to show in this chapter how it was at the beginning, roughly 300 years ago, when the stillness of the forest was only broken by the song of a bird, the cry of a wild animal, or the occasional padding of Indian feet down his well-worn trails.
From everything we have read, and in spite of exaggerations, we know this little unknown world was beautiful, a natural paradise of wood and stream, wild flowers and fruits, wild creatures of every kind. The country lay poised and ready to fulfill its destiny. One of the Thirteen Colonies which would one day create the United States of America was about to be born.
"A History of the
City of Newark," Frank Urquhart and others (1913)