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Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, October 15, 2012

Flip This Colony! West Milford, The Story of a Suburb, Ch. 3

Chapter Three:  Flip This Colony
No one was more surprised than the Dutch, when English forces entered the great bay below New Amsterdam on Sept. 8, 1664, and took over the fort at New Amsterdam.  If Holland and England were at war, it was news to the Dutch.  But they were now.

Traders and settlers from Sweden arrived in southern New Jersey in 1638.  The Dutch settlers feared Swedish competition in the fur trade.  The Dutch forced the Swedes out of the New Jersey area in 1635.  Now the British had arrived to force the Dutch out.  But the Dutch weren’t so easy to remove.

New Amsterdam became New York, an English colony.  The Dutch succeeded in taken New Amsterdam back eight years later, in 1672.  But finding war expensive and tiring, they signed the Treat of Westminster.  New Jersey came under the proprietorship of Berkeley and Carteret.

Ten years after England conquered New Amsterdam and the Duke of York presented New Jersey to his friends Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret), a group of Quakers headed by Edward Byllenge bought Berkeley’s share of New Jersey.  Two years later, the colony was divided into two sections:  West Jersey and East Jersey.  Byllenge and his associates made West Jersey the first Quaker colony in America.  Carteret owned East Jersey until his death in 1680.  Another group of Quakers, called “The Twenty-Four Proprietors,” bought East Jersey in 1682.  This caused considerable confusion – and anger – among the Dutch settlers, who had already purchased the land from the Indians.  Now they were told they were no longer owners of their lands, a situation which would result later in the first Newark riots.

Ethel Vreeland, in her well-detailed, 1960 history, “Pompton Area History,” in 1678, the first real estate transaction in what is now Passaic County took place.  Hartmann Michaelson, not thrilled with British rule, left Bergen, now in possession of the Crown and called Jersey City, bought a tract of land from the Indians.  That same year, he obtained a “patent” from the East Jersey Proprietors.  A New York merchant named Christopher Houghland bought 27 acres in what is now the city of Passaic.  Two years later, he sold out to Michaelson who essentially became New Jersey’s first real estate agent.  He persuaded some neighbors to clear the large tract of land north of the Passaic Falls along the river, paying for it with “coats, blankets and other goods”.  The title called for 5,580 acres.
But the Indians, having little experience in real estate, sold twice as much land as the deed called for.

Morgantown – now called Paterson - was created just below the falls and became a loading point for all sorts of manufactured goods.  In time, Morgantown would be known as the “Silk City” and would be named after one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, William Paterson.

A second grant was given to Major Anthony Brockholst and Arent Schuyler.  These two men had come from Rennsalaerwyck, New York (across the river from Fort Orange), and acquired the land which comprises most of present-day Wayne and Pompton.  Pompton at the time, itself, comprised quite a large area including Pequannock, Pompton Plains, Pompton Lakes, Riverdale, and Bloomingdale.

Arent Schuyler was particularly influential because he could speak the Lenape language and maintained relations with the tribe.  One of their villages was located where Pequannock Township Regional High School now sits.   Schuyler acted as go-between, translator, between the Lenape and the Proprietors.  On his way to confer with the Indians at Minisink in 1695, on one of the established Indian trails set aside in 1665 as an official root by the Proprietors 30 years earlier, he first saw the Pompton Valley, according to “The Pompton Ironworks and Village, Passaic County, New Jersey:  An Archaeological  and History Survey” published by Sheffield Archaeological Consultants in May 1990, “and understood its potential as good farm land.”

The land grant was divided into three patents:  The Upper Pequannoc Patent, the Lower Pequannoc Patent, and the Pompton Patent.  Tracts of land were subdivided as families settled here.  Brockholst and Schuyler settled in Pompton in1695.  Their associates in the venture were Adrian post, Samuel Bayard, George Ryerson, John Mead, Samuel Berrie and David and Hendrick Mandeville.

In December 1682, the Assembly of East Jersey passed an act dividing the provinces into four counties:  Bergen, Essex, Middlesex, and Monmouth.  The territory of Bergen County was greatly extended in 1707 and it them embraced all the land surrounding Pompton.  Until that time, the county seat for Pompton had been Bergen.

While Schuyler and his fellow patentees were scooping up all the land around the Pequannock River, another group left Bergen and Lower Manhattan, and headed north towards the Hackensack.  In 1669, John Berry and his associates were granted land from the Hackensack to the Saddle River.  This grant took in what now makes up the towns of Englewood, Ridgewood and so forth.  They paid the Indians for the land and brought in new families to settle there.  The patent brought this vicinity more familiar names:  The Berdan brothers, originally from Long Island [ironically enough] who moved to Preakness (“quail wood”) in the Lenape language, where they bought 400 acres at 18 cents an acre.

The Van Aulens purchased 600 acres on the Pond flats (near Oakland).  Jan Romine bought 600 acres there and so did the Garrisons.  Jan Van Slyke owned the only wagon in the territory and it was the pride of the countryside.  In all, about 20 families settled in Pompton and Wayne.  These colonists were Dutch or French Huguenots who had found refuge in Holland, with a spring of English.

There were few roads in New Jersey at the time.  What roads that existed followed old Indian Trails.  In 1665, the Proprietors set aside certain portions of land for highways and streets to open up the countryside.  No highway was to exceed 100 feet in width.  In 1683, the Assembly had set up three road boards, the forerunners of the Boards of Chosen Freeholders, for the three counties then in existence:  Bergen, Morris and Middlesex.  One followed the Assinpinck and Miniskink (“where the water stops falling”) trails.  On each town devolved the duty of maintaining its own roads.  Travelers often carried an axe and a mattock (a digging tool with an axe and a pick) to clear the way.  Logs served as bridges across streams, which was treacherous for horses.  The Munsee Indians (the northern tribe of the Lenape) were not known as the “Stone Country” tribes for nothing. 

Even today, some roads through West Milford such as Burnt Meadow Road, retain their Colonial stoniness.  Don’t take that road unless your vehicle has a very high clearance!  Some say it’s regarded as a “keep-out” sign from the Jackson Whites, a combination of freed black slaves, Dutch settlers, Hessian soldiers, Lenape Indians, and Indians forced out of North Carolina, and even women brought to New York for the amusement of the British soldiers.  The Jackson Whites were named for Captain Jackson, the contractor who shipped the conscripts from the West Indies when the original immigrants the British were to bring in were lost at sea.  These prostitutes and black slaves mingled with the Tuscarora Indians, who had been banished from North Carolina and native Lenni Lenape Indians.

The 24 Proprietors, by Cullingham’s account, were most unpopular with the colonists.  Land grants from earlier years caused disputes over property rights.  The colonists also objected to paying rent for land they regarded as their own.  Riots erupted during the 1690s.  The owners gave up East and West Jersey in 1702.  England then united the two colonies has a single royal colony.

West Milford, had yet to be united;  it was only just beginning.  A Dutch immigrant named John George Knauss (Kanouse) immigrated to the colonies in 1720.  After working as an indentured servant for two years, he saved enough money to buy land for a farm in Newfoundland.  His son-in-law, John P. Brown built Brown’s Hotel at the junction of what is now Route 23 and Union Valley Road.                 `

One of West Milford’s three main mountains is named for him:  Kanouse Mountain (the others are Bearfort and Green Pond Mountains).  Green Pond is not to be confused with Greenwood Lake, which straddles the New Jersey-New York border.  There was also the DeMouth Family, French Huguenots who built a stone cottage on Green Pond Road in 1732.  

But it is the Vreeland family who has the greatest claim on West Milford’s history.  The Vreelands have a whole website devoted to their genealogy, which began mainly here in New Jersey.  Michael Jensen Vreeland came to the colonies in 1636.  Accompanied by his three sons, he settled in Greenville, N.J., now part of Jersey City.  He received the first commission from the crown to brew beer in New Jersey.  Richard, son of Michael J. Vreeland, settled at or near Pompton Plains.  He was the progenitor of the family in that region.

I met a member of the Vreeland clan during my tour of Hewitt on Saturday.  She is in possession of many of the Vreeland Family deeds, which her mother carefully preserved until her death.  She lives in South Jersey now, but she said she had come to see the Long Pond Iron Works because it was so much a part of her family’s history.  This woman wants to preserve these artifacts and tried calling the Newark Museum for help, but got a curious reply:  “It’s not our thing,” they told her.  I suggested she try Ringwood Manor.  Or perhaps Sheffield Archaeological Consultants of Butler, N.J., which published a book on the Ramapo Indians.

In any case, running into her on that autumn day was a miracle.  For she is also Sehulster, and the Sehulsters were one of the “Milfordite” families responsible for West Milford’s name.  While it’s clear that the Dutch settled in Newfoundland first, and also in Green Pond, which covers West Milford from top to bottom, West Milford proper lands right in between the two, and begs the question:  who came first, the Dutch settlers or the Milfordites?  As Newark owns one-third of the township land for watershed, not to mention the Wanaque Reservoir itself, West Milford and Newark share a history far-flung over time and distance.  Although towns didn’t develop until later, history books record Indian raids on Dutch settlements in northwestern New Jersey as early as 1643.

Regionalists who would join all of New Jersey’s municipalities and townships under the yoke of the city of Newark, or condemn the suburbs for building highways, should be mindful of Newark’s history, and West Milford’s subsequent history.







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