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Old Bergen

Chapter XIV.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

As the population of the town and the surrounding country increased, it was felt that some more convenient manner of settling the disputes and difficulties that were continually arising, should be determined upon, than had previously existed. The Court of Burgomasters and the Schepens at New Amsterdam exercised jurisdiction on the west side of the river as well as in that place; and not being in possession of actual knowledge of existing conditions, they were unable to decide promptly or accurately the questions submitted to them. A petition was thereupon presented to the Governor and Council at New Amsterdam, asking for relief, and praying for the establishment of a "local court of justice," which should determine and adjudicate such questions as should arise, affecting the petitioners.

In response thereto, the following ordinance was passed September 5, 1661, by the Director and Council of New Netherlands, erecting a court of justice at Bergen:

That their Honors do not hope or wish for anything else than the prosperity and welfare of their good inhabitants in general, and in particular, of the people residing in the village of Bergen, situated on the west side of the North River; and considering the increase in population of said village, therefore resolved, to favor its inhabitants with an Inferior Court of justice, and to constitute it, as much as possible, and as the circumstances of the country permit, according to the laudable custom of the City of Amsterdam, in Holland, but so that all judgments shall be subject to reversal by, and an appeal to, the Director General, and Council of New Netherlands, to be by their Honors finally disposed of.

It is necessary to choose as judges, honest, intelligent persons, owners of real estate, who are lovers of peace, and well affected subjects of their lords and patrons and of their Supreme Government established here, promoters and professors of the Reformed Religion as it is at present taught, in conformity of the Word of God, and the order of the Synod of Dortrecht; which court for the present, until it shall be herein otherwise ordained by the said lords, patrons, or their deputy, shall consist of one Schout, who shall convoke the appointed Schepens, and preside at the meeting, and with three Schepens, to which office are for the present time, and ensuing year, commencing the 20th of this month, elected by the Director General and Council, Michael Jansen, Harman Smeeman, and Caspar Stynmets.

The Schout and Schepens are authorized in case of any special emergency or necessity, to enact some Ordinances for the greater advantage and contentment of the aforesaid village ; respecting surveys, highways, outlets, ports, and fences of lands; laying out of gardens, orchards, and such like matters . . . . Also in regard to the buildings of churches, schools, and similar public works, and the means by which same are to be effected. But to commit to writing their opinions thereupon, and the reasons therefor, and submit them to the Director General and Council, in order that they may be approved and confirmed.

These magistrates were obliged to take oath, among other things, that they would "maintain the Reformed Religion and no other, and support the same." The first Schout was Tilman Van Vleck, who was commissioned the same date, and the first municipal government and court in the State of New Jersey was thus constituted: The erection of this court, elevating the little village into the dignity of a seat of justice and government for the surrounding territory, doubtless attached its name to all the neighboring dependencies, and although many of them retained locally the name by which each little settlement was originally known, yet from this time forth, they were all referred to and designated cinder the general name of Bergen. Thus, although it is historically recorded that New Jersey was first settled by the Dutch at a place called Bergen, it is well substantiated that to Pavonia, or more properly to Communipau, to be locally exact, must be accorded the honor of first receiving, within what is now the Province of New Jersey, the adventurous navigators who left the Fatherland in quest of the riches that were popularly supposed to lie hidden within the unexplored region of the New World. Communipau, from its location, was probably the most inviting spot on the western shores of the Hudson; being well wooded and possessing a natural, well sheltered harbor, with high ground connected directly with the adjacent hills, it commended itself to the thrifty settler as a desirable location for a home. Not only were the waters that laved its shores, stocked with shell-fish, but in their regular seasons, schools of sturgeon, mackerel and shad furnished means of remunerative employment to all, while in the interval the fruitful soil recompensed the laborer with an abundance of the products of the earth. Tradition says that the Indians early perceived its natural advantages, and after the settlement of the Indian difficulties, still clung to its shores, and joined with the Dutch settlers, living at peace with them for some time, fishing in the adjoining waters, and hunting in the woods that covered the neighboring heights.

But as the white men increased in numbers, the natives were gradually forced back along the shore, and finally were compelled to move westward to escape their encroachments; and yet in some cases there was such strong attachment to some of the old families, that there were individual instances of Indians who refused to move away with their tribe. Continuing their friendships, they retained their wigwams, and ended their days within sight of the water on which they had so often sailed with their birch canoes. As was said to an old settler by one of the last survivors of the tribe: "My parents and parents' parents were not savages, but good people, who feared the God with all the simplicity of their primitive natures. There was no blood on their hands, and no scalps at their belts; but good or bad, they had to go according to what the white man calls progress and civilization."

Washington Irving thus humorously describes the discovery and settlement of Communipau:

The Goede Vrouw came to anchor at the mouth of the Hudson, a little to the east of Gibbet Island. Here, lifting up their eyes, they beheld, on what is at present called the Jersey Shore, a small Indian village pleasantly embowered in a grove of spreading elms, and the natives all collected on the beach, gazing in stupid admiration at the Goede Vrouw. A boat was immediately despatched to enter into a treaty with them, and approaching the shore, hailed them through a trumpet, in the most friendly terms ; but so horribly confounded were these poor savages at the tremendous and uncouth sound of the Low Dutch language, that they one and all took to their heels, and scampered over the Bergen hills, nor did they stop until they had buried themselves, head and ears, in the marshes on the other side, where they all miserably perished to a man, and their bones being collected, and decently covered by the Tammany Society of that day, formed that singular mound called Rattlesnake Hill, which rises out of the center of the salt marshes, a little to the east of the Newark Causeway. . . . Accordingly they descended from the Goede Vrouw, men, women and children in goodly groups, as did the animals of yore from the ark, and formed themselves into a thriving settlement, which they called by the Indian name Communipau.

Communipaw In Early Days


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