From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
|The historic Sip Manor House once stood at the southeast corner of Bergen Avenue and Academy Street. This structure was disassembled and then reconstructed in Westfield, N.J.|
In the heart of Bergen, the oldest European settlement in New Jersey, and now a part of Jersey City, is the ancient Sip homestead, which has weathered the storms of two and a half centuries. It was erected in the year 1666, by Claas Ariance Sip, and still remains in the possession of one of his male descendants, having been held by the family with a large grant of surrounding land under Dutch, English, and American rule.
Gazing at it today, although a city has grown up around it and modern houses built on the site of its garden almost shut out the sunlight from its genial door-way, one with any imagination is sure to obtain some slight impression of the past. This “town of the hills,” as its inhabitants called it, was then the home of a hospitable, kindly race of Dutchmen, living in the midst of plenty in the simple manner of their Holland ancestors.
During the Revolutionary War Bergen was frequently visited by the foraging parties in search of provisions. Marshy Bergen Neck was the scene of General Wayne’s unfortunate expedition to capture a herd of cattle belonging to the British, upon which disaster the gallant and equally witty Major Andre wrote his satirical poem entitled, “The Cow Chase,” whose opening verses ridiculing Wayne-a tanner by trade-were on the lips of every Tory wag who saw Remington’s Gazette of December 13, 1780. They read:
The tanner took his way,
The calf shall rue that is unborn
The jumbling of that day.
“And Wayne descending steers shall know,
And tauntingly deride,
And call to mind in ev’ry low
The tanning of his hide.
“Yet Bergen cows shall ruminate,
Unconscious in the stall,
What mighty means were used to get
And lose them after all.”
In 1776, almost four years before this event, the august Lord Cornwallis and a troop of redcoats passed through Bergen and supped and spent a night under the low sloping roof of the old Sip Manor, waited on, no doubt, during their stay by the sweet-faced daughters of the house of Sip, for there are traditions in many Bergen Neck families that the marauding British soldiers when visiting farm-houses generally would not permit the black household slaves to wait upon them. Corn wallis probably had some difficulty in making his unwilling hosts understand him, for at the time of the Revolution few of the inhabitants of Bergen spoke English, and even as late as 1820 there were many who had not mastered the language. It is well they could not, for he is said to have been on the trail of General Washington, whom he did not succeed in capturing.
Life in the old Sip home in this last century, although primitive, could not have failed to be happy. The soil was rich, crops were abundant, and there were many guilders, rix dollars, and double and single stivers in the secret drawer of the carved wood “kos,” or chest, containing the most treasured of the family possessions. Skating parties by daylight, or at night when the moon was high, husking bees, and the playing of old Holland games were the winter-time amusements of the young people. Occasionally in the spring and summer months the young men would row their sweethearts across the river to New York to view the “Stadt Huys,” the “Vlye Market,” and the “Common,” where the great ladies paraded in silk and satin gowns made by the skilful New York “mantua-makers” and wonderful to the eyes of the simple Dutch maiden, who spun and dyed her “linsey-woolsey” petticoats by the home fireside.
Very often, so quaint old records say, there were fights with the Paulus Hook ferry-keeper, who wished every one to patronize his flat-bottomed boat, called a “pirouge” or “periagua,” and many a frail craft bearing its happy freight of young people, or some frugal vrouw taking her garden produce to sell to the tavern-keepers, was wished ill-luck on its perilous voyage.
The good huysvrouws’ first accomplishments were their skill in cookery and the rearing of their families in the way they should go. The groetmoeders, like their groetmoeders in Holland, took great delight in their flower-gardens, and Bergen was a land of sweetness in the summer-time. The Dutch garden of the eighteenth century in Bergen differed very little from its sister across the river. They both had the same plots of flowers in the shape of stars, crescents, and circles, bound by the shrub dear to the hearts of our ancestors, which an old writer has so aptly called “the gallant boxwood.” The hausbloemen themselves were the same as those which grew in the neighboring English gardens. An old lady of Bergen, who used to work in her half-acre “sweet plot,” sheltered by a great black silk calash to preserve her complexion from the bright sunlight of those mornings of yesterday, once compiled a list of the flowers which flourished in her mother’s garden, and, besides the loved tulip, it contained ragged-robins, lady’s-slippers, prince’s-feather, Canterbury-bells, love-in-the-mist, sweet-phoebus, mourningbrides, and many other of the quaintly named flowers of “merrie England” once to be found in any old-fashioned garden.
The Sip garden was famous in the annals of old Bergen and contained all these beautiful and fragrant inmates, and many more besides. Governor Peter Stuyvesant is said to have admired its large variety of flowers when drinking spiced wine under the shade of of a willow within its borders. He was generally chary of his praise, and knew what a garden ought to be, as he kept many a score of black servants at work on his own fine gardens surrounding White Hall at the Battery and his manor on the Bouwerie.
Many of the trees surrounding the Sip homestead had interesting histories. General Lafayette, when visiting Colonel Varick and making a tour of Bergen, once planted two elm-trees close to the house, and these stood until a few years ago, when they were cut down, owing to the annoying pests of small bugs which frequented them in the summer-time. The gnarled and aged willow under which Governor Stuyvesant sat was also destroyed when the site for the house close by was opened. It had a further history in the tale which has come down to us that Lord Comwallis hanged three spies from its branches the morning he left Bergen after his stay with the Sip family.
In later years Judge Peter Sip, the grandfather of the present owner, Mr. Richard G. Sip, often entertained Mayor Golden, of New York, under its melancholy foliage at a friendly game of chess or cards.
One of the pleasantest customs of the Sip Manor and many of the homes of Bergen was the nightly gathering of the family to keep “schemeravard,” or twilight. While the last light lingered in the sky, or perhaps by the glow of a bayberry candle, the old people and the young people would draw the black settle close to the fire and talk over the events of the day.
In the summer-time they met under the sloping roof of the “back stoop,” covered with the trumpet-flower and honeysuckle vines. It was then each told of joys and sorrows, and asked advice for the morrow. As the light faded, groetvader and groetmoder grew reminiscent of the land of dykes and windmills beyond the sea.
We can picture them there that night after the scarlet line of Cornwallis’s army had grown blurred and indistinct in the brown of the King’s Highway. Are those tears in the eyes of Lysbet and Annetje as they whisper over the fate of the poor spies lying cold and stiff on pallets of dead leaves in the garden, and do they smile when they tell of the admiring looks the handsome young redcoats gave them? We shall not know, for “schemeravard” is deepening, and the darkness will soon completely hide them.
When we look again they have vanished, for they are only the ghosts of memories of those once fair Bergen maidens who are “in den Hease outslopen,” as the Bergenites used to say for those who sleep in God.