The Arnolds

IN BURLINGTON CITY at the end of Wood Street, on the banks of the Delaware stood a house that was the summer home of Philadelphia Judge Edward Shippen. It’s hard to believe that this bucolic location had a connection to a scandal during the Revolutionary War that could have shocked the rebellion to its foundation.

 General Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen Arnold

General Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen Arnold

Judge Shippen had three daughters and the youngest, Peggy, was her father’s darling, a stunning blue-eyed blonde with a beguiling personality who had her father (and most men) wrapped around her finger. The Shippens were loyalist members of Philadelphia society and when the British occupied the city, Peggy found Major John André quite to her liking. Unfortunately, the next year the British had to evacuate the city, returning control to the Americans. This time around, engaging in the company of patriots, Peggy met General Benedict Arnold, a heroic and wounded veteran of many battles. Smitten, he courted Miss Shippen and they eventually were married, he a 38 year old widower with three boys, and she a spoiled young socialite of 19. For a time, the Arnolds enjoyed all the amenities that living in a cosmopolitan city like Philadelphia could offer. But the General felt underapreciated after constantly being passed over for promotions and prestigious assignments. He had also contributed a good deal of his own money towards supplying the American forces and complained that he was not being properly compensated. And coupled with the expensive tastes of his young bride, Arnold found himself sinking deeply into debt.

Peggy suggested he could ease their financial burden by working for the British. In the meantime, Arnold was given command of the newly constructed fortress at West Point on the Hudson river. Mrs. Arnold contacted her old and dear friend Major André (who was actually a spy) and together, all three drew up a plan in which Arnold would provide enough documentation to the British that would essentially allow them to gain control of West Point with relative ease. In return, General Benedict Arnold  would receive 10,000 pounds and a commission in the British military. Major André was captured however, by highwaymen who had every intention of robbing him. But when they made him remove his boots, they found hidden within them documents that included Arnold’s signature. André then was turned over to the American military and executed. It was a sad affair as it appears he was a very likable fellow. Even Gen’l Washington had misgivings. He would rather it would have been Arnold.

As for Benedict Arnold, he and his conniving young wife escaped to New York City. Arnold did receive a commission in the British Army, but only a minescule amount of the money owed him. The disgraced couple eventually moved to London and lived the rest of their lives there, held in contempt by both British and Americans.

I’ll Take Manhattan

Nearly everyone is familiar with what is arguably the most famous and ironic real estate deal of all time. I am of course referring to the purchase of the Island of Manhattan for $24 worth of household goods–about 60 seventeenth century guilders, or in today’s market, about $1200– or the ticket price of a broadway show.

But not nearly as many are familiar with the man who initiated the transaction.

He was one of the truly outstanding but largely forgotten figures of early colonial America, and his name was Peter Minuit. Born sometime in the 1580s, he came from a widely divergent European background that included French, Walloon, Dutch and German ancestry.

Peter Minuit

Peter Minuit

Minuit (pronounced Min-wee) had originally trained as a diamond-cutter in Utrecht, Netherlands. Finding that profession too boring, he volunteered his services to the Dutch West India Company and sailed to the brand new outpost on the Hudson River in the New Netherlands colony known as New Amsterdam. The Dutch government tried to rule their fledgling colony from Europe, but they had little understanding of the inherent problems in establishing a virgin province, and their efforts proved to be rather clumsy. Due to a sparkling personality, however, it was not long before the newly-arrived Minuit impressed his fellow settlers with his leadership skills, and in 1626 they elected him their on-site commander, taking over from Willem Verhulst, the previous director.

One of Minuit’s first acts was to purchase the island the settlement was situated on–Manhattan. And it was for this legendary transaction, probably the most famous in history, that he is remembered today, but barely.

The earliest settlers and explorers in North America were too savvy to merely conquer the native population (that would come later). They treated them as trading partners. At the time, articles of clothing, particularly hats, made from beaver fur were immensely popular in Europe. It could take as many as seven hides to craft one these hats given their enormous brims. The Indians were happy to provide pelts in great quantities in return for useful items they lacked, such as cloth, iron cookware, weapons, etc. It was a fruitful relationship.

The small, free market colony began to prosper but adversity soon appeared in the form of its first minister–the Reverend Jonas Michaelius. The bitchiest, most miserable, and bitter “man of God” most had ever encountered, he immediately took a disliking to Minuit, writing to West India Company directors that Minuit was cheating them. The directors, always referred to as “Their High Mightynesses” recalled both Minuit and his accuser to Holland to address the matter in person. Unbelievably, the directors gave Minuit a formal dismissal, claiming that he had not recruited enough settlers to people New Netherland. It was after this humiliation that the outraged Minuit teamed up with Willem Usselinx and Samuel Blommaert, two other disgruntled former West India Company members and together dreamed up a plan to create their own colony.

They needed a powerful backer for this undertaking and they found one: Gustavus Adolphus II, the King of Sweden. Though he had aggressively won control of a great deal of northern Europe, his prospects for commercial development were limited. Seveny-five percent of the cargoes and more than half the ships plying the Baltic Sea were Dutch.

But the enterprise had to be abandoned as the King was killed in battle. It would not be resumed for another ten years.

It was finally in 1638 that Minuit found himself in command of two ships loaded with Swedes, Finns and supplies to begin a new colony. They entered the Delaware Bay and sailed up to the present-day site of Wilmington, DE. It was there that Minuit repeated the process of buying land from the natives, and built Fort Christina, named for the daughter of the deceased Swedish King. After overseeing the initiation of the infant colony, he boarded his ship that had brought them, the Kalmar Nyckel and sailed for the Caribbean to exchange what liquor and wine he had left on the ship for a cargo of tobacco, which had become extremely lucrative in Europe. After loading, Minuit was invited to visit the Flying Stag, a Dutch merchantman. While on board, a hurricane struck and forced a number of ships out into the open sea to ride out the storm. The Kalmar Nyckel made it through the storm undamaged but the Flying Stag and Peter Minuit never returned.

He is only remembered today for his very shrewd real estate deal.

Canals

THE FIRST CANALS in North America connected the Great Lakes to Canadian cities and then the Great Lakes to the East Coast of the U.S. by way of the Erie Canal. Most all of them followed an existing river, to tap into a consistent water supply. The canal system along the Delaware was no different. The Delaware and Raritan Canal was begun the same day in 1830 that the Camden & Amboy Railroad went into business. A year later they merged. And in 1871 they were leased by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. The D & R canal was begun at  Bordentown, ran through Trenton and then abruptly turned northeast to connect with the Raritan River at New Brunswick. From there, transportation could continue by boat and barge to New York City. About 80% of the cargo transported was coal to supply the industrial revolution, now in full mode.

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There was a feeder canal for the D & R that began about 22 miles upstream at Bull’s Island and followed the Delaware down to Trenton where it supplied water to the main route. Hard to imagine today, but this whole canal system was dug mostly using hand tools by a large majority of Irish immigrants. When finally opened in 1834, the main line ran for 43 miles through 14 locks with a width of 75 feet and a depth of 7 feet. There were also pivot bridges, culverts and one aqueduct. The locks were operated manually by lock keepers, who lived with their families in houses next to the canal. A very few of these dwellings are still there today, quaint and picturesque, most of them of stone construction. Mules were originally used to haul the barges along the canal on a tow path until steam powered boats took over, steam also being used to operate the locks later on.

The canals proved an immediate success, and why not? They cut time, distance and provided controlled conditions unlike the adventures of river shipping. By the 1850s, the time of greatest prosperity, there were over 1400 barges working the canal carrying 1-2 million tons of freight per year. But while the canals were performing as well as expected, the railroads were doing it even better. The canal systems continued to operate well into the early twentieth century, but with steadily declining loads, and the D & R finally closed in 1932.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the river, the Delaware Canal ran from Easton south to Bristol. And again, the main cargo was coal, for which the country had developed an unquenchable desire. Begun in 1827, the State of Pennsylvania built the canal but because of poor design it leaked so badly that it was soon shut down. It was only through the intervention of Josiah White, co-founder of the Lehigh Coal and Navigation Company that it was able to be repaired. It reopened the same year as the D & R canal.

Both canals had access to each other at various crossing points along the river, as well as offshoots that would allow traffic to flow all the way to New York Harbor. In fact, much of the Northeast had a network of canals connecting cities as far flung as Evansville, Illinois and Albany, New York.

There are a few canals still in use today, but the D & R and Delaware Canals are not. Instead, they have become recreational parks where Adidas and Nikes now take the place of mule hooves. The rest of the Delaware Canal, nearly 60 miles long, is a National Heritage Hiking Trail. The trail runs just west of the lower portion of Washington’s Crossing State Park and continues north closer to the river through the upper portion of the park.

Crayola Land

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WHEN YOU were a child, you undoubtedly let your creative urges flow by drawing gorgeous pictures: landscapes, still lifes, space aliens, extremely accurate portraits of parents, animals. Or you filled in ready-made images in coloring books. And the artistic media you used was a small wax cylinder to which dye had been added–a crayon. The most popular manufacturer was clearly announced on it’s label–Crayola, which was peeled away as the crayon was worn down. And who can forget that aroma? I’ll bet if you picked a crayon up right now and smelled it, you would be instantly lost in childhood memories. There have been many parents over the years who have thanked Crayola profusely for keeping those little hands busy.

Crayola crayons are and have been manufactured in the town of Easton, Pennsylvania since 1903. Joseph Binney & C. Harold Smith started their business by manufacturing lamp black from charcoal, then moved into barn paint and carbon black for car tires.  After producing slate school pencils, they stayed in the same vein, introducing dustless school chalk. It was only a matter of time before they came up with inexpensive wax crayons. The first offering was a box of eight that contained red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown and black. You can still use those same primary colors or if you want to go really wild, enrich your palette with “inch worm”, “mango tango”, “wild blue yonder”, or “jazzberry jam”. Today, Crayola makes much more than crayons: markers, dry-erase products, mini lights, modeling clay and digital creative tools are just a sampling of the current Crayola experience. And Experience is what their downtown facility in Easton is called. You can visit the colorful Crayola Factory and make a day of it learning how crayons are made, design your own crayon label, make wax sculptures, play in a giant water table, create puzzles and see the world’s largest crayon–15 feet long, and weighing in at 1,500 pounds. 

 SITUATED WHERE the Lehigh River empties into the Delaware, Easton has had more than crayons to make the town colorful. At least thirteen Taverns like the Bachman Publick House were in abundance during colonial times despite a sparse population. Even though the pubs were used to conduct the King’s Royal Court sessions and other civic business, rowdiness, prostitution and general shenanigans were quite normal.

The town was formally founded by William Penn’s son Thomas in 1752, but its roots go back a number of years earlier when the land became part of the infamous “Walking Purchase”. The Lenape translation came out as “Ye Hurry Walk”. It was an incomplete, unsigned draft of a deed in which the Lenape reportedly promised to sell a tract of land beginning at the junction of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers and extending as far west as a man could walk in a day and a half. Unknown to the Lenape, the Penns took great care to hack clear paths through the forests and then hired the three fastest runners in the colonies to traverse the paths as far as they could go in the time allotted. The result was that the Lenape lost a parcel of land roughly the size of Rhode Island, 1,220 square miles.

 After William Penn died in 1718, his sons inherited his sizable estate of Pennsylvania—and along with it a great deal of debt. While John and Richard Penn remained in England, Thomas, along with land agent James Logan began selling off parcels of the land to an ever-increasing influx of colonists. But they were not nearly as scrupulous as the senior Penn had been in compensating the native inhabitants. Thus the completely illegal and shameful Walking Purchase came to be. It provoked a great deal of resentment which was to last for many years and undoubtedly persuaded scores of the Lenape to join the French in their war against the British nearly twenty years later. The hostilities continued through the Revolutionary War, but by the late 1700s, they had been pushed out of the Delaware Valley.

As recently as 2006, the Delaware Nation still sought to reclaim the land, which was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

 

 

A Concrete Ship

AT THE VERY TIP of the Cape May peninsula, looking out over “The Ripps”, where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, is Sunset Beach, where a sharp eye might spot a “Cape May Diamond”. These are translucent pebbles of pure quartz crystal, washed down the Delaware and polished naturally over many years by sand and water turbulence. They were highly prized by the Kechemeche who believed they possessed great power. They would be used as wampum and jewelry and given as gifts to their closest friends. These little gems can be purchased but it’s much more interesting and rewarding to find your own. They’re free! Sunset beach is also the landing site of the steam boats that brought vacationers to Cape Island in the early nineteenth century.

And who can leave Cape May without taking a peak at the concrete ship Atlantus, broken in pieces and lying just off shore? You’re probably thinking “Concrete ship? Lead balloon?” The ship was part of an “emergency fleet” built during the latter days of the First World War when steel was scarce. After just a couple of years of service, the Atlantus was retired to a salvage yard in Virginia. She was purchased in 1926 to be used as part of a dock for the proposed Cape May Ferry. That same year, she was towed to Cape May but ran aground when her moorings broke during a storm. Several attempts were made to free her, but because of the tremendous weight, it became an impossible task and was abandoned. And there she has lain ever since, gradually crumbling into the sea. The ferry would have to wait until 1964 to finally become a reality.

Concrete ship Atlantus in 1926

Concrete ship Atlantus in 1926

A little farther north from Sunset Beach, up Sunset Boulevard, is Cape May Point State Park where sits the Cape May Light House. Its also a prime gathering spot for watching migrating birds. It is said that over 45,000 raptors can be spotted during peak season and the variety is astonishing. Norther Harriers, Bald Eagles, American Kestrels, Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and more can be spotted in the fall. There are even volunteer “spotters” stationed on the platforms. I visited there unwittingly during one crisp Autumn day and though many bird people with telescopic lens and binoculars were ooohing and aahing, I didn’t see a damn thing. One really needs optical assistance. Trying to make amusing conversation, I asked one middle-aged woman in bird-watching gear if she had spotted any penguins. She fixed me in a raptor-like stare, as if I were potential prey.

Birders are humorless people.

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Roebling

SPANNING the Delaware River over “the falls” at Trenton is a steel truss bridge. First opened in 1806, it was the first to cross the Delaware. Needless to say, it has been rebuilt many times since then, the original supports still standing next to the latest version. Emblazoned on the side of the bridge in giant neon Futura letters is the slogan “TRENTON MAKES THE WORLD TAKES”. That was a very apt statement at one time–some of the largest manufacturing operations on the eastern seaboard were located here

John Augustus Roebling

John Augustus Roebling

The Roebling Company, manufacturers of countless numbers of wire products from bridge cables to elevator hoists began in Trenton in 1848 as the brainchild of John Augustus Roebling (coincidentally born the same year as the first bridge over the Delaware). An engineering genius who emigrated from Prussia, Roebling developed a method for manufacturing “wire rope”, which became an indispensable building material. He rose to prominence from one of his first projects; a double-decked bridge over the Niagara River that carried a rail line on one level and passenger vehicles on the other. The bridge inspired Mark Twain to comment: “You drive over the Suspension Bridge and divide your misery between the chances of smashing down two hundred feet into the river below, and the chances of having a railway-train overhead smashing down onto you. Either possibility is discomforting taken by itself, but, mixed together, they amount in the aggregate to positive unhappiness.” Roebling also designed a number of canal aqueducts, which were essentially bridges for boats that carried canal barges over a number of rivers on the coal routes in the Northeast U.S. He is probably best remembered as the designer of the Brooklyn Bridge, although a construction mishap took his life, leaving his son Washington to oversee it’s completion. Later, in the 1930s, the Roebling Company would provide the cables used to suspend the Golden Gate Bridge, spinning the thousands of miles of wire on-sight–an innovative first.

Despite the patriarch’s untimely death, the company continued, outgrowing its facilities in Trenton and moving about ten miles south, still on the river. Not only did they then build their own steel mill for manufacturing their wire products, but built an entire town to house the workforce needed to man the facility.

Over six hundred dwellings were constructed, from row homes for laborers to semi-detached houses for skilled workers and separate homes for management. The homes were leased from the Roebling Co. which took care of maintenance, included the mowing of lawns. The first company town of its kind, Roebling included an inn, a general store, private stores, schools, repair shops, a stable, a boat house, a recreation center and even a ball park.

Many of the families, mostly immigrants, lived here in the town of Roebling their entire lives, some of them buying the rentals when they were offered for sale.

To learn much more, visit the Roebling Museum ( http://www.roeblingmuseum.org), located in the former gateway to the old mill which houses a startling display of artifacts and memorabilia related to the incredible influence the Roebling Co. had on the building of the entire U.S. Even a sample cross-section of the cable used for the Golden Gate Bridge is displayed–over 36 inches in diameter containing thousands of strands of steel wire. Also, a family history including that of Washington Roebling, a hero of the Civil War and his nephew Washington Augustus Roebling II who died on the Titanic after motoring through Europe.

Tom Quick

This is about one of the early settlers of Milford, Pennsylvania.

IN 1733 THOMAS QUICK arrived and pitched a tent. His ancestral ties are somewhat vague—some sources state his homeland as County Ulster, some say Holland and some even cover all the bases and claim both. Quick built a log cabin and began clearing the land for farming which didn’t seem to bother his neighbors, the Lenni Lenape. The following year, young Tom Quick was born and here’s where the story picks up momentum. As the youngster grew, he spent more time with the Indians than his family, learning their language and how to hunt, fish, and trap and the ways of the forest. He became nearly an Indian himself.

Young Tom grew up living a life that most boys would have found idyllic. But as the French and Indian War loomed, the climate throughout the Delaware Valley began to grow unsettled. Increasing numbers of settlers were encroaching on Indian lands. It didn’t take much prodding on the part of the French to induce the Indians to drive the whites from their lands. The story is told that young Tom was out with his father and brother-in-law one day on some errand across the river, when the senior Quick was felled by a round from a marauding Indian’s rifle. Young Tom and the brother-in-law tried to drag the elder wounded Quick to safety, but  he was dying and commanded them to run for their lives. The two men then frantically made their way back across the frozen river. Tom paused after reaching the bank to see if they were being pursued and saw to his horror his now-dead father being scalped.

The shadowy figure of Tom Quick

The shadowy figure of Tom Quick

Something snapped in him and from this point on, Tom Quick swore vengeance on all Indians. Though he could have joined the British Army as a regular or scout, he preferred to exact his revenge as a lone assassin. Over the years, fact blended with fiction and he became the legendary Tom Quick, Indian Slayer; The Red Revenger; The Avenger of the Delaware. Many stories were told such as the time he hunted with an Indian who agreed to keep the hides of their game while Tom would keep the meat. After a successful hunt in which seven deer were taken, Tom lingered behind the Indian carrying the hides and shot him in the back. He later told of his deed saying he had shot a buck with seven skins. It was claimed he murdered an Indian family canoeing on the Delaware. When asked why he killed even the children he replied, “nits make lice.”

After the war was over and the hatchet was considered buried, Quick continued his independent rampage. Since there still deep scars left mentally and physically on the settlers, there didn’t seem to be an overwhelming desire to bring him to justice. To many he was a hero, but in today’s world his tendencies would more likely be diagnosed as that of a psychopath.

On his death-bed he claimed the personal achievement of having killed 99 Indians. The tale is told that he begged to have old Indian who lived nearby to be brought to him for killing, so he could claim an even one-hundred victims.

Needless to say, the Indian community hated and feared Tom Quick. An even more far-fetched story persists that when he did finally pass away, he was infected with Smallpox. Supposedly, after his burial Indians dug up his corpse, cut it into pieces and distributed them as souvenirs. The recipients then contracted the disease, thus Tom Quick took more victims even after his death.

In 1889, Milford erected the “Settlers Monument” and transferred Tom Quick’s remains there from his resting place in the nearby town of Matamoras. Legend or not, people eventually came to question wether someone of Quick’s reputation should be immortalized. Then in 1997, someone took a sledgehammer to the monument, causing extensive damage. It was repaired, but not replaced. Much controversy has ensued, but for the meantime a plaque has been installed on top of the grave in the middle of Sarah Street which reads:

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