Old Bergen

Chapter XLVII.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

WASHINGTON IRVING has somewhat satirically and in an amusing manner ascribed to the early Dutch settlers many habits and peculiarities, which, while not strictly accurate and historical, were suggested by the fact that the early Dutch were so tenacious of the habits and customs descending to them from their forefathers, and so indifferent to the affairs and wrangles of the outside world, that even in those slowgoing days, their conservativeness and opposition to all new and untried theories, were particularly noticeable. Although under the shadow of the great city, and within easy access to it, they disregarded its activities and pursued their avocations, undisturbed by its allurements. If they did not indulge in its extravagances or possess its luxuries, they were contented to enjoy their home comfort, with no desire to adopt any of the wild or unusual habits introduced by the royalists, of which they doubtless often heard.

The fertile soil of "Old Bergen" afforded ample recompense to the old Dutch husbandman, and he cared for his acres with a judgment and industry that returned him a most liberal remuneration, Throughout this section, cabbage was the principal staple of produce, and immense quantities were raised, not only for supplying the neighboring city, but for shipment to all parts of the country; and even as late as during our Civil War, from its beginning in 1861 -- when the shutting off of Southern transportation cut off the early supply from those parts -- to its close, the market gardens of this territory furnished a goodly supply of this succulent vegetable, and the successors of the original settlers reaped an abundant reward. Another source of income to the early farmers, in addition to the vegetables, grain and hay, raised and sold, was the cutting and bunching of clover, which in its green state was readily sold to the denizens of New York as a most healthful and necessary food for their horses and cattle.

In the fall, the marshes on either side of the hill were frequented by hunters in search of the wild-fowl that congregated there, and oftentimes great flocks of wild pigeons, settling in the woods on the west side, afforded sport and sustenance, not only for the residents, but for many who crossed over from the neighboring city.

Many of the inhabitants, especially those living at Communipau and in the neighborhood of the shore, derived a most comfortable living, and oftentimes a competency, from the oyster and shad fisheries of New York and Newark Bays. From the time that Hudson regaled himself on what he termed the largest and most luscious bivalves that were ever seen, until very recent times, when the increase of manufactures, and consequent befouling of the waters destroyed the beds, these oysters enjoyed a most flattering reputation.

The spinning and weaving of wool and flax occupied the women of the day. Their industry was able to furnish the necessary clothing for daily comfort, and frequently with provident forethought, the housewife prepared for every emergency. The well stored caas or clothespress was furnished with the finery deemed necessary to envelope the form of the comely bride; and from it the beautifully crimped and plaited garments were brought forth for the enshrouding of the dead.

The frugal mode of life of these people, and their economical habits, were rarely departed from, and resulted in an accumulation which was prudently invested and increased. As tillers of the soil, they seemed to become imbued with the healthfulness, as well with the strict honesty and integrity, of Dame Nature, learning well, not only that without honest exertion no adequate and regular return could be expected, but also that with a proper application and cultivation-dealing justly with her-they would be assured of a bountiful reward.

During the occupation of New York by the British army, the settlers of "Old Bergen," as they bartered with the invaders for their farm produce or garden truck, secured most valuable information, by means of which Washington was oftentimes enabled to thwart the enemy's plans. The first news of the intended treachery of Benedict Arnold, was conveyed to Washington through one of the sturdy patriots of Bergen Hill, it having been learned by one of the female members of his family, while marketing in New York.

The names of the early settlers were selected on account of some special characteristic, their trade or calling, or the place of their birth. Thus we find Gerit Gerritse (that is, Garret the son of Garret) as having received a patent for land at Bergen, from Philip Carteret, May 12, 1668. He came from the city of Wagening, an ancient town near the Rhine; and van signifying from or of, he was designated as Garret Van Wagening, which became the family name. So the name of Van Buskirk is composed of two Dutch words bos, woods, and kerch, church; hence with the Van, the name signifies "from the woods by the church." Jacobse Wallings in the early days came from Middleburgh, the capital of Zealand, and as he was a storekeeper, was called Jacob Van Winkle, winkle signifying store or shop, hence "Jacob of the shop." The custom of retaining family names made it often very difficult to designate the different members of the same family with the same patronymic, and so in time they were localized; as in the Van Horne family, various members were known as John, Johns John, Trinches John, Mill Creek John, Canal Bridge John, etc.

One custom which made it almost impossible to trace genealogies was that of giving a child as a surname his father's Christian name with se or sen (meaning son) added. Thus if a child was baptized Hendrick and his father's name was William, he would be known as Hendrick Williamsen ; if his son was called Jan, he would became Jan Hendricksen. If his son was called Garret, he would be known as Garret Jansen ; and the next generation might become John Garretson; the next, Michael Johnson, and so on indefinitely. So that, as will be readily seen, identical names would frequently occur in families entirely separate and dis tinct. The inconvenience of this practice and the confusion it occasioned, caused its abandonment, and the names borne by the heads of families at this time became and continued the family names.