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A DAY'S DIGGING
AS long ago as November, 1679, two Dutchmen, Jasper Dankers and Peter Sluyter, worked their way laboriously across New Jersey from Manhattan Island, and reached South River, as the Delaware was then called, at least by the Hollanders. They were all agog to see the falls at the head of tide-water, and spent a miserable night in a rickety shanty, which was cold as Greenland, except in the fireplace, and there they roasted. All this was not calculated to put them in excellent humor, and so the next day, when they stood on the river-bank and saw only a trivial rapid where they had expected a second Niagara, their disgust knew no bounds. These travel-tired Dutchmen quickly departed, rowing a small boat down-stream, and growling whenever the tide turned and they had to row against it.
When they reached Burlington, they recorded of an island nearly in front of the village, that it "formerly belonged to the Dutch Governor, who had made it a pleasure ground or garden, built good houses upon it, and sowed and planted it. He also dyked and cultivated a large piece of meadow or marsh." The English held it at the time of their visit, and it was occupied by "some Quakers," as the authors quoted called them.
One of these Dutch houses, built in part of yellow bricks, and with a red tiled roof, I found traces of years ago, and ever since have been poking about the spot, for the very excellent reasons that it is a pretty one, a secluded one, and as full of natural history attractions now as it was of human interest when a Dutch beer-garden.
Had no one who saw the place in its palmy days left a record concerning the beer, I could, at this late day, have given testimony that if there was no beer, there were beer mugs, and schnapps bottles, and wineglasses, for I have been digging again and found them all; and then the pipes and pipe-stems! I have a pile of over five hundred. The Dutch travellers were correct as to the place having been a pleasure-garden. It certainly was, and probably the very first on the Delaware River. But there was "pleasure," too, on the main shore, for the men who referred to the island stayed one night in Burlington, and, the next day being Sunday, attended Quaker meeting, and wrote afterwards, "What they uttered was mostly in one tone and the same thing, and so it continued until we were tired out and went away." Doubtless they were prejudiced, and so nothing suited them, not even what they found to drink, for they said, "We tasted here, for the first time, peach brandy or spirits, which was very good, but would have been better if more carefully made." They did not like the English, evidently, for the next day they went to Takanij (Tacony), a village of Swedes and Finns, and there drank their fill of" very good beer" brewed by these people, and expressed themselves as much pleased to find that, because they had come to a new country, they had not left behind them their old customs.
The house that once stood where now is but a reach of abandoned and wasting meadow was erected in 1668 or possibly a little earlier. Its nearest neighbor was across a narrow creek, and a portion of the old building is said to be still standing. Armed with the few facts that are on record, it is easy to picture the place as it was in the days of the Dutch, and it was vastly prettier then than it is now. The public of to-day are not interested in a useless marsh, particularly when there is better ground about it in abundance, and whoever wanders to such uncanny places is quite sure to be left severely alone. This was my experience, and, being undisturbed, I enjoyed the more my resurrective work. I could enthuse, without being laughed at, over what to others was but meaningless rubbish, and I found very much that, to me, possessed greater interest than usual, because of a mingling of late Indian and early European objects. With a handful of glass, porcelain, and amber beads were more than one hundred of copper; the former from Venice, the latter the handiwork of a Delaware Indian. With a white clay pipe, made in Holland in the seventeenth century, was found a rude brown clay one, made here in the river valley. Mingled with fragments of blue and white Delft plates, bowls, and platters, were sun-dried mud dishes made by women hereabouts during, who can say how many centuries? How completely history and pre-history here overlapped! We know pretty much everything about Dutchmen, but how much do we really know of the native American? After nearly thirty years' digging, he has been traced from the days of the great glaciers to the beginnings of American history; but we cannot say how long a time that comprises. The winter of 1892-1893 was, so far as appearances went, a return to glacial times. Ice was piled up fifty feet in height, and the water turned from the old channel of the river. The cutting of another one opened up new territory for the relic hunter when the ice was gone and the stream had returned to its old bed. Many an Indian wigwam site that had been covered deep with soil was again warmed by the springtide sun, and those were rare days when, from the ashes of forgotten camps, I raked the broken weapons and rude dishes that the red men had discarded. It was reading history at first hands, without other commentary than your own. The ice-scored gravel-beds told even an older story; but no one day's digging was so full of meaning, or brought me so closely in touch with the past, as when I uncovered what remained of the old Dutch trader's house; traced the boundaries of the one-time pleasure-garden, hearing in the songs of birds the clinking of glasses, and then, in fancy, adding to the now deserted landscape the fur-laden canoes of the Indians who once gathered here to exchange for the coveted gaudy beads the skins of the many animals which at that time roamed the forests.