Here is a short account of a trip to Edgepillock or Brotherton in 1892 by the famous “J.W.” All spelling and grammar retained in this transcription from the original published account.
Extracted from The Friend, Vol. LXVI, No. 6, Seventh-Day, Ninth Month 3, 1892, pages 46-47 and Vol. LXVI, No. 7, Seventh-Day, Ninth Month 10, 1892, page 51.
A Visit to Edgepelick.
Through the kindness of a friend residing near Medford, New Jersey, an opportunity was furnished, on the 18th of Seventh Month last, to visit the old Indian Reservation at Edgepelick, in Burlington County, situated a few miles S. E. of Medford, on the waters of Edgepelick Creek, a branch of Springer’s Creek, which is a tributary to the Batsto River, whose waters enter Great Bay on the sea coast, through the Mullica River, into which it empties.
As Edgepelick was one of the last resting places in the State for the New Jersey Indians, a short historical narrative may properly introduce a description of our visit.
The relations between the Indians of New Jersey and the white settlers had always been amicable. The land that was needed was fairly purchased and paid for, and mutual kindness was manifested. Henry Armitt Brown says: “At the same time at which the savages of Virginia were punishing cold-blooded murder with passionate bloodshed, and scourging with fury every plantation from the Potomac to the James; and on the northern sky the light of blazing villages, from one end of New England to the other, marked the despairing vengeance of king Philip, the banks of the Delaware smiled in unbroken peace, and this simple-hearted native, conscious of the fate which would speedily overtake his people,—which no one foretold sooner or more touchingly than he,—was saying in a council in Burlington, ‘We are your brothers, and intend to live like brothers with you. We will have a broad path for you and us to walk in. If an Indian be asleep in this path, the Englishman will pass him by and do him no harm; and if the Englishman be asleep in it, the Indian shall pass him by and say, “He is an Englishman, he is asleep, let him alone.” The path shall be plain; there shall not be in it a stump to hurt the feet.’”
As the number of white settlers increased, tract after tract of land was purchased from different Indian chiefs. These were not always contiguous to each other, but would be described in the deed by natural boundaries, such as the head waters of certain streams, etc.,—which left intermediate and undefined patches, to which the Indian title had not been extinguished. To satisfy the Indians, and remove any cause of dispute, at a treaty held at Easton, Pa., in 1758, the commissioners for New Jersey purchased of the Minisinks and Wapings the title to all the patches of land in northern New Jersey, which had been before unsold, for $1,000, and a similar purchase was made of the lands in the southern part of the province.
“In consequence of the expectations given the Indian inhabitants, the commissioners, with the consent of the Indian attorneys, purchased a tract of upwards of 3,000 acres, called Brotherton, situated in Burlington County, in which is a cedar swamp and saw-mill, adjoining to many thousand acres of poor, uninhabited land, suitable for hunting, and convenient also for fishing on the sea coast. The deed was taken in the name of the governor and commissioners and their heirs, in trust for the use of the Indian natives who have or do reside in this colony south of Rariton, and their successors forever, with a clause providing that it shall not be in the power of the Indians, their successors, or any of them, to lease or sell any part thereof; and any persons (Indians excepted) attempting to settle there, to be removed by warrant from a justice of the peace; no timber to be cut but by the Indians, under penalty of 40 shillings fine for every tree. The Indians, soon after the purchase, removed to the settlement, and there remain (A.D. 1765) to their satisfaction, having their usual means of living very convenient. They were assisted by the government in their removing and buildings. There are about 60 persons seated here, and 20 at Weekpink on a tract formerly secured by an English right, to the family of Henry Charles, an Indian Sachem.”—Smith’s History of New Jersey.
This Brotherton tract in some of the records is called Edgebillock, and is the same more recently known as Edgepelick.
From a statement contained in the history of Byberry, Pa., it seems that these Indians, like many persons in our day, enjoyed an occasional outing from home. For a number of years it was a custom for some of them to visit Byberry every spring and occupy an orchard, where they erected wigwams and spent the summer. They were very peaceable and inoffensive, and employed themselves in making wooden trays, barn shovels, barrels, and baskets. They were fond of hunting and fishing, and among the game they captured were the common land tortoises. They would cut timber without license from the owners under the plea current among them, that when the Indians sold the country to Wm. Penn they reserved the privilege of cutting basket stuff.
In the journal of John Hunt, a minister who resided near Moorestown, N. J., under date of First Month 22d, 1777, he says: “I went with my friend, Joshua Evans, to see the poor Indians at Edgepelick, and we found them in very low circumstances as to food and raiment. Joshua took them a considerable parcel of old clothes, with which the poor naked children seemed exceedingly pleased. He had also collected a number of blankets for them, and obtained money, with which he bought corn for them. This he did, because these poor creatures are too apt to lay out their money for strong drink. This visit to the Indians was an instructive lesson to us. Though they were poor, there seemed to be innocency, unity, quietude, and peace among them, even at a time [the Revolutionary war] when it was so much otherwise with the white people. Amongst the elderly women there were countenances that bespoke gravity, humility, innocence, and tranquility.
“This visit was very satisfactory to me, though it caused me to think how lavishly some feed and pamper their horses with corn, while the poor Indians are so needy; yet are they on the whole as happy and contented, if not more so, than we are, and as likely, for aught I know, to answer the end of their creation.
“First Month 2d, 1778. Joshua Evans and I went again to Edgepelick to see the Indians. We found them in a very poor, suffering condition as to food and raiment; but as to quietness and peace, they seemed much happier than many of the white people who were rich and abounded with plenty, yet were disquieted and afflicted in mind, because of the great destruction there was in the land.
“Twentieth. Joshua Evans and I went up to Indiantown to carry some blankets and old clothes, which Friends had bestowed to the Indians ; and the poor, almost naked creatures seemed to receive them with abundance of thankfulness.
“Twelfth Month 7th. With the approbation of our Monthly Meeting, I joined Joshua Evans and Benjamin Smith in a visit to the Indians at Edgepelick. We had a meeting with the Indians, which seemed very open and ended well. We also visited the Indian families, and had some favored seasons,—the Indians appearing very tender and attentive.”
On the 4th of Seventh Month, 1802, John Hunt mentions that he was at a meeting appointed for the Indians at Edgepelick, who were about to remove to Oneida.
There is interesting evidence that these visits were appreciated by the Indians in an account of a visit paid in 1842, by some Friends, to the Indians residing near Fort Leavingworth, Missouri. They met with an aged Indian woman named Catharine Everett, who told them that, when a child, she lived at Evesham, New Jersey, and that she was well acquainted with Friends; and said she knew that dear old Friend, Joshua Evans, the man who wore a long beard. She said she thought him the best man in the world, he was so very good to the poor Indians.
About 1802, nearly all of the New Jersey Indians then living removed to Stockbridge, New York, and from thence to Statesburg, near Green Bay, Michigan. In 1832, being in want of money to purchase agricultural implements, they petitioned the State of New Jersey to pay them for the relinquishment of their rights in the State, and the legislature granted them $2,000. Samuel L. Southward, in presenting this claim before the legislative committee said: “It is a proud fact in the history of New Jersey that every footstep of her soil has been acquired from the Indians by fair and voluntary purchase and transfer.”
Our visit to this classical locality was made under favorable circumstances. Two bright and intelligent young women formed part of the carriage-load, and enlivened our journey by their enthusiasm and their remarks; and our kind host was a born woodman and familiar with “the Pines” from childhood. About the time the Indians had removed to New York State the New Jersey authorities directed the land to be surveyed and divided into farms of one hundred acres, and sold for the benefit of the Indians; and some of this land had descended to him from his ancestors.
A few miles below Medford we crossed a low ridge, which marks the dividing line between the branches of the Rancocas, which flows westward into the Delaware River; and those of Mullica River, which flow eastward more directly to the ocean—the common receptacle of all the drainage.
One of the first points of interest was a bushy bog, the source of Edgepelick Creek, which itself is a branch of Springer’s Creek, so named I suppose, from the family who formerly owned an extensive tract of land in that section of the country, and from whom the Indian reservation was purchased. As an illustration of the loose manner in which the surveys were made in early clays, when land was held at very low prices, it may be mentioned that a re-survey showed the purchase to contain more than one thousand acres beyond what had been previously estimated.
While much of the land was too poor to be profitably cultivated, yet there was a considerable body of productive land on the reservation, and the fields of corn and grain looked well. It contained some cedar swamp, which is valuable in New Jersey for the timber it yields. The White Cedar (Cupressus thyoides) is an evergreen tree, with very small, scale-like leaves. It is a native of the swamps, and grows where its roots can be always bathed in water. The plants come up so close together, that in their effort to reach light and air they shoot up tall, straight and slender, with no branches or foliage, except a little cluster at the summit. The wood, although soft, is exceedingly durable, and will last almost indefinitely without rotting. It must not be confounded with the Arbor Vitæ, which is sometimes called White Cedar, but which is a more northern tree.
During the day’s ride we visited several Cranberry bogs—some of which were heavily laden with berries, giving promise of an abundant crop, if no accident or disease should befall them. The essential feature of a good bog, is a low, swampy piece of sandy land, with a stream of water running through it, so that by the erection of banks and dams, the owner can flood it at pleasure. In making a new one, it is customary, after erecting the banks, to flood the land for a year or two, so as to kill the natural growth. Often a coat of sand is then spread over it, and the cranberry vines are planted. A situation which is naturally springy, seems to favor the growth of the plant.
The Cranberry belongs to the same genus as the Blueberries, or Blue Huckleberries (Vaccinium). It is the V. Macrocarpon, “large-fruited,” so called because its fruit much exceeds in size that of the other species of Vaccinium. It differs also from them in this respect— that it is not an upright shrub, but a creeping vine, which trails on the ground from one to three feet, and sends up numerous short branches on which the flowers and fruit appear. It was an interesting sight to see many of these branches already so thickly covered with berries. The amount of laud suitable for cultivating the Cranberry is comparatively small, and one desirous of establishing a plantation might be compelled to purchase a large tract of adjoining land, so as to control the water privileges and other surroundings necessary for his purposes.
Rattlesnakes are occasionally found in the New Jersey swamps, especially in the vicinity of clear, running water, or springs, but they are not abundant, and one may frequent such localities for years without encountering one. In the early settlement of this country they were comparatively numerous. But the war waged on them by the farmers, and the attacks of the hogs running in the woods, have greatly diminished their numbers. They are still frequent among the rocks of the Alleghanies, but in the country lying between those mountains and the New Jersey swamps, can scarcely be said to exist.
The location of the old Indian burying ground was pointed out to us—a piece of unenclosed land adjoining a school-house. We were still more interested in calling on a survivor of the New Jersey Indians, an aged woman named Ann Roberts, or Indian Ann. She seemed in good health, but feeble, and lived in a comfortable frame house which, we understood, belonged to her. She thought she was upwards of one hundred years old, but one of her neighbors estimated her to be not more than ninety. She was brought up in the neighborhood of Rancocas, but on her marriage moved to Edgepelick, which had now been her home for many years. It seemed to please the old woman to hear about a son, who was known to one of the women, by whom she sent him a message.
In the circuitous route we took, we often traversed narrow roads through the woods, where our driver seemed as much at home, and ascertain of his route, as in the more open country.