March 4, 2012 1 comment

Newark’s Colleoni

Cities must periodically reinvent themselves, or try to.  The notion of renewal, when confronted by urban reality, can at best be only partially fulfilled, and at worst can fail miserably.  For Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, renewal has been the way, and the struggle, from the start.

Newark was settled, in 1666, by Connecticut Puritans seeking to build a rural religious society more strict than the one they had come from.  Read more…

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January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Coat of arms from the tomb of David Lyell, with motto “Sedulo et Honeste” above the crest.

The language spoken by New Jersey’s aboriginal peoples lives on in many of its place names, notably those of rivers and creeks on which the lives of the Lenape depended.  They include the Musconetcong, Assunpink, Crosswicks, Rancocas and Cohansey, all flowing more or less westward, and the Metedeconk, Manasquan, Raritan and Passaic, which drain in the direction of New Jersey’s eastern shores.

For centuries, these and many smaller waterways have guided the migrations and settlement patterns of indigenous inhabitants and newcomers alike.  The name of one, Topanemus Brook in Monmouth County, first appears in 1686, in the record of a sale by five “Indian owners and Sachems” to the British proprietors of East New Jersey.  Read more…


November 11, 2011 Leave a comment

“Mr. Parry, can you read Latin?”

“I ought to be able to do so a bit, Mr. Dooley.  Why do you ask?”

This exchange, recalled years later, would set Samuel Parry on a quest whose fulfillment seems little short of miraculous.  The inscription which the Presbyterian minister found is today placed prominently on the front of the church where he served as pastor from 1873 to 1906, in the village of Pluckemin (Bedminster Township, Somerset County).[1]   It comes, however, from a more ancient congregation of Lutherans, mostly of German origin, who had a church on the same site.

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William Joyce Sewell

A Camden landmark best known as Walt Whitman’s last address, Harleigh Cemetery is also the final resting place of Major-General William Joyce Sewell.  He cast a long shadow in nineteenth-century New Jersey, but is known to very few today.

Sewell, a self-made Irish immigrant who had just settled in Camden when the Civil War broke out, recruited a company of New Jersey Volunteers, was commissioned its captain, and rose to the rank of colonel.  Read more…

Commota est et contremuit terra: THE SECOND BATTLE OF PRINCETON

Detail of the Princeton Battle Monument (dedicated 1922)

Most public inscriptions are acts of memory, but deliberate and highly selective ones. In fact, the story of their creation can be as fascinating and revealing as the story their creators have chosen to tell.

The Princeton Battle Monument, in a small park west of Princeton’s Nassau Street, recalls a pivotal episode in the Revolution. George Washington, hoping to surprise the enemy based at Nassau Hall, had overseen a daring midnight march over back roads, skirting the British forces camped expectantly near Trenton. Read more…


January 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Drawing of the ketch Intrepid, in a letter of 1804. (Papers of William Henry Allen, mss AN 51, The Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. Used with permission.)

In the month of May 1801, men acting on orders of Pasha Yusuf Karamanli ceremonially cut down the flag of the United States in the city of Tripoli, beginning four years of hostilities known as the First Barbary War.  In the same month but a world away, Lieutenant Richard Somers was enjoying a brief shore leave, perhaps spending some quiet moments at the old brick homestead bearing his family name, which stands today in Somers Point, Atlantic County.  Read more…

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