Old Burlington

The ancient town of Burlington, clustered behind its ” Green Bank” or river-front street on the New Jersey shore, antedates Philadelphia five years. The Quaker pioneers are believed to have been the first Europeans who saw its site. The noted preacher George Fox, in 1672, journeyed from New England to the South, and rode on horseback over the site of Burlington at Assiscunk Creek, reporting the soil as good “and withal a most brave country.” When Penn became Trustee for the insolvent Billynge, a Proprietor of West Jersey, much of his land was sold to Quakers, who migrated to the American wilderness to escape persecution at home. Thus Burlington was the first settlement founded by Quaker seekers after toleration in the New World :

“About them seemed but ruin and decay, Cheerless, forlorn, a rank autumnal fen, Where no good plant might prosper, or again Put forth fresh leaves for those that fell away ; Nor could they find a place wherein to pray For better things. In righteous anger then They turned ; they fled the wilderness of men And sought the wilderness of God. And day Rose upon day, while ever manfully Westward they battled with the ocean’s might, Strong to endure whatever fate should be, And watching in the tempest and the night That one sure Pharos of the soul’s dark sea The constant beacon of the Inner Light.”

In the spring of 1677 the ” goode shippe Kent,” Gregory Marlowe, master, sailed from London, bound for West Jersey, with two hundred and thirty Quakers, about half coming from London and the others from Yorkshire; two dying on the voyage. They ascended the Delaware to the meadow lands below the mouth of Assiscunk Creek, landing there in June, and in October made a treaty with the Indians, buying their lands from the Rancocas as far up as Assunpink Creek at Trenton. Their settlement was first called New Beverly, and then Bridlington, from the Yorkshire town whence many of them came, but it finally was named Burlington. They made a street along the river, bordered with greensward, and called the ” Green Bank,” and drew a straight line back inland, calling it their Main Street, and the Londoners settled on one side and the Yorkshiremen on the other. The old buttonwood tree, to which was moored the early ships bringing settlers, still stands on the Green Bank, a subject of weird romance. Elizabeth Powell, the first white child, was born in July, 1677. The next May, 1678, they established a ” Monthly Meeting of Friends” at Burlington, of which the records have been faithfully kept. In June the graveyard was fenced in, and the old Indian chief, Ockanickon, a Quaker convert to Christianity, was among the first buried there. In August the first Quaker marriage was solemnized in meeting, this first certificate being signed by ten men and three women Friends as witnesses. In 1682, just as Penn was coming over, they decided to build their first meeting house—a hexagonal building, forty feet in diameter, with pyramidal roof, which was occupied the next year. In 1685 they decided that a hearse should be built, the entry on the record being an order for a “carriage to be built for ye use of such as are to be laid in ye ground.”

Burlington grew, and was long the seat of govern-ment of the Province of West Jersey, being the official residence of the Provincial Governors, the last of whom was William Franklin, natural son of Benjamin Franklin. It had wealthy merchants and much shipping, and, despite its peacefulness, equipped privateers to fight the French. Its famous old Episcopal Church of St. Mary had the corner-stone laid in 1703 under the favor of Queen Anne, who made a liberal endowment of lands, much being yet held, and gave it a massive and greatly prized communion service. This old church is cruciform, with a little bel-fry, and a stone let into the front wall bears the inscription ” One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” In the extensive churchyard alongside is the modern St. Mary’s Church, of brownstone, with a tall spire, also cruciform. This is the finest church in Burlington. When ” Old St. Mary’s” was built with its belfry, the Friends did not like the innovation, and long gazed askance at the ” steeple house,” as they called it ; so that Talbot, the first rector, sturdily retaliated, calling the Quakers ” anti-Christians, who are worse than the Turks.” Many of St. Mary’s parishioners of to-day are descended from these maligned Quakers. The early records of the Meeting are filled with en-tries showing that charges were brought against members for various shortcomings. One was admonished for “taking off his hat” at a funeral solemnized in the “steeple house ;” others gave testimony of “un-easiness ” on account of the placing of ” gravestones in the burial-ground;” a query was propounded, “Are Friends in meeting preserved from sleeping or any other indecent behavior, particularly from chewing tobacco and taking snuff?” A record was also made of testimony against ” a pervading custom of working on First days in the time of hay and harvest” when rain threatened. The descendants of these good people have established St. Mary’s Hall and Burlington College, noted educational institutions. Probably the most famous son of Burlington was the distinguished novelist, James Fenimore Cooper, born in 1789, but taken in his infancy by his parents to his future home at Cooperstown, in Central New York. The town was bombarded by the British gun-boats that sailed up the Delaware in 1778, but since then the career of Burlington has been eminently peaceful.