Pennsylvania Magazine of History & Biography, 12 (1888): 185-189
By John Clement
There is something especially attractive to the antiquarian in studying the movements of the emigrant settlers of a new and unexplored, country; to know and understand the reasons that induced them to make their homes in certain places and pass by others that appear much more eligible and attractive. , Occasionally these inquiries may have a solution, but the causes are past finding out when a new-comer sought a habitation in the depths of the forest, miles away from other settlers, and where no apparent attraction could exist. To be understood in part, even, some knowledge of the Indian trails and ancient highways in South Jersey must be had to know how the people passed from one point to another, where water-carriage was not practical. At this day these old paths are almost entirely abandoned, and in many places lost sight of. Among these was the "Old Cape Road," going from Philadelphia to Cape May by way of Tuckahoe, which passed north of Mount Ephraim, near Chow's Landing, Blackwood, and Williamstown, and between the heads of the streams to Tuckahoe and thence to Cape May.
On the line of this then obscure and little-used thoroughfare Charles Brockden made himself a country-seat about one hundred and fifty years since. He located 1200 acres of land in Gloucester County in 1737, where Williamstown stands, and long before this now thrifty village bore the name of "Squankum," which name it was a mistake to modernize and change. Here he erected a handsome dwelling, with all the surrounding conveniences, and where he with his family resided much of their time. The Hon. John F. Bodine, in his history of Squankum, read before the Surveyors' Association of West New Jersey, January 1, 1878, describes this house as follows: "This house in its earlier days must have been quite a palatial residence; it was built of cedar logs hewn square and dovetailed together at the corners, and was two stories high. It was wainscoted inside with planed boards, one edge beaded, and in it was an open entry about eight feet wide with an open stairway."
In the location of this tract of land, he says, "It is in Gloucester County, New Jersey, at the ' Hospitality Ponds.' " These ponds were at that time about the head-waters of a stream of the same name and covered considerable territory. Sometimes they were made by the beaver, but generally lay upon the low, flat soils peculiar to lands in South Jersey. The house stood beside the Old Cape Road, about twenty miles from Philadelphia as the crow flies, but a much greater distance when the trail was followed. As a dwelling it stood solitary and alone in the depths of the forest that covered the whole country, save perhaps a few tenements near by where lived the servants and retainers of the establishment. Enough can be gathered from Judge Bodine's description to show that it had an air of pretension about it, and was occupied by those who were not to "the manor born," nor sought their livelihood in the timber and swamps in that section.
Charles Brockden, the proprietor of this place, was an Englishman, born April 3, 1683, in the parish of St. Andrew's, near Holborn, London. At proper age he was articled to an attorney-at-law, who was opposed to the government as then administered, at whose rooms his friends of the same opinion assembled, and where a plot against the life of the king originated. Religious prejudice and political rivalry pervaded almost every class of society, and the failure of the new king (William III.) to fulfil his promises increased rather than abated the feeling. The distrust that existed among the different factions led to secret societies which boded no good to the king. The prerogatives of the crown had been abused and the people were borne down with taxes. William refused to relinquish or even relax any of the powers heretofore claimed, and, in bringing his favorites around him, created much hostility to his administration. The conspirators had reason to believe that Charles Brockden overheard their conversations and had knowledge of their plans. Being convinced of this, they at first-proposed to murder him, but better counsel prevailed, and he was sent to America.
Charles Brockden came to Philadelphia in 1706, and was employed by Thomas Story, who (under William Penn) was the first keeper of the Great Seal and Master of the Rolls. In 1712 he was appointed Deputy Master of the Rolls, and on the retirement of Mr. Story, in 1716, he was selected to succeed him. He also served as Register of the Court of Chancery from 1720 to 1739, and was appointed Recorder of Deeds, and a Justice of the Peace in 1722. His name and autograph are familiar to every student of the early deed-history of the Province of Pennsylvania, as the former is endorsed on all patents of confirmation that were issued from the Proprietaries' land-office in the interval between 1716 and 1767, in which latter year he resigned, the infirmities of old age rendering his further incumbency unsatisfactory to Governor John Penn. In early life he was a member of the Established Church, but after his first marriage he united with the Friends, and was a member of the Middletown Meeting until 1711, when he was transferred to the Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. When Whitefield visited Pennsylvania he became one of his followers; but through official relations with Count Zinzendorf he united, in 1743, with the Moravians.*
Charles Brockden was twice married. His first wife was Susannah Fox, from Hackney, near London, who died in May of 1747, and, although professedly belonging to the Society of Friends, was, in accordance with her request, buried at Hospitality. During her lingering illness she was visited by the Moravian Sisters, who also were present at her death and burial. Later, he made a proposition to the Moravian congregation in Philadelphia to take a part of his plantation and lay out a graveyard, which was, however, declined, owing to its distance from the city.
For his wife he had purchased a female slave, Beulah, whom, in 1752, he conveyed in due form by deed with covenants to the Moravian Church, which was equivalent to setting her free. Of her purchase he recites: "The cause of which purchase of her was not with tiny intention of worldly gain by continuing her in slavery all the days of her life, but partly for the service of my dear wife Susannah, who is since deceased, and partly in mercy to prevent others from buying her for filthy lucre's sake." This is evidence that even then some there were who entertained doubts as to the right to hold human beings in perpetual servitude, and set a worthy example for others to follow. His second wife was Mary Lisle. The issue of this marriage was: John, born 15th August, 1749 (died 1766); Charles, born 1st September, 1751; Mary, born 15th September, 1752; Richard, born 13th November, 1754 (died 1766); John, born 11th September, 1766. His daughter, Mary, was married at Christ Church, March 3, 1768, to Thomas Patterson.
Charles Brockden died on Friday afternoon, October 20, 1769, and two days later was buried in his private ground at Hospitality. The funeral was no doubt an event in the neighborhood. His family and friends from Philadelphia, with the minister of the Moravian Church, were present; the Germans and Swedes, who had served him, with their families', and a few Indians made up the remainder of the cortege who followed him to the grave. In the twilight and with uncovered heads the company listened to the last words of the service read by the minister, while the requiem sung echoed strangely through the forest. Wild and weird were the surroundings, and the aborigines themselves were impressed with the solemnity of the occasion. Now, the grave is not known where rest the remains of the skilful conveyancer and scrivener" who drew up the articles of agreement of the Library Company of Philadelphia for Benjamin Franklin, who records the fact in 1721.
How great the pity that in the haste and turmoil of this busy life so little care is taken to preserve the land-marks of the early days of our country, that so little respect is shown the many burial-places scattered through the land where often lie the bones of those who deserve a place in the history of their times, yet altogether abandoned and forgotten by those in whose veins, flow the same blood and who may feel a pride in having such an ancestor. The constant change going on in the ownership of real estate and the removal of families has much to do with this, and many old graveyards that should be held sacred fall into the possession of strangers, and in a few years the rude stones that mark the graves are taken out and the soil leveled by the ploughman.
The few settlers about Hospitality Ponds were Germans and Swedes; but how they came there and what were the inducements for their going so far from the centers of trade and population may always remain a mystery. Some of these were perhaps Redemptioners, purchased and taken there by Charles Brockden as servants and laborers about his isolated settlement. Judge Bodine also throws light upon this point when he gives the names of some of the old families, such as Hoffsey, Hazelett, Vandegrift, Van Sciver, Imhoff, Taber, Pheiffer, and others, which at once betrays their nationality.
By the foregoing sketch it will be seen that Charles Brockden occupied a large space in the political atmosphere of Pennsylvania. His education and early training fitted him for the positions he was called upon to fill, and made him one of the most useful men of the times. His associates rid lie was on social equality with the were influential, a, founders of the commonwealth, and had much to do with their private affairs.
Such men deserve more than a passing notice, for their lives go to make up the history of a people and supply needed facts to make it reliable.
* The Moravian bishop, Cammerholf, writing to Count Zinzendorf in June of 1747, relates the following anecdote: " Whitefield and Brockden recently met each other, and in the course of. their conversation Whitefield said, 'I perceive you wish me to become a Moravian.' ' It is true,'replied Brockden, 'I wish you were a Moravian, not that I think it would add the weight of one grain to their cause, but because you would thereby find some rest and repose, which in your present situation is impossible. I pity you, for you are like those birds of the Malacca Islands, which, being destitute of feet, are therefore compelled to be always on the wing.' "-Ed. Pa. Mag.