The saints of old

Prayer on Divident Hill.

WHERE the surest token of wealth and worth, present and future, is the land that one owns, possession of an unsullied title and clear delineation of boundaries are somewhat akin to godliness. Landholding has been construed, historically, as compliance with the injunction in the book of Genesis to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion … over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” The making of boundaries ensures an orderly exercise of that dominion, just as the Creator, who “hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth,” has also marked out “the bounds of their habitation….”1

The drawing of a boundary between two infant towns in the province of East Jersey prompted William A. Whitehead to observe that, in contrast with the politics of his day, the beginnings of Newark and Elizabethtown were attended with a “constant recognition of the hand of God in all their affairs….” Such an acknowledgment, while it did not insulate them from “errors in judgment or deficiencies in action,” was nonetheless “a prominent trait in the characters of the fathers of our early settlements.”2

Disagreements over the rightful basis of land titles, however, would lead to “riots and commotions” throughout the colonial period, no less in Elizabethtown and Newark than elsewhere. But the necessity of having one’s holdings properly surveyed was never in doubt. Petitioners from the former town begged “to have our Lands laid out unto us”; otherwise, they said, they would “be forced to look out some where else for a Livelihood.”3 Yet it was by looking to themselves and one another that the inhabitants of both towns sought to establish an acceptable line between them.

On this map by Whitehead, a dotted line runs northwest from “Dividend” Hill without, however, affecting the township boundaries.

On 20 May 1668, representatives of the two settlements consented to a division starting from the summit of “a Little round hill” and continuing on “a North West Line, Into the Country.” They called the beginning point “Divident Hill,” a name frequently written and printed “Dividend.” The text of their agreement, as copied by Newark leader Robert Treat and entered into the Newark town records, makes no reference to bounds asserted in prior claims. It states that, “for the Ratification of our Agreements,” the agents simply marked an oak tree with an E and an N on their respective sides, and signed the treaty “Enterchangably.”4

The early Elizabethtown records having disappeared, one must rely on their Newark counterparts, and other sources, to gauge the success of the Divident Hill covenant.5 The Newark town records, edited and published by Whitehead and Samuel Congar in 1864, suggest that the meeting on Divident Hill achieved little in the way of permanently “settling the Bounds between them and us.” The town of Newark appointed committees for this purpose at least five times during the next quarter century, but they reached no understanding with their neighbors to the south. Years later, Newark representatives were insisting on a more ancient line, drawn due westward, while Elizabethtown claims extended at times “even to the very Town-Plat of Newark, and beyond it….”6

On Newark’s side, resentment was fueled by a belief that the substantial territory surrendered in the Divident Hill compact would be made up for by other land between the Passaic and Hackensack Rivers. Whether Elizabethtown agreed to buy the new land for Newark, or only to serve as a referee, may never be known. But with Newark’s hopes thwarted, Elizabethtown was blamed.7

Had Elizabethtown broken a vow to make good the sacrifices of Newark? For evidence we have testimony by three elderly Newark men, given more than 70 years after the drawing of the line from Divident Hill. James Alexander included their affidavits in the notorious lawsuit by which he hoped to rein in Elizabethtown’s anti-proprietary party. The monumental Bill in Chancery, which Alexander was five years in preparing, even included a map showing a large swath of territory “Yielded by Newark to Elizabeth Town on a Condition not perform’d.” Yet William Whitehead, a staunch admirer of Alexander, and entirely convinced of the “justness and propriety” of his claims, took a contrary stance in this case, in favor of evidence produced by Alexander’s opponents.8

Joseph Woodruff of Elizabethtown was just a boy in 1668 when the Divident Hill agreement with Newark was signed. Thirty years later Woodruff heard, from the lips of Robert Treat himself, “after what Manner the Line was settled between the two Towns; and that it was done in so loving and solemn a Manner, that he thought it ought never to be removed….” Treat recalled joining with his fellow Newark agents in prayer on Divident Hill, and that on the Elizabethtown side John Ogden also had “prayed among the People, and returned Thanks for their loving Agreement.” To the assertion by some that Elizabethtown had contracted to purchase land for Newark as compensation, Treat answered “that there was no Truth in what they said.”9

The two towns’ continuing failure to settle differences and the manner in which new township boundaries were subsequently drawn make it evident that whatever divinity may have attached to the Divident Hill compact had little effect on the ground. Even the hill’s very location seems, for a time, to have been lost to memory.10 Yet Whitehead’s reading of that “loving Agreement” as a sacred covenant, at once outside of time and a point of beginning for Newark’s history, captured the imagination of contemporaries, and retained its power among succeeding generations.

Those who had forgotten or never known of it could learn of the hill’s existence–and location–from one of Whitehead’s regular columns for the Newark Daily Advertiser. He pointed out to wayfarers, at the head of the stream known as Bound Creek, that “hill sanctified by prayer.” Calling it “still … one of the chief marks of the boundary,” Whitehead was slow to acknowledge that, since 1834, Divident Hill had been nothing of the kind, standing well within the limits of the Township of Clinton.11

These comments were copied without change into his seminal East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments. Concurrently with that volumes publication in 1846, Elizabeth C. Kinney, who was married to the Advertiser’s publisher, composed “Divident Hill,” a poetic tribute Whitehead would claim was written at his suggestion. Although her work reads as a celebratory or dedicatory ode, Mrs. Kinney apparently had no public purpose in mind: when Whitehead first printed the lines in 1849 he trusted in their author’s forgiveness, “for giving them the publicity for which they were not intended….”12

In Kinney’s verses, the men who met and prayed on Divident Hill had “sanctified” the place from which their boundary line was drawn:

In mutual love the line they trace
        That will their homes divide,
And ever mark the chosen place
        That prayer hath sanctified….

In the poet’s eyes the summit was crowned by “a temple old,” a vision that others found compelling, even though no temple of human devising was to top Divident Hill for another seventy years.13 She concluded:

Art may not for these saints of old
        The marble urn invent;
Yet here the Future shall behold
        Their Heaven-built monument.

“The American abroad,” Whitehead observed, will visit historic sites despite great expense and inconvenience, yet “in his own land he asks for no mementos, or, if they exist, passes them by unnoticed.” Some commemoration, he implied, was long overdue at Divident Hill.

Nature slowly but (it seems) surely reclaims Divident Hill.

A monument and tablet would in fact consecrate the site, but not until 1916, marking 248 years since representatives of the two towns met on Divident Hill, 250 years from the initial undertaking of Newark (one that we may presume was mirrored at Elizabethtown) to conduct its affairs, both spiritual and secular, “according to God and a Godly government.”14

Copyright © 2023 Gregory J. Guderian

[1] Genesis 1:28, Acts 17:26 (KJV). Newark’s first settlers, according to a letter written on their behalf in 1672, found themselves in a “remote, desert part of the world never Formerly inhabitted nor cultivated,” and discovered “that good worke of subdueing the Earth, and replenishinge of it” to be “A very diffecult worke, and requires much hard Labour….” Samuel Willis and John Winthrop, Jr., to Sir George Carteret, in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, ser. 3, 10 (1849) 84-85.

[2] G. P., “The men of old,” Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 10 September 1849 2:2.

[3] A bill in the Chancery of New-Jersey, at the suit of John Earl of Stair, and others, Proprietors of the Eastern-Division of New-Jersey; against Benjamin Bond, and some other persons of Elizabeth-Town, distinguished by the name of the Clinker Lot Right Men … (New-York 1747. Hereafter “Bill in Chancery”) 33. Cf. W. A. Whitehead, A review of some of the circumstances connected with the settlement of Elizabeth, New Jersey (Newark 1869) 20, also printed in Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society ser. 2, 1:3 (1869) (153-176) 172; cf. William A. Whitehead, East Jersey under the Proprietary governments: a narrative of events connected with the settlement and progress of the province, until the surrender of the government to the Crown in 1703 [1702] (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, 1. Hereafter “Whitehead, East Jersey.”) (Newark 18752) 283.

[4] Records of the Town of Newark, New Jersey, from its settlement in 1666, to its incorporation as a city in 1836 (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, 6. Newark 1864. Hereafter “Records of the Town”) 10. Tracing “divident” to the Latin participle that meant “dividing,” Jonathan F. Stearns explained: “The line there drawn was called ‘the divident line,’ and the hill, for the same reason, the ‘Divident Hill.’ Dividend would carry a different meaning, and is not used in the Record.” First church in Newark. Historical discourses, relating to the First Presbyterian Church in Newark; originally delivered to the congregation of that church during the month of January, 1851 (Newark 1853. Hereafter “Stearns, Historical discourses”) 40n.

[5] Members of the Proprietary party suspected their adversaries of concealing or destroying the Elizabethtown records: see Bill in Chancery 33-34.

[6] Records of the Town 60 (1675), 97 (1685), 112 (1699), 123 (1712), 141 (1754). Bill in Chancery 61. Cf. Mount Pleasant, “Our first meeting house–No. VII,” Newark daily advertiser 31 August 1849 2:4 (hereafter “Our first meeting house–No. VII”); Mount Pleasant, “Our first meeting house–No. XV,” Newark daily advertiser 30 November 1850 2:5.

[7] For this aspect of the dispute, see esp. Edward S. Rankin, “The Newark–Elizabethtown–Barbadoes Neck controversy,” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society n.s. 11 (1926) 353-364. Ten years before publishing this article, Rankin mapped out Newark’s historical boundaries, showing that the lands over the Passaic, called New Barbadoes Neck, were “acquired 1668, relinquished 1687.” Edward S. Rankin, comp., Historical map of Newark New Jersey 1666-1916 compiled for the 250th anniversary celebration … Revised, corrected and published for the Board of Education for use in the public schools January 1918 (Newark 1918). Presumably, these dates stem from the suppositions of Bill in Chancery 61. Before Rankin, Samuel Congar repeated the tradition that, in return for the “triangle” it acquired at Divident Hill, Elizabethtown “stipulated to put the Newark people in possession of ‘the neck of Land, now called New Barbadoes Neck.’” “Our first meeting house–No. VII.” Congar may have entertained doubts, however, in light of the fact that Elizabethtown men were made “umpires” in the endeavor to recoup the costs of Newark’s failed attempts to acquire the Neck: Mount Pleasant, “Our first meeting house. No. XVIII. Purchase of Barbadoes Neck,” Newark daily advertiser 15 March 1851 2:5.

[8] For the affidavits of Ebenezer Lindsley, Jonathan Tichenor and Joseph Harrison, see Bill in Chancery 112-113, 116. Relevant portions were summarized in George J. Miller, ed. The minutes of the Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey from 1725 to 1744. Volume II (Perth Amboy, N.J. 1960) 135-139, together with the deposition of Lindsley’s sister, “a woman upwards of 80 years of age and a sensible woman,” ibid. 276-277; cf. 236. For Whitehead’s otherwise lofty opinion of the Bill, see Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 86-87, (18752) 114-115.

[9] An answer to a bill in the Chancery of New-Jersey, at the suit of John Earl of Stair, and others, commonly called Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New-Jersey, against Benjamin Bond, and others claiming under the original Proprietors and Associates of Elizabeth-Town … (New-York 1752) 47. See G. P., “Glimpses of the past in New Jersey. No. III,” Newark daily advertiser 15 March 1842 2:3; Whitehead, East Jersey (18451) 46 n39, (18752) 51-52 n3; W. A. Whitehead, “A historical memoir of the circumstances leading to and connected with the settlement of Newark, May, 1666,” in Proceedings commemorative of the settlement of Newark, New Jersey, on its two hundredth anniversary. May 17th, 1866 (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, 6 Supplement. Newark 1866. Hereafter “Whitehead, ‘A historical memoir’.”) (7-55) 49.

[10] No surveyor’s monument is known to have marked Divident Hill, but before the state’s highest court Frank Bergen in 1881 maintained that its location was never in serious doubt: State, Chosen Freeholders of Union County, prosecutors, v. Chosen Freeholders of Essex County, in Garret D. Vroom, Reports of cases argued and determined in the Supreme Court and, at law, in the Court of Errors and Appeals of the State of New Jersey 14 (New Jersey Law Reports, 43. Trenton, N.J. 1882) (391-400) 394.

[11] G. P., “The Men of Old”; Whitehead, “A historical memoir” 49. In an 1846 footnote (largely repeated in 1875), Whitehead described the hill as visible from a bridge to its east, and probably on the basis of this note Frank Urquhart credited him with having “fixed its location….” Whitehead, East Jersey (18461) 46-47 n39, (18752) 51-52 n3; Frank J. Urquhart, A history of the city of Newark New Jersey embracing practically two and a half centuries 1666-1913 (3 vols. New York and Chicago 1913) 1:64. But in 1849, according to local resident Isaac M. Ward, woods obscured the sightline from that point, and a clearer view was to be had from the vantage of the “upper road,” what is modern-day Elizabeth Avenue: “The traveller in passing along this road readily recognizes this spot as the highest point of land between the two cities, and this hill considerably higher than any other eminence.” I. M. W., “Dividend Hill,” Newark daily advertiser 17 September 1849 2:2.

[12] G. P., “The Men of Old.” Whitehead, “A historical memoir” 49n. Kinney’s lines were reprinted in 1853 by Stearns, Historical discourses 40-41n; by Whitehead in 1866 (when he also recited them in part) in “A historical memoir” 49-50n; and in 1878 by Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey, being a narrative of its rise and progress, from the settlement in May, 1666, by emigrants from Connecticut, to the present time, including a sketch of the press of Newark, from 1791 to 1878 (Newark 1878) 35.

[13] “The pagans of classic days,” professed the pastor of Newark’s oldest church, “would have been sure to erect there a splendid temple of Concord.” Stearns, Historical discourses 40-41n.

[14] Records of the Town 1. Whitehead was to proclaim these principles, from the chancel of the First Presbyterian Church, “as applicable and efficacious in our day and generation, in this ‘our Town upon Passaick River,’ as they were in sixteen hundred and sixty-six.” Whitehead, “A historical memoir” 55; cf. “Our two hundredth anniversary,” Newark daily advertiser 18 May 1866 2:(1-4)2. In the 250th anniversary year of 1916, Newark students unveiled a commemorative plaque on the Divident Hill pavilion, a rotunda of stone and brick that was envisioned as “a place of pilgrimage for generations yet unborn.” Newark (N.J.) Sunday call 21 May 1916 1:8:5.

Images: 1) “‘Divident Hill’ – Dividing Newark and Elizabethtown,” in Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey, being a narrative of its rise and progress, from the settlement in May, 1666, by emigrants from Connecticut, to the present time, including a sketch of the press of Newark, from 1791 to 1878 (Newark 1878), facing p. 35. 2) “Map of the settled portion of East Jersey about the year 1682,” detail, in  William A. Whitehead, East Jersey under the Proprietary governments: a narrative of events connected with the settlement and progress of the province, until the surrender of the government to the Crown in 1703 [1702] (Collections of the New Jersey Historical Society, 1. ([Newark] 18421), facing 88, (Newark 18752), facing 118. 3) Divident Hill and pavilion: author’s photograph, 2023.

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