“I was driving just now and I passed a sign that said Secaucus was established in 1900,” said Robert Hassard with more than a little disappointment in his voice. “But this place goes back to 1673, 1676. This was an important little island.”
Hassard wants to make people aware of the forgotten history of Secaucus -- especially the story of its early owner, Edward Earle, who happens to be an ancestor of his.
Secaucus has a storied history dating back to the pre-Revolutionary War days, when it was surrounded by water on all sides.
“Edward Earle came to New Jersey and bought Secaucus, which means land of the snakes. That’s what the Indians called it,” said Hassard. “And he paid $2,000 Dutch, which was a lot of money in those days. He bought the whole island and set up a house on the western shore.”
Much of Hassard’s research comes from the hefty tome “History and Genealogy of the Earles of Secaucus,” written by Rev. Isaac Newton Earle “of the Secaucus Branch” and published in 1924.
Plantation owner Edward Earle bought the island of Secaucus in 1676 for two thousand Dutch dollars.
“There was politics going on in England,” explained Hassard. “They beheaded Charles I. And these guys were all from the royal family. So rather than get put in jail or whatever, they left England.”
From Barbados young Edward Earle moved to Maryland, where he bought a plantation and married a girl from around Baltimore. Then he received a message from a close friend, Major Kingsland, a wealthy landowner whom he probably met in Barbados.
“Kingsland owned the property from what’s known as Harrison all the way up through Lyndhurst in the Meadowlands,” said Hassard. “And he advised Edward Earle to come to New Jersey from Maryland. There was land available in Secaucus. An island.”
The isle of Secaucus
According to “History and Genealogy of the Earles,” Edward Earle moved in autumn of 1673 to the island of Secaucus, “surrounded by the Hackensack River to the north, west and south, and by Pinhorne Creek… and Crom-a-Kill Creek on the east.”
“It is a beautiful piece of upland,” the book describes, “rising out of the extensive marshes that lie west of the Hudson. This tract is perhaps seven miles long by about half a mile wide, and embraces about three thousand acres.”
The island was purportedly purchased from the Indians by Peter Stuyvesant in 1658 and sold on December 10, 1663 to two other men. In context, the British took New Amsterdam in 1664, renaming it New York, with the area west of the Hudson becoming the Province of New Jersey.
Edward Earle, on April 24, 1676, “bought the Island of Ci-ka-kus, in the Province of New Jersie, for 2000 Dutch Dollars, together with house, some stock, and eight or 10 Christian and Negro servants,” according to historical records quoted in the book.
Here Earle resumed his southern plantation ways, presumably growing tobacco and raising farm animals. “Edward’s house was on a small hill, maybe where the hospital is. There’s nothing left of it anymore,” said Hassard, who also holds copies of colonial maps from the 1600s.
Detailed on the maps are the properties, plantations, and land patents throughout the area, listing their Dutch or British owners, including those in Hoboken, the Village of West New York, and the “English Neighborhood” to the north.
“Earle sold to Judge William Pinhorne, March 26, 1679, for 500 pounds, one undivided half of the tract, also one half of the stock,” according to records quoted in the book. Included in the transaction were one two-story house, five tobacco houses, some livestock and “between thirty and forty hogs, foure Negro men, five Christian servants.”
The sale was likely made to secure Pinhorne’s influence in maintaining title to the land against other colonial claimants, since Pinhorne was a prominent politician at the time.
The two men jointly held the property until April 15, 1682, when they split it in half, with Earle taking the upper portion and Pinhorne the lower 1800 acres or so. “Pinhorne’s property went from, say, [Paterson] Plank Road or a little lower, right down to the mountain, the Snake Mountain,” said Hassard, referring to what is now Laurel Hill.
Edward Earle’s sole son, also named Edward, moved into a house probably located near where the library is today. Here he raised 12 children.
Edward Earle, Sr. died in early December 1711 at 84 years old. He was buried on the island of Secaucus on December 15.
“But nobody knows where, it’s all been paved over,” said Hassard. “The railroads came through, the highways, the buildings, and all the graveyard were paved over. You can’t even find the old cemeteries. I think, from what I can gather, he’s buried around the UPS building.”
The Earle family sold the property in 1792 to John Smith, who in turn sold it to Col. John Stevens of the Hoboken Stevens family in 1795.
Many of Earle’s descendants settled in Union City, where Robert Hassard was raised.
“My ancestors, Mary Earle and James Gardner, their son Robert was one of the first mayors of West Hoboken (now known as Union City),” said Hassard. “They married right after the American Revolution.”
Many of Earle’s descendants are buried in the old Grove Church Cemetery in North Bergen.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.