01 July 2008

Haunted Memories: The Witches' Tree and the Pirate Tree, Burlington

One of the more interesting stories from New Jersey's past, excerpted from Barber and Howe's The Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey.

"There were two old trees of haunted memory. The first is The Witches' Tree, a large and noble buttonwood, still standing on that beautiful portion of Green Bank formerly occupied by William Franklin, when governor of New Jersey. It was planted, by his direction, by old Adam Shepherd, father to the well-known Ben. Shepherd. This was held to be the favorite resort of witches, who (though they were, like all the early reminiscences of the place, strictly English) danced around it after the manner of the Kettenlanz of the German witches on the Hartz mountains. The other was The Pirate Tree, a large black-walnut, the enormous stump of which may still be seen in the tanyard on Wood-st. Superstition held it famous, as the place of deposit for gold and silver, by Blackbeard and his associate pirates. It is said that they landed one stormy, terrific night, loaded with an unusual quantity of plunder, which they buried in silence at the root of this tree, which took its name from this circumstance. They covered the gold with 'a broad flat stone,' and having done so, their chieftain called aloud, 'Who'll guard this wealth ?' We should have mentioned, that the transaction was performed in darkness, as well as in silence ; but at this question, a vivid flash of lightning revealed the pale and appalled countenances of the pirates, who, though ready at all times to dare death and to trample on the laws of Heaven and of man, were yet unwilling to offer themselves a sacrifice, to be murdered in cold blood. Some one, however, must be interred with the gold to protect it from depredation; and at last one of the most reckless outlaws, a Spaniard, who had long merited the honors of the neighboring Gallows Hill, stepped forward and offered himself as their victim. He was shot through the brain by Blackbeard, with a charmed bullet, which penetrated without occasioning a wound, thus leaving him as well prepared as ever for mortal combat, except the trifling circumstance of his being stone dead. He was buried in an erect position ; and so well has he performed his trust, that, for any evidence we possess to the contrary, the treasure remains there to the present day. On one occasion, it is said, an attempt was made to regain it; but the hazardous deed will not be likely to be repeated while the attendant circumstances are remembered. It is suspected by some (though tradition is silent on this point) that a black dog was buried with the pirate, since an apparition of that shape has been seen in Wood-st. by the believers. These supernatural appearances are rarely beheld in the present day, — for want, doubtless, of that faith which is the only possible evidence of certain unseen things. We will close this legend, for the introduction of which we crave our readers' pardon, with an admirable specimen of the characteristics of an old witch song, which is represented as having been heard from the witches dancing with linked hands around their favorite tree on the night of the Spaniard's interment. Just at its close, they were intruded upon by some beings of mortal mould, and uttering something like the exclamation of the ancient Scottish witches,
" Horse and hattock in the devil's name,"

they were all instantly seated upon broomsticks, and rode away at a speed exceeding that of the forked lightning. Their next voyage, it is said, was disastrous and fatal.

CONCERT OF WITCHES. Merrily daunce we, merrily daunce we, around the sycamore tree ! Full many will daunce this terrible night, but none will be merry but we. The ships shall daunce on the yesty waves, the billows shall daunce and roll, And many a screech of despair shall rise from many a sin-sick soule ! Be merry, be merry ; the lightning's flash itself were sufficient light, And we've got us a phosphor-gleaming corse to be our candle to-night. There never was night more foul and black — there never was fiercer blast — Oh many a prank the winds will play, ere this terrible night be past ! Be merry ; the fiends are roving now — and death is abroad on the wind — Join hands in the daunce, to-morrow's light full many a corse shall find. Our sisters are out on mischief bent — the cows their milk shall fail, The old maid's cat shall be rode to death, and her lap-dog lose his taile. The fanner in vain shall seek his horse — who fastened his stable door With key and with bolt — if he has not nailed a horse-shoe firmly o'er.

IST WITCH. I saw dame Brady sitting alone, And I dried up the marrow within her hip bone. When she arose she could scarcely limp, — Why did I do it ? — she called me foul imp !

2D WITCH. I scratched the Justice's swine on the head — When.he wakes in the morning he'll find them dead. And I saw the Pirates land on the shore, Loaded with gold, but crimsoned with gore.

3D WITCH. I saw them bury their golden store at the root of the Pirate tree : Bold Blackboard cried, " Who'll guard this wealth?" and oh ! 'twas mercy to see How even the wretch who fears not hell, turns pale at the thought of death ! But one bold knave stood bravely out and offered himself for scath. " I'll watch it," quo' he — " for these forty years, I've wandered o'er land and sea, And I'm tired of doing the devil's work — so bury me under the tree : And better I'll rest as I guard this wealth, than you in the realms below, Where the soul cannot burst amid endless groans — where the Pirate's soul must go. So they shot him dead with a charmed ball, and they laid a broad flat stone Now wo betide the daring fool who seeketh that gold to win. Let mortals beware of the noble wretch who standeth that grave within.

4TH WITCH. I saw the Pirates enter their boat. Sullen they looked, as well they mote— I wore a shape which they shook to see, And they made the sign of the cross at me. But the sign of the cross avails not those Whose sins have made all the saints their foes. And they fired at me an idle shot, For powder and ball could harm me not. But skaith and ruth shall be theirs, I ken ; We brook not defiance from mortal men. There they go rowing adowne the streame, I see their oars in the lightning's glcame, They are singing the dirge of their comrade low; Sisters, what say you — let's curse them now.

CONCERT OF WITCHES. Away ! away ! the night is foule, but fouler by far are ye ! The storm is fierce, but fiercer by far is your terrible destiny ! Your vessel shall sink amid mountain waves, and the fearful blasts of hell, And you'll dwell for aye with the foulc, foule fiend, whom here you have served so well ! Some shall go down with a bubbling groan on the ocean's pathless way, Some shall be dashed on the flinty rocks — the vulture and sea-bird's prey, Some shall be washed alive on shore, to die on the gallows tree, But gold, or wife, or children dcare, none, none shall live ever to see. Away, away, while the tempest howls, and the thunders are heard in wrath, Away on your errand of guilt and blood, and destruction attend your path !"

Source: Barber, John Warner and Henry Howe. Historical collections of the state of New Jersey containing a general collection of the most interesting facts, traditions, biographical sketches, anecdotes, etc. relating to its history and antiquities ; with geographical descriptions of every township in the state. New York: S. Tuttle, 1846. (Google books edition, http://books.google.com/books?id=8PK4DEvn22cC&printsec=frontcover, downloaded 1 July 2008).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fascinating story! Thanks for posting it.