pioneers

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: Frank Barcelos via tapinto.net

A Thanksgiving Reminder to a Grateful City

                                     I

Yes, Newark, praise them well!—the first to tread
        The river shore where stands thy busy town.
They followed where the shining Vision led,
From pride and persecution bravely fled,
        And laid thy deep and firm foundation down.

From out a rough and jealous wilderness,
        Praying, they fashioned homes for babe and wife.
In deprivation, loving God no less,
They lived such lives as He their Lord should bless,
        And, living nobly, gave thee noble life.

They loved thee well, thy Founder Pioneers,
        Those earnest, faithful women, fearless men;
To build thee true they spent their toil, their tears;
And now in these their city’s golden years,
        Listen! Their spirits call to thee again.

                                     II

“O Town of ours, proud of thy centuries,
        What folk are these who lift, and build, and mine—
What strange, new, striving multitudes are these
Amid thy maze where stood our wildwood trees?
        Behold, they, too, are Pioneers of thine!

“By Vision led, these other Pilgrim bands
        Come now to thee in hope, as once came we.
They flee the fettered and the failing lands
To proffer toil of eager heart and hands
        For life, and homes, and manly liberty.

“Their faith in thee is great as ours of old;
        Within thy gates they see a shelter sure,
A welcome refuge and a friendly fold
Where each his right to happiness may hold,
        May seek and find the peace that shall endure.

“Their struggles are as ours, O Newark Town!
        They are the Pioneers of times to be;
And God all-wise, from Heaven looking down,
Well knoweth He the virtue, the renown,
        The honor they and theirs shall bring to thee.

“Beloved City, in thy golden years
        Wouldst thou a debt of gratitude repay
For any toil of ours, for any tears?
Be kind to these thy newest Pioneers
        Who come to build thee glorious today!”

                                     III

So speak the Founders, and are heard no more.
        But hark!—up from the wilderness of walls
A joyous voice, deep as the ocean’s roar!
In answer to the Pioneers of yore
        The Spirit of the living city calls:

“Strong heart, stout arm, and willing, eager hand,
        These are my pride as in the Founders’ day.
Firm in the faith of honest toil I stand
And sound my challenge forth to every land,
        And will till earth and time shall pass away!

“Fear not! My yoke shall set my children free.
        For me their might of arm and heart and nerve
Shall bless the nations to the furthest sea;
And all my wealth of happiness shall be
        For these new souls who come to help me serve!”

The number of Newarkers exploded in the decades before and after 1900. Met by a flood of newcomers from eastern and southern Europe, census enumerators in 1890, 1900 and 1910 found that Newark’s population had swollen by 33, 35 and 41 percent respectively over the counts of ten years before. A 1909 tally revealed that three-quarters of the city’s residents were immigrants or children of immigrants.

The pressure of this human tide was felt in every facet of life, from education to public health to policing to politics. Anti-immigrant sentiment flared occasionally in the press and the streets. But the city economy, dependent on a cheap and plentiful labor supply, successfully absorbed and helped to assimilate generation after generation of new arrivals.

This poem appeared in the Newark Evening News on the eve of Thanksgiving Day 1916.

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lines in commemoration of the heroes of the revolution

by “A Native of Newark”

Image: Newark Public Library

A sad’ning sound’s in the troubl’d air
        That fans the western main—
Britannia mourns in fix’d despair,
        Her bravest heroes slain.

Her honor gone, her banners torn,
        And trampled in the dust;
The dauntless few who brav’d her scorn
        Have proved their cause was just.

The din of war has died away,
        And foemen sheathe the sword;
Columbia spurns despotic sway,
        She owns no foreign lord.

Thanks to our sires who nobly dar’d
        Oppression’s iron front,
And the free rights of man declar’d,
        E’en in the battle’s brunt,

Who drew the sword but to oppose
        Stern arbitrary laws,
Nor sheath’d it till fair freedom rose
        And crown’d the glorious cause.

Let not the aged sire bewail
        His son, the prop of age;
He fought his country’s foes to quell
        And tame their vengeful rage.

Mourn not, ye weeping widow’d train,
        A husband’s timeless call;
Freedom forbids you to complain—
        See! freedom decks their fall.

Mourn not, ye noble orphan band,
        A brave departed sire;
The glory of your native land
        Lights up their fun’ral pyre.

Blest be the mem’ry of the brave,
        Who in the conflict died;
Each nobly sought a freeman’s grave,
        When freedom was deny’d.

Oh, may the rights for which they strove
        Endure thro’ lasting time;
May union, liberty and love
        Long bless this happy clime.

There’s sound of gladness and of joy,
        And heaven-ward pealing strains,
Of praise and thanks to God on high,
        Who broke the despot’s chains;

Who rent their galling yoke in twain,
        And snapt their iron goad;
Who eas’d the burden of their pain
        And laid aside their load:

Gave the lone orphan child a sire
        And calm’d the mourner’s wo;
Bade desolating war expire,
        And peace and joy to flow.

Columbians, venerate the name,
        The all comprising will,
Which ever was and is the same,
        The kind dispenser still

Of every good and every bliss
        Which men on earth enjoy;
Almighty sov’reign of the world,
        Jehovah the most high.

The Camp Homestead (pictured) is considered one of Newark’s great lost landmarks. Located at the present intersection of Broad and Camp Streets, it was the dwelling of Captain Nathaniel Camp, whom legend says General George Washington charged with defending the town during a visit there in 1777. The home is thought to have stood into the 1850s.

The above verses appear in a small volume issued in Newark in 1831, called The Aspect of the Times: A Political Poem, and Other Pieces. The title work is an unapologetic denunciation of Indian land claims (a vexatious issue of the times) and of “those, who continue, without regard to honor or truth, to blast and defame the real well-wishers of the Union.” The unidentified author despaired of changing anyone’s opinion, saying, “I fear, the case is hopeless.”

the horseman washington

by Joseph Fulford Folsom

Image: Einar Einarsson Kvaran https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JMRWashington.jpg CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9215445 CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
Image: Einar Einarsson Kvaran via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Today, Rhind’s masterpiece unveil’d, we feel
        A sense of olden time. Light horsemen ride
        On Jersey roads, and sleepless foemen hide
In ambush. Everywhere the flash of steel.

The age of romance backward turns again,
        The din of modern traffic dies away;
        Once more we tribute to a hero pay,
And cease awhile our wonted quest of gain.

Yon horseman in heroic bronze, who stands
        So nobly pois’d beside his pawing steed,
        Is Washington, who, in his country’s need,
Rode many weary leagues through many lands.

‘Twas chill November when, in brave retreat,
        He pass’d this ancient common long ago;
        November brings him back again, but lo,
A victor, ever rais’d above defeat!

Thus stood he by his charger when at last
        He paus’d his troops to wish a fond farewell:
        Then, homeward mounting, rode away to dwell
In peace, with all alarms of battle past.

Thus may he stand forever in our street,
        Ready to mount and ride in our defence;
        Or win us back with silent eloquence
To nobler tasks, and daily lives more sweet.

This poem’s fourth and fifth stanzas recall both the desperate early months of the American rebellion and its successful conclusion: the retreat of George Washington’s army across New Jersey with a four-day encampment in Newark in November 1776, and Washington’s farewell address to his troops in November 1783, upon resigning his command.

Clergyman and historian Joseph Fulford Folsom read these lines on November 2, 1912, at the unveiling of J. Massey Rhind’s bronze statue of a dismounted General Washington, which stands at the south end of Washington Park.

newark’s morning song

by Leonard Harmon Robbins

Image: colorantshistory.org
Image: Charles E. Luffman via colorantshistory.org

At morn she rises early, as a busy city should
That spends the hours of daylight in the game of “Making Good.”
Across the misty meadows she watches for the sun,
For worlds of work are waiting, and there’s wonders to be done.
She takes a bit of breakfast, she dons her gingham frock,
Then sits before her keyboard, with her eyes upon the clock;
And when the hands point seven, then loud and joyfully
She plays her morning anthem on her steam calliope.

From Belleville down to Waverly, from Bloomfield to the Bay,
She fills the morn with music as her chimes and sirens play.
The piping trebles start the song, the tenors catch her air,
The altos add their mellow notes, the brassy bassos blare;
Their thousand voices blend at last in one great living chord
Of toil and usefulness and peace—a sound to please the Lord!
Listen, O music lovers; was ever heard, think ye,
A nobler tune than Newark’s on her steam calliope?

Now dawns a mighty era in the tale of her career,
Now golden comes the sunrise of a new and glorious year;
And, just as in the old days, her morning sirens call,
“Up! Rouse you up, my children! There is happiness for all!”
Yes, at this New Year’s advent her whistles fill the morn
As sound of heralds’ trumpets when a new world-king is born;
And the magic of her music shall set the thousands free
Who follow to the calling of her steam calliope!

Leonard Harmon Robbins was a contributor to the Newark Evening News, where many of his poems first appeared. The Newarker published this piece in its January 1916 edition, marking the beginning of the 250th anniversary year. It was reprinted in 1917 in The Newark Anniversary Poems.

of timothy still

by E. Alma Flagg

Image: Jordan Allen
Image: Jordan Allen

He touched our lives with gentleness and hope,
The hope that Newark would be a better place;
He gave a model of inclusiveness,
Of knowing black and white and high and low.

The strength he had is what we must employ
In treating poverty, disease, mistrust, and hate,
The love he had we’ll nurture everywhere
To make our living worthy of his gift.

The kindness of a man as big as he
(As big of soul as he was big of frame)
Is what we must extend to each and all
While joining hands to make our forward move.

We loved him as the brother that he was,
We’ll miss him from our gatherings about;
Our city and our hearts know he was here,
And will remember in the years to come.

Timothy Still, a former Golden Gloves boxing champion, turned his commanding physical and personal presence to grassroots organizing in Newark’s Central Ward. He co-founded and led the Hayes Homes Tenants Association, and was president of the United Community Corporation, the city’s official community action agency in the mid-1960s. Upon his sudden death of a heart attack at age 48, the city observed a weeklong period of mourning. In 1970 the Schoolmen’s Club dedicated a plaque to Still’s memory in the Central Ward’s Quitman Street School; the inscription hailed him as “a shining example to light the way to a better Newark.”

Alma Flagg’s tribute is taken from her 1979 collection Lines and Colors.

we are jazz

by Sonya Kimble-Ellis

Version 2

Syncopation.
Innovation.
Celebration.
Brick city beats . . .
Jazz music blaring in my head.
Sitting stageside.
Mr. Wes, the Terrace Ballroom . . .
Places where the spirits of Sarah and other greats lived and rang true.
Shoo be doo be doo.
Singers & musicians making magic out of tragic pasts.
Enough to last
more than three lifetimes.
Playing sounds sweeter than ripened fruit on a vine.
Ivory keys inviting.
Hi-hats hissing.
Upright basses boasting . . .
We are jazz.
We are jazz.

Mr. Wes on Hill Street was one of countless nightspots to be found in Newark from the 1920s to the 1960s, when the city seemed to boast “a jazz club on every other corner.” A 2013 mural on Hawthorne Street pays tribute to this rich history.

Sonya Kimble-Ellis teaches art and writing and is an author of books for children and teens. “We Are Jazz” appears here for the first time.

newark

by Elizabeth Sewell Hill

Image via New Jersey Council for the Humanities
Image via New Jersey Council for the Humanities

                                1666

Sunset on the hills; with dark below,
The wooded slopes. The evening glow
Blinds where the river-flood runs wide,
Lifts pink and pearl from the other side;
And the woods run down to the splendid stain
Of the river-brim to live again.

One lone canoe drifts idly by
With the sure stroke sweeping back fitfully,
Presaging portents dire and black
From the tangled reaches of Hackensack.

The slopes stand bare on the darker side
Where the clearing spreads, brave, clean and wide,
And the timbers pile in close redoubt
Near where the home-lights twinkle out.

The new post held, the new vows sworn
In the old, old faith—and the town is born.

How the spirit kindles, how greatly goes
Thro’ urgent years, the Passaic knows.

                                1766

A flame thro’ the whole great countryside.
The spirit carries as the news runs wide,
Unhurried news of wind and tide—
A feathered prow passes the wharf’s long bar
Where the crowded masts of the shipping are—
Of orders coming from oversea,
Of imposts levied wrongfully,
Of tribute demanded of loyalty.

Lo, patriot, rebel and mutineer;
Muster of sloop and privateer;
And, deaf to the urge of amity,
To the arts and crafts of diplomacy,
It is “Tyranny—tyranny—tyranny!”

How the spirit blazes, how greatly goes
Thro’ troubled years, the Passaic knows;
Grappling the issue with immortal peers,
O little town of one hundred years!

                                1866

The dying roar of artillery.
A nation, torn, in her agony;
One nation, smiling in her agony.

The long grey lines have all swung south,
Worn, proud, unbroken. From river-mouth,
From inlet, from roadstead, the boats go by.
One flag flies in the freedman’s sky.
Blue lines passing, mute and worn have come
Home to the peace of the north hills—home.

The shipping crowds the lower bay.
New duties call—the greater play
Of Love’s great heart of forgivingness;
Wrongs that Right must needs redress;
And civic growth and righteousness.

How the spirit carries, how greatly go
The earnest years, we and the Passaic know;
Scanning the stars, blood of elder seers,
O city of two hundred years!

                                1916

Sheeted gas flaring down the hard-fought field,
Gouts of white lead, tuns of bursting steel,
Chaos of shells. The thunders sound
Fainter thro’ caverns deep underground
Where the trenches hold. Time’s conquests fall,
Smashed back and back with each interval.
It is hell gone mad; nor shift of grace
Rallies the hurt cry of helplessness.

Merciful seas cool the hurts that drown;
Unarmed non-combatants homeward bound,
Liner and transport going down.

And
For wanton display of efficiency,
For craven insistence of urgency,
There is “Butchery!” “Butchery!” “Butchery!”

World-thunders threaten down untrod ways,
Banners are flying thro’ anxious days.
How the years shall carry the spirit’s spell
Down abysmal years, the years will tell.

                                                                       

O city of visions memorial,
Back thro’ the years, perennial,
Or dark or light—
                        How the common tongue
Swung glib the name of Washington,
Knew Talleyrand, spoke LaFayette;
Cornwallis spits anathema yet!

The nation born, the common mass
Knew royalty, saw statesmen pass; 
Guessed trouble brewed, applauded France,
Appraised the heir of circumstance.

Now the nation grown past her infancy,
Argued of party, of polity;
Or suspicion scotched into bitter hate—
Delinquency made desperate—
Answered Lincoln and measured Lee
Where Gettysburg grappled with destiny.

You, too, have seen in a larger dawn
A world-empire wheel up San Juan,
Break into foam as the seas spurt red
Were it Sampson or Schley or Dewey led.
Now world-thunders threaten down untrod ways,
Banners are flying thro’ anxious days.

City of visions memorial,
Back thro’ the years perennial;
You who have heard with your ships at sea,
The rattle and roar of artillery;
Who have heard in the thunders, north or south,
Your heroes named by the cannon’s mouth;
Name now your glorious company,
And name the glorious company
That Peace has linked with liberty.

City of visions! What dreams shall glow,
Shall live, the Passaic may not know
Where just beyond, the future dips
To the nations’ dream-apocalypse,
O city of vision, whose spirit steers
Thro’ fifty and two hundred years!

Elizabeth Sewell Hill was a Chicago-based educator. While it is probable that “Newark” was written for the poetry competition held in 1916, any impression it made on the judges is not recorded.

Hill included the piece in her 1917 collection Western Waters, and Other Poems.