Beasley / Beselie
Van Wickel

          This particular region on the west bank of the Hudson, called the "Kings Woods" and later known as "The Rockland Neighborhood" was originally controlled by the Lenne Lenape tribe of the Delaware Nation, overseen by George Lockhart (1665), patentee under the Lockhart Patent.  This patent was originally secured through the Province of New Jersey, but within three years had to be re-confirmed by the Province of New York because of jurisdictional change.  The location of the state border was disputed fiercely by both provinces.

          By 1750 the Bergen countryside westward from the Hudson River was developing into rolling farmlands and small villages.  The earliest settlers were Dutch  patentees from New York City (Haring) and German farmers from the Rhine Palatinate (Ryker, Gesner, Tallman) who sought to distance themselves from oppressive English rule in the Province of New York.  In addition, there were English farmers (Conklin) from the manorial holdings on the east bank of the Hudson River. The beginnings of a farming community developed at Rockland along the road to Snedens Landing, named for the English Sneden family of boatmen and farmers.  Toward the end of the 18th century, the community and its families were to be torn first by a new boundary line and then by a Revolutionary War.

                 In 1769, a boundary settlement between the Provinces of New York and New Jersey split "The Rockland Neighborhood", leaving Snedens Landing in New York and a  the greater part of the "Rockland Neighborhood" on the New Jersey side of the boundary within Bergen County, but without a local government.  Establishment of Harrington Township in 1775 solved the problem, but what had been the Rockland Neighborhood, was referred to as "Rockland" or "Old Closter". During this uncertain period, family records were filed in Hackensack, NJ, Tappan, NY, New City, NY, and Closter, NJ.  

              Musket balls flew. Snedens Landing Road had become a strategic military artery and the landing was protected by a Block House fort. Washington's army camped in Henry Gesner's apple orchard and patrols ranged north and south along the palisaded west bank of the Hudson River. Neighbors literally found themselves on opposite sides of a deadly fence. Some families were split with sons supporting opposing sides. Loyalist raiding parties roamed the area, pillaging scare food and carrying away suspected enemies. At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, several loyalist sons of the original Gesner, Sneden, and Beasley settlers evacuated to Nova Scotia. Some made new lives in Canada; others returned to their roots in "The Rocklands" established themselves as respected farmers or shipbuilders and married into other former loyalist families.

           By the first quarter of the 19th century the farming community was typical of the times and destined to become present-day Rockleigh Borough. The descendents of the earliest Dutch settlers were joined by others, largely of English descent (Corning, Gowdy, Heron, Moore, and Taylor), Huguenot descent (Mabie, DuBois, Beasley, Trenchard), and occasionally Old Jersey Dutch (Cooper, Van Wickel, Sloat, Happel). Each brought with them a needed trade or profession that helped make the village self-sufficient. The distant memory of troops marching on Sneden Landing Road was now but a tale told to children.  A Sneden daughter would marry a Conklin son; their children in turn choosing a Haring or Cooper descendant, and so the village remained and expanded.  Each family left a rich legacy so apparent today.

         European tradition of naming firstborn sons after their father was brought to this country by these early families.  Obviously, this makes tracking of genealogies rather difficult and sometimes impossible without established records.   Jersey Dutch families were also divided within fractions of the Dutch Reformed Church.  Some held fidelity to the original Dutch Reformed Church  in Hackensack, others retained allegiance to the Tappan Dutch Reformed Church, while others opted for the  Dutch Reformed Church that was formed and built by a break-away group in Schraalenberg, NJ.  Then, too, there is evidence that later generations lost close ties with the church and life events were not recorded. Records of the same family are separated and even become tenuous.

          The early settlers who settled in the area that was to become Rockleigh Borough left behind in the public record, in genealogies, and in their dwellings that to this day provide comfortable homes, a rich and lasting legacy that is testimony to their way of life.

Compiled by E. W. April, 2002


Background Music: "The Riddle Song" Courtesy of Barry Taylor


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